Model of the Santa Maria by Giovanni Conte, Museum of Popular Devotion, St. Anthony's Basilica, Padua

DEAR friend,

I recently hurt my left arm and I have to keep it immobile. Luckily, being right-handed, I can still do most things, including writing. This situation, that thank God is not serious, has made me think a lot about my father who passed away several years now.

He loved manual work and, despite being a company manager, he never shied away from helping his workers. He was also very good at home. I don’t remember an electrician, a plumber or a TV technician ever coming into our house. Dad could fix anything! However, his real great passion was ship modeling, that is, building models of important historical ships such as Columbus’ Santa Maria, or the famous English warship The Victory or the legendary San Felipe, launched in Spain in 1690.

My father did not buy a kit of the model ship he intended to build and then assemble all its parts. Rather, he made every component of the ship entirely by hand, starting with the skeleton, to which he added all the planking. He then built the masts, the sails and everything else, including the pulleys.

From what I have told you, you can well imagine my father’s pain, and that of our entire family, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease shortly after retiring. Not only was he no longer able to devote himself to his favorite hobby, but little by little the disease prevented him from doing even the simplest things. I will never forget my father’s big, strong hands that, due to that terrible disease, had gradually become fragile and weak. Sometimes tears would line his face when he said to us, “I can’t do anything anymore. It’s like having boxing gloves on my hands.”

When I professed my solemn vows, Dad was so happy that he decided to donate his favorite ship, the Santa Maria, to Saint Anthony. I still remember the moment when, during the feast after my Solemn Profession, Dad approached me and, handing me his masterpiece with trembling hands, said, “This is a gift for St. Anthony.” The ship can now be admired in the Museum of Popular Devotion, which collects objects donated by devotees to the Basilica as a token of gratitude for graces received through the intercession of our beloved Saint.

Hands are a very important part of our bodies, and we realize this especially when, for one reason or another, we cannot use them anymore. We use them in nearly everything we do, from holding one another in love to cradling a baby. We use them to wash dishes and to write, to carry things and create technical or artistic objects. We use them to clap and to eat. We count on our fingers and we measure with the length and breadth of our hands. We join our hands in prayer. God evidently thinks that hands are pretty important, because the word hand appears 1,466 times in the Bible, and the plural hands 462 times.

However, in the Holy Scriptures, these two nouns are not only used when referring to human beings, they can refer to God too, as in this beautiful verse from Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Therefore, dear friend, at the beginning of this New Year, let us think of the hands of God who created us as a craftsman and gave us eternal life. Let’s contemplate his wounded hands that accompany us on the journey of life. And let us rely on His hands as a child relies on his daddy’s hands because he knows they are safe hands. Happy New Year!

Updated on December 27 2022