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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Fourth Commandment to Honor Your Parents

‘Honor parents: they have given us life!’

 This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.

Continuing with the series of catecheses on the Commandments, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on: Honor your father and your mother (Biblical passage: from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, 6:1-4).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.

The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

In the journey within the Ten Words, we come today to the Commandment on the father and the mother. It talks about the honor due to parents. What is this “honor”? The Hebrew term indicates the glory, the value, literally the “weight,” the consistency of a reality. It’s not a question of exterior ways but of truth. In the Scriptures, to honor God means to recognize His reality, to reckon with His presence. This is expressed also with rites, but above all it implies to give God the just place in one’s existence. Therefore, to honor the father and the mother means to recognize their importance also with concrete acts, which express dedication, affection and care. However, it’s not only about this.

The Fourth Word has a characteristic: it’s the Commandment that contains an outcome. It says, in fact: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). To honor one’s parents leads to a long happy life. The word “happiness” in the Decalogue appears only in connection with the relationship with parents.

This age-old wisdom states what the human sciences were able to elaborate only little more than a century ago: which is that the imprint of childhood marks a lifetime. It can often be easy to understand if someone has grown up in a healthy and balanced environment, but equally one can perceive if a person comes from experiences of abandonment or violence. Our childhood is somewhat like indelible ink; it’s expressed in tastes, in ways of being, even if some try to hide the wounds of their origins.

However, the Fourth Commandment says even more. It doesn’t speak of the parents’ goodness; it doesn’t require that fathers and mothers be perfect. It speaks of an act of children, regardless of the parents’ merits, and it says an extraordinary and liberating thing: even if not all parents are good and not all childhoods are serene, all children can be happy, because the attainment of a full and happy life depends on the just recognition of one who has brought us into the world.

We think of how this Word can be constructive for so many young people that come from histories of pain, and for all those that have suffered in their youth. Many Saints — and very many Christians — lived, after a painful childhood, a luminous life because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they were reconciled with life. We think of that youth Sulprizio, today Blessed and next month Saint, who at 19 finished his life reconciled with so many sorrows, so many things, because his heart was serene and he never disowned his parents. We think of Saint Camillus of Lellis, who from a disordered childhood built a life of love and service; of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or of Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, orphan and poor, and of John Paul II himself, marked by the loss of his mother at a young age.

Regardless of what history man comes from, by this Commandment he receives the direction that leads to Christ: in Him, in fact, the true Father is manifested, who offers us to be “born anew from on high” (Cf. John 3:3-8). The enigmas of our lives are illumined when we discover that God has always prepared us for a life as His children, where every act is a mission received from Him.

Our wounds begin to be potentialities when by grace we discover that the true enigma is no longer “why?” but “for whom?” has this happened to me. In view of what work has God forged me through my history? Here everything is reversed, everything becomes precious; everything becomes constructive.  My experience, also sad and painful, in the light of love, how does it become for others, for whom, source of salvation? Then we can begin to honor our parents with the freedom of adult offspring and with the merciful acceptance of their limitations.[1]

Honor parents: they have given us life! If you have estranged yourself from your parents, make an effort and go back, go back to them, perhaps they are old . . . .  They have given you life. And then, among us, there is the habit of saying awful things, also bad language . . . Please, never, never insult other [people’s] parents.  Never! Never insult the mother; never insult the father. Never! Never! Take up this interior decision today: henceforth I will never insult someone’s mother or father. They gave him/her life! They must not be insulted.

This wonderful life is offered to us, not imposed: to be born anew in Christ is a grace to receive freely (Cf. John 1:11-13), and it’s the treasure of our Baptism in which, by the work of the Holy Spirit, only one is our Father, that of Heaven (Cf. Matthew 23:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6). Thank you!

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

In Italian

Next September 22, Veronica Antal, lay faithful of the Secular Franciscan Order, killed out of hatred for the faith in 1958, will be beatified in Neampt (Rumania). We thank God for this courageous woman who, giving her life, witnessed true love of God and of brethren.

A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I’m happy to receive the Brothers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus); the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar; the Franciscan Sisters Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Carmelite Missionaries, taking part in their respective General Chapters; the Seminarians of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae of Rome and the participants in the International Congress of the Carmelite Laity.

I also welcome the National Pilgrimage of the Ordinariate of the Armed Forces and the Armed Corps of the Slovak Republic, led by the Military Ordinary, Monsignor Frantisek Rabek.

I greet the Parishes, in particular those of Turi and San Giovanni Rotondo; the group of the Family Pastoral of Modena, accompanied by the Archbishop, Monsignor Erio Castellucci and the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired of Castellammare di Stabia.

A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. Regardless of your history, I exhort you, beloveds, to be always courageously oriented to Christ. In fact, He alone is manifested as true Father, who offers us to be “born anew from on high.” Thank you!

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

[1] Cf. St. Augustine, Discourse on Matthew, 72, A, 4: “Therefore, Christ teaches you to reject your parents and at the same time to love them. Well, ordinarily parents are loved with a spirit of faith when they are not preferred to God: Whoever loves — these are the Lord’s words — father and mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. With these words it seems almost as though He admonishes one not to love them; rather, on the contrary, He admonishes one to love them. In fact, He could have said: Whoever loves father or mother is not worthy of Me.” But He did not say that, so as not to speak against the law given by Him, because it was He who gave, through his servant Moses, the law where it is written: honor your father and your mother. He did not promulgate a contrary law but confirmed it; He then showed one the order; He did not eliminate the duty of love for parents: Whoever loves father and mother but more than Me. Therefore, one must love them but not more than Me: God is God, man is man. Love parents, obey parents, honor parents, but if God calls one to a more important mission, in which affection for parents could be an impediment, keep the order, do not eliminate charity.”

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