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I do not love my suffering. Saints embraced theirs; they even asked for it. It won them halos, while here I am avoiding pain whenever possible but still offering it all up, because it is heavenly collateral after all. I think I found an avenue suggested by saints and a priest that still leads to sainthood, minus the direct love affair with suffering. If I can appreciate what comes my way through suffering and the other blessings that suffering often reveals, then I can reap the benefits. Thus, gratitude can be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Mother Teresa knew this when she said, “Gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.” She did not say we have to love the problems themselves, but to accept them with joy. A friend taught me this years ago, after losing his only son, when he shared his story for the “Amazing Grace for Families” book. After the death of his beloved son Josh, Steve Cates felt angry with God. “Steve,” his wife Cathy said, “we cannot be angry. Think of the gift God gave us for twenty-six years. We have talked about all the good things about Josh. Look at what we have had.” In an instant, Cathy’s words cut through his anger. “God does not want us to be thankful for everything, He wants us to be thankful in all things,” she said. “Then you will look up instead of looking down.”
Saint Padre Pio embraced his own suffering but when people came to him wanting to add suffering into their lives, he told them to stop that. God would give them all the suffering they needed, he explained. They just needed to respond with acceptance. Gratitude offers a way to find joy in the midst of difficulties. I have found it to be a two-step grace. First, offer up the suffering, since when aligned with the cross of Christ it is an offering that can answer prayers and draw us nearer to God. The second step is gratitude. I have never said: Thanks for my suffering, but I can find endless appreciations within suffering, from having a roof over my head and food in my cupboards to my Catholic faith and the graces the suffering will bring.
Rosary of Gratitude
During a past Lent, Father Russ Kovash, pastor of Saint Joseph in Williston, North Dakota, held a retreat on “Gratitude is the Virtue That Changes Us.” He shared how gratitude changed his life to the point that he now thanks God for the things he used to complain about. The transformation came eight years ago through the “rosary of gratitude” he learned from his friend Patty Schneier, who had a spiritual director recommend it to her. “I will not go to sleep without praying it now,” he said.
It is simply prayed by taking a rosary and thanking God for something on each bead of the five decades, from the smallest to the biggest blessings. “When gratefulness is alive in our hearts,” Father Kovash said, “it lends itself to three fruits: a deep abiding peace and joy, a tremendous increase in the awareness of God’s crazy blessings in our lives, and those two things result in a great passion to do God’s will and build up His kingdom.”
Gratitude is not just good for us, but God actually commands it of us, Father Kovash explained. Many Scripture passages teach us that we are obligated by God to thank Him. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 states: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Father Kovash also pointed out that in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass we often say, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.”
Praying the rosary of gratitude is life changing, according to Father Kovash. “There have been many fruits, and it has brought me deep abiding peace and joy in my life to see how ridiculously good God has been in my life,” he said. “I thank him today for blessings that eight years ago I would not have even thanked him for or maybe I would have complained about them.”'
We were all shocked and shattered when my brother announced he wanted to become a priest. It was not just that he wanted to become a priest, but he wanted to become a Cistercian priest. That meant that once he left home, he would never return. My mother was totally bereft. She was proud that her son wanted to be a priest, but why, oh why, did he want to become a monk as well? She did not know what to do, but fortunately, she did know who to turn to. She turned to Gus, a friend since childhood. He himself had left home to become a priest and a monk and was at the time the Abbot of Belmont.
The Meaning of Motherhood
Gus told her that a mother only really fulfils and completes her motherhood when her love is so great that she allows her child to both choose and follow his own chosen vocation in life, whatever that may mean. He told her this was the sacrifice Mary made when she allowed the Son she had given birth to go His own way and respond to the vocation to which He had been called.
My mother felt much better after talking with Gus, or Abbot Williams as he was then. After all, he was a priest and a monk himself and so was able to console and encourage her better than anyone else. Although my brother had been accepted as a prospective monk at Mount Saint Bernard’s, the Abbot asked him to finish his studies in Paris, where he was studying at the Sorbonne. Naturally, he was delighted he had been accepted, because he thought his handicap would have prevented him from becoming a priest—one leg was shorter than the other as a result of polio when he was six.
A Terrible Accident
Unfortunately, my brother had a terrible accident on the way to his final examinations. Partly due to the iron calliper on his leg, he slipped down the escalator on the Metro, hit his head and was killed instantly. He was only twenty-two. I was seventeen at the time and called out of the school study to be told of the tragedy. When I got home it was to find my mother all but inconsolable. She had already come to terms with the sacrifice she had been asked to make when he chose to become a monk, now she was asked to make another, more complete and final sacrifice that she never thought for a moment would ever be asked of her. Once again, she turned to Abbot Williams for spiritual help.
Like Mary, My Mother Became a Priest
Abbot Williams told her she was now being asked to be the priest that her son never became. He told her Mary had been a priest and the greatest sacrifice she made was the sacrifice of her own Son. All of Mary’s life revolved around selflessly giving her all for the dear Son she had born. Everything had always been for Him and then she had to give absolutely everything, even Him. This was the most perfect and complete sacrifice any mother had to make, and she made it as she stood there at the foot of the cross. My mother never forgot what Gus said to her. It did not take away all the pain, but it did give meaning to it and made it bearable. What helped most was seeing that the sacrifice she had to make was exactly the same sacrifice Mary had to make on Calvary.
A Lesson Learned from My mother
There is only one true priest and that is Jesus Christ, who made the most perfect sacrifice anyone can make, the sacrifice of Himself. We are priests to the degree in which we share in His priesthood. Throughout His life He offered Himself unconditionally to His Father and for the people His Father had sent Him to serve. We share in His priesthood when we also offer ourselves to the Father, in, with and through Him and offer ourselves to the same family of man He came to serve.
That is what my Mother came to see and understand more clearly than anyone else I have known, not just in the way she thought, but in the way she acted. It was a lesson she had to learn at the most painful moment of her life, when she had to share in the sacrifice of Christ in exactly the same way as Mary had. Lessons learned in such moments are never forgotten. They indelibly stain the memory and determine the way you think and act for the rest of your life, for better or for worse. In my mother’s case it was for better not worse, as it was for Mary.
For both of them it meant that through their terrible ordeal their motherhood had somehow been refined and deepened to the benefit of other children who looked to them for the motherly love that was always given without measure. I for one know this because I have experienced it for myself and still do. As I look back at the past, it is the more dramatic demonstrations of my mother’s self-sacrificing that stand out in my memory. However, the more I reflect the more I see that her whole life was a continual selfless sacrifice for her family, just as the life of Mary had been. Every day of her life and every moment of her day was given for her children, in a hundred and one different ways, through which she exercised her priesthood, as Mary did in her life on earth. It was little wonder that her three sons all wanted to become priests; after all, they had been living with one all their lives!
Selfishness and Sacrifice
When the family went to Mass together each Sunday, they saw my mother totally absorbed in what they took all too easily for granted. Their selfishness meant they had too little to offer while she was offering a thousand and one acts of self-sacrifice, made for them during the previous week. This meant my mother received to the measure of her giving, for it is in giving that we receive, and she received in ever-greater abundance with each passing week. This gave her the help and strength she needed to go on giving in the forthcoming week, go on sacrificing for the family that took her all too easily for granted.
Without any formal theological education, my mother discovered for herself that the Mass is not only a sacrifice, but also the place where we offer ourselves in, with and through Christ to the Father and something further. It is also a sacred sacrificial meal where we receive, from the One through whom we have offered our sacrifices, the love that He is endlessly pouring out on to, and into, all who are open to receive it.
Motherhood was for her, as for so many other selfless, self-sacrificing mothers, a way of participating in the central mystery of our faith. If her daily dying united her to the dying of Christ, it also opened her to receive the love that raised Him from the dead on the first Easter day, empowering her to share what she had received with the family for whom she had given everything. The son she always mourned may never have become the priest he desired, but she more than took his place. The priesthood she exercised would not only inspire her own family but other families as well— families who are still inspired, as I am, by her shining example that will never tarnish.
My Brother’s Death Was Not In Vain
The death of my dear brother affected me deeply, but his death was not in vain. It inspired me in such a way that I have spent my life writing about him and using him to spread the profound spirituality that attracted him to the monastic life, to inspire others as well. I have spent much of my life writing three major spiritual works. The main protagonist in each work is the hermit, Peter Calvay, who is entirely based on my brother, Peter Torkington. In my imagination, instead of entering the Cistercian order, as he had intended, I simply transferred him to the Outer Hebrides, where he became a hermit. Then, as his spiritual life deepened, he began to help others.
If Peter had become a monk his spirituality would have been monastic. However, living as a lay-person enabled Peter to develop for himself a profound lay spirituality based on the spirituality that Jesus Himself lived with His disciples, through whom this spirituality was bequeathed to the early church. This is, of course, of particular help to a modern reader trying to live the Christian life while outside the context of the religious life, like yours truly. If these books help you, as they have helped more than 300,000 readers over the years, then my brother’s death will not have been in vain, nor will the simple spirituality we both learned from our mother.'
When I give talks on evangelization, I can feel great energy in the room as we look at the Church’s documents on evangelization. Evangelii nuntiandi, Evangelii gaudium and a host of quotes from popes, thinkers, saints and atheists get people fired up and ready to go out into the streets to live and speak the gospel. While it is a great feeling to see Church leaders getting fired up, that enthusiasm can often fade when I begin to share current statistics. Real, cold-hard facts give black-and-white numbers to peoples’ hunches and experiences about the dramatic loss of numbers experienced in our churches.
Among these statistics, there is one that breaks my heart more than any other. Among Christians, Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily. It breaks my heart because of the richness of our tradition in terms of personal prayer, contemplation and mysticism. I know many evangelicals and when they begin to dive deeply into personal prayer, they begin to read Catholic writers and spiritual masters. Merton, Rohr, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Thomas a Kempis and Julian of Norwich are the great writers and mystics in our treasury that my evangelical friends discover with great delight and about whom many Catholics remain ignorant.
The second vexing statistic is that the Catholic Church has the greatest rate of attrition among Christian churches. Even worse, among those who still identify as Catholic rather than ex-Catholic, only 16 percent are highly involved in their churches. Only our Episcopalian friends have a lower rate of high involvement at 13 percent.
The third statistic—and it sounds like a contradiction—is that Mass attendance does not equal Mass attendance. By this we mean that taking your children to church every Sunday is no guarantee at all that they will continue to go to Mass in college and in the later young adult years. Of all factors, the one factor rating as the highest guarantor of ongoing participation in the life of the church is daily personal prayer.
It seems that the dots are quite clear to connect: 1. the greatest guarantor of ongoing religious affiliation is daily prayer; 2. Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily; 3. the Catholic Church has the highest rate of attrition among Christian churches and ecclesial communities. May I posit a “therefore?”
Therefore, the greatest thing we can do as youth ministers and as parents is to foster a daily prayer life among our teens. I do not know why we have not done a better job at this than we have. When I was in the parish, I lead awesome group prayer. Candles, incense, music, lighting, an authentic proclamation of the scriptures were staples at the weekly prayer services; our youth nights were stunning. Yet, I do not recall asking my teens about their personal prayer life. I wanted to give them experiences. I wanted to instruct them in the Church’s teaching, but did I give them what they needed to develop a daily personal prayer life?
Those of us who follow the lectionary have all of the tools to help our teens do so. We do not just stick a Bible into teens’ hands and say, “Here, start reading.” The Church gives us a rhythm of seasons and daily readings from scripture. We have an inherent guide through the Bible. Even more than that, the Church also gives us lectio divina, a four-step method for praying with scripture:
1. Use your body. Read the passage.
2. Use your mind. Think back through your day at school and what happened with your friends and family today. What does the passage mean to you based on what you are going through in life?
3. Use your feelings. Now that you understand the meaning this passage has for your life, what does it make you want to pray for?
4. Use your intuition. What does God say to you in return?
We have to remember that our faith is not an ideology. Our faith is in a person, Jesus the Christ. It is Him who we encounter, fall in love with, follow and to whom we conform ourselves. I feel like those of us in youth ministry are pining for the one, single program, movement or innovation that will stop the bleeding of our youth and young adults from our churches. Our mission trips, lock-ins, leadership training conferences, efforts at liturgical renewal will all only make sense if our teens are rooted in a person they encounter on a daily basis. Back when I was a parish youth minister I discovered that good youth ministry is about asking the right questions. Perhaps the best question we can ask is, “How was your prayer time last night?”'
Life is hard and we often find ourselves in difficult situations. When overwhelmed or confused as to how to proceed on a specific issue, we sometimes need a road map. For Christians, the Bible and the teachings found in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” provide such maps; however, both can be daunting. Time constraints, not to mention the complexity and sheer size of both, hinder most of us from making use of these treasures. Most need Cliff Notes to navigate them, especially when time is of the essence and we must decide quickly. Our issues are often modern ones, such as those arising from technology. Consequently, we do not always get clear-cut answers. They must be inferred or ferreted out, a tricky task that often requires some training in these sources. Many times, answers to questions must wait for the Magisterium to address, taking extra time without a specific answer. The good news is that Jesus provides a touchstone or marker by which all decisions can be made and by which one can judge any action.
During Jesus’ ministry, He was questioned regarding which is the greatest commandment of the law (Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22:34-46 and cf. Luke 10:25-37). Later, Rabbinic Judaism would articulate a total of 613 laws in the Torah or Pentateuch. Jesus’ response proves Him a master rabbi while simultaneously providing us with a benchmark by which to judge all actions and decisions—our roadmap distilling the Torah down to its essence. Jesus responds to the question by quoting perhaps the most well-known text to Jews in the first century, as well as today, and then adds to it a lesser-known text from the Torah. He combines them in such a way that His authority and His divinity are presupposed.
His response to the question begins by quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. In what scholars generally agree is our earliest Gospel, Mark 12:29 states that Jesus answers, “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” Jesus then continues by quoting the remainder of the Shema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5 and cf. Mark 12:30). Jesus explains this is the greatest, most important commandment (Mark 12:28-29 and Matthew 22:40). The Shema, which means “Hear!” in Hebrew and is a reference to the first Hebrew word in the statement, commands Israel to hear. It was and is today the classic monotheistic declaration of faith for Jews.
Jesus then goes on to explain that there is a second commandment and He quotes Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Matthew 22:39-40 reads, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mark 12:31 adds Jesus explaining, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In distilling the entire law down to its essence, what comes to the fore and is relevant for our purpose is that Jesus points to one salient thing—love. Both texts from the Torah use the Hebrew root ahavah. It is no coincidence that Jesus points to this concept for, after all, The New Testament explicitly says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Love fulfills the law or is the essence of the law and God is love. Many, such as the Franciscan friar and modern mystic Richard Rohr, in his recent book, “The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation,” suggest God’s very language is love and that the Trinity exists in love. Thus, in the end, love is what it is all about: love of God and humanity, precisely what Jesus explains is most important. Could there be a bigger authority than Jesus for Christians? This coheres with what Saint Paul, the Apostle to the gentiles, writes in Galatians 5:14: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (cf. Romans 13:9 and James 2:8). First Peter 4:8-10 also explains, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
Love or ahavah is at the core of the Christian life. Ahavah is God’s very nature (1 John 4:8b) and it is not a stretch to assume love is what binds us all together. Another modern-day mystic of the faith, the late Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths, in “The Golden String” eloquently said, “For love can give us a kind of knowledge that is beyond both faith and reason. The divine mystery is ultimately a mystery of love …”
Jesus teaching on ahavah also provides a framework by which to judge all actions and decisions—one of love. You should always ask, “Will my action or decision show love to God or neighbor?” You might wonder what it means to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. For starters, spending time with God and refraining from that which sets us apart from Him is one way to demonstrate love of God. How do you love your neighbor as yourself, you might also ask? First and foremost, by seeking the welfare and best for another, even at the expense of yourself.
Saint John Paul II reminds us that a true life consists of giving it away. Thomas Merton wrote, “Clean, unselfish love does not live on what it gets but on what it gives. It increases by pouring itself out for others, grows by self-sacrifice and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.” This is a paradox and counterintuitive. As with so many of Jesus’ and the Gospel’s teachings, it turns our conceptions on their head. Nevertheless, in giving oneself away, or dying to self, we find true freedom and life. This dying to self and ridding ourselves of the ego or “false self” is what it means to be in Christ. Galatians 2:20 reads, “And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
You may wonder how to apply ahavah in practice. You might ask, “Should I forgive the person who did that horrible thing to me, who really hurt me or mine and caused me much suffering?” According to the principle of ahavah for God and other, an unequivocal “yes” is the answer, for loving our neighbor would entail forgiving him. There would be no ahavah in withholding forgiveness; rather, it would harm you and potentially your neighbor. This is in alignment with the teaching of Jesus elsewhere in His ministry. Specifically, it is imperative for our eternal wellbeing that we forgive one another (Matthew 6:15 and 18:35). You will find the principle of Jesus’ teaching on ahavah coheres with all of Scripture and brings wellbeing to others and us. Its divine origin summarizes and is the pinnacle of the law in a quick and easy teaching. It is easily called to mind, thus serving as a helpful touchstone.
As another example, suppose a parent is trying to figure out how much time he or she should allow a child to use an iPad per day. For obvious reasons, Scripture and the Catechism are silent on this modern dilemma. Yet, for a child’s growth and wellbeing it is important to figure out. Jesus’ summation of the law and His pointing to the ahavah of God and neighbor actually provides the key. In this case, you might ask and reflect on how you love your neighbor—your very own child. How do you demonstrate ahavah for your child in this case, rather than what is most convenient for you? Loving the child might be allowing only a few minutes a day on the iPad. This way, the child will learn to cultivate other habits such as reading, socializing or playing outside in nature.
Every case will be different and prayer is always recommended, but Jesus’ summary of the law provides the key to judge all decisions and actions. It is a framework that helps us seek the love of God and neighbor and not self. As issues arise in daily living, we can quickly rely on this principle by asking ourselves what will allow for the greatest show of love for God or neighbor. In these examples and in other cases, when we are able to demonstrate love of neighbor, it nearly always follows that the love of God is present and vice versa.
Saint Paul writes, in Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus pointed to this principle as being at the core of what it is means to follow God. Ahavah is at the core of our very life, for it is the core of God. It follows, then, that it should be our road map in all matters. It is fitting to close with a text we should memorize on ahavah and we should start making use of it. When the question was posed to Jesus as to which is the greatest commandment in the law, He answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29- 31).
It truly all boils down to ahavah.'
Do not mess with this face!
The year 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to three little children in Fatima. The youngest of the three, six-year-old Jacinta, died only a few years later, but spent the remaining time of her life on earth offering sacrifices in reparation for sin. On 13th of May 2017 Pope Francis canonized Jacinta along with her brother Francisco at Fatima.
Saint Jacinta had a fierce, determined spirit and a heart for sinners, especially those furthest from God’s love: those closest to damnation. She had been horrified when Our Lady granted her and the other children a glimpse into hell. It was vivid and heartbreaking, terrifying and cruel.
After this vision of hell, Jacinta would sit on a rock or slump on the ground exclaiming, “Oh, hell! Hell! How sorry I am for the souls who go to hell! And the people down there, burning alive, like wood in the fire!”. She would then drop to her knees and pray the prayer Our Lady had taught them: O my Jesus! Forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in greatest need of Thy mercy.
During a private apparition, Mary had told Jacinta: “most souls end up in hell because of the sins of impurity” and “if people knew what eternity is, they would surely do everything in their power to change their lives …”
Because of this, little Jacinta resolved to help keep as many souls as possible out of hell. This may be the reason why the presence of her photograph has proven to be a deterrent to demons, as one exorcist has attested. They hate being reminded of the many souls she pried from their grip. I think the firm brow in her photographs (though the expression of the day) tells demons that she means business!
To me, she calls us all to step it up: in our own offerings, in showing more gratitude for the gift of receiving Christ in the Eucharist and in making better use of our lives (and time)—after all, she was able to give so much in the short time she had on earth. For this reason, I love sharing stories about this dear Saint with my little ones.
One story I love in particular, related by Sister Lucia, reveals the beauty and wisdom of Saint Jacinta, who is the youngest non-martyr saint:
One morning Jacinta begged Lucia to allow her to accompany her to daily Mass. “Do not come to Mass,” Lucia tried to counsel her, especially as Jacinta had become so ill, “it is too much for you. Besides, today is not Sunday.”
“That does not matter. I want to go in place of the sinners who do not go even on Sundays … Look, Lucia, do you know? Our Lord is so sad and our Lady told us that He must not be offended any more. He is already offended very much and no one pays any attention to it. They keep committing the same sins.”
But Jacinta was told she was not strong enough to attend, so Lucia would drop by and visit her almost every day after she had returned from Mass. Jacinta was always so excited to see her cousin: “Lucia,” she asked, “did you receive Communion today?”
“Then come very close to me for you have our Lord in your heart. I do not know how it happens but I feel our Lord in you and I understand what He says even if I do not see Him or hear Him. It is so good to be with Him.”
I love the exchange Jacinta had with her cousin after she had been given the news of her impending death directly from Mary:
“Lucia, our Lady told me that I am going to go to another hospital in Lisbon and that I will never see you again or my parents and that after suffering a great deal, I shall die alone. She said that I should not be afraid since She will come to take me with her to heaven.” She sought comfort from Lucia, reaching out her arms and sobbing, “I will never see you again. Pray a lot for me for I am going to die alone.” Jacinta seemed so troubled at the thought of being alone in the end. Lucia once heard her lamenting her fate while hugging a picture of Our Lady, “My dear little Mother, so I am going to die alone?”
“Why do you worry about dying alone?” Lucia had asked her, “What do you care when Our Lady is going to come for you?”
“It is true. I do not care. I do not know why, but sometimes I forget that she is going to come for me.” Lucia’s own heart was filled with sorrow. “Take heart, Jacinta. You have only a little while to wait before you go to heaven. For me …” She was brokenhearted knowing she would be left to live a long life on earth without her little cousin.
“Poor thing. Do not cry, Lucia, I shall pray a lot in heaven for you. You are going to stay here, but it is our Lady who wants it.”
“Jacinta, what are you going to do in heaven?”
“I am going to love Jesus a lot, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and pray and pray for you, for the Holy Father, my parents, brothers, sisters and for everyone who asked me and for sinners. I love to suffer for the love of our Lord and our Lady. They love those who suffer for the conversion of sinners.”
What an incredible little soul! At the end of her life, Jacinta endured much suffering. She underwent surgery removing two ribs, in an effort to save her after an infection had caused vast swelling. She told the doctor plainly that she would be dying soon and that the surgery would not make a difference. She accepted it though, as she was determined to offer as much suffering as possible before her death. When it came time for the procedure, she was found to be too weak for the gas anesthetic so was offered only local anesthetic, which proved ineffective. She felt everything and was in complete agony the entire time, but offered it all for sinners.
When I think of her offerings, I am almost embarrassed to think of all the times I have complained about minor inconveniences, so many lost opportunities to give as she gave, to love as she loved. Yet, God is good, and I know I can offer it now and greet future burdens with a determined spirit, with joy and a renewed zeal for souls.
In the end, the prophecy of Jacinta dying alone was fulfilled. As many doctors and family members thought her health was improving, they were not with her the night she died. Her body was exhumed in both 1935 and 1951 and was found to be incorrupt (one among so many in our awesome Catholic faith). She is buried at the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal where Pope Francis and a number of Catholics (all pilgrimages were sold out) celebrated the 100th anniversary and honored the lives of the heroic children of Fatima.'
Q. I struggle a lot with guilt and shame. What should I do about it?
A. I have to immediately praise you for identifying how you have been feeling and wanting to do something to find peace. While there are times when the experience of shame can be absolutely debilitating, guilt and shame can also be very good things.
Recently, Pope Francis pointed out how our experience of shame can reveal a profound truth about our humanity. He even called it “the virtue of shame.” He said, “shame is a true Christian virtue, and even human the ability to be ashamed … In our country, those who are never ashamed are called ‘sin vergüenza’: this means ‘the unashamed,’ because they are people who do not have the ability to be ashamed, and to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble.”
At this point, I can already hear the jokes about Catholics and guilt. I do not know if I can name one movie or TV show that portrays Catholics where the concept of “Catholic guilt” is not somehow woven into the story. My mom always says, “What is there that is ‘Catholic’ about guilt? It’s just ‘guilt!’” If I have done something wrong, I should feel guilty, should I not? What would you call it if someone could do something wrong and not feel guilt or shame? We call that a behavioral disorder. We call it “being a sociopath.”
Experiencing guilt when we have done something wrong is a sign that something is going right, not that something has gone wrong. In this sense, guilt is like feeling pain when you touch something hot; it is an indication that I should change what I am doing. But—and this is important—it is not the pain that is burning me, it is the heat. It is not the guilt that is hurting me, it is the sin.
The desire to avoid feeling bad about doing bad is a normal thing; it is not a good thing. You are not made for misery either. Christ came to give us life to the fullest. He offers a greater joy than we could find anywhere else.
What do we do with feelings of guilt and shame? How do we move toward joy? I think it might be useful to point out the distinction between “guilt” and “shame.” They are similar, but they are not the same. Therefore, how we confront them is not going to be the same, either.
I was listening to an interview with two counselors and they offered the following definitions for more accurately understanding the differences between guilt and shame.
They said guilt is the awareness of having violated some objective standard. For example, I know it is wrong to lie, but then I go ahead and lie anyway. I feel guilty about this because I am aware that I have violated the standard of honesty.
Now, there is such a thing as true guilt and false guilt. False guilt is when I am holding myself to a false standard. Therefore, while an accurate standard is that I ought to be a person of prayer, there are people who feel guilty if they do not “enjoy” prayer, but that is not a true standard.
There are a couple of ways we normally respond to guilt. We might argue with the standard and deny that a thing is really bad. We can distract ourselves from having to face our sin or we can admit our failure and confess our sin. We can repent.
Something to Hide
Shame, on the other hand, is more relational. Shame is the awareness of having failed in the eyes of another. That “other” could be another human being, God or even myself. For this reason, the primary responses to the experience of shame are either to justify ourselves or to hide ourselves. We will either demand that the other condone our actions or that he does not look at us; we do not want to truly “be seen” by the one who knows our failure.
With shame, as with guilt, there is true shame and “toxic” shame. Shame is toxic when it does not accurately reflect reality. For example, shame is toxic if I imagine that God’s vision of me is that I am simply an annoyance (or worse).
I was recently speaking to someone who kept calling herself a “freak” because of a particular wound she struggles with. This woman certainly finds it difficult to approach the God who loves her with any degree of joy. Her shame is not based on reality. A real sin has clouded her vision of herself to the point where she believes that she is her sin.
What is the best response to shame? If shame moves me to justify or hide myself, then the best response is to choose humility and come into the light of God’s gaze. It most likely means going to confession. Pope Francis put it this way: Confession “is an encounter with Jesus … who waits for us just as we are … [Therefore] we must have trust because when we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, ‘Jesus Christ the Righteous’ … who supports us before the Father and defends us in front of our weaknesses. But you need to stand in front of the Lord ‘with our truth of sinners,’ ‘with confidence, even with joy.’”
It is possible to step out from under guilt and shame, but it always involves being willing to tell the truth about our guilt and step into the light of God’s love.'
“You receive all the divine essence of the sweetest sacrament in the whiteness of the bread. Let us suppose that the Sacred Host could be divided: even if it would be possible to fragment the Holy Eucharist into thousands of tiny particles, in each one of the tiny particles there is the presence of Christ, the whole God and the whole Man. In the same manner in which a mirror would shatter into thousands of pieces, the Sacred Host will not shatter or divide the image of God and Man that you see in the Host; the image of God and Man is in each fragmented part. Contrary to fire, the image of the Host does not diminish in faith or divinity.
Let us look at the following example: If you had one candle and the whole world would light its candle from that single candle, the light of the candle would not diminish and everybody would have a lighted candle. While it is true that those who participate in the candle lighting may have more or less flame, everyone would receive exactly the amount of fire to light their candle. Until that time when it can be better, this example stands.
If there were a lot of people bringing candles of all sizes—one person with two candles and one with six candles and one with a candle weighing an ounce and one with a candle weighing a pound or more—then you could see all the lit candles by color. By color, by its light, by its heat, you would judge that the person that has a one-ounce candle has less light than the one with a one-pound candle. This is how it is for those receiving the Holy Sacrament. Man carries his own candle so that he can receive the sacrament; however, that candle is unlit, but it is ignited when he receives the Eucharist. As a matter of fact, as you are all alike, made and created in My image and likeness and as Christians you are anointed with Holy Baptism, you can, therefore, grow in virtue as much as you like through My divine grace. You are not changing your spiritual life that I bestowed upon you, but you can grow and increase in love of virtue, using your free will with virtue, with charitable affection, while you still have the time, because once time has elapsed, it will no longer be possible.”
[Regarding the Eucharist, Jesus confided the following words to Saint Catherine of Siena: Excerpt from “The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena”]'
We live in difficult times as Catholics. Quite possibly it has always been this way. The culture sends messages to us that are very harmful to our spiritual life. If we have become blind to this truth, it is likely that we are pursuing success as defined by the secular world instead of pursuing the holiness God has called us to live.
Here is how the world measures success:
◗ Is my physical appearance attractive?
◗ Are my clothes stylish and sexy?
◗ Do I eat at the finest restaurants?
◗ How much money do I make and how large is my savings?
◗ Do I have the finest house and the latest luxury car?
◗ Am I powerful at work, home and among my friends?
◗ Are my children enrolled in the finest schools so that they, also, can achieve worldly success?
God provides a different measure:
◗ Do I love God with every fiber of my body and soul?
◗ Is my love of God manifested in my love of neighbor?
◗ Do I care enough about the spiritual and material needs of others to do something to help them?
◗ Am I dependable … can others count on me?
◗ Am I a person of integrity and honor … can others trust and believe me?
◗ Am I kind and compassionate?
◗ Am I humble and selfless or am I prideful and jealous?
◗ Do I do good things and avoid evil?
There is a stark warning in the Epistle of James that reminds us that to follow the way of the world—pursuing material wealth without regard to our obligation to love God and serve our neighbors—leads to our destruction (cf. James 5:1-6).
Jesus reminds us in Mark’s Gospel that pride can even slip in when we are trying to serve Him. We sometimes try to prevent others from doing what is good as if it somehow detracts from our own efforts (cf. Mark 9:38-41). He speaks forcefully about the necessity to avoid occasions of sin:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-48).
Practical Advice for Avoiding Sin and Pursuing Holiness
God desires only good things for us. He has created each of us out of His goodness to enjoy His eternal beatitude in this life and the life to come. It is important for us to know which measurement drives our behavior and actions. If we do not examine how we live and what motivates our behavior, we will quite likely drift further from God’s plan for us. Here are some simple and highly effective steps to help us see ourselves as God see us and to take corrective action to deepen our conversion away from sin and toward God.
1. Make time for prayer throughout the day.
2. Incorporate an Examen (examination of conscience) into your bedtime prayers.
3. Begin your Examen by praising God and giving thanks for His goodness. Ask God to grant you the grace to be wise and open to what He desires to reveal to you.
4. Identify the ways in which God has blessed you since your last Examen.
5. Identify the times and occasions since your last Examen where you have followed God’s will for your life. Identify those times and occasions where you have failed, through commission and omission, to follow God’s will.
6. Identify recurring patterns of behavior. Where you have done well, seek more such occasions to live in virtue. Where you have sinned, seek to modify or avoid such occasions.
7. Make an Act of Contrition. Resolve to sin no more. Ask God to grant you the grace and strength to surrender to the Lord.
In doing so, we will build up a storehouse of riches for the life to come. Jesus has promised that He will not forget the smallest of our good acts done for love of Him: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
A Powerful Example from a Simple Saint
Quite likely, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus offers us the most powerful, yet simple, example to follow. At the Lisieux Carmel, there was a nun who was particularly irritating to Thérèse and, as would be the case with most of us, she found great difficulty in being charitable when this nun would appear. Where possible, we are to avoid occasions of sin, but there was no way for Thérèse to avoid this nun, nor could she in good conscience anyway. During her Daily Examen, she realized she had to change the dynamics of her encounters with this nun. She resolved to always and immediately treat this nun as if Thérèse loved her best of all, whenever they met. Such a simple and kind act and it bore fruit beyond imagining— both women grew in charity and holiness.
When we do nothing about our spiritual life, sin becomes the easy thing to follow. But, when we begin in humility to replace sinful acts with virtuous acts, we find that holiness is far more satisfying than sin.
This is a lesson all of the saints show us; each learned it by following the example of Jesus who gave His life for them, and for each of us, accepting death on the cross. As we approach the altar to receive our Lord at Holy Communion at Holy Mass, we might reflect on these simple truths and ask Him to help us avoid sin by striving to live according to His measure and not the world’s.'
How often do we run through the motions of life, unaware of who we are and what God is trying to convey to us? Saint Catherine urges us to become who God created us to be. As we become, we will set the world on fire. For many years, I had been going through the motions of life, just taking care of responsibilities. Then God intervened.
An Ordinary Day
I was putting on my tie, getting ready for work. It was an ordinary work day. I was a mortgage manager at a bank. I made a good enough living to provide for my wife and four young children. We lived in a comfortable home in a well-planned neighborhood. We belonged to a good church with a large community of friends. At first glance, life was good.
Something happened on this particular day that I did not expect. While looking into the mirror, my eyes began to leak. Yes, that is right, this 6’4” 250-pound ex-football player began to cry. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. This was not my normal daily routine while preparing to go to work. I was caught by surprise.
The Heart Speaks Up at Odd Times
My heart was trying to convey something that my mind was unable to comprehend. “What is going on?” I asked myself. “Why are tears flowing down my face at a time like this?” I did not have time for this, I had to get to work. So, like many previous days, I pushed these feelings aside and went to work.
Lion in the Ocean?
A few days later, Glenn, who worked for me, randomly offered: “Bart, you are like a lion in the ocean.” “What?” I questioned, “Lions don’t belong in the ocean!” Glenn shrugged his shoulders and quipped, “Yep,” then walked off.
This stayed with me for days: “Lions don’t belong in the ocean!” Something deep within my heart was being stirred, but I did not know what it was. I offered up this quick prayer: “What are you saying to me, Lord?”
Beginning of the End
A few months later, the mortgage industry took a nose dive. Perhaps you may have heard about the financial crisis of 2008. In the early 2000s, the mortgage industry achieved its best years ever. Within about seven years, the industry was at its worst. Those happened to be the seven years I was in the industry. I was a firsthand witness to the industry’s best and worst years. Fortunately, I was not part of the problem, but I certainly was among those who were deeply impacted by its collapse.
I hung on as long as I could, fighting to adequately provide for my young family, yet my dissatisfaction grew with each passing day. The grace that had carried me for the previous six and a half years had run out. I grew deeply discontent. I found myself longing to find a vocation that was more suited to my desires. Glenn’s words resonated deeply within my heart: I felt like a “lion in the ocean,” longing to find the “safari” for which my heart yearned.
A Way Out
I desperately wanted out, but I could not see a way. Where was I going to find a job that offered me this much opportunity? I felt like I was the lion Glenn spoke of, stuck swimming in an endless ocean of despair. I saw no way out.
Within a few months, a representative from human resources showed up at my desk with a box. My time in this ocean had come to a sudden end. I had no idea how I would provide for my family, yet I felt an unusual peace and grace in this time of difficult transition. I had renewed hope of things to come. I was eager to find my safari.
It was not an easy transition by any stretch of the imagination. I went without work for far too long. We had to sell our house and my family went through some very difficult times. Yet, at the end of this crooked road, there was a safari awaiting me.
I Found My “Safari”
For many years, I had longed to do ministry, yet opportunities would come and go and financial responsibilities increased as my family grew. For nearly seven years I put on a suit and tie and pushed aside my passions in order to provide for my family. That season had come to an abrupt end.
My heart finally caught up to me. The tears that leaked out that day where my heart’s way of saying, “Hey, remember me?” My heart was crying out in hopes of discovering my safari.
We were all created for a unique purpose. A lion does not belong to the ocean any more than a shark belongs to land. Everything is created to be who and what it was created to be.
We will not thrive outside of being what we were meant to be: a baseball was not created to be a light bulb any more than a light bulb was created to be a baseball. Each is created to be what it was meant to be. A light bulb would make for a terrible baseball yet walk into any dark room and turn on the light switch. Are you not glad someone did not put a baseball in the lamp? We find great comfort in knowing that a light bulb is in its intended spot. It was created to fill the room with light. So are we.
Launched into Fulfillment
While the circumstances were far from ideal, this closure in the mortgage business served as a catalyst to launch me into what God had for me next.
Since this time, I have stumbled upon my heart’s passion. I now work full time doing what I love. I travel the country doing conferences and retreats with my brother, seeing countless lives transformed before our eyes as the Father encounters the hearts of His people with His love and presence.
It was a tough swim in those choppy ocean waters, but today I am enjoying life in the safari.
Where is Your “Safari”?
Perhaps you are wondering where your safari is. If so, ask the One who created you. He will direct your steps.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
What about the journey on the way to our safari? Is it wasted? Was my time in the mortgage business a mistake? Not at all, it was God’s tool to do a deeper work within my heart and prepare me for days to come. It also served as a means to provide for my growing family. God promises to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God used every bit of that season to prepare me for this one. There was grace for that season, yet when the time for change had come, the grace dried up. It was time to seek the next season.
Every step of the way prepares us for God’s greater purposes.
Know the Times and Seasons
There are times when God will open doors and there are times when He will close them. There are even times when He will dry certain things up in order to redirect our steps.
The key I have found is to take the time to listen; it makes things so much easier when we hear the voice of God within our heart (instead of human resources showing up with a box).
Time to Hear from the Heart
What do we do when God is stirring our hearts for a change? Will we listen?
What does the Church say about the Heart?
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”) 2563, the heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw” (2563). The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter because, as an image of God, we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
Time of Silence
There are times when God will call us aside so He can speak to us in silence:
“contemplative prayer is silence, the “symbol of the world to come” or “silent love.” Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us His incarnate Word, who suffered, died and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus. (“CCC” 2717). Time for Adventure Perhaps I am not the only one stuck swimming in an ocean of despair. Remember, lions do not belong in the ocean. They were created for a wild adventure in the safari. So were we. A Greater Lion We are not alone. Revelation 5:5 states, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep not; lo, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered …’”'
On a late winter’s evening, my mother left her body like a discarded nightgown on an unmade bed. I was sitting by the window when I received the news, and as I looked out into the inner garden, my heart grieved that she would never again see the loveliness of the light as morning pushed into noon. The thought made me realize it was she who had first taught me the importance of beholding beauty and considering life a gift of infinite value.
This loss led me to revisit the death of my own child, years before, and prompted me to begin to make peace with my abortion decision. Despite the passage of time, I was still grieving, vulnerable to remorse and shame. Obviously, I had not agreed with my mother’s sentiments when I chose to terminate the life of my unborn child. Instead, I considered such a personal decision should be entirely based on my own needs. As I confronted the memories that lay hidden beneath a veneer of excuses, I exposed a level of sorrow that at times was almost beyond bearing. After struggling with my guilt for years, I knew if I wanted to experience healing, it was time to make amends.
In addition to public appearances, I focused on praying for the needs of children threatened by abortion. They became my spiritual children; they had no idea that a stranger had been helping chart their lives even before their birth. Some mothers have asked for prayers and when they share the outcome—sometimes with a child in tow—I am overwhelmed. I see it as God working through me and changing what was a most grievous mistake into a miracle. This side of heaven, I will never know who the beneficiaries of my transgression have been, but I do know that in His infinite mercy, God is able to overcome even our gravest offenses.
Whenever I witnessed in front of an abortion center or spoke at a pro-life gathering, I would again experience profound sorrow over my decision. This was to be expected. As God explained, I had destroyed someone who belonged to Him, a person of infinite value whom He had entrusted to my maternal care. Instead of nurturing baby Zachary, I had him dismembered. Knowing the details of gestational development, now I realize how horrific was the pain I had inflicted on my child. It is not surprising that rectifying this injustice and making restitution would cost me a good measure of pain and anguish.
Wanting to support me in my abortion recovery, the Lord eventually led me on a spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. This particular journey is famous for stripping away layers of accumulated habits and reducing life to its essentials in order to experience a deep inner cleansing. The pilgrimage was not so much a physical trek as it was an interior journey into the pain of my abortion experience. Before I could embrace God, I needed to make atonement for the lethal harm I had inflicted and the self-justifications by which I tried to excuse myself. Only after that could I find comfort in His forgiving embrace.
I thought the Camino had cured me, that I had put to rest the ghosts of my past, my guilt and sorrow. While it did much to restore my spiritual health, I apparently needed to visit Lourdes, a famous pilgrimage site, for one last healing. I was to immerse myself in its famous healing waters so I could reemerge, symbolically reborn. The thousands of cures recorded in Lourdes were a profound testimony to the power of Jesus at work, and just as He had healed the paralytic in biblical times, he healed me. I was confident at last that my transgressions had truly been forgiven.
However, just so I would not think my work was over now that I felt spiritually restored, I was invited to walk the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem and unite my daily trials with His suffering, for the sake of my neighbor— those countless men and women who were struggling with heavy burdens of their own. The last few paces brought me to the tomb of Christ and, before entering, I prayed that He would continue to be present in my life and direct my footsteps according to His will. At that time, I sensed no particular need—I was basking in the healing I had received in Lourdes—but something quite remarkable did happen. In emerging from the tomb, I sensed I was leaving behind all the accumulated transgressions of my past.
My life had been restored by His grace and if I remained faithful there was a promise that extraordinary things would come my way. Since that experience many years ago, my spiritual journey has indeed reflected a change, and my life has been truly transformed by the Grace of God.'
Let us face it. This journey can sometimes feel lonely—this Christian life journey.
As Catholics, we are told that if we walk with God, obey His Word and Commandments, and follow the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit, we will enjoy a close relationship with Him that we desire. But definitely it is not always easy. Especially when you are living in a world that is well, “worldly”. This is the world where Christian virtue is quickly becoming the minority and the most important “values” are inclusive acceptance, and not offending others. This is a world where old time-honored principles and traditions are often mocked and made fun of. I cannot say how many times I have received odd looks, or even glares when I have (quietly and to myself) said grace before eating meals in the presence of strangers. I even have a friend who told me that he was once accused of saying grace just for show and as a way to make others think he is better than those around him. Really?
During Lent when I am fasting, it has been insinuated to me that I am of being too “legalistic” or too strict with myself—and perhaps I should “lighten up” a bit.
Sure, it is annoying, but that is just a small stuff.
Recently a news journalist called out Vice President Mike Pence, saying that he must have a “mental illness” because he listens to Jesus. The journalist was quoted as saying, “It is one thing to talk to Jesus. It is another thing when Jesus talks to you… that is called mental illness,” These types of perceptions about Christians are growing.
For some time now, I have mostly lost interest in reading or posting in my personal Facebook account because it is full of anti- Christian and anti-God news articles and comments. What used to be a place to catch up with friends and family, has in large part become a place of negativity.
In the past I have read comments about how some people are annoyed and sometimes even angry because others have offered their prayers in times of hardship or tragedy. I have read comments from people saying that prayers are worthless or even insulting. And my question is—where does it stop? And will it? Will people be bullied into completely hiding their faith out of fear of offending or rousing anger in others? Will people often be forced into accepting things that we know to be wrong because our shifting world tells us we should think otherwise?
Will human respect win the day?
In times like these, perhaps it is more important than ever that we hold strong to our faith. To cherish the journey that comes with our faith. And never turn back from it. You only need one reason to never give up or compromise your faith—Christ gave it all for you.
It all comes back to the cross. Christ gave all that He had for us. He denied Himself and became man to save us. And with His crucifixion Christ did not hesitate to go all the way, despite the immense pain and suffering. And why? Solely for our salvation. He would have done it for even just one of us if He had to.
The Bible tells us that He will finish the good work that He started in you (Philippians 1:6).
You might fail again and again, and at times you might even think that you have no hope, but you are wrong if you think that Christ will just give up on you because you are not perfect.
Yes, you are not perfect, but He will not stop. And He will walk right beside you in the journey. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. It began in Him, continues in and through Him, and will be brought to completion by Him. Do not give up … because He will not give up. (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).
So, if Christ will never give up on us, how can we ever give up on Him? And giving up on Him does not only mean denouncing your faith. Giving up on Him is also simply compromising what we know to be true—all that scripture, faith and tradition have told us to be true. We humans often have a sad tendency to take good things and distort them. Consider human respect, for example. God’s good plan for us has always been for us to honor, value and respect one another. In our fallen world, though, where every virtue gets distorted into a corresponding vice, too often we twist that into pursuing others’ respect, and putting their opinions ahead of our reverence for God and our duties toward Him.
Frequently this pursuit shows up in the form of fear: fear of not fitting in, or of being criticized for thinking or acting differently from other people, especially when it comes to practicing our faith. It is a matter of fearing man more than God; being more concerned with what other people think of us, than what God thinks and expects of us. This unholy fear often causes us to make bad decisions to avoid upsetting others, or being looked down upon by them. Ultimately—we care too much about what others might think of us. And when you live in a world where everything must be accepted, you may one day find yourself suddenly standing for nothing. Because it is very difficult to make a stance about anything, when “everything goes”.
If you know that your faith in God and your corresponding beliefs and actions are real and sincere, then you never have to worry about offending others. To put it simply, it is their issue, not yours. Stop worrying about what other people think about you. Whatever story they have made up about you is not your true story. And no matter what, stand your ground in the One Person where hope will always be found. Because no matter what you face, this we know in time–He will take all that is wrong and make it right.
Guard and cherish your faith always. And remember that one of the best ways to make sure you never lose your faith … is to share it with others.
This is your journey.'