National Train Day

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Yesterday was National Train Day. This was a holiday created by Amtrak in 2008. Held on the Saturday. nearest May 10th it was a way for Amtrak to show the benefits of railway travel. May 10th was chosen as it’s the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

Growing up in Queens and Long Island, we traveled by subway on school trips and the LIRR on visits to NYC, especially during the Christmas season. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s kind of an amazing time to be in NYC. Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Macy’s window displays; so much and so beautiful. It’s the perfect complement to the winter wonderland on a greeting card.

I’ve traveled by commuter rails on various vacations. We’ve stayed on the outskirts and taken public transit into the cities of Toronto, Boston, Washington, DC, and of course, NYC. Those trains are a great convenience, and a great value as well.

As a kid, my family took us to Strasburg, PA to ride the railroad through Amish country. When my kids were young, we took them there also. They loved the trains. I think all kids do. My kids, especially my two boys, were big on the Thomas trains. we had a pretty large set when they were younger.

A few years ago, I took my first long distance train trip from my home in upstate New York to Williamsburg, VA. it was a little nerve-wracking with the packing, the tickets, the layover in Penn Station and all that on top of my regular anxiety. I thought it would be the same as air travel, and I packed similarly with the clear plastic bags, one personal bag, small bottles of liquids, but it was actually very different.

The one thing I was told by the friend I was visiting was to only bring what you can carry yourself. If it’s too heavy or awkward to get in and out of the car at the train station, then it’s too heavy or awkward to bring with you. you have to be able to life your bag over your head and put it in the luggage rack. There was a lower section, but you had to be one of the first onboard to git your bag in there.

One of the most noticeable differences on the train was the bigger seat and huge (by comparison) amount of leg room. The bathrooms were also larger, and didn’t make me feel self-conscious about accidentally knocking the door open while I was using it.

The windows are large enough to see the scenery. My trip seemed to follow the coast line. There was a lot of water on the side until we got past Richmond, and then it filled in with trees and greenery. At one point, we paused in a town where I think we were blocking traffic. You could see the houses lining the street of this quaint, southern village.

From my seat, I could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

It was so much less stressful than flying. It was almost like driving except I could sleep part of the way. It was quiet for the most part. Sometimes, you could eavesdrop on someone’s conversation and that was entertainment enough. There was working WiFi so I was pretty well set, not to mention my journal writing and note-taking for future trips as well as for travel posts. Like this one.

On a recent retreat that I put together for myself, I started my week at our local Amtrak station. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I had my messenger bag, my kindle, my Father James Martin Together on Retreat book, and my camera. It gave me the illusion of traveling without actually leaving town. It was symbolic for the start of my do-it-myself retreat. I think I will use that technique again this year when the time comes for me to look inward.

The trains give me that solitude without being alone; without the loneliness or aloneness. It’s the opportunity to be by yourself without being by yourself. It’s like a nightlight in a darkened room. It’s a candle in the night.

And with that last cliche, the last train has left the station. Tell me your train stories in the comments below.

Advent Resources

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Waiting, waiting, waiting. I hate waiting. When I go to the doctor, I bring my Kindle with a book to read on it. When I’m at church waiting for Mass to begin (assuming I’m not running in the door at the last minute), I glance through the hymn sheet or the Missal for that day. Waiting for a television program to begin I can be found on the sofa reading the mail and checking my email. No one likes waiting.

Unfortunately, that is all that Advent is about: waiting for the birth of Christ.

It is not the fun, elf-driven, rah, rah, rah countdown to Santa Claus, but in some ways it’s better than that.

While we’re waiting, what is there to do? For me, it is reading, and soaking up more and more about the man and the Son of G-d. It fills me with such joy and leaves me wanting more that I can’t get enough. At the end of this, I will give you links to my resources, some I’m doing and others that I’ve found along the way this first week that I will keep in a folder for next year.

Father James Martin also describes Advent as a time for us to recognize our desires. This link will help explain what he means by that (and this related video). In this culture, we’ve grown accustomed to desire having a sexual connotation that we need to break out our open minds and our thesauruses. What do we truly desire in our relationship with Jesus?

While we are followers of Christ, we are also called to walk beside him. Not that we’re equal, but He is always by our sides, opening our eyes and our hearts to see and feel His love for us.

Two things that I keep reading this Advent season is mercy and forgiveness. Ironically, the two ideas that I struggle with the most. Certainly, their inclusion has a lot to do with the Jubilee Year of Mercy that begins next week. When Pope Francis first announced the Jubilee year, he offered the pilgrimage to those who couldn’t travel for one. The idea of a Pilgrimage is not something I can remotely entertain but then he did what he has done since his election as Pope – he made it accessible to all. He not only opened a door but he provided an opportunity that might want to go on pilgrimage but can’t leave their home area. I’m still discerning what it is I want out of a pilgrimage and my godmother gave me some questions to ponder, in addition to my own. That is my first step on whatever my quest might be.

It is also a time to slow down and really appreciate this time of the year. Chorus concerts, family dinners, baking cookies. We bustle through and complain about the amount of work and money and in the end we’re exhausted but happy but the slowing down of Advent is something we should all strive to reward ourselves with.

It’s the beginning of a new year. We’ve survived and thrived through so much. It’s time to celebrate and rejoice that and think of the beauty and spirit that’s coming.

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Local Mass and Daily Readings

Advent Moments of Mercy (Online Retreat from Loyola Press)

Loyola Press Interactive Advent Calendars

America Magazine Readings for Advent

Bishop Robert Barron’s Daily Email for Advent

Unto us a Child is Born – Henri J.M. Nouwen– my parish’s Advent Reflection Booklet

The LIttle Blue Book for Advent and Christmas Seasons, 2015-2016

The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent by Theresa Rickard

Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

Acts of Kindness Christmas Countdown Calendar

Open These Doors for Refuge Advent Calendar

Link: Father James Martin – Why Do We Celebrate All Souls Day

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This is a perfect explanation, written in terms that anyone can understand, including me. I get confused on some of the holidays and holy days and Father Martin as a relaxed, down-to-earth way of telling it without losing the true spiritual meaning.

No matter how much we already know, we are always still learning, and Father Martin is an excellent teacher.

Why Do We Celebrate All Souls’ Day? (On Father Martin’s Facebook)