I met Anna almost one year ago, and I would not have met her in the normal course of our lives, for Anna lived in England. One year ago yesterday, however, she departed this life for Real Life in Heaven, and since she and Marcel were already good friends (her grandfather had introduced them, I think), once she reached his place on Mary's lap, he had to introduce her to me right away. After all, with tubby and adorable little Jesus taking up so much room, those of us who plan to squish in there beside little Jesus, Therese, and Marcel (and now Anna too), will want to be good friends. How else could we be comfortable in such close quarters?
Even before July 20 became Anna's day, it was a big day for me as a Carmelite. Did you know that every religious order gets its own proper liturgical calendar to tack onto the great universal liturgical calendar of the Church? That way every order can celebrate their special days - the feasts of their founders, their saints, their Doctors, and so on. If everyone tried to celebrate everyone else's special days, the calendar would be too jam packed with parties for any of us to ever get anything done. I'm fine with that, actually, but alas, Jesus is such a task-Master! (Marcel is laughing now, knowing that I know that Jesus is the most gentle task-Master ever!) So anyhow, July 20th - for Carmelites - is a huge, huge day! It's the feast of St. Elijah. Yes, the Old Testament Elijah, because in him we find our roots and our exemplar. Look, here he is, photographed in a kind of time-lapse icon, first looking left, then looking right. He's at the mouth of the cave, waiting for God to show up . . .
Do you remember? After lots of noise and ruckus, God eventually came to Elijah in a gentle breeze. And that's just what happened to me yesterday (and continuing into today). I had asked Anna (since she feels nearer to me in some ways than Elijah - I mean that's how it feels to me!) for roses on their day, and soon it was a deluge - but of rose petals drifting softly down. And then, lest I had misunderstood that these were really from Anna's rose garden in Heaven (which she's been tending assiduously, I can tell, because my what a lot of roses fell from it yesterday!), she sent me two unexpected roses in my own garden today. They'd begun blooming yesterday, but I hadn't noticed, and when I saw and cut them this morning and put them near a picture of Anna (which is also near a picture of her grandfather, whom we both love, and near a statue of Our Lady, whom we both really, really love), her roses opened up even more. They're Fragrant Cloud roses, just like the ones in the picture up at the top of this post, except way more beautiful, and come to think of it, they're named perfectly for Our Lady (who rose for Elijah like a little white cloud). Thank you, Anna!
I wanted to write to tell you about the roses (the spiritual ones) that Anna sent yesterday, but having begun to count them, I'm afraid a strict recording of them would take us well into next week! So let me see if, with the Holy Spirit whom they say can do all things (but this may be a challenge even for God!), I can be orderly if not brief. I'll use numbers in a desperate attempt to help the Holy Spirit help me name the roses.
1. I woke early and had the chance to package up a copy of Marcel's Conversations with a long letter and his picture and a Therese prayer card in order to send them to a boy named Ethan who's suffering from cancer. I know Anna was behind this - she's a sweetheart and wanted to cheer up Ethan. Will you join us in praying for him? . . . Dear Mother Mary, Health of the Sick and Comforter of the Afflicted, Cause of our Joy and Our Lady of Joyful Surprises - please cheer Ethan and his family, bring them peace, and bring them all joy. Give Ethan renewed health - please surprise his doctors with Ethan's quick healing and miraculous complete recovery so that he may not only get to know Marcel and many other saints from his place on earth, but live a long life here, singing God's praises and making known His wonders. We ask this through little Jesus and the intercession of Marcel.
2. After my packaging, I got to go to Mass and say my special Divine Office prayers for the feast of St. Elijah. What a thrill when I found a homily of Pope St. Gregory on Ezekiel in which St. Greg contributes to our Theology of the Glance. Here is what he says (and thank you, Anna, for this rose!):
In Divine contemplation the spirit is often abstracted to such a degree that it is already granted the joy of partaking a little, in image as it were, of the eternal freedom which 'eye has not seen nor ear heard,' but then, hampered by the weight of its own mortality, it falls back into the depths and is held captive in penalty for its sins. It has glimpsed the delights of true freedom and longs to escape from its captivity but, since it cannot, it keeps its gaze fixed upon the imprisoning doors. This is why, when the Jews had been freed from slavery to Egypt, each of them stood adoring in the doorway of his tent when God spoke and the pillar of cloud was visible.
Wherever we direct our mental gaze, there we may be said to stand. That is why Elijah said, 'The Lord lives, in whose sight I stand.' He did indeed stand before God, for his heart was intent on God. . . This is why Elijah is described as standing at the mouth of his cave and veiling his face when he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him; for as soon as the voice of heavenly understanding enters the mind through the grace of contemplation, the whole man is no longer within the cave, for his soul is no longer taken up with matters of the flesh: intent on leaving the bounds of mortality, he stands at the cave's mouth.
But if a man stands at the mouth of the cave and hears the word of God with the heart's ear, he must veil his face. . .
+ + +
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? (Miss Marcel here again, not Pope St. Gregory.)
It's just like a game of peek-a-boo! At least that's what it's like (our prayer) when Marcel leads us in conversation as he does in Conversations. We are those little children on Mary's lap, and doesn't she always wear the most beautiful veils? Even now I'm looking up at my Murillo Virgin of the Rosary (a copy, but rather fetching), and I've often wondered at how he (Murillo) so perfectly captured Our Lady's veil. Little Jesus has a couple of His dear fingers tucked under its edge, and I wonder if He taught Marcel to play peek-boo under this veil, or if He let Marcel teach Him (as if He didn't know!)
Anyhow, Anna and Elijah are with Pope St. Greg where they can see God face-to-Face now, no need to hide behind veils, or stand at the mouth of the cave. They are standing instead at the edge of Heaven, alongside Therese with her many buckets of roses . . . which leads us to:
3. Blessed Titus Brandsma's Carmelite Mysticism, Historical Sketches, which thanks to Anna, was my companion book yesterday. I've had it for years; it's thin, and from (published in) Darien, Illinois, of all places. Do you remember Darien? That's where I was a year ago on Our Lady's big feast, at the Museum of the National Shrine of St. Therese, in Darien, IL. Where the gift shop was closed, but apparently I had what I needed from Darien. So yesterday Anna made sure I actually read some of Titus' words - which I hadn't done for years and years, though I love this little book - and what do you think I found? So many roses! And even an explanation of roses!
There's so much jam-packed into this slim volume that you'd think Titus wrote it from his place on Mary's lap. And yet, knowing I can't transcribe it all here, and wanting to help the Holy Spirit fulfill my prayer to Him, let me just share three things from it. The first is about roses. The second pertains to Mary as the little cloud (as Jessica Powers presented her to us on July 16 and as my roses are now, I realize, named). And the third is best of all because it brings us to Marcel . . .
So first, from Titus (who was, by the way, a Dutch Carmelite martyr at Dachau in 1942, and his feast is this coming Friday, July 27) in a chapter on our sister:
"St. Therese of Lisieux has said that after death she would strew roses on earth. And of what else is a rose the symbol, if not of love of God, for Whom she wanted to be a rose, a rose shedding its petals on the road of God through the world? Carmel is the mountain of shrubbery and flowers. With full hands the children of Carmel strew those flowers over the earth. Such a picture of St. Therese is widely spread. The Saint scatters widely the flowers which she receives from the hand of Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces."
Doesn't that remind you of our picture on Our Lady's feast? Oops - the feast that we are even now celebrating the Octave of (!), though I'd forgotten our Octave, what with so much else going on. We are just covered in roses here at Miss Marcel's Musings, and it's hard to remember what day it is (though we'll get to that soon), let alone what day came about 5 (days) ago . . .Thank goodness Our Lady is a mom, happy to celebrate with us even when we've forgotten what it is we're celebrating!
But back to Titus and his second beautiful passage:
"We read in the Carmelite Missal in the Preface for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel the significance of the little cloud which Elijah from Mount Carmel beheld appearing out of the sea: 'Who through the small cloud arising out of the sea didst foretell the Immaculate Virgin Mary to the Blessed Elijah the Prophet, and didst will that devotion be shown to her by the sons of the prophets.' Elijah beheld her and with him we all look up to her. She has her hands filled with flowers and she brings her Divine Son the source of all beauty and grace. On those who pray, the first drops of the redeeming rain descend, roses of divine grace. . . In our own times, St. Therese, the 'Little Flower,' is elected to make that rain more abundant than ever. May she give us from the hand of the Mother of Carmel, from the Holy Mountain, the roses we need for the garden of our soul."
She's certainly doing that - giving us the roses we need - and how lovely that she lets others help her in their distribution! Thank you again, Anna! Because now we get to the most wonderful rose of all - our dear Marcel. This is the third passage from Titus, and it would be mighty prophetic if he were to mention Marcel - for Titus wrote these sketches as a development of a lecture he gave in 1935 at Catholic U - yes, our Catholic U. in Washington, D.C.! Well, in 1935 Marcel was, like Titus, still running his earthly course. But our passage is actually a quote from St. Therese, and though she (even more so) wouldn't have known of Marcel during her lifetime (he wasn't born yet), she did speak prophetically. Titus quotes her telling about her life in the convent of Lisieux and how she'd yearned to go to a new foundation (a new convent) in -- Washington, D.C.? No, much better than that. In Hanoi!!!
She wrote (and Titus quotes), "Here I am loved, and this affection is very sweet to me. But that is just why I dream of a convent in which I should be unknown, in which I should have to bear the exile of the heart as well. I should like to go to Hanoi, to suffer much for the good Lord. I should like to go there to be lonely, to have no single consolation, no single joy on earth."
Well I'll be a monkey's uncle. Talk about being careful what you pray for! Therese's prayer was answered (to some extent) by Marcel at the end of his life, imprisoned in North Vietnam. Only somewhat answered, though, because where can a Saint go and not be loved? Marcel, the second Therese even if no one knew it but his dear bearded Jesus, was loved in the camps where he was imprisoned, where he was such a consolation to others and where he assuaged their loneliness and their fears.
Wow! But enough wondering over that rose - there are more to be displayed and to shed their sweet fragrance here today. Anna was busy on her first "feast"!
4. I asked her specifically for a rose to come regarding my manuscript on Therese. The rose came just as ordered, right into my inbox for me to find soon after I made the request. What this rose means is a mystery - no decision has been made as to whether the book will be published yet, but what a joy to have Anna reassure me that God has not forgotten, nor Therese, nor Marcel. They'll take care of everything, so no worries.
5. And speaking of seemingly unanswered (let's call them NYA - "not yet answered") prayer intentions, Anna gave me a rose from Conversations which we then decided we should share as a sign of God's love and promise that He will answer all our prayers - just maybe not all today.
At (445) Jesus says, "The flame of Love which envelops you completely, in the same way, envelops everything which is of you."
What spectacular and glorious news! This flame of Love is Jesus, and He is not only embracing us in His Heart, but all those we embrace in our hearts. Which means we might as well say our best-of-all prayers now, while we're on the subject: Draw me, we will run!
6. But there's more! The next rose to fall from Conversations was from (31), where Jesus says something that consoles me almost as much as a chocolate sundae.
Ha! I got ya, didn't I? But really, just joking because it consoles me more than a chocolate sundae!
Jesus says, "My little apostle, never allow yourself to be afraid by the effort that you must impose on yourself to write. Even if the words I am saying to you were useful only to a single soul, that would already be sufficient."
Oh my goodness, that is such truly wonderful news. Because aren't you, dear reader, reading this right now? And if any of this is useful to you (and I'm sure it is - heavenly roses are never wasted on little souls, who have just the right degree of awe and wonder and, well, littleness, to appreciate them), then I'm going to keep reminding myself never to fret or stress over any effort it takes me to write these posts. Not that it's hard work, but can you imagine how tiring this inventory of roses could get if you weren't here? Ah, but you are here, and for that I thank Jesus, and I thank Anna for showing me Jesus' words to invigorate me when my enthusiasm flags. (Which is where the chocolate sundae might help too, now that we've mentioned it!) And this brings me (not the sundae, but Jesus' words that "Even if the words I am saying to you were useful only to a single soul, that would already be sufficient") to the 7th of Anna's roses.
7. Okay, I'm cheating. This is not a rose, but a bunch, a full blown bouquet, and it's exquisite. Turns out Anna was having so much fun showering down roses that she didn't stop (no sleep necessary in Heaven, though for those of us who love sleep, I'm hoping it's still possible on occasion). So as I was setting up this post (importing pictures and spaces of writing whatever God wanted you to hear through me), I found and collected one rose after another that she was still strewing and showering (having definitely gotten the hang of it!) - and these roses are nothing other than the beautiful little flowers that sprung up in the footsteps of Therese and Marcel. Time and space and language barriers (especially language barriers) were obliterated as I looked for a photo of Marcel to put in this post. You won't find that picture - Marcel was just using it as a carrot to lead me forward to find the little flowers he and Anna were admiring along the Little Way.
First was Fr. Boucher. We know him already, but we don't know his friend Daniel-Angel, who wrote this, which I found in a google-translated bulletin of Les Amis de Van from 1996. Who knew such treasures were lurking in the world wide web!?!? I quote from the Bulletin quoting Daniel-Angel:
In the preface to Marie-Michel's book [which I think must be about Marcel], "Love Knows Me",
Daniel-Angel wrote on February 2, 1990, in the Presentation of the Lord :
Montreal, June 26, 1984.
En route to Mirabel Airport,
I have half an hour extra. I take this opportunity
to make a jump into a convent where a father had begged me to pass.
With emotion, he tells me about a young Vietnamese for whom he was the
Novice Master and the confidant. For 20 years, he had been watching
the opportunity to make him known and loved. Twenty minutes later, I
repaired for the airport, 700 typed pages in hand, or
rather the hand in that of a new friend, and what a friend! Treasury without
price that customs did not even suspect.
If they were interested in spiritual goods, they would have imposed an
exorbitant tax. On the plane - night time from Saturday to Sunday - praying
and watching for the signs of Dawn, I begin to devour these pages:
the dynamite of love (if the crew knew!) able to revolutionize an existence!...
Returned to my hermitage, I was tortured: how to make known
this child of God, this child of Fire? How to let it penetrate
in thousands of hearts?
How to allow this little Vietnamese to travel the whole earth,
to knock on the door of houses without number, to visit those
poor of goods and love, to wipe away their tears,
turning them into diamonds, to wake our West from its comatose state,
to shake us from our lethargy? So many poor
wait for a confidant, a friend like him! To walk in his
familiarity! That young people would find there the desire to love and
simply the taste of living. And - who knows? - perhaps to find even the strength to
give their life in turn...
Very concretely, how to put in the hands outstretched
from a thirsty crowd, as in the Gospels, these pages where pass, turn by
turn, each of the Beatitudes? Who will be able to realize this gigantic
job to write, select, classify these innumerable pages?
Van had to push me to a child in Carmel ... I got
so I turned to my beloved brother Marie-Michel with whom I
founded - this year 1984 - "Youth-Light," the school of
life, courage and love. Already overwhelmed by his ministry of
training and evangelism with so many young people to whom he listens and
for whom he writes, he accepted ... without suspecting, fortunately, the
fabulous amount of work that would require.
Marie-Michel, let me bless you for this great job! The name
of Van and Therese, on behalf of so many thousands of young people, especially, who
will be upset ... Thank you for not letting go and being gone
until the end. Faithfully, courageously. With joy! ...
Can you begin to enjoy with me the bouquet Anna dropped into my lap? I have not even begun to appreciate its delicate but robust fragrance (haha, like a fine wine, but I don't care for wine - just roses!). In this bouquet are all of those men and women who, like Daniel-Angel (the angel who transported Fr. Boucher's translated pages of Marcel to a confrere in France, I believe, one Pere Marie-Michel whom God had led along a thorny but familiar path in the 60s to a conversion in Fatima in the 70s so that he might eventually lead young people and found (I think) religious orders, one of whom my google translate is calling "Priestly Fraternity, Brothers of Marcel Van," or something of the sort. Don't ask me! I'm just the messenger and not only is my memory fragile, but my computer refuses to open up the page on which I've got the googly-eyed translation, saying with a sad face (my computer), "Not enough memory to open this page." Oh well!)
I've now impressed myself, even, with my ability to enjoy a parenthetical remark so much that I say both too much and too little ... but we have no time for regrets, we who run with the little flowers! So, as I was saying, and this time will say sans parentheses:
In this bouquet are all those men and women who, like Daniel-Angel yearned to do and actually succeeded in doing with the help of Marie-Michel, brought Marcel to the world, and in particular, to us. We might add, in the words of Daniel-Angel, "without suspecting, fortunately, the fabulous amount of work that would require."
Which is why, as I said, Fr. Boucher is one of these roses. And our newly discovered Daniel-Angel and Pere Marie-Michel. And the men and women of Les Amis de Van. And our own dear friend, Jack Keogan.
My plan is to cozy up to them, and you're so welcome to join me. Let's hide ourselves in this bouquet, hoping that "without suspecting the fabulous amount of work it will require," we'll be part of the veritable army of little flowers spreading Marcel and Therese's message, or really, to be quite simple, Jesus' message. And if you think that an "army of little flowers" brings to mind a hilarious image, I'm with you! Almost as good as something else google translated for me, from Marie-Michel's blog, in a few words about the Rosary - calling it "the weapon of the sweet!"
8. A moment ago (in the middle of that last paragraph) I was trying to be quite simple. This is good because it reminds me of our last rose of today. Do you remember when I asked you, some time ago, to remind me to tell you the story (someday) of St. Lawrence of Brindisi? If you've forgotten, welcome to my Marcel club of forgetful lovers! If you never saw it, well you've got some back reading to catch up on, now don't you? (As Jesus would say, This is not a criticism! But you know, why not fill your days with Marcel? Our archives are getting happily cozy and full, like Mary's lap!)
Well today is that someday, because it is St. Lawrence of Brindisi's feast! And here is what I wanted to tell you and why I brought it up in the first place (whenever that was, in the oh so distant recent past):
When we thank God for the time and work (but such happy work, I can assure you) that Fr. Boucher and Jack Keogan (and Les Amis de Van, and so many more) have given to bring us Marcel Van's writings - in whatever language we speak: Vietnamese, French, or English - part of our thanksgiving can include the realization that St. Therese and Marcel have been eager to share Jesus with us - so eager, so willing, so passionately concerned to do so! I'm sure it is most of all because of their love and persistence that we have Marcel's works to read and savor today - so many words of love from Jesus through him to us!
How do I know this? Why do I bring in Heaven? Isn't it enough to thank the earthly minions?
Well no. Because there are - or is, if L of B is our only example, but he's a good example - Doctors of the Church whose writings are still closed books to us, at least if we don't know our Latin super well, and even then, it sometimes can (did, in L of B's case) take centuries - even for the Latin to be available for our reading pleasure.
Here's the story, morning glory, and I tell it with no stress but great joy:
On the night that St. Therese was made a Doctor of the Church - October 19, 1997 - my husband and I hosted a party. We fell for the adorable, naive invitation of a dear priest friend who said, "I'm going to say a Mass in her honor tonight. How about we order pizza - I'll pay - and have the few students who attend the Mass over to your house afterward?" (We were at Christendom at the time.)
Sounded like a good plan, but I knew Therese and her charm, so I planned for more than a few.
Among our other preparations, we got out our wedding guest book, and let people sign it for this special celebration. And the total number?
There were 70 people who came!
And at the festivities, in the kitchen, I said to a beloved friend, big brother, lover of the Sacred Heart, and president of Christendom College, Tim O'Donnell, "So if St. Therese is a Doctor of the Church now, and that means the Church proposes her as our teacher, and she's the 33rd such Doctor so named and proposed to us - what about those among the other 32 whom I've never known anything about, let alone their teachings? Like what about Lawrence of Brindisi?"
Being of sound-ish mind and happy (but dull) memory, I don't remember what Tim said in response. I think he told me that Lawrence was a Franciscan and had written well on Our Lady . . .
Many years later, I got a copy (which I then gave away to someone who had to have it, but don't worry I got another copy) of a really magnificent book called The 33 Doctors of the Church. Incidentally, there are a handful more Doctors by now, but for those of us who can't finish learning what Therese (and her assistant Marcel) has to teach us, we leave those aside like so many extra steaks (suddenly we're at a fancy dinner and can't finish the Therese-steak, let alone start on the John-of-Avila-steak).
So who is St. Lawrence of Brindisi, and why did I want you to remind me to tell you about him someday (which is today)?
Since Jesus is our exemplar, let me start with a big smile (and nearly finish) by saying, as He once said to Marcel of St. John Eudes, but we'll change the names to protect the innocent:
"St. Lawrence of Brindisi is St. Lawrence of Brindisi!"
But to say just a little more . . . He was a super holy man who lived after the terrible rift in the Church caused by Luther in the 1500s. Father Lawrence was a Capuchin (a Franciscan) and a brilliant orator. He had a photographic memory and knew the whole Bible, and all the Biblical languages, and his sermons, which make up the bulk of his writings, contain 52,000 quotes from the Bible. Nonetheless, one of his favorite expressions was, "Ah, Simplicity!" and in true Franciscan fashion, he seemed to consider Simplicity a kind of sister whom he trusted and cherished.
Lawrence did so many cool things that I don't have time to tell you all of them, but suffice it to say that he was beloved, and yet had enemies - for he was a true follower of Christ, gentle yet strong, clear and loving and ready to lead those who surrounded him (or were under him, for he was a superior at times, or against him, for he fought bravely against error) closer to Our Lord and Our Lady.
And among the many cool things he did, one of the coolest in my book (since I'm a writer and a lover of the Church) was to write an apologetic work setting forth the truths of the Catholic Faith against the contradictions to it proposed by Luther and a particular follower of Luther's named Polycarp Laiser, a Lutheran theologian and preacher. Laiser had revised Luther's bible, and in July of 1607, this man (highly respected by his followers) preached two sermons from a window in the castle of the Catholic emperor of Prague.
St. Lawrence wasted no time in answering him. The day after Laiser's second sermon, Lawrence wrote a response in which he used Acts 13:10 as his opener, and he sent along with it copies of the Bible in Greek, Hebrew, and Syro-Chaldaic, challenging Laiser to read them. Laiser didn't respond in turn, but left for home (Dresden) where he published his two Prague sermons in a pamphlet which he then circulated widely - and too, cheeky fellow, he sent an autographed copy of the pamphlet to St. Lawrence!
Lawrence responded in a sermon of his own, which became a pamphlet. Which pamphlet grew and grew (because Lawrence wanted to respond well to the arguments and errors against the Church) until it became a huge apologetic work called "The Image of Lutheranism" (Laiser's pamphlet was called "The Image of Martin Luther"). Lawrence's response ended up 1500 pages long! Now there's a man I can admire!
But here's the kicker (and I can appreciate this too) - Lawrence's handwriting was so hard to read, containing as it did his own personal shorthand and a speedily written style which I'm guessing limited legibility, that his Complete Works were not published until . . . 300+ years after he wrote them! Nothing was published in his lifetime (and that was mostly okay because again,the majority of his writings are sermons, so they were heard and achieved their effect in their day), but that means not even his apologetic work was published at the time it was so needed.
Finally, after many failed attempts to crack the code and get Lawrence's works transcribed and available, in 1926 a commission of Italian Capuchin priest scholars went at it again and voila! From 1928 to 1964, his Opera Omnia gradually saw the light of day, in 10 quarto volumes, no less.
And lest we think that battle was finally won, might I add they were published in their original languages, namely Latin and a smidge (or a volume or two) in German? So for those of us who would LOVE to read his 96 sermons on Mary (St. Lawrence is considered a premier Marian theologian and his theology was rivaled only by his love for Our Lady), we'd better polish up our Latin - not to mention search high and low for those quarto volumes . . .
The moral of the story is not about the need for more careful handwriting, nor for the great technological advance of self-publishing (would that we could write something 1/1000th of the value of St. Lawrence of Brinidi's sermons!), but rather . . . How lucky we are, how blessed, how utterly rose-covered to have Marcel's writings available to us these so few years (relatively speaking) after he wrote them!
Thank you, Fr. Boucher! Thank you, Jack Keogan! Thank You, dear Jesus! And thank you, little Therese, Doctor of the Church, for so freely sharing your wisdom with us through Marcel our sweet brother!
Thank you, too, Anna, for showering on us all these heavenly roses, and may St. Lawrence of Brindisi give you a huge hug for your heavy lifting (do heavenly roses weigh anything?).
One last thank you - to the artist who gave us such a lovely image of St. Lawrence with little Jesus. These good painters never seem to capture Jesus' beauty, but we won't mind that. Let's close our eyes and kiss the real little Jesus. He's waiting with open arms for us to tell Him, "Little Jesus, I love you a lot!" So how about it? Let's say it together, with all our hearts - "Little Jesus, we love you a lot!"
And now, for that chocolate sundae. . .
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