17 November 2012

Tribulation & the Second Advent

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Watching the news these past few weeks, I can't help but hear, whispering behind reports of war, riots, famine, economic collapse, the dooming rhythm of Yeats, reading his visionary poem, “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” This is 1919. Just one year after 16 million soldiers are killed in WWI. Just one year after Europe ends its suicidal slaughter for the glory of kings and parliaments. And just 13 years before a former corporal in the Austrian army is appointed Chancellor in Germany. His reign will end in 1945 with the deaths of more than 70 million. Yeats: “Surely some revelation is at hand;/Surely the Second Coming is at hand./The Second Coming!” Jesus assures his disciples that he will come again. He came to us first as a Child and next as Judge and King. When? “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, as we prepare to wait for his birth in Bethlehem, we wait for his coming again in glory. 

Though it is not yet Advent, that time when we wait in anticipation for the birth of Christ, we celebrate another sort of Advent this evening, a Second Advent, celebrated everyday, every hour since Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Jesus warns his disciples that after his death, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead. . .the elect. Be watchful!” And despite this warning, many of his disciples through the centuries have been misled. Some by a Roman emperor. Others by Greek heresies. Many by charismatic monks and holy women. Millions were led astray by clever theological argument. And millions more by atheistic science, utopian fantasy, secular political ideology, and the temporary treasures of Mammon. How many have been duped by New Age gibberish, or the slick sales pitch of 21st century humanists? Jesus calls this long, painful falling away from the apostolic faith, a tribulation; that is, the threshing of a harvest to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

After this tribulation, he says, “. . .the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky. . .” And as nature convulses in its announcement, we “will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory. . .” His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Seeing on the faces of his disciples the same expression that most of you have now, Jesus answers the unspoken question: “When [the fig tree's] branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.” When is the Christ coming again? When will the Son of Man be near the gates? When we see the sun and moon eclipsed and stars shooting through the sky. When, as regularly as the changing of the seasons, the blooming of the fig trees, we see men and women misled by false prophets and fake Messiahs. He will come again when “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” In other words, he is always prepared to come again, so we must always be ready to receive him. When “the best lack all conviction,” and “the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” his Church must be passionately convicted in her faith, waiting for his arrival with an intense hope. 

Obscure apocalyptic passages like this one from Mark serve a specific purpose in the life of the Church. Rather than tempting us with the useless task of figuring out the hour and day of Christ's return, these passages urge us to hold firm in the faith and live with the hope that Christ's resurrection promises. Rather than scaring us silly with tales of the imminent destruction of the world and threats of eternal damnation, these passages report events that have already taken place in history; or events that are occurring at the time the passage was written; or events that recur in history over and over again. Their purpose is to reassure us that there is nothing particularly poignant about the social, economic, religious convulsions that we are living through. Has there been a century in 5,000 yrs of human history w/o a solar or lunar eclipse, a meteor shower? A decade unscathed by war, plague, poverty, or natural disaster? We don't need to know when Christ will return. All we need to know is that he will, and that our task is to be ready: free from all anxiety, utterly at peace. We wait. But are we ready? 

We might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! Israel and Syria are firing rockets at each other. Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear bomb. Europe is teetering on another Great Depression. The U.S. is hellbent on defying both divine and natural law in a headlong rush to top Sodom and Gomorrah's last big party.* What's he waiting on? He’s waiting on you. On me. On all of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter asks an excellent question: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . .?” While we wait on the destruction of the world, what sort of persons should we be? What kind of person should you be, if you want to hasten the Christ's second coming? If his coming again seems to be taking too long, Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The day and hour of the Second Coming matches perfectly the day and hour of our repentance, our return to righteousness in Christ. 

Have you been through the tribulation long enough? Have you been thoroughly threshed? If not, think about your tipping point. What will it take to turn you around, back to God? You see, the threshing process we all go through can take days or decades; it can be a slow, agonizing process, resulting in cuts and bruises; or a quick, painless beating with a feather. It all depends on how eager we are to be threshed; that is, it all depends on what sort of persons we want to be while the world circles the bowl. Peter's question—“what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”—answers itself. Living a life of holiness and godliness makes you a holy and godly person. While the world self-destructs, a godly and holy people will hear and see the Word at work in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace as well. So, while we wait for the Second Coming, let's hasten Christ's arrival by making our every word, our every move shout joy to the world so that no one is left behind, so that every eye can see and every ear hear that God freely offers His mercy to sinners through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.

* The sin of S&G is much debated.  The text can be read a number of different ways.  One view holds that homosexual rape is the cause of S&G's destruction.  Another view holds that it is the violation of the law of hospitality.  My view is that rape (of any sort) is a pretty much always a violation of the law of hospitality.  My reference here is meant to invoke an image of general moral degeneration and a turn toward godlessness.

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16 November 2012

Coffee Bowl Browsing

More Swing State Unemployment. . .it's uncharitable to call these voters "suckers."

Why isn't Sandy Obama's Katrina?  Good question. But we all know the answer. . .

On failing to follow the trends advice of the NYT. . .hilarious piece.

Political thuggishness, criminal activity, economic intimidation.  And now this: unions kill the Twinkie.

About 6,000 union workers cause 18,000 people to lose their jobs.  How is that just?

A few legal questions and answers about secession. It get the impulse. . .but it's a Bad Idea.

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15 November 2012

The Church prepares the Kingdom

St. Albert the Great
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What is the Kingdom of God? Are we talking about an actual kingdom with a real king and political ministers and knights and subjects and all that? Or are we talking about some sort of earthly utopia where we're all living in glorious harmony like angels? Or is the Kingdom of God just another name for the Church, the Body of Christ? No, it's none of these. When asked about the coming of the kingdom, Jesus says, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.'” So, the coming of the kingdom cannot be seen, but once it's here can we see it? Yes. Sort of. Jesus adds, “For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” Look around. Do you see any kings, thrones, knights, or other kingdom-like accoutrements? What does Jesus mean by “the Kingdom of God is among you” and what does this tell us about the nature of the kingdom? Simply put: Jesus is referring to his own presence among God's people. God's kingdom is eternal—it was; it is; and it will be. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Christ is among us, and with him, God's Kingdom. 

Jesus warns his disciples that after he has suffered, died, and rose again, they will long to see him. Their desire to live just one more day with the Son of Man will be a temptation for them, “There will be those who will say to you, 'Look, there he is,' or 'Look, here he is.'” This temptation will be exploited by the Enemy to raise up one false Messiah after another, one false kingdom-utopia after another. And many of God's people will be duped into throwing their lot in with these frauds and their schemes. “Do not go off, do not run in pursuit,” he warns. Unfortunately, many of his followers did just that when news of his arrest and execution spread. Even his closest friends denied knowing him and fled in fear for their lives. Only with the coming of the Holy Spirit did they find the strength to do the hard work of living in the kingdom. Jesus' warning about not running after false Messiahs and fraudulent kingdom-utopias should ring loudly and clearly in our ears. Thanks be to God, we have the Holy Spirit permeating the Church; the authority of the magisterium; and the grace of the sacraments grounding us in the Rock of Salvation. 

If the Church is grounded in Christ by the strength of the Holy Spirit, then why do we say that the Church is not the kingdom? Christ came among us as one of us to announce the arrival of the kingdom. The Catechism puts it this way: “It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time. . .'The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God. . .' Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church 'is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery'” (763). In other words, the Church (that's us) is the seed of the kingdom on earth, not yet fully grown but germinated and growing. And we are charged—even with all our ugly warts and wounds—with preparing this world for the Reign of God, the rule of divine love through justice and peace. This is what it means to live right now, this second, as if we were already living in the heavenly presence of God. We aren't just trying to get to heaven. We are also trying to show the world what the Reign of God will look like when His kingdom is fully manifest. Kingdom-utopias built on human ideologies show us nothing more than the many and banal evils of man. Only Christ wields the wisdom and love necessary to bring the Father's eternal peace. He alone secures justice; gives food to the hungry; sets captives free. The Lord alone—not gov't's or politicians or utopias—the Lord alone gives sight to the blind; raises up those who are bowed down; loves the just; and protects strangers. And while we wait for his return to us, the Church—his true family—serves his will. 

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14 November 2012

Before & After the bath of rebirth

32nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

“Foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy,” hating ourselves and one another. This is the Before Picture that Paul draws for Titus. It's not a pretty picture, but it's probably one we all recognize as pretty accurate. The After Picture, the picture that comes after God “saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” sometimes looks a lot like the Before Picture. But it doesn't have to. And that's the principle difference btw the two. Before our rebirth and renewal, we were slaves to sin, captives of our passions and unable not to sin. After our rebirth and renewal, we are no longer slaves to sin—free and clear—both washed cleaned and released from domination by sin. If this is true, then why do our After Pics so often look exactly like our Before Pics? Lots of reasons. Here's two: 1) we forget or choose to ignore that we are “heirs in hope of eternal life”; and 2) we take our gifts from God and run celebrating down the street w/o saying, “Thank you, Lord.” We are heirs in hope to a life lived eternally with God; and for this, we must be eternally gratefully.

Gratitude builds and fortifies humility, and humility is the key to receiving all of God's gifts. Ten lepers beg Jesus for his compassion. He says to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they are walking away from him, they are cleansed. One of the ten, realizing that he is now free from his disease, returns to the Lord, “glorifying God in a loud voice; and [falling] at the feet of Jesus. . .[thanks] him.” In the center of this public drama, this healing miracle, Luke inserts a telling note: “[The man] was a Samaritan.” The grateful former leper is a foreigner, an idolatrous heretic, and an unclean survivor of the northern kingdom's destruction by the Assyrians 720 yrs earlier. His people claimed to be the descendents of the lost tribes of Israel. In other words, religiously speaking, this man was the lowest of the low in Judean society. And yet, he returns to Christ shouting praise to God and giving thanks for his freedom from disease. Jesus asks, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” They took their gift of healing and ran. “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Ten were healed; only one was saved.

When we forget or choose to ignore that we are heirs in hope to eternal life, we fail to give God the thanks and praise He is due. Does He feel cheated? No. He has no need of our praise. Our desire to praise Him and give Him thanks is also His gift to us. When we give God His due in thanksgiving, we grow deeper in our understanding of our dependence on Him for all that we are and all that we have. Deepening our understanding of humility, in turn, prompts us to set aside all those vices that prevent us from receiving His gifts, all those insolent passions that stunt our growth in holiness. Pride, arrogance, envy, malice. Ten lepers beg Christ for his compassion, and he gives it. They are all cleansed. Only one returns to give him thanks. This one, the least loved of the lot, is not only healed of his disease but saved as well. Because he turned to Christ in praise and thanksgiving, he is now an heir in hope of eternal life. His Before and After Picture (and ours) can remain absolutely different, utterly unalike, if he (and we) lives “in all circumstances, giving thanks” to God. Living as heirs in hope of eternal life means living right now as if we live already and always in the face-to-face presence of God. And there is nothing more that we should want.

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

Heh. Big donor to B.O.'s re-election campaign fires 1,250 employees b/c of BOCare costs.

"Can Christian Humanism redeem an age of ideology?"

Big Gov't hurts the poor. . .and enriches the Left.

USCCB document on the economy DOA. Not a bad thing at all, actually.

Papal Nuncio takes on religious persecution. . .

Voters in bright Blue Ohio get their food stamp benefits cut.

More Bread & Circuses to entertain/distract the rabble. . .that's us, btw.

New version of the Roman Breviary approved by bishops. . .let's hope they mandate its use for ALL priests/religious.

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12 November 2012

On mercy & the heresy of feelings

St. Josaphat
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

I've been ranting for years now—in the confessional, the pulpit, in my office; probably even in my sleep—that one of the greatest modern heresies to infect the Church is the pernicious idea that all things spiritual must be felt in order to be true. For example, a woman comes to me in despair b/c God has abandoned her. I ask: what makes you think God has abandoned you? I just don't feel His presence anymore, she says. What am I supposed to say to this? What does it mean? If God—the source and summit of our being—abandons us, we won't be around anymore to feel anything! That she feels anything at all is proof positive that God has not abandoned her. Another example: a man tells me that he's forgiven his wife for cheating on him. Good, I say; so, what's the problem? I don't feel as though I've forgiven her. I ask, what does forgiveness feel like? I don't know, he says. Then how do you know that. . .oh, nevermind. . .you get the picture. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Where does he say that we are to be happy/sad/angry/anxious/giddy/calm about forgiving a sinner? Just forgive them, a deliberate act. Let feelings come what may. 

Just in case we didn't get it the first time, Jesus adds a little hyperbole: “And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,' you should forgive him.” If you're thinking in terms of the heresy of Feelingism, you're probably thinking that Jesus is setting us up for some serious emotional abuse. Seven times in one day I'm supposed to forgive this louse?! Yes. Even seventy-seven times, if necessary. This is a problem only if you think that you have to feel the forgiveness magically flowing out of you like a stream of warm regard. You don't. Because forgiveness isn't about feelings. It's about the intellect, how you choose to think. It's all about changing your mind not your passions. When someone sins against you, think first: that poor person is in a state of sin. Then, think: when one of my brothers or sisters is in a state of sin, the whole Body of Christ is weakened. When the one who sinned against you repents and asks for forgiveness, immediately forgive him so that the Body is strengthened. Can you be angry, sad, happy that you've forgiven them? Sure. So long as you forgive. Think: the measure I use to measure will be used to measure me. 

Now, just in case the first two times Jesus teaches us about the necessity to forgive sinners didn't take, we have the reaction of his disciples to reinforce the lesson. After he tells them to forgive the same sinner seven times in one day, how do the disciples react? You gotta be kidding! But, Lord, he'll just keep on sinning! What about my hurt feelings?! No, none of those. The disciple say, “Lord, increase our faith.” Strengthen our trust in you, Lord. Fortify our belief in this truth. Faith, trust, belief are all more or less synonyms, and all are made manifest by intellectual assent; that is, saying Yes to truth. No feelings here. No emotions. Just a plain, old-fashioned recognition that Jesus' teaching on forgiveness is true. “Lord, increase our faith” is a prayer for better understanding so that the Lord's teaching may become a virtue, a good habit. Think of it this way: forgiving a sinner isn't even really about you at all. The other guy is the sinner, so he/she is the one in trouble. Why wouldn't you help get them out of trouble? It's good moral exercise for you, and your persistence in mercy can only be an excellent example for them. Last question: does it matter that you don't feel like being merciful? No, it doesn't. Just be merciful. If for no other reason than that Jesus commands it. 

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I've been saying this for years now. . .

Sin is boring.

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11 November 2012

Audio file: 32nd Sunday OT

Give from your poverty:  audio file for 32nd Sunday OT homily.

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Coffee Bowl Browsing: The Return!

I Give You: the beautiful efficiencies of Big Gov't!  (applause)

2012 Abyss:  doubling down on incompetence and corruption

More Catholic software from LOGOS

On being promoted to Captain of the Titanic mid-voyage. . .with better lodging.

Blue State prosperity: slash public services, raise taxes, pay for sex-change operations.

Great. Syria and Israel get into a fire fight and we've got The Amateur in the W.H.

Media get mugged (literally). . .well, they've been mugging us for years now.

Let's get the Marriage Conversation right. . .I'm not sure that getting it right will change minds.

I understand why they want to do this, but it's gonna backfire.

Yet another hate crime hoax.  Maybe the Boy Who Cried Wolf should be required reading.

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Give from your poverty

32nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Is it best to give much, to give often, or to give wholeheartedly? Perhaps it is best to give much, often, and wholeheartedly! This is certainly better than giving little, seldom, and miserly. A stingy heart pumps bile not blood and will dry quickly into a stone. The gospel question here is: from where do we give? Out of what do we give? Jesus praises the widow for her generosity. But her generosity is not a matter of amount, frequency, or attitude. Her generosity is measured by her poverty. While the rich people at the temple give from their surplus wealth—what was leftover—the widow gives from her destitution, her impoverishment. She contributes “all she had, her whole livelihood.” Now, this is not an exhortation from Jesus for rich people to give more, more often, and with a more gracious attitude. This is, in fact, a call for every generous heart—rich, poor, somewhere in between—to think carefully about what our Father has provided for us and how we spread His goodness around.

Christ wants more, better, and best from us always, but what he wants most is our contrite hearts and humble spirits. Out of these sacrifices he wants an outrageous generosity to pour out service, prayer, and abundant witness. So let me ask you another gospel question: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from?

You might ask: “Why does it matter where my generosity comes from? Isn’t giving the point?” The short answer: No. Giving isn’t the point. Giving is the result, the conclusion. What must come before giving itself is a wide-open, bountiful, abundantly generous heart, a heart at the center of which is the living sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross. Christian generosity pours out from the heart's tabernacle, from the holy of holies where the Lord Himself rests in us—the hub of our friendship with God, the axis point at which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit meet to contain all that we are and all that we have. An abundantly generous heart is a bottomless covenant, an eternal promise of blessing and gift, of virtue and of holy consequence. If we will give as the widow does, we give a lot or often or graciously, we will give as God our Father gives: fully, freely, without price, expectation, or debt. We will give of ourselves, all of ourselves, everything we have and are, give all that we love, all that hold for security, all that we reserve just for us. We will give as Christ gave to us and for us on the altar of the cross and gives to us now on that altar of sacrifice. We must give our lives if we are to live.

Let’s see if we all understand the sacrifice of Calvary, the generous gift of Christ’s life for our sins. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, rose from the tomb, ascended to the Father, and now we come together to sacrifice him again on that altar. We are here to beat and bruise his body again, here to lash him and crown him with thorns, here to pound those nails through his hands and feet, and lift him up over Golgotha so that we might benefit again from his death—a death that we repeat over and over again in the Mass. Right? NO! That is an anti-Catholic parody of our theology of redemption. The Catholic theology of redemption is the theology of redemption found in today’s reading from Hebrews. Christ does not offer himself repeatedly for our sins; he does not come before the holy of holies once a year like the levitical High Priest to expiate our sins; he does not enter a wooden temple for us. Instead, he enters for us the temple of the presence of God. He went before the holy holies once to expiate our sins. And he offered himself once for all on the cross. Hebrews reads, “…now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice…[and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”

Surely this is the Christian exemplar for generosity! Christ doesn’t give much, often, or graciously. He give all, forever, and perfectly. He gives us all of his life—his time among us, his trial, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. He gives us forever the benefits of his high priesthood, making us a royal, holy, and prophetic people. He gives perfectly the one sacrifice we need, the only sacrifice we need for new life, for life eternal. And to complete, right here in history, to complete the sacrifice of the cross, he will return in abundance, in glory, in awesome blessing and bring the fullness of divine healing to everyone who waits for him, everyone who waits with hearts opened, with tabernacle doors thrown wide.

Let me ask you again: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Think about what you take out of the treasury, what we all take from the treasury! My point here is not to shame anyone into being generous. My point is simply this: if we are withdrawing from the abundant treasury of God’s blessings—and we are—then surely we are filled with those blessings, surely we are stuffed like our uncles at Thanksgiving with the gifts and rewards of our Father’s goodness and beauty. Wonderful! Precisely as it should be. But if we are stuffed and continuing to stuff, then surely we are called to spread the goodies, to diffuse the blessings. You might say to me, “But Father, God gave me these blessings for my benefit. I prayed for them especially!” Yes, absolutely correct. He gave you that blessing so that you might use it to its fullest effect—by giving it away! By giving it away you will be truly blessed in your near reckless generosity. Hoarding blessings and gifts from God is a contradiction in terms. Let me suggest a radical notion to you: if you have a blessing or gift that you aren’t eager to give away, it is probably not a blessing or gift from God at all, but a bribe from the Devil. He is trying to buy you, an agent of Christ, off. He is trying to prevent you from delivering the Goods to those in need by making you think that the purpose of a blessing or gift is its immediate, personal use. The nature of blessing and gift is giving not hoarding.

What are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Whatever abundance you have and whatever blessing you are, they and you come from God. It makes no sense to say that Christian generosity is obligatory; that it is stingy or mean; that it is frugal or sparing. Christian generosity comes from the welling up of love that is God Himself in us. Sitting at our center, the stillpoint of our body and soul, He dumps blessing after blessing after blessing into our lives and moves us to treat each blessing according to its nature: gift, giving, given. The widow does not give much or often or perhaps even graciously. She gives out of her poverty and her poverty is transformed into fertile wealth—the teaching of Christ that feeds the generations. Of course, put time, talent, and treasure in the basket. The parish has bills to pay like everyone else. But put yourself on the altar of gift and offer a contrite heart and a humbled spirit as a perfect sacrifice to the Lord.

He wants you wholly given, perfectly gifted, and beautifully graced. Once for all, give it all—everything, and enter the kingdom of God. 

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