Updated: Sep 13
After teaching an evening high school confirmation class at St. Lucy's in Long Beach, I noticed Santa Claus with a walker sitting on a bus bench near Tenth and Long Beach Blvd. I drove by, but on a whim turned the car around after a few blocks and stopped. I got out, went over and introduced myself to Mr. Claus, and we sat and chatted for about half an hour. He was homeless, in need of a shower, and had few personal belongings. I wanted to help him, but I know that there are some things money can't buy, like personal respect and human fellowship.
I told him I thought he looked like Santa, with his long, curly white beard, and he laughed acknowledging that a lot of kids say that. They wave and he waves back. Ah, the quirks of fate! Who knows why "Ted" ended up in the streets? We didn't get that far in conversation, though he told me about his lawyer brother who just had bypass surgery, and his two kids back East. He was pretty facile in quoting Scriptures, too, and shared how he'd experienced a conversion in his life when Billy Graham preached at his Baptist Church in 1957. I asked if canned food was an inconvenience. (I happened to have a bag of canned goods in the car). He admitted it was. We sat quietly for a minute watching the cars. Then, with a sweeping gesture of one hand he pointed out the toasty blanket warming his knees on that chilly evening—a recent gift from a woman passing by.
Well, it was time to go, so I shook his hand, and gave him a fifty-dollar bill I usually keep in my wallet for emergencies, as was the custom of my father. Ted pocketed it without looking, to save face as so many homeless do, not knowing what to say when someone gives them a buck or even five. But when I was almost to the car, he called out something inaudible, though clearly full of gratitude as his voice wavered with emotion. It wasn't just a buck. And he wasn't just a face…for that night. That gift was more meaningful and rewarding for me than I imagined it was for Ted.
Maybe it was something St. Francis said that came back to me: “It is in giving that you receive.” Or perhaps Jesus’ words that flowed in and around me like gentle surf, setting me aright in an ocean of love: "Whenever you give to the least of these, you give to me." In any case, you see, years ago in March, I really met…Santa Claus.
Thanks to my father's advice, sort of a semper paratus (always be prepared), I've learned to be ready in some ways for emergencies, especially with the use of indulgences. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an indulgence as:
"a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints"
In the Introduction of the Church's official"Manual of Indulgences", Pope John Paul II restates the Church's beneficence of granting indulgences under God's authority:
"The expression of the Church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when--in view of Christ's merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints--she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace."
The Enchiridion (Latin word for this Manual) notes that a plenary indulgence ought to be granted at the time of one's death (page 54):
"A priest who administers the sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached."
Since I learned about it years ago, I carry that Apostolic Blessing on a laminated card in case I need one; if the priest assisting me doesn't know it, I can share it with him. The Apostolic Blessing at time of death to be administered by any Catholic priest is quite simple, as follows:
"By the faculty given to me by the Apostolic See, I grant thee a plenary indulgence and remission of all sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Since we never know exactly when we'll meet the true Santa, the real Giver of All Gifts, I would encourage readers to prepare for that moment, by carrying a copy of this plenary indulgence which can be imparted by a priest to someone in danger of death.
 "CCC," #1471. https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4G.HTM
 "Enchiridion Indulgentiarum,"Fourth Edition,1999, published by the USCCB.