“Hey Father! Do you want me to go up and light a candle for you by Mary’s altar?”
That’s what my childhood friend, Teddy Merkle, whispered into my left ear as he slid into the pew next to me in church. I didn’t see him coming. I was deep in prayer. Plus… my eyes were closed.
When I looked up I noticed that his round cheeks turned rosy red from walking a few blocks in the bitter cold. We decided to meet at Holy Name Cathedral at high noon and then find a place nearby to grab a lunch. Every year we try to hook-up so that we can exchange our Christmas presents and catch-up on what has been going on.
“No thanks Teddy. I’m fine. It’s good to see you. It’s been a while.”
“It sure has, Father. I think it’s been a couple of months already,” he said.
Teddy then took off his leather gloves and stuffed them into his coat pocket. He flipped down the kneeler in front of us and then perfectly perched himself on it like we use to do when we were altar servers in grammar school when serving the 6:30 a.m. Mass in the convent. The Felician nuns always checked out our posture to make sure we were not slouching over, slacking off, or better yet–sleeping.
After a moment of silence, Teddy sat back down in the pew and exhaled.
“It’s nice and quiet in here,” he said.
“Yes. I like it. It’s peaceful and it sure beats all the noise you hear outside.”
“How is your Advent going Father?” Teddy asked?
“Advent has been good. Fast, but good. We just had the Cardinal come out to our parish last weekend to celebrate Mass on Sunday.”
“How did it go?” Teddy asked.
“It was real nice and good for the parish. It was great to pray with him. We had a good crowd, even though we got whacked with all that snow.”
“Thank God the Cardinal didn’t have far to drive.” Then Teddy smiled and said, “You know what Father? You could have picked him up with one of those horse and carriage rides that you see strolling around downtown. But instead of the buggy, they could have used a sleigh. Imagine the Cardinal dressed in his red attire. He could have pretended that he was Santa Claus. Talk about making a grand entrance. How cool is that?”
Teddy always did have a wild imagination.
“How are things going for you Teddy?” I asked.
“Crazy as usual. As you know this is a hectic time of the year. Trying to get everything ready for Christmas–the shopping, the parties, the decorating. Sometimes it all gets to be a little too much.”
When I heard his weary words, in the back of my mind I thought this is why moments like these in church are good because they allow us to slow down, reconnect and recharge.
“Where do you want to go for lunch?”
“I have a taste for a nice healthy salad. I’m trying to pace myself so that I don’t blow-up on New Year’s Eve.”
“If you don’t mind I have to see someone who is in the hospital at Northwestern. They have a good cafeteria on the second floor.”
“That’s fine with me.” Teddy was never fussy about food, plus he always liked to save a buck.
“Hey. You know what? I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said. “Before we go, let’s light a candle. I got a list of people who wanted me to pray for them.”
We grabbed our stuff and made our way up the side aisle to the votive stand.
“This one is on me, Father.” Teddy pulled a few singles out of his wallet and shoved them into the copper money box. He smiled and said, “You get to pick-up lunch.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, who are we praying for, Father?”
“Well. We have a lot of people dealing with cancer. It has really been an awful experience for them and their families. There are also families that have just lost a loved one right before the holidays; and someone is going through a divorce.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Father,” he said softly. “I will remember them in my prayers.”
Teddy then grabbed the taper and lit two candles. He then jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow and said, “Why don’t you start us off, Father.” We knelt down in unison and made the sign of the cross.
“Okay. Here we go. Hail Mary….”
Two guys praying before Christmas. Standing in the midst of darkness, but drawn to the tiny light that they have seen many times before together. A sacred light reminds them that there is powerful love that comes from above that brings healing and peace.
Some gifts you can’t buy or wrap. All you have to do is just take them and enjoy them. God knew that long ago when God gave us his son.
This Christmas season, may we continue to hold each other in our prayers and realize that Christ is always with us to push away the darkness that comes with life. That’s a mystery we remember and embrace.
What a great gift God has given us!