In May I was able to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My fourth year anniversary of leaving religious life fell while I was there – May 24th AND Pentecost Sunday of this year. I surprisingly wasn’t able to remember the exact date of my departure from the convent and had to actually look it up in an old journal before embarking to Israel. Perhaps that’s a good sign? However, my heart still remembered at times how it felt and aspects of the leaving process were very clear when I brought them to mind. Going shopping in my habit the day after learning I wasn’t called to vows & peeking out of the dressing room to show another sister my outfit, going for a couple of days of prayer, being rebellious & wearing pink toe nail polish under my tall white socks during my last couple of days, the goodbye brunch, having the opportunity to say goodbye to some sisters in person but not many, throwing a hair brush across the room after a sister attempted to make my short hair look a little better, and having the novitiate sisters crowd around me before getting into the van to head to the airport after I had changed into one of my new outfits. These are a few of my last moments in the convent. Although there is still at times pain and sorrow when I recall this, there is peace and God’s love was present with me then as it is with me now. This now brings me to the topic of the Holy Land.
Before leaving for the Holy Land, we were told by a priest that we would be going on a pilgrimage to endure a journey and meet God on it. We would be going on an outward journey to go on an inner journey. We would be going to the place where God’s Heart met man’s in the flesh and we want to leave inspired. The priest told us that he wanted us to meet the living God, to fall in love with Him, to make our peace with Him, and for us to go forth to set the world on fire. This is the Christian life. We needed to prepare for this and be ready to meet Him. How true these words became for me and are still becoming for me as I continue to journey through all that transpired while in the Holy Land.
It was so powerful being in the places of Our Lord. Sometimes I can think too much, but while there, my heart became more alive again. I would lose all control of my emotions at times with the Lord performing “surgery” on my heart. He loves us so much…He loves me so much. I crucified Jesus by my sins and, like St. Peter, have denied Christ (I have in a way denied Him when I’ve doubted His mercy & love for me at times) but yet Jesus chose to go through such suffering & die out of love for me. Jesus…God…came to earth out of love for me to be my Savior, for me to know how much I am loved by God, for me (like Mother Mary) to rejoice in God my Savior, to be with me as I journey to Heaven. It was like a dance between my insecurity and God’s patient & tender love for me. Multiple times during the pilgrimage, my insecurity would arise in my heart with God then gently reminding me that I am loved and that He is there. It’s like the parable of the sower (see Luke 8) with the seed (God’s Word & truth of His love for me) needing to go deeper into the soil of my heart. I started Pentecost Sunday (literally: it was around midnight) near the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher going to Confession and then going to Calvary (YES, the spot where Jesus died out of love for me) to be with Him. It was so spiritually peaceful, beautiful, real. I could have stayed there all night.
We had already visited Calvary once before this during the pilgrimage but on my last day I just had to go again, making it visit number three! I almost didn’t have peace about leaving the Holy Land and desired to return to Calvary again to be with Him and to say goodbye. While there, I told Him that I didn’t want to leave. Quietly in my heart I heard, “You’ll find Me in the Eucharist”. After this time at Calvary, I had peace about leaving. At each Mass, I get to return to Calvary. With each Eucharist, I receive my Savior Who died (and rose) out of love for me. Wherever I am, He is also with me, loving me. Someone joked after my return home that I had gone all the way to the Holy Land to be told that I’ll find God in the town where I live. Wherever I am is my Holy Land, for Christ walks with me and journeys with me on this pilgrimage to Heaven.
Thank you for sharing such an insightful experience. I can definitely relate to your departure from the convent , as my own was very similar. It was a grace to actually have a moment to say goodbye to my classmates but a strange reality to actually take off my habit. As time passes I am starting to see that although I can no longer wear a habit as my daily outfit, the habit I beg to keep is that of LOVING. And also allowing myself to be LOVED. May the Lord continue to guide us as we travel the roads of life and if it be His will may I too one day journey to the Holy Land! Mary Pilgrim of Love, Pray for us!