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A reflective guide to Confession

When I first came into the Church, the Sacrament that stumped me the most was Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It wasn’t the idea of it. It wasn’t the theology of it. It wasn’t even claustrophobia. It was learning how to contain myself into this little ritual. This was difficult for me because of my lack of experience and also because I couldn’t seem to narrow down what it was right to confess. My confession should not be a wild arrow that misses the Heart of Jesus or a list that makes Him sleepy. I want to hit the bull’s eye and sink the arrow deep. I had a hard time with my archery for a long time and I think for Jesus, my attempts to participate in this sacrament made me a crazy moving target hard for Him to hit.

I had some memorable reactions from priests to my confessions that puzzled me: everything from, “That’s not really a sin.” to “You sound like a monophysite,” to simply bursting out laughing.
I needed to find a way to contain myself in the narrow field of what I was supposed to actually do with Confession in order to let it be the conscious encounter with Jesus that it should be. I realized going to Confession was not just about me and my feelings. It was something I did for Jesus and for the good of the Church as well. I really needed to find a way to hit the mark and hit it in a way that was more transformative and open to grace.

The power of God is not limited to our personal perceptions of course. But the Sacrament isn’t “magic” either. It’s a real encounter with Jesus and His merciful love. I need to participate as fully as I can.

“Art…consists of drawing the line somewhere.” (G.K. Chesterton) I needed a way draw some lines, within the ones given to us by the Church, and still have my confession come from the heart.

Over the years I developed a way of ordering my examination of conscience and my confession into a more meaningful and sensible form that fits into the confessional “box” better than the disorganized, emotionally based way I had been doing it before.

 

How I prepare for Confession

First I ask Jesus what He wants me to Confess. It doesn’t have to be about everything in the world down to spilling my milk (not a sin by the way.) It could be about one particular situation God wants to work with me in. I try to be receptive as I think about my life. I pray to be guided and trust that I will be.

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I write down the basic issues that come up. Then I look in the Scriptures and/or the Catechism to see what the Word and the Magisterium have to say about these things. I reflect on what I have read- especially a word or phrase that really stands out to me. A lot of the time I can see more deeply into a situation and where I am at fault, what graces and virtues I need to pray and work for, and where I need to make amends in my relationships, when I do this. I make a brief outline of what I have found out. Then I make a prayer about each sin I need to confess. After all, the priest is in persona Christi and this is a holy sacrament so why not make my whole confession a prayer? It helps me a lot to do it this way. I think I am more guided and I am more likely to find meaning and grace when I take my time to do this in a reflective way, making use of the Bible and the Catechism along with receptive prayer. Also this way I don’t lose track of what I am doing when I am there (as I often used to do.)

Let’s take an example of a sin I have often committed as a parent, though I’m sure none of you ever do; freaking out and yelling at my kids. The prayer I write out for that may look like this:

“My God, in Your Word, You have said “Do not be harsh with your children but admonish them in the Lord.” For all the times I have lost my temper with my children lately, I am sorry. Please forgive me and help me to be as gentle with them as You are with me. “

Or this: “Lord, You have taught through Your Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. For the times I have failed to teach my daughters patience and gentleness by modeling these things for them, the times I gave them a bad example instead by losing my temper and being harsh, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Grant to me the grace of patience and help me to do better.”

In the Confessional

Confessional at San Salvador Mission, Bryan

When I am in the confessional, I tell the priest before I begin that I have written out my confession this way. I have never had any one of them mind about that. Otherwise, of course, The Sacrament of Reconciliation proceeds as usual.

I do think a personal, devotional act adds to the experience, (as long as it doesn’t detract from it.) It can bring us closer to love, and give us a sense of the fact that we are entering into something sacred. My friend, Shawna, takes her shoes off and kneels when she begins Confession. I think that is beautiful. Things like that remind us of our devotion, give us the sense of the fact that we are entering into the sacred, and help us to be humble in God’s presence.

Like my friend, Shawna, I like to kneel too- not during my confession but during absolution. Why I don’t take my shoes off the way she does I will leave to your imagination.

There is a saying, “The narrower the field the deeper the dig.” That has been true for me in Confession. I don’t need to dig all over the place; just enough in the right spot, in the right way, to find that Pearl of Great Price that I am willing to sell everything else to possess.

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Lent: luminous darkness, hidden seeds

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I love Lent.

I am always happy to hear that I am dust, and that to dust I shall return.

When I close my eyes to pray, I can really tell I am dust. In here where I live, it’s quiet and dark. Simple. Nothing to it.  Who am I?

Dust.

Clay.

Nothing.

Everything.

Inwardly quiet and dark,

yet full of exploding light in the cave of my heart,

just like you.

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As St. John of the Cross points out, sometimes what seems like darkness is the over-whelming brilliance of God’s light.

Maybe that is why we close our eyes when we pray. Outside what we can see with our senses is wonderful, but only a reflection of the invisible God. When we close our eyes, we are alone in God’s luminous dark within us. We know there is light in us by faith. We know our being is created in the image of Him who is light.  Even though we rightly experience ourselves as dust, our hearts are secretly bright because of Who lives there.

At this time of year, roots, bulbs, and seeds under the soil that have “fallen to the ground and died,”  all winter have been nourished by the Lord of mystery and love, though we the farmers are unaware.

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How did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. We know it happened, and Scripture says we also will rise, “through the power of his spirit dwelling in us.” And this is so real it is a physical truth as well as a spiritual one.

In the dark secret of the tomb Jesus physically and spiritually, in divine mystery, rose again.

I want to follow Jesus into the desert and recommit my life to the Father. I want to share the Passover with Him and the family of the Church, I want to accompany the Lord on the Way of the Cross. I want to wait quietly in the dark simplicity and trust of the grave.

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I am dust returning to dust, but my Christian soul is empowered by Him to do and be all these Christly mysteries.

So let us return to be fearlessly this dust in desert wind, this Way of the Cross, this dark quiet of faith, this soil seeded with mystery.

At the same time as we traditionally renew our commitment to Jesus and his mission, to His Church, to the poor and marginalized, to fasting, penance, and to prayer as we know it, let us also re-consecrate ourselves in silence, and holy solitude, resting in the starry night of expectation.

As children of God we know that darkness also brings forth love, unfurls light, and floods our souls with renewed grace during this sacred time we are given that is Lent.

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We surrender to this Lord of mysterious rising. We consecrate our souls to His purposes in ourselves and what He wants us to bloom into for Him, for this world, for the sake of His Kingdom.

We step into this night of Lent consciously.

We can remember this intention in our moments of stillness and waiting. We can take a little time each day also to purposely  rest in quiet love and allow ourselves to be prepared for Spring in secret.

Let us make Lent a secret retreat into our hearts. It only takes faith, hope, and love and God will pour over us the brightness of his invisible light.

Let this Lent be a time for seeds, for dark, shining mysteries at work in we who believe… until the morning star rises in our hearts.

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  • Warning: God is a creative genius and anything can happen when we surrender to Him completely. We might emerge from Lent new creatures in the power of His Resurrection. Let’s expect it!
  • Inspiration here: https://youtu.be/eDA8rmUP5ZM

Guided Prayer of Recollection (8 min.)

 

 

An easy way to learn “The Prayer of Recollection” of St. Teresa of Avila is to try this guided mini version; a recording I made and posted with ATX Catholic. Take a short break (8 minutes) in your day that can make a difference all day long. Come hang out with Jesus and me.

http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2015/10/8-minute-guided-prayer-of-recollection-of-st-teresa-of-avila/#.WlPjCyMrIy8

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* You may also like: How to pray the Prayer of Recollection

Novena to St. Philomena (Day 5)

 

The only accounts we have of the life of St. Philomena are two corroborating private revelations (from different people in different places) that have been approved by the Church, but are not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to these private revelations and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived several humiliations and tortures to try  to break her down and many attempts by her captors to kill her before she was finally beheaded. 

She gave herself to God bravely one life-threatening moment after another. Her trust converted many of the people who witnessed it. I am sure God was speaking to St. Philomena, too, in the way He is said to have saved her miraculously from two attempts to execute her, once by drowning, once by arrows. God often sends us messages in our lives, as well, often when our suffering is deepest, and our challenges urgent, to let us know, “I am with you.”

Because of her union with God, and her willingness to follow His lead wherever it might take her life, her moments of fear and suffering became her finest.

A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 

Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that… you are standing firm … struggling for the faith of the Gospel,not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.

The Word of the Lord

-Thanks be to God.

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St. Philomena, pray for us that our pivotal moments may be transformed in Jesus, and that in these we might glorify His love. May God increase the strength of our souls, and exceed all we have ever known of Him. [Here mention your petitions.] Trusted Saint, lead the way for us bravely, and help us to see the movements of the Holy Spirit in the events of our lives, that every one of them will become sign posts of the way forward. Pray to God for us, that He may turn darkness into light before us, and make crooked ways straight. May we shine with the power of the Lord when we come to moments of decision, and may God bless our efforts to be faithful, as you were unfailingly.

Our Father…

Mother of God, may the sweet companionship of your spirit make our paths bright with meaning and love and grace. As you accompanied St. Philomena to such great bravery, we ask that you also accompany us, especially in times of trial and discouragement. Shine the brilliant light of the Gospel on our paths, that we may see our way through our troubles, and that the grace we will know may, in turn, strengthen the faith of others.

Hail Mary…

Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.

Glory Be…

St. Philomena, be blessed and pray for us.

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Novena to St.Philomena (Day 3)

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St. Philomena’s body was found in 1802 in the catacomb of St. Pricilla in Rome. Her epitaph said, “Peace be with you, Philomena,” and showed the martyr’s palm, a drawing of arrows and an anchor; the instruments of the torture she had undergone for her faithfulness to Christ. Inside were the bones of a 13-15 year old girl. Present also was the phial of blood often collected by the early Christians when one of them was martyred. Miracles and signs surrounded the opening of her tomb, and even of the opening of the phial of blood that day in May, 1802, wonders which were witnessed by many.

It seemed God was saying to the world, “Get to know this young woman. She is very close to Me, and I have given her great works to do in My Name.”

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A Reading from the Book of Acts: 

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

The Word of the Lord

-Thanks be to God

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St. Philomena, who spoke boldly for the Lord, Who bears witness to the Gospel through signs and wonders done by your presence, intercession and prayers, obtain for us the courage that comes from dedicated love for Jesus. Lead us to see the signs God lays before us. Bend our hearts to God’s purpose and will in our lives, that we may run lightly in his paths, that He may give freedom to our hearts. [Here talk to St.Philomena about your situation, your petitions, and your search for God’s will in the matter.] Help us overcome our difficulties that our lives and our victories may beear witness to all of the greatness of your intercessory power and of the beauty of Gospel.

Jesus, be in our very blood.

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Our Father…

St. Philomena, patroness of the children of Mary, strengthen our devotion to our most holy mother, that we may be her worthy daughters and sons, strong in faith and in following Jesus.  May our souls, like hers, magnify the Lord.

Hail Mary…

Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.

Glory Be…

St. Philomena, be blessed and pray for us.

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Novena to St. Philomena (Day 1)

 

Once upon a time in Rome, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (in the third century), a young girl gave her life in witness to Christ under harrowing circumstances hard to imagine. She did this in spite of frightened parents, repeated and successively more cruel tortures, threats, and even persuasive words and temptations from those around her. She also spent some time chained, bleeding, and broken in the Emperor’s dungeon. There Mary is said to have appeared to her and healed her, strengthening her resolve with the promise of victory and the hope of Heaven. Some of her tormenters were converted to Christ by this child’s astonishing courage, faith and perseverance through punishment after punishment.

A Reading from from Book of Revelation

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

The Word of the Lord

-Thanks be to God

St. Philomena, Virgin and Martyr, come and walk with us through our many sufferings. Pray for us that we may regain our strength, so that we, too, may be victorious in the purpose God has for us.

We know of your powerful intercession. By your obedience, humility, and trust, you captured the heart of Jesus. He worked in mighty ways through you in your life, and even more so now, He works miracles through you from your place in Heaven at His side.

Our Father…

Inspired by your courage and love, we ask you to pray for us for [mention your petition here.] Help us to live the Gospel so as to be a light before all that brings glory to God.  Comfort us with the consolation you yourself received from Mary.

Hail Mary…

Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.

Glory be…

 

St. Philomena, be blessed and pray for us.

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 * All 9 days of this novena ate on this site. Just search for them and they will come up. 🙂

The moon in my heart

 

 

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Thinking and dreaming and having tea with Mary

In the briefly blooming rose of evening.

We sit together silently, night’s growing darkness cloaking us,

Warm about our shoulders.

Through the window we can see the sun’s glow cascade ecstatically over the top of Howell’s Grocery,

Pour itself over the edge of the earth into space;

A passing caress over the other side of the world

As she turns on her axis.

We sit.

Mary’s hand touches mine,

The warmth of her tea cup still on her finger tips.

I sense her encouraging nod in the darkness.

She is with me.

“Remember,”

Says the brush her of fingers,

Remember day when you forget.

I am always with you,

I will bring for you the moon,

Reminding you of the sun

The deepest glow of God

Present in your heart.

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  • Sky photos by Renee Bork

 

The day’s modest ornaments: simple routines that re-center

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I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.

The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.

My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.

Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.

Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.

What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.

On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.

On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.

For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.

As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”

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When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”

The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.

I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.

We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.

Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.

Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.

We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.

The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.

During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.

When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.

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I have been thinking about that.

I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.

However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.

Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.

They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.

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I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.

One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.

I try to get certain things done at work  by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.

 

Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Mac and I hang out

Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.

The temptation, when I get home from work, is to  flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.

When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.

I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.

Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.

Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.

It makes me chuckle.

Maybe I’m on the right track.

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painting by Bob Chapman

 

 

*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis

For more on finding meaning and mindfulness in house work, you might like my post The holiness of house work

 

 

 

Holy Self Determination

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photo by Renee Bork

Something that seems to be returning to me as I very slowly recover from the grief and trauma of the past year, or even four years, is a slight sense of self determination. I had not realized it was gone in the first place.

What I did know is that it was very hard for me to talk about the future without feeling really freaked out, or even angry. It was hard for me to let go of anything, or make any changes, even though I kept having to do just that.

I felt like my inner infrastructure had been bombed out and I was not at all sure it would ever really be rebuilt. It’s not that I thought God could not do this. I was just not sure He wanted to.

Actually, He was waiting for me to remember a few things. “You are not dead,” Jesus says, “…only sleeping.” (see Lk. 8:52) 

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photo by Renee Bork

One thing to remember is that God does not create our hearts to be empty wastes, but to be lived in.  (see Isaiah 45:18)

Why in the world would God create me and send His Son into the world for me only to have me  be destroyed and stay that way? That makes no sense, and can’t be true.

“I came that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (see Jn. 10:10b)

The next thing I remembered is that we are each co-creators with God, and even though we always want to be guided and conformed to God’s will in our lives, this is actually a creative process in which we work alongside with God with a combination of His inspiration, His help, and our own volition and creativity He gave us.

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welding art by Stefan Pauc

Then I remembered one of the many things my beloved second late husband, Bob, and I learned as we journeyed through our fight for his life against Brain Cancer. We discovered the beauty and strength there is in thinking of each day as an entire life time in miniature. Each day begins with the re-birth of waking up, and the gentle death of falling asleep in our Father’s arms.

We found a lot of peace, courage, empowerment, manageable self determination, and a new way to stay in the present, living fully, in this idea of life being represented in each day we lived.

I thought about how to apply this idea in the new life I realized God wants me to build.

I can make a life one day at a time; one day, my life’s microcosm.

I have to decide what is important to me, what ingredients I want in each day, what ornaments I want to decorate my life with, what design I am trying to trace.

Then I have to start somewhere.

Right now, I have decided to start with rebuilding my prayer life, which has altered along with the rest of me.

What else do I want?

I want peace. I want peace in every day.

What else? Love. I want to live love every day.

That’s a good beginning.

So I am setting off , one day at a time, with a bit of holy self determination, to adorn my days with prayer, with peace, with love; to rebuild my life.

“…rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD.” Haggai 1:8b

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my tree house sign made for me by “Red” Gary Moore

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