By Amy McClelland – FFHL Contributor
As we approach Advent, the season of hope, my thoughts drift to the Holy Land. I envision the land where our Blessed Mother Mary received the Angel Gabriel’s proclamation of Jesus’ birth. Then I flash back to another announcement, this time from our pastor, that he would be leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Both declarations changed my life and faith in ways that I’d never before imagined.
It was illogical for me to consider a Holy Land Pilgrimage. I was a stay-at-home mom of five young children and I taught piano lessons on the side to help family finances. My husband and I were in the midst of building a new house. Such a trip was out of the question; yet the call was so strong. I yearned to see the land where our faith was born.
I asked for Mary’s guidance. She knew all about a call. She was called to be the mother of our Lord. She would intercede, show me the way.
Within a few days, I answered the phone to hear my mother-in-law on the line. I was compelled to share the internal tug to make this pilgrimage with her and was surprised when she said, “If you feel called, you must go. I’ll help you make it happen. I’ll come take care of the children. You MUST go.” I signed up the next day.
The following months were filled with anticipation, joy, and even some anxious thoughts about what the pilgrimage would be like. My thoughts went to Mary and to Advent, and to the hope we feel as we near the celebration of Christ’s birth. Finally, March and my beloved mother-in-law arrived. It was time to depart with my pilgrimage family.
The faith journey exemplified by Mother Mary inspired me to make the pilgrimage, but it truly came alive in the Holy Land. An announcement from the Angel Gabriel changed Mary’s life. She accepted God’s call with a resounding, yet humble, “Yes!” Her family supported her, and she shared her utter joy with them.
As I walked the path around Ein Karem, which commemorates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, I could feel their delight in the babies they carried. The sky above Shepherd’s Field, where the angels announced Jesus’ birth, was breathtaking. I could almost hear the angels singing!
I saw Mary in the faces of young girls we encountered throughout the Holy Land. Mary’s agony at the loss of her Son was incredibly real as we visited Gethsemane, with its gnarled old olive trees, and Golgotha, with its bleak barrenness. I imagined Mary’s countenance as I gazed upon an empty tomb.
Eleven days after returning from the Holy Land, my mother- in-law died most unexpectedly. God’s abundant grace, amplified by the Holy Land experience and my dear pilgrimage family, carried our family through the loss of Margaret. I thought of the disciples who carried Mary through her sorrow.
I celebrate my mother in law’s hope and eternal life and the gift she gave when she answered God’s call to nudge, “You MUST go!”