Home again: Christmas break for a seminarian

“Don’t expect to be home during the holidays.” I had learned that lesson during my newspaper career. Everyone on the desk would rush for those coveted days off so that someone was bound to be left out. So I had decided not to bother with the travel hassle and the little time to enjoy being with family. Most of my vacation time would stretch nine days. If I was lucky, I could squeeze out 14 straight days.

At the end of 2014, I found myself in New York for 14 days. I needed to decompress after an intense finals week at the seminary. I didn’t realize how worn down I was until I finished finals and packing. My family’s two dogs, Chip and Teddy, were happy to see me although they slept a lot. My vacation can be summarized in three words: TV, movies and cathedrals.

Here are my highlights from my break.

Myths with a dash of Austen

After a semester with little TV, what programs did I watch in New York? The Science Channel ran nine straight days of “Mythbusters” episodes to gear up for the new season on Discovery starting on Jan. 10. It’s nostalgic to watch the early episodes. What guy would not enjoy watching a giant fireball fueled by nondairy creamer? I watched some episodes from recent seasons that I had never seen. Who knew that a pistol can be fired in the vacuum of space?

But by day 8 and 9, I was tired. What else should I watch?

The Ovation Channel showed a marathon of the 1995 miniseries of “Pride and Prejudice.” This TV version was the first to expose me to the Jane Austen classic. I never got around to reading the book. But I measured all other movie and TV versions to this miniseries. It’s always fun to see Elizabeth Bennett shut down both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy and slowly fall in love with Mr. Darcy. OK, so I’m a hopeless romantic. Watching the miniseries again, I easily saw that Mr. Darcy was nervous and in love with Elizabeth. I could relate to all that nervousness and insecurity when I was dating.

6 movies in 14 days

The fall semester left little time to go to the theater. The only movies the postulants watched were the Saturday picks in the house. I wanted to get my fill of movies during my break. My sister Liza and I would watch a movie every few days.

Here are the six movies we watched and my 2 cents on each:

  1. “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”: I never watched “Catching Fire” but “Mockingjay” gave enough information for me to figure out what had happened.       The movie highlighted the contrast between the stylized fighting in the arena and the brutal violence in the uprising. But a better cliffhanger ending would be when Boggs knocked out Peeta when he was choking Katniss.
  2. “Interstellar”: The movie was so engaging that I didn’t realize that it clocked at almost three hours. Director Christopher Nolan inserted transcendent (and Christian) themes into the movie. Although Cooper hypothesized that future humans were behind the wormhole (thus, man saving himself), Dr. Brand expounds the transcendent quality of love to argue for going to the eventually correct planet.       Meanwhile, Dr. Mann, whom Cooper praised as the best and brightest of man, degenerated into a selfish man who would destroy everything to save himself.
  3. “The Theory of Everything”: This biopic recounts the years between Stephen and Jane Hawking, two complete opposites who fit perfectly together. Although Stephen suffered greatly with ALS, I admired Jane for taking care of Stephen and tolerating his atheistic beliefs. The glorification of Stephen is expected, but the film showed the frail humanity in Stephen and Jane.
  4. “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies”: The conclusion to this trilogy was concise and better than “The Return of the King” to “Lord of the Rings.” Director Peter Jackson tied up the various plot lines with the usual giant battle scene. It was fun to figure what the five armies are.
  5. “Big Hero 6”: This was a pleasant surprise. The short animation “Feast” provided a funny prelude with a dog and his penchant for scraps. The main feature was funny and touching in the dynamics between teenager Hiro and robot Baymax. My sole gripe: Why does the good male role model Tadashi die and every other older male character is inept or evil?
  6. “Into the Woods”: My first exposure to a Stephen Sondheim musical was a VCR recording my sister had of the 1987 production. The twists on the fairy tales made me laugh.       The Broadway revival in 2002 with Vanessa Williams as the witch was a great update. This movie version stayed true to the musical. Of course, compressing the musical into a movie format means changes. Rapunzel didn’t die, the narrator wasn’t fed to the giant and baker’s father was only a memory. Prince Charming wasn’t treated in such a harsh light.

Cathedral tour

The first day of 2015, my friend Patrick and I visited the cathedrals in the city. He has always humored me in accompanying me to a new place or eating at a new place every time we hang out.

A mural of Our Lady of Fatima in the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on Jan. 1, 2015.
A mural of Our Lady of Fatima in the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on Jan. 1, 2015.
A ceiling painting of Our Lady of China in the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on Jan. 1, 2015.
A ceiling painting of Our Lady of China in the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on Jan. 1, 2015.

The first cathedral was St. Joseph’s in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. The church was dedicated as a co-cathedral in 2014. We waited until a Spanish Mass concluded before we entered. The church was bright and welcoming. It had a similar feel to the Mission Church in Boston. On the ceilings above the outside aisles were devotional paintings of Mary, according to regions around the world. I photographed Our Lady of China and Our Lady of Fatima.

Next was St. James in downtown Brooklyn near my alma mater, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. I had never stopped by the cathedral for Masses during my undergraduate years. My faith had needed more renewal. When Patrick and I arrived before noon, we found it close. Strange, I would think that a cathedral would be open for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Maybe I could visit it during the summer.

Scaffolding hides St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on Jan. 1, 2015.
Scaffolding hides St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Jan. 1, 2015.

Finally, St. Patrick was a zoo. Hundreds of visitors were coming and going. The cathedral was being renovated. Only the nave had no scaffolding. I could hardly enjoy the place with so many people. I must visit again when all the renovations are complete.

2 thoughts on “Home again: Christmas break for a seminarian

  1. Thank God for google alerts! I’m sorry to hear that you were greeted with closed doors at St. James. I will be assigned to the cathedral effective the end of the month. Please let me know if there is another occasion that you would like to visit. God bless. Fr. Purpura


  2. […] First Christmas break as a seminarian: This entry after the “Inside Out” reflection has received consistent traffic. Christmas 2014 was my first time home during the holidays for year.  This year might be the last Christmas with my family before novitiate (not going home for a whole year) and beyond (first vows and vocation trips, God willing).  I’m trying to enjoy every moment.  I will give a recap of this vacation at the start of 2016. […]


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