Boldness and Passion

Guest post by Shane Dwyer, Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre, Australia.

These days I am not always as bold and passionate about my faith as I would like to be. It has nothing to do with recent revelations about the criminal activity of some in our midst. Those things disappoint and upset me but I learned a long time ago that all human beings are capable of great evil – even those who on some level aspire to do good. Instead, it is the constant sniping and the unkind and judgmental ways in which people interact with one another that can keep me quiet.

Recently I was at the barber having my hair cut. As a way of making conversation the barber asked me the inevitable question, ‘what work do you do?’ Suddenly I was very aware of the line of men sitting and waiting for their turn in the chair, listening in on the conversation. I found myself thinking ‘can I describe my work without mentioning the Church at all?’ This was quickly followed by ‘can I be bothered putting up with their cracks about child abuse and their snide comments about the many Catholics I know (priests included) who have never and would never harm anyone?’

Fear and potential discomfort can keep us quiet. Resisting these is the subject matter of Gaudete et Exsultate 129 – 139. Some relevant passages from this section follow.

“Holiness… is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20)… Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us…

Let us acknowledge our weakness, but allow Jesus to lay hold of it and send us too on mission… Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things…

Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do, because this is the way things have always been and yet we always manage to survive. By force of habit we no longer stand up to evil…

Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.”

Reflections of a Plant Mom

I’ve tried to be a Plant Mom before, but I’ve inevitably killed every plant I’ve owned within a matter of weeks. I’ve lost flowers, ferns, succulents – you name it, I’ve failed to keep it alive. I even once killed a cactus in a week. A WEEK. (And no, I didn’t over-water it.)

But most of my current plant babies have been going strong for over a year, and they are not only surviving but thriving! Turns out, all I needed to be a good plant mom was proper sunlight. All those labels on my previous plants that said they were fine with just indoor light were a complete lie. You would think indoor lighting would still allow the plants to grow, but it doesn’t.

This very profound plant revelation has gotten me thinking though how applicable this is to our own human lives. We need the proper sunlight — or rather, SONlight — otherwise we wither and die. We need the Son shining His light on us. He alone is what feeds us and nourishes us, through His very self in the Eucharist. Any other person or thing that gets in the way of getting what we need to survive, gets in the way of the Son, will not sustain us. Artificial light sources don’t fulfill us; don’t help us to thrive. Only the true light from the Son can give us what we need, and have us blossoming even more fully than the plants on my windowsill.

The Oil of Charity

We must not think that our love has to be extraordinary. But we do need to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. These drops are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being quiet, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. They are the true drops of love that keep our lives and relationships burning like a living flame.
—St. Teresa of Calcutta

In Matthew 25, Jesus recounts the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. I’ve written before on what this passage teaches us about waiting, but today I noticed another aspect of the story. It seems at first that the wise virgins, those who were well prepared with oil, act selfishly in refusing to share their oil with the others. But actually, this speaks to the symbolism of what the oil represents. St. Augustine, preaching on this passage, reflected that the oil represents our charity and good works:

I will tell you why charity seems to be signified by the oil. The Apostle says, “I show unto you a way above the rest.” Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. This, that is “charity,” is “that way above the rest,” which is with good reason signified by the oil. For oil swims above all liquids. Pour in water, and pour in oil upon it, the oil will swim above. Pour in oil, pour in water upon it, the oil will swim above. If you keep the usual order, it will be uppermost; if you change the order, it will be uppermost. “Charity never falls.”

There is the oil, the precious oil; this oil is of the gift of God. Men can put oil into their vessels, but they cannot create the olive. See, I have oil; but did you create the oil? It is of the gift of God. You have oil. Carry it with you….

For he who walks to gain the testimony of another, does not carry oil with him. If you abstain from things unlawful, and do good works to be praised of men; there is no oil within. And so when men begin to leave off their praises, the lamps fail. Observe then, Beloved, before those virgins slept, it is not said that their lamps were extinguished. The lamps of the wise virgins burned with an inward oil, with the assurance of a good conscience, with an inner glory, with an inmost charity.

—St. Augustine, “Sermon 43 on the New Testament”

Schadow,FW-Die_klugen_und_törichten_Jungfrauen-2

The oil, symbolizing the charity in our hearts, cannot be transferred from one to another, just as our own good works cannot be distributed out to other souls at the time of judgment. The oil of charity is a gift from God; it cannot be manufactured. The graces that come from a life spent in service to others, in prayer, and in righteousness cannot simply be handed over to another. No one can borrow the good works of others to make up for the good works they’ve failed to do. A holy person might draw others toward Christ and inspire them to follow God by sharing their story, but they can’t transfer some of their own holiness to “even the scales.” True holiness can only be achieved through a personal encounter with God, not by proxy.

Why did the foolish virgins neglect to bring enough oil? Perhaps they were focused more on the feast—where surely there would be abundant light—than on meeting the bridegroom. If they had been joyfully anticipating that encounter more than the party afterward, then maybe they would have remembered to ensure they brought enough oil to be able to see him clearly when he arrived.

As we wait in expectant hope for the bridegroom’s arrival, may we remember to oil our hearts with acts of faith, hope, and charity, feeding the flame of God’s grace within us.


Image: Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins  / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Change of Address

I hit my lowest point last week — I got extremely sick with a stomach bug. It came on without warning and left me bedridden for over 48 hours. It came on so quickly, I had to resort to something I never imagined doing, I threw up on the side of the road. It was humiliating and dehumanizing. It was an immense reality check. I have been living in New York for almost a year now and I thought I was doing pretty well taking care of myself. I had figured out laundry, grocery shopping, working, and monthly bills, yet there I was completely unprepared. I had nothing in my apartment for a stomach bug and I was so weak I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get any of the stuff. All I can really remember is falling into my bed and falling asleep. I woke up around midnight and I think I threw up again. I knew I needed to get some food and liquid in me because I didn’t want to get dehydrated. The benefit of New York is that there are so many 24-hour grocery stores within blocks of your apartment. I was able to make my way out of my apartment and pick up ginger ale, some crackers, and jam for toast. The next 48 hours were truly a test of strength, endurance and faith in the Lord. It got to the point where I couldn’t keep anything down and I was on the verge of severe dehydration. Immense fear came over me in the realization that I was all alone and I could barely get out of bed. I couldn’t take care of myself.

The Lord truly answers His children’s call right at the moment of need. Mere seconds after I came to the realization that I might need to go to the hospital, the Lord relieved all my discomfort. Suddenly, I had an appetite again. I had survived my first real illness on my own but the only reason I survived was because of my Heavenly Father. He took care of me. It was a big wake up call for me and once again called me to re-evaluate: what was I doing here? I lost my humanity, I truly hated how low I went and I really did not like the feeling of knowing that there was no-one I could call on for help. I do have friends that I am sure would have come and helped, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to take care of me — that is not their responsibility. I needed family, which brought me to realize how much I miss my family and how much I rely on them. I do believe this is one of the reasons the Lord brought me to New York in the first place, to learn to rely on Him instead of my family.

Through this entire process I was once again reminded of how differently people live in New York. I felt dehumanized by throwing up on the street, yet I am constantly seeing people go to the bathroom on the streets all the time. One of my regular customers who I see often at work came to me the other day extremely excited because she was finally moving out of her parents’ house. This came as a great surprise to me because she always comes across as being so put together, she shops at a high end grocery store on the upper east side. I would have never guessed she was still reliant on her parents.

Are we all just faking it until we make it? I have often referred to New York as Wonderland and I fell down the rabbit hole. Everything is upside-down, inside-out and nothing is as it seems. While I might feel as though I am losing my humanity in this new reality, I might be becoming more human. To wrap up, here I am feeling degraded, angry and frustrated. I have no idea what I am doing or what I am supposed to do next and most of all I have no desire to stay in New York for another minute. So what do I do? I officially register for a change of address at the Post Office! What is even more crazy is that it actually felt right. God has a strange way of doing things. I place my trust in Him.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

The Apostolic Priesthood

It is very critical that Jesus specially commissioned His Apostles to become shepherds to the people, instructing them to not only spread the good news, but to teach, heal and exorcise (c.f. Mk 6:7-8). What we’re seeing here is something wonderful: the birth of the Apostolic Priesthood (see Jer 23:4).

I once had a conversation with a good friend, where I remembered telling her that it is not the individual ‘priests’ that I adore, but the ‘priesthood’. It is the Sacred Office bestowed by Jesus that has survived through the ages which gives me the assurance that the Catholic Church is Apostolic and authentic. I do not go to Church just because a particular priest is charismatic, I go to Church because that’s the way God said we should worship Him; through listening to His Word (c.f. Jn 20:21-23, Mt 16:18-19) and by eating His flesh (c.f. Jn 6:53-58).

Priests can certainly fall into sin like any of us. Sadly, some priests in other parts of the world fall into very grave sins like sexual abuse.

But the Church has always condemned such actions. Sinners can’t escape God’s Justice, but judging is not our business. In fact, the Bible says that teachers of the Faith will be judged with greater strictness (Jas 3:1).

Even the Apostles fell. All of them apart from John, hid in fear during our Lord’s death. Peter denied Jesus and Paul was a murderer. Does that diminish their authority? No. A priest’s individual sins has nothing to do with the authority of their sacred office; that much is truly biblical, as seen from even David’s time; where he did not kill evil King Saul out of respect for God’s appointment of Saul’s kingship. Till now, I am sad that so many still do not understand this.

God chooses His priests, and God chooses sinners to build His church. Without our priests, we are nothing. We would have no Sacraments and no Magisterium to guide us. Let us thus be thankful for our priests!

 

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Skipping Daily Mass

Guest post by Br. Nicholas Lye.

“Let me ask you one question: was it because you practiced the Law that you received the Spirit, or because you believed what was preached to you? Are you foolish enough to end in outward observances what you began in the Spirit?” (Gal 3:2-3)

After years and years of my making Mass a daily habit, God recently challenged me to not attend daily Mass for a week. I was shocked by that invitation, and couldn’t fathom why He would make such a request.

He then asked me further what the essence of Mass is. I replied that it is to encounter His real Presence and receive Him in the flesh. He then probed further: how have I been living out the concluding words of the priest, sending us forth on mission to bring His real Presence out into the world and allowing people to experience Him in the flesh through me? Have I been living out the true spirit and essence of Mass, if I don’t continue the Mass in my daily life and bring it out into the world through my own words, actions and presence?

At that, I soon realized what God was getting me to do. By not focusing on spending that half hour ‘ticking a box’ as an “outward observance”, I was challenged to spend the rest of the day focusing on celebrating the Mass wherever I go and with whomever I meet, whether over a meal or over a casual conversation; to embody the spirit and essence of the Mass by sharing the Word of God through the sharing of my life as well as to bring the Eucharistic presence of Christ to the people with whom I interact, through remaining present and loving towards them.

Personally, it can be so easy to treat Mass or any other devotion or prayer ritual as an ‘external observance’ without living out the true spirit of it. So easy to carry out these observances out of obligation, guilt, fear, or even because ‘it’s good for me’, without fully approaching it in the right spirit of service to others and mission to the world. Perhaps this is a good reminder for us not to limit the Mass or any ritual to be observed within the Church, but more so to be lived out in the world, as led by the Spirit, even if it’s over a plate of spaghetti.

 

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Friends of the Good Shepherd

Guest post by Estella Young.

I was reflecting on the Gospel of the Found Sheep with my children, when my son asked, “What if the Shepherd lost 99 sheep and only had one left?”

I thought for a bit, and said, “Well, if it’s a big task, maybe he would ask his friends and neighbors to help. Remember how at the end of the story, he asks them to rejoice with him? Since his friends know how much he loves his sheep, they would come help him search for them.”

“Who are Jesus’ friends today?” I asked.

“We are,” my son replied.

So I said to my kids, “We live in a time when many sheep are lost. Since we are friends of Jesus, we should also be helping him look for the lost sheep to bring back to the flock. Let’s take a moment to think about how we can do this.”

Image: PD-US

Come and See

But Nathanael said to him,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
—John 1:46

Carlo_Crivelli_055“Come and see.” For Nathanael (also known as the apostle St. Bartholomew), this was the moment when everything shifted, when the great adventure of his life began. These three simple words were an invitation to encounter the person of Jesus Christ, to enter into the all-consuming gaze of the Almighty. Just one interaction with Jesus was enough to change Nathanael’s doubt (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) into confident belief (“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”).

We, like Nathanael, may have our doubts about Jesus at times. But often the best way to strengthen our faith is not to debate whether a prophet could come from Nazareth—or, say, whether God could be present within situations of corruption and despair—but to go and meet Jesus directly. This is not to say that we should ignore our intellectual questions about the faith, but rather that we should remember that understanding flows first and foremost from relationship. We can’t truly understand Jesus if we don’t get to know Him. If we bring Him our questions and lay them at His feet, seeking to just be present with Him and allow Him to look at us, we will come alive in His presence. Experiencing Jesus fundamentally changes us, causing a perspective shift that affects everything we do afterward.

Jusepe_de_Ribera,_The_Martyrdom_of_Saint_Bartholomew,_1634And just as Nathanael’s experience resulted from an invitation from his friend, Philip, we ought to remember that our own experience of Jesus is not meant to be kept to ourselves. Just those three simple words—come and see—can change someone’s life forever. If we have been changed by Jesus, others will see the joy He has given us. Our own lives, our works, and our personal stories are what open the eyes of others to see the love of God.


1. Carlo Crivelli, St. Bartholomew / PD-US
2. Jusepe de Ribera, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew / PD-US

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Duc in Altum

I am getting tired of this never-ending job search. I am also getting tired of constantly feeling judged that I do not have a better job. Many people often think it should be easy for me to get a better job or even a career. I try not to let those judgements get to me but it is difficult when I am so eager to get one myself. My mother was kind enough to point out that people do not understand the entire situation and truly it is none of their business. The fact of the matter is I moved to New York almost a year ago not for a job or a career. I moved simply because God told me to with the promise that He would take care of me and He has kept His promise. More important than a career, He has revealed Himself to me and I have grown closer to Him then I ever thought possible. The Gospel today was all about Peter letting Jesus into his boat.

“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon said in reply,

“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.” (Luke 5 1-11)

Peter had such faith in Jesus that he listened and obeyed whatever Jesus asked of him, and as a result he not only got a bounty of fish but he became a “fisher of men” and essentially the first Pope. After reading the Gospel, I am left with the question: will I cooperate with Jesus when He gets into my boat? Once Jesus gets into your boat, He will lead you into the depths. “Duc in altum,” as Saint John Paul II said. It will be dangerous but it will be exciting.

If I am honest with myself, my job has been a true “thorn in my side” but Jesus wants me there because it is a crucial part of my journey. It has nothing to do with the actual job; it has everything to do with the people I interact with and the influence we have on one another. Yesterday a regular customer came up to me and said to me, “I love seeing you here, your aura is always glowing. Did you know that?” I was taken off-guard by this comment, especially since I felt like my aura was close to extinguishing at that moment. She opened up to me about how she had been struggling with some health issues and over the past week she had been starting to decrease her medications. She was clearly in a better state of being, she had never talked to me this much before. She said it was a true miracle, she had been plagued by these side effects of all these medications for years and within only a week she is already seeing a difference. She admitted to me that she does not tell many people about her medical history but she felt comfortable with me and knew I would understand her situation. I felt truly honored and humbled that she opened up to me. Just through that one conversation it is clear why the Lord placed me there at that time. The impact that I had on that woman is more valuable than any career or job that I have been wishing that I could have during this time in New York.

While these interactions are wonderful and inspiring, I still leave my job longing for more. I do desire to be more financially independent and have more freedom. My life is dependent on that paycheck and I don’t like living like that. God always provides but sometimes I wish He would let me provide a little for myself. Of course, Jesus has a beautiful sense of humor and has a way of readjusting my perspective. One day while I was on my break at work, I was sitting in the break room and it was around the time all the mid-shift workers were going home. One coworker came down ranting about wanting to be rich. “When you are rich you can do whatever you want.” It is common knowledge that he has a difficult life, he is on the spectrum and the only reason he still has his job at the store is out of pity. I have had an up and down relationship with this coworker but recently I mostly just feel great sadness for him because there is so much he doesn’t understand. He truly believes that all the “great” people were rich. He ended his rant with, “No one who is is poor ever made anything of themselves.” There were some other coworkers also listening to him and all made the the general statement that this statement wasn’t true. I took it a step further and told him, “Jesus was poor and He changed the world.” There was an actual pause after that. I think I took everyone off-guard and I received a lot of quizzical looks. Finally, as if they were brought out of a trance they all agreed, “You’re right, that is the best example.” Too bad the coworker who was ranting was already halfway out the door and I don’t think he heard me. Regardless, it was not only a reality check for my coworkers but also for me. I have chosen to go into the depths with Jesus Christ; it is not meant to be comfortable and I don’t want it to be.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

The Mass

Something greater than Jonah is here (Mt 12:41b). I remember when I first read John 6:53-58, I was so touched that tears welled in my eyes. The Word of God spoke out so strongly to me, I never knew why I hadn’t read this before:

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:54-56)

Indeed, this literal understanding of the passage had so much Truth it was difficult to believe! I remembered anxiously checking some historical and external sources because it was too unbelievable. Lo and behold, all of the early Christians from the time of the Apostles believed in this! I resolved there and then to come home to the Catholic Church. I desired strongly to confess my sins just so that I can receive Jesus again at Mass.

The Mass itself is so rich in reality that there are as many valid theological approaches to it as there are to the whole mystery of Christ himself. The Eucharist is part of the great living mountain which is Christ, a mountain that can be approached from all corners of the world at any Mass celebrated throughout the Catholic Church.

The Mass is no religious service. Prayers, rosaries, or singing songs — those are services. These are something that we do for God, similar to the public praise of any religious denomination. But the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist is not precisely in essence done by man at all.

The Mass is heaven on earth. The earthly Masses we celebrate here are mere prefigurements… a foretaste of the heavenly Mass; that which is the Lamb’s Supper. In Heaven, we celebrate the Eternal Union of the Marriage between Christ the Bridegroom and us, his Church and Bride.

However limited our spiritual insights might be as participants, when we are at Mass, Christ will be there. And we believe this through Faith in Jesus’s Words.

 

October Synthesis

The month of October opens with the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known for having preached “the Little Way”. By reminding us of the biblical teaching on spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us that we should not be afraid of God nor of aspiring to be saints despite our weaknesses, because it is precisely our littleness that attracts God’s mercy and compassion.

The following day, October 2, is the feast of the Guardian Angels – our guides and allies in our quest for sanctity.

Devotees of St. Josemaria Escriva know that it was on the feast of the Guardian Angels that he founded Opus Dei – another reminder of the universal call to sanctity and of the truth that sanctity is an accessible, albeit challenging, goal.

The month ends with the eve of All Saints’ Day, more popularly known as Halloween.

The appropriateness of Catholics celebrating Halloween in the popular manner of doing it is hotly debated. It is hard to give a blanket condemnation or approval of it, however, because people do it in different ways. On one side of the spectrum are those who dabble in the occult on the occasion; on the other side are those who hold saint-themed costume parties. In between are those for whom Halloween is just an occasion for good clean fun, playing dress-up, and perhaps a little bit of spookiness.

My own take is that barring downright sinful activities, the celebration of Halloween is a matter for every Catholic’s prudential judgment. Furthermore, while dabbling in the occult is definitely a no-no, neither are saint-themed costume parties obligatory (though they definitely can be a good catechetical tool), nor should a reasonable degree of spookiness be forbidden.

In fact, just as a morbid fascination for the occult is dangerous, it is equally harmful to ignore the reality of evil as if the saints were born with halos and never had to contend with the dark side of life. It is healthy to remind ourselves that spiritual warfare is a reality. And scattered throughout the month of October are feasts to remind us of what are our weapons in spiritual warfare.

October 1 reminds us of the need for childlike trust in God that St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us. October 2 reminds us of the help of the Guardian Angels. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 reminds us of the need to practice poverty and detachment. October 7 reminds us of the power of the Rosary. The feast of St. Teresa of Ávila on Oct. 15 reminds us of the need to develop a life of prayer. The feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on Oct. 18 reminds us to “use the force” of the Gospel. The feast of the apostles Sts. Simon and Jude on Oct. 28 reminds us that all of us are called to be apostles too; apostolate, after all, is also a form of spiritual warfare.

After the last day of October is All Saints’ Day. We have been reminded the whole month of what our goal is in life and how we are to attain it. So we begin a new month reminding us of the reward for our efforts, and renew our resolve to continue working and to fight once more.

Jesus on the Street

Guest post by Catherine Santos.

It’s strange not having anything to do on a Monday, but at the same time I’m so grateful for it because it allows me to have some solid down-time with Jesus!

Today’s thought was inspired by the feast day of one of my favourite Saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who said:

“What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love.”

This prompted me to ask myself: “Do my actions match with my heart?”

Mine don’t — not completely and not always. I love helping my family, friends, colleagues and in church. And this is all good and well, but Jesus calls us to love deeper — to go beyond our comfort zone.

I made a quick (and frantic) run to a store last week for last-minute items for a conference starting later that afternoon. Along the way, I noticed this rugged man standing on the street. To be honest, I’ve noticed him for a while but never had the courage to step up and say something. We made eye contact and I gave a smile. “That’s enough right, Jesus?” No. The man says “Hello,” and so I greeted him back. This simple smile and hello lead to an exchange of names and understanding why he stands on the street. This gentleman stands on the street selling magazines as a mode of income, in hope that it will help him build his skills and work experience.

In just 5 minutes, I’ve encountered Jesus: His heart, His hurt and His desire to be loved.

This broke me. I began to tear up at the thought of missed opportunities of making Jesus known to others and my failure to love Him deeper.

This message isn’t anything new, I’m sure many of us know this deep inside. But it can be easy to forget in the world we live.

I pray that we may come to know His love for us more each day and that through it, we may never hesitate to help those in need. Lord, please give me eyes to see the needs and wounds of those hurting around me. Help me not to worry about what others may think and to do everything with a heart that only desires to bring you joy and glory. In times where I don’t know how to help, please give me the ears to hear Your guiding voice so that I can truly give the best care to the person You’ve entrusted to me.
Amen.

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