Fr. Glenn: Filial Duty

By Fr. Glenn Jones

A very happy Mother’s Day to all of you lovely sources of new human life out there! … those precious little images of God … God’s little lambs. We wish you all happiness and contentment basking in the love of your children and grandchildren.

Of course, we Judeo-Christians cannot help but recall on this day, as well as on Father’s Day, that commandment of God: “Honor thy father and thy mother”, remembering St. Paul’s expanding admonition: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ for this is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-2)

Now, in this day in which people live so much longer than in the past with all of our healthier foods, medicines, treatments, etc., many children are blessed—and challenged—by finding the care of their parents, and possibly grandparents, becoming their responsibility … and, yet, truly a responsibility and duty it is. After all, if not you, who?

In an era in which families tend to be smaller, this becomes an even greater challenge as the financial burden and responsibility can become quite the source of anxiety for breadwinners. And yet, we cannot but recall scripture—a restatement of filial duty assumed by all by our very lives: “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; and what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:26-27) This obligation of care is thus given us regardless of whether we are inclined toward it or not. Not infrequently we hear such things as: “My mother, who lives with us, is driving me CRAZY!” You mean … like you did her when you were a teenager, maybe? Or those nights she kept sleepless watch at your sickbed?

We have to remember, too, that the obligation doesn’t only bind if we had the sweetest and greatest of parents (“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37=38)) After all, parents, too, are only human, with all the human foibles and failings as everyone else—products of both genetics and environment.

Neither does the duty of care oblige only if it is “easy” or require little self-sacrifice. Anyone who has had to care for the elderly in our day and age know the great financial and time strains of such care. Nonetheless, the duty remains, not to mention the simple worldly practicality of remembering that your children are watching the care you give to YOUR parents … something they’ll no doubt remember. Go replay “Cat’s in the Cradle” for a reminder of our human nature.

And, so, an excerpt of scripture comes to mind:

 

Honor your father by word and deed,
    that a blessing from him may come upon you.
For a father’s blessing strengthens the houses of the children,
    but a mother’s curse uproots their foundations.
Do not glorify yourself by dishonoring your father,
    for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you.
For a man’s glory comes from honoring his father,
    and it is a disgrace for children not to respect their mother.
O son, help your father in his old age,
    and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if he is lacking in understanding, show forbearance;
    in all your strength do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
    and against your sins it will be credited to you;
in the day of your affliction it will be remembered in your favor;
    as frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.
Whoever forsakes his father is like a blasphemer,
    and whoever angers his mother is cursed by the Lord. (Sirach 3:16 RSVCE)

No, the commandments are not merely “guidelines” or “suggestions” as people often jest; the scriptural commandments are a restatement of obligations of nature and society. After all, even some animals take especial care of elderly and sick members. Will we who vaunt ourselves as superior prove to be actually inferior by lack of empathy and care? That would not only be shameful and dishonorable, but rather degrading to our humanity.

So let us not only honor our mothers this week, but also our fathers. After all, Jesus teaches us to love all as ourselves, so does not our obligation to love and honor those who gave us life become even more imperative? Remember patience, and reject resentment, remembering that the very fact that you CAN sacrifice for another forms you more in the likeness of Christ. A happy, blessed and joyful Mother’s Day to all!

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.

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