Honor thy father and thy mother.” We all know the Fourth Commandment. We learned it as children, and we may think that it was intended for children. It was, but probably more for adult children than for younger ones. The Commandments were part of God’s covenant pact made with the Israelites, a pact requiring adult participation. So we can presume that all the Commandments were directed toward adults. The first reading from Sirach confirms this, insisting that respect extends even into a parent’s eventual diminishment, and it promises a new generation of children as blessing for such respect.
There is not the same respect for elders in modern societies as there was in former times and still is in many traditional societies. This is not only a shame; it is also a loss. Our history is inscribed in the memories of the elders; the wisdom that we need for successful living is imprinted on their hearts. The child Jesus knew this. That is why he stayed in the temple and sat in their midst, and even though he identified God as his father, he was obedient to his human parents.
Another group that modern society sometimes neglects is the children. We love our babies, but we often overlook the youngster whose clothes are so often wrinkled or ripped, and who is missing a tooth or two. We claim that we want a good education for them, but we do not provide the funds to hire the most qualified instructors, and we do not always insist that children be steeped in the traditions of our faith and in the history, literature and art of our civilization. In this way, we rob them of their heritage.
It is easy to become impatient with both our elderly and our young. So often they do not conform to what we insist is best for them. But Paul instructs us today in how we are to live in our families. He exhorts us to be filled with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” These sentiments can make our families holy.