The Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.

He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and was subject to them.--LUKE ii. 51.

In the few words of our text St. Luke describes the private, hidden life of our Lord during His childhood and early manhood. During all these years, the Saviour, who was in reality the Creator and Lord of Mary and Joseph, was subject to them, as a child to his earthly parents, and obeyed all their words and wishes. Our Lord's conduct toward His foster father and Blessed Mother is the pattern according to which every good child should endeavor to model his life and actions with regard to his own parents.

I. What the fourth Commandment requires. I. Children owe honor to their parents, and this implies three things: respect, obedience and support. We owe respect to our parents, because it is from them we have received our life; we owe them obedience, because it is from them we have received our training, education, etc.; we owe them assistance and support, if necessary, since they assisted us during our infancy and needful years. 2. Respect should be shown our parents in words and actions, in bearing their defects and failings, and by seeking their advice and direction in matters of importance. 3. Obedience is due to parents in all that is not sin, and that has not reference to a choice of a state of life. Our Lord remained in the Temple at the age of twelve without His parents' permission, because this pertained to His life work, His divine mission on earth. While at Nazareth He obeyed them in all things. 4. In regard to support it is our duty to supply our parents with necessary food, clothing and other things, in as far as they have need, and to assist them spiritually in life and death. 5. We are under similar obligations of obedience and respect to other lawful authorities, such as, rulers, teachers, employers, etc. (Rom. xiii. 7).

II. Motives for observing this Commandment. I. The duties imposed by this precept come first after our duties to God. 2. We owe our parents a debt of gratitude we can never pay. 3. Self-interest requires us to observe this precept. It is the only Commandment to the observance of which is expressly promised even a temporal reward (I Tim. v. 4; Eph. vi. 2; Ecclus. iii. 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 17). Failure to observe this Commandment brings with it misfortune and unhappiness in our own lives and families (Deut. xxvii. 16; Ecclus. iii. 18).

EXHORTATION. In order to deserve and receive the rewards of devoted children let us imitate such examples as those of the Patriarch Joseph (Gen. xlvi. 29), of King Solomon (3 Kings ii. 19), and above all of our Lord who was subject to Mary and Joseph.

Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III


Honor thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon
the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.--EXOD. xx. 12.


The preceding Commandments are supreme both in dignity and in importance; but those which follow rank next in order because of their necessity. For the first three tend directly to God; while the object of the remaining seven is the charity we owe to our neighbor, although even these are ultimately referred to God, our neighbor on account of God. Hence our Lord Himself has declared that the two Commandments which inculcate the love of God and of our neighbor are like unto each other.(1)


The advantages arising from a faithful observance of this Commandment can scarcely be expressed in words; for not only does it bring with it its own fruit, and that in the richest abundance and of superior excellence, but it also affords a test of the sincerity of our love for God: "He that loveth not his brother whom he seeth," says St. John, "how can he love God whom he seeth not?"(2) In like manner, if we do not honor and reverence our parents whom we see, how can we honor or reverence God, the supreme and best of parents, whom we see not? Hence we can easily perceive the similarity between these two Commandments.

The application of this Commandment is of very great extent. Besides our natural parents, there are many others whose power, rank, usefulness, exalted functions, or office, entitle them to parental honor.

Furthermore, this Commandment lightens the labor of parents and superiors; for their chief care is to mould the lives of those placed under their charge according to virtue and the maxims of the divine law; and the performance of this duty must be considerably facilitated, if it be known by all that highest honor to parents is an obligation, sanctioned and commanded by no less an authority than that of God Himself.


To impress the mind with this truth, it will be found useful to distinguish the Commandments of the first from those of the second table. This distinction, therefore, the pastor will first explain.

Let him begin by showing that the divine precepts of the Decalogue were written on two tables, one of which, in the opinion of the holy Fathers, contained the three preceding, the other the remaining seven Commandments of the Decalogue.(3) This order of the Commandments is very appropriate, since their collocation points out their difference in nature. For whatever is commanded or prohibited in Scripture by the divine law springs from one of two principles, the love of God or of our neighbor: and one or the other of these is the basis of every duty required of us. The three preceding Commandments teach us the love which we owe to God, and the other seven, the duties which we owe to our neighbor and public society. The arrangement, therefore, which assigns some of the Commandments to the first and others to the second table, is not without good reason.


In the first three Commandments God, the supreme good, is, as it were, the subject matter; in the others, the good of our neighbor. The former require the highest love, the latter the love next to the highest. The former have to do with our last end, the latter with those things that lead us to our end.(4)

Again, the love of God terminates in God Himself, for God is to be loved above all things for His own sake; but the love of our neighbor originates in, and is to be regulated by, the love of God. If we love our parents, obey our masters, respect our superiors, our ruling principle in doing so should be that God is their Creator, and wishes to give pre-eminence to those by whose cooperation He governs and protects all others; and as He requires that we yield a dutiful respect to such persons, we should do so, because He deems them worthy of this honor. If, then, we honor our parents, the tribute is paid to God rather than to man. Accordingly we read in St. Matthew concerning duty to superiors: "He that receiveth you, receiveth me";(5) and the Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians, giving instruction to servants, says: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ: not serving to the eye, as it were pleasing men, but as the servants of Christ."(6)

Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him "with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength."(7) The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.

To outstep these limits, by loving our neighbor as we love God, would be an enormous crime. "If any man come to me," says our Lord, "and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also; he cannot be my disciple." 8 In the same way, to one who would first attend the burial of his father, and then follow Christ, our Lord said:

"Let the dead bury their dead";(9) and the same lesson of instruction is more clearly conveyed in these words of St. Matthew's Gospel: "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."(10)

Parents, no doubt, are to be affectionately loved and highly respected; but religion requires that supreme honor and homage be given to Him alone, who is the sovereign Creator, and universal Father, and that all our love for our earthly parents be referred to our eternal Father who is in heaven. Should, however, the injunctions of parents be at any time opposed to the Commandments of God, children are, of course, to prefer the will of God to the desires of their parents, always keeping in view the divine maxim: "We ought to obey God rather than men."(11)


After these preliminary remarks the pastor will proceed to explain the words of the Commandment, beginning with "honor." To "honor" is to think respectfully of anyone, and, in every relation in which he may be considered, to hold him in the highest estimation. It includes love, respect, obedience, and reverence. Very properly, then, is the word "honor" used here in preference to the word "fear" or "love," although parents are also to be much loved and feared. Respect and reverence are not always the accompaniments of love; neither is love the inseparable companion of fear; but honor, when proceeding from the heart, combines both fear and love.


The pastor will next explain who they are, whom the Commandment designates as fathers; for although the law refers primarily to our natural fathers, yet the name belongs to others also, and these seem to be indicated in the Commandment, as we can gather from numerous passages of Scripture. Besides our natural fathers, then, there are others who in Scripture are called fathers, as was said above, and to each of these proper honor is due.

In the first place, the prelates of the Church, her pastors and priests are called fathers, after the example of the Apostle, who, writing to the Corinthians, says: "I write not these things to confound you; but I admonish you as my dearest children. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus by the Gospel I have begotten you."(12) We also read in Ecclesiasticus: "Let us praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generation."(13)

Those who govern the State, to whom are entrusted power, magistracy, or command, are also called fathers; thus Naaman was called father by his servants.(14)

The name father is also applied to those to whose care, fidelity, probity and wisdom, others are committed, such as teachers, instructors, masters, and guardians; and hence the sons of the prophets called Elias (15) and Eliseus (16) their fathers. Finally, aged men, whose years entitle them to our respect, we also call fathers.


In his instructions the pastor should chiefly emphasize the obligation of honoring all who are entitled to be called fathers, especially our natural fathers, of whom the divine Commandment particularly speaks. They are, so to say, images of the immortal God. In them we behold a picture of our own origin; from them we have received existence, them God made use of to impart to us the soul with all its faculties, by them we were led to the Sacraments, instructed in our religion, schooled in right conduct, and trained in civil and human knowledge.(17)


The pastor will teach that the name of "mother" is also mentioned in this Commandment, and with good reason, in order to remind us of the benefits which we have received from her; of the care and solicitude with which she bore us, and of the pain and labor with which she gave us birth and brought us up.


Moreover, the honor which children are commanded to pay to their parents should be the spontaneous offering of sincere and dutiful love. This is nothing more than their due, since for the love of us, they decline no labor, spare no exertion, shrink from no danger. Their highest pleasure it is to feel that they are loved by their children, the dearest objects of their affection. Joseph, when he enjoyed in Egypt the highest station and the most ample power after the King himself, received with honor his father, who had come into Egypt.(18) Solomon rose to meet his mother as she approached; and having paid her the tribute of filial respect, placed her on a royal throne on his right hand.(19)

We also owe to our parents other duties of respect, such as to supplicate God in their behalf, that they may lead prosperous and happy lives, beloved and esteemed by all who know them, and most pleasing in the sight of God and of His saints.

We also honor them by submission to their wishes and inclinations. "My son," says Solomon, "hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother; that grace may be added to thy head and a chain of gold to thy neck."(20) Of the same kind are the exhortations of St. Paul. "Children," he says, "obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just";(21) and also, "children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord." (22) This doctrine is confirmed by the example of the holiest men. Isaac, when bound for sacrifice by his father, meekly and uncomplainingly obeyed;(23) and the Rechabites, not to depart from the counsel of their father, always abstained from wine.(24)

We also honor our parents by the imitation of their good example; for, to study the life of another as a model for imitation, is the highest mark of esteem. We also honor them when we not only ask but follow their advice.

Again we honor our parents when we relieve their necessities, supplying them with necessary food and clothing according to these words of the Redeemer, who, when reproving the impiety of the Pharisees, said: "Why do you also transgress the commandments of God because of your traditions? For God said: 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' and, 'he that shall curse father or mother let him die the death.' But you say: Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, the gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee. And he shall not honor his father or his mother; and you have made void the commandment of God for your tradition."(25)

But if at all times it is our duty to honor our parents, this duty becomes still more imperative when they are visited by severe illness. We should then pay particular attention to what regards their eternal salvation, taking especial care that they duly receive the last Sacraments. We should also see that pious and religious persons visit them frequently to strengthen their weakness, assist them by their counsel, and animate them to the hope of immortality, that having risen above the concerns of this world, they may fix their thoughts and affections entirely on God. Thus blessed with the sublime virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and fortified by the Sacraments of the Church, they will not only look at death without fear, but will hail it as the bright opening to a blessed eternity.

Finally, we honor our parents even after their death by attending their funerals, procuring them suitable burial, having Masses said for the repose of their souls, and faithfully executing their last wills.


Having explained these matters, the pastor will next consider the nature of the reward promised to the observance of this Commandment, and its appropriateness in relation to filial piety. That reward is great, indeed, for it consists principally in length of days. They who always preserve the grateful remembrance of a benefit deserve to be blessed with its prolonged enjoyment. Children, therefore, who honor their parents, and gratefully acknowledge the blessing of life received from them are deservedly rewarded with the protracted enjoyment of that life to an advanced age.

The nature of the divine promise also demands clear explanation. It includes not only the eternal life of the blessed, but also the life which we lead on earth, according to these words of the Apostle: "Piety is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."(26)

Many very holy men, it is true, such as Job,(27) David,(28) Paul,(29) desired to die, and a long life is burdensome to the wretched;(30) but the reward which is here promised is, notwithstanding, neither inconsiderable, nor to be despised. The additional words, "which the Lord thy God will give thee," promise not only length of days, but also repose, tranquillity, security, which render life happy; for in Deuteronomy it is not only said, "that thou mayest live a long time," but it is also added, "and that it may be well with thee,"(31) words afterwards quoted by the Apostle.(32)


These blessings, we say, are conferred on those whose piety God rewards; otherwise the divine promises would not be fulfilled, since the more dutiful child is sometimes the more short-lived.

Now this happens sometimes because his interests are best consulted in summoning him from this world before he has strayed from the path of virtue and of duty, according to these words of the Wise man: "He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul.(33) Or because destruction and general upheaval are impending, he is called away that he may escape the calamities of the times. "The just man," says the Prophet, "is taken away from before the face of evil," (34) lest his virtue and salvation be endangered. Or else, he is spared the bitter anguish of witnessing the calamities of his friends and relations in such evil days. The premature death of the good therefore, gives just reason to apprehend the approach of calamitous times.


But, if Almighty God promises rewards to dutiful children, He also reserves the heaviest chastisements to punish those who are wanting in filial piety; for it is written: "He that curseth his father or mother shall die the death":(35) "he that afflicteth his father and chaseth away his mother, is infamous and unhappy":(36) "he that curseth his father and mother, his lamp shall be put out in the midst of darkness";(37) "the eye that mocketh at his father, and that despiseth the labor of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens of the brooks pick it out, and the young eagles eat it." (38) There are on record many instances of undutiful children, who were made the signal objects of the divine vengeance. The disobedience of Absalom to his father David did not go unpunished. On account of his sin he perished miserably, transfixed by three lances.(39)

Of those who resist the spiritual authority of the priest it is written: "He that will be proud, and refuse to obey the commandment of the priest who ministereth at that time to the Lord thy God, by the decree of the judge that man shall die."(40)

Sermon: The virtue of Obedience
by the Rev. P.A. Sheehan
He went down to Nazareth, and was subject to them.

We are making rapid progress, my brethren, in our commemoration of the life of our Divine Lord. It is only a fortnight since we saw Him laid the new-born Babe in the manger at Bethlehem: a week ago and He was taken to the temple to be circumcised; scarcely three days have elapsed since we have seen kings around Him, still an infant, but already acknowledged as God of the universe and King of Men, and in today's Gospel that striking episode is put before us for our consideration, which pictures our Divine Redeemer in the midst of the doctors of Jerusalem, no longer an infant, apparently helpless, but a child endowed with wisdom more than human, putting to shame the gray-haired wisdom of Jerusalem, hearing them, as they tried to interpret the words of the Holy Spirit, asking them questions, as He afterwards asked them in the streets of Jerusalem, leaving His enemies dumb, and answering them, so that, as the Gospel says, "They wondered much upon seeing Him." It is a rapid stride we have made compressing twelve years of our Lord's life into three days: and it is a sudden change, instantaneous as all the movements of God seem to be, from child unseen, hidden in His Mother's arms in Bethlehem, and yet throwing Jerusalem into a panic, to the same child carrying consternation among the doctors by the words of heavenly wisdom which He spoke. It is not on this event, my brethren, we would dwell today, but upon that remarkable sentence which closes the Gospel, and which is a complete history of the greater part of our Lord's life--His hidden life at Nazareth, the twelve years that preceded the events of this day's Gospel-- the eighteen years that succeeded until Christ commenced His public ministry: "He went down to Nazareth, and was subject to them."


We have seen what was the humiliation of our Divine Lord in His birth; and it is easy to trace that humiliation through the whole course of His life. And it is not extravagant to say the humiliation of our Divine Lord did not cease on Calvary; that the eternal union with His Sacred Humanity will always, in a certain sense, be a source of humiliation as well as a source of infinite honor to Him. So, too, until the end of time He will continue that greatest of all humiliations, His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, a humiliation, like the humiliation of His birth, self-inflicted, but the source too of many irreverences and humiliations, inflicted, like the sufferings of Calvary, by the hands of His sinful creatures.

One of the many ways in which He exercised that humility was by the practice of a virtue that is very closely allied to humility, and that rests upon humility as its foundation--I mean the virtue of obedience. He practiced that virtue in Heaven: "Holocausts and oblations thou wouldst not; but a body hast thou fitted for me; then, said I, behold I come; in the head of the book it was written of me that I should do Thy will, O my God." He practiced that virtue upon earth; for every act was conformable to the will of His Heavenly Father: "I came not to do my own will; but the will of him who sent me." "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." And every act of His life was done in obedience to others, except where the will of His Father demanded a prior obedience. Even His birth was an act of obedience. It was obedience to the decree of Caesar that brought His mother to Bethlehem, and He was born to be enrolled at the instant of His birth as the subject of a temporal prince.

His circumcision in the Temple was an act of obedience to the Jewish ceremonial law. What was the obedience of His life we may learn from that one sentence of the Evangelist: "He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them." And during His Passion He had no will of His own, being perfectly resigned to the will of His Father, and submissive alternately to the brutal soldiers that arrested Him, and the judge who condemned Him unjustly. Even still Christ is obedient-- obedient to the voice of the priest in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Five words from His sinful creature, and He runs through a series of miracles, each as wonderful as the greatest miracle He wrought on earth, and repeats a greater mystery than the Incarnation, compelled thereto by the joint action of His love for men, and His obedience to the power with which He vested His ministers, and the law of love which He established.

From the example of our Divine Lord we shall learn at once what is the nature of obedience: it is simply the sacrifice of our will. Faith demands the sacrifice of our intellects; it demands that one should acknowledge as true that which we do not understand; it demands that one should admit that human reason is imperfect and finite in its operations, and it compels our assent to truths of an order to which reason is a stranger. Obedience demands that we sacrifice our wills; that we consent to yield ourselves up to the discretion of others; to acknowledge the right in others to determine what we shall do or omit; and therefore, reduced from theory to practice, it is the prompt and cheerful execution of the commandments of those whose right to rule we acknowledge. Obedience is therefore the practice of humility, and it affords the readiest proof that we are really humble. For humility is an act of the intellect enlightened by God whereby we understand our nothingness in the eyes of God, and our inferiority to our fellow creatures. Obedience is the effect of that humility, forcing the soul to submit blindly to the will of God and to the will of our superiors by whom the will of God is manifested.


Again obedience is based upon mortification. It is the clearest sign of a spirit truly mortified. There are many in the world gifted by nature with iron wills, that crush down all obstacles, that can bear austerities without murmuring, that can tame their flesh and subdue every rebellion within them, by fasting and haircloth and the discipline, and yet be by no means mortified, because that iron will cannot subdue itself, nor can it subdue the pride which the consciousness of the possession of such a will originates.

And so it has been to the world many times a matter of surprise and a subject of scandal that men, apparently to all outer seeming, austere, mortified, self-annihilated, could have been so abandoned by God as to lose the faith, and to labor to bring many others with them to perdition. They went about with pale, emaciated faces--body and soul barely kept together--mere shadows that a breath would dissolve, and men called them saints; yet they were castaways, abandoned by God, which was clearly proven when their sanctity was put to the test, for when the Church demanded their obedience, and God demanded the sacrifice of their wills, they refused that obedience and that sacrifice, without which, in the eyes of God, the austerities of a Simon Stylites were utterly unavailing. So it was with Blaise Pascal in the last century; and Protestants, when they repeat his calumnies against the Church and the religious Orders, point to his sunken face and his mortified ascetic appearance, and they ask us do we not find in these sufficient motives of credibility? No! because it was not austerity, but vinegar that made him pale and thin; the gall of bitterness of wounded pride and quick susceptibilities, that were made doubly sensitive by being pampered. If a single act of his life would bear comparison with this: "He went down to Nazareth, and was subject to them," we might lend him an ear, but all the externals of sanctity do not prove to us his vocation from God, if not sealed with the seal of obedience. Therefore it is that St. Augustine says that obedience is the greatest virtue; the origin, the mother of all virtues.

"Obedience," says St. Gregory, "is the only virtue which implants the other virtues in the mind, and preserves them when they are implanted. Obedience is better than sacrifice: because by sacrifice the flesh of another is immolated, by obedience our own will is sacrificed to Almighty God."


There are two other motives for obedience besides those already mentioned, and they are the reverence which we owe to those we are bound to obey, and acknowledge the utility of obedience and its necessity for the preservation of any kind of society. There is first the reverence which we owe to those we are bound to obey, and without this reverence our obedience will be imperfect. It will be wanting in its principal motive. Our obedience may be meritorious, but it will not be obedience properly so-called. It may be some other virtue, or it may be only a servile fear. If I obey the commandments of God through fear of the punishments He inflicts on those who disobey, we may call that virtue, if it be called a virtue, compliance, or prudence, or by any other name, but it is not obedience.

For obedience supposes that I yield up my own will, because He whom I obey wishes it. It therefore supposes as a motive reverence and affection. So, too, when a child obeys its parents, it is but little gratification to know that it is through fear of chastisement, very little gratification, indeed, to feel that your house is changed into a prison, that the law of sternness and just judgments has superseded the law of filial reverence and affection. Yet there are many, even here today, with whom even sternness and judgment are a thing of the past, who have no longer any power over their children. They never had the power that springs from love and affection, because by the bad example of their lives they sowed the seeds of neglect and irreligion, and these could bring forth no other fruit than disrespect and contempt. Oh! there are few houses in the world today like that house of Nazareth--very few houses that reproduce even faintly the holiness and the peace and the serene happiness that dwelt with that Family on earth, Joseph and Mary and Jesus. Where shall you find nowadays the perfect obedience that the Infant God: aye, and the Man-God, too, paid to His Mother and foster Father? Obedience springs from humility and self-denial, and deep reverence, that God Himself was proud to pay to those highly gifted creatures that He had chosen for Himself. For, mark you, I don't say humility or self-denial alone, as if our Divine Lord did say: "These are my creatures, and now to humble myself I will obey them," but have added reverence, too, and this was His primary motive, that He saw the dignity to which the Father had raised her, saw the beauty with which the Spirit had clothed her, and saw that she was His Mother, who loved Him tenderly, and for whom every pulse of His Heart gave assurance of affection, and therefore it was no device of His humility to obey her, but the action of His intelligence that saw her worth, and the promptness of His Heart that appreciated it. His was obedience that knew no fear; His an affection that never degenerated into disrespectful familiarity; neither was His an eye-serving obedience, that reverenced the Mother before her face, and made light of the Mother when away from her presence, but her memory, her image in His mind was as sacred to Him, and as hallowed as her presence. Oh! there are very few households in our days like that of Nazareth, very few children like the boy Jesus, and I suppose the reason is, that there are very few fathers like Joseph, and very few mothers like Mary.

Lastly, there is the utility of obedience as the surest way to secure salvation; and there is the necessity of obedience, without which, as a strong ligament to bind together any society, the elements of union become elements of discord. Its utility-- for the saints tell us it is the shortest way to perfection. "It is the holocaust which leaves nothing unconsecrated to God." Poverty consecrates our wealth to God, temperance consecrates our flesh, obedience consecrates everything we possess to God, leaving us nothing which we can call our own, not even our wills. And therefore St. Anselm compares a good secular, be he priest or layman, to one who offers to God all the fruits of the tree of His life, but a religious, under vow of obedience, to one who gives to God not only the fruits of the tree, but the tree itself.

It is needless to dwell on the necessity of obedience. It is evident that if harmony be the law of creation, so must obedience, without which there is neither order nor harmony. There is not a single creature on earth that does not move in obedience to certain laws; neither can any society maintain itself, whether it be the vast society of the Catholic Church, or the society of the smallest household, in which superiority is not recognized and deference paid to the superior. Therefore it is that all religious societies outside the Catholic Church are disintegrated and disorganized because the principle of their origin was disobedience, and they carry that principle with them in their rebellion.

But we know that the yoke of Jesus Christ is sweet and His burden light, and we have our answer to all that may be advanced about human liberty and the like, and that answer is the life of Jesus Christ, whose followers we profess to be. And just as when they object to our reverence for his Blessed Mother we point to Bethlehem and Nazareth and Calvary; and when they object to our practice of mortification, we point to every incident of His life; so when they object to our obedience as unmanly and servile, we point to this of the Evangelist, amongst many other sentences: "He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them."


It is unnecessary, my brethren, to recommend such obedience to you. The Church of God is a kind Mother and not a harsh mistress. Yet there are some among us children of the Church who are not its children, but its galley-slaves. They pay the Church no obedience, they will not obey its precepts; they will not frequent the Sacraments, and if they come to Mass, God alone knows what motive brings them hither. They will not sever their connection with the Church, because they know it would cost them their souls; at the last moments they will demand the Sacraments as a rightful inheritance; but they will find a stern judge in Him who was a model of obedience here on earth. Do you, my brethren, carry with you into your families that spirit of obedience with which God has inspired you to regard His Church? Recognize the fact that we are mutually dependent upon one another, that we lean upon one another, and all upon God; that therefore we are bound to yield our wills to the wills of our superiors and even to those whose are inferior to us. So, children, learn to love your parents and to obey them because you love them, as Jesus obeyed His Mother because He loved her. Husbands and wives, learn to be mutually forbearing, and teach your children to obey you because they respect you, and therefore beware of ever once giving them bad example; for the minds of children are very quick, and if the mind of your child once revolts from you, your relationship is severed. You may continue to be his warder or keeper--you are no longer his father or mother. Masters, respect your servants, and do no violence to their feelings, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. And servants, obey your masters with respect and fear, and in the simplicity of your hearts, as you would obey Christ. What- ever you do, labor as if for the Lord, and not for men, knowing that it is from God you will receive your reward.

Sermon: Obedience, Our Lord's Example
by the Rev. R. Peppert

Jesus was subject to them.--LUKE ii. 51.

Pride lies at the root of human misery, for it misleads men to their own disadvantage, and makes them set themselves up against God and their fellow men. Pride refuses to submit to any authority and leads only to destruction. Our Lord by His twofold obedience sets us a great example of humility, the virtue opposed to pride. He showed obedience to God by conforming to the Divine precept requiring Him to go to Jerusalem. But in order to show that obedience to human authority is always connected with obedience to God, He obeyed His holy Mother Mary and his foster-father, St. Joseph, and was subject to them. It is wonderful to think that the Son of God humbled Himself so far as to obey weak human beings. Nothing is better calculated to conquer the recklessness and pride that incline us to disobey those in authority over us, than the thought of the Child Jesus, listening to His parents' words in the little house at Nazareth, ready to do whatever they bid Him and eager to carry out their wishes precisely and without delay. He teaches us most emphatically to be obedient to our superiors; obedience directed all His actions throughout His life. Just as when a child He obeyed His parents, so later on He obeyed the rulers of the State, for instance by paying tribute. By His example He taught us patience even in the greatest sufferings, as He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner by the servants of those in authority, rebuked Peter for drawing his sword and healed the man's ear that had been cut off. "Be obedient to your superiors" is the lesson taught by the holy Child at twelve years of age--be attentive to His words; for disobedience is a wrong not only to your superiors, but also to Him, since it is His will that you should obey them. To all superiors applies the commandment: "Thou shalt do whatsoever they shall say, that preside in the place which the Lord shall choose, and what they shall teach according to his law, and thou shalt follow their sentence, neither shalt thou decline to the right hand nor to the left hand" (Deut, xvii. 10, 11).


St. Peter tells us to "be subject to every human creature for God's sake," i.e., although your superiors are only human beings like yourselves, the power that they have over you is from God. They are given you by Him, to order you, in His place, to do what is expedient for the whole community; hence you must be subject to them as His representatives. We see from these passages that obedience to superiors is a necessary consequence of obedience to God. It would be useless to imagine that you were pious and good servants of God if you did not try to pay the obedience due to your superiors, because God has set them over you.

Why does God require us to be obedient? Because without obedience every individual would be ruined and the whole of human society be thrown into confusion. Disobedience involves ruin for the individual. A child cannot understand what is good for him; he knows very little about the world, himself or Almighty God. He regards as good many things that would be injurious to him, and the corruption of our human nature makes him think most unpleasant what is most beneficial. Supposing a child were always to do only what he chose, and were not forced to follow the right course by the affectionate, but if necessary stern compulsion of his superiors, what would be the result? He would be ruined both in body and in soul. But it is a mark of God's love that He sets people over the child, who by their care and authority can supply what he still lacks in the way of experience and training. Gratitude for such care ought to make children eager to obey, and where there is no obedience, there is only sinful ingratitude.

Not only children but grown-up persons also need guidance. Although a man may be able to form a correct opinion of himself and of the various circumstances of life, he may still not be able to consider all circumstances exactly, or to see everything in its true light; he may make mistakes and require some higher authority to keep him back from dangerous and harmful paths. Moreover, there are many passions apt to lead astray even intelligent and highly educated people. What a benefit it is for such if they are subject to the authority of others, who can regard matters impartially, and how advantageous it is for them if they do not cast good advice to the winds, but follow it! By doing so they are acting for their own welfare.


It follows from Holy Scripture that we ought to obey our superiors even if we do not know why they order us to do this or that, and do not see that the thing ordered is expedient for us.

True obedience consists in doing a thing simply because it is ordered. A man who obeys an order, merely because he sees that the thing ordered is advantageous to him, is obeying not so much his superior as his own understanding. Hence it is no excuse for disobedience if anyone says: "I shall not do as I am told, because I do not see the good of it." A remark of this kind proves that he knows nothing of the principles under lying Christian obedience. The temptation to disobedience is still greater when pride in our own hearts and wills makes us fancy that we know the reasons why a certain command is laid upon us, but regard them as trivial, and, as we understand the matter better than our superior, we need not obey him. What obedience would there ever be if every subordinate had first to criticize the reasons why he was ordered to do anything, and then decide whether they seemed satisfactory or not, thinking that he was bound to obey only if the reasons agreed with his own views. He would certainly discover that the reasons for doing anything disagreeable were insufficient, and only what was pleasant would appear obligatory, and thus his own will would take the place of obedience.

Suppose that every member of a large community or family, every person in a town or country, before obeying, had to decide whether the reasons for the command were clear and agreeable to him--what would happen? One would refuse to obey, another would obey only partially, and complete confusion would result, families, towns and countries would be ruined.


Obedience is the bond uniting human beings, and without it men must perish. Hence Church and State alike require us to obey. If you intend to be faithful members of the Church and good citizens--in other words, if you mean to be genuine Christians, you must early accustom yourselves to obedience, not what is often called obedience nowadays, which is just doing what is pleasant, but real obedience paid to a superior regardless of your own opinions, simply because it is God's will that obedience be paid to superiors as His representatives. If you do not now accustom yourselves to obey them, you will never obey God Himself. Can we ever perceive what He has in view in the manifold circumstances of our life on earth? Are we not so shortsighted as often to be mistaken with regard to what God in His wisdom requires of us? Is not the life of a Christian an incessant submission to God in faith? Yes, unless we obey Him we shall never reach heaven, which our forefathers lost by their disobedience. You will never obey God properly unless you learn early to submit to those in authority over you, who speak to you in His name. He who, when young, criticizes the orders of his superiors, and rejects all that do not please him, will afterwards treat God's commandments in the same way. Experience shows us that atheists and unbelievers always begin by disobeying their parents and elders. Therefore, if you truly love God, and wish to be faithful to Him throughout your lives, regard obedience as a most sacred duty. Keep Jesus always before your eyes, and whenever a temptation to disobedience arises in your hearts, let the Divine Child look at you with love and say: "My child, I, too, was subject to Mary, My mother, and to My holy foster father." Amen.

1. Matt. xii. 39. Mark xii. 31. See Aug., in Ps. xxxii. serm. I; lib. 3 de doctrin. Christ, c. 10; lib. 50. horn. 38; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae., quaest. 17. art. 8.
2. I John iv. 20.
3. See Clem. of Alexan., lib. 6. Strom. well before the end; Aug., in Exod. q. 71; St. Thomas la. IIae., q. 100. art. 4.
4. See Aug., in Ps. xxxii. serm. I; St. Thomas, la. IIae., q. 122. arts. I & 2; opusc. 7. cap. de primo praecepto.
5. Matt. x. 40.
6. Ephes. vi. 5, 6. See Aug., lib. 3. de doct. Christ, c. 12; lib. 4. Conf., cc. 7, 10, ii, 12; Prosper., lib. 3. de vita contempl. c. 13; Bernard, de diligendo Deo.
7. Deut. vi. 5. Luke x. 27. Matt. xxii. 37-39.
8. Luke xiv. 26. 9. Luke ix. 60. 10. Matt x. 37.
11. Acts v. 29.
12. Cor. iv. 14-16. 13. Eccl. xliv. I. 14. Kings v. 13.
15. 4 Kings ii. 12.
16. 4 Kings xiii. 14.
17. On the duties of children to parents see Anton., Aug., lib. 10. tit 19.
18. Gen. xlvi.
19. 3 Kings ii. 19. 20. Proverbs i. 8, 9. 21. Ephes. vi. I.
22. Col. iii. 20. 23. Gen.xxii.9. 24. Jerem. xxxv. 6.
25. Matt. xv. 3-6. On the duty of assisting parents see Basil., hom. de honore parentum; in Hexam. hom. 9; Amb., lib. 5. Hexam. c. 16; C. of Gangr., can. 6; dist. 86, in many places; Jerome, lib. 2. Commentar. in Matt.; Aug., lib. I. quaest. Evang. cap. 14.
26. I Tim. iv. 8. 27. Job iii. 28. Ps. cxix. 5.
29. Phil. ii. 17. 30. Cor. v. 2.
31. Deut. v. 16. 32. 33. Wisd. iv. 10, 11.
34. Isa. Ivii. i. 35. Exod. xxi. 17. Lev. xx. 9.
36. Prov. xix. 26.
37. Prov. xx. 20. 38. Prov. xxx. 17. 39. Kings xviii. 14.
40. Deut. xvii. 12. See Clem. epist. 3. after the beginning; ep. I. after the beginning; Ambr., lib. I. 2. offic. c. 24; Jerome, epist, I. after the middle; II. q. 3. I. 11-13.

(Music: If you Love Me by Tomas Tallis (16th Century)
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