Throughout the centuries, Christianity has taught that parents are the primary educators and shapers of their children. This includes parents’ jurisdiction over their children not only socially and morally, but religiously and academically.
Parents are ambassadors for Christ in all phases of education for their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers and Mothers, take heed.
The Fourth Commandment, “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” (Exodus 20:12), teaches us that children honor God by honoring their parents. It is also the first Commandment to carry a promise:: “that you may have a long life….”. Parents have every right to require honor from their children or they (both parents and children) are doing an injustice to God – keeping honor away that is due our Heavenly Father. Naturally, this message is the same for all parents, whether married, single, separated or divorced.
The honor of children – whether minors or adults – for their father and mother (cf. Proverbs 1:8, Tobit 4:3-4) is nourished by the natural affection born of the bond uniting them: the bond of the family. Such honor is required by God’s commandment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:16). While strict obedience toward parents may cease after a child becomes emancipated from home as an adult, respect and honor are always owed them.
How can parents dutifully require honor from their children? By gently nurturing and educating them in their Christian faith, parents can teach and foster within their children natural virtues like respect, fidelity, obedience, tenderness and forgiveness, not to mention other virtues like faith, hope and love. The home is well suited for education in virtues. This first requires an apprenticeship on the part of parents in areas of sound judgment, self-mastery, and self-denial. These Gospel principles serve as preconditions of true freedom.
Parents should associate their children from their most tender years with the life of the Church. If parents set an example, children are naturally inclined to follow it (cf. Proverbs 6:20-22, 13:1; Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:1-3). Parents have a grave responsibility to educate and give good example to their children in things both spiritual and temporal. Also, parents should teach their children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences that threaten human societies and the worth of the human person. Every person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable –made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27).
Surely, the home is the natural environment for initiating a youngster into solidarity and communal responsibilities. St. Augustine (d. 430), in fact, called the Christian home the “domestic church.” Having grown-up on a dairy farm, I can still appreciate the spiritual and temporal values instilled by my parents in my siblings and me. Sunday Mass and regular reception of the Sacrament of Confession were mainstays, as were daily chores and tasks assigned to me and my brothers and sister on the farm. Even our years of involvement in 4-H and FFA melded well with our Christian upbringing: we learned, for example, the importance of healthy and charitable competition in the show ring when showing dairy cattle, or building farm equipment in high school shop class and exhibiting it at the county fair.
Parents begin true and authentic education of their children by first solidifying their own faith. They must pray for themselves and for their children. They should also maintain a realistic attitude that the road traveled in raising children will not always be smooth. Parents must work to recapture their God-like leading role, focusing on a return to childlike innocence, peace in the family, and growth in faith and virtue (cf. Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:14).
FR. WADE L. J. MENEZES, CPM is the assistant general of the Fathers of Mercy, an itinerant missionary preaching order based in Auburn, KY. He is host of EWTN Global Catholic Radio’s “Open Line Tuesday” and the author of The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell (EWTN Publishing).