Thursday, December 31, 2015

The year ends/the year begins

The highlight of 2015 for me had to be seeing Pope Francis in Washington, D.C. during his first trip to America.

I was fortunate to be able to worship with my cousin Carrie, friend Kim and about 25,000 fellow Catholics — not counting clergy, seminarians and religious — at the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra, the first Catholic saint to be canonized in the U.S., celebrated by the Holy Father during the first stop on his U.S. visit.

The word "catholic" means universal, and nothing demonstrated that more than this Mass: We were part of a crowd of young and old, pilgrims of all races and from all over the country. The Mass was in Spanish, with portions also in English, Korean, Tagalog, Italian, American Sign Language and Chochenyo, the language of the Native American Ohlone people.

Carrie and I waiting for the canonization Mass to being on Sept. 23, 2015

I was also on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the Holy Father’s address to the joint session of Congress the next day — it’s the first time that’s happened too — watching the speech on large screens, along with a crowd of thousands, then cheering the pope and receiving his blessing when he came out afterward to greet us. People chanted for "Papa Francisco" and "Viva El Papa!" on the Capitol lawn. Some had traveled all the way from California and Hawaii to be in D.C. while Pope Francis was there.

It wasn’t only Catholics who were excited. While walking from Carrie’s apartment on Capitol Hill to meet her near the White House — she’d been able to get a ticket to the ceremony held for Pope Francis in the White House Rose Garden, and we were joining up to Metro to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Mass — I found myself walking a portion of the way with a stranger, a woman named Kathy, after she’d asked me for directions (I actually knew where she needed to go, too!) and we struck up a conversation. While she wasn’t Catholic, and didn’t have tickets to events during his visit to the nation’s capital, Kathy said she really admired Pope Francis, and wanted to take pictures (she even took a selfie of us together in front of the Canadian embassy before we parted ways) of the crowds, just to say she was there.

I totally get that. Going into the trip, I hadn’t been sure we’d be able to attend any of the papal visit events, and I was going to be completely happy just being in D.C. and seeing friends and family while the pope was in town. But everything had worked out — not only the stunningly cheap, nonstop flight to D.C. from Fort Myers and a place to stay with Carrie — but also the generous gift of tickets to the canonization Mass, given to Kim courtesy of Father Carter Griffin, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Washington; and the lawn tickets for the Congressional address.

In the week-long trip, Pope Francis’ visit made for two back-to-back, prayer-filled, marathon days, requiring predawn wakeup calls, lots of standing, lots of waiting, and for security checks provided by TSA — ergo, lots of patience! — but they were so amazingly worth it. To be present for such faith-filled, historic, joyful events was an extraordinary gift and a grace.

My youngest brother, Ethan, proposed to his girlfriend Nesa right before Thanksgiving. I'm not surprised, honestly, that Ethan is the first of the three of us to become engaged. He's always been more of a dater than Daniel or I. He's really happy, and smiles around her (at least in the pictures I've seen of the two of them together) the way he typically only smiles with family: goofily, and without self-consciousness. I haven't met Nesa yet (she was supposed to come to Florida for Christmas, but couldn't get off of work), although she seems really nice via our Facebook messenger chats and the Skype session she had with us as we opened presents on Christmas. They haven't set a date yet, but it seems my wish childhood for a sister will finally come true. :)

One ridiculous thing his engagement did bring to mind had to do with a certain family recipe. As I helped mom prepare our family turkey stuffing over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found myself thinking about how Ethan doesn't really like it, and Daniel, who has celiac, can't eat it at all. My Aunt Marilyn makes it too dry, and my Uncle Joe's wife, my Aunt Jean, makes it too crunchy...leaving my mom and I as the only ones who make it the correct way. Silly girl thoughts regarding the fact that I'll need to marry someone and have kids in order to pass the recipe on and, ergo, make sure it doesn't vanish in its true form, were quickly quashed.

Speaking of Ethan, I had one of his dogs for the first five months of the year while he was away on various military trainings. I have to say that, living alone, it was nice to come home to Cassie's wagging tail at the end of the workday, despite the tumbleweeds of Husky fur that abounded in my house as a result. I am putting serious thought into adopting a (short-haired!) dog in 2016.

I read 57 books in 2015 (unless I manage to finish my current read before the clock strikes 12). The most recent I finished was Dante's "Inferno," which took me longer to complete than I thought it would (due to work and life, etc...), but was well worth it. I found myself pulling out my copy of the Catechism and looking things up as I read. I hadn't read "The Inferno" since high school, or, more precisely, I thought I'd read it all in high school. However, as I made my way through the book, I discovered I didn't remember a lot of the journey Dante takes through Hell. I think "The Inferno," then, might well be the only case of assigned school reading I never completed! I've really enjoyed Anthony Esolen's translation, and because of some of the appendices, have now managed to read more of St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" than ever before. On to Purgatory, next!

Several coworkers and I (Team Mighty Pickles - so named for a play one coworker's brother once starred in) began going to a weekly trivia night at our local Irish pub this summer. It's nice to finally get a chance to use some of the random knowledge floating around in my brain!

I am praying for so many as 2015 comes to a close, and for will continue to ask God that 2016 to be filled with blessings for all those on my intentions list.

As for myself, I'm not making a slew of resolutions, but do have some goals:

I applied for a number of jobs this year, trying to escape the newspaper, but nothing bore fruit. Plans call for perseverance in 2016. I have been here too long and have little to show for it.

That leads me to one of my few real resolutions in the New Year: while still working toward something better, I also want to make gratitude and peace a focus. I can sometimes fixate on what I don't have, or what I want or think I need, without realizing how blessed I am in so many ways.

Another goal for 2016 includes cooking more. I love to cook but so rarely cook fun recipes just for myself, choosing instead to go for something semi-homemade at best. I'm going to make an effort to try at least two new recipes per month in the New Year.

I have been pretty bad about writing in 2015, as evinced particularly by the low number of blog posts. I haven't journaled much, either. I intend to remedy that in the New Year. This includes letter writing. I owe a nun friend a letter in the worst way, along with several other friends who have sent cards to which I need to respond.

I'm hoping to travel some in 2016, too. Right now the only trip that is looking really likely is one to Southern California in late May, when my brother Daniel will graduate with his master's degree in cinematography from Chapman University in Orange, California, just outside of L.A. I'm very much looking forward to celebrating his accomplishment!

The last of my 2016 goals is to get rid of some of the things I've accumulated, especially when it comes to clothes. I have a lot that I don't wear, or am holding on to for when I drop a size again. Some is worth keeping, but I know there is a lot I can part with. I'm even going to go through and get rid of some books, too, I think, especially those that have been in my TBR pile for ages and I've never touched, or others I don't foresee myself ever re-reading.

Happy and Blessed New Year!

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