Uniting Photographs with Prayers: A Christmastime Tradition

“I pray through pictures,” an older friend told me years ago.  “When I see people in photos, I pray for them.”

This friend was a grandmother, and my own dear grandmothers were no longer living, so I especially treasured her wisdom. Her idea of praying through photographs stuck with me, and it seems especially helpful at Christmastime.

There’s nothing like Christmas to bring reminiscences of childhood, of times gone by, of people we knew and loved. I was blessed to have a childhood home to return to every Christmas for most of my life. One of my favorite things to do every time I visited as an adult was to pull the photo albums down from the shelf, sit on the couch, and look through pictures.

Even the albums themselves felt like old friends. I can still see them in my mind’s eye: the brown album, the blue one, the tall tan one, and many more. Photos that I’d seen dozens of times would bring back a familiar rush of memories from different seasons in my life.

With the years that passed, I began to notice that more and more of the people in the album were no longer with us. I would look at photos of family gatherings from 20 years ago and see the beloved faces we’ve lost — my dad, grandparents, uncles, and dear family friends, whose deaths changed our lives forever. Others in the photos were still alive but I hadn’t seen them in decades — people who were part of my world growing up, who moved away and lost touch. Now they were frozen into the pages of my childhood exactly as they used to be.

When my family’s home was sold three years ago, I knew that one of the things I would miss the most was sitting in our family room looking through those albums. The photo albums were so important to me that I decided to make a special effort to give the same gift to my children—to capture their growing-up years on our family’s shelves. Digital albums are nice, but they don’t awaken the same feelings in me as looking through a physical album. I fall behind in many areas of my life, but I’ve tried to prioritize getting our photos physically printed, so that our children have photo albums to look through when, God willing, someday they come home for Christmas as adults and want to remember these years.

That’s a big reason it struck a chord with me when my friend said she prays through pictures. It was such a simple way to incorporate prayer into something I already loved to do.

With this in mind, when I saw the beloved faces of my dad, my grandparents, my relatives and friends who had died, I could say a prayer for their souls. Even though they died years ago, I could still pray for them here and now. Since God is outside of time, it is never too late to pray, whether a person died recently or long ago. As Padre Pio said,For the Lord, …everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather!”

And when I saw the others in the photos, those who are still alive — from family members that I see often to friends I haven’t seen in years — I could pray for them, too.

Now that December is here, Christmas-card photos of relatives and friends are coming through our mail slot, and my friend’s words echo in my mind: “I pray through pictures.” As I pull each card from its envelope and post the pictures on our refrigerator or mantel, I’m grateful to have something concrete that I can do for these people who have been so special in my life. When I can’t see them in person, saying a prayer for each of them—even something as simple as, “Lord, please bless this family,” — brings my heart closer to the people I have loved.

And when our Christmas is over and only the photos remain as memories pressed into an album, I will have a way to pray for my loved ones in years to come. Uniting photographs with prayers is one gift that will last into eternity.

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Maura Roan McKeegan is the author of a number of Catholic children's books, including the award-winning Old and New series, which introduces children to biblical typology. Her latest books are Julia Greeley: Secret Angel to the Poor (Ignatius-Magnificat); Beloved Son: Joseph and Jesus (Emmaus Road); and The Poorest Shepherd (OSV). She is co-author, with Scott Hahn, of Seven Clues: A Catholic Treasure Hunt (Loyola Press). Her articles have appeared in various magazines. You can contact her at [email protected]

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