Q. I have a personal problem with the Fourth Commandment. It reads that we should honor father and mother, but my own father is not an honorable man.
He has always been a self-centered person who puts his own needs above everyone else’s. Right now he is elderly and sick with stage 4 cancer. He expects me to be there to take care of his every need, even though he resides in an assisted living facility, and he never gives a thought to how anyone else is doing.
I try to do what I can, and I want to follow the commandments, but I am having a real problem understanding how to handle this one. (South Carolina)
A. The command from the Decalogue to “honor your father” does not mean that you have to like the distasteful things you find in him. What it does mean, though, is that you are obliged to treat him with civility and decency — and with some measure of gratitude for having given you life.
In your present situation, that would mean doing what you reasonably can to ease your father’s twin burdens of old age and sickness. The word “reasonably” is key: You may take comfort in the fact that your responsibilities to yourself and to your own family trump your obligations to your father, especially since his basic needs are being seen to by the assisted living staff, and so you can balance your time accordingly.
What he needs from you, probably more than anything else, is a bit of companionship on his difficult journey and the assurance that he has someone who cares.
There is no need to beat yourself up; my guess is that you’re already doing most of what you need to. Honoring your father doesn’t mean pretending that he has never hurt you or allowing yourself to be manipulated by him. It does mean trying your best to forgive and keeping the lines of communication open. I have heard stories of long-strained relationships being gently healed in later life, when circumstances change and people need each other in new ways.
I will pray that this is one of those stories.
Q. I am a freshman in high school. I believe in God and in the Christian way of life, but I do have a question. How does God influence our lives, and how can one have a closer relationship with him? I want to depend on God for the decisions I make in my life, but many people say that they can live independently, without God. I only want to know the truth. (Mt. Arlington, New Jersey)
A. You are to be congratulated — and envied. To have come to understand at a young age that your daily existence depends on the providence of the Lord and that God’s will offers the best chance at a happy life is something of a rarity. (One might think this to be a self-evident truth that ought to be grasped readily, but many people take many years to incorporate it into their thinking.)
As you move through your teenage years, you will surely draw even closer to God — by seeking to align your desires with the will of God.
The Lord does influence our lives in several ways: in the inner comfort and guidance we feel during quiet times and in prayer; with advice from trusted friends and mentors; and in the opportunities he provides, through the ever-changing circumstances of our lives.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.