When I was a child, we generally “asked Santa” for a pony. The closest we ever came was a burro named Rosita, but since we had no transportation for the four-legged girl then living in St. Louis, my father breathed a sigh of relief and said he was sorry we just couldn’t get her to Illinois. Looking back, I wonder how sorry he actually was. I’m sure he delivered his news with the right amount of regret, and he did try.
This year as we have for the last several years, we invited the children of the diocese — through their Catholic schools and parish religious education programs — to write a prayer for Christmas, not a letter and a list to Santa Claus.
Not one of those youngsters in the fourth, fifth or sixth grades asked for a toy or a pony. Some of the prayers were poignant, especially when the youngsters said this was the first year their family would celebrate Christmas without a beloved family member: a grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle. They asked God to help them get through these days of celebration.
Our young people are also more a tuned to the world and the violent conflicts that frighten and even kill the children who live in those conflicted areas, so they prayed for the safety of our military men and women as well as children they don’t even know.
Some prayed in general for those who suffer from hunger or a lack of shelter and clothing, asking God to intercede for them. One young person prayed that the nonprofit organizations would receive an abundance of donations to help them help those who are in need. As many people have said, we become the hands and feet of God, offering support directly by volunteering or donating to the causes with which we are familiar.
Many prayed that people everywhere would remember the reason for our celebration: the birth of the Christ Child in our hearts and our world, not the next big sale at a box store or on the internet. Knowing the marketing done to draw in shoppers, one youngster prayed for God’s help so she would not be “greedy.” How perceptive of our young people to see through the hype to the hope that we all carry for a future with people more aware of the needs of others and the determination to step up and do something.
We have so many courageous young people that realize they have so much and want to share with others. They are not sailing blindly through life without a thought for others. Many of them understand what a “spirit of generosity” means because they expressed it in their requests that “the least” be cared for or receive what they need to live.
Reading the prayers gives me great hope for the youngsters in our parishes and schools. We need them to light the way when we become distracted from what the real priorities in our lives should be, and alas, it has nothing to do with a pony.