Monday, 3 August 2015

SLAMMING DOWN THE PHONE!


  
Crash! I’d slammed down the phone. I could take no more. I’d been pushed too far.  While I was trying to be calm and reasonable my ‘contact’ was becoming more and more irrational, excitable, offensive. Both of us were getting over-heated. 

Both of us were saying things we didn’t really mean -things we would deeply regret later. Each had had from the other more than we could take –at least for the moment.    Discretion is the better part of valour – best to bring the whole ugly business to an abrupt conclusion, before it became any worse!

But what a shock for me, when someone dares to slam down the phone on ME! What has hit me?  Self-righteously, I’ve try to justify what  I’ve said. There have been times  when I’ve felt I was drowning with  remorse. Then I’ve wished I’d been more temperate in my language, more understanding and patient.

 When I have slammed down the phone I’ve had heart-wrenching thoughts about the one at the other end of the line -  impossible, infuriating, unreasonable, true enough, but surely not deserving of such rough treatment!

This vicious  breaking communication has created a painful situation, leaving both of us feeling aggrieved, resentful, hurt…. misunderstood. Because  friendships mean so much to me this sudden rupture has inflicted upon me a great sense of loss. I’ve felt responsible for the breakdown,  guilty  for causing so much pain, deep regret I didn't handle the situation better. If I’m honest with myself I’d have to admit I’d added fuel to the fire by hitting back with hurtful words.

Rarely is one person entirely guilty or innocent in such situations. No matter who's responsible, I hate the tension of conflict.  I want to be at peace with someone who is dear to me. I’ve wanted  the wounds I’ve inflicted or suffered to be promptly healed. How?  Only by one of us picking up the phone and re-establishing contact.

For a moment I speculate: can any of you, my gentle readers, ever identify with me …the time-bomb waiting to explode?

To return to the matter  of phone-slamming: I wonder  how God reacts when I’ve offended  Him. Sometimes, when I’ve been exasperated with God  - especially  when I’ve been blaming Him for all the suffering in the world,  in my own life or in the lives of those especially dear to me.

Jonah was one who was outrageously with annoyed with God; he even protested he had every right to complain at the way God had treated him.  Jeremiah and Job had the moments of total dissatisfaction with God. Petulantly the Psalmist protested,  “Listen to me Oh Lord as I complain,” (Ps. 64. 2).

      What a contrast! God never loses patience with us, never breaks off communications. God is like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He watches and waits for his wayward son to return. Or like the Good Shepherd who makes the first move to seek out the lost sheep.

God’s love is everlasting; God is always merciful. His love for us is steadfast, not brittle and fickle. While God has the resilience to take the knocks, I lose my cool and slam down the phone on Him! And you……..??????????

In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 5) St. Paul tell us that in Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us. Though He was the injured innocent party, God in Christ made the first move in healing our relationship with Him, damaged by our sins.

And He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Like Christ, we are to be peacemakers, whether or not we are innocent or guilty.

My musing on my ‘phone-crashing’ has brought me to see that God handles tense, fraught, situations far more positively than I do. I must learn to be like Him and keep the lines of communication open.

And if they have been broken down, then I must again be like God.  I must make the first move in repairing the damage –no matter who was responsible for the damage. Like God, I must always be eager to accept an apology. But unlike God, I sometimes have to make peace by taking up the phone and saying, "Sorry."

If I should ever get so exasperated with God that I stop communicating with Him I can only meet Him again in loving friendship, if I stop sulking and start listening and talking to Him. The sooner the better. My petulance  harms only me, not Him.

Fr. Isidore Clarke, O.P.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

MAN'S BEST FRIEND?


It was a glorious day that promised to be completely satisfying and gratifying! I was in Paradise – the kind of place people choose for their vacations - Grenada, a small island in the southern Caribbean; Grenada – the place where I, an English priest, was happily exercising my priesthood.

The sun was shining as I set out to take Holy Communion to the sick and the aged in their homes. I planned to round off the morning with a visit to the General Hospital where I would administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to several patients.

This ministry means a lot to me. I see myself sharing in the healing ministry of Jesus. Through my administering this Sacrament Jesus extends His merciful, caring love.

Many are the times I have witnessed the consolation this Sacrament brings. I am moved and inspired by the vivid faith of those who have been anointed, as well as the faith of friends and family at the bedside.

Several times I myself have been seriously ill. I’ve been so greatly comforted when a priest has brought to me Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and when he has seen fit to anoint me.

When possible I try not to make very many calls on one outing. I want the leisure to involve members of the family and friends in this most intimate, sacred, event in the life of a Catholic family. Over and over again they have told me how much they have been comforted by receiving these over-flowing graces of the sacrament.

I can identify with Mary who carried Jesus in her womb when she visited the home of her cousin Elizabeth. I am carrying Jesus in the Eucharist whenever I visit the sick at home or in hospitals. As with Mary so with me the Visitor Supreme is Jesus Himself.

A family really displays the strength of its Catholic Faith when it attaches importance to the spiritual needs of its ailing members. In the Gospels we find people imploring Jesus to come to their homes because someone is sick. In our time we should call for the priest to bring the healing of Jesus to their homes through the Sacraments of the Church.

My priesthood has been one of surprises and unsuspected challenges…not necessarily heroic ones but sometimes ones that were painful nuisances!

There I was of a ‘sunny disposition’ leaving the last house of my rounds. I’d experienced so much grace, so much peace touching so many lives. I was pleased with life; I was pleased with myself.

My serenity was shattered when a vicious little dog rushed out from beneath the house. Without any provocation from me it snapped at my leg.

In my dreams I’m a talented footballer. I took a goal-scoring kick at my assailant - but missed it. My startled, angry yell sent my tormentor scurrying away at lightning speed.

Look at my trouble! Where was God in this! What was He saying to me? How did He expect me to reach Him in these circumstances? Did I now have to factor dog bites into my pastoral curriculum?

No way can I subscribe to the popular piety that a dog is man's best friend -certainly not mine! Not this particular dog, anyway!

The aftermath was the tedium of countless visits to the nearby Medical Station to have my wound dressed, and then the sense of frustration of having all my plans put on hold while I had to spend a few days in hospital to have the wound thoroughly cleaned.

The tables had been turned on me. I who had been the healthy, energetic, spiritual, priestly caregiver had become one with suffering humanity needing to be cared for. God had made me travel a journey of self-discovery.

Do I set out to pat the head of this dog that started it all. I think not?
Next time it might bite off my hand!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

!!WHAT AN AWESOME PLACE!!



“What an awesome place is this!”  In other translations Jacob thinks it’s terrible.   Both have some truth.  The place was terrible.  It was barren.   No plants to shield him from the sun.  Nothing  to provide him with shelter for the night.  What a God-forsaken hole!

He was dog-tired! Only a few boulders on which to lay his weary head!  The wonder is that ever got a moment’s sleep. And yet he had an amazing dream.

Waking up, Jacob realised that this first impression had been completely wrong.  No longer did he see this place as being awful, terrible. How so?  As he slept he dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth.  During this dream the Lord re-affirmed the covenant He had made with the Patriarch, Abraham.  His descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky, or the sand on the shore.  They would be His Chosen People.  He promised to give them their own land.

This dream, this vision, had changed his whole attitude to the stony, lifeless wasteland.  Most certainly a truly awesome one!  On waking he exclaimed,  "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,"    (Gen. 28. 16-17).

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, ‘ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME’ is trying to implant  in us Jacob’s change in attitude towards what had at first seemed to him to be barren land in which he had to lay down to sleep.   The Pope wants all of us to develop a reverence for the world in which we live –and with that reverence, a sense of responsibility.

What inspires that reverence? That our world has been lovingly created by God. Each of His creatures, no matter how small or unprepossessing, expresses His creative love.   Each in its own way reflects something of His majesty; each in its own way gives glory to God, simply by being itself.

That is true of the earth’s vastly different environments, whether they be an exotic tropical island, the gentle pastel-tinted countryside of the U.K., the Sahara desert or the vast  expanse  of  ice in the Polar Regions. Each has its own unique beauty. And each patch of God’s creation provides its own special environment, supporting its local ecology of inter-dependence of living creatures. 

Pope Francis stresses that we disturb the balance of nature at our peril. The whole cosmos, and each of its parts is awesome, as, indeed, is the vast and varied inter-action of these many, countless parts. The whole  scenario  reflects  the awesome  glory and majesty of God…its Creator.

 Jacob came to realise God is to be found in the most unlikely of places, probably without His presence ever been recognized there!

The challenge for us is to re-discover a child-like sense of  wonder  at each of the parts within the whole  of God’s creation.   Without His continuous loving care His world would disintegrate into nothingness, and so would we; without our loving care, God’s beautiful world would descend into an ugly, empty wasteland.

He has, therefore,  given us, His  people, the privilege and responsibility of cherishing and caring for His creation. He’s given this to us, not just to use and use up, but to protect and develop for ourselves and for future generations.  If this is our world, it’s above all God’s; if this is our dwelling place, it is also His.

That is what Jacob realised.  This is the point Pope Francis strives to drive home.  The world we live in is not only wonderful, but sacred –because God has lovingly created it. And now He wants us to care for it, for His sake and for our own.

Pope Francis argues forcibly that we need to slow down, to rest and ponder if we are to appreciate the wonder of creation, which God has entrusted to us. Only on reflection will we see the threefold relationship between the creator God and ourselves, the pinnacle of His creation, and the world He has created for us.

 Only then will we see that it is meant to lead us to God and that we are meant to share His gifts with His children, our brothers and sisters.  Far from ‘despising the things of this world’ we should rejoice in them and give thanks.

 After describing the awesome beauty of nature Sirach, the author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, exclaims, “We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: ‘He (God) is the all.’   Where can we find the strength to praise him?  For He is greater than all his works,” (Sirach 43. 27-28).

We began with Jacob’s ladder, which links the glory of heaven with the barren land in which the patriarch found himself –a wilderness made sacred by God’s presence.   The Son of God has descended that ladder; He has emptied Himself of His glory and dwelt among us. That makes our world so very much more sacred.   It’s awesome!

 As Jesus ascended the ladder of the cross -foreshadowed by Jacob’s Ladder -He has been exalted, glorified.  Not to abandon us, but to raise us up, via the ladder of the cross, to share in His glory.  Not to abandon the world He has created, but to renew heaven and earth in a new creation. 

Now everything in heaven and on earth bows down before its Lord! (cf. Phil.2.10).

Isidore Clarke, OP

Friday, 17 July 2015

A GIFT IN GOOD TASTE!




‘Our God is a God of surprises!’  This shouldn’t surprise us, especially these days when the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has turned this saying into a mantra, made it into cliché. After all, God being almighty can do anything He chooses. If we are surprised by God, and, therefore, extremely pleased or dismayed by God, this is because our expectations of Him are far too limited.

 We shall never get used to what the Almighty expects to be obvious  to us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares the Lord. For the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts,”  (Isaiah 55.8).

I know that when I became priest all these many years ago, and when the ‘glow’ of my Ordination had scarcely worn off, I expected my life as a pastor to be fairly predictable and mundane.  When I was assigned to our Dominican Vicariate in the Caribbean I knew I would be venturing into the unknown.

 I was emotionally prepared for the ‘culture shock’ of a different climate, different food, customs, and above all of different people with their own way of celebrating life.  I would have been surprised IF I HAD NOT BEEN SURPRISED  by a world that was completely new to me!

I would like to think that after spending so many years in the West Indies -Grenada and Barbados - I have made  this my own…my home, the place where I belong. True enough, my priesthood hasn’t  been typical of that of most of my contemporaries  in joining the Dominican Order, including  my twin brother, Isidore.

I have lived in Grenada through the rise and fall of a revolution, as well as through a hurricane.  Yes, God did surprise us on these occasions! He did cause us to come to terms with a loving God who allowed such events to happen to us. In the midst of fear  and tribulation we had to trust God’s  Providence, still believe He was our Loving Father,  even while we were trying to cope with the bewilderment and anguish God had not prevented.

Surprised by misfortune?!?  Most certainly! I now speak of being surprised by joy….astonishing joy .   I make so bold as to claim for myself a joyful   surprise from God that must be rare, if not unique, in the history of the priesthood.

There was I, a priest of scarcely any experience in a land until then completely unknown to me...Barbados  I’d just finished   preparing a pleasant young man to be received into the Church. Time came when he was due to make his First Confession.

He knelt before a screen in a dark little room with a closed door. And I was seated in a similar room on the other side of the same screen. Once he had confessed his sins I had the sublime joy of my priesthood.  I granted him what he was seeking more than anything in the world - God’s   forgiveness.  I then gave him his penance and told him to go in peace.

I was moving too fast for him. He whispered he had a gift for me.  Thanking him profusely I told him I never ever expected a present when hearing confessions. Nevertheless, I suggested that he hand round the screen whatever it had for me.

He opened his door. I opened mine. Surprise! Surprise! Our God really is a God of surprises! Behold!  My whole  being  jerked with amazement.  As I peeped round the screen I saw a fist clutching the neck of a flapping, squawking goose.

What to do?  To my mind geese are inclined to be bad tempered and vicious if they don’t like you.  This one had no reason to like me.  If I’d taken this bird into my embrace I’m sure it would have sensed my discomfort and my fear. Perhaps it might have attempted to given me a peck on the cheek –as a sign of affection? Or of acute resentment?

I persuaded my benefactor, a joyful man just freed from the burden of his sins, to hang onto this bewildered bird.  'Would he come with me to release this exceptional goose in the garden.'

This Goose deserved an honorable mention in the Guinness Book of Records! Surely, the first goose  ever to have had the unique privilege of participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!


Peter  Clarke. O.P.

Friday, 10 July 2015

TUNING OUT, TUNING IN


A few years ago I had to start using a hearing aid. I was told it would take a few months for my brain to filter out the background noise. So it was! At first the bird-songs were deafening! After a time I hardly noticed them, unless I deliberately wanted to tune into them.
This reminded me of my first going to the W. Indies. There, in the evening, lots of tiny tree frogs, smaller than a fingernail, would whistle so loudly that I could hardly think. But, as with my hearing aid, after a time my brain-filter worked so well that I didn’t notice these little frogs singing their hearts out.
Sometime after I’d returned to England my brother, Peter, sent me a recording of a Carol Service in Barbados. The tape-recorder lacked a sound-filter. The chorus of frogs drowned out the beautiful singing of the choir. At least I’m told it was beautiful, but I must take that on trust, since the tiny frogs didn’t allow me to hear it!
This got me thinking about the way the background, or surrounding noises, in our lives can easily drown out the voice of the Lord. Today we seem to be uncomfortable with silence. Life is so hectic. There’s no time to stop, to listen, to notice. As the poet, W.H. Davies wrote, “What is this life so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” In our hectic, noisy rush we are missing so much that is good and beautiful.
Even God is being‘ drowned out!’ Shut out! The Book of Revelation describes the Lord saying, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,” (Rev.3.20). Jesus wants to enter and share our lives, but He won’t force Himself upon us. So He knocks and waits for us to open up to Him and let Him in…if we want to!
That word, “LISTEN” is vital. Jesus respects us too much to thrust Himself upon us, when He’s not wanted. So He knocks and waits. But if there’s too much background noise in our lives we won’t even hear His knocking and He will remain outside.
Could be that’s what we really want! We fear what He has to say will be too uncomfortable and too demanding for us. So we drown out the sound of His knocking. We choose to get on with our lives without Jesus.
SURELY, STIFLING THE WORD OF GOD MUST BE THE WORST THING WE COULD EVER DO TO OURSELVES… DELIBERATELY BREAKING OFF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN OURSELVES AND GOD!
The prophet Amos makes this dire prediction, “The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” (Amos 8.11).
Starvation of the Word of God means spiritual death! Did not St. Peter say, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6. 68). Wouldn’t life become meaningless without Jesus nourishing us with His loving word?
I’ve learned from these whistling frogs that, if I am to meet God, I must not allow the clamour around me to deafen me to the voice of God. He sometimes speaks with a soft, gentle voice. When I really want to concentrate I decide I must switch off my hearing aid and close my windows. I make myself shut out all distracting bird songs; in the W. Indies it would be whistling frogs.
I need to turn up the volume of “God’s Radio Station,” as it were, if I’m to hear His voice loud and clear. Other enjoyable, but distracting, stations must be tuned out.
The Psalmist urges, “O that today you would listen to His voice! Do not harden your hearts,” (Ps. 95. 7-8). So, let’s follow the example of the young Samuel with his, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3. 9).

Isidore Clarke O.P.

Friday, 3 July 2015

THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OFJESUS





I’ve known a time when my blood pressure ‘shot through the roof;’ another time when I was in dire need of eight pints of blood. There was about these moments a ‘life or death’ urgency.’ The Book of Leviticus (17.11) tells us, ‘The life of the creature is in the blood.’
Since all of us human beings are made ‘in the image and likeness of God’ it must be that  each of us is more precious than gold.  To take our own lives or the lives of other people is an abuse of God’s precious gift. Suicide and murder can never be acceptable to God.
Therefore, the closest we can come to expressing our recognition of God the Creator’s sovereignty over all life is to offer Him the life, the blood, of an unblemished animal – lamb, goat, calf. This  is what God wanted in Old Testament times.
 This slaughtering in obedience to God took the form of a public act of worship, a sacrifice, a ‘sacred activity,’ by the slaughtering of the animal with the shedding of its blood on the altar. Such liturgy was most persuasive to God when His People needed forgiveness for their sins or some exceptional blessing. However, these sacrifices were only acceptable to God when offered by people of integrity, those with pure hearts.
When the Son of God became man, one of us, this was the most wonderful, the most beautiful divine activity within creation. Every action of Jesus, the Son God, the Son of Man, was divinely, infinitely empowered…loaded with infinite merciful love…more than sufficient to make amends for the mountains of sins already committed and those yet to be committed by the sum total of human beings ever to tread this earth.
God decided that the seriousness of our sins against Him and the seriousness of His merciful love for us had to be expressed to us openly, convincingly. Hence Jesus declared, No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends, if you do what I command you,’ (Jn. 15.13).
On the surface if might well appear that Jesus was the helpless victim of treacherous, scheming, powerful men. It is vital to our understanding of  Jesus shedding His blood for our redemption that we have Jesus Himself stating, No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father,’ (Jn. 10.18).

As early as about 96 A.D, Pope St. Clement I wrote, ‘Let us fix our gaze on the Blood of Christ and realize how truly precious It is, seeing that it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of conversion to the whole world.’

These words should convince us that devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus is central to our Catholic Faith and Practice. In the Mass the Words of  Consecration makes this clear, ‘This Is The Chalice Of My Blood, The Blood Of The New And Eternal  Covenant, Which Will Be Poured Out For You And For Many For The Forgiveness Of Sins.’

In 1849, Pope Pius IX extended the Feast of the Precious Blood to the whole Church, assigning to it the first Sunday in July, changed by Pope St. Pius X in 1914 to July 1. Since the Second Vatican Council the feast has been merged with that of Corpus Christi, so that the new Feast is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

All the same I recommend to you and to myself that during the month of July we draw upon the rich devotional prayers in honour of the Precious Blood of Jesus. Why not give some serious reflection on the hymn that asks the question, ‘Are you washed blood of the Lamb?’

Peter Clarke, OP

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

HELLO, MY FRIEND!

"Hello, my friend!" That was how Brother Joe used to greet everyone who came to the door of our Dominican Priory. To him all were welcome, everyone was a friend. No matter that they were strangers or looked rather unkempt. If they wanted a cup of tea or a sandwich he gave it to them.

What was much more important, Brother Joe’s warm greeting gave respect to these outsiders, living on the fringe of society -people who were ignored or despised. As far as he was concerned these social outcasts were not rejects. They were people with dignity, who had fallen on hard times. The respect he showed them helped them to respect themselves.

As they were welcomed as friends they ceased to be strangers and outsiders. In this there was a great healing. Could it be that these ‘regulars’ came to Brother Joe so frequently for the very reason that no-one else gave them such a genuine, warm welcome?

This incredibly strong ex coal-miner had a wonderful gentleness with vulnerable people. It’s not surprising that Joe was much loved, not only by every community in which he lived, but also by those who were guests at our priories. I know this, since I lived with him in four of our houses.

Thinking about Brother Joe and the welcome he gave strangers led me to reflect on the way God welcomes the outsider.

St. Paul tells us that sin had alienated the whole human race from the friendship God had wanted us to have with Him -a friendship beautifully expressed at the very beginning of the Bible, where we are told that God, the Creator, walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.

Once that friendship had been disrupted God set about repairing the damage sin had caused. That’s the central theme of the whole of salvation history. That’s why the Son of God became man, lived among us and died for us. In everything He did Jesus reached out to us sinners and offered us the hand of God’s inviting. loving friendship.

God could personally identify with the castaways of this world - Jesus was despised and rejected, unjustly executed as a criminal. He died between two thieves. On His shoulders He carried the burden of all our sins. He certainly knew what it was like to be an outcast!

Now He continues to identify so closely with all who are in any kind of need that He has told us that whatever we do for them we do for Jesus Himself, (cf. Matt. 25).

So when Brother Joe said to the stranger at the door, "Hello, my friend " he was meeting and greeting Jesus Himself! And the stranger at the door met Jesus, in the person of Joe, as Christ identifies with all, including Joe, who continues to express His loving compassion for the needy.

At different times we have all met Christ in those who have helped us in any way. And we’ve also met Him in the needy we have assisted. As we come to their aid we identify with the compassionate Christ. The needy meet Jesus in us, when we open our hearts to them, as did Brother Joe. For many people that will be the only way they will get to know what being a Christian really means, the only way they will meet the compassionate Christ.

The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus reaching out to those who have in different ways become marginalized as social or religious outcasts. He made friends with those whom respectable religious people shunned. Above all, even now, glorious in heaven, He reaches out to us sinners, and through the healing balm of God’s love and mercy draws us into the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity.

As God abides in us and we in Him we cease to be marginalized outsiders and become God’s children, sharing His divine life and happiness. Now we have a wonderful sense of belonging to God and His family.

Today the developed world is faced with the special challenge of reaching out to the thousands of desperate refugees seeking a place where they will be welcomed. Amidst the uncertainty as to the best way to respond to them we must be guided by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical.

In this he reminds the world that each and everyone of us has been created by a loving God. He Himself is the bond, uniting us as brothers and sisters in His one family. Furthermore, our shared humanity unites us in the one Family of Man. We have family obligations for each other. We cannot say, “Not my brother or sister. Not my problem.”

But back to brother Joe! I like to think that at the moment of his death Our Lord greeted His good, faithful and loving servant with the words, "Hello, my friend!" That’s not too fanciful, since in the Mass we pray for "all those who have left this world in your (God’s) friendship." Knowing Joe, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had responded to the welcoming Jesus with the same words he had used when he had met Jesus in the stranger at the door -"Hello, my friend!"

And I hope and pray that when we meet our Saviour at the moment of our death He will say to each of us, "Hello, my friend."

"This," Jesus tells us, "will depend on whether or not we have extended the hand of loving friendship and compassion to the outsider, with whom Jesus identifies.

Brother Joe certainly did!

Isidore Clarke O.P.

 
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