Many of us are most concerned with our selves: our lives, how they are going, what we are getting, and our hope for Heaven. But I can tell you that focus on self, although in vogue, is not a good strategy for winning Heaven. Well we might say, I'm nice to the people at work. Good! You've take the first step, but it is not the only thing that we need to do in life. It is our Christian duty to help our parents. In fact, Commandment IV states it succinctly:
Honor your father and mother, and you shall live a long life.
Saint Paul calls this 'the first Commandment with a promise', that is, the fact that it says that in so doing, in honoring our parents, we shall live a long life. We can think of this in the temporal sense that our parents only want what is best for us and in obeying them, we do what is right before God. Parents look out for our health for instance. If mother or father nag us to visit the doctor, we should do so. We might save ourselves much later grief by visiting the doctor now. (And if this coincidentally applies to the reader, let me nag you by seconding your parents' request). If parents suggest that we eat more vegetables, or get off the couch exercise, don't worry - it won't hurt us (except, perhaps, in the human sense, because in the human sense we want to be our own boss). And listening to parents in this regard might even help our bodies and make them last longer. This pertains to other requests of parents as well.
A parent never ceases to become a parent. So long as they live, parents have duties and authority o'er their children. And the children should respect the parents and do what they say. The parent could be 90 and the child 70, but still, a parent is a parent. We should love them hard as long as they are alive because when they go, it is likely that we will greatly miss them. Some of us have both parents until we are well advanced in years, I have a colleague that had both is parents until he was 50. And this, when his father was 17 years older than his mother and finally died in his early 90's. Although this is a family of Lutherans, the college priest was kind enough to say Holy Mass for the father at my request. Which I was glad for, not just for the father's soul, but for my colleague who was upset even though he had had his father for many years in his life. Others of us don't even know our parents because they died when we were young or we never even met them. We can honor their memories, by doing as a good parent would ask us. And what would that be? We merely have the entire New Testament, and some of the Old, and many books by saints and holy people, to help us live the right life. If we know where parents are buried we can also go visit their memorials regularly. Even to put some flowers there if we can afford it, and of course to prays for their souls. Some of us, like me, lose one parent early. It's sad, but this is not Heaven my friends. We must carry on in an exemplary manner to please Jesus, come what may. Think of it: in every family there is at the top, that is, the oldest in the line, those who have lost their parents. We often feel safe and secure with our parents alive, and they may feel safe and secure when their parents are still alive, but at some point up the chain one or both of the parents are deceased. There is a saint, whose name escapes me momentarily, but I think it might have been Saint Margaret Mary of the Miraculous Medal. She lost her mother when she was young, and she then held her head in her hands, crying: 'I have no mother, I have no mother'. Well the Blessed Virgin Herself appeared to comfort this poor girl, who became a woman religious. This saint was made to see the greater good of our parents in Heaven, God the Father, the Blessed Mother, the Lord Jesus who said that those who believe are 'His mother and brother and sisters', and our Foster Father Saint Joseph.
The Lord Jesus was obedient to the Blessed Mother. She asked Him to provide wine for the wedding guests and He did. He provided for Her before His death, having Saint John provide for Her. Jesus also spoke about parents in various ways. There is for example the account of corbin, it being a way for the Pharisees to abscond of their responsibility to care for aging parents. That is, if a Pharisee stated that whatever they were going to give to their parents was corbin (devoted to God) they did not have to give the parents anything. It made the Lord angry, as can be imagined. The Lord honored families generally. On several occasions he brought back from the dead children whose parents were grieving about the loss. There was the widow whose only son had died. Also the father whose 12 year old girl had died. Then there was the man born blind, of whom Jesus said, 'neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this (blindness) was done so that the glory of God might be manifested.' He said this because he was about to heal the man's sight, and I think, because the Lord thought this man had led a relatively blameless life. One can read about these various accounts of families in the Gospel.
We must honor our parents when young as well as when old. Sometimes, particularly during the teenage years, we may lose faith in our parents' wisdom. Maybe we think they have views that went out 20 years ago. But the good parent always does right for the child. The child may not see it immediately, maybe not for years or decades, or after the death of the parent, but obedience to parents is very important. We become righteous in the eyes of God when we do so, because it shows that in matters of relatively minor things (our parents on earth) we are faithful and hence are worthy to be entrusted by God in more weighty matters, things of Heaven that Our Father wishes for us to do for Him. Of course, we are not worthy but He makes up for this for us, justifying our worthiness by the merits of the Blessed Virgin and the saints, through the Lord Jesus. The love we have for parents must be unconditional and strong, but not to the point where it becomes cult-like. The Lord tells us that those that love father and mother more than Him are not worthy of Him. We love, in the sense that our Father in Heaven would have us do so - that our love of those on earth is a model for loving our Father in Heaven. And the love we have for the Blessed Mother shows that we honor the Queen of Heaven and the way that God chose to send His Gospel to us.
Now, concerning elderly parents, some of us, to our shame, may think they are a burden, particularly if they require some assistance. Let me say that I have one such parent who needs some assistance, and she is in nowise a burden, but rather a great blessing! When we have everything easy on earth, we should be afraid. It is probably the beginning of a slide down the slippery slope to hell, that Saint John Bosco speaks of. Easy livin' might look good in an infomercial on television, but it is not for the devout Christian, or anyone who wants to be sure of their salvation. When others are dependent upon us it means that God has found us in some way worthy to be entrusted with care giving, and we should not let Him down. It is a test, as are all things in life, and what we do with it will determine how Heaven responds to us in the future. If an employee does well, then the good employer will usually entrust him with more. So too with God, in Whose image we are made. Being humble, we should neither pray for God to entrust us with more or less, but just to pray that we do right with what He gives us. And so, there are times when elderly parents become less independent due to health. It may be suddenly thrust upon us or it may be a gradual thing. We may ask ourselves if it is the responsibility of ourselves or perhaps if we should let a brother or sister take care of such matters. I think the latter is not godly reasoning. To think like God, and imitate Christ, as we would strive to, means to take the initiative and help our elderly parents irregardless of brothers and sisters 'share' in things. Yes, if brother and sister want to help too, it is good, and we should let them so long as they are godly.
Once in our care in some way, we must realize that we have a great responsibility. The elderly parent first of all must always be treated with great respect. Remember how angry God was in the account in Scripture where the sons looked on Noah naked and drunk. In every instance we must seek to make parents feel like king and queen, because they are, and help them maintain this dignity. We must assist them in avoiding situations where they might falter, and bring out their strong points. My mother, for example, says grace for us at the table. Although she is forgetful, somehow God grants her a good mind to say a traditional grace and then to add some things of importance. A way to support a person who is forgetful is to help them exercise their minds. It is good to try to carry on conversations with the elderly parent at a level they are comfortable with but that also exercises their minds. But this most certainly should not be a battle of wits, but rather, normal loving conversation. And when they forget, we should never correct them. Often, forgetful parents think that relatives and friends that are long dead are still living. Let them think so, because they are right - they are still living! God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living! Ditto that they may think their address is an old address of 50 years ago. Why correct them? It offends them, they won't remember for long, and it is disrespectful. And who is to say that an address of 50 years ago cannot be considered an address of today? To God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The elderly parent may also at times need help with dressing or feeding. This can be difficult for the working child. It may be necessary to hire a trusted helper for some of these tasks, but this requires some consideration, perhaps in consult with the parish priest or religious. At last resort, there is the nursing home, but God help us if we banish a parent to such a place when it need not be.
There are many good times that can be had with elderly parents. First of all when they tell us to do something, we should not discount it even if they are forgetful. God works in powerful ways through many people and things in our lives. To the very end of our lives with our parents, we should always strive to be obedient to them and to do everything we ask. Commandment IV is not abrogated when the parents are elderly. Often, there are fun things we can do with parents. It is nice and kind to help them get some exercise if they are still mobile. If they are only slightly mobile this might consist of taking a little walk around the house or apartment, and letting them help with laundry and folding of clothes. If they are more ambulatory, a daily walk to the end of the street or even around the block would be kind. One should always walk arm and arm with the parent if they have such difficulty with balance, and also because invariably some boob will have a sidewalk all jumbled and hard to walk on because he planted large-rooted trees adjacent to it where he should not have. Shopping is always nice, but one must always have the parent in sight when they are forgetful. Otherwise they could easily get lost, and there can be some sinister people lurking in these places. To bring parents to see grandchildren, for example in the case where a sister or brother has children, is always admirable. Most usually children love grandparents very much and vice versa. And grandparents often love parks, where they can sit and watch grandchildren play.
And so dear friends, let us help our parents as long as we can, because they have brought us into the world, cared for us, and helped us to live a right life. And even if they made some big mistakes whilst we were children, we should not hold it against them, because God is a God of forgiveness and cares about all. As with all people, we should be concerned with the salvation of our parents as well as our own salvation. To err is human, to forgive, divine. So let us put away all grievances and hurts, no matter how big or small, be blameless in Commandment IV, and then attend to any other weighty matters that God puts before us.
Adésto supplicatiónibus nostris, omnópotens Deus
Give ear, O God Almighty, unto our prayers.