3. The commandment: 'Honour your father and your mother 'is an inference from the general laws of charity and love towards one's fellow beings ,seeing that those who do not love their mother and father cannot then love their fellow creatures. But with regard to parents ,here the word honour contains an extra obligation, which is filial devotion. God wishes to show us that respect, esteem, obedience, caring, submission and deference should be joined to love. All these put together involve an obligation for each person to carry out what is demanded by charity with regard to one's neighbour, and which implies an even more rigorous duty towards parents. This duty naturally extends itself to those who take the place of a mother or father, and whose merit is much greater because their devotion has nothing of obligation. God will rigorously punish all violations of this commandment.
To honour your mother and father consists in not only showing respect, but also helping them in their needs, offering them rest in their old age and surrounding them with care; just as they themselves did for us during our infancy. Above all, it is necessary to demonstrate true filial devotion to destitute parents. Do you think this commandment is being kept by those who, believing they are doing a great deal of good, offer only the strictest necessities to their parents, so as to avoid them dying from hunger, while they deprive themselves of nothing? Or when, so as not to leave them unsheltered, they relegate them to the worst rooms in the house, while reserving the best and most comfortable for themselves? The parents are even fortunate when this is not done with ill-will, or when they are obliged to pay heavily for the rest of their lives by being forced to run the home! Is it then that old and feeble parents must serve their children who are younger and stronger? Did their mother make them pay for the milk they suckled? Did she count the sleepless nights when they were ill? Or the steps she took in order to guarantee they lacked nothing? No, children do not owe their parents only the strictest necessities; they also owe them, according to their possibilities, all those little extras like thoughtfulness and loving care which are nothing more than interest on what they themselves received, the payment of a sacred debt. This then is the only filial devotion which pleases God.
Alas for those who forget what they owe to those who sustained them in their hour of weakness, who, with the giving of a physical life, also gave them moral life, and many times imposed upon themselves great privations in order to guarantee the well-being of their children! Woe unto all those who are ungrateful, for they shall be punished with ingratitude and abandonment; they will be hurt in their dearest affections, sometimes even in the present life, but certainly in a future one, wherein they will suffer themselves what they have made others suffer!
It is true that some parents neglect their duty and are not all they should be to their children. However, it is only God who has the competence to judge, and not the children. These are not competent to be able to judge because they have perhaps deserved their parent's behaviour. If the law of charity demands that evil be paid with goodness, that we be indulgent with the imperfections of others, that we should not speak against our neighbour, that we forget and forgive all grievances, that we love even our enemies, how much greater must be our obligations when related to our parents! Therefore children, in matters relating to their parents, should take as a rule of conduct all those principles of Jesus concerning our fellow beings. They must be aware that all reprehensible behaviour towards strangers is even more reprehensible when related to parents. Also, what might be only a small offence in the first case, may be considered as a serious crime in the second, because here the offence of lack of charity is joined to that of ingratitude.
4. God said: 'Honour your father and your mother so that you may live a long time in the land that the Lord your God shall give you.' Why did He promise earthly life as a recompense and not heavenly life? The explanation lies in the words: 'that God shall give you', which having been omitted in the modern formula of the Decalogues, has altered the meaning. But first, in order to be able to understand clearly, we must go back to the situation and the ideas existing amongst the Hebrews at that time. They still knew nothing of a future life as they were unable to see anything beyond the physical. They had then to be impressed more by what they saw than by what they could not see. So God spoke to them in a language well within their reach of understanding, and as one would expect to do with a child, put them into a perspective which could satisfy them. At that time they were still in the desert; the land to be given by God was the Promised Land, the object of their aspirations. They wished for nothing more, and God said that they would live there for a long time. That is to say, they would possess the land for a long time if they kept His commandments.
Now by the time of the advent of Jesus, they had more advanced ideas. The time had come for them to receive less material nourishment and Jesus Himself began to teach about spiritual life by saying: "My kingdom is not of this world; it is there and not here that you will receive recompense for all the good works you have practised." With these words the Promised Land ceases to be material and transforms itself into a spiritual Homeland. This is why, when we are called upon to keep the commandments: 'Honour your father and your mother,' it is not this world that is promised, but Heaven. (See chapters 2 & 3.)