2013. A difficult year but God was very good. Actually, thinking back to the highlights, there were quite a few:
Running my first (and last) MARATHON
Making a huge leap in learning a new language, including spending 6 weeks in Spain and taking 3 college level Spanish classes at home
Seeing Pope Francis not only once but TWICE, first at World Youth Day and the second time in Rome
Going to World Youth Day in Brazil (WYD and Pope Francis deserve separate mention!)
Becoming a godmother to my beautiful goddaughter Hannah
Spending Our Lady of Lourdes Feast Day in Lourdes, France with my mom and my mother's healing from renal cancer
Spending Padre Pio's Feast Day in San Giovanni Rotondo with special friends who were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary on his feast
Learning to trust God in the midst of confusion and pain
Most especially, this was a MARIAN year for me.
Exactly one year and one day ago on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st) I woke up and thought, "I want to go to Lourdes." Then I thought, "I need to take my mom to Lourdes." At the time I felt we needed to go for inner healing. Two months later she was getting out of the hospital after being septic, with a new diagnosis of renal cancer. She still wanted to go, so because of the hurricane coming our way, we flew out a day early and arrived in Paris. Our extra day took us to Notre Dame, Sacre Couer and St Catherine Laboure's chapel at the Rue de Bac. We arrived just as mass started.
The next day we boarded a train and headed to Lourdes. On February 11th, Our Lady of Lourdes feast day, it was crowded. We walked down to the grotto amidst snow and sleet. But the days following left us the entire shrine almost to ourselves. We went to Mass twice a day, made a daily holy hour and went into the freezing baths. Three months later the tumor on my mom's kidney was gone.
In March I went to Spain for a month to learn Spanish. I was there for holy week and Easter. With a church on every corner offering Mass seven or eight times a day, I was able to go to Holy Mass daily as well as visit a perpetual adoration chapel near my pisa. It was a time of healing for me as I was still in recovery mode from a broken heart. Our Lady of Sorrows stands out in my mind as I think back to that time. Her float in the town I lived in was large and majestic and yet when I looked at it, all I could think was how much love it took for her to be the woman she was while on earth.
At this point it comes to my memory some of the novenas I was led to pray this past year. How often I was beseeching Our Lady and St Joseph! I began at the end of the previous year and crossed into the new year with one of the most beautiful novenas I have ever prayed. This 54 day rosary novena started me on a journey of praying the rosary daily for which I am most grateful! And though my prayer wasn't answered as I hoped, I know it was heard.
A month later and I was making a last minute trip to Mexico. My mission group had contacted me the week before asking for help. Since my schedule was virtually free that week, I took it as a sign and agreed to go. May 31st, the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and incidentally my birthday, I flew down to Mexico City where I had a three hour layover before catching my connecting flight. In the customs line I ran into some friends who were on their way to the mission. After we rechecked our luggage, one of the women asked if we wanted to go see Our Lady of Guadalupe. I thought she was joking as we only had three hours but she was perfectly serious! And so, in record time, I made the fastest Marian pilgrimage of my life to Our Lady's Shrine. At the time I felt so uplifted, like I was receiving a very special birthday present.
Weeks before my trip to Mexico, I felt a strong, very random desire to go to a World Youth Day. I googled it to find out where and when the next one would be. When I saw it was this coming summer in Brazil, I thought it was too late to make plans. I half heartedly googled diocesan youth groups in our diocese to see if any nearby might be making the trek and needing a chaperone. I then put it on the back burner. In Mexico however a new friend invited me to go with her and a group of people my age to World Youth Day. Weeks later it was confirmed I could have the time off from work and her group could accommodate me. On our way from Sao Paulo to Rio we made one stop. And that was to Our Lady of Aparecida, the largest Marian Shrine in South America.
Continuing with my track record of impulse travel, I made a return trip in the fall to Spain. Originally I thought I would go for three weeks but had a rather strong desire to go to Italy so I decided to put one week aside for that. Initially I thought I would go to Spain first and then end in Italy (pleasure after work!) but when I found out that Padre Pio's feast was during my planned time in Europe I changed it to the first week. God then mysteriously worked things out so that I was taking my friend's parents to Italy with me and I found that the reason I was permitted to be a part of such a blessed trip was really so they could have their trip! We of course saw images or items of Our Lady everywhere (in Assisi, Loreto, even in my room one night when we stayed with friends in Lanciano!) But the moment that was most precious to me was in Rome when we walked in just as Mass was beginning in Saint Andrea delle Fratte Church in Rome.
At this altar Our Lady appeared to Ratisbonne and he had an instant conversion. It is also the altar that St Maximillian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass as a priest. From the moment we stepped in the church I felt a part of something very, very special. This will always be my favorite church in Rome.
October 7th, Our Lady of the Rosary feast day, brought about the renewal of my Marian Consecration. December introduced me to a new title, one that think I am in love with, "Our Lady, Undoer of Knots." I have prayed this novena twice and honestly think I should say it again and again until Our Lady has undone all the knots of my life.
I know it is hard to believe with all of the blessings listed above that there could be any trials at all in my life! But this has been an amazingly difficult year following an even more difficult year. And yet, obviously Mary has been with me each step of the way, bringing me exactly where I am supposed to be. And there has been a lot of healing. And grace. Beautiful, beautiful mother. Thank you.