The gift of prayer

By the time Advent rolls around, my kids have long been preparing to joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ. They do this by poring over websites and toy catalogs, flinging their “needs” across their notebook canvases like Jackson Pollock did with paint.

After months of indiscriminately jotting down everything they saw or heard about — “Sorry, you don’t need a saddle for the dog” — when they finally turn in the final drafts, the lists aren’t handed to us as much as they are unspooled like the Magna Carta scroll.

And so my wife and I realized that we might have a problem with our children asking for things. Especially for themselves. Especially around Christmas.

Now, we could have dealt with this issue in one of two ways. We could have put our heads together to brainstorm possible solutions, mapped out our rollout strategy and held a family pep rally to get everybody on board and excited about the new initiative. But, being that we’re busy and fairly unoriginal parents, we decided to turn to someone who is much wiser than ourselves for advice.

Why reinvent the wheel, right?

Seeking inspiration to nip in the bud our kids’ early onset secularism and consumerism (and probably a few more “isms” we don’t even know about), we decided to do what any good parent would: We let them ask for whatever they wanted, but we made them ask somebody else.

No, not their grandparents or godparents or aunts or uncles. No, they needed to ask St. Andrew.

Last year on Nov. 30, we started what I hope will become an Advent tradition that will be passed down from generation to generation in our family — like that ugly Christmas ornament that still gets hung in a place of prominence on the tree or watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” while wrapping presents. If you’re unfamiliar with the St. Andrew Christmas novena, it consists of one short, simple prayer, prayed for any single intention you’d like: health for a loved one; for a friend to find work; healing in a marriage; whatever.

Before we started on Day 1, we had the kids think about the thing for which they really wanted to pray. They could tell us what it was or keep the intention within their hearts. What they couldn’t pray for was for Santa to bring them the Star Wars Lego set (or the dog saddle) or anything else on their wish scrolls.

There is a slight catch. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill nine-day novena. Tradition claims that St. Andrew will intercede for you if you pray the prayer 15 times a day for 25 days — starting on Nov. 30 (St. Andrew’s feast day) and ending on Christmas Eve.

We printed copies of the prayer for the kids — the ones who could read, anyway — and recited the prayer 15 times in succession before bedtime. And, amazingly, we didn’t miss a day (which, frankly, was a Christmas miracle in itself).

Here is the prayer:

“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, [here mention your request] through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of his Blessed Mother. Amen.”

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Other than learning the word “vouchsafe,” I don’t know whether or not the kids got anything out of it or if they received the wish they were praying for, but, for my wife and me, seeing them all sitting quietly and praying intently throughout Advent truly was gift enough.

Scott Warden is OSV’s associate editor for content.