The fourth commandment (the first of those directly pertaining to love of neighbor) is “Honor our father and your mother.” This formulation is given in Exodus 20:12 which also attaches to the commandment a promise of fulfilling it “that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
As with other commandments, this command goes deeper than what is written. In referring to the honoring or our father and mother, it properly considers all familial relationships along with the honoring of legitimate authority in all areas of life, including the workplace, the school, and civil society, minding that the most basic or the first experienced relationship in human life is the child to his or her parents or guardians. It is also noteworthy that this commandment works in both directions: that we need to have right respect for those who have authority and that all who have authority must seek the true good of those entrusted to them – as such authority only exists because God has given it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives great detail to the depth of this commandment for all of our relationships. To simplify all of the levels of the commandment, consider that we are first called to obey those in legitimate authority over us, beginning at home but extending to all areas of life. In addition, we acknowledge that God Himself wills the ordering of relationships in a way that some would have legitimate authority over others – beginning with parents over their own children so that their children might be formed in truth. Practically speaking, we are to therefore obey legitimate authority of those who have been entrusted with such authority for our well-being and, when we ourselves are in positions of authority, we are to justly lead and direct those entrusted to us by pointing them to live/do what is true and good and away from all that is evil. Jesus himself is the perfect example of such a way of life of both obedience (as expressed in his youth to Mary and Joseph, and in the whole of His life to the Father in heaven) and in authority (as his authority always directs toward the true and good, and above all, it led to His own self-sacrifice on our behalf as the greatest act of seeking our good).
Finally, as this commandment emphasizes the honoring of father and mother, it expresses the centrality of the family in God’s plan. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2207 calls the family “the original cell of social life” (original emphasis) – meaning that it is upon family life that all other relationships are founded – as it belongs to the family to teach children and to witness to living lives of virtue at all times. This fundamental place of the family, however, has been under attack in recent generations – whether directly (through immoral acts committed that are outside God’s design for marriage and family), or through undermining the nature of family life (through the ever more pervasive ways that secular agencies seek to regulate family life; through agendas to limit family size; through unjust laws that require immorality to be taught to children; or through other initiatives that seek to seize control over the autonomy of families). Accordingly, might we once again hear the call to build up true way of family life in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to true God-given family life by living in according with the straight-forward truths of this commandment. Might each of us pray for the grace to be true to all of our familial relationships – whether those that call to obedience or to exercise right authority over others – that we would have long life in the land and inherit eternal life.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2196 - 2257 gives detailed teaching the Fourth Commandment at all its levels.