The preparation for Christmases of my childhood began weeks before Thanksgiving. The family business was commercial greenhousing and included evergreens: wholesale garland, wreath, and grave blanket production. Arriving at Christmas was a full-on run without the spiritual focus on Advent and the coming of the Messiah.
Christmas day meant stacks of beautifully wrapped boxes under the tree. Once all the packages had been placed before each of us children, we, all at once, tore open the wrappings to reveal the hidden gifts.
Often my enjoyment became muted. It’s not that as a child I wasn’t grateful for the gifts, but rather was overwhelmed by the excessiveness.
There were times I would walk away from the stack of opened gifts, stand to the side of the sofa and watch the others. I was joyful in seeing their delight, and I wanted to see if so-and-so had opened my gift to them. I was calmed and renewed by giving a gift.
Today, sharing gifts anonymously — fulfilling gift tags taken from the church’s Giving Tree, and the “Secret Santa” game played among close friends — carries a special kind of joy for me.
It is also this anonymity that I am fond of as a prayerful intercessor.
A favorite way I have to pray for another is by adopting that soul for a year. It first began as a month-long practice, as a way to foster forgiveness of despairing situations and release both our souls. It was a deliberate act of faith, and an affirmation, that though a situation may be unforgettable, one can move beyond it.
Soon a deepening peace developed with this discipline that felt more like love than work. The joy of accompanying a soul, the whole person, in a spiritual journey, was a gift I could give to Our Lord. It is a way to bless God for blessing me with the opportunity to pray for another. Being an intercessor means petitioning for a person, a future saint, in an intense fellowship of prayer in whatever is faced in our daily life.
Prayer that combines the fruits of the spirit and spiritual adoption is a fruit easy to grow in the garden of the soul.
First, open yourself to the needs of a specific person for prayer—you will adopt only one (living) person for a year. It could be a mother with multiple challenges, a friend with a chronic illness, your mechanic who is unsure about religion, a recent immigrant trying to find his way, or maybe an older student entering studies in a new field.
Once the Holy Spirit has moved you to discern that person, choose a meaningful day—to be the same every year—to begin the adoption. The day could be Christmas, the calendar or liturgical new year, the date of your patron saint, or my choice, All Saints Day.
Over the next year your spiritually adopted soul will be a part of your daily life, which partners the idea of “praying without ceasing.” Here are a few suggestions to practice prayers of adoption. You will surely think of more:
- Add your adoptee to your morning and evening prayers.
- Offer daily a decade or full rosary for her/him.
- Whenever visiting a church that has votive candles, always light one on your adoptee’s behalf.
- When doing chores, offer up a quick ejaculatory prayer, such as “Jesus, bless him/her with your grace today.”
- Randomly, when the person comes to mind, say the Memorare by including him or her at the end; “…Oh mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition [for _____], but in your mercy hear and answer me…”
- The offering up thing? Yep, give that to Our Lord in your adoptee’s name.
- Imagine that soul accompanying you during Adoration.
I rarely tell the person they’ve been spiritually adopted. There have been a few situations when I’ve felt my adoptee may need to hear someone has their back. I’ll share with them my intentions and ask them to keep me posted of their needs during that time.
A special friendship develops, one that spans space and carries into eternity. It is a way to help a person increase the desire to search, to welcome, and to cooperate with the will of God.
There is an anticipation of the joy these people will feel when they one day enter into eternity and the hidden gift is revealed, and a hope that my adopted friends delight in the secret prayers that drew them closer to God.