The Perfect Name

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Tuesday, Tempus Per Annum (C2)

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 (NABRE)

BE PERFECT JUST as Our Father is Perfect. Father’s Day is this coming Sunday. Are you able to be anything like your father? I mean in some ways, maybe. And in some ways you may be better, but are you able to be like your father? How much more can we be like our Heavenly Father? Look, I have never known my natural father – I’m asking these questions coming from that very dysfunctional family situation. How can I be like my father, whom I’ve never know. How can I be like God, my Heavenly Father, whom I cannot know at all like I could know my natural father – but I don’t. Wait. Jesus why are you giving us an impossible command?

Because that’s what salvation means.

The Greek word translated here as “perfect” is τέλειος teleios from the word, τέλος telos. It means not only to be “brought to completion” but also to achieve the perfect or intended end. The telos of a thing is determined by its nature – put there by God. The Greeks would look for the logoi of things which can bring us to the Logos of God. The Latins have us looking at essences and natures, but it’s the same process: the base of each person and thing is something created by God. Why was man created? To achieve our perfect end, our telos. What is our telos? Baltimore Catechism, Q6: Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. That is our proper end, our proper telos: to know God, to love God, to serve Him and to be happy (blessed) with him for ever.

The real question is how? How are we to get to our perfect end and thus be like God? Jesus gives us that answer later, using the same word (τέλειος).

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect (τέλειος), go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Matthew 19:21

If you would be perfect… let’s step back a few verses… Jesus rehearses some of the ten Commandments – all the ones dealing with your neighbor: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, 19honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 18). He leaves out all the commands about God… or no he doesn’t. He adds, “Come follow me”. Loving your neighbor is not enough for perfection. We must follow Jesus (that is, God) in order to fulfill the rest of the covenant.

But we know the truth. We’re all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. (As an aside, does that mean we are trying to reach God in his Glory – but we miss. Or does that mean God wants to share his glory with us, but we keep falling short?)

Jesus uses this same word (telos) from the Cross in John 19:30. He announces “It is finished” by saying “It’s been telos-ed”. What has been finished? We have – humans. We have been perfected in Christ. I have an essay do in a week and a half on Atonement, so don’t expect me to go too far down that road. But I will say that Jesus – God-Man – is the one that makes it happen. And you can see it in his name. “Come follow me…” Let’s use the Bible as meditation literature.

My friend, Steve, reminds me of the Evangelical addage, there’s nothing more dangerous to the faith than an man with a Greek Dictionary and an interlinear Bible. I may be about to prove that in Hebrew as well.

In Hebrew Jesus Name, as you’ve probably heard, is “Yeshua.” Via Latin and Greek we can get to either Jesus or Joshua. So, you can think of all the ways the story of Joshua might foreshadow the story of Jesus. But I want to stick to the name itself.

Yeshua is linked to the meaning savior and salvation. Now salvation (in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as in Latin actually) has the meaning of “deliver” as well as “healing” and “making whole”. Please keep that in mind. Yeshua gets this meaning because the root of Yeshua is the Hebrew Word, “Yasha” meaning to save (deliver, rescue, etc) which is also linked to the meaning of “make whole” or “heal”. So, somehow, Jesus Yasha-s us: he makes us whole. Jesus name, via the root Yasha, is also linked with the word “Hosanna” which means “please save (us)”, It’s a word cried out to God and to the Kings of Israel. And because Yasha is linked with Hosanna, it’s also linked with two other important words: Moshiah (for example in Deuteronomy 22:27) which is a hominim for Moshiach, or Messiah. This last means “anointed” only, and has no direct link to Yasha or to “moshiah” but the words are within a breath of each other (moshiah and moshiach). They come together in meaning by way of homonymnity. And so “Jesus Christ” or “Messiah Yeshua” literally is the name of the Savior meaning the Saving One who is the Salvation of YHVH.

We are perfected (made whole) in following Jesus.

Anyone who asks

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Anthony of Padua, Doctor (C2)

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:42 (NABRE)

THIS IS A HARD saying for anyone living in a city or for anyone who works in charity. In fact it may be a hard saying for any who stand and chat outside any church at all.

I was at another parish on Saturday Night, celebrating the parish’s feast of title and visiting old friends. After a vigil service there was a party and then, after a while, the party ended. We were standing outside saying our good byes when a young man came and asked us for food. On a Sunday (when they serve a full lunch) I know the pastor would have given him a plate of whatever was available. But after a night of finger food and pomegranate punch there was nothing left. How to deal with this situation?

To complicate matters he was not the sort of polite person you’d want to help. He started with words but indicated he was coming to a church to talk to “good Christian people” as if he were launching them to a guilt trip rather than an ask for help. One might even imagine him standing outside the party (you could hear us in the open windows) waiting for this moment just to see how people would act.

Additionally it was not my parish so I waited for the locals to do (or not do) as they felt. I don’t feel we Christians passed the test offered by this verse from Matthew. We lost our Charity someplace and forgot to pray to St Anthony to help us find it.

But, really Jesus? Give to anyone who asks?

Our normal solution in these days is to either support (or not) government programs. That is not what Jesus is suggesting here. I’m sure there are lots of places to get food in this city – I work at one. But Jesus is not talking about a new agency or program. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount (where our passage comes from, today) is not FDR’s New Deal, not Eisenhower’s Great Society. The Sermon on the Mount is not about Liberation Theology or setting up Social Justice Movements. The whole point comes just a couple of verses later at v. 48: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While we will get more of this verse tomorrow, the point is clear: the Sermon on the Mount is a personal sermon filled with ways not to make a Justice-filled City on earth, but to fill the earth with Righteous People who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

So, give to anyone who asks?

When I go to confession I find myself confessing the same sins, over and over. I am there with contrition. I don’t want to sin again. But especially some things just seem to happen. And they are the same things over and over. Yet, the priest gives absolution. God forgives. How many times have I asked for forgiveness in the same tone of voice the young man used on Saturday night? And yet God forgives, moves me more deeply to pray, moves me (over decades) to come closer to the fire that he may refine me more. How, instead, would it be if the priest (or even God) said, “Why should I absolve you?” or “You’re just going to go away and squander this grace on sins again.” Or “How do I know you’re deserving?” or if the priest just silently shrugged his shoulders and, hands in pockets, mouthed sorry and walked away?

Give to anyone who asks.

This verse tends us towards perfection by urging us to give as God gives. God the Father pours himself out, the Son pours himself out to honor the Father, the Spirit is poured out on us from the Father and the Son. We are to pour ourselves out to anyone who asks. God pours out from infinity to our finitude. We tend to feel as if we’re giving from limited resources and – in fear – we worry that there will be nothing left for our needs later.

But…

If one were to give away everything for God (not just because someone asked, but exactly to be like God) how could it be wrong? Where would God take us if we gave away everything to be like him?

The Christian & Identity – Pt 3

JMJ

THE PREVIOUS POST closed with a list of three options that apply in all cultural choices: individualized nominalism (one makes it up on their own), emergent nominalism, (one makes it up with the help of others), or objective reality (one gets to make up reactions to something that existed before one got here). The first option is an outright impossibility beyond the walls of an asylum. That’s the only place where what one says goes and is – without question – the law of the land. After the Introductory post, part 2 tried to highlight the insanity of I Define Me all by myself. This post will focus on option 2 – the emergent nominalism. The final post will share my own journey out.

Finding people to affirm you, to support you in your decisions requires a culture. This, in turn, requires compromises from the culture and from you. If one is engaged in a back-and-forth consensus of some sort then the map that arises is of shared construction. It’s not a case of “I made me” but “we made me”. This is also an engagement in peer pressure: each supports each, all support all. This is the constant affirmation needed to hold a lie in place: I affirm you. you affirm me. We validate each other. Our reality is thus only a consensus, and very fragile. Those on the outside can “attack” insiders by simply not saying yes when an assertion is made.

Needless to say, one person backing out of the consensual reality creates a drama for every member of it. We hold each other in place because if you run away, I will fall. Don’t shatter the sense of “Us-ness” by admitting that you refuse to allow your feelings to define you – or that your feelings have changed. These feelings are still your own feelings: but your feelings better be exactly the same as those the rest of us share. This process is very evident in the current gender crisis as it was in the marriage crisis in the early 21st Century: as the social media-driven sense of who “we” are changes, the “hive mind”, those who think differently or arrive at other conclusions get thrust out. Those who hold the right ideas are affirmed. Those who “think different” are named haters – just for thinking different.

In indulging the cravings they can construct a false me, like a bad costume at a party; but the real me, fully human, as God has patterned is encased, squashed, and nearly destroyed. I have not yet even met me and may not in this world unless I work at it really hard. If I’m not careful, I could die with this false self holding me down, the real me smothered under tons of blanketing lies inside, condemned to indulge cravings that have become addictions – what the Church calls passions. All it takes is following the fake pattern and ignoring the real me for long enough, that it becomes a habit to continue to do so. I become convinced that the real me is all these petty desires that can change with the weather or the physical characteristics I sexually crave. I define “Me” as “what I like about you”.  I can thus objectify you and me both, claiming, “That‘s who I am”. I get to be a list of wants:  you are a list of satisfactions. Ever try a hook-up app? It’s exactly the same game for same-sex or opposite-sex attractions: I am a list of wants. You are a list of satisfactions. “You can’t order people like out of a catalog” said a wise man once. We try to, though.

An instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education (2005) notes a difference between the sense of same-sex attraction and the beingness of the person who feels them.

In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.

Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies

In fact, if one insists on the beingness of these things – if one insists these feelings are the very core of one’s being – it results in “deep seated tendencies” that the document is trying to avoid.

There is an ongoing discussion now among some Christians who experience same-sex attraction regarding the labels that should be used. Is “Gay Christians” a better choice? Queer? What? Some prefer to say they “experience same sex attraction” while others go all-out: saying “Queer” or “LGTB” using even other additions to that neo-acronymic salad. Hyphenating the faith seems to be the way to go. They seek to “affirm” their identity and “express solidarity” with the oppressed. We don’t hear many discussions about calling for “Sodomite Christians” or “Catamite Christians”, but the world is broken down even further: you’d have to avoid a lot of television comedy to not have heard of “Gay Bears”. There are “Christian Bears” too. These are part of the emergent nominalism: we are still making up our own reality, but we’re doing it together. Christian Orthodoxy is rejected as a group.

Christian tradition, contrary to modern culture in all its aspects, challenges us to listen not at all to our inner voices, our feelings, our desires, our internalized sense of self, our self-identity, or our pride. The idea that simply because we desire something the desire, itself, is good is alien to Christian thinking. It is a different form of the Prosperity Gospel which teaches that if we follow God, then our desires are good and he will fulfill them. Yet desire always leads us around by our nose, our belly, or our eyes are a violation of the divinely given human freedom. The existence of our petty desires  – even for things that might otherwise be good  – is a sign of our failure to live up to the divine pattern set for us. Christian tradition – embodied in the Saints, the Scriptures, and the Canonical texts. We fail to trust God and, instead, “do what we want”. Meanwhile, our tradition says exactly that we are to mistrust our bodies not because they are “dirty” per se, but because they tend to be wrong, misguided, selfish. In the created order we were intended dance within the will of God without necessity or desire. In the fallen order our desires become our masters and we become the slaves of our body and our passions.

In The Voyage of the Dawntreader C.S. Lewis wrote of the salvation of Eustace Scrubb. Eustace knows all the liberal “education” bywords of his day and believes them. It’s a bit humorous because the words he uses are very dated but the concepts he imagines to be true are exactly like those of our Millennial “Special Snowflake” folks today. He knows to run crying to Mommy (his real one or else the State) whenever anyone challenges his world view. Even though his real Mommy never enters the story, he threatens everyone to call her. She’s a good symbol of the UK Nanny State that was growing up in Lewis’ day. If the story was written today, I think that Mommy-The-State would have to be on every page.

When Eustace stumbles into the magic land of Narnia everything sucks because no one will cater to him. No one will tell him he’s special unless he actually does something special. No one will do as he wishes merely because he wishes it. At almost every turn it seems as if should he want something, he will either have to get it himself or else let it go. This realization makes him angry. He acts selfish rather well, but he can’t act self-sufficiency at all. (The joke is on him, of course, because real sufficiency is a product of community not self.)

In the end, grumbling, whining, and greedy, he finds himself turned into a Dragon. If you read the right sort of books, of course, you realize that dragons are a perfectly wonderful symbol for human selfishness. The story of his salvation is the story of his Un-dragoning.

First he must see that he needs others at all. Then he must communicate this to them safely (they don’t really like or trust dragons, you see, and, even the folks who charitably liked Eustace don’t know this dragon is that boy). Then he must continue as a dragon-attempting-to-be-human for a chapter or two. He’s learning what his humanity really is all this time. One night God (the Lion, Aslan) peals away the reminder of his dragonish disguise to reveal a little boy inside.

For anyone, the fake self-identity created by our sins and desires is exactly like that dragon. It scares some folks off but some folks are able to love us in spite of it. Some folks of course will love us exactly for it: Eustace was very attractive to other dragons! We have to love people through it, through their dragon skins, through our own dragon skins. Eustace was able to do things that only a dragon could do to help his friends: at one point he finds and brings a huge tree to them to replace the mast of their ship. Yet at the end of the dragon story the reader – this reader anyway – begins to weep, as the nearly human dragon is not good enough, and still has to be torn apart by the Divine Lion to let the really human-and-not-dragonish-any-more boy out.

In novels and plays, in songs and activities, “Gay” is defined as “What Gay People do”. “This is gay – the community is building it.” This creates a false sense of identity based on a new collective thought: no longer is our family, church, marriage, etc, defining us, but now it is our bar buddies and sexual playmate who do so. That redundancy is never called into question – to do so is to question everyone playing the game. One becomes so attached to the false self he or she has created that they are convinced this self is the real self. And even in departing from the City of Gay (in contrast to the City of God), everything must come with us. Yet, when we desire to stop being defined by our desires, our cravings, and live in, through, and for Christ – he is Objective Reality – what are we to call ourselves?

The Christian & Identity – Pt 2

JMJ

ONCE UPON A TIME, men  —  at least  —  who acted outside of the norms of Christian culture and chose to engage in their sexual desires for other men were called Sodomites. For this reason, the present author has been accused of using the term uncritically without considering it, or “unpacking” it. On the contrary, these four articles are exactly an unpacking and consideration of the term. As will be noted, however, in the previous article after accepting the idea that the Bible was talking about what would be called “hospitality” in that culture, I wondered why anyone leaving the destroyed city would want to claim such a tag at all. Our tags, the names we take to ourselves, are important. They say more about who we think we are, and how we value ourselves than we care to admit.

If you were in a culture where your lover-on-the-side was accepted, you got married and had kids and had sex on the side in ways easy to arrange. In these cultures, same-sex action was often more socially acceptable than opposite-sex action because the latter could make a woman unfit for marriage or do other social damage. Alexander the Great may have had paramours, but it was his wife and her (lack of) children that people were terribly concerned with. If you were in a culture where your lover-on-the-side was not accepted you got married and had kids and had your sex on the side in ways difficult to arrange. In both cases, you did the cultural thing because they did not imagine that you “really are” gay rather than straight, but rather than you “really are” a member of a given local culture and this is how human sexuality is expressed within that culture. You fulfilled your cultural obligations to procreate and no one asked questions about your inner being or your self-identity. There was no term used to describe different classes of people engaged in this activity.

In point of fact, for describing same-sex action, at least in older English usage, there were two terms: Sodomites and Catamites. Both were engaged in same-sex sexual expression, but the Sodomites were the active parties. Catamites were the passive parties. This latter word is the Anglicized Latin for the Greek name “Ganymede” and it was intended as a flirtatious compliment, carrying all the implications of a youthful, attractive, athletic guy. Becoming someone’s “Boy” in ancient Athens could be a position of great honor, especially if one’s partner was of high social standing. With the revolution in thought that came via God’s revelation in Christ, the sense of flirtation and social motion this word held in Ancient Greece and Rome was removed. It became the reverse: a denigration. At one time in the first millennium being a catamite – even without one’s consent – made a man canonically unfit to serve at the altar as Christian clergy.

“Homosexuality” was originally only a psychological term, devoid of cultural content. The term became a noun, “homosexual” and the noun was attached to people. Popular usage wasn’t fond of the clinical term so other terms – both positive and negative – arose. These labels, together with any cultural baggage, must be recognized as social constructs of the modern and postmodern eras. These labels get applied to individual persons and are used to describe a situation or feeling. This is, itself, a new thing – for they were never used that way before. The labels Sodomite and Catamite are unimportant today exactly because no Sodomite was ever gay: neither in ancient Sodom nor in Victorian England. Not one of our ancestors would have understood the concepts conveyed by “I am gay” or “queer culture”. “Queer Culture” is entirely fabricated and most if not all of that fabrication is only a reaction to other things: it evolved mostly in the last 100 years give or take. So fluid is the understanding of “Gay” that the entire inter-cultural dictionary had completely changed three or four times since 1983. One can spend endless hours regaling “the young” with stories of how it was “back in the day”, by which one may mean the Nixon Administration, or before AIDS, or in the midst of the plague and Reagan years, or now with PrEP. The words change and the pop-cultural referents change. One can pick sitcoms and TV dramas of the 60s and note them as “Gay” or “Straight”. I Dream of Jeannie and The Partridge Family were straight, but Bewitched and The Brady Bunch were both gay, for example. These tags were terribly important in the culture at the time. They are meaningless now. We do not get to project our cultural ideas and modern inventions backwards. Alexander was not “really” gay, nor was any other character out of history: because there was no gay. There was no straight. We made these up: they are social constructs and nothing more. That these fluid names now describe classes of ontology is unusual and unhealthy.

Our choices are no longer based on cultural obligations. We do not sense the obligation to get married and have children just because “that’s what you do”. In fact, we deny the validity of cultural expectations, as such, against which one is measured. We insist there is no social dogma. (You’re not the boss of me!) If one doesn’t accept the social dogma that there is no social dogma one is accused of being narrow-minded. Our Modern Creed is: I feel thus, thus I will act – and none may say me nay. We make entire life choices based on how we feel. We go a step further and say that our feelings create who we are. I feel thus and so I am thus. We are so intent on this doctrine that, sometimes when feelings change, we deny the validity of the new ones. We start to medically reassign you, based on your feelings, as soon as possible. No going back, sorry. I recently saw a tweet where a parent was saying they had spend $15k on “gender reassignment” for their kid and when the boy no longer wanted to do it, the parent felt like she had wasted all that money.

When mid-20th Century Generations of youth and teens went “looking for themselves” their answers were all feelings and emotions. Those children have cut off their children from a culture of absolutes and hard facts. Only in this relativism could we construct an idea of individual feelings and of “my truth”. Love is a feeling. I feel love this way. You can’t tell me I don’t feel love this way. You can’t judge me because of my feelings. I will or will not act on those feelings based on my own choices; ie  based on my other feelings. So embedded is this concept in our culture that we are surprised to learn that “Great Lovers” of history have no stories of “Falling in Love”, of feelings. Tristan and Isolt had to be drugged into “Falling in love”. Most normal people didn’t treat such feelings as a valid guide to action. Lancelot and Guinevere are the destroyers of Camelot, not the romantic hero and heroine.  Romeo and Juliet followed there feelings and a whole lot of teens had to die as a result of the chaos. That’s not love: that’s selfishness and evil.

We can hear Joseph Campbell explain that “Love” and “Romance” is really a modern invention – and he has nothing but chronological arrogance disguised as pity aimed at those cultures and people who didn’t “follow their bliss”. We know so much better, finally, now. How many people will die because of my personal feelings?

This is a personalized nominalism – nothing means anything of itself. Things have only the meaning I give them. My feelings decide my meaning. I validate myself: I am my own witness. My feelings, desires, and cravings are the only real me there is. From this grows the message of “gay culture” and the rest of our consumption-driven world. Naturally, your meanings will differ and so we must “accept” each other as equally true. Oddly no one says that for everyone. Not all feelings are equally valid, right? Each one of us, claiming all individual truths are valid, can think of at least one politician whose truths are not valid. That sense – and I assume you have it – that one politician, either right now or in history, was making invalid choices indicates a sense that the dance is not pure chaos: something is going on here that we can suss out if only we work hard enough at it.

So there are three options here:

  1. There is no order at all – you’re making all this up in your mind.
  2. There is order, and when you find more about it, you’ll discover it has no meaning or drive at all. It is self-organizing at best.
  3. There is order, it has meaning and a driver, a volitional cause behind it.

Option 1 doesn’t work. Personalized nominalism is a fun place to start but we all need other people to back us up. You must support me in my choices. So we go looking. Option 2 takes over. Think how many coming out stories involve leaving: leaving the family that was stifling me, leaving the church that was stifling me, leaving the small town that was stifling me in order to find “The Real Me”. Adults who discovered their “real” feelings late in life had to leave all the above and also leave the marriage that was stifling them and, often, the kids that were stifling them. These stories paint “coming out” as a healthy part of “individuation”, breaking out of the universal into the individual, of liberation from the family and social norms into “just me”. The unacknowledged lie, however, is the claim that the ontological “just me” exists at all. There is no such thing as an individual. We are who we are because of who’s around us. To be you and to be in communion with other beings is the same thing – even if we deny it. If you leave communion with your family, your church, the Boy Scouts, whatever, you still have to be in communion with someone to be a person at all.

Option 2 fails eventually. No community can be pure enough. I won’t want to be binary, I want to be trinary. I want to be a different set of pronouns. I want to make stuff up. But I demand you let me do so.

You can switch back and forth between options 1 and 2. The implication of both option 1 and option 2 is that nothing matters. There is no reason to value your life or mine, there is no reason to value anyone’s life at all. It doesn’t matter if Trump or Obama is the president. It matters not if Bill Clinton and Trump have spent their lives molesting women or just lying to voters. It doesn’t matter if Fidel Castro imprisoned his political enemies or if Abraham Lincoln did. There is no reason to imagine it’s “good” to protect the ocean, or bad to vote fascist. There is no reason to imagine that any human action is better (or worse) than any other human action. If option 1 or 2 is the way the universe works, tell me why anything matters. I did not want to live in that world. The sense of “this is not fair” was too real. If I wanted to ask for “just wages” or “equality” or “better environmental choices” then I was appealing to something external, something that should – in theory – be the same for anyone who thought about it for a while. Else the only thing that the 20th Century dictators did wrong is run afoul of American Cultural Imperialism. Why is my human reason any better or more valid than Stalin’s? Any logical appeal against the dictators of the 20th Century or against the politicians of the 21st is an appeal to option three.

If Option 3 is the way things are… then maybe my identity is NOT up to me. Maybe these tags need to be sidelined so that the social constructs which no longer apply to me can fall away.

The Christian & Identity – Pt 1

JMJ

THE STORY OF SODOM and Gomorrah will be familiar to you, if only because you have been exposed to the horror story version or the sexualized version in some movie or TV show. You may also know the Bible Version in Genesis 18 and 19. Americans (religious or not) are prone to taking brief passages of the Scripture to make their point and ignoring what comes first and follows after. It is, however, the context that makes the story – not the meaning we add to it.

The Icon that opens each of these posts (there will be four or so in the series) is generally styled “The Holy Trinity” and it was painted by St Andrei Rublev (1360-1430). Done in 1425, the theme is more properly called “The Hospitality of Abraham” because it shows the three Angels visiting Abraham and Sarah, as recording in Genesis 18:1-8ff:

And the Lord appeared to him in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near to him: and as soon as he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant. But I will fetch a little water, and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree. And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart, afterwards you shall pass on: for therefore are you come aside to your servant. And they said: Do as thou hast spoken. Abraham made haste into the tent to Sara, and said to her: Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and make cakes upon the hearth. And he himself ran to the herd, and took from thence a calf, very tender and very good, and gave it to a young man, who made haste and boiled it. He took also butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled, and set before them: but he stood by them under the tree.

This story of Hospitality is the prologue to the story Sodom. After a wonderful conversation where Sarah laughs at God, the three men get ready to go.

And when the men rose up from thence, they turned their eyes towards Sodom: and Abraham walked with them, bringing them on the way. And the Lord said: Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do: Seeing he shall become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and do judgment and justice: that for Abraham’s sake, the Lord may bring to effect all the things he hath spoken unto him. And the Lord said: The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is multiplied, and their sin is become exceedingly grievous. I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry that is come to me; or whether it be not so, that I may know.

Traditional and very conservative Jewish Biblical commentary is filled with many entirely non-sexual reasons for that cry that ascended to God: greed, abuse of slaves, injustice, pride; lack of care for the poor that was so extreme you could be punished for feeding the homeless  –  like in Fort Lauderdale and some twenty other locations in the USA.

The Midrash tells two tales of righteous women who dared extend a helping hand to beggars and were put to death:

Two maidens of Sodom met at the well, where they had both gone to drink and fill up their water jugs. One girl asked her friend, “Why is your face so pale?” Her friend answered, “We have nothing to eat at home, and are dying of starvation.” Her compassionate friend filled her own jug with flour, and exchanged it for her friend’s jug of water. When the Sodomites found out about her act, they burnt her to death.

A second tale:

It was announced in Sodom, “Whoever will give bread to a poor person will be burnt at the stake.”

Plotit, the daughter of Lot, who was married to a prominent Sodomite, once saw a poor man who was so hungry that he was unable to stand. She felt sorry for him. From then on, she made sure to pass him every day on her way to the well, and she would feed him some food that she had stashed in her water jug.

People wondered how the man managed to live. Upon investigation, they discovered her act and prepared to burn her. Before she died, she turned to G-d and cried, “Master of the world, carry out justice on my behalf!” Her cries pierced the heavens, and at that moment G-d said, “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.”

Moderns with a more liberal political agenda like to make much of such stories and say Sodom was destroyed for violations of the Desert Code of Hospitality. This is truth! The Synagogue lays the Hospitality of Abraham for the three angels specifically in sharp contrast to the lack of hospitality in Sodom. These texts are read every year together on the same Sabbath. We can learn much by meditating on how Abraham (and, later, Lot) treats the Three Strangers, who happen to be the Holy Trinity in Christian typology and iconography, as compared to how all others in Sodom treat the same Three Strangers.

This understanding is good and true as far as it goes but, of course, words matter: when we moderns hear “hospitality” we do not hear “matter of life and death in the desert” but rather “Grandma was always a gracious hostess” or something about Waffle House, and a number of Yelp stars. No matter how many times it might be explained, the divine obligation of care for the stranger (regardless of culture or divinity) is totally lost as a social responsibility in today’s culture. In rejecting Syrian refugees, or Latin American children, America becomes another Sodom. Such hospitality, in the better places (not Fort Lauderdale), is relegated as an obligation to the state and forgotten by individuals and, God help us, even by Churches. In the worst places, like Sodom and Fort Lauderdale, it is outlawed all together. Even Churches in Fort Sodomdale fail to protest.

Words matter on the other side of the equation too: and the sexual content is not entirely missing from the traditional Jewish reading. Conservatives hear “this is about hospitality” and rightly think that liberals are trying to turn the Church into a secular Denny’s: open for all comers regardless of moral comportment after conversion. Certainly, though, “hospitality” should include not wanting to have your guests raped by strangers or by one’s bar buddies.

When the cities were destroyed, God led Lot and his family out of the way of harm. Yet while they were fleeing, Lot’s wife turned around to look back and she was turned into a pillar of salt. Scripture never relates a new marriage and so Lot, returning to his people as a widower became, to create a title for him, a Celibate Ex-Sodomite. It is this title that will carry us through these meditations: What is a Celibate Ex-Sodomite?

As an American, I’m used to hyphens. Nearly everyone is hyphenated: Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Carpatho-Russyn-Americans, whatever: there are hyphens everywhere. When they left their home and moved elsewhere, did Lot’s family become Sodo-Somethingites? When Lot and the kids (minus the Missus, remember) showed up at Abraham’s tent after the destruction of Sodom and all the plain, did they identify themselves as former or ex-Sodomites? Or did they just try to blend in, becoming Abrahamites and good citizens of whatever country they found? Much of the rest of the world does not share our American fascination with hyphens. Members of another culture may move to a new country and yet mentally stay whatever they were when they left. Certainly, many aboriginal people want no part of the invading culture: no hyphens, thank you. They have our own name for invaders – for you and me. The idea of a sort of portable identity you plug into a new thing like a USB drive is not quite so common outside of the USA. I’m betting it would have been even less portable if your city had been destroyed by an act of God.

If you live in a wealthy city, in a prideful city, in a city known not only for her wealth but also her excess, greed and arrogance, what do people think of you? Pay attention to how many times San Francisco gets destroyed in movies.  In a way Sodom was worse than the Fort Lauderdale of its day: it was the Rome of its day, the New York of its day; the source of the American Tourist scourge of its day. If you showed up and people found you were from Sodom, how would they have treated you? If you were a stranger traveling from a city known internationally for its lack of care for strangers, would you have dared to say, “Hi, I’m a Sodomite”? Lot and the kids would have discarded this now-terrifying identity as quickly as they could. Some fond memories (and some horrifying ones, I’m sure), may be more than a little educational – even told as fascinating stories – but, “that’s not who we are, any more.”

There are three more parts to this essay, so I will wrap up here, with the basic point made: after Sodom was destroyed for lack of hospitality, for greed, for driving consumption that included sex, I doubt Lot and the kids would have claimed to be from there any more.

Jesus’ bloody feet we track

Memorial of St Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs

Readings for 7th Friday after Easter (C2)

He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:19

OUR LORD SAYS TO St Peter, “Follow me.” It can sound like a repetition of the initial call three years earlier at the boat. Each of the apostles received such a call. All of us do.

We are all called to follow Jesus. It is a call, and a performative reality: we cannot do it unless God calls us, but to hear it is to obey. Think of how all the Apostles jumped up and followed, leaving all behind. We are called in exactly the same way in our lives. Yet there is something more than the initial call here.

It may seem like something connected to the earlier commands to feed and shepherd Christ’s flock. That came to Peter, indeed. The others also get the command in the same way and we do too. We are all commanded to feed and to shepherd Christ’s people. The act of love is one of kenosis, of self-pouring out. We’re not Christians unless everything God gives us is given away for others. We feed and shepherd by teaching, by sharing our faith and our material goods, by living moral lives in keeping with God’s commands. We do so by performing all the works of mercy – both spiritual and corporeal:

To feed the hungry.
To give water to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
To bury the dead.
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish the sinners.
To bear patiently those who wrong us.
To forgive offenses.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.

You can see “feed and shepherd” all over that list! But it’s not what we’re here for today. Yet there is something more. There’s one other way we follow Jesus – and he calls Peter to it.

St Charles Lwanga was such a shepherd to his companions, urging them to resist the sexual advances of a predator seeking to humiliate them exactly because of their faith. Let me have my way with you because it will violate your faith: has there ever been a more evil temptation? We know that sexual sins can make us feel literally unclean. Even though confessors have heard it all, sexual sins can leave us wondering has anyone ever been this evil? Sexual sins always involves at least two souls falling – even consuming adult content involves the other parties souls. St Charles and other saints who wrestled with such sins and such temptations call us to stand strong – but they know the world will hate us.

Jesus prophesies about how Peter will die, being led away by people to a place he doesn’t want to go. Jesus says “let me tell you how you’re going to die… Follow me.”

Because of God’s incarnation into this life, this world, this time everything in our life – including our death – has become a way to follow Jesus. What we do now as humans (except for sin) God himself has done. Think about it: drinking, eating, sleeping, chores, even going to the bathroom… God has done it. It becomes a way for us to draw close to God. Death itself is our greatest enemy, but God has gone through death, ripping out the evil of it and turning it inside out. What was the end is now the beginning and can thus continue to follow him.

Charles Lwanga and his companions followed Jesus to their death rather than give in to lust – their own or the King’s. Today we celebrate giving in to lust or even becoming identified with it. May St Charles pray that we can turn back from it and even lead others away from it. Even when it marks us as enemies of the reigning king or the entire world.

If you feed and shepherd God’s people (because of love) the world will not like you. You will die. Follow Jesus.

One in the Spirit, One in the Lord

Readings for 7th Thursday after Easter (C2)

…so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.

John 17:21-23a

JMJ

THERE IS A LOT going on here! We’ve got Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, doxology, and evangelical proclamation. There’s one other in there picking up on all the above: human anthropology. This might surprise you. But it’s that phrase “brought to perfection” that’s our punchline.

Before we get to the punchline though…

Our Lord prays for some surprising things: we are to be one in exactly the same way that the Son and the Father are one. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a command. Church is called to model before the world the unity present in the Holy Trinity. Three persons in one nature and consubstantial. Humans are not consubstantial. But there is only one nature. We all share the same human nature (together with Jesus). We are not each an isolated individual. There are not multiple ways of being human, or different types of humanity. (This is why St Paul classes some sins as “paraphysis” or “against nature”: we are all of one nature.) Yes, we are fallen because of sin, but God calls us back to the originally intended unity in Jesus.

To this end, Jesus has shared with us his glory. You may be tempted to think of that in terms of the Transfiguration or in the way Moses’ face was glowing as he came down from Mt Sinai. That would not be totally correct. The glorification of God is the Cross. Christ has given us his cross and shared with us his glory. What that means is that now human life – itself – this pathway to death is now the road to the throne of glory. It’s not that some human lives (or perhaps a few) have been rerouted or mended. Remember we all share the same nature. God has walked this path with us now: the road leads from the womb to the tomb, yes. But God has glorified it.

And so we are all called to unity in God’s Spirit of Unity. Pentecost, coming upon us this Sunday, is the gift of unity poured out upon us. We rest in the Holy Spirit who gives us all the spiritual presence of the Holy Trinity dwelling within us, around us, through us, and between us. Yet only as we love for he himself is love.

We are called to live out this unity however we fail. Yet we are called to this unity. Not just some of us – all of us. And it is not just a calling. It’s what we are made for!

It relies on the Greek word τελειόω (teleioó) – to bring to perfection – and from there on the root word τέλειος (teleios) – to perfect. Jesus prays to “bring us to perfection”. You can read it as “to complete” but you must include the meaning of “correct” as in: to bring to the correct and intended (or planned) completion. Jesus is praying that his followers will be brought to their perfection as humans meaning the ultimate end for which God made us, that is the ultimate perfection for which God made humanity at all. God made man “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” (Baltimore Catechism 1 Q6)

The reason this is anthropology is this teleology, as it’s called, is not only for Christians. The right end for all humanity is to know God, to love God, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. And this is how far we fail when we fail to model this for others: that the world fails to see the light for its salvation. If we who claim to be in Christ do not make it so, then those who are unable to see Christ at all will never see Christ until it’s too late.

The solution is not more outreach but rather reaching in. We need to bring our hearts deeper to God so that, as the song says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” That is, as the verse says, “see how these Christians love each other.”

Now… I look at Catholic social media or even the way I gossip about my friends, and I wonder if that love is present in my life. If someone looked at my life would they say they are amazed at how I love people?

I don’t know. There’s still a lot of work to do.

How about your life?

The Opposite of Acedia

From “The High Priestly Prayer” (1900) by Eugene Burnand
Readings for 7th Wednesday after Easter (C2)

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

John 17:15-17

JMJ

JESUS IS NOT abandoning us to our sins in his prayer, but rather calling us to act in courage through God’s grace. In Romans 8:37 St Paul says we are “more than conquerors” in all things. Then, in the next two verses, he adds, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yet we know life can feel like a continual struggle, a continual slog through the mud of worry, indecision, and second guessing. In the Gospel, our Lord asks his Father to give us victory over the Evil One. What is the challenge? In the slog I just mentioned, the challenge is acedia – we use a more modern word, “sloth,” sometimes but that can seem more like the challenge is to “get outside and do something!” The opposite of acedia is not action. It’s God. The victory is God.

If you hang out on Catholic Social Media at all you will find so many men and women wondering if God’s calling them one way of life or the other, religious life, ordination, or marriage? All I can hear in my head is the priest who pushed me so hard saying, “Discernment is an action verb!” Go this way, very fast. If something gets in your way, turn. (That’s from a RomCom/BratPack movie called, Better Off Dead, 1985, Warner Bros, starring John Cusack. It’s prime discernment formation!)

The temptation to acedia starts with “Well, I don’t know…” and it gets compounded by the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO). In the end, doing nothing seems the safest choice and our fake humility (which is really our pride) tells us, “I don’t deserve more. I will wait for God to give me a sign.” But then no sign comes or, more often, multiple signs come which we ignore waiting for something better. There is nothing the Evil One loves more than Christians who will do his work for him – meaning, why should he go to the trouble of tempting us or persecuting us, all he needs to do is watch while we do nothing.

St Catherine of Siena asked our Lord for help with a temptation, “Please help me to overcome this temptation. I do not ask you to take it away, but grant me victory over it.” (Libellus, Chapter 4.) St Paul suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” which is sometimes understood as a person bothering him or perhaps an illness or a temptation. Three times he asked the Lord to take away this thorn, but Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the kicker, “my grace.” As I mentioned the opposite of acedia is not action, it’s God. While sloth is the sin, the solution is not frenetic activity – which can just be more sloth, if all the actions are distracting you. Rather we need a full immersion in God’s abundant life.

Jesus’ prayer gives us the same answer: He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples to the Truth. Who is the Truth? The answer is in the next sentence “your Word (logos) is Truth” and elsewhere Jesus – the logos himself – says, “I am the Truth”. Consecrate the disciples (us) to himself, the Logos who is Truth. Set us apart for him. Reaching out to Jesus who is our Savior, our Life, our Judge, and our Friend is the first and only action we need.

You may have heard of the Daily Examen, filtering your life through a few questions to ask how God was working in your life and how you responded. Let me suggest the best way to prep for that Examen is a daily offering that lets God know what’s up for the day, offering it all to him, and letting him know that you know he’s really in charge. “God I have to XYZ today (and sometimes my list is very long!), but if you have other ways for me to go, I know that the things needed are in your hands. Help me to get up from prayer and run with you.” At the end of the day, the Examen will be more clear because you and God were dancing together from the get-go.

We have the one thing we need – Jesus on our side! We are more than conquerors. Now get out there and do something! If something gets in your way, do something else!

Amen?

Excursus: Yoke

JMJ

IN JESUS’ WORLD, righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will, the bearing of the ‘yoke of God’s kingdom,’ as one formulation had it.” (Jesus of Nazareth p 17) Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you” seemingly out of the blue. But it is part of a wider rabbinic conversation. Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth cites “yoke of the kingdom of heaven” without much context. Today’s 1st reading at Mass gives us another yoke reference: “Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

The Jewish Virtual Library, citing the Jewish Encyclopedia, locates this Rabbinic conversation about “yoke” in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.

In rabbinic theology the yoke is a metaphor of great importance. It is the symbol of service and servitude, and in accordance with the principle that the Jew should be free from servitude to man in order to devote himself to the service of God, the “yoke of the kingdom of man” is contrasted with “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” The doctrine is fully enacted in the statement of Neḥunya b. ha-Kanah : “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah, they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). The “yoke of the Torah” here presumably refers to the duty of devoting oneself to study but “yoke” is used in a more specific and restricted sense. The proclamation of the unity of God by reading the *Shema is called “accepting upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven,” while the acceptance of the fulfillment of the Commandments as a whole, referred to in the second paragraph of the Shema. is called “accepting the yoke of the Commandments,” and it is this which determines the order of the paragraphs.

As B16 notes, Jesus is the kingdom in his person. Taking Jesus’ yoke is the same as taking the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Rabbi Yeshua is here saying – again – that he is God, even in the calm urge to “take my yoke upon you”. No mere Rabbi would say this. The Yoke of the Torah or the Yoke of the Messiah – which would you pick? They are the same.

Jesus is not saying that Torah Rules are bad and his yoke is just love everyone. Jesus says that not one “jot or title” will pass away from the law. The moral code (no fornication, no adultery, no theft, no lies, no murder, no divorce) is still in effect. Indeed, the Apostles knew this: they did not say that the new converts could ignore the law. They said that coming to Jesus did not require the law BUT “Moses is still preached…” ie the new converts could learn the full moral code after the fact. It’s not “the law”. No one is saying that Gentiles should be circumcised or keep kosher. I’m amused that the NABRE advises Gentiles to avoid “unlawful marriage”. The Greek is πορνείας “porneias” which means sexual immorality of all types. Every other English translation gets it right.

This is the yoke of the Gospel. To say the creed is to take on this yoke. It is easy and light not because it has no rules, but because God’s Spirit lives in us and unites us to his grace.

Turn around and trust the good news.

Lord of the Sabbath

JMJ

The assignment: Your essay will address two questions: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What insights are gleaned from his words and deeds: his baptism, his temptations in the wilderness, his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, his “I AM” sayings, etc.? What can we understand about Christian discipleship in light of the person and mission of Jesus?

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST himself declared what he was, what he had been, how he was carrying out his Father’s will, what obligations he demanded of men.” (Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, Office of Readings, Feast of Sts Philip & James, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol 3, p.1811). Where does Jesus tell us who he is? How can this help form Christians today?

Finding the answers requires listening to Jesus in his context. We will look briefly at our Lord’s teaching on keeping/breaking the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) walking with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to understand our Lord’s meaning more deeply, using Chapter Four of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1 (hereinafter, JoN). This chapter is a dialogue with another author’s work, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (1993), by Rabbi Jacob Neusner. Benedict explores the Rabbi’s reactions as Jesus is questioned by Pharisees about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. The Rabbi provides Jewish ears and a Jewish voice. 

In the understanding of Rabbinic Judaism, doing any sort of work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah. How the disciples keep Sabbath is important in all the Gospels. Pope Benedict notes on page 106 “Jesus’ statement that ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’ (Mk 2:27) is cited as evidence, the idea being that it represents an anthropocentric view of reality, from which a ‘liberal’ interpretation of the commandments supposedly follows naturally. It was, in fact, the Sabbath disputes that became the basis for the image of the liberal Jesus.” The liberal Jesus tosses out (or ignores) the commandments. “Jesus’ liberal understanding of the Law makes for a less burdensome life than ‘Jewish legalism.’” (JoN p. 109)

Jesus replies that priests work in the Temple on the Sabbath without actually breaking the law, adding “[S]omething greater than the Temple is here.” (Matthew 12:6 – RSVCE).  He says, “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (v. 8) This is not a case of the “liberal” Jesus freeing us from all Moses’ laws. Benedict finds, along with Neusner, there is a different focus here, a revelation of who Jesus is.

We are eavesdropping on a conversation between Jewish voices: Jesus was using Jewish words in Jewish ways and those words were being heard in Jewish ways as well. In this light, we should keep in mind something different about the Sabbath and observing it in the Jewish context. Jesus is not tossing out rules. Rabbi Neusner hears it this way:

God rested on the seventh day, as the creation account in Genesis tells us. Neusner rightly concludes that “on that day we . . . celebrate creation”. He then adds: “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God”. The Sabbath is therefore not just a negative matter of not engaging in outward activities, but a positive matter of “resting”.

JoN, p 108

Further drawing out resting, Benedict reads the verses immediately preceding chapter 12. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30). The Pope pulls the reader back a bit to see the full context of the story. We don’t often read the picking grains story together with the preceding verses, but the wider angle on giving rest and then a conversation about resting on the sabbath shows us that these verses are all part of the same story. Pope Benedict lets us see in the wider context that Jesus is not just saying, “Hey, you don’t need to follow these sabbath rules anymore.” 

Neusner agrees that Jesus is shifting the point of focus from the Temple. “[T]he holy place has shifted, now being formed by the circle made up of the master and his disciples” (JoN p 108). The Rabbi comes to the conclusion that Christ is putting himself in the place of the Torah and then asks, “Is your master God?” (JoN p. 110). 

Hearing this as a Jewish conversation wrapped in the wider context provided by earlier verses, we can see that Jesus is claiming in his person to grant Sabbath rest. He is “Lord of the Sabbath”. That is to say he is claiming to be God and by following him his Disciple obeys the law of the Torah in a more direct way. By resting in Jesus we are “Sabbath Resting” not only on the 7th day, but always. 

For a disciple, following Jesus is not a matter of ignoring the moral code, but rather expanding the code, making it personal. When the covenant was written on Sinai, God’s living fire burned the stone (Exodus 31:18), destroying what was not needed and revealing the laws that have been for all time.  In the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts. Now God’s living fire carves it out on our hearts: destroying in our lives what is not needed and revealing what has been the law for all time. Our hearts become living stones of God’s Temple (1 Peter 2:5).

Pope Benedict cited this meditation from Rabbi Neusner on pages 104-5: by Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments given on Sinai which have been condensed, in various steps, down to the greatest commandments regarding God and neighbor. The Rabbi says Jesus taught all this faithfully. But, he notes, Jesus did add something: “Himself.” To the Rabbi’s eyes, Jesus has added himself to the story, replacing the Temple and the Torah. He is claiming to be God openly which his audience of 1st Century Jews – and Jews today – can hear. For the disciple today Jesus has unveiled himself as the central part of the entire Biblical story. 


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