I've been putting off this project forever (okay, about 8 months). Ever since coming back from Mexico, I'd been dying to try out something I'd seen down there in the kiosks. Since my husband is able to create steel dies that cut wood, I asked for his help in putting into wood what I'd envisioned in my head. He obliged.
I finally got around to painting it tonight. Can you guess what (or who) it is?
Since this was only a test piece, scrap wood was used. However, even being scrap wood, the puzzle pieces came out just as I wanted them to! Each piece is 3/4" thick, so they're super durable. Vince has already chucked pieces across the room for kicks and nothing split or cracked (aside from the slight crack that was there to begin with). I though that was a good sign, especially since we'd only used scrap wood!!!
For reference, this is what 3/4" of an inch looks like:
Anyhow, the naked pieces have been sitting on my counter just waiting for me to pick out the perfect colors. I finally did so tonight because with the oncoming snow, I figured a crafty activity would keep me occupied. Here I am about halfway through the process:
To get some of the colors juuuuuust right, I got to try my hand at mixing. I wanted a subtle rosy pink for the cheeks, but the red I had was too dark and the white didn't help, so I added yellow and got precisely what I wanted. I felt all sorts of artsy!
I must've painted each piece about five or six times. Wood absorbs paint like you wouldn't believe, and I wanted certain colors to REALLY stand out (like that gorgeous cobalt blue).
Besides, I don't mind if things take longer to do if they come out looking nice in the end.
The halo might've been one of the more time consuming parts of the project because wanted to use special metallic paint to highlight some of the rays. To ensure I didn't make a total mess of things, I taped off lines for myself:
It definitely looked a bit silly at the time, but I was so happy with the way it turned out.
Definitely worth the agita of fighting the tape.
All in all, it took me about an hour and a half to paint everything. I used a hair dryer at some points to help the paint dry faster (so I could paint facial features, for example). Otherwise, I just spent my time sanding, painting, painting some more, and taping off things here or there.
I used a different brush for each color because I didn't want anything getting mixed that I wasn't mixing on purpose, ya know? The sponge tipped brushes worked best on the wood to give it a smooth, even coat. The fine-tipped brushes were perfect for the details. I'm really happy with how the final project turned out. Have you guessed who I was painting?
I haven't sealed it yet, but that's because I want to wait overnight to let everything really dry thoroughly.
Now that I know I can actually paint these pieces and have them look like a cute facsimile of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I'm going to have John make me a few more using non-scrap wood. He'd know the best kind of wood for a project like this, so I'll defer to him, but I wanted to share with you folks because I'm just so pleased with how she turned out.
I'm contemplating painting other versions since this is such a basic design. Suggestions? Thoughts?
I'm also thinking about coming up with other designs - specifically ones that involve the Holy Family. I've always liked those Holy Family images with St. Joseph basically encompassing Our Lady as she cradles the Infant Jesus in her arms... something like that.
So, that was my craft tonight. Any ideas on which version of Our Lady I should try next? I'm very open to suggestions!
As promised, I'm finally getting around to posting some of the Marian art I've found in my travels recently. First up is a beautiful tapestry located in the Parish Office of the church I was married in. Since I'd never been in the Parish Office, I'd had no idea this gem was hanging behind the secretary's desk. It's big (maybe 3.5 ft high?) and quite beautiful. While not a favored style of mine, I really appreciated the use of color in this one. The red and blue are swirled together, at times indistinguishable from one another. Mary's Motherhood is, after all, inextricably entwined with martyrdom. You can't tell from my photo, but there is gold thread (paint?) laced throughout. It's beautiful.
Next up is a wonderful candle holder I found at a thrift store. I didn't purchase it (because I would have nowhere to put it), but I liked it enough to take a photo! It features the Holy Family at the Nativity, but instead of an angel surrounding them, the Blessed Mother stands guard while the angel kneels in adoration. I bet the little star cutouts make for a fantastic light show when a candle is lit within.
This is such a unique piece. I regret not purchasing it when I saw it!
This next piece is a plaque that sits out in front of our Human Services office. As little Jesus rests against His Momma, Our Lady basks in the feel of His Head against her cheek. St. Joseph, hard at work behind Them, drinks in the sight of his Beloved Family, likely with a psalm of thanksgiving in his heart.
It's such a serene image... I feel comforted just looking at it! I gave you the close-up because it's just so wonderful.
The next one is a bit blurry (sorry! I plan to get a better one). This charcoal drawing was sent to me by a wonderful friend who knows well my love for Our Lady. Here, we see her calmly sewing a garment. Did poor St. Joseph tear his cloche on a nail? Was she creating the tunic Jesus would be stripped of before being nailed to the Cross? Maybe she was creating altar linens for the Temple. Regardless, she seems focused in mind, body and spirit, calmly doing the work set before her. What must she have thought about to pass the time while she waited for Jesus and Joseph to come home from work?
The below artwork is by a studio called "Flor Larios Art." I've become a big fan of her colorful designs of Our Lady. They are so child-like... I just love them! She creates bookmarks, canvas, wood paintings and boxes like the one below and sells them through Etsy. I've been eyeing this one the last few weeks and finally went ahead and purchased it!
So there you have it, folks! These are the most recent bits of Marian art I've found to share with you! If you ever come across unique pieces of Marian art, please share them with me!!!
I helped a sister into her office this morning and was rewarded with a new image of Our Lady to share with all of you!
Many of you are likely familiar with the artwork of Brother Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS. If you're not, I'm delighted to be the one to introduce you! He's an award-winning artist whose deeply Catholic themes jump to life through brightly colored watercolors (at least I think they're watercolors).
The image I'll be sharing today is titled "Tower of Mercy."
You'll have to forgive the reflections - those aren't part of the piece. At first glance (because I only got to see it for a few seconds before running off to work), I thought it was an image of the Incarnation. After all, the Holy Spirit has descended upon what appeared to be Our Lady's womb. I attributed the tears to her humble acceptance of the Sacrifice she knew she'd one day bear witness to.
When I opened the image up on my computer for closer inspection, the first thing I noticed was the angel at the bottom holding what looked to be a flaming pentagon. I simultaneously realized it was THE Pentagon, and it was flaming right next to the Twin Towers which were being held by the second angel. Suddenly Our Lady's tears made a lot more sense.
Also, the words around her halo are taken from the Hail, Holy Queen (a Marian prayer for those of you unfamiliar): "To thee do we send our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."
I really like how Brother McGrath uses the curves of the letters to create a halo of tears that mimics Our Lady's sadness. Our prayer, in effect, echos hers.
She comes, then, our prayers reaching out to her and pulling her close, bearing the Holy Spirit. So many people in the years since the September 11th tragedy have said that they can't believe more people didn't die. I truly believe the Hand of God was upon America; the Blessed Mother asked that we be spared more suffering, and so angels supported the towers until more could escape. Angels surrounded the Pentagon and helped our officials get to safety. Divine Providence ensured that people who were supposed to be at the epicenter of these events were somehow displaced, late, sick or otherwise unable to be there (my brother included).
Mary is, indeed, a Tower of Mercy. As our ever-loving mother, she seeks to surround and protect us - even in the midst of chaos and terror. The flames of her love (and the Divine Love of the Spirit which emanates from her Immaculate Heart) are bigger and more powerful than those of the terrorist attacks.
And so it truly is. Our Lady is bigger and stronger than any of the terror we see in our world today, and we would do well to turn to her in prayer. She cries out for her children all over the world because we do so much damage to ourselves, but she does not forsake us; she will not forsake us. No matter how dark the night, no matter the flames and smoke that engulf us, she will rise as a beacon of hope and love, of strength and mercy.
Bless Brother McGrath for using his God-given talent in such an inspiring way. His ability to take sacred themes and make them accessible to everyone is awe-inspiring.
I realized while clearing out my photos that I'd completely forgotten to share this one of Vincent.
The day after Mother's Day, he presented the Blessed Mother with this rose. This little setup is in his bedroom. The dresser (and thus, the Blessed Mother, St. Michael, Holy Family, etc) overlooks him while he sleeps.
Anyway, I thought it was so sweet, because he kissed the rose and put it in front of her statue saying, "I love you, Mary."
My little munch. :) May the Blessed Mother claim him for her own.
A blessed Mother's Day to mothers everywhere.
From the moment of conception, we strive to make all the best choices to nurture our children's growth - what we eat, if we'll take medicine, what we will and won't drink...
Motherhood does not begin with the birth of a child. It begins the moment a woman opens her heart up to the possibility of life taking refuge in her heart.
So again, to all mothers out there... natural mothers, pregnant mothers, adoptive mothers, godmothers, grandmothers and mothers yearning to meet their little saints in Heaven...
Be blessed. May we be granted the grace to walk our paths with love through the intercession of our Most Holy Mother.
John came home the other day bearing a gift. He was oddly serious, and as soon as he said, "Uncle Mike wanted me to give you this" I knew it was something of Nanny's. I heard it before I saw it. There was a delicate sound of beads clinking together, so I looked at John and said, "Her rosary?"
John shook his head and said, "No. A bracelet."
He then lifted a beautiful hematite beaded bracelet from its protective wrapping and put it in my hand. I remember seeing Nanny wear this. I had complemented her one it once before because it's got one of my favorite images of Our Lady as its centerpiece. Instantly I was joyed to have this exquisite piece of Nanny's religious collection.
I asked if he was 100% sure no one else in the family would be upset that I was recieving this little treasure. I only married into the family. I've only got ten blessed years of knowing Nanny, so Heaven forbid I be given something that holds more sentimental value for someone else, ya know?
He assured me that he and Uncle Mike talked about it, though. Uncle Mike specifically put it aside for me because he knew Nanny would have wanted me to have it. Both Uncle Mike and Nanny knew of my love for the Blessed Mother, so I was grateful. I spoke with Uncle Mike last night about it. I thanked him for being so thoughtful as to put it aside for me. He gave me a hug and said he couldn't think of anyone else who would appreciate it as much as I would.
I'm just so humbled and grateful for this beautiful reminder of Nanny's devotion to Our Lady. She clung to her Faith, and I know it served her well, especially at the end.
I have little doubt the Blessed Mother came to collect her.
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, rain your blessing down on those who have gone before us. May they all await us in Heaven.
When the pain of loss seems too great to bear, and when the grief comes coursing in to crush the very breath from your lungs, fix your eyes on the Blessed Mother as she gazes upon her Son, gasping away His Life for love of us.
Allow the tears to come. Offer your tears together with hers... hers that shine like diamonds and are collected by the angels as tokens of mercy.
Accept the emptiness as it threatens to swallow you. Allow the weight of desolation to shatter your heart - your very soul - but do not despair.
For where God destroys, He creates. These mournful remains can thus rejoice and offer themselves as ready sacrifice for the new Life that comes in their place.
"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you." Ez. 36:26
Blessed Mother, be my strength. I am having a really, really hard time accepting Myla's absence right now.
That television show... it was as if I was being pinned to a surgical table to have my heart sliced open by a scalpel.
But I see, I see. The tears wash away the clutter from my eyes, and the crushing grief just reminds me that I have something left to offer. It is yours... the pain and tears that echo softly your own. Tender Mother, hold her for me. Hold her and tell her all the things that I never got the chance to say. Allow her to be the delight of your Son since she could not be the delight of mine. Bring her often to see her Father so that He can tell her about the Daddy she left behind. Guide me daily with Vincent so that I can be worthy of meeting her one day.
Grief, folks. It still exists. Every day. Sometimes you're granted respite. Sometimes you're asked to experience it more keenly. But it's always there.
That is at it should be. There can be no grief if there is not, first, love. And love is forever.
And love, Myla Therese, is exactly what you were created by.
Swoon with me, people! Isn't this just darling?
This painting by John Everett Millais not only captures Jesus and His parents... it captures John the Baptist and St. Elizabeth, too!
It seems they're all hard at work in St. Joseph's carpentry shop. They're working on what looks to be a door. Poor little Jesus nicked His Hand (His Blood trickled down onto His Foot), and Our Lady stoops down to comfort Him. John-not-yet-the-Baptist comes running in with his trusty water, a precursor to his future calling.
The others surround and look on intently at the unfolding scene before them. St. Joseph even reaches out to grab Jesus' hand as if to see how badly He'd hurt Himself.
You can see the Holy Spirit hanging out on Jacob's Ladder in the above detail, too.
As St. Joseph checks Jesus' Hand, St. Elizabeth is already moving to remove the blasted nail from the door so He doesn't hurt Himself again. You can also juuuust make out the triangle, a carpenter's tool and also a symbol of the Trinity.
A young man looks on - likely an apprentice of St. Joseph's. Just outside are the herds of sheep indicative of the flocks Christ will lead as the Good Shepherd.
Yup. I'm swooning for this painting. The colors... the details... the symbols chosen... even their facial expressions. Everyone seems so somber... as if they all understand what this little event is foreshadowing.
Everyone but St. Joseph. To me, he simply looks concerned and loving towards Jesus. "Oh Son, you've cut Yourself. Let's see what we can do to make sure You're okay again. There, there."
He's even holding three of Christ's Fingers. Jesus is typically painted with three fingers up to represent His union with the Trinity. His other two fingers represent His Human and Divine natures. In this case, one is pointing upwards (His thumb) and the other is pointing down for His Humanity. I like what Millais did there.
Alrighty, you folks enjoy. I absolutely love stumbling across gems like this!
Isn't she beautiful???
I just adore pregnant versions of Our Lady. This statue is just under 12" high. I found her in my travels at the Archdiocesan building. She's located on the 11th floor on the desk of a colleague. I asked permission to snap these photos with my phone and she laughed saying she got compliments on this statue all the time.
I asked if there was a St. Joseph statue to go along with this (like some sort of La Posada set). She said she didn't think so. It's always been just Mary and the little, unborn Jesus within her.
I could look at this statue all day. I absolutely love it! So I'm sharing it with you fine folks!
Here she is from both sides so you can appreciate just how round with Life she is! In the one on the right, it almost looks like Jesus' tiny Foot is pushing her abdomen out slightly. *Giddy swoon* LOOOOVE this tiny statue!
The Blessed Mother as the first (and most pure) tabernacle of Christ. How she must have marveled at the miracle hidden within her most holy womb.
Here she is! Notice anything different about her?
Sure she's got a crown of flowers, and the ones placed in front of her are a little wilted, but take a closer look at the statue, itself.
Not sure yet? Here... let me give you a different angle. That should clear things up a bit!
If you haven't gotten it yet, I'll give you one more hint.
I took this picture directly behind my sister's room as she stayed on bed rest in the maternity ward. The wall behind Our Lady has my sister's bed behind it.
With that in mind, take a look at Our Lady's belly. Go ahead. Note the full curve of Life within her womb.
I've never seen a pregnant OLO Grace before. Never! Go figure there'd be one at this beautiful Catholic hospital that my sister found herself in.
As soon as I saw her, I knew I wanted to share her with you. She's just so beautiful! And the fact that this particular artist wanted to capture her as the expectant Mother of God is just.. I about died a hundred times as I fell over and over in love with her.
I adored that she was tucked away behind my sister as she kept Isaac safe within her for as long as she did, supporting her "unseen" even though we all knew she was there.
I'm just a complete sucker for stuff like this. Granted, I'm a complete sucker for Our Lady, but I count that as a plus. We should all be suckers for her.
Vincent still does his "No Jesus!" whining when he realizes we're on our way to Mass. He does it every week, regardless of which church we go to. I no longer give it a second thought, because he's typically excited about going by the time we get there. It's just the idea of having to stop playing that gets him, I think.
Anyway, John still smirks at times when he hears Vincent doing that. He thinks I don't see it, but I do. And in my head, I just say a prayer that God keeps Vincent for Himself and gives him a deep, true love of Jesus and His mom. After all, if you've got that base covered, you're pretty much set.
Well, for every smirk John gets in, I am granted my own. Here's evidence of my latest one:
I snapped this when I went up to check on Vince after putting him to bed. When I'd left him, the dolls were on the table next to him. When I came back up, it was obvious that he'd tucked them in under the blankets (on either side!) with him. I had such a gratifying appreciation bubble up in my heart when I saw this. God's gonna make sure Vincent knows Him and loves Him.
And because I couldn't take only one shot... here's a clearer one! :) I chanced the flash for the second one... totally worth it!
When I was a younger teenager, I worked as a sacristan for my old parish of Incarnation. I loved that church, especially when it was done up in all its Christmas splendor. We had elderly ladies who volunteered their time arranging flowers, altar linens and various greenery all over the sanctuary. Being a sacristan, I was kept out of this work as my job consisted of cleaning and replacing candles / candle holders, making sure chalices and cruets were sparkling, and ensuring we had ample supplies of unconsecrated hosts and wine for whichever Masses were coming up.
However, I always fancied the idea of being part of the troop that made the sanctuary explode with color to celebrate the birth of Christ.
This year, I got my wish in a very odd, but super "God knows all" way.
A friend of mine solicited nursery advice from me now that she's expecting her first little boy. I happily shared fun little things I did with Vince's nursery. After the conversation, though, I felt a sadness due to the fact I will likely never decorate a nursery for my own little one ever again.
I went through a brief couple days of sadness because of this. It wasn't just the conversation I had with her. It was just that our conversation had capped a string of similar conversations that added up to me longing for a little baby to decorate for.
Well, God saw my sad little heart and sent my friend, Steve, to give me a boost. Steve is our parish Superman (arranging liturgies, directing music, directing pretty much everything that goes on in regards to the church in general - ha). Anyway, he sent me an e-mail inviting me to take part in decorating the church for Christmas.
I was delighted! Would I like to help decorate the church? YES! A thousand times yes! How exciting would that be?
So at the appointed time, I arrived ready to move some poinsettias, hang some garland, and swap out the purple for gold.
The first task at hand was the altar linens. At first I didn't want to step foot into the sanctuary. I don't believe it's proper for a woman to enter the sanctuary, but I realized it was a foolish notion on my part. How was I going to help if I couldn't enter the very place that needed dressing?
The next problem I ran into was the altar. I was asked to change the altar cloths, themselves, and I really didn't like that idea. Steve wasn't going to make me do it because he could see that I was uncomfortable, but I figured if I maneuvered everything just right, I wouldn't have to touch the altar, itself, and would only adjust the linens over it as respectfully as I possibly could.
It was then that I realized I was preparing Jesus' nursery.
I mean, there we were, this troop of volunteers running to and fro getting linens in order, flowers in place, and decorations just right. We were just like nesting mothers driven to perfect the nurseries of our little newborns.
And that really is what we were doing. We were preparing the dwelling of the Christ Child who come to us in a very special way at Consecration. The thought was so moving to me. I was so grateful, then, to be given this chance to dress up the King's nursery. I imagined how Mary must have felt as she made certain the garments she wove were lined up and ready for His arrival... how she must have straightened and restraightened the meager belongings she and Joseph had taken on their impromptu trek to a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, all the while singing songs of praise to the God who took refuge in her sacred womb.
I was so happy, then, to realize that God was kissing my broken little heart by letting me make ready His nursery in lieu of one of my own. I was almost thankful for the sadness I felt earlier since it made me that much more aware and appreciative of my part in decorating the church.
God is good. He really does see all, and if you patiently offer even your tiny, silent sadness, He'll return it to you as a gift.
One of my new favorite people in the world asked me a great question this morning.
We had been talking about using three fingers for the Sign of the Cross about a week ago. It's something a lot of people either don't know or have simply forgotten over time.
However, after talking about it, he's more aware. I told him to look out for the priest at the end of Mass to bless with his three fingers raised because the priest acknowledges that the blessing is actually coming from the Trinity (God) and he is simply an instrument of His Blessing.
My friend then said, "Well why do they use their whole hand when they bless the bread and wine at Mass?"
I said, "That's a great question! They use their whole hand because they aren't really blessing the bread and wine; Christ is."
Since the priest acts in persona Christi, we understand (as faithful Catholics) that the priest, though present, is simply a vessel through which Jesus, Himself, comes to Consecrate.
The priest calls Christ from Heaven to consecrate. Only God can make God. Thus, the priest, being endowed with the privilege and responsibility to call forth Christ from Heaven, doesn't create God from bread and wine. He calls forth Christ and gives himself over to Him for the benefit of his people. Thus, when the priest blesses using all of his fingers, we understand that it is really Christ doing the consecration. It is Jesus who creates Himself in place of the bread and wine.
And that, my friends, is why the hand gesture is different during consecration. THAT is why the priest uses his whole hand. It's because he's allowing Christ to utilize the physical form of his body to enable Christ to pass along His Sacred Blessing.
Ah - to be a priest is to consent to a daily form of the Annunciation. Each time he says Mass, he briefly contains within himself a bit of the divinity that Mary must have acknowledged when she said "Fiat" and opened herself to the mystery of the Incarnation. Her consent to allow God to use her physical body for His greatest blessing parallels nicely with that of the priest sacrificing his physical body to allow God to manifest the mystery of the Eucharist.
And upon completion of this mystery, he (again, in persona Christi) offers this Sacrifice up to God the Father to bear forth salvation (or more rightly, bear us forth to the gift of Salvation). This is why the priest lifts the chalice and patten (or ciborium, I guess). Christ, in the person of the priest, offers Himself to His Father at the Last Supper. It's why the priest suddenly changes to first-person pronouns, too.
Our theology is so deep - so beautiful - that I could happily meditate on it for hours. EVERYTHING is meaningful. EVERYTHING is a reflection of our faith.
Never forget that.
I feel like at one point in time, we've all been guilty of this.
Or maybe you're all just way better people than I am, and I'm the only one who has ever decided to go the route of lazy and cut corners during prayer.
Ever hear the story of the Fatima children who would say their rosaries every day by simply saying the first two words of every prayer down the line? "Our Father, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary..." and so on.
I remember reading that story when I was very young and thinking to myself, What a great idea! only to realize a few pages later that Our Lady didn't look too kindly on such half-hearted lip service. I remember then simply feeling like a jerk for having applauded their misguided 'brilliance.'
Anyway, I try to pray one rosary and one Divine Mercy chaplet every day. When I know I'm going to be particularly busy, I've said both Apostle's Creeds (one for the rosary, and one for the chaplet) together, then said 2 Our Fathers and 4 Hail Marys plus another 2 Glory Bes in order to "get them out of the way" so I'm able to focus on the "meat" of the rosary and chaplet later on.
And I wondered... should I be cutting up and reorganizing my prayers like that? After all, we were given them in a certain format for a reason, right?
The way we say our prayers and the order we say them in are significant. As I've always taught my class, EVERYTHING we do as Catholics (from how we position ourselves during prayer to the format and wording of those prayers) has significance.
So lumping stuff together isn't ideal... nor is it proper.
Think about it. Would you want the priest to lump together the Intercessions with the Penitential Rite just because he thought the Mass might go a little quicker that way? Or maybe on his way up during the Procession, he just swiped the bread and wine from the credence table instead of waiting around for the Offertory?
Of course not. We'd be losing some very key expressions of faith should he do any of these things. The same is true when we pray our rosaries and chaplets out of order.
I know I've touched on this briefly in Part 3 of my Rosary series, but it fits today's topic. The ordering of our prayers is another expression - another deepening - of our faith and our understanding of that faith. The ordering calls us to contemplate and rejoice in a rhythmic fashion. Each decade serves to draw us deeper into the picture of God's plan for our personal salvation. Saying the prayers as they're meant to be said is like taking a stethoscope to God's Heart as it beats lovingly for each and every one of us.
Sign of the Cross - As always, be begin our prayers by marking ourselves with the sign of His Victory... His Passion of mercy and love.
Apostle's Creed - We remind ourselves of our faith and renew the promises of our baptism.
Our Father - Using the words of Christ, we call upon God the Father to "give us this day our daily bread." Being in the 'eternal now,' though we are praying within the confines of a finite sphere of time, God is able to know and see these prayers throughout eternity. Thus, though we ask Him for our daily bread on a Thursday in September of 2012, God has foreseen this prayer from eternity. As we pray this before each decade, we unwittingly ask for the gifts each mystery reminds us that He has already bestowed.
Hail Mary - This blessed prayer is Christ-centric.
Glory Be - Again, remembering that God is in the eternal now, when we say this prayer of praise and thanksgiving, we are supposed to be thanking Him for the decade's particular mystery and whatever intentions we had going into that decade.
See the cycle?
Placing ourselves before God, the Sign of the Cross is like us putting the stethoscope to our ears in anticipation of listening to His Heart.
The Apostle's Creed is the tell-tale sign of His Love.
As we motion through the decades, the steady rhythm of petitioning for salvation (Our Father), God's answer to our petition through the various mysteries (Hail Mary) and our subsequent praise and thanksgiving for His active mercy through history (Glory Be) are like the gentle vibrations of Divine Love. Our God is a living God, and His movements are eternally present. Thus, our prayers are eternally present as well.
We'll never know just how far-reaching our prayers are until we get to Heaven and see the 10 or 20 forgotten Purgatory souls we've helped reach the Gates... or the 5 lost souls who would have continued along the path of perdition had you not done a daily offering... or maybe even the terrible accident you helped to mitigate for your great, great, great, great grand-daughter because you piously recited the Divine Mercy chaplet for all sinners past, present and future.
Never underestimate the power of prayer... especially prayers given to us by Heaven in a specific format. These formats are given to us for the holy purpose of helping us to better understand God's Love and Mercy.
So I've been making a much more concerted effort to recite my prayers in their proper order, but I figured I'd post this in the event that anyone else was like me and had attempted to "cut corners" every once in a while.
Our Lady cradles Jesus
I just got back from picking up lunch on my break. While I was waiting in line, a father came over to the condiment counter for napkins in order to wipe his son's face. The little boy was about Vincent's age. I smiled at him, and he smiled back with this huge, "the world is amazing" grin. I laughed to myself and gave his father an appreciative nod - he's raising a beautiful little boy.
The little boy's older brother came over and "nuggied" his head. The younger brother giggled as the older tousled his hair, then they both ran off to play. Their father called after them, "Vince, make sure you look after Luca."
And even remembering him calling that out makes me choke up.
I understand why I immediately felt like a ton of bricks smashed against my chest, but it still catches me off-guard.
Those little moments when I become so overcome with jealousy and grief that I don't think I can resume breathing... they give no warning. They spring upon me with no sympathy for where I am or who might see my heart break.
Luca. It wasn't even Vince's name as the older brother that knifed me to my core. It was Luca's... the little one who is about Vince's age. As soon as I heard his name, my heart first melted. What a beautiful name, I thought. I'd love to have a little Luca.
That tender appreciation for such a simple, eloquent name quickly turned into intense longing and grief. Yes, I admit there was jealousy there. But it isn't as if I wanted to snatch the child away from his father and run home. It wasn't as if I was envious to the point of wishing he were mine instead of belonging to that family. I was just a little jealous that they got to have a Luca and I did not.
Then I tried to console myself with the fact that my next little one wouldn't have been a Luca anyway. If we were to have another boy, he'd've been a Nathan. But Luca... something about that little boy's name was like a fire-brand to my heart. It just made me long for a newborn and painfully aware of my inability to have one.
And then came all the familiar self-assaults: You're cheating Vincent out of siblings. You're disappointing your parents (in-laws, too) because they deserve to have the grandkids they, too, long for. You're with-holding playmates from Arianna and Alliya. You're cheating yourself out of the fullness of your motherhood. You're... you're... you're!!!
So for those of you who ask me how I do it... or say I'm a saint for dealing with John, I assure you... I'm no saint. This is a daily struggle that sometimes becomes almost impossible. It attacks when you least expect it, and it's a daunting challenge to contain the interior emotions that threaten to suffocate you. My only advice to those of you (men and women alike) who are struggling with this cross - immediately call out to Our Lady. Offer it and just accept those sudden moments of unbearable emotional lashing as atonement for someone on the brink of mortal sin.
That thought gives me solace.
Maybe, just maybe, God allows us those tiny moments of sacrifice for someone half-way around the globe in need of spiritual assistance. I imagine that's what Christ clung to as He stumbled under the weight of the Cross along Calvary.
Hang on... call out for assistance. Those are the moments in which we are closest to Him. As such, hand over those moments immediately for whatever uses He needs them for. In return, He will promptly give you the graces necessary to prop yourself back up again.
You might not feel it right away... but in time, peace will settle back into your heart.
Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had an infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideals. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself?
Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her un-womanly and un-motherlike actions? Would you have in any way stained and soiled her with the selfishness that would make her unattractive not only to you, but to your fellow-man? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her, or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes, the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you, but even to your fellow-men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?
Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?
Today's blog entry today brought to you by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. :)
Enjoy some more of his love for Christ's Church:
Long time readers of this blog are familiar with Fr. Trad (short for Traditional). You may remember him from such entertaining posts as "An Impromptu Confession Sans-Stole" and my very first memory of him (and his parish) in "New Church."
Well, you are in for a real treat today!!! Not only am I going to reveal Fr. Trad's identity, I'm going to give you a sneak peek into his beautiful church and tell you how you can experience Fr. Trad in the comfort of your own home!
As is typical for Holy Days of Obligation, I attended this parish for their evening mass (my parish doesn't offer evening mass unless it's a vigil). This is also the parish with the beautiful Adoration Chapel that I usually attend.
Anyway, as soon as I stepped foot through the doors, I was overcome with awe. Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - was meticulous. Flowers were everywhere, banners for Our Lady were hung high, her gorgeous statue was bathed in candlelight, and Father was already busy censing the church.
I know I've said this about a bazillion times, but I LOVE THIS PRIEST! He's traditional and he's super Marian. He spares no expense attending to Our Lady, and it shows in everything he does. It shows in everything that the parishioners do as a result.
There's an anonymous saying that this blessed priest reminds me of. It goes:
If the priest is a saint, his people will be holy. If the priest is holy, his people will be good. If the priest is good, his people will be fair. If the priest is fair, his people will be mediocre. If the priest is mediocre, his people will be bad.
Priests are meant to be a step above us in their example of holiness. They're meant to draw us closer to God by, in fact, being closer to God through purity of heart. This man exemplifies this for me, and it shows in how reverent his flock acts during Mass.
I'm always struck by how in-sync the lectors / ministers are... how attentive the altar servers are... how unassuming even the choir is (though their music is phenomenal). Considering how many parishes I've been to that have lectors brassly refusing to reverence the Blessed Sacrament, that have Extraordinary Ministers acting like the Communion line is some sort of popularity test, etc, I fully appreciate a cohesive parishioner base that understands the Mass is a prayer meant to worship God... not a place to showcase their presumed skill-set.
Anyway, I decided after Mass that I needed to come back and finally snap some photos of this church to share with you. One day I might do the same for my current home parish, but for issues of privacy I'd rather not at this point.
The reason I'm brazenly posting all of this knowing it will "out" Fr. Trad's identity is because I just learned that he is on YouTube! All of his homilies are there, so I emphatically suggest you check out his page! His real name is Fr. Carmel, and though he uses a cane to get around, he is a true warrior for Christ. I imagine he might try to politely shove St. Michael out of the way when he gets to Heaven so he could serve as Our Lady's personal bodyguard. Ha ha!
I wanted to give you this fuller appreciation for Fr. Carmel before I showcase his beautiful church. Why? Because a beautiful church is just a building. The REAL Church is made up of the priests and parishioners that work to make that building beautiful and holy. So with that in mind, enjoy the slideshow. Keep this priest in your prayers. Keep all priests in your prayers. May they all strive to live their vows faithfully, and may they all rely on the intercession of Our Lady in so gracious and attentive a manner. Bless them.
Art from the Church Proper
Why is it so hot in here?
This is horribly organized.
Can't they get fans set up?
Why is no one directing traffic?
Hey, the line starts back THERE, buddy.
Can you hurry it up a little, lady?
Being in front of the Blessed Sacrament (even while enclosed in the tabernacle) seems to remind us that we are in the Presence of the Divine. Relics, while not divine, are instruments of Divine Power. Though nothing of themselves, God has chosen to utilize relics in a way that highlights the lives of His elect so that we may better follow their example.
Anyway, I feel as though we lost sight of that due to our environment (a lackluster gymnasium). Thus, idle chatter and rather rude statements spread like wildfire.
I realized that I, too, was beginning to take part in the chatter. So, to distance myself from the behavior, I left the group of friends I'd arrived with in order to remove myself from the temptation. Mind you, this was through no fault of my friends. I was the one instigating most of the chatter, so I figured it'd be best for both myself and them for me to meet up with them after they'd been able to experience everything for themselves.
I was able to read Conchita's Diary in full while in line to venerate the "Biggies" of the exposition. They included:
Anyway, I went from table to table, touching my medals / rosary to the various reliquaries in order to create 3rd Class relics for a few family and friends who were unable to attend. I snapped a few photos of the exposition for the rest of you in an effort to coax you into requesting one for your own parish. Even though this experience wasn't as favorable as my original one, it was still extremely worthwhile and beautiful. I still learned so much, and I'm sure the graces I gained from being present with so many of God's elect steeled my soul and gifted me a deeper appreciation and love for all His many blessings.
Enjoy the slideshow!
Can you imagine the joy of Mary as she made her way closer and closer to the home of St. Elizabeth? Knowing that she was about to bear witness to another miracle - the fruitfulness of a barren old woman - she must have been singing non-stop praises!
And yes, of course Our Lady was besides herself with joy knowing that she carried God within her womb, but I'm willing to bet she always placed the joy of others before herself.
She wasn't someone who simply clapped her hands and said "Congratulations" only to lose herself in her own life five seconds later.
No. She immersed herself in the joys, sufferings, triumphs and challenges of those around her. She always - ALWAYS - placed others before herself due to her perfect humility. She must have savored the miraculous blessing of her elderly cousin as much as St. Elizabeth, herself, did. It's why Our Lady stayed on to take care of her and help her in her final months of pregnancy. She joyously accepted her role as servant, even while pregnant with the God of the Universe.
How blessed are we to have such a gracious, loving woman as our Heavenly Mother?
That's why I love the above statue so much. These two pregnant women, through the power and grace of God, join together in love, support and prayer. This loving example of kinship, faithfulness and humility gave us one of our most beautiful prayers of praise - the Magnificat.
my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness;
henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me.
Holy is his name!
His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,
and sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant,
remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his sons for ever.
That's honestly a great question!
Today is the 8th day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit. I find it interesting that today, Friday, we call upon the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Wisdom, and today is the day this fine young woman asked this question!
"Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written 'all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.' It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree."
I couldn't help but think of the Blessed Mother upon reading those words. Indeed, she is the Mother of Wisdom. Through her, the supreme goodness of God came to us in the form of Jesus, Her Son. Being our most favored and beloved intercessor, we are granted innumerable graces through Her Immaculate hands. She is our perfect example of faith, hope and love, and when we dedicate ourselves to following her sweet example, we find that our faith is strengthened, our hope solidified and our love purified. In following Our Lady, we cannot help but find new ways to practice virtue.
Did the Holy Spirit "HAVE" to alight upon the Blessed Mother? Did she really "need" grace to perfect anything she was lacking to enable her to go forth and help build the newborn Church?
Considering how much the Holy Spirit must love Our Lady, who is to say He simply didn't WANT to pour Himself out upon her? Who is to say He didn't wish to miraculously expand her already pure and loving heart in order to fit more of Himself within?
Point is, pouring Himself out to Mary gave Him great joy because He knew how much joy He was giving her. In deepening and expanding her already perfect capacity to love, He didn't diminish her previous state of perfection.
Think of it this way. Captain Rich Pants is the World's Richest Man. He is a bazillionaire, and he happily gives away much of his fortune to charity. Putting another $100 into his bank account isn't going to have people saying, "Oh my gosh - he wasn't the World's Richest Man before! NOW he's the richest!"
No. Both before and after the $100 transaction, he was the World's Richest Man. Even WITH all the checks to charity.
Now let's say we up the transaction to one bazillion dollars (whatever that is). Would this addition be any different than the $100?
No. Both before and after either transaction, Captain Rich Pants was and would be the World's Richest Man.
The same is true of the Blessed Mother. Instead of being a bazillioniare, though, she was blessed with the Jackpot of all Graces. Just because the Holy Spirit wanted to gift His beloved an extra blessing of graces doesn't diminish the fact that she was perfected in graces before His arrival.
Another perspective - My Mom's van works perfectly fine. She loves it. It gets her to where she needs to go and she's able to pick up her friends and do grocery shopping and such. However, if I ever came into some money and purchased her a Stretch Hummer (that somehow ran only on used vegetable oil to stave off environmental irresponsibility), I would hope no one would give me the stink eye because the van she's had for a few years suited her just fine.
A gift is a gift. The Holy Spirit poured His Gifts out upon them freely and lovingly. Just as it'd make me happy to give my Mom an awesome upgrade to her car, the Holy Spirit was happy to give Mary an even deeper perfected love of Him and His Church.
Though Christ is leaving the Earth to take His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father, He is still the source of blessings and wisdom, as they are sent down to the waiting Church (signified by His mother and the apostles). He is, after all, sitting on what appears to be a bridge. Christ is our bridge to Heaven - He is the only path which leads to salvation.
Speaking of the apostles, they're a jumbled mess. Some critics have said that this is because they are confused and scared. Others have said it was the artist's way of conveying intense grief. I honestly think it's a bit of everything. The apostles were surely grief-stricken at the thought of saying goodbye to their Friend and God again. No doubt His Blessed Mother was besides herself once again as she understood her place was to stay behind to nurture the growing Church.
Her beautiful hands are lifted in supplication to her now glorified Son. She does not look mournful, but she does look expectant. She understands that while Heaven awaits her Son, earth would now await His Return, and she would be first in line!
So while the apostles around her held their heads in grief, or held one another in mid-gasp, Our Lady was already looking forward to the day she would reunite with her Son (whether through His 2nd Coming, or her own passage into Heaven - who knows if she knew which it'd be).
Our Lady is also in a deep crimson red. Red is the color of power - of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Mother is, after all, "full of grace" and as a result is the most powerful intercessor of all. Flanking her on either side, then, must be Saints Peter and Paul. Though Saint Paul was not present at the actual Ascension (having not had his conversion), the artist probably chose to include him anyway so as to speak of the gentiles the Church would come to encompass.
One final note about Our Lady. She is standing on what appears to be a little square platform. I thought about this for a bit, and I assume it's meant to symbolize that though Mary was left in the world, she was not of it. She is there, but she's above it - closer in union to Her Son through her holiness. There's a story from her childhood in which her mother, St. Anne, wouldn't allow the Blessed Virgin's feet to touch the floor until she was three years old (some cultures still have this practice). The earth is impure, so to have Our Lady standing above it a bit... I wonder if that's significant of her holiness and grace.
Anyway, it's a beautiful image celebrating a beautiful day. Today, 40 days after Easter, is when Christ once again reunited with His Father in Heaven. We celebrate not only His glorious ascension, but the fact that He will come again... in the same glory He ascended with!
Blessed be, blessed be, blessed be. :)
The church was barren, save for an empty wooden cross crowned with a ring of thorns. I wanted to kiss the cross as I waited for confession, but it was in the sanctuary so I could not.
This church had also removed all the kneelers which I thought was interesting. I didn't mind kneeling on the floor and thought it was a good idea that we could now offer up this slight mortification in union with Christ.
All the fonts were either empty of draped in purple. It almost felt wrong that the sunlight poured in through the gorgeous stained glass windows. Did nature somehow forget that Jesus was suffering death? Did the sun forget that we were to remember His Passion today?
No - nature didn't forget. That same sun shone down upon Christ as He followed the Via Dolorosa. That burning sun tried so hard to light His way... to warm His Body that must've been shivering dreadfully for lack of Blood. It poured its rays of warmth over Our Lady to offer her even the simplest of condolences. It offered itself to the people - the same people who angrily kicked, spit upon and mocked the Savior. If the sun could think, would it have let loose torrential solar flares in an effort to enlighten these ignorant people that they were cruelly murdering the innocent and mighty Hand of Creation? Would it have spun faster to strengthen its gravitational pull in order to pull its God closer to itself in a protective embrace?
That sun - our sun - was the same sun that shone down on Christ's hanging Body upon the Cross. It didn't forget... maybe it just knows better than we do the power of Christ's resurrection and wants to remind us that though our hearts are black with grief, His Light will prevail and will work Itself into even the darkest of tombs.
I cannot even imagine that pain. When I think of the Blessed Mother and the other women who were forced to watch their children be sacrificed (for early martyrs, this was common- to endure witnessing the torture and death of your children before being killed yourself) my heart nearly stops. My breath always catches because as a mother, I cannot help but put Vincent's face on each of those children. I cannot help but imagine my own indescribable terror, pain and fury as I was shackled to a wall to endure Vincent's agonizing torture, unable to help, comfort or avenge him. Would I be able to offer our suffering up to God as Mary did?
And I do think of this often. I can't help myself, especially with the increasing amounts of political pressure being built up against the Catholics not only in this country, but all around the world.
It's no secret that Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world (actually, it might be in the US where many assume it's Islam). Also, since I subscribe to VOM's monthly newsletter, the reality of this problem is often in my thoughts.
My husband has often questioned why I continue reading these things as they tend to make me upset. I respond that my ignorance doesn't help, and at the very least, these folks deserve to have people aware of their plight... even if the only thing we can do is offer prayers for them. I'm not willing to ignore the suffering of others in order to spare myself a few sleepless nights. It doesn't seem right.
I won't lie - there have been times where I've wanted to put down books or newsletters. I've wanted to ignore particular headlines because of the emotional stress I'd end up with, but I typically end up reading on. I have to. How would I feel if someone ignored me? How would I feel if someone had the ability to help me and shut the door because it was just "too painful" to even acknowledge my pain's existence?
It's why I forced myself to endure learning about the different methods of abortion. For weeks I'd burst into tears, dropping to my knees to beg God to force us to stop these heinous murders. I didn't care if that meant the world would end, I just wanted the suffering of these innocent children to stop. This was actually during a period that John tried "forbidding" me from accessing the internet. Heh - he knew he couldn't really forbid me, and I doubt he wanted to, but he was so upset for me that he didn't know what else to do. He didn't understand why I kept trying to learn more about abortions. He said, "You know they happen, and you learning about how they happen isn't going to make abortions happen less."
I said, "You're right. My understanding won't stop abortions because I already made the decision to never participate, but I bet if others who haven't made that decision learned about abortion it would happen less!"
And it's true - so many people who are "pro-choice" really don't understand all that goes into an actual abortion. For all the philosophical waxing pro-choicers do, they never once get into the hard-science of what an abortion physically does to both a child and the mother who carries it.
But I digress. Sorry!
Would I be willing to hand over Vincent for such a slaughter?
I mean, let's say that 1 million people were in jail. I'm not talking about the US jail system that allows inmates to watch TV, hang out in a cell, and be provided with 3 meals a day.
No... I'm talking about a hellish, hard labor camp akin to Auschwitz or worse.
Now let's say these million people aren't just random strangers... they're family. Yes, they are family that's guilty of every offense possible ranging from cursing all the way through murder, but they're family. Would I be willing to sacrifice Vincent for the lot of them?
Let's take it one step further... let's say these million family members aren't just distance relationships. They're a million Maria's and Shannon's... a million Raymond's and yes, even a million Evelyn's... my true brothers and sisters. What then? Would I be willing to hand Vincent over to save them?
And finally - even more than being my brothers and sisters - what if they were my children? What if these jailed souls were my children? Would I be able to hand over Vincent, my first, only and beloved son over for a torturous death so that they might be freed from jail?
What if I knew that even if I offered Vincent's life for theirs that they'd ridicule our sacrifice? That they'd scorn him?
How could God the Father ever consent to this sacrifice??? How could Christ, knowing full well what the future would hold for His wayward children???
Yes, we indeed crucified the entire Trinity that first Good Friday. We continue to crucify Them each time we are negligent in our duties as Christians... as dignified human beings made in His Image.
May God have mercy on us, and may we remember the Love shown to us through the truest Sacrifice ever made.
The tender love and comfort extending from the child as she reached out to touch her agonizing mother is intense. That flood of intensity was then made into a deluge of sadness as I realized the child was "invisible," the symbolic soul of a child this mother lost. Then, when I realized what the title of the sculpture actually was, I just about died of a broken heart.
Though this sculpture doesn't necessarily have to speak of the post-abortion grief many woman feel, that was what I took it for at first glance. Then I realized this grief could easily be felt by women who suffered miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, or even hysterectomies before fulfilling their vision of a family. This sculpture could also encapsulate the grief of a mother denied children through birth control, social pressures or infertility... maybe even a mother who lost her child to illness, violence or trauma.
Such ceaseless pain is perfectly juxtaposed with undescribable love. This ghost child is peaceful, seeking no solace for itself; she is only looking to comfort her stricken mother. The mother, overcome by her emotions, cannot feel the touch of this angel. She wants to... she yearns to... but she cannot.
Oh my heart. I'm actually writing this entry with my "window" scrolled up just enough that the image is not visible on my screen. I can do nothing but weep when I see it.
May the Lord grant us mercy for our transgressions against these innocent babes. May those who seek reconciliation find peace, and may the Holy Spirit alight in the hearts of those who don't understand that life begins at conception.
Today our liturgical calendar marks the momentous occasion in which the Blessed Mother becomes the new Eve through her eternal "Fiat" to the Divine Will of God!
Our humanity, overshadowed by sin and a longing for the Messiah, is granted not only the Savior Incarnate... we are granted a dignity that far surpasses our mortal minds. God, Himself, takes on our flesh. God - the timeless, omnipotent Author of Life - constrains Himself in the womb of His Mother that He might teach us all the way of holiness.
God did not demean Himself by taking on the form of man. Instead, God elevated humanity to Himself, allowing His Divinity to sanctify the physical temple of the flesh. This is simply unfathomable, and I honestly get a little dumbstruck every time I think about it.
Anyway, you folks know I'm a big fan of the Annunciation. I've spoken of it many times in the past. Bear with me while I talk about it again. This is one of those mysteries I'd be content talking about forever. In fact, I'm hoping to ask God to let me watch a "replay" of it when I die just so I can see that blessing unfold over and over again! :)
As a result of this break from God's Will, humanity was forced out of Eden to await one who would help rectify the reverberations that disfigured creation. One would come who would help restore balance, peace and dignity to the fallen people. One would come who would say "Yes" where Eve had said "No."
This is why Catholics believe her to be the Mediatrix of all Graces. However, as pointed out in the Second Vatican Council's Lumen gentium, this understanding "takes nothing away, or adds nothing to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator."
Mediatrix simply means "woman mediator" and Our Lady was (and is) the go-between of God and humanity. Her sinless life - from her Immaculate Conception until her glorious Assumption - was one, singular "Fiat" to the Will of the Father.
And as I said before, she's not only our example of how we, too, can lead lives in union with God's Will, she's also our strongest intercessor helping us ensure we do just that!
Jesus, having given everything He even unto His last drop of Blood from the Cross, looked out at His people and saw one thing left to share with us - His Most Holy Mother. Mary, who had been His consolation, joy and refuge was no left without her Son. To both console her and to console us, He bequeathed this gem to us through the person of St. John.
Louisa Piccarretta's description of this moment is entirely too moving for me to fully encapsulate here without delving into the entire Hour. Suffice to say, however, that this gift of Christ was majestic, and I, for one, am eternally grateful for His arrival via Annunciation / Incarnation! :)
Say it loud and proud, Angel Gabriel!!!
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