The Candle That Answered a Prayer

In a moment of darkness, a daughter finds comfort in the unlikeliest of places…

By Carol Ann Sullivan, New York, New York

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The heavy bronze doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were shut and locked. No crowds gathered in front; its gothic archways and spires were only dimly lit by the city streetlights. I’d come too late. It was 11 p.m., the night before Thanksgiving, and the cathedral was closed. I should have come sooner, I thought, wiping my tears away. I’d missed my chance to light a candle for Mom.

Before she died, two months earlier, lighting a candle at St. Patrick’s had been Mom’s tradition. She traveled every week from her home in Queens, sometimes even twice a week if there was a holiday. It didn’t matter if it was snowing or if she had the flu. She’d make her way to the back of the church, light a little white candle in one of the gold votive glasses on the altar and pray for everyone on her “list”—from her five children to the mailman.

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On this first holiday without her, I had vowed to continue her tradition. St. Patrick’s was only two blocks from my office in midtown. But every time I got up from my desk, something came up. New clients. Last-minute meetings. Holiday deadlines. Before I knew it, it was too late.

So much for keeping traditions, I thought. I sprinted to Penn Station and slipped aboard the last train to Long Island just before the sliding doors closed.

I reached my stop just after midnight. It was as dark and cold as it had been outside St. Patrick’s, with not another soul to be seen. Where was my husband to pick me up? Great. A perfect ending to an already bad day.

After five minutes of shivering, I ducked into one of the station’s four phone booths to call home. I picked up the receiver, but was distracted by a crisp brown paper bag sitting upright on the shelf of the booth. Curious, I peeked inside. The phone dropped from my hand.

My husband pulled up a moment later, finding me smiling and clutching the brown paper sack. “What’s in the bag?” he asked. I opened it up to show him.

A single white candle in a gold votive glass—waiting for a match and a prayer.

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