Daniel Norman McNamara
Molly got her first guitar in 1964. You would remember her long red hair. By the late 1970s she was singing at her parish’s Folk Mass each Sunday, teaching choral music at a local college, and becoming established as a solo performer both in Canada and in the States. I ran into her early in December last year at the Toronto airport. The red hair was somewhat shorter.
My wife, however, quickly recognized the face of her Catholic high school classmate. Now all
in our mid-60s, we shared our travel plans, our dismay over the younger generations, and our common opinion that our own Boomer generation had come in more recent years to have fewer illusions about what was really important. We observed too, however, that actually doing some- thing about most of those important things continued to elude us. This admitted shortcoming we attributed to “the dark side of the force”.
Molly was headed down south to Charleston and then on to Florida for some performances and workshops she would be doing. Those she was ready for. What troubled her was the prospect of taking her parents to Midnight Mass once again at their new parish in South Florida. Since her own parish in the north had been closed, she “got to Mass” rarely if ever. But sitting in her parents’ regular pew last Christmas Eve and glancing through her father’s missal, she was struck by how quickly she had become unfamiliar with so much. Turning her narrative finally to a more hopeful note, Molly quipped that her own revised “Christmas wish list” was now a very short one; “Shed a little light, O Lord”, the title of a James Taylor song from the 90s, and likely one she had continued to perform ever since.
I think I commented that nobody seemed to find the readings and the prayers of any Mass
Immediately transparent. In part, they were more like the lyrics of songs that invited us to hear them anew over the years. We understood them progressively and maybe better at various points in our lives. Most of us find that that takes time and attention. If she wanted, it would be easy to pick up a missal for herself. I suggested that she find the old Pauline bookstore on King Street in downtown Charleston. The sisters who ran that shop also had others in Miami, Toronto, and Montreal. I penned their website into the last page of her passport. www.pauline.org . A lot of smaller Catholic bookstores can be found at individual parishes and may be open only on Sun-days. But you can find out about many of them anywhere in Canada or the States at www.catholicstorefinder.com . The “Living With Christ” missal, the one commonly used in English-speaking Canada, can easily be found at its publisher’s website www.novalis.ca . By then, the clearly annoyed customs agent was frantically waving Molly forward. And after some apparent questions about her guitar case, Molly disappeared through the door behind him. I was told by the same agent not to write things in passports.
This fall, my wife and I are ready once again to head back to Florida. And I find myself wondering how Moll has been doing with her memorable “Christmas wish list”. I hope she did get to a Catholic bookstore somewhere and did get ahold of a missal for herself. But I also hope that I am not so dense as to think that any of that makes everything better, or begins to respond
adequately to what she was really talking about. To be sure, I do not know Moll’s life nor would I pretend to. But I do know that a lot of us “still-surprised-to-be-seniors-already” come at various times and in different ways to the same simple issue, “How is it going with me and God lately?” And we do so often in spite of repeated efforts conscious and otherwise to set that one squarely on the back burner. Advent will soon begin. And maybe in those early weeks of December we would all do well to find a way to actually do something about what we have long realized is still important to us. So, Moll, this year I’m sending you a sort of “Advent Agenda List”. I hope you find that it dovetails at some point into your own well-considered “Christmas wish list”. If you find anything that strikes a familiar chord or might be of interest to you or your family, I trust you will take appropriate action. Admittedly, I write here in the phrases we learned long ago and far away. Measure my words accordingly.
#1 Venue. Living without a parish seems a lot like living without a kitchen. In a way, a parish is like a kitchen. It’s the sort of kitchen we returned to so often in Cher’s old film “Moonstruck”. It’s where we are fed, where some of the most important conversations of our lives have taken place - No, not all of them “easy listening”- and where the most meaningful rites and rituals of our families have been celebrated. At 65 and counting, are we waiting for something in particular? Maybe we missed our cues a while back. Now is good.
#2 The pragmatist’s Advent 2015 strategy. Wherever you find yourself, and even if you’re traveling during Advent, (1) You call a nearby parish. (2) You ask, “What are we doing for Advent?” Finally, (3) You show up. Note that the word “you” appears here repeatedly.
#3 Who you gonna call? You can find local Catholic parishes in the States or in Canada at www.masstimes.org . There are phone numbers here, directions to give the cab driver, and usually a link to each parish’s website. How tough is this?
#4 What to expect. When you call, expect to find that individual parishes are doing different things during the Advent season (Nov 29-Dec.24). Many will be inviting us to familiarize ourselves with the scriptural readings for the coming Sunday Mass. This is a version of “going over the charts” with one of your choruses. We’d rather listen to these words up front and have time to let them sink in. There is a bonus here! We get to meet face to face with real human beings. We get to listen to each other. How often do we actually get to do this lately? Most of these things will meet weekly. Nobody expects you can be there each week. The door is open. You can come back. But wherever you find yourself in a given week in Canada or in the US, you can find a parish family doing this or perhaps even something more interesting to you. “Shop Around”. You likely remember that old song too. This can be a family experience in preparation for Christmas. Time spent in this “shopping experience” may really be more satisfying than time spent “at the mall”. Consider.
#5 Catholic resources on your computer. If you are still smarting from those endless “computer classes” we all had to take in the 90s, rejoice! There is payback now. There really are many good things you can access via your computer or “device” that may enrich your Advent and prove interesting to you or members of your family. My wife and I just connect our laptop to our TV. We’ve come to wonder why we are paying for cable! To begin with, the bishops of the US and those of Canada each have a website. www.usccb.org and www.cccb.ca ( or www.cecc.ca
to access the website in French). Both websites provide a way to access the websites of their individual (arch)dioceses, Find the “Diocesan Locator” (US) or “Dioceses of Canada” map on the homepages. A lot of these (arch)dioceses will be posting their own Advent materials or “Links” to things that they have found of interest to Catholics generally at this time of year. Browse some of them. Add the ones you and your family like to your “Favorites”.
#6 Catholic “TV”. As many of us learned during Pope Francis’ recent trip to North America, our computers are often much better at providing us with coverage of “things Catholic” than we knew. Consider it this way. There are three North American “online TV networks”: www.CatholicTV.org, www.EWTN.net , and www.saltandlighttv.org . Some cable companies carry one or the other. But you can always access them online or via Roku. Daily masses can be found on all three sites. Each of these websites can provide you with information on its special offerings for Advent and the subsequent Christmas season (Dec.25-Jan.10). All three have presentations for various age groups and for the whole family. Some presentations are scheduled for online viewing only at particular times. Some can be viewed whenever you want. Check their schedules online. We need not be the prisoners of our cable providers anymore. The younger people know this. It’s about time we did.
#7 Vatican TV and radio. These can be accessed at www.news.va or at www.ctv.va and www.radiovaticana.va . The old Vatican website at www.vatican.va is still a good portal for easy access to most of the other Vatican websites, including some virtual tours.
#8 Some of us want to take at least a few minutes out of each day during Advent rather than let too many of our days fly by unattended. Some do this by reviewing the Daily Mass Readings. The Canadian bishops’ website makes these available at www.nlo.cccb.ca (see Weekday Lectionary/ Daily Readings, (French at www.onl.cecc.ca. , “ La liturgie du jour” ). Some Cana-dian Anglophones prefer to access their Daily Readings at an alternative website
http://novalis.rightbrainmedia.com At this site you can access the Daily Readings for Sundays as well as for Weekdays along with some other popular features. You can access each day’s readings at the US bishops’ website at www.usccb.org/bible . Just click on “Today’s Reading “ or “Lecturas del Dia”. Here you can also find an audio version of the daily readings, and a Daily Reflection Video. These two features, however, are currently available only in English..
#9 Some of us subscribe to Fr. Barron’s (now Bishop Barron of LA) daily Advent emails at
www.adventreflections.com . Many of us have seen parts of his series “Catholicism” and con-tinue to find his written reflections a welcome daily challenge. You can subscribe and receive these daily emails either in Spanish or in English now. “Subscribe” means that they will automa-tically send you an email each day during Advent. You can always “unsubscribe” just as easily.
#8 The Advent Calendar The US bishops’ website will again feature its popular “interactive online and printable calendars” for Advent, and another for the Christmas Season (Dec. 25-Jan.10) , at www.usccb.org, I suggest you click on the prominent “Prayer and Worship” tab, and then select “Liturgical Year” from the dropdown box . An additional click on the “Advent” link will take you to all of the newly revised Advent Season materials including the new Advent Calendar. This is “taking the long way home”. But it will take you through some other very interesting parts of this website. Well worth your attention too is the Advent 2015 Calendar from the Archdiocese of Toronto. The plan is to post it again this year on the archdiocese’s Facebook page. You will be able to find it at www.facebook.com/archtoronto. Most websites also have interesting materials on their Facebook pages. Find most of them in this same way.
#9 The Franciscans at www.americancatholic.org will be revising their online Advent resources section in November. Click “Seasonal”, then Advent. Long a favorite for families and teachers too, there is a diversity of things here for all age groups and interests.
#10 www.OSVParish.com “Our Sunday Visitor” has been publishing Catholic newspapers, books, and family oriented materials for almost 100 years from Indiana. At the tab “Resource Library”, click on “Liturgical Year”.
#11. “Praying Advent” is a resource that is well-known in the US, Canada, and worldwide. For some 15 years, the Online Ministries Office at the Jesuits’ Creighton University in Nebraska has been progressively revising and adding new materials to this site. To find it, it’s easiest just to google “Praying Advent 2015”. When you find a direct link, add it to your “Favorites”.
Finally, Molly, I do hope that this list reaches you. Yes, we somehow managed to lose your email address too. If you find anything on here of interest, I hope you will act on it accordingly.
Please pass it along to others who are looking forward to the light that JT sang about, and to gathering around that “well on the hill”. May God bless us everyone.