By John Paul Lichon
Founder, Verso Ministiries
Things start out with a bang as my Lyft driver arrives 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. I’m not even in the shower yet, as I figured the last thing anyone at 5:30 in the morning would be is early. I stand corrected.
Arriving at the airport, I over-tip to ease my conscious (for making the driver wait) and walk in to find four of my faithful pilgrims have already arrived. They’ve one-upped the Lyft driver and are thirty minutes early. Thankfully, I don’t have to tip them for that feat.
Everyone arrives with no major issues, and it’s smooth sailing to Tel Aviv. I even somehow manage to get an aisle seat with a free seat next to me for the 9 hour flight. So much for the sacrifices of pilgrimages.
After arriving in Tel Aviv, we pass through customs, grab our bags, and hit the road to Nazareth.
I’d like to say this was intentionally planned, but I’d be remiss to admit that there was no insistence on my part to lead the group to Nazareth first. It’s kind of just how the schedule worked out. But now that we’re here, I can’t think of a better place to start our pilgrimage.
Nazareth is home to the Basilica of the Annunication, the Church upon the site where we believe that the angel, Gabriel, came to visit Mary to announce the coming of Christ. And it’s in this place where we encounter Mary’s fiat – her “yes” to God’s plan. Her “yes” to God’s invitation in her life.
The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
One particularly moving part of the Basilica are the different representations of Mary throughout the Church. The faithful from many countries of the world have donated unique, culturally-based representations of Mary which each seem to highlight a distinctive flavor of Marian devotion. Each offer a particular perspective on Mary’s life and witness – like variations on a beautiful melody.
As I ponder Mary’s story as I walk the grounds, what strikes me is that often times we jump to Mary’s “yes” and sometimes gloss over all of the emotions – the doubt, fear, and confusion – that Mary must have felt. Sometimes we hold up her “yes” like it was an easy, foretold conclusion. That it came with full confidence and poise. And in some ways, I do think it did. But at the same time, Mary must have felt all those same fears that we feel when we hear a crazy idea. What? Who me? You want me to do what?!
Annunciation Grotto in the Basilica – marking the spot where we believe Gabriel visited Mary.
It’s been said that often life’s best ideas need to seem – at first glance – to be a little bit crazy. Ideas that might cause a strong, visceral reaction and cut through us to our core.
In my own life, I’m reminded of some crazy ideas that somehow worked out perfectly. Like dropping pre-med in college to create my own major (true story: one of my classes was entitled, “Hong Kong Action Cinema,” and we wrote papers about Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Best major ever, I must say.). Or how my wife and I first met while living on different continents and never lived in the same city until we were engaged. Or how I left my steady, secure job with great benefits last year to start my own pilgrimage company – Verso Ministries.
At first, these were all legitimately crazy ideas. Ideas that seemed a bit out there – unattainable, insecure, and to be blunt – just plain impractical. But through time, prayer, discernment, and openness, God’s invitations became more clear – and the crazy ideas somehow became the only logical ones.
In many ways, the stories of the saints provide some backup. Just look to St. Francis, who gave up his family’s wealth to live a life of simplicity (and one time stripped naked in front of a crowd to make a point to his father). Or St. Damien, who volunteered to serve the lepers on Moloka’i, Hawai’i, despite no haz-mat suit or isolation wards to protect him. And what about those crazy fisherman who one day were just fishing and then next day they’re following around some “miracle worker”?
Looking back, it’s easy to see how God’s invitation was actually at the center of all these “crazy” ideas. But looking forward, I don’t know about you – but how do we discern a crazy idea from God and a crazy idea from not-God? That’s a questions I’ll need to keep pondering.
But one thing is clear, the invitation is there. It’s continually awaiting our response.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Jesus invites each of us to, constantly and consistently, to come, follow Him. And Mary is a prime example of who answered that call – despite her age, her background, her doubts, and her fears – she said “yes.”
So as we sit and pray at this site, I pray that God might also give me the grace to offer that “yes.” That God might offer all of us – all these pilgrims here and all the faithful around the world – to have the courage and the trust to say, “yes.” Who knows what crazy ideas this pilgrimage might stir up in the hearts and minds of our pilgrims, but God, give us the wisdom and the faith to find our path which will lead us closer to You. Amen.
Opening Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation
Find plenty of pictures and videos from our journey on Instagram! Just follow @versoministries.