instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Humility 101

Recently, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., posted St. Gaspar's 31 Maxims appropriate for the pursuit of the holy virtue of Humility, to be posted in each Precious Blood missionary's room and read aloud, one a day.

There is a great deal of wisdom packed into these maxims. However, the English translation was ... ah ... written in a style that I have difficulty embracing as material for meditation. So I thought I would attempt to repackage the maxims in a form that I can better come to grips with. Step 1 was to get rid of the rhymes wherever possible; step 2 to rearrange the maxims according to theme.

The result is below. The categorization is obviously not rigorous or unique; it's more of an outline (for what, maybe a sermon or book on humility) than a set of maxims for daily recitation; and each maxim doesn't necessarily say the identical thing in the original as in my modified version. Nevertheless, since humility is an extremely important virtue (even for layfolk), let me post it here. (The numbers are from the original list.)
Reasons to be humble:
1. To safely reach your final goal.
4. To acquire lasting peace of heart.
5. To acquire peace and consolation.

Temporal effects of true humility:
3. Your soul will wear all virtues.
6. Your heart feels neither grief nor bitterness.
11. Offense and scorn are soothing to your soul.
22. You are able to bear with others’ faults and with his own.

Eternal benefits of humility:
7. The Lord will impart eternal glory to the humble.
8. Bear mockery and contempt with humility, and you will find a rich and priceless treasure.
27. To hate our sins in true humility will win God’s love for all eternity.
29. God always delights in true humility.

Effects of pride:
2. Without humility all earth is nothing but glittering vanity.
14. You who are proud are hiding your utter nothingness from yourself.
18. I am a worm, born of ashes and dust, and yet so proud that I trust in my own strength.
25. To ridicule or disdain your neighbor is a sign of vanity.
31. How will human praises help you if after death the Lord censures you?

How to become humble:
13. Be quick to forgive offenses.
15. First call God to mind, then behold yourself.
20. Do not be attached to the views of your own mind.
21. Abstain from self-complacency.
23. Subject your will to others cheerfully.
24. Esteem your fellow man and disdain yourself.
28. Bear correction due your errors in peace and patience.
30. Acquire trust in God, not yourself.

How to avoid pride and bear wrongs and humiliation:
9. Consider well your utter wretchedness.
10. Remember you are but of lowly station.
12. Remember that you are made of worthless dust and ashes.
16. Remember that all gifts you have been given are favors flowing from God’s hand.
17. Recall that it is God who sends us gifts of every kind.
19. Behold the dismal grave awaiting you.
26. When you fail in your work, remain calm and humble; God is still in control.
The two that speak loudest to me are numbers 18 and 31, which in the original translation look like this:
A worm am I, of ashes born and dust,
And yet so proud that in my strength I trust.

Of what avail will human praises be
If after death the Lord will censure thee?

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Amor a primera vista

Hernán González describes his visit to the Convent of San Marco, where he came face to face with the frescoes of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole:
I was. Dazzled. Love at first sight. Perhaps by slightly superficial reasons (those roses and blues of Fra Angelico, that so-fresh beauty, so cheerful and yet so deep; and, admittedly, that spectacle of the convent: the tiny cells, each one with its fresh air painted in the wall, like a "decoration" of the outdoors ... in order to cheer to the monk, and to feed the devotion; an image of the sky).
He also quotes religious historian Mircea Eliade's reactions to the paintings. Eliade writes, "I feel unlimited admiration for the theological and metaphysical genius of Fra Angelico." Why? Eliade gives his reasons.

For me, Fra Angelico's genius is in creating paintings that are as true as they are beautiful. Take Eliade's observation that the boyish faces of the saved in "The Last Judgment" signify the eternal youth of the saints. This is a doctrinal lesson, expressed in a work of art, but it is expressed as art, in the language of painting, not in a pedantic or superficial manner that sacrifices art for truth's sake. The balance of truth and beauty makes Beato Angelico's paintings objects of contemplation, suitable for friars to study as they moved about the convent, drawing out meaning and understanding day by day, supported by and supporting their prayers and study, all feeding the preaching that is the purpose of Dominican life.

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Monday, November 18, 2002

All in the Family

There are rumors circulating to the effect that Dominican nuns are doing silly things.

But while Dominican nuns, being human, are no doubt doing silly things, they are not doing the silly things people are saying they are doing. Dominican nuns are cloistered, which greatly reduces their availability for trespassing on federal property and for giving theraputic massages.

The Dominicans whose activities have made such good press recently are apostolic sisters, a distinct branch of the Dominican Family. (Yes, yes, a mixed metaphor. I am told good Thomists have been working for decades to straighten out the terminology used to describe persons associated with the charism of St. Dominic; so far matters are still in committee.)

There's a saying, "If you've seen one Dominican, you've seen one Dominican," and that's particularly true with the apostolic sisters. Each congregation (there are more than two dozen in the U.S.) has its own primary vocation -- teaching and healthcare are very common, for example -- and each sister may have her own individual work that contributes to the mission of the congregation as a whole.

All of this can make for a very readable clippings folder.

But while there are some things some sisters do that I cannot countenance -- not that anyone has asked me to (but homeopathy?) -- in the end it is up to each of us to work out our own salvation. Giving labyrinth workshops is, as far as I can tell, no worse than muddling through the day the way I do. If that's the work someone else chooses to do, let her do it. It's hardly my place to say she should be doing something else with her life.

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Do we do what we believe?

Everyone knows that American society respects people who are materially successful, not those who dedicate their lives to helping others.

Everyone is wrong.

It seems to me that Americans do respect, and sometimes revere, those who give themselves in loving service. We just don't want to be them. We want to be the rich people, so inter alia we can write big checks at gala receptions in honor of those who give themselves in loving service.

The irony is that, while we can't become rich simply by choosing to be rich, we can become charitable by choosing to be charitable. I am as loving as I choose to be. Or, to put it more starkly, I do not choose to be any holier than I am.

Perhaps this is why Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem was followed so soon by His shameful departure under the weight of a cross. Few of us in this world are heralded as kings. I'd have a great excuse for my behavior if my salvation depended upon other people spontaneously throwing me a parade.

But what is it anyone lacks -- due to bad luck or accident of birth or poor financial planning -- that prevents them from following Jesus to Paradise by the only way He gave us: the way of the Cross? Jesus accepted only one crown while He walked the earth; it's a crown that will fit any of us, and it is offered to each of us. We respect those who wear the crown, and yet so often refuse it ourselves.

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Saturday, November 16, 2002

Why, certainly!

What does the Catechism mean when it says damage must be "certain" for military force against an aggressor to be just?

Let's try some role-playing:

Scenario #1
Sheriff Truegood of Placid, Montana, is sitting on the front porch of the jailhouse when he sees the two surviving Casey brothers ride into town, looking as ornery as their murderous clan ever did.

Truegood says to himself, "Say, them six-shooters the Caseys got could be used to plug Hiram Baker, the man whose testimony sent their older brother Clem to the gallows." Truegood then draws his Peacemaker and shoots both Caseys through the heart.
Scenario #2
Sheriff Truegood of Placid, Montana, is sitting on the front porch of the jailhouse when he sees the two surviving Casey brothers ride into town, looking as ornery as their murderous clan ever did.

Truegood watches as the Caseys stop outside Hiram Baker's barbershop and draw their six-shooters. "Come on out, Baker!" Andrew Casey calls.

Baker walks out of his shop, his hands trembling in the air. The Caseys shoot him. Truegood draws his Peacemaker and calls out, "Okay, boys, drop 'em!"
It seems to me that Scenario #1 has the sheriff acting well before he is certain, while in Scenario #2 he acts long after.

As I read it, the certainty of damage the Catechism mentions is moral, not epistemological. Those who have responsibility for the public good, to whose prudential judgment the evaluation of the conditions for a just war belongs, must be morally certain that the aggressor has or will inflict lasting and grave damage.

Such certainty is distinguished from fear that a potential aggressor might attack, or knowledge of the damage the potential aggressor might do. It is not the product of a cost-benefit or risk analysis. Certainty is not conferred by determining that, statistically speaking, the expected number of deaths is minimized by a preemptive attack.

This doesn't seem fair. It isn't. In matters of justice the bad guy has a distinct advantage. We are called to fight justly, not fairly, and one aspect of justice is that it is categorically unjust to punish someone for something he has not done.

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Friday, November 15, 2002

Politically Conservative Catholics' Minds Not Changed by Bishops' Statement on Iraq

In other news, Area Dog Barks at, Chases Cat.

It's not that minds (politically conservative or otherwise) ought to change upon reading the "Statement on Iraq". But if the purpose of reading it is to have the excuse to say, "Yeah, and if we'd listened to those head-in-the-sand peaceniks twenty-five years ago, we'd all be speaking Russian today," it's probably best left unread.

One criticism of the "Statement on Iraq" that I find entirely unwarranted is that no one cares about an opinion on Iraq offered by the same men who brought us the child abuse and coverup scandal. Frankly, I don't see much evidence that anyone cared much about the opinions of these same men before the scandal broke.

To my mind, the three most significant statements in the Statement are these:
  1. "As a body, we make our own the questions and concerns raised in Bishop Gregory's letter, taking into account developments since then, especially the unanimous action of the U.N. Security Council on November 8th." This elevates the importance of the September 13 letter, which can no longer be dismissed as the braying of yet another USCCB committee.
  2. "In our judgment, decisions concerning possible war in Iraq require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction." Again, Church authorities repeat the requirement for international sanction, which as a practical matter means UN sanction. I've read a lot of griping about the moral vapidity of the UN in recent months, but not very much about why some form of international sanction is not required.
  3. "We are deeply concerned about recent proposals to expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause to include preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with weapons of mass destruction."
This last strikes me as the key point of the whole document, indeed of the whole response of the Church's teaching authority since full-scale war with Iraq began to be talked about.

Unfortunately, most of the arguments I've seen for making such a dramatic expansion in the traditional limits on just cause take a form similar to this: "So what, we have to wait until Iraq nukes us before we can do anything?" This is question begging in its purest form, using the very question being begged as an argument.

The Catechism states that a just war can only be fought against an enemy inflicting "lasting, grave and certain" damage. "Certain" does not mean possible. It does not mean probable. The United States cannot morally begin a preemptive war against Iraq out of anxiety for what tomorrow may bring.

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Nothing?

I'm in the middle of a Little Rock Scripture Study program on the Acts of the Apostles. (LRSS relies on the Collegeville Bible Commentary, which I find uneven; the Book of Isaiah, for example, is treated like a curious artifact from a long-vanished society, while the commentaries on Mark and Acts are pretty good (at least from the perspective of someone who knows very little about Mark and Acts).) (Since the goal of LRSS is not to make scholars, but saints, I'm not particularly concerned by whatever academic bias the commentary might have.)

Meanwhile, of course, the U.S. bishops have been meeting and discussing and voting on a variety of things.

I was very surprised to read a number of Catholic bloggers, in commenting on the bishops' resolutions, write things to the effect that "there's nothing we layfolk can do about it now."

Recognizing the informality with which these statements were made, they still make a startling contrast with the actions of the infant Church. The response to the crises the first Christians constantly faced was prayer. After Herod had James killed and Peter arrested, for example, "prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on [Peter's] behalf." (12:5)

Was there really more hope that Peter would emerge alive from Herod's prison than that Bishop Rittle of Heartland will deal with accusations against his priests in a just and merciful way? No doubt there are many today who would bet on Peter and against Rittle, but the first disciples had their own doubts. When Peter, having been miraculously freed from prison, knocked on John Mark's mother's door, everyone thought the maid who heard his voice was out of her mind. Even people who believe in the need for prayer are often astounded by its power.

Catholics like to say that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Well, the Holy Spirit isn't some sort of mystical compass; He is God, all-good and all-loving. Ask, and He will give it to you.

Prayer is never nothing. Often enough, it is everything.

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Thursday, November 14, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 27

Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one.


The oneness of God finds expression in the integrity of the man Jesus. "Integrity" here doesn't mean honesty, but undivided unity. Jesus did not assume one persona in public and another in private. All aspects of His life were directed toward the end for which He had been born.

(I think the idea of integrity is tremendously important. Being multi-faceted is generally considered a good thing, for people as for gemstones, but a person who is fully integrated would appear the same from any view, like a perfectly round pearl. And a perfectly round pearl, with appropriate color and luster, would be of great price....)

All that said, we would expect the mysteries of Jesus' life to be integrated. And in fact, we can pray the Rosary by meditating on the relations the various mysteries have with each other. For example:
  • The Annunciation and the Proclamation of the Kingdom (announcements of God's plan)
  • The Visitation and the Baptism of the Lord (Jesus and John meet)
  • The Nativity and the Resurrection (Jesus emerges)
  • The Presentation and the Baptism of the Lord (Jesus comes before a prophet)
  • The Finding of Jesus in the Temple and the Institution of the Eucharist (where to find Jesus)
  • The Baptism of the Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (the Holy Spirit made visible)
  • The Miracle at Cana and the Visitation (Mary presents Jesus to others)
  • The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Carrying of the Cross (Jesus preaches the fullness of God's will)
  • The Transfiguration and the Ascension (Jesus in glory)
  • The Institution of the Eucharist and the Crucifixion (Jesus' sacrifice for our sake)
  • The Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation (preparation for the redemption of mankind)
  • The Scourging at the Pillar and the Transfiguration (others help Jesus to prepare for His death)
  • The Crowning with Thorns and the Nativity (tributes Jesus received during His lifetime)
  • The Carrying of the Cross and the Ascension (Jesus on His way to where He must be)
  • The Crucifixion and Finding Jesus (Jesus going about His Father's work)
  • The Resurrection and the Visitation (the joy of Christ's presence)
  • The Ascension and the Nativity (angels tell men where the Messiah is to be found)
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Presentation (God answers the prayers of those who wait)
  • The Assumption and the Ascension (Mary as perfect disciple of Jesus)
  • The Coronation of Mary and the Transfiguration (Mary following in Jesus' glory)
There are some interesting relations that run through the above pairings. We can, for example move from the Annunciation to the Proclamation to the Carrying of the Cross to the Ascension to the Assumption, which suggests that the Annunciation and the Assumption really are two ends of a single thread containing Jesus' ministry in word and deed.

Some mysteries are more strongly related (e.g., the Assumption and the Ascension) than others (e.g., the Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation), but they all speak of the same good news of salvation. As different mysteries tend to speak more or less strongly to us at different times, being able to meditate on one mystery in the light of another (however flickery that light might be) can help support us on those arid decades. (Personally, I don't think I've ever had more than a surface thought on the Scourging at the Pillar, but the Transfiguration is a mystery I can get something out of.)

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

What this county needs

Flos Carmeli cares enough to send the very best to the elected officials who will (or won't) be enacting pro-life policy for the United States over the next two years (or at least the next nine months, when thoughts of the 2004 presidential election will begin to dominate everyone's thinking).

I like the idea of Mass cards, although all of my seven state and federal representatives are pro-abortion. But a man blind from birth has been known to gain sight; the intractability of my co-religionist, the virulently pro-abortion U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, may yet yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

[This is something of a faith vs. reason paradox, in that it is utterly unreasonable to think Sen. Mikulski will abandon her objectively evil vote magnet of a position, yet our faith insists on the efficacy of prayer. Reason can only watch when faith operates in that region between improbable and impossible.]

I am envious [not jealous, as too many college-educated people would say] of those who live in states with a Right to Life party. It's a shame that there is no way of indicating on the ballot that, for example, no vote is cast in a certain race because all of the candidates support objective evil. (Or are otherwise unacceptable; my state doesn't have "None of the above" on the ballot, either.)

Someone with much better organizational skills than I have should put together a National Write to Life Network, to provide coordination and facilitation of write-in candidacies in contests with no pro-life candidate. Then those of us who want to make a statement (however faint, but surely louder on a per-vote basis than a vote for a candidate who gets a reportable percentage of the votes) can all make the same statement, instead of splitting into invisibility with individual write-ins, votes for the least bad, or no votes at all.

The write-in candidates don't necessarily need to be viable. I think it would be enough if it were known that every vote for a NWTLN-endorsed candidate meant, "There is no candidate named on the ballot whose position on abortion and other human life issues is acceptable to me," rather than, "I didn't have many friends in high school, either."

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Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Old yeast is, like, dead

On his cooking show Emeril Live, Emeril Lagasse often reminds viewers that, when using yeast, you have to check the expiration date. If the date has expired, chances are the yeast has expired, too, and you won't get much of a rise in your dough.

One hopes this is the case with the virulently pro-abortion EMILY's List ("EMILY" meaning "Early Money Is Like Yeast"). Sixteen of twenty-one virulently pro-abortion candidates this horrid organization particularly promoted in 2002 lost. Not necessarily because of their virulent enthusiasm for objective evil, but it's still an encouraging statistic.

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The lesser of two evils

... is evil.

Thoughts of politics bring the adjective "sorrowful" to mind, but reviewing the post below suggests instead praying the Joyful Mysteries, that all officials govern with faith, charity, humility, justice, and prudence.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 26

A traditional framework for meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary is to consider each mystery as an exemplar of a different virtue or gift, and pray for an increase in that virtue while reciting the decade. The following matches between mystery and virtue are from Robert Feeney's book The Rosary: The Little Summa, which is structured around reflections drawn from Scripture, St. Thomas, Vatican II, and Pope John Paul II.
Joyful Mysteries
The Annunciation: faith
The Visitation: charity
The Nativity: humility
The Presentation: justice
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: prudence

Sorrowful Mysteries
The Agony in the Garden: religion
The Scourging at the Pillar: temperance
The Crowning with Thorns: love of our enemies
The Carrying of the Cross: fortitude
The Crucifixion: mercy

Glorious Mysteries
The Resurrection: the peace of Christ
The Ascension: hope
The Descent of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Assumption: trust in Mary's intercession
The Coronation: grace of the present moment
(The Luminous Mysteries are not mentioned in the edition I have. Offhand, let me suggest chastity, joy, knowledge, holy fear, and reverence.)

Most of these are straightforward, I think. "Religion," for St. Thomas, is principally the offering of devotion and prayer to God. Temperance is the exercise of control over the appetite for pleasure. The "grace of the present moment ... opens our minds to the greatness of all those small things that bear a relationship to eternity," in the words of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.

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WAW

Minute Particulars kindly draws water from St. Thomas's well for me, quoting the Angelic Doctor on government:
For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.
In an astonishing coincidence, ranking right up there with St. Thomas's conclusions about whether the active life is more excellent than the contemplative, this is a fair description of the government of the Dominican Order, one of the oldest constitutional democracies in existence.

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WWAD?

Voting is easy. Prudent voting is hard.

Consider the choice facing the good citizens of Maryland's Eighth Congressional District. On the one hand, there is the virulently pro-abortion Republican incumbent. On the other hand, there is the virulently pro-abortion Democratic challenger.

Now, this situation is not unique to Maryland's Eighth Congressional District (though the fact that this election is still too close to call is unusual). There are several ways a good citizen could go. He could vote for the Republican, figuring Republican leadership in the House will be measurably (perhaps marginally) better on life-and-death issues. He could figure both parties are a wash on life-and-death issues, and vote for the candidate (or party) he feels will best direct the country otherwise. He could write in a candidate, he could not vote for this office, he could vote for a third party candidate.

Ah, the third party candidate.

Allow me, on this Election Day, to quote from the keynote statement from the third party candidate for Maryland's Eighth Congressional District:
For the past five decades the human race has been caught between two worlds, two paradigms. While millions of people worldwide have come to understand they are not alone in the universe, that an extraterrestrial presence has become manifest about the planet, the governments of the world, frozen in place by fear and indecision, have been unable to publicly engage this new reality. This cannot continue.

It is time for the United States of America, a nation which views itself as a leader of nations, to formally acknowledge this extraterrestrial presence....
What, then, would Aquinas do?

Erratum: I've corrected the spelling of "incumbent" above, having originally had "encumbent," perhaps due to a sense of being encumbered with a virulently pro-abortion Roman Catholic representative. Come to think of it, from now on I shall probably refer to my various elected servants as "encumberants."

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Friday, November 01, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 25

By special guest contributor Eugenio Pacelli

In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel.

The custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means to undertake such a difficult duty. What a sweet sight—most pleasing to God—when, at eventide, the Christian home resounds with the frequent repetition of praises in honor of the august Queen of Heaven! Then the Rosary, recited in common, assembles before the image of the Virgin, in an admirable union of hearts, the parents and their children, who come back from their daily work. It unites them piously with those absent and those dead. It links all more tightly in a sweet bond of love, with the most Holy Virgin, who, like a loving mother, in the circle of her children, will be there bestowing upon them an abundance of the gifts of concord and family peace.

Then the home of the Christian family, like that of Nazareth, will become an earthly abode of sanctity, and, so to speak, a sacred temple, where the Holy Rosary will not only be the particular prayer which every day rises to heaven in an odor of sweetness, but will also form the most efficacious school of Christian discipline and Christian virtue. This meditation on the Divine Mysteries of the Redemption will teach the adults to live, admiring daily the shining examples of Jesus and Mary, and to draw from these examples comfort in adversity, striving towards those heavenly treasures "where neither thief draws near, nor moth destroys" (Luke 12, 33). This meditation will bring to the knowledge of the little ones the main truths of the Christian Faith, making love for the Redeemer blossom almost spontaneously in their innocent hearts, while, seeing, their parents kneeling before the majesty of God, they will learn from their very early years how great before the throne of God is the value of prayers said in common.

[Editor's note: Five decades may well be too much for a family to take in one sitting, particularly if there is not already a habit of common prayer. Perhaps one decade a night, following the Seven Joys of Mary (see Way #4) beginning with the Annunciation on Monday, would be a more practical way to ease into gaining the advantages that Pope Pius XII mentions above.]

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 24

In the Fifteenth Century, the Carthusian monk Dominic of Prussia preached a form of the Rosary in which each Ave (which again, at the time, ended with the word "Jesus") had a short statement appended to it, to call to mind some aspect of the lives of Jesus and Mary.

This custom survives to this day and can be observed in a couple of different ways.

The more complicated way is to have a separate clause for each Hail Mary. Obviously, this requires either a phenomenal memory or a book. The book I recommend (for at least the third time on this site alone) is Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico, in which the 150 clauses are taken from the works of that great apostle of the Rosary, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort.
A brief commercial: If it's all the same to you, you can order the book from the Dominican Laity of the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern U.S.). Wherever you get it, though, order two copies so you can give one away.
Only the first half of each Hail Mary is said, followed by the appropriate clause. At the end of the decade, the "Holy Mary, Mother of God,...." is said once, followed by the Glory Be.

The simpler way is to use a single clause, inserted into the middle of each Hail Mary, for the entire decade. Fred Kaffenberger has kindly drawn my attention to a web site he maintains whose prayer resources include the following suggested clauses:
Joyful Mysteries
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, conceived of the Holy Spirit
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, took to Elizabeth
Jesus, to whom you, O Virgin, gave birth
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, offered up in the temple
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, found again in the temple

Luminous Mysteries
Jesus, who was baptised in the Jordan by John
Jesus, who changed water into wine at Cana
Jesus, who preached the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus, who was Transfigured on the mountain
Jesus, who offered Himself as sacrifice at the last supper

Sorrowful Mysteries
Jesus, who sweated blood for us
Jesus, who was scourged for us
Jesus, who was crowned with thorns for us
Jesus, who bore the heavy cross for us
Jesus, who was crucified for us

Glorious Mysteries
Jesus, who rose from the dead
Jesus, who ascended into heaven
Jesus, who sent us the Holy Spirit
Jesus, who took you, O Virgin, up into heaven
Jesus, who crowned you, O Virgin, in heaven
Use of these clausulae helps to focus your attention on the particular mystery, and to lead you through the Rosary as an explicit progression of events. At the same time, the recitation is made a richer litany of praise to Jesus and Mary.

(My thanks also to Ray Marshall, for pointing out that the October 2002 issue of Magnificat has an article by Fr. Kevin J. Scallon, C.M., which discusses this method as practiced by German-speaking Catholics.)

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Change, by definition, is good

There are those who greeted news of the Luminous Mysteries with a clutch of the head and the groan, "Is there nothing that will remain unchanged?"

In meditating on this, I have come to realize that in fact a great deal does remain unchanged, and now is as good a time as any to change that.

The following represents only a beginning, but we must begin where we are. Although a reason is given for most of them, the primary motivation for all is that is seems like a good idea at this time:
  • To draw us closer to the Orthodox, the Sign of the Cross will be made from right shoulder to left shoulder.
  • To emphasize the universality of the Church, and to offer a means of unity with and within the Anglican Communion, the Holy See will move to Canterbury.
  • In recognition of the debt we owe to our elder brothers the Jews, the principal weekly celebration of the Eucharist will be moved from Sunday to Saturday.
  • As a good-will gesture toward the peoples of the world, the College of Cardinals will be expanded to include all national representatives to the United Nations.
  • Holy Water will be lightly salted.
  • To reduce confusion, the Roman Maryrology will be arranged alphabetically.
There. Doesn't that make you feel better?

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Thursday, October 31, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 23

There are certain qualities or characteristics that all forms of being -- rocks, humans, redness, poems -- possess. Since these characteristics transcend all boundaries, they are called transcendentals. The three most widely spoken of nowadays are goodness, truth, and beauty.

By now, you can probably guess how to pray the Transcendental Rosary. The first four Hail Marys of each decade are devoted to whatever meditation you have chosen, then two each are recited while meditating on how goodness, truth, and beauty are manifested in the mystery.

Certain mysteries seem to have a preferred transcendental. I have a hard time seeing much that is good or beautiful in the Scourging at the Pillar; the truth that by His stripes we are healed is about all I find. The more Marian mysteries, the Assumption most of all, are to me far more delightful than desirable, and therefore come across as more beautiful than good.

And yet, they are all present in each mystery. As I've written before, even the Crucifixion was pleasing -- in other words, beautiful -- to the Father. But while the Crucifixion is generally thought to be too horrible to be beautiful, the subsequent Resurrection and Ascension would seem to have been too beautiful for this life. Notice that Mary Magdalene seeks to cling to the Risen Lord, to keep Him before her, yet He insists that she let Him go. Later, the Apostles remain staring up into the sky after Jesus ascends to Heaven; angels must be sent to force them to look away. Not yet, they seem to say, that beautiful of a vision must wait. (Soon enough, St. Stephen will be granted that vision just prior to his martyrdom.)

The Miracle at Cana, perhaps showing Jesus at His most prodigal, was a sign of God's great, graceful goodness to those who have no claim on it; it was also a sign of God's presence, that what Jesus (and His mother) said was true; and of course it was simply beautiful, scores of gallons of the finest wine, just for the sake of celebration.

At the Transfiguration, when Peter was out of his mind with the beauty of the Lord manifested as the true fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he could only babble, "How good it is for us to be here."

Goodness is that which we desire; beauty is that which pleases us; truth is a conformity between what is and what is in our minds. This is why we need never tire of praying the Rosary, because each mystery brings us into contact with these three things that enter into us and reform us into what we are to become.

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The children's parish

The following note, lightly edited, is from Connie Woods, the wife of a U.S. diplomat stationed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, through June 2003:
When Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan in September 2001, he praised the peaceful relations between Moslems and Christians. The small Catholic presence in the country today is the result of the Communist practice of exiling Poles, Ukrainians, Russians and Germans here to labor camps and concentration camps. These exiles kept the faith alive although religion was officially prohibited until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today the Faith is flourishing, especially among the young, and the parishes are active in a variety of apostolates, charities, and catechism programs. The majority of priests are missionaries from Poland, Slovakia and Italy.

Kazakhstan, which was the second largest republic in the Soviet Union after Russia, covers a territory roughly one-third as large as the United States, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the West, Russia to the North, China to the East, and the other "Stans" to the South (Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan). Once the Soviet Union broke apart, Kazakhstan became an independent country. It is therefore not covered by Aid to the Church in Russia.

Kapchagai is a small city of about 30,000 people located an hour's drive north of Almaty, the former capital situated in the southeastern corner of the country near China. The city of Kapchagai consists mainly of run-down Soviet apartment complexes. It is an impoverished area with an 80% unemployment rate. The chief attraction in the town is recreational boating and swimming at Lake Kaphchagai. The Catholic parish in the town met in private apartments until 1999, when the Immaculate Conception church was built. The parishioners built the church entirely by hand.

The church first opened a soup kitchen, then began providing shelter for the abandoned children who came there to eat. Today, just three years after the they began taking children in, the parish owns four houses in close proximity to the church that have been converted into dormitories for the children. The children keep coming, so the parish is hoping to purchase one more house down the street and to build yet another house on land they already own. They attribute everything to the speedy help of the Virgin Mary.

The children range in age from two to the mid-teens. Most are not true orphans, but come from abusive, broken or impoverished homes where they simply cannot be cared for. Approximately 50 children live in the dormitories, lovingly cared for by Sister Alma, a Franciscan missionary from Slovakia, Father Massimo from Italy, and six young women who also live full-time with the children. One of these young women, being an ethnic German, had the opportunity to emigrate to a better life in Germany, but has chosen to stay in Kapchagai and dedicate her life to the care of these children instead.

I first became acquainted with these children on a train ride to the capital city of Astana to see the Pope in September 2001, and then again in the summer of 2002 at a summer camp in the Tian Shen mountains near Almaty. The diocese was able to provide only part of the $700 dollar cost of the week-long camp, and Sister Alma begged and borrowed the remainder from her Slovak relatives.

At the summer camp, which was structured around daily Mass and catechism classes, I began to realize what miracles are being worked in these children. They are openly loving and generous. Though they have nothing, they happily share everything. They are well instructed in the Faith, eager to learn, and devout in a way that can hardly be explained. For instance, every Thursday the parish has all-night adoration. Without any grown-ups taking them by the hand, the children take turns keeping vigil at the church. All on their own they come to the church in the middle of the night to do the stations of the Cross on their knees. Who can these poorest of the poor be making reparation for, except for us and for the world? They have a special devotion to Our Lady of the Eucharist.

Like the general population here, the children come from Russian, Kazakh and other ethnic backgrounds. The image that best sums up their character for me is the daily rosary. From the youngest to the oldest they take turns leading the decades in a variety of languages: Russian, Latin, Italian and Kazakh. The sight of these Kazakh kids, little descendants of Genghis Khan, reciting the Hail Mary in Latin, gives some glimpse of the great things in store for the Church in Central Asia.

The parish has only about 100 people in it, of which 50 are these abandoned children. I am looking for parishes and organizations willing to provide some kind of regular support to supplement the ad hoc donations that keep them going. A few special collections a year would go directly for food and shelter for the children. There are several major projects the parish hopes to accomplish with the help of benefactors like you. They need US $25,000 to purchase the fifth house, and at least $50,000 to build a new house on land they already own.

If you are willing to support the Immaculate Conception parish, I have already arranged a way for contributions to be made through a U.S. address. Sister Alma's motherhouse happens to be in Pennsylvania, and the sisters there have agreed to forward any contributions earmarked to Sister Alma for her work in Kapchagai. However, to avoid lots of individual money transfers and accounting that is not part of their own budget, it would be better to collect checks from individuals and then consolidate them into one check before sending it to the sisters.
This is the sort of story that comes to mind when I hear people complain that the music at the 10:30 Mass is too contemporary.

Anyone who wants to contribute to Sister Alma's work can drop me a line. I can add individual contributions to that of my Lay Dominican chapter, which I believe can provide charitable donation acknowledgement letters, to reduce the paperwork for Sister Alma's motherhouse. If you've got an organization of your own, I can put you in touch with Connie Woods for information on donating directly to the motherhouse. If you're not in the U.S., I'm sure we can work something out.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 22

There's a standard way of generating a story plot: Think of a protagonist, and give him a goal. Then think of an antagonist, and give him a goal that conflicts with the protagonist's. The resolution of the conflict constitutes the plot.

This suggests the idea of a Dramatic Rosary, if you will, in which each mystery is considered from the aspect of a protagonist and an antagonist with conflicting goals.

It's up to you to choose the roles and the goals, but here's an example for the Sorrowful Mysteries:
  • The Agony in the Garden: Jesus as man wants the cup to pass from him. The Father wills otherwise.
  • The Scourging at the Pillar: Pilate has Jesus scourged to placate the Jewish leaders. They, however, insist that He be crucified.
  • The Crowning with Thorns: The King of Kings makes no claim to kingship. The Roman soldiers insist upon it, for their own amusement.
  • The Carrying of the Cross: Simon of Cyrene simply wants to go about his business. The soldiers want him to help them with their business.
  • The Crucifixion: The Jews and the Romans both want this unpleasantness to end this very day, on this very cross. For Jesus, the Cross is the foundation of the Kingdom.
By the way, something interesting can happen with the Glorious Mysteries. We think of the Rosary as a meditation on Christ, but see how He can be cast as the antagonist:
  • The Resurrection: The women want to prepare Jesus' body; Jesus prevents them. (Or, Mary Magdalene wants to hold on to Him; He tells her to let go.)
  • The Ascension: The Apostles want Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel; Jesus wants to return to the Father.
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit: The Apostles want to keep a low profile; the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, wants them to proclaim His Name.
  • The Assumption: Mary's mourners bury her; Mary's Son raises her.
  • The Coronation: Mary regards herself as the handmaid of the Lord; the Lord regards Mary as His Queen.
Considered as drama, the Good News can be told as the story of humans who want less going against a God who insists on more than they could possibly imagine.

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Veritas

Fr. William Hinnebusch, OP, wrote a book called Dominican Spirituality in which he identified six characteristics of Dominican life (ultimately concluding, if memory serves, that there isn't a simple or single thing you can point to and call "Dominican spirituality").

One of the characteristics is that Dominican life is doctrinal. Catholicism is a faith based on revealed and reasoned truth, and Dominicans are expected to know and preach the truth. In a talk to my Lay Dominican chapter, a friar proposed asking, "What are you reading?" as a way of gauging how much attention we're giving to this doctrinal aspect of our way of life.

But significantly he added, "What are you reading that you don't agree with?" In the tradition of disputatio, he pointed out the importance of being able to listen to another's argument, identify the truth within it, tease that out from the error, and so help the other -- and yourself -- to advance toward a fuller understanding of the truth.

The advantages of such an attitude -- regarding a disagreement as a joint exploration in search of the truth rather than as a debate to be won or lost -- are numerous and clear.

The disadvantage is that it doesn't satisfy personal competitiveness, but that too turns out to be an advantage.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 21

A good way of emphasizing the Christological basis of the Rosary is to pray a Scriptural Rosary. Before each Hail Mary, a brief Scriptural verse (related to the mystery, of course, and sometimes in the form of versicle and response) is recited. By their nature, Scriptural Rosaries require following along in a book or other written guide, which makes them more suitable for small, regular groups, such as the family.

There are many on-line Scriptural Rosaries, including a straightforward version from RosaryCreations.com, a paraphrased version for children, and a whole series of printable downloads from the Apostolate of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

The effect of a Scriptural Rosary is distinctive. It is less meditative than the traditional Dominican Rosary, more of a litany of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. It impresses upon the mind the holy words of Scripture by which each mystery is related, which in turn provides food to chew on during the day (a habit also fostered by lectio divina), and especially when you pray the Rosary in a more traditional manner. If, for example, while doing the dishes I am meditating on the Visitation, asking myself why Mary visited Elizabeth, a habit of praying a Scriptural Rosary will bring to mind Elizabeth's words, "Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled."

(And note how the various ways of praying the Rosary interact. I can pray the Scriptural Rosary (#21) with my family (#25), and later pray a part (#16) of the Circumstantial Rosary (#20) at a time when a Scriptural Rosary is impossible.)

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Metablogging: Programming notes

The 31 Days, 31 Ways series will be completed -- I've got the remaining dozen ways sketched out already -- but not by the end of this month. Fortunately, Pope John Paul has announced that this is the Year of the Rosary, so I think it will be okay if it takes me an extra week or so to post them all.

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Friday, October 25, 2002

But wait, there's more

Sean Gallagher had a discussion recently with A. Believer about how Catholics use the term "anti-Catholic" while Protestants don't use the term "anti-Protestant." I think some good points are made by both sides (and by JACK in a comment to Sean's post).

My general approach to these things is to ask for a definition, then see if it applies. I don't see any reason, in principle, why a particular Catholic apologist couldn't act in an anti-Protestant manner (with "anti-Protestant" given a definition equivalent to "anti-Catholic").

But here's my thought about why "anti-Protestant" behavior isn't perceived by Protestants as often as anti-Catholic behavior is perceived by Catholics:

Catholicism isn't anti-Protestant.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of Catholicism and Protestantism, the Protestantism circle would lie entirely within the Catholicism circle. The rest of the Catholicism circle would represent those elements rejected by Protestantism: the Sacraments, the papacy, and so on.

Arguments between Catholics and Protestants, then, involve, fundamentally, Protestants trying to remove things from Catholicism and Catholics trying to add things to Protestantism. Imagine two sculptors critiquing each other's clay statues; the first tries to cut off parts of the second's statue, while the second tries to add globs of clay to the first's. Neither likes what the other is trying to do to his statue, but the things they're doing are essentially different from each other.

This essential difference in argumentation leads, naturally enough, to an essential difference in how Protestants and Catholics experience each other's arguments.

Furthermore, it suffices for the Catholic to show the necessity of Catholicism -- which, since it contains Protestantism, implies the necessity of Protestantism (interpreted in a Catholic way, if you follow me). A Catholic can argue against Protestantism without ever mentioning Protestantism.

The Protestant, though, is arguing for both the sufficiency of Protestantism (its necessity already granted, in a fashion, by the Catholic) and the excess of Catholicism. If a thing costs ten dollars, then having ten dollars is sufficient to buy it, but if I have twenty dollars I can buy it as well. The Protestant arguing against Catholicism must, metaphorically speaking, argue that if I have more than ten (or, allowing for freedom in uncertain matters, fifteen) dollars, I cannot buy the ten-dollar item. This means he has to talk about what's wrong with having twenty dollars. (The Catholic could content himself with demonstrations that the item costs twenty dollars, without ever directly considering a ten dollar price point.)

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Thursday, October 24, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 20

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando
These, as St. Thomas notes, are the seven circumstances of human acts as recorded by Tully.

They suggest what might be called the Circumstantial Rosary, wherein each mystery is considered according to a given circumstance:
  • Who is involved? Jesus, of course, and Mary. Unexpected insights can often be found by thinking in terms of other persons associated, perhaps only incidentally, with the mystery.
  • What is the effect of what is done? What changes as a result, and how have these changes affected history down to this day?
  • Where does the mystery take place? Is it a likely or unlikely place? Where in my own life do I find such places?
  • By what aids is the mystery effected? How do the supernatural and the natural work together to make the act possible?
  • Why does the act occur? What is the end for which the actors act? Is this end achieved?
  • How is it done? With what emotions, what movements, exercising which virtues or vices?
  • When does it happen? What makes it timely, how does it relate in time to the mysteries it follows and precedes?
Choose one of these circumstances and stick with it for all the decades recited during a week. The following week, choose another circumstance.

One effect of this method is an increase in awareness of the profundity of God's plan in sending His only Son into the world to suffer and be raised to glory. I have found the "where" and the "when" circumstances to be particularly fruitful for this.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 19

What to do with your old 15-decade rosary once the new 20-decade set arrives from Italy?

Why not use it to pray the Stations of the Cross?

There is nothing that prevents you from praying the Stations outside of Lent and by yourself. In fact, the Church encourages it by offering a plenary indulgence, subject to certain conditions. And while there are numerous excellent collections of readings and prayers to be used for the Viae Crucis exercitium, the ones used at the Lenten parish Stations I've attended have not been particularly meditative. A decade of the Rosary in place of, or in addition to, the prayers in a "Way of the Cross" book adds nearly an hour of interior meditation on the passion and death of Christ to this devotion. At the same time, it directs the mind to the Marian dimensions of the Passion.

Now, no doubt, all Protestant and a few Catholic readers are rolling their eyes. "It's the passion and death of Jesus! Can't we lay off this mariolatry even for that?"

But the Marian dimension of the Passion is not a matter of watching Mary while she watches her Son suffer and die. Rather, it's a matter of watching her Son suffer and die through her eyes. It's not a focus on Mary, it's using Mary to focus on Jesus. We say to her, "Teach me how a Christian understands the Crucifixion," and we find that it is not so much about God dying on the Cross or the atonement for our sins as it is about the Person loved most in life dying out of love for the Person He loved most.

There are, as you know, fourteen stations in the Way of the Cross, but a multiple of five decades on most rosary beads. With the relatively new custom of the "fifteenth station," the Resurrection prayed at the tabernacle, you can finish with a traditional number of decades. If the indulgence is not important, or not possible (as when you do it in a place without the required fourteen crosses), or if you otherwise prefer, you can of course also use Pope John Paul II's Scriptural Stations.

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Helpful Tips for Helpful Protestants

If you or someone you know is a Protestant who wants to witness to a Catholic that Catholic Marian dogma is evil, here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
  • Do choose your Catholic carefully. They are not all equally likely to see the indisputability of an argument like, "Mary is dead. Don't pray to her." Dominicans, members of the Rosary Confraternity, and people with web pages devoted to Mary are just some of the Catholics you can expect to be intransigent on the subject of Mary, even in the face of an impassioned email message.
  • Don't bring up apparitions. Apparitions are far from the top of the list of Marian things you disagree with. You should begin by demonstrating that invoking the saints is contrary to the will of God (and don't forget that your Catholic won't believe that "contrary to the will of God" and "not explicitly taught in Paul's epistles" are identical concepts). Arguing that Fatima's message is demonic is like trying to cut down a tree with a drill. You need to strike at the roots!
  • Do think about timing. The month of the Rosary is, all in all, not a good time to bring up how displeased God is with those who pray the Rosary, particularly if your Catholic is in the middle of a series of reflections on how to pray the Rosary in ways pleasing to God.
  • Don't use the lame "Satan is a deceiver" response to the personal witness given to you by your Catholic of how devotion to Mary has made his love of God bloom. That simply serves to remind him of how little you understand about devotion to Mary. Similarly, don't tell your Catholic that praying the Hail Mary is worshipping Mary. Witnessing to the truth is difficult enough without making the one you're witnessing to snicker.
  • Do think about the battle you're choosing. Sure, Catholics promote Mary out of all sensible Protestant proportion -- but they believe the Eucharist is God Himself! Are you sure you should be worrying about the risks Catholics run of placing a human ahead of God when Catholics explicitly teach and affirm that bread becomes Jesus?
I was going to add, "Don't respond to eighteen centuries of solid evidence of Marian devotion with accusations of satanism in Harry Potter," but that one seems a little too obvious.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 18

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
If in the Luminous Mysteries the truth that Christ is the light of the world "emerges in a special way," as Pope John Paul II writes in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, then surely John the Baptist bears witness to the Luminous Mysteries:
  1. The Baptism of the Lord. It was John's ministry, a response to a call from God received in the womb, that provided the setting for the first public revelation of Jesus' divinity. As the Baptist says in John 1:31, "for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
  2. The Miracle at Cana. Jesus' first miracle was to provide an astonishing abundance of the finest wine, but John in the desert came neither eating nor drinking. The fasting of the groomsman precedes the feasting of the Bridegroom. This is a lesson as important to those awaiting the return of the Groom as to those who looked for His first coming.
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom. John, too, preached the coming of the Kingdom, though since he was not the light his preaching was preparation, not revelation. Indeed all preaching is preparation, until the Son of God should reveal Himself and His Father to those whom He chooses.
  4. The Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is the second great theophany of Jesus' public life, prefigured by John's vision at Jesus' baptism: "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him." Though no Apostle, John was the greatest of the prophets, and was not reduced to babbling as was Peter on Mt. Thabor; instead, he knew and bore witness that this Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. Once more, John's witness is the fast before the feast of the Eucharist. In this, the least member of the Kingdom Jesus revealed is greater than he -- how could he not be, with God Himself as his food -- but it is a greatness wholly and freely given by God.

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