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The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with Scrutinies.)
“Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” John 11:43–44
The death of Lazarus can be seen as a symbolic representation of the soul that has died from mortal sin. This is similar to the fact that leprosy, physical ailments and the like are also symbols of sin. For that reason, Jesus’ initial reactions reveal how we should respond to serious sin in our lives. When Jesus faced the death of Lazarus, “he became perturbed and deeply troubled,” “Jesus wept,” He became “perturbed again” and He “cried out in a loud voice.” Though Jesus was God, He freely chose to assume human nature and to experience human emotions and passions to teach us how we should react. In this case, He chose to become perturbed, deeply troubled, to weep and to cry out to show us how we should react to grave sin. Grave sin kills the spirit. As a result, we must be deeply affected if we commit or witness a grave sin.
One lesson we can take from this passage is that when you or a loved one falls into grave sin, it must not be ignored. Final impenitence is a sin by which a person fails to have appropriate remorse for sin and reacts to it in a dismissive and casual manner. This cannot be our reaction. Begin by considering the great value of taking sin seriously, reacting to it with passion and emotion, and crying out to God for forgiveness.
When Jesus cried out, commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb, the details were added that Lazarus did come forth but was still bound “hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.” Saint Augustine teaches that, in part, this symbolizes the entire process of confession and the forgiveness of sins. First, no person is capable of confessing their sins by their own effort. It must be that they are moved by grace and the command of our Lord to come forth to show themselves in their bound state to God. Lazarus’ obedience to Jesus’ command symbolizes the Christian’s response to God when called to repentance. When our Lord says, “Untie him and let him go,” this symbolizes the unmerited effect of the Sacrament of Confession and the power it has to release a person not only from their sins but also from the ongoing effects of those sins.
Our Church teaches that sin has a double consequence. First, it keeps us from eternal salvation. This effect is remedied through Confession and forgiveness. However, there is a second effect called “temporal punishment” (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1471–1473). This “punishment” is not from God, but from sin. It means that when we sin, even in a less serious way, we become attached to that sin and that the ongoing temptation to return to it is strengthened. Thus, ongoing conversion also means we hear our Lord say, “Untie him and let him go.” This is especially accomplished by ongoing conversion and growth in virtue.
Reflect, today, upon the rich symbolism found in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As you do, listen for the passionate voice of Jesus who calls to you, “Come out!” What sin is Jesus calling you to be free from? Identify that sin and repent of it with the same passion that our Lord exhibits. From there, consider any ongoing temptation you struggle with and any attachment you still have toward a particular sin. Jesus desires that you be completely unbound and set free. Be open to that grace and do all you can to accept it.
My merciful and passionate Lord, You command me, in love, to come forth from all sin. And when I respond, You command that the effects of my past sins be removed. Please free me, dear Lord, from all that binds me so that I will be set firmly on the glorious road of virtue that leads to eternal joy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Suffering Transformed by Glory
The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B)
(Note: When the Scrutinies are used at Mass, the reflection for Year A may be used in place of this one.)
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” John 12:27–28
Our Lord’s human soul was “troubled.” Other translations state that His soul was in agony. After expressing His interior suffering, Jesus identified the human temptation caused by this suffering: to flee from His “hour.” Of course Jesus dismisses this temptation as a way of teaching us a lesson from His human experience.
As God, Jesus had perfect strength and always remained faithful to the mission He received from the Father. But as a human, Jesus permitted Himself to experience temptation and human suffering for many reasons. One reason was so that He could relate to us in every way. That includes being able to relate to interior human suffering. In doing so, Jesus also made it possible for us to imitate Him and to share in the strength and determination He had as He perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father. Jesus allowed Himself to endure the agony caused by foreseen suffering because we will endure similar temptations through life.
What is it that causes you fear and anxiety as you look into the future? If there is something that immediately comes to mind, try to look at that within the light of Jesus’ own experience above. The first thing Jesus does is identify the temptation to fear. He does this by identifying the interior suffering He experiences and then by looking at the cause: His coming “hour.” The “hour” of Jesus in the Gospel of John is a reference to His crucifixion and death. This was the reason He came to us. He came to suffer the consequences of our sins and to destroy death itself. But this mission of His was the cause of true human suffering and was also a temptation toward fear. But it was a fear that He perfectly overcame.
As you look at anything that tempts you to give into fear and anxiety, first ask yourself whether it is the will of God that you fulfill that action. If we are fearful of something that is not the will of the Father, then we should reject it. But very often the plan God has for our lives will include acting with courage in the face of some pending cross and suffering. Experiencing fear is normal, but fear will not turn into anxiety if we imitate our Lord and choose the will of God no matter the cost.
Jesus also embraced His Cross by looking at it through the lens of glory. He understood that His suffering and death would glorify the Father in Heaven. Therefore, He allowed Himself to see the Cross as a glorification of the Father. The same must happen in our lives. No matter what we face in life, no matter the cross we are given, if it is the will of God that we embrace it, then we must see it not only as a suffering we must endure but primarily as an act by which God will be glorified in our lives. This truer perspective will bring with it hope, joy and strength which will free us from anxiety caused by fear.
Reflect, today, upon the ways in which God is calling you to the cross. As you do, don’t allow fear to deter you. Instead, look at every pending suffering as an opportunity to glorify God in your life. See your crosses with gratitude and joy, and allow this new perspective to give you the strength you need to fulfill the mission given to you by the Father in Heaven.
Most glorious Father, Your will is perfect. You called Your Son to the suffering of the Cross. Through that act of perfect love, the suffering Your Son endured gave You perfect glory. Lord Jesus, please give me Your courage as I face my own sufferings in life and help me to imitate Your perfect obedience to the Father’s will in all things so that I, too, may give Him glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
Scandalized by Mercy
The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C)
(Note: When the Scrutinies are used at Mass, the reflection for Year A may be used in place of this one. Also, when the readings from Year A are used for this Sunday, the following Gospel and reflection may be used on Monday.)
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. John 8:1–3
What a painful and humiliating experience this must have been for this woman! Fortunately, the Savior of the World was there to care for her and to help her navigate this situation through His abundant mercy. Though she was a sinner, God’s mercy offered a remedy for her sin and its consequences.
Interestingly, this story is not included in some of the most ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Saint Augustine believed that it was excluded by some of the early copyists of this Gospel because they were moral rigorists and were scandalized by the depths of Jesus’ mercy. They feared that if this incredible act of mercy was conveyed to others, it would lead to a relaxation of moral rules.
The scribes and Pharisees who brought this woman to Jesus also appeared to be scandalized by Jesus’ mercy. Thus, the depths of mercy offered to this woman was one of many occasions in which Jesus was merciful to a point that was hard for the people to comprehend.
How about you? How far are you willing to go when it comes to mercy? It is easy for us to resort to condemnation when we see the sins of others. We might feel justified in condemning them and even obliged to do so out of a desire to condemn sin itself. But Jesus’ action shows that the sin must not be equated with the sinner. Sin must be condemned and was condemned by our Lord when He said to this woman, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Though He condemned her sin, he did not condemn her: “Neither do I condemn you.”
The mercy of God is incomprehensible. For example, recall that Jesus cried out from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Imagine the surprise that the first hearers of those words would have had. How could this man ask that God forgive the people who were murdering Him? Perhaps the only person who truly understood this prayer of mercy from the Cross was Jesus’ own mother as she stood there gazing at Him with love.
An important lesson for us to learn from Jesus’ depth of mercy is that, at first, it will most likely scandalize us also. Mercy to this extent is supernatural. It challenges our natural reason and calls us to a new way of thinking and relating to others. The only way to overcome the “scandal” we might feel in the face of God’s mercy is to live it ourselves. Doing so will require that we put on new eyes to see sin, mercy and forgiveness through the eyes of God. If doing so shakes you to the core of your being, that might be a good sign. Are you allowing the apparent scandal of God’s abundant mercy to transform you so that it is no longer a shock or scandal to you, but is experienced as good and holy and from the Heart of our God?
Reflect, today, upon how deeply you understand God’s mercy. Do you rejoice when mercy is offered to another? Or do you find yourself condemning? Our Lord said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” None of us are without sin; therefore, none of us has the right to cast a stone at another. Allow the apparent scandal of God’s mercy to challenge you so that you come to not only understand God’s infinite mercy but also to act as an instrument of that mercy to everyone.
Most merciful Lord, You came to call the sinner to repentance and salvation. You offer mercy and forgiveness in superabundance. When faced with the sins of others, help me to imitate Your love for them and to show mercy and compassion to the greatest degree. I love You, Lord. Help me to love You and others with Your Heart of merciful love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Note: In Year C, when the reflection for Year A was used, the readings from Sunday Year C may be used today.)
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
This is a powerful line spoken by Jesus. The judgmental and condemning Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had apparently been caught “in the very act of committing adultery.” Was she a sinner? Yes, indeed she was. But this story is not so much about whether or not she was a sinner. It was about the attitude Jesus had toward sinners as compared to that held by the self-righteous, judgmental and condemning Pharisees.
First of all, let’s look at this woman. She was humiliated. She had committed sin, was caught, and was publicly presented to all as a sinner. How did she react? She didn’t resist. She didn’t remain in denial. She didn’t get angry. She didn’t fight back. Instead, she stood there humiliated, awaiting her punishment with a sorrowful heart.
Humiliation over one’s sins is a powerful experience that has the potential to bring forth true repentance. When we encounter someone who has sinned in a manifest way and is humiliated over their sin, we must treat them with compassion. Why? Because the dignity of the person always supersedes their sin. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and every person deserves our compassion. If one is obstinate and refuses to see their sin (such as in the case of the Pharisees), then an act of holy rebuke is necessary to help them repent. But when one experiences sorrow and, in this case, the added experience of humiliation, then they are ready for compassion.
By stating “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus is not justifying her sin. Rather, He’s making it clear that no one holds the right of condemnation. No one. Not even the religious leaders. This is a hard teaching to live for many in our world today. It is commonplace for the headlines in the media to almost compulsively present us with the most sensational sins of others. We are constantly being tempted to be outraged at what this or that person has done. We easily shake our heads, condemn them and treat them as if they were dirt. In fact, it seems that many people today see it as their duty to act as the “watchdogs” against every sin they can dig up on others.
Reflect, today, upon whether you are more like the Pharisees or Jesus. Would you have stood there in the crowd wanting this humiliated woman to be stoned? How about today? When you hear about the manifest sins of others, do you find yourself condemning them? Or do you hope that mercy is shown to them? Seek to imitate the compassionate heart of our divine Lord; and when your time of judgment comes, you also will be shown an abundance of compassion.
My merciful Lord, You see past our sin and look to the heart. Your love is infinite and awe-inspiring. I thank You for the compassion You have shown to me, and I pray that I may always imitate that same compassion to every sinner all around me. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Language of Jesus
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him. John 8:30
Jesus had been teaching in veiled but deeply profound ways about Who He was. In prior passages, He referred to Himself as the “bread of life,” the “living water,” the “light of the world,” and He even took upon Himself the ancient title of God “I AM.” Furthermore, He continually identified Himself with the Father in Heaven as His Father with Whom He was perfectly united and by Whom He was sent into the world to do His will. For example, just prior to the line above, Jesus states clearly, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me” (John 8:28). And it was because of this that many came to believe in Him. But why?
As John’s Gospel continues, Jesus’ teaching remains mysterious, deep and veiled. After Jesus speaks profound truths about Who He is, some listeners come to believe in Him, while others become hostile to Him. What is the difference between those who come to believe and those who ultimately kill Jesus? The simple answer is faith. Both those who came to believe in Jesus and those who orchestrated and supported His murder heard the same teaching of Jesus. Yet their reactions were so very different.
The same is true for us today. Just like those who heard these teachings for the first time from Jesus’ own lips, we also are presented with the same teaching. We are given the same opportunity to listen to His words and either receive them with faith or reject them or be indifferent. Are you one of the many who came to believe in Jesus because of these words?
Reading these veiled, mysterious and deep teachings of Jesus as they are presented in the Gospel of John requires a special gift from God if these words will have any impact upon our lives whatsoever. Faith is a gift. It’s not just a blind choice to believe. It’s a choice based on seeing. But it’s a seeing made possible only by an interior revelation from God to which we give our assent. Thus, Jesus as the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the great I AM, the Light of the World, and the Son of the Father will only make sense to us and will only have an effect upon us when we are open to and receive the interior light of the gift of faith. Without that openness and reception, we will remain either hostile or indifferent.
Reflect, today, upon the deep, veiled and mysterious language of God. When you read this language, especially in the Gospel of John, what is your reaction? Ponder your reaction carefully; and, if you find you are any less than one who has come to understand and believe, then seek the grace of faith this day so that our Lord’s words will powerfully transform your life.
My mysterious Lord, Your teaching about Who You are is beyond human reason alone. It is deep, mysterious and glorious beyond all understanding. Please give me the gift of faith so that I may come to know Who You are as I ponder the richness of Your holy Word. I believe in You, dear Lord. Help my unbelief. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31–32
These words have the potential to make a transforming difference in our lives. Note that Jesus spoke these words “to those Jews who believed in him.” That is, those who had accepted His word and were, therefore, His true disciples. We who also believe in Jesus should consider these words carefully. The heart of this teaching is twofold: you must come to “know the truth” so that the truth you come to know “will set you free.”
This teaching of Jesus is exceptionally helpful on both a psychological and spiritual level. First of all, on a purely psychological level, one of the greatest helps to good mental health is the truth. Most often when one struggles with various forms of depression, it’s because they are seeing aspects of their life with confusion. “Why did this person do this to me?” Or “How will I ever get through this?” Or “My life is a mess and there is no way out.” These and other similar thoughts will inevitably lead to depression for one simple reason: they are based on erroneous thinking.
One of the best forms of psychological counseling is what could be called “truth therapy.” Every despairing question that we have and every depressing conclusion that we have come to in life must be reexamined in the light of the mind of God. What does God think? What is in the mind of God in this regard? Those truths that are waiting to be discovered are the truth that “will set you free.” Depression is more easily overcome when we look at our life in the way that God looks at our life. This produces hope, and hope brings freedom to the chains of depression and confusion.
On a spiritual level, these principles apply all the more. The truth about sin, forgiveness, salvation and Heaven must be known deeply and embraced fully. When we deny the truth of sin or forgiveness, then we live within a lie and we remain bound by that lie. True spiritual freedom that leads to salvation and eternity in Heaven is obtained only when we wholeheartedly embrace the holy and perfect spiritual truth given to us by God. We must clearly know our sin, repent of it, seek the forgiveness of God, amend our lives and live the new life of grace to which we are called.
Reflect, today, upon this powerfully transforming teaching of Jesus: “know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What psychological and spiritual truths do you need to more deeply know? What confusion or blindness remains? Seek the remedy of the Truth as it is in the mind of God and know that freedom awaits.
God of all Truth, Your Word is liberating, transforming and fills us with hope. May I turn my mind to You and to Your holy Word so that I may know the Truth as You speak it and allow that transforming Truth to set me free. Jesus, I trust in You.
Living in the Moment
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area. John 8:58–59
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, God revealed His name: I AM. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that this revelation of God’s name “is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name.” It expresses that God is “infinitely above everything that we can understand or say.” He is the “hidden God.” He is also a “God who makes himself close to men” at each and every moment of our lives (See CCC #206).
In our Gospel today, Jesus identifies Himself with this hidden God. He states that He alone knows His Father and that the Father glorifies Him because He is the great I AM. To the people of that time, this was a shocking revelation, at least to those who failed to comprehend this truth in faith. But that mysterious name reveals to us not only the essence of God, it also reveals how we ought to relate to this infinite, hidden, exalted and glorious God.
As Jesus revealed His identity, He did not say, “before Abraham came to be, I was.” He says, “I AM.” This reveals that Jesus not only existed before Abraham, but that His existence transcends all time. He always and everywhere IS. Though this might seem overly philosophical to some, it is an important concept to understand for two important reasons. First, it gives us greater insight into God. But, second, it reveals to us how we ought to relate to God every day.
God is not a God of the past. He is not a God of the future. He is a God of the present moment. If we are to enter into a relationship with God, then we must realize that we can only encounter Him in the present moment. He is the Here and Now, so to speak. And we must seek Him here and now, in this present moment alone.
Sometimes we find ourselves dwelling on the past. To the extent that our past has helped or hurt us in this present moment, we need to address it. But the way this is done is by seeking God’s healing grace today, allowing the past to disappear into His abundant mercy. Other times we try to live in the future, becoming anxious about what is to come. But God does not dwell in the future for, to Him, all time is here and now. Therefore, we ought not to become anxious about the future, worry about it or try to live in it now. All we have is this present moment, and it is in this moment that God comes to meet us. He is here, and we must meet Him here, turning to Him and His grace today.
Reflect, today, upon this deep and mysterious revelation from our Lord. Think about his identity as the great “I AM.” Ponder that name. Ponder its meaning. See it as a way by which Jesus is inviting you to encounter Him in this present moment alone. Live in this moment. The past is gone; the future is not yet here. Live where God exists, here and now, for that is the only place that you will meet our Lord.
My Lord, You are the Great I Am. You transcend all time. Help me to meet You today, to let go of the past, to look forward to the future, and to live with You in this moment alone. As I meet You here, dear Lord, help me to love You with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Entering the Desert
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
“If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” John 10:37–39
These words spoken by Jesus took place during the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. Jesus had been preaching clearly about His relationship with the Father in Heaven, and this was causing some to become outraged to the point of them trying to arrest Him right then and there. But He escaped and went back into the wilderness where He had been baptized by John. As Jesus remained there in the desert, many people came to Him to be with Him and to listen to His words. As they listened, they began to believe.
It’s interesting to note the contrast of reactions. In Jerusalem within the Temple area, among large crowds gathered for the feast of the Dedication, Jesus was increasingly rejected and persecuted. But when He returned to the desert and people had to come to see Him, they listened and believed. This contrast presents us with one way in which we will more easily grow in our faith and help others grow in their faith. Specifically, we are invited to go into the “desert” to encounter our Lord, away from the busyness of life, and we must also invite others to join us in such a journey.
It’s true that, while in Jerusalem, there were people who happened to stumble upon Jesus as He was teaching and were moved by His word and came to believe. But it’s also clear that, when people had to commit to the effort of seeking Him out in a deserted place, His words were even more transformative.
In our own lives, within the ordinary activities of life, such as regular attendance at Mass, we will be given the opportunity to hear the Gospel and deepen our life of faith. But all of us need to take time to seek Jesus out “in the wilderness,” so to speak, so as to be even more disposed to hear Him and believe. These “desert experiences” come in many forms. Perhaps it’s an experience as simple as going into your room alone to pray and ponder the Word of God. Or perhaps it’s a participation in a Bible study, an online devotional program, or parish catechesis event. Or perhaps it’s the choice to go away for a weekend or longer for a guided retreat where all you do for some time is pray and listen to our Lord.
Throughout history, saint after saint has shown us the value of going off to pray to be with our Lord, in a place where the many other distractions of life and the many voices of the world are silenced, so that God can speak to the heart and so that we can more fully respond.
Reflect, today, upon the invitation Jesus is giving you to go out to meet Him in the wilderness. Where is that place? How can you accomplish this short journey while keeping up with the important duties of life? Do not hesitate to seek out the desert to which our Lord is calling you, so that you will be able to meet Him there, listen to His voice, and respond with complete generosity.
My Lord Jesus, You are calling me to enter deeper into a relationship of love with You, my divine Lord. Give me the grace I need to say “Yes” to You and to enter into the desert of silence and prayer I need so as to hear Your voice. Draw me to You, my Lord, and help me to more fully believe all that You wish to say. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Effects of Jesus’ Ministry
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” John 11:47–48
Jesus’ public ministry had two primary effects upon the people. For many, they were coming to believe in Him and were hanging on His every word. They sought Him out and began to understand that He was the promised Messiah. This was the response of faith. But the reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees was far more worldly. In the passage above, we see a group of religious leaders who are completely consumed with worldly concerns to the point that these concerns drown out all matters of faith.
As the Sanhedrin convened and discussed what they should do, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, spoke up and gave advice that perfectly depicts this worldly vision. He said, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” Caiaphas and many other religious leaders at the time appeared to be far more concerned with their worldly status and power than they were with matters of true faith and eternal salvation. If they were men who deeply loved God and sought only His holy will, then they would have rejoiced that Jesus’ ministry was so fruitful in the lives of the people. They would have offered thanks to God, day and night, for the privilege of seeing the prophecies of old about the Messiah come to fruition before their own eyes. They should have had joy and gratitude, and they should have allowed those spiritual blessings to grow within them and give them the courage they needed to go forth and die with our Lord if necessary. But instead, they chose their comfortable lives and worldly status above the truth, and they decided that Jesus needed to die.
One beautiful truth to reflect upon within this context is that God uses all things for His glory and for the salvation of those who believe. With this meeting of the Sanhedrin, these men began to plot the death of Jesus. Eventually they used deceit, manipulation, intimidation and fear to accomplish their goal. But even though from a worldly perspective these misguided religious leaders “won,” from a divine perspective, God used their evil to bring about the greatest good the world had ever known. Through their malice, Jesus’ passion and death gave way to the new life of the Resurrection.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God is able to use all things for our good. Be it in the midst of corruption, persecution, discord, sin, illness or any other evil in life, when we turn to God in faith and surrender, He is able to transform all things and bring forth an abundance of good fruit through them if we only let Him and trust in faith. Prayerfully surrender over to God, today, any of the above concerns that have affected you, and allow yourself to believe the simple truth that nothing can keep you from the glorious fulfillment of the will of God. All things can help toward the salvation of your soul and end in God’s eternal glory.
My glorious Lord, You were loved by many but also hated by some. Those with power and authority could not see beyond their worldly ambitions, so they began to plot against You. Give me the grace, dear Lord, to see every act of evil inflicted upon me as an opportunity for You to bring forth good. You are glorious, dear Lord. May You be glorified in all things. Jesus, I trust in You.
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