In the Gospel of the Mass1, Our Lord declares the true scope of the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue in the face of the erroneous explanations of the casuistry of the Scribes and Pharisees. God himself, through the mouth of Moses, had said: Honor your father and your mother, and whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.
The fulfillment of this commandment is so pleasing to God that he adorned it with countless promises of blessing: He who honors his father atones for his sins; and when he prays he shall be heard. And as he who treasures is he who honors his mother. He who respects his father will have long life. This promise of long life to the one who loves and honors his parents is repeated again and again. Honor your father and mother; thus you will prolong the life on earth that the Lord, your God, will give you. And St. Thomas Aquinas, in explaining this passage, teaches that life is long when it is full, and this fullness is not measured by time, but by works. A full life is lived when it is replete with virtues and fruits; then one has lived long, even if one's body dies young. The Lord also promises good fame - in spite of suffering slander -, riches and numerous descendants. As for offspring, St. Thomas Aquinas goes on to say that there are not only "children of the flesh": there are various reasons for which other modes of spiritual paternity originate, which require their corresponding respect and appreciation.
In spite of the clarity with which this commandment is set forth in these and many other passages of the Old Testament, the doctors and priests of the temple had distorted its meaning and fulfillment6. They taught that if anyone said to his father or mother: whatever you may receive or need from me, let it be "corban," which means offering, the parents could no longer take any of those goods even if they were in great need, for, as they had been declared an offering for the altar, it would then constitute sacrilege. This custom was often a mere legal artifice to continue to enjoy their goods and be released from the natural obligation to help their needy parents. The Lord, Messiah and Lawgiver, explains in its proper sense the scope of the Fourth Commandment, undoing the profound errors that existed at that time on this matter.
The Fourth Commandment, which is also of natural law, requires of all men, but especially of those who want to be good Christians, the self-sacrificing and loving help to parents, which is realized every day in a thousand small details and is particularly emphasized when the parents are elderly or more needy. When there is true love for God, who never asks contradictory things of us, we find the right way to live our love for our parents, even when these children first have to fulfill other family, social or religious obligations. There is here a large field of filial responsibilities, which the children must examine frequently before God, in their personal prayer. God rewards with happiness, already in this life, those who lovingly fulfill these duties towards their parents, even though they may at times prove costly. St. Josemaría Escrivá used to call this commandment the "sweetest precept of the Decalogue," because it is one of the most pleasing obligations our Lord has left us.