Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Going to Mass with My Son

Sunday I flew up to Notre Dame, where my son is a junior, so that I could spend all of Monday driving a car back home. It's kind of a complicated story, but essentially my son had to drive himself back to school after fall break because the airline screwed up in large ways. He already had a car at school; he already also had plane tickets to fly home at Thanksgiving. AND he's coming home with his own car and all his stuff in it at Christmas, since he's going abroad next semester.

Fetching the extra car gave me a chance to have a really nice, relaxed day with my son. He picked me up at the airport. We had lunch together, then for dinner took a group of his friends to a local hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that is simply several cuts above every other Chinese restaurant to which I have ever been. It's amazing food. Best of all is the old woman who must be the owner. She came to our table and said, "You want to order? Or you want me to surprise you?" Two of the students ordered; the rest of us--five people--said, "surprise." The food started coming--plate after plate after plate--and we passed it all the way around. Salt and pepper spareribs. Almond shrimp. Some sort of spicy fried fish. Chicken that I believe was called "Haha" chicken or maybe "Hot-hot" chicken but that instead of being spicy hot was slathered in sliced garlic. Oh my. When we had all stuffed ourselves there was a serving of fish left. The woman asked if we needed a box, and the students all agreed eagerly that yes, we did. I wondered aloud whether someone would actually eat leftover fish in a dorm room, and the student across the table from me leaned close and said, "The rule is, never throw away this woman's food." Which is of course entirely right.

Now that my son's at Notre Dame, every time I go there I'm struck with gratitude that the place exists, that it is the way it is, and that my husband and I got to send our son there. It's so clearly the right place for him. He worked on a paper on Sunday afternoon with his room door open and the NFL muted on the tv. People walked back and forth along the hall, some of them popping their head in to say hi. I met the ND quarterback who lives next door to my son--listened to the guy down the hall play his ukelele--read my son's paper--and then, at 10:30 at night (well past my usual bedtime) I got to go to Mass in my son's dorm.

I've been wanting to go to a Stanford Hall Sunday Mass since my son matriculated. I've actually been to several Masses in the chapel at Alumni Hall, my husband's old dorm, because Alumni always has a Mass either immediately after a Saturday day football game or immediately before a Saturday night one; it's packed to the gills with alumni and said by the aged rector who remembers my husband's student days not because my husband was brilliant nor because he won a prize for bidding and getting a grand slam in bridge but because my husband once fell headfirst out of his lofted bed. Stanford Hall doesn't do a football mass, and I'd never stayed at Notre Dame over a Sunday night.

My son loves his rector, Fr. Bill, as well as the other priest that lives in his dorm, Fr. Pete. Notre Dame puts both priests and chapels in every one of the student dorms. In addition to being rector Fr. Bill teaches at the law school. Fr. Pete is chaplain for the men's basketball team but also does something in administration, I think. I'm not sure if the current ND president, Fr. Jenkins, lives in a dorm-but until he needed assisted living care, the late president emeritus, Fr. Hesbergh, always did.

At 10:30 we joined a crowd of male and female students heading down the stairs (ND dorms are single-sex, but all Masses on campus are open to anyone, and students like to attend with their friends). About half the dorm showed up, by my rough count, which seemed pretty high considering that 1) many students aren't actually Catholic; 2) many Catholic students prefer to attend earlier Masses, especially the morning ones at the Basilica.  Two of my son's friends took turns playing the piano for the Stanford Mass, and a small number of students arranged themselves on one side of the room to be the choir.

I liked Fr. Pete's sermon--the Holy Cross priests are always intelligent and nearly always articulate. I liked the community passing of the peace, in which every student attempted to hug every other student there. I enjoyed the slight tensing of several students, including my son, when the "Holy, holy, holy," started on the piano, and the ripple of amusement that went through those same students when the piano player botched it (apparently this student always botches Holy, holy, holy). At the end of the Mass, singing the closing song, all the students slightly elevated their hymnals, and just as I was wondering what was going on, slammed them shut in unison on the final note.

My very favorite moment came on the crowded elevator going back to my son's room. "Man," said one student, a guy I'd never met, "'Taste and See' is the best hymn. It's like, the Joe Montana of Catholic hymns."

"Like the Tom Brady," another student said, in apparent agreement.

The first student frowned. "No, man. No. That's not it at all. 'Taste and See' is not Tom Brady."

I still have no idea what that meant. But I promise I'm putting it in a book someday.


  1. This is awesome. And I remember how much I appreciated it when, senior year of college, the Episcopal chaplaincy at Yale was finally able to have daily Eucharist (well, 6x/week). It makes such a difference. Wouldn't it have been great to have a chapel in my dorm as well! Glad he has this.

  2. I love that your big boy is happy. And that he is exactly where we knew he would be - for what feels like forever. And simultaneously, two years. Or some other really short time.


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