My parents were both raised in Boston. My mom was of Irish Catholic descent, and my dad was a Scottish Presbyterian. Both were hard workers and great dancers who loved a good party. In the late 1950s they built a house in a new development in a small fishing town, Swampscott, Massachusetts. That house was transformed into a home, where they raised my sister, Nancy, my three older brothers — Billy, Dicky, and Kenny — and me.
Like many families, we had our share of tragedy. Foremost among these was the death of my dad in a wintertime car accident during a business trip in Vermont. That sad event forever changed the complexion of our family and the tone of our home. But we carried on, and my mother eventually married again — interestingly enough, to a brother of a friend of my dad’s. He was known to us as “Charlie,” but I always introduced him to people as my “dad.”
All three of them have gone to God, but that does not stop me from celebrating their lives and the mark each of them made on me as a person. Each year at this time, we pause for a day to honor our mothers and then, a month later, our fathers. It’s an occasion to be grateful for their presence and influence in our lives.
For some of us, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is an occasion to visit a gravesite. Believe it or not, I have a fondness for cemeteries. Might sound a bit strange, I know. But I find them to be peaceful places, really. It’s only in horror movies or around Halloween that cemeteries are portrayed as frightening and evil. They’re not.
I was at my parents’ grave recently. There’s one plot left, and so I’m in a race with my siblings to see who gets it. And this is the one race I’m trying to lose! Sometimes — and I hope you don’t think this is too strange — I will stand at the edge of my parents’ grave and look down. I pretend to peer through 6 feet of earth and pierce the concrete box and casket with my eyes to try to see my parents one more time, to see their dear faces again.
And while I’m imagining, I try to picture the Resurrection. Because we believe that, at the end, our souls will be reunited with our bodies. By the grace of God, how happy we could be on that day … to see one another as God had made us, not as spirits or angels, but people with glorified bodies and faces and glorified smiles.
Then there will be perfection. But right now, in our homes and our families, we struggle each day for growth and balance, for unity and holiness. In this daily challenge, moms and dads sit at the head of the table, drive the car, offer correction and consolation, try to give a good example, lead us in prayer, and tuck us into bed. In a sense, they represent and typify the presence of God in our homes. In fact, it is by the sacrifice of parenthood that our family house or condo or apartment becomes a home. Vatican II teaches that the Christian family can even be considered a “domestic Church.”
Why is it that one of the Ten Commandments is “honor your father and mother?” As you can’t get any more basic in life than the parent-child relationship, it almost seems unnecessary in a way. And yet, as we all know from experience, this relationship is often fraught with tension, to say the least.
We are not asked to honor father and mother because they are perfect. If that were the case, no one would be able to keep the commandment. But in honoring them, we honor the Eternal Father, and we practice the humility of the children of God. Remember, the commandment to honor our parents is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, coming right after the first three, which all have to do with our relationship with God.
So pray for your parents, wherever they might be. God gave them to you — and you to them. It’s the least we can do and perhaps the greatest way to return the many favors we have received through them.