Even a painful childhood can be swept up in a luminous life, says Francis in reflection on Fourth Commandment
Pope Francis today continued with his general audience series on the Ten Commandments, today picking up the Fourth Commandment — honor your father and mother — which, he noted, is the only Command that spells out a consequence for those who follow it.
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you [other translations have, that you might be happy], in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
Thus, pointed out Pope Francis, “honoring your parents leads to a long, happy life. The word ‘happiness’ appears in the Decalogue only in relation to parents.”
The Holy Father noted how the “millennial wisdom” of this Commandment spells out what the sciences have been able to deduce only in the last century or so: “That the footprint of childhood marks the whole of life.”
He noted how the mark of childhood is clear for both those who have grown up in balanced, healthy homes, and those who have suffered experiences of abandonment or violence.
“But,” he continued, “the Fourth Commandment tells us even more. It does not speak of the goodness of parents; it does not requires that fathers and mothers be perfect. It speaks of the acts of the children, independently of the merits of the parents, and it says something extraordinary and liberating: Even if not every parent is good and not every childhood is serene, every child can be happy, because achieving a fulfilled and happy life depends on the just gratitude toward those who have placed us in this world.”
The pope said that this Commandment could be helpful for many young people who come from difficult histories and for everyone who has had a childhood of suffering.
“Many saints, and many Christians, after a painful childhood, lived a luminous life, because, thanks to Jesus, they reconciled with life,” he noted.
The Holy Father went on to mention some of these saints, including Sulpicio, who will be beatified during the synod on young people, and St. Camillus, St. Josephine Bakhita, Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, and even St. John Paul II, who lost his mother at a young age.
“Whatever his history, the human person receives from this Commandment the orientation that leads to Christ: In Him, the true Father is effectively revealed, who offers us to ‘be born again from on high.’ The enigmas of our lives are illuminated when we discover that God, from all time, prepared us for a life as his children, where every event is a mission that comes from Him.”
Our wounds start to be healed, the pope said, when because of God’s gift of grace, we discover that the true question is no longer, “why me,” but rather, “for whom?”
“‘For whom’ did this happen to me? What work did God have in mind when He forged me throughout my personal history? Here, everything gets turned around; everything becomes precious, everything becomes constructive. How can my experience, although it may have been sorrowful and painful, become, in the light of love, something for others? For whom (can it become) a source of salvation?
The pope gave the practical advice to draw close again to our parents if we’ve grown distant from them: “They’ve given you life,” he said.
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And then, he continued, there is the bad habit of saying bad things, of cursing. “Please, never ever insult parents! Never! Never insult the mother. Never insult the father. Never. Never. Make this decision within yourself: From now on, I will never insult the mother or the father of anyone. They have given life. We mustn’t insult them.”
Finally, Pope Francis noted that this “marvelous life” is simply offered to us, not imposed upon us. “To be born again in Christ is a grace to welcome freely and is a treasure of our baptism, through which, by work of the Holy Spirit, there is only one Father of us all, the Father of heaven.”
See the Holy Father’s series on The Commandments here: