The first virtue of youth is obedience.
Don Bosco suggests that the primary means for the young to grow in virtue is obedience to one’s parents and lawful superiors, saying: “give me an obedient child and they will be a saint. Otherwise they will be lacking in every virtue.” By extension, he suggests that the obedience and respect due to one’s biological parents applies to Mother Church and her ministers.
In its teaching on the Fourth Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church –arguably the primary fruit of the Second Vatican Council – affirms the obligation of respect and obedience to one’s parents (and those to whom one’s parents have entrusted them), whilst adding that “if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.” The relationship between filial piety, Church teaching, and conscience is an illuminating one, and when appreciating the significance of the Church and its teaching in one’s life, it is helpful and correct to think of it in terms of respect and obedience to one’s parents. In the same chapter, the Catechism reminds parents that “family ties are important but not absolute,” and that “the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus.”
Whilst children always owe their parents a debt of respect and gratitude by virtue of them being their parents, if their conscience, rightly formed, understands that God is calling them to a particular vocation, they are obliged to follow it, even when it goes against their parents’ wishes. Similarly, Christians must always afford the Church’s ministers and teachings the same respect as they would their parents and their reasonable demands, whilst remembering that their primary vocation is to follow Jesus. Of course, this analogy is not contradicted by the fact that Jesus calls his followers to obey the teachings of the Church (Mt 28: 20), for the Church herself affirms that “conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There they are alone with God.” The key theological point to appreciate here is that the Church’s ministers and teachings exist to form a Christian’s conscience – they do not exist to substitute it, nor do they dispense Christians from thinking for themselves. Young Christians should recognise in this principle, not a license to act as one pleases in the name of “following their conscience,” but an appreciation of the fact that, when they come before God, each person is entirely responsible for their own actions.