A few years ago, during the season of Advent, my sister and I traveled to Lourdes, France for a pilgrimage. It was a gift that continues to transform my heart year after year, cup after cup of Lourdes water, rosary decade after decade lifted up in prayer. A pilgrimage is a very special gift that should not be overlooked during this season of Advent for that is exactly the gift that the Holy family gave us in their journey to Bethlehem with the birth of our Savior. To travel a long journey to a sacred place is a gift unto itself: the sights, smells, tastes, and rituals undiscovered yet instantly seized into memory. But, to realize something of unexplainable significance is as majestic as the Magi themselves.
During Advent, the pilgrimage on most of our minds is the one with Joseph at the reign pulling Mary on a donkey. However, the pilgrimage that has captured my heart is the one where Mary embarks on a private journey to be by her cousin Elizabeth’s side while she labors. I don’t know if you have ever really thought of this, but Mary, after accepting the will of God to be the mother of God decided to take a road trip . . . by herself! She didn’t pack a minivan with a Costco supply of Aquafina, she didn’t make an iPod playlist for the road . . . she just “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah.” So few words are exchanged between Elizabeth and Mary, but each syllable hold tremendous weight that we, during our pilgrimage of Advent, should take time to ponder and reflect.
“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:43
I was reflecting on this verse while praying the Joyful mysteries the other night and out of nowhere, I just invited Mary through the door: into the fears, the joys, the burdens, and the expectations of my life. How is it that the mother of our Lord should come to me…to you…to us? For months Mary and Elizabeth spend time in prayer and preparation, both anticipating the births of their sons. They laughed and cried, ate and rested. They were community for one another. Who is God sending you on your pilgrimage of Advent to help you on your journey and how are you allowing them to enter the door and “come to you”? Who is God calling you to travel “in haste” to and gift with Christ’s presence within you?
“For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” Luke 1:44
Pilgrimages bring so many amazing gifts that you cannot anticipate. How can you prepare to hear an instrument you never knew played? How can you imagine the taste of a pastry that you have never smelled or seen before? The gift of traveling is that you experience life in new ways. Fortunately, yet unfortunately, we cyclically anticipate Advent and Christmas, and in doing so we begin to loose the marvel of the season. When was the last time your soul “leaped for joy” when you heard the Word of God? What “greeting” reached your ears that caused your heart to rejoice? How can we be the bearers of the “Good News” this Christmas to those who have yet to experience Christ’s presence in their lives?
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45
The belief of Mary and that of a little child on the seat of Santa are not all that different. Trust me, I’m not trying to downplay the faith of our Mother, Mary. It’s just at its simplest form they’re similar. A child sitting on the lap of Santa Claus in the mall believes that what he or she asks for will appear under his or her Christmas tree: prayer answered. Mary sitting in her room believed that what the angel spoke to her would be fulfilled, that her prayer and the prayer of countless generations for a Savior had been heard: prayer answered. Where is our belief today? What has God spoken to us that can only be fulfilled in our believing?
Pilgrimages take us on a journey of faith similar to the one Mary took on her own to Judah. With just a few short days left of Advent take a short journey to a chapel or quiet room to welcome Mother Mary and prepare for the birth of our Lord side-by-side with her, like Elizabeth.