On Our Honor
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 1 we began a 10-week countdown to the beginning of Lent. Ten weeks? Ten Commandments? Yes. In preparation for Lent, together let's make an examination of conscience by means of this weekly series of reflections on each of the Ten Commandments. In this fourth entry, we reflect on why we are called to honor our fathers and mothers.
By Felix Carroll (Jan. 22, 2014)
I cannot possibly express the love I have for this commandment. I'm a father. The idea of a young'un bowing down before me, honoring me above all else us save God Himself — just who in the world wouldn't be psyched about that?
But the fine print to the fourth commandment demands that in the parent-child relationship the parent make the first move. That is to say, the parent must honor the child. How? Born of God, the child must be raised in God, educated in the faith and all the virtues of a devout life. Once those responsibilities have been fully employed, you have every right to expect your children to honor you as the responsible, loving, caring parent you will have proven yourself to be.
Let the honoring begin!
But for a child, none of this may make sense early on. For instance, here's a memory:
The evening was moonless and foggy, as you would want such an evening to be. The stained-glass saints had faraway eyes, as you would wish saints not to have. And the church door was heavy, and it slammed behind us medieval-style, just as a child would fear.
The heavy-handed imagery ends there. But it would have been really great if a raven looked on from a dead tree branch unable to mind its own business. Better yet, I'd have welcomed helicopters circling overhead casting searchlights blindly and aggressively.
But really, for parents escorting their 8-year-old boy on a perp walk to his first Confession, we had hit the jackpot.
This was three years ago. His First Holy Communion was to take place the following month. Confession is a prerequisite. As I recall, we fed him pizza, then brought him to our parish church beside a river that swerves out of town like a getaway car. Despite what he might have wished, the white smoke of our chimney-topped town did not signify the election of a new pope who would nullify the requirement of Confession.
He was going. It was our responsibility to take him there. That was that.
Up the wintry sidewalk we went, a sidewalk lightly sprinkled no doubt with salt — the seasoning with which Lot's wife was a little heavy-handed.
All that was left now was for our boy's teeth to start chattering, for the priest to call him into the confessional with a crooked finger, and for our boy to be repentant as each of his sins were named and dislodged from his soul like the barnacles of a boat brought to dry dock. We imagined we would fetch him a few minutes later and maybe tussle his hair, and maybe marvel at his state of grace.
And maybe when we would ask him how it went, he would answer, "Wonderfully. After all, ours is a God of mercy, and I will forthwith honor my father and mother, having now fully understood my special covenant with the Lord."
It doesn't work that way, of course. Still, in our preparation for his first Confession we were presented a grand opportunity to put our shoulders to the wheel and teach him about sinfulness, forgiveness, the repair of our relationship with God, and just generally the relief we experience from getting things off our chest and handing our misery over to God, whose greatest attribute is mercy.
And, yep, the fourth of the 10 Commandments — his mother and I chose to hone in on that one: "Honor thy father and mother." In our preparation for his Confession, I had pulled up an image on the computer of Moses and his two stone tablets. "Look, it's right there," I said to him. "It's a commandment from God: Honor your father and mother."
(To any parents out there taking notes, this tactic has its most powerful positive impact when coupled with a shrug as if to say, "Hey, I'm with you, good buddy. This isn't my idea, this whole thing about honoring our fathers and mothers, but a rule is a rule, right? And there's always the other option of dealing with that subterranean meany with the red-hot pitchfork. Anyway, you want ice cream?")
Other than the fourth commandment, he earns passing grades on the other nine. (He hasn't revealed any signs he's a budding criminal mastermind. For one thing, he leaves his fingerprints everywhere. The only thing he's killed is his Blue Bear. And I'll ignore those two days when he continually marveled at how "Cheez-Its!" sounds so incredibly like "Jesus!")
By the day of his first Confession, he had memorized the Act of Contrition. He had plenty of things to confess. He understood that his sins would be forgiven because he truly was remorseful. God, his mother, and I had him surrounded.
"You're going to tell Fr. Murphy everything, right?"
"The yelling at Mom?"
"And you saying that you want pasta and being served pasta and not eating the pasta and getting mad about the pasta?"
"It's the yelling at Mom that drives us nuts."
"We love you."
"And I love you."
"And God loves you."
"And I love God."
We stepped into the church vestibule, from darkness to light, from coldness to warmth, from metaphor to metaphor. He lined up with his classmates. One by one they visited with Fr. Murphy. One by one they exited and returned to the pews, knelt, and prayed. When our boy emerged from the confessional, he looked at me with a shy, half smile that seemed to say, "Just what in the world do you have in store for me in this world, old man?"
Three years later, he knows what I have in store for him: That he learn to love God above all else, and that in learning to love God above all else, all other things fall into place (including, we pray, adherence to the fourth commandment).
Going to Confession is an honor. Having a merciful God is an honor. Sharing our love for God with our children is an honor. Having them love us in return is an honor. But we mustn't get big headed about it, right? After all, the helicopters circle the sins of the father, too.
1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides Me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.