“Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20-12).
The Fourth Commandment gives a clear but general mandate about how children should revere their parents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expounds on the role of adult children.
“Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. … The fourth commandment reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress” (CCC 2217-18).
Further, it addresses the importance of extended family learning “to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor,” as well as caring for people outside of related families.
“There are many families who are at times incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs: ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world’” (CCC 2208).
This means to care for our seniors, regardless of their relationship to us, familial or otherwise. And by the same token, seniors carry with them wisdom and experience of lives long lived, valuable lessons and insights for every younger generations at different stages of development — from young adults to middle-age to nearing retirement. More than likely, they’ve been there, done that.
The Senior Living special section of the St. Louis Review this week offers inspirational stories of seniors giving back by sharing their experiences, being the face of Christ through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, developing new relationships in retirement volunteering, maintaining old connections, and surviving and thriving into old age despite challenges along the way.
It also tells stories about accompanying seniors in their advanced years, whether it’s volunteers driving and accompanying retired Msgr. William J. Leach on joy-filled Communion calls and nursing home visits, or volunteers simply being with the ill and dying, just holding hands or talking with them on the journey to their heavenly reward.
Although transportation and communication have changed the reality of extended families in the 21st century, with adult children and families spread in far-flung places, seniors’ faith and determination is as close as Mass at your parish. You can see them there on Sunday morning throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in wheelchairs, with walkers and canes, or slowly hobbling along to fulfill their Sunday obligations.
Watch them as they receive Communion: they’re radiant, and thankful to receive the consecrated body and blood.
Seniors offer us the wisdom of experience and the lesson of deep faith; we should draw from them and accompany them on life’s journey.