Monday, January 18, 2016

Catholic Stand: How Should We Honor Our Elderly Parents?

In response to Dr. Denise Hunnell’s December 29, 2015 Catholic Stand post, “Family Life as ‘Domestic Pilgrimage’”, a loyal reader brought up a question in regards to the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16):

I have yet to hear, never mind expounded upon, what would constitute a mortal sin in a family context setting. In today’s mobile society where siblings leave for far-away places seldom to return, is talking to one’s parents (or siblings) less than a week a year the kind of DIS-honor God envisioned when He placed that omission on the top ten? Would continuing to live one’s own life thousands of miles away while an aging parent or sibling slips the bonds of life in a medical setting or at home constitute a mortal or grievous sin, and should such a family member be denied Communion for acting this way? After all, it is very similar to divorce when you think about it.

This is a topic that touches me personally. Since 1994, I’ve devoted a good chunk of my life and time to taking care of physically disabled family members — first my younger brother (who passed away in 2011), and now my mother. Both my other siblings pitch in as well, to the extent they’re able. Between the three of us, we’re doing what we can to make sure our mother’s final years are lived in comfort and company.

But before we can attempt to answer our loyal reader’s question, we should first ask ourselves, “How does the Catholic Church understand the Fourth Commandment?” Before we can ask whether the situations the reader describe constitute dishonor, we need to know what’s meant by honor.