Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

Holding the Father’s Hand – Salesian Thought

Trusting the will of God is an important aspect of Salesian thought. My morning meditation today came from the book Set Your Heart Free – 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher (St. Francis de Sales). I’ll link to it at the end.

photo of a man holding a childl's hand.
Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14 Bible Hub

When I was a little girl, I adored my father. I wanted his attention, his affection, his approval. I would wait for him to come home from work every night and race to the door screaming, “Daddy’s home from work! Daddy’s home from work!” His arrival was like that of a hero returning from a day of battle.

I’d follow him into the bedroom where he changed from his business clothes into his casual clothes. I’d stuff my small feet into his big brown oxford shoes and clomp around the room, making him laugh.

During my teenage years, I was a complete and utter moron to him, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. That’s another story for another day. By the time I was a young adult, we had mended the quarrels from my teenage years and were friends again. Just in time, too, for he died suddenly when I was 28.

Fathers exert a powerful influence on children. One of the most dreadful side effects of modern culture is the abrogation of fatherhood, that is, making men seem superfluous to parenting. “Single motherhood” is trumpeted as a right, a freedom, without thought given to the effects upon the children. The result is a generation of children without fathers; unmoored, rudderless, they lack the significant daily influence of a strong, protective male figure who loves and cares for them with complete selfless love.

One of the most powerful images in Salesian thought is that of God as the loving father and we, his children. It’s throughout the Bible, of course, and Jesus himself tells his disciplines many times to become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

St. Francis de Sales has a beautiful image that I love and will paraphrase here:

A child walks along a garden path, holding his father’s hand, reaching with his other hands for fruits growing on the trees along the path. If he reaches for the fruits with both hands, he loses his grip on his father. We must be as little children, then, clinging both to our father while reaching for the good things of this world.”

Paraphrased from st francis de sales

Salesian thought embraces both the world and encourages us to reach beyond it. With this simple metaphor, St. Frances de Sales encourages his sons and daughters (his spiritual followers) to embrace both the world’s good things and to cling fast to the father for guidance.

What does this mean? It means that good, healthy, and wholesome things of this world are to be enjoyed while we yet turn to our father in heaven for guidance.

Throughout the day, I think of this metaphor. I remember my father’s tan coat with the fake fur lining, a coat that was all the rage in the 1970s. I remember him sitting behind the wheel of his 1964 Ford, listening to the baseball game while we played in the park and fed the ducks with our mother.

I remember how he phoned my mother every day like clockwork at noon to check in with her. It was their ritual, a ritual I continued by calling my husband every day during my lunch hour. I remember the smirks from some of my coworkers who overheard our conversations. Perhaps they thought was quaint, this checking in of wife and husband, how I would let my spouse know when I was expecting to come home so he could have dinner waiting for me. Perhaps they thought it was quaint the way he would cook dinner and have it hot and ready for me or the way I said, “I love you” at the end of every call.

The last words I said to my father was on a phone call. I said “I love you” and “see you later” on the phone to him just as I do with my husband today. We never know what may be our last words; let them be words of love and kindness. I hung up the phone and a few minutes later my father had a massive heart attack and died. Let your last words to anyone be words of love.

As you walk through the garden of life and the valley of the shadow of death, hold your heavenly father’s hand with one hand and with the other, gather only the good things in life. Don’t let go of your father’s hand to grab life’s goodness with both hands; you’ll lose your way.

And, during the day, when you don’t need to grab at life, reach out with both hands to the father. Perhaps he will pick you up in his strong arms and swing you high on his shoulders to see the fireworks or the parade. Or he will hug you tight and comfort you. But he is always there and doesn’t want you to let go of his hand and get lost on the winding path we call life.