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Monday, August 27, 2012

Saints Who Disobeyed Their Parents

Must children always obey their parents?

Saint Alexis did not. He refused a marriage his parents had arranged.

Saint Catherine of Siena did not. She likewise refused to marry despite her parents urging.

St. Francis of Assisi did not obey his parents. In fact, he refused his father's patrimony.

St. Rita of Cascia disobeyed her parents - "what may have seemed disobedience on the part of little Rita were in fact mild reproofs, prompted, no doubt, by God, against that vanity which alas too often is planted by indulgent parents in the hearts of their young children....From the Augustinian breviary we learn that Rita Mancini was twelve years of age when she made her choice".

St. Thomas Aquinas refused his parents' will for his life.

Joan of Arc disobeyed her parents, choosing instead to walk 40 miles to meet a local lord.

St. Clare of Assisi secretly left her home and parents when she was 18.

And, while technically not his parents, St. John of the Cross suffered similar travail:
"On the night of 2 December 1577, St. John of the Cross was taken prisoner by his superiors in the calced Carmelites, who had launched a counter-program against John and Teresa's reforms. John had refused an order to return to his original house." "He managed to escape nine months later, on 15 August 1578, through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to pry the cell door off its hinges earlier that day)." St. John of the Cross disobeyed his superior's order because it was unjust, therefore, immoral. For disobeying he was imprisoned, but then escaped since he knew the actions of his superior was not God's will for his life."

As I've noted before, until 1917, the canon law of the Catholic Church considered anyone above the age of 12 capable of marriage. The 1917 Code raised the minimum age for marriage in the church to 14 for girls and 16 for boys. This is still the law in the 1983 Code. Though any minister considering marrying someone under 18 is supposed to consult with parents or the bishop, once a the individual turns 18, that consultation is no longer necessary.  

Children have a duty to obey their parents.
Parents have a duty to recognize their children's maturity and consider it in their decisions.

CCC 2253 Parents should respect and encourage their children's vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus.

Much as they would like to be, parents are not dictators, nor are their children - especially their teen children - always bound to follow a parent's dictates. 

God gives us children so that we raise them in sanctity. He also gives us children so that we may become more holy. We have to submit to the will of God not only in our lives, but in our children's lives. The children may know a call that the parents do not fully see or fully comprehend. Subsidiarity is one of the bedrock principles of Catholic Faith.  Subsidiarity requires that, just as small children must learn to trust their parents, so parents must, to at least some extent, learn to trust their children.

Pray God that we can.


J. said...

My understand of the general moral guideline is that children are required to obey their parents until the age of majority, at which time they are both free to marry and free from the strict obligation to obedience. If the child remains under his parents' roof for a few years after reaching that age (which most American children do), I suspect he is still under some limited obligations of obedience.

However, St. Thomas is clear that parents can never oblige a child to marry (though with some nuance:, and what I've read from other theologians and from catechisms concurs with him.

The situation of St. John of the Cross is interesting. I always assumed that obedience was one of the most (if not the most) important moral obligations of a monk, and for him to disobey his superiors would be a grave sin. Unless a monk's superiors are commanding sin, I would think that he has no right to disobey. That, at least, is what I've gleaned from reading the occasional spiritual guide originally written for monks.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

And the age of majority is 14 for girls, 16 for boys, else they could not be canonically married. Up until a bare century ago, it was 12 and 14.

Once the child reaches majority, the PARENTS have a duty to recognize that fact.

No one ever speaks of that, but it is necessarily true.

J. said...

St. Thomas also states that children should be allowed into religious life, although their vows cannot be binding until they reach the age of reason:

He has this to say about a child's obligations to his parents and to his parents' wishes when considering the religious life:

"Consequently we must say that when their parents are in such need that they cannot fittingly be supported otherwise than by the help of their children, these latter may not lawfully enter religion in despite of their duty to their parents. [Elsewhere he notes Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees who refused to support their parents (Mark 7:11-13).] If, however, the parents' necessity be not such as to stand in great need of their children's assistance, the latter may, in despite of the duty they owe their parents, enter religion even against their parents' command, because after the age of puberty every freeman enjoys freedom in things concerning the ordering of his state of life, especially in such as belong to the service of God." (

So, yes, parents have an obligation to not place unlawful strictures upon their children, and children have the right to be told that they have a great deal of freedom at the age of majority.

On the other side of this equation, I have also been told that parents have no obligation to support their children in their worldly concerns (which I assume means financially) once they reach the age of majority. (This would not apply to parents of the mentally retarded, who never reach the age of reason.) This means that children have an obligation to become responsible for themselves by the age of majority, and also that parents are obliged to teach their children how to be responsible before then. (One of the Fathers wrote that he who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to be a thief.)

I have to think that the tradition of parents "giving away" the bride at a wedding is a Protestant tradition, which often claims that parents have stricter rights over their children well into adulthood. The Catholic Church says otherwise.