Monthly Archives: March 2016

3/31/16

John 20: 21-22: (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. This weekend at Mass we will hear Jesus speak these familiar words to us. One interpretation is that Jesus empowers the apostles and their successors with the ability to forgive sins and thereby allow others to experience God’s mercy. Another interpretation might be that Jesus is empowering the Christian community to act in His name. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells His followers All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I would like to believe that Jesus gave this commission to all the baptized and not just to a few of the leaders gathered around Him.

 Cardinal Kasper wrote some beautiful words that remind us of the commission that we receive once we have touched Jesus’ wounds. Unlike Thomas who encountered Jesus in the upper room on the 8th day after Jesus’ resurrection and was invited by Jesus to touch His wounds, we cannot do that. But we touch Jesus wounds whenever we receive the sacraments. Like Thomas we say My Lord and My God. Jesus breathes His Spirit upon us so that we can continue the ministry that He began during His earthly mission. As Cardinal Kasper wrote: God’s mercy, which is decisively revealed on the cross, allows us, who have deserved judgment and death, to revive and to live anew, without having earned it. It bestows on us a hope against all hope. It creates a space for life and for human freedom. It neither eliminates human freedom nor suppresses it. On the contrary, this new righteousness restores our freedom anew so that it can be fruitful in works of justice and in our engagement on behalf of justice in the world…. In every situation, no matter how hopeless, in life as in death, we are accepted, held, and loved by God. To believe in the crucified son is to believe that love is present in the world and that it is more powerful than hate and violence, more powerful than evil in which human beings are entangled. Believing in his love means believing in mercy.

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3/30/16

At the service on Good Friday, we heard these words from the prophet Isaiah: he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. How have we been healed through Jesus’ stripes? How have we been resurrected through Jesus’ wounds? At  Mass on Easter I mentioned that the resurrection was not something of the past but an on-going event in our lives. We “touched” Jesus’ wounds for the first time in the sacrament of baptism. We touch Jesus’ wounds when we come to Mass and when we celebrate any of the sacraments. We touch Jesus’ wounds when we experience the mini-resurrections in our lives: those times when we find courage instead of discouragement; when we discover strength to meet a challenge instead of weakness and fear; when we are able to persevere in difficult times instead of giving up; etc. I try to remind people of this on-going reality of the resurrection and our touching of Jesus’ wounds especially when I celebrate the anointing of the sick with people who are critically ill. When family members contact me and ask me to give their near-death loved one the last rites, they really are asking for the anointing of the sick and other prayers that can be offered for someone who is near death. The sacrament of the sick seems like such a simple sacrament at such an important part in the spiritual life of the dying person. While it may seem like a simple sacrament and can be celebrated in just a few moments, the gift that is given to the dying person is without cost and beyond comprehension. Listen to the final words of the opening prayer when the sacrament is celebrated: The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.

 During this Easter season, having touched Jesus’ wounds, we then are instructed to help others experience the saving power found in Jesus’ wounds. As we journey through these 50 days of the Easter season, we will read from the Acts of the Apostles at Mass. It is the gospel of the Holy Spirit, as some have described this book of the New Testament. Those who had experienced the healing power arising from touching Jesus’ wounds were internally compelled to share this Good News and the same experience with others. How about us? Are we continuing the story of the Acts of the Apostles in our daily lives?

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3/29/16

Dear Daily Blog Readers, I hope that you don’t mind me continuing with the joy of our Octave of Easter by sharing some stories that I have found about the death of death. Isn’t that what the joy of Easter Sunday is all about? One of those key moments that helped me to understand the awesomeness and the joy of Easter and its message about the resurrection happened shortly after I was ordained to the priesthood. I was preparing for a funeral and I read the words of one of the prefaces that begins the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass: Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven. I remembered thinking after reading those words that if I did not 110% believe in their truth and joy, then I could not adequately celebrate a funeral. So with that belief in the resurrection I share with you some words from a  homily by Saint John Chrysostom about the death of death. 

Let no one fear death, for the savior’s death has set us free. He who was held prisoner by death has annihilated it. By descending into death, he made death captive. He angered it when it tasted his flesh. Isaiah saw this and he cried:

  • Death was angered when it encountered you in the lower regions.
  • It was angered, for it was defeated.
  • It was angered, for it was mocked.
  • It was angered, for it was abolished.
  • It was angered, for it was overthrown.
  • It was angered, for it was bound in chains.
  • It received a body and it met God face to face.
  • It took earth and encountered heaven.
  • It took that which is seen and fell upon the unseen.
  • O Death, where is your sting?
  • O Grave, where is your victory?
  • Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
  • Christ is risen and the devils have fallen.
  • Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
  • Christ is risen and life reigns.
  • Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave.
  • For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and to him be glory and honor, even to eternity. Amen.

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3/28/16

Dear Daily Blog Readers, I hope that you don’t mind me continuing with the joy of our Octave of Easter by sharing some stories that I have found about the death of death. Isn’t that what the joy of Easter Sunday is all about? One of those key moments that helped me to understand the awesomeness and the joy of Easter and its message about the resurrection happened shortly after I was ordained to the priesthood. I was preparing for a funeral and I read the words of one of the prefaces that begins the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass: Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven. I remembered thinking after reading those words that if I did not 110% believe in their truth and joy, then I could not adequately celebrate a funeral. So with that belief in the resurrection I share with you another story about the death of death.

Death was born a flaming day with the brilliant colors of a flaming fire. At first death felt like a stranger and wandered lost throughout the earth. Then one day death saw a beautiful bird, so he walked up to it and stretched out his hand to feel the softness of its feathers. No sooner had death’s fingers touched the bird than it fell at death’s feet, cold and lifeless. Death discovered its dreaded power. As the years flowed into eternity, death traveled the earth with the same results as it touched various animals. Then one day death touched a human being and death saw humankind shudder. Humans cried out and became as cold and as still as the first bird that death had touched. On that day, death finally tasted the fullness of his awesome power. But death also knew loneliness to the very last drop.

 As death continued to claim all living things, it also experienced a hunger. In its silent kingdom, nothing remained; all living things crumbled and turned to dust at its touch. Death was always left alone. This loneliness grew as death touched creation through many plagues, storms, and floods. Death also learned that humans feared him above all else; humans shrank from his approach. To cope with death, humans invented legends about death trying to pretend that death was incapable of harming them. They even began to imagine a life after death and has legends about this idea.

 One day death was sitting at a hill beneath three men hanging on crosses. Suddenly death heard one of the men say, “I thirst.” As death looked up, he saw two eyes from which flowed a warmth and light that death had never seen before. Death heard the man speak several short sentences, and then he was silent. For an instant the man seemed to smile for death alone. Then the man became cold and lifeless.

 Dearth observed the soldiers taking the man down from the cross; the mother weeping for her dead son; and finally the man being placed in a cave. Just before the stone was rolled in front of the cave, death entered in.

 What passed between death and the man, no human being will ever know. One thing is certain however. Two days later when some women came to the tomb, it was empty. Death was not there. And since that Sunday morning, all who look upon death with the eyes of faith see it differently. They know that love is life and death is not but the gate to eternal life.

 

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3/27/16

As we gather joyfully to celebrate Easter Sunday, I wish all of my blog readers a Joyous and Blessed Easter Season. Love has conquered death. The Love that came down from heaven to earth in the incarnation has now risen from the dead. I share with you what the early Church author, St. Athanasius, wrote about Jesus’ resurrection and our being able to be courageous when confronting suffering and death. St. Athanasius said that if Christ did not fully become man, then we are not healed of our sins. Christ’s becoming one with us happened in the Incarnation. We becoming one with Him in glory is now the possibility held out to the Body of Christ through His resurrection.

Before the Savior’s divine journey on earth, even the holiest of people feared death. They mourned the dead as those who had perished. But now that the Savior has raised his body from the tomb, death is no longer terrifying. All who believe in Christ tread him (death) underfoot as nothing. They choose to die, rather than to deny their faith in Christ. Why? Because they truly know that when they die, they won’t perish; in fact, they will actually begin to live. Through the Resurrection, they overcome the decay of death. And now that the pains of death have been loosed, the Devil, who once wickedly exulted in death, remains the only one who is truly dead. Here is proof of this reality: Before men believe Christ, they see in death an object of terror, and they act cowardly in his presence. But when they are converted to Christ’s faith and teaching, their contempt for death is so great that they even rush to meet it eagerly in martyrdom. They become witnesses for the resurrection that the Savior has accomplished in spite of death…. Death has been conquered and placed on display by the Savior on the Cross. Death has been bound hand and foot, and all those who are in Christ, as they pass by, trample on him. Witnessing to Christ, they scoff at death, mocking him.

 How might our meditation on Christ’s resurrection and promise of eternal life strengthen our resolve to be faithful to Christ even in the face of suffering or death. Let’s celebrate during this octave of Easter the Good News of Easter and God’s mercy.

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3/26/16

On this Holy Saturday as we anticipate the resurrection of the Lord that we begin celebrating tonight at the Easter vigil, I share with you some thoughts written by an unknown author in the early Church. The author imaginatively presents Christ’s descent to the place of the dead and freeing all those who were awaiting His resurrection.

 “What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. ‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. ‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person. ‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden. ‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. ‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one. `I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you. ‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God. “The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.

 We might reflect today about the fact the seed of the resurrection was first planted in the place of the dead. The One who is the Light of the World planted His light in the place of total darkness, the place of the dead.

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3/25/16

The media today, Good Friday, often focuses on the live stations of the cross and especially the treatment of the person, who representing Jesus, carries the cross. On this Good Friday, the focus of the church is on the cross and its veneration. By means of the cross we have been saved. Do you have precious keepsakes of deceased loved ones? A photo of that person? Maybe something they owned like a piece of jewelry? Do you consider that keepsake as something sacred and treat it accordingly? How much more should we appreciate the sacredness of the crosses and crucifixes that we have. I share with you this ancient legend about the cross and its saving power.

A legend tells about a group of soldiers who were lost in a cold, winter snowstorm. They had few provisions and were extremely cold. They built a small fire to keep them warm, but the area where they were lacked sufficient wood to keep the fire burning throughout the night. The youngest soldier went in search of additional wood. During his search, he discovered a cemetery where one of the graves had a large wooden cross. The soldier carried the cross back to the camp but the captain would not allow the cross to be burnt out of respect for its meaning. As the soldiers began to fall asleep leaving only the young soldier awake, he saw a figure moving towards him. Eventually he recognized that it was Jesus carrying a large wooden cross. Jesus came into the camp and laid his cross on the smoldering embers of the fire. The fire began to burn intensely which awoke the other soldiers. The awakened captain saw the young soldier kneeling in the snow staring out into the blizzard. He then looked over and saw the cross from the cemetery where he had placed it before falling asleep. The cross is our most valuable possession. The amount of intense suffering it symbolizes is conquered only by the amount of intense love that God has for each of us. St Ignatius of Loyola said “There is no wood more useful for kindling and feeding the fire of divine love than the wood of the cross.

 

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3/24/16

As we begin the Catholic Church’s 3 most holy days, the Triduum, we read John 13 at Mass today. Instead of the usual description of the Last Supper where Jesus took bread and wine, blessed these elements, and gave them to His disciples as His Body and Blood, John’s gospel described what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He washed the disciples’ feet, including Judas. Often Jesus’ actions are interpreted as an act of humble service that we are called to imitate. That is correct. But John Pilch has some excellent descriptions of the Middle Eastern culture in which Jesus was raised. Pilch states that on one level, Jesus’ command to His disciples to wash one another’s feet is a call to forgive one another. As Pilch states: the washing of the feet points to another symbolism.  Streets in antiquity were filled with human and animal waste. A person walking the streets inevitably had soiled and smelly feet. Washing the feet of guests was usually a task for slaves or low status servants. That Jesus would do this stuns his disciples, mainly because they are missing his intended symbolic meaning, which is more than humility. In biblical times people considered the hands and feet as a zone of the human body symbolizing human activity. To wash the feet (or hands) is to wash away the offensive deeds performed by these appendages. Foot-washing is therefore equivalent to forgiveness. When Jesus urges them to repeat this action, he is not urging them to wash feet but rather to forgive each other as he forgives them. The end result of such mutual forgiveness, of course, is greater group cohesion and solidarity. This, in fact, is what Jesus is building here. Verses 12-20 explicitly state the second interpretation of the foot-washing which is already implied in the preceding verses (hands-feet zone). Jesus gives  his disciples an example to imitate among one another. They are to forgive one another and create strong bonds of fellowship. (1 Tim 5:10 indicates how seriously this example was followed particularly by widows.) This interpretation receives fuller explanation in Jn 15:23-13 where loving one another includes willingness to lay down life for one another. Thus foot-washing even in this second interpretation retains a relationship with the death of Jesus and the community that he strengthened on the night before he died.

 During these next 3 days we will meditating on the price Jesus paid for the forgiveness of our sins. As we meditate on forgiveness, we might also keep in our prayers the victims of the terrorist attack in Brussels on Tuesday, the 22nd. There is a lot of forgiveness that will need to be shared as the families mourn the deaths of their loved ones and as the injured recover from their wounds. As Jesus states in John 13: If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

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3/23/16

Dear Blog Readers: as you might guess this week is crazy for us who work in parishes. I will try to keep up the daily blog as best I can. I share with you several paragraphs from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, The Joy of the Gospel. As I was reading the following paragraphs today, I was reminded that the resurrection that we will celebrate this Sunday requires our participation. One author stated that the Gospel was left incomplete for a reason. Without us, there is no happy end to the story of Jesus. The burden passes to his disciples to live as he did, trusting totally in God’s ultimate victory over sin and death. What conquers death is God’s love and mercy, the most powerful forces on earth. To live as resurrected people is an on-going demand of us – not when we die or when Christ comes again. But now.

  1. Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.
  2. At the same time, new difficulties are constantly surfacing: experiences of failure and the human weaknesses which bring so much pain. We all know from experience that sometimes a task does not bring the satisfaction we seek, results are few and changes are slow, and we are tempted to grow weary. Yet lowering our arms momentarily out of weariness is not the same as lowering them for good, overcome by chronic discontent and by a listlessness that parches the soul. It also happens that our hearts can tire of the struggle because in the end we are caught up in ourselves, in a careerism which thirsts for recognition, applause, rewards and status. In this case we do not lower our arms, but we no longer grasp what we seek, the resurrection is not there. In cases like these, the Gospel, the most beautiful message that this world can offer, is buried under a pile of excuses.
  3. Faith also means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. It means believing that he marches triumphantly in history with those who “are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14). Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree (cf. Mt 13:31-32), like the measure of leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33) and like the good seed that grows amid the weeds (cf. Mt 13, 24-30) and can always pleasantly surprise us. The kingdom is here, it returns, it struggles to flourish anew. Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!
  4. Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7). This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.

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3/22/16

On Sunday we heard the passion narrative in the gospel of Luke proclaimed at Mass. The second reading that day (March 20) was from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We heard about Christ’s humility in the incarnation, his humility to be present on earth to serve us, and most especially his humility to offer his life on the cross for us. During the proclamation of that reading I thought about God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden which begins the bible. God who is all knowing knew that with the creation of humanity we would disobey His will. Yet God created us anyway. As I wrote several weeks ago in the blog: God took into counsel the Angels that stood about his throne. The Angel of Justice said; ‘Create him not … for if you do he will commit all kinds of wickedness against his fellow man; he will be hard and cruel and dishonest and unrighteous.’  The Angel of Truth said, ‘Create him not … for he will be false and deceitful to his brother and even to Thee.’  The Angel of Holiness stood and said; ‘Create him not … he will follow that which is impure in your sight, and dishonor you to your face. Then stepped forward the Angel of Mercy, God’s most beloved, angel, and said; ‘Create him, our Heavenly Father, for when he sins and turns from the path of right and truth and holiness I will take him tenderly by the hand, and speak loving words to him, and then lead him back to you.’

 God, who is all knowing, had a plan in place for our redemption from all eternity. In Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve, that despite their sin, He would one day send a redeemer. During this Holy Week we reflect on Who our Redeemer is … Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. What was going in Jesus’ mind from all eternity knowing that one day He would be born in a poor stable with shepherds and animals to welcome Him? What went through His mind as He thought about the passion and suffering that He would endure? We can only speculate with our limited human understanding and form answers within the limitations of our minds.

Pope Francis in his Angelus on January 19, 2014, described Jesus’ baptism as an opportunity for God to start manifesting His love in a more “visceral” way to humankind. The Baptist then sees Jesus who is approaching amid the crowd and, inspired from on High, he recognizes in him the One sent by God; he therefore points him out with these words: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). The verb that is translated as “take away” literally means “to lift up”, “to take upon oneself”. Jesus came into the world with a precise mission: to liberate it from the slavery of sin by taking on himself the sins of mankind. How? By loving. There is no other way to conquer evil and sin than by the love that leads to giving up one’s life for others. In the testimony of John the Baptist, Jesus assumes the features of the the Lord’s Suffering Servant, who “has borne our grief and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4) unto death on the Cross. He is the true Paschal Lamb, who immerses himself in the river of our sin in order to purify us.

 So with the limitations of my mind, I will venture an opinion as to what Jesus thought for all eternity knowing that one day He would be humbled to the point of death on the cross. Jesus must have “felt” joy. After all, as Jesus states in Luke 15, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people. Jesus must have “felt” love. With His Paschal Mystery He would “know” the love of many people who would one day be part of His Body, the Church. So What did Jesus “feel” for all eternity knowing that humanity would sin and disobey God’s will? He “felt” joy and love!!

I will let you know later if Jesus tells me that He disagrees with me.

 

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