Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 30, 2009
St. Nicholas prayer ritual more precious than gold
Relationships unfold through commitment to spend a year praying for another
Ruffling the folded sheets of paper in the basket I say a silent prayer, "God, let me pick the right one."
I make way for the next person in line to make their choice and quickly unfold the square of paper and read the name.
It's Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day at the Marian Centre and St. Nicholas' gift to me is the name of the person I shall be praying for in the upcoming year. And somewhere in the room, someone received my name and shall pray for me.
Such a precious gift tucked right in the middle of Advent and just before God's gift to us - the birth of the Christ child.
The secular world diminishes the saint to Old St. Nick, another name for Santa Claus.
But this Nicholas was born of Christian parents in the fourth century in a country now known as Turkey.
Stories and legends surround this pious man. One favourite recounted at the centre tells of a man who had no money for the dowry for his three daughters. Cloaked in the dark of night, Nicholas tossed three sacks of gold into the poor man's open window and the money allowed the daughters to marry well.
Now the Madonna House tradition gives us this special gift of prayer that is even more precious - despite the present soaring gold prices - than the gold sacks thrown through the poor man's window.
Prayer. Someone is going to pray for me in a special way all year. And I shall pray for someone else.
I always try to search out who the person I received is and ask them what they want me to pray for them. One year a young man asked me to pray for his upcoming marriage. I did and when the day arrived, I lit a special candle for them.
PRAYER FOR TEACHERS
Another year, I drew the name of a junior high teacher. When I approached her, a sweet-faced baby sat on her hip and her hand held another youngster. But instead of asking for herself, she wondered if I would pray for the teachers at her school, that faith would fill their hearts and lives.
One year I prayed for one of the apostolates at the house. When you pray for a person for a full year, the caring doesn't just disappear on the next Dec. 6 and I still ask after her and how she is faring.
I take Thomas Merton's words to heart about prayer when he says, "There is no such thing as a kind of prayer in which you do absolutely nothing. If you are doing nothing you are not praying."
Prayer, promised prayer, is work. Work I relish, work that gives a sweet feeling of satisfaction.
A LUMP OF COAL
This gift is a healing for me too. As a child, St. Nick was Santa, a magical person who gave whatever toy you wanted. All I ever wanted was an English teddy bear I would see in library books. But this foster home only gave a few hard candies and a lump of coal to all of us. This shadow never left and Christmas held no expectation for me.
As I grew up, I realized the gift of Christ to the world. But packages under the tree still held no promise, no joy and I never understood why I could not "get into the spirit of Christmas."
Then came my first St. Nicholas Day at the Marian Centre. When the realization sunk in that someone would pray for me for a whole year - a gift of prayer for the whole year for me and my prayer for another for a whole year - a wound was healed I did not even know was there.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley understands the power behind the Madonna House tradition of giving the gift of prayer.
"Prayer is not withdrawing from the rest of humanity. It is more like a wedding feast to which we welcome all who cross our path.
"A strange thing takes place in prayer. There is a mysterious coupling of our own life with the lives of others - an embrace that includes the whole of humanity."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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