Hey everyone! I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, but it’s just been a very busy couple of days. This past weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate the union of two of the most amazing people that I know in the sacrament of marriage. It was an incredible weekend dedicated to new beginnings, new hopes, and new love. There is one particular moment from this past weekend that has really stood out to me as a point for deep reflection and profound insight into the sacramentality of marriage, the uniqueness of the two sexes, and the relationships between husbands and wives and fathers and their children.
As is often seen in the wedding ceremony, the bride was escorted down the aisle and presented to her soon-to-be husband by her father. After both the bride and groom had received an incredibly touching paternal blessing, they went to approach the altar, but found themselves temporarily prevented from doing so. How? Well, the bride’s father had accidentally stepped on her trailing cathedral veil, and she found herself unable to move forward until he removed his foot. A simple mistake that was quickly remedied, but the image of that moment stayed with me throughout the rest of the day. The bride couldn’t approach the altar with the groom until her father had freed her. She couldn’t begin this new stage in her life with her husband until her father had let her go. This very physical action was a very strong symbol of what must occur in every marriage: a father has to let his daughter go. It’s why a man traditionally asks her parents’, and particularly her father’s, permission to marry her. It’s why a father traditionally walks his daughter down the aisle and offers her hand to her future husband. In this symbolic gesture, a father is letting his daughter go and giving her to her soon-to-be husband, whom she has chosen to be her own. A father offers his daughter a very unique gift. He loves her, and as a result, she learns what it means to love and be loved. A child is taught to love by his or her parents, but it is the father’s love that first demonstrates to a child the love of God.
As children, we are all taught to view God as our Father. We are invited to call on Him to be our strength in times of weakness, to be our source of calm in the face of the storm. We are invited to crawl into His all-embracing arms when we are tired, to turn our tear-stained faces towards Him when we are hurt and need healing. We are told that we can do these things because God is our Father, and we are His beloved children. But from whom do we learn what it means to have a father, to be a child? From our own fathers, from the experience of our own childhood. It is for this reason that we cannot and should not lose sight of the significance of fatherhood. Fathers are a child’s first glimpse of God, but that glimpse can either be as clear as light or as dark as shadow. It is for this reason that we need to raise up good, faithful men who can become good, faithful fathers to their children, who can teach their children how to love and be loved, and who can one day willingly let go of his daughter so that she can be embraced by her husband. We need men who can be true men, who can reveal to the world a glimpse of the God of love who is our Father. And where do boys learn how to be men? From their fathers.
Fathers play a huge role in the development of their children, despite the fact that our society has largely relegated the role of the father to the realm of the unnecessary. It’s still recognized as good to have a father, but they’ve come to be regarded as a nicety rather than a necessity. It’s fine if you have a father, but it’s also perfectly acceptable not to have one, society tells us. In a world where families have become increasingly complex, where single- and same-sex parenting is becoming increasingly common, the role of the father has fallen to the wayside and desperately needs to be recovered. Fathers teach their children how to love and be loved, how to embrace and be embraced, how to be strong and be humble. Fathers offer the world something that is uniquely theirs to teach, but we as a society have forgotten that. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to be wrapped in the warm, protective arms of our fathers in our fight to stand on our own. We’ve forgotten what it means to be loved in our quest to be respected and even feared. We’ve forgotten what it means to be a gift in our desire not to be possessed. How has this happened? Because we’ve forgotten what fatherhood is, and what it can teach us.
Fathers have so much to teach their children, and so much to offer the world. They show us what it means to sacrifice, to offer up what they love most. That’s why fathers give their daughters’ hands in marriage, why they walk them down the aisle, why they present them to their husbands. These should not be perceived as actions of ownership, but as a gift. A daughter is a gift to a father. She is a gift to her husband. She is a gift to the world. And gifts are meant to be given and received, to be admired and delighted in. Fathers also show us what it means to give up any facade of an autonomous existence independent of the world and its many inhabitants, as well as what it means to willingly offer up our freedom to be bound “until death do us part” to another person. That’s why in marriage, a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife. Because his father has already taught him that it is not good for man to be alone, that love is not a thing to be possessed, but given away. A father must teach his daughter to let go, especially since she so often is tempted to cling and grasp at love, even when it’s only a mere shadow of what she has been created for. And a father must teach his son to cling, especially since he is so often tempted to resist efforts to tie him down, even if this bond will ultimately bring him more joy than he could possibly fathom. Without fathers, it becomes so easy to forget. And we cannot, should not, forget. We all need fathers, whether we want to admit it or not. The future of marriage depends on it. The future of our children depend on it. The future of our society depends on it.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!