BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (207): After our duties to God, what are we commanded next?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

The first three commandments spell out our obligations to God. The last seven explain our obligations to our neighbor. The first among these obligations is to the family. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). The Church teaches us that this command goes beyond the family and extends to society at large. It not only asks us to “honor and respect our parents” but also “those whom God, for our good, has vested with his authority” (CCCC 455). After all, society is meant to be one big family.

We have seen in BST 157 that marriage and the family are part of the plan of God.

“A man and a woman united in marriage form a family together with their children. God instituted the family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children. Members of the same family establish among themselves personal relationships and primary responsibilities. In Christ the family becomes the domestic church because it is a community of faith, of hope, and of charity” (CCCC 456).

The family is very important because it “is the original cell of human society and is, therefore, prior to any recognition by public authority.” Society breaks down when the family disintegrates. “Family values and principles constitute the foundation of social life. Family life is an initiation into the life of society” (CCCC 457).

This is why everyone has a duty to protect the family. “Society, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity, has the duty to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Public authority must respect, protect and foster the true nature of marriage and the family, public morality, the rights of parents, and domestic prosperity” (CCCC 458).

It is through the family that life is transmitted. Life is a gift for which children should be forever grateful. “Children owe respect (filial piety), gratitude, docility and obedience to their parents. In paying them respect and in fostering good relationships with their brothers and sisters, children contribute to the growth in harmony and holiness in family life in general. Adult children should give their parents material and moral support whenever they find themselves in situations of distress, sickness, loneliness, or old age” (CCCC 459).

The family is very important because it “is the original cell of human society and is, therefore, prior to any recognition by public authority” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 457)

On the other hand, parents do not only bring children to the world. They also have the task of educating them and leading them to holiness. “Parents, in virtue of their participation in the fatherhood of God, have the first responsibility for the education of their children and they are the first heralds of the faith for them. They have the duty to love and respect their children as persons and as children of God and to provide, as far as is possible, for their physical and spiritual needs. They should select a suitable school for them and help them with prudent counsel in the choice of their profession and their state of life. In particular they have the mission of educating their children in the Christian faith” (CCCC 460). In order to bring them up in the faith, parents can make use of their own “example, prayer, family catechesis and participation in the life of the Church” (CCCC 461).

It is worth remembering that the fourth commandment is not the first of the commandments. “Family ties are important but not absolute, because the first vocation of a Christian is to follow Jesus and love him: ‘He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37). Parents must support with joy their children’s choice to follow Jesus in whatever state of life, even in the consecrated life or the priestly ministry” (CCCC 462).

As we have said, this commandment also extends to society at large. We have already spoken about the need for authority (cf BST 192), which “should always be exercised as a service, respecting fundamental human rights, a just hierarchy of values, laws, distributive justice, and the principle of subsidiarity. All those who exercise authority should seek the interests of the community before their own interest and allow their decisions to be inspired by the truth about God, about man and about the world” (CCCC 463).

What about the citizens? “Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God and offer their loyal collaboration for the right functioning of public and social life. This collaboration includes love and service of one’s homeland, the right and duty to vote, payment of taxes, the defense of one’s country, and the right to exercise constructive criticism” (CCCC 464).

“Authority exists for the sake of the common good. When it is not exercised in accordance with the moral law, authority may not or should not be obeyed. “A citizen is obliged in conscience not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order: ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29)” (CCCC 465).