How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Honoring Our Parents
By Kathy Coffey

“Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12).

We turn from the first three commandments, regarding relationships between God and humans, towards the next four, which focus on relationships among people.

What nugget of wisdom does the Fourth Commandment teach us? Today some parents and children are estranged; others wish their parents were alive to honor them. But the following story shows how delightfully some children still honor their parents.

Jan celebrated her 60th birthday with friends, far from her children who lived in five different states. But she had told her kids, “No gifts. All I need are memories of you.” Then the postal service delivered a special box. Within it were 60 small pieces of paper, on which Jan’s children had written 60 special memories. She read and cherished each one with a mixture of laughter and tears.

While we can only speculate what motivated Jan’s children, we can ask ourselves: Why honor our parents? In the world of the Bible and in the best homes today, parents provide the images of trust, hope and serenity that enable the young to face formidable obstacles ahead. To their children they convey the message, whether spoken or unspoken, “You are loved. You are wonderful.”

All human beings are constantly making the passage from the known to the unknown. Parents who have endured disappointment, even tragedy, can help their offspring travel that passage with dignity. “We’ve made mistakes,” they say. “We’ve lost jobs, or health, or our dearest loves. But it didn’t kill us. Something in human beings endures. Something continues to trust. Something moves forward in confidence.”


Related Roles

Furthermore, parents are the keepers of memory. When their children hit snags, they remind them what glorious people they most deeply are, recalling their finest selves. And if humor, perspective or home cooking can lighten a load, they contribute it.

In Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells recounts a long, serious mother-daughter rift which begins to heal when the mother sends her daughter Sidda in the Pacific Northwest her famous crayfish etouffe from Louisiana. “With each bite, Sidda tasted her homeland and her mother’s love.”

The wisest parents honor their children in turn. They count on their children’s good sense to pilot them through difficulties, so they restrain the “free advice.” They clarify the boundaries of their role: providing safe harbors, but not holding the ropes too tightly. They encourage children to explore God’s large and beautiful world, not burdening the young with unnecessary fear or anxiety. Wisely, they recognize the arenas where the young have more expertise (computers, iPods and anything technical), inviting them to shine there.

Many parents struggle with handing on their faith to a generation that seems, at best, unenthusiastic about it. There too, honor comes in. Realizing that the gift of faith, no matter how important it is, cannot be coerced or controlled, parents can follow the advice of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Agonizing over her sons’ shenanigans she once said, “What’s a mother to do but pray and dote, pray and dote?”

If the roles of parent and child seem too idealized, we need only look to Jesus and his mother for role models. (Unfortunately, Scripture records little of Jesus’ relationship with Joseph.)

Learning From Jesus and Mary

The wedding at Cana provides the perfect example of their honoring each other. Mary wisely tells Jesus of the need: “They have no wine.” Then she backs off. She trusts his instincts to resolve the crisis.

Despite his reservations (“My hour has not yet come”), Jesus in turn honors his mother. Whether he was responding to her, or to the couple’s dire need, we may never know. Despite the exhaustion and pain of his passion, Jesus continued to honor Mary, making sure even from the cross that his beloved disciple would continue to care for her (John 19:26-27).

In Jesus’ day, women who had no son or husband to protect them often became desperate beggars. Knowing that sad reality, Jesus makes sure that John will take her into his own home. St. Ignatius imagined that the first appearance of Jesus after the Resurrection, although not recorded in Scripture, must surely have been to Mary.

As parents and children who follow Jesus, we are called to do likewise.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: The Fifth Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• What do you think are the best ways for children to honor their parents?

• What are the best ways for parents to honor their children?

Honoring Each Other
By Judith Dunlap

The best way for children to learn to honor their father and mother is to witness how their mother and father honor each other. I learned from my own parents to always show respect for my husband. In all of my growing-up years, I never heard my mom or dad speak one word against the other. And my siblings and I certainly were not allowed to speak disrespectfully to or about them.

We were never allowed to call my mother “she” or my dad “he.” My dad (a native of Poland) told us that many languages had a distinct pronoun to use when speaking to people we were to respect. English was not one of those languages. The same pronoun, “he” or “she,” is used to refer to a common thief or a highly respected elder. Therefore, Mom was always Mom, and Dad was always Dad. It was a habit my sisters and I learned at an early age. It was something my husband and I tried to teach our own children.

Parents also show respect for each other by making a point of demonstrating a united front. Children learn at an early age whom to go to when they want certain things. And by the time they have reached early adolescence, they have learned the technique of “divide and conquer.” It is important for parents not to let their guard down.

After a few years of being married (or perhaps working through shared custody), as parents you know what issues you tend to disagree about. Don’t let your children take advantage of this knowledge. Consult with each other often. Learn to ask if they have already consulted their other parent. Whether children know it or not, they need to have parents who back each other up, and they need parents who show respect for each other.

For Family Response:

Name other people besides parents who deserve to be honored. Talk about different ways to show respect to people who deserve to be honored.

Media Watch
By Frank Frost

Katy McLaughlin is a dreamer in the classroom. She fails history in the exclusive Wyoming academy she attends. After two hours of exam time she hasn’t put a word down on paper, although, she tells her father, “I wrote it in my head.”

What she’s dreaming about are horses—their strength and power, their ability to run free. Where she wants to be is home on the family ranch.

The opening narration in Katy’s voice makes it clear that horses in general reflect her character. “I can see in them an expression of my own restless spirit. Charged with an appetite for adventure…I see them running wild and free.”

Flicka is a remake of the 1943 classic My Friend Flicka from the novel by Mary O’Hara, in which the hero was a boy, played by Roddy McDowall. But the story essentials are the same.

In this version Katy (Alison Lohman) is the strong-willed child bumping up against the authority of her equally strong-willed father, Rob (country music star Tim McGraw), by attempting to tame and ride a wild mustang she has discovered on an early morning ride. She repeatedly sneaks out to a small corral at night to approach the dangerous horse, in direct opposition to her father’s orders.

But Flicka (as she names the wild stallion), in particular, is another incarnation of her own wild spirit yearning to be free. Katy identifies with Flicka so closely that when Katy is endangered by a high fever and the horse is lying injured and about to be put down, Katy tells her father, “It’s all right, Dad, you can shoot us.”

There’s another theme running through the movie as well—a romantic ideal of the West as the embodiment of the pioneer spirit, and all that suggests. As Rob discusses Katy with his wife (Maria Bello) astride their horses on the windswept wild grasses high on a Wyoming mountain, he sums up the importance of keeping their ranch going. “I see these kids hanging out in the mall, they’re sullen, they’re lazy, got no ambition, got no dreams. This is the only way that I know how to save our children.”

Perhaps much of the viewing audience is sympathetic to Rob’s perception of today’s youth, if not to his solution—ranching in the untrammeled West.

Flicka is beautifully shot. Its soaring aerial scenes of herds of horses thundering along open hillsides, revealing gorgeous steep canyons, help us feel the emotional draw of the West. Katy is a strong and appealing character in that context, dedicated to the land and to her family.

As a teen, she is on a journey of self-discovery that involves rebellion. She is fearless and headstrong and has much to learn. So much so that the viewer might feel a little ambivalent in determining the balance between cheering on a wild child seeking her destiny, and blanching at the repeated disobedience Katy displays in order to do that.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Benedict the African (1526-1589)

The son of African-born slaves who converted to Christianity after being brought to Sicily, Benedict himself was freed on his 18th birthday. Suddenly, he had a whole new life before him, a life that offered unexpected possibilities. What direction would he take?

For Benedict, the answer was easy. He found a job as a day laborer, shared his meager wages with the poor and cared for the sick. Though many people admired him for his charity, others ridiculed him for the color of his skin. Unconcerned about the opinions of others, Benedict was a content and peaceful man.

He joined a group of hermits around Palermo, Italy, that later became part of the Franciscans. For a time Benedict happily served in the friary kitchen, but he was eventually chosen novice master and guardian—positions rarely held in those days by a lay brother. (Benedict never sought ordination.) Such prestigious assignments were difficult for a man who preferred quiet service. As soon as his terms ended, he went right back to the kitchen.

Benedict took religious life seriously. The few things he used were not “his,” but “ours.” Each year he kept a number of 40-day fasts, and he regularly tried to limit himself to just a few hours of sleep each night.

He also came to be known far beyond the walls of the friary. He had a reputation for being able to read people’s hearts, to offer helpful advice, even to work miracles. The poor came seeking his help, the sick hoped to be healed, people of all walks of life asked for his prayers.

Benedict died in 1589 and was canonized in 1897. His feast day is April 3.

Ethan Smith

Forget the gangs. Forget the drugs and crime. Ethan Smith has better things to do with his life. Though he lives in South Central Los Angeles, a tough neighborhood by any standards, that doesn’t mean he is without options. He’s headed for college next year and for a life of service after that.

Urging him on are his mother as well as the community at Verbum Dei, a college-prep Catholic high school for young men whose families could not otherwise afford such an education. Latin for Word of God, Verbum Dei is part of the network of Cristo Rey schools established by the Jesuits.

President of the student body and a tackle on the school’s winning varsity football team, Ethan, 18, also takes community service seriously. He works at a soup kitchen and tutors at an elementary school. Last summer he served at a camp for underprivileged families.

“Service allows me to give back, to help people in need, to treat others the way I would like to be treated,” Ethan told Every Day Catholic. The coming years may not offer as much time for community service as he’d like—he hopes to head to Stanford University and earn a doctorate in engineering. After that Ethan wants to establish a nonprofit “for underprivileged kids growing up in neighborhoods like mine.”

Among the services he would like to offer is “teaching young people how to deal with obstacles and how to become successful.” Ethan’s own definition of success comes from a book about leadership: “A successful man is one who lays a firm foundation with the bricks that have been thrown at him.”

Ethan is ready to build a strong foundation of service to his community. He’s ready for success.

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