Theology 101: Dangerous Memories

Confessions of a Catholic Democrat:

“Not everyone is called to invest himself intimately in politics, and for some it would be dangerous to do so. Great discernment is needed to work in non-ideal circumstances, finding politically effective messages without sacrificing personal integrity. Those of us who involve ourselves in political struggles ought to pray fervently that God preserve us, lest we betray the faith. I would be humbly grateful if readers would also make it a point, when reading a helpful or enlightening column from any (living) Catholic writer, to say a quick prayer for us that we might have that discernment. Politics is a dirty business.” (Mark Stricherz/Crisis Magazine)

This “discernment” is difficult and personal.  What I propose is that if you read this “confession” you recognize that I hold that we are all collectively responsible for immense failures as a society, as democrats, as republicans, as individual human beings on social justice and dignity of life issues.  I further will challenge you to accept that given we are living in “non-ideal” circumstances as Catholics, where we represent only 16% of the global population, where we are sharply divided within our own ranks, that our beliefs would wisely be presented humbly.    Our great experiment of Democracy is only 239 years old and our faith is 2000 years young.  Our country and our faith have made grave mistakes in our history.  While we have also made immense contributions, we are called by our faith to constantly be self-examining, as individuals and as a collective.

I will make my case here for why my conscience allows me to vote democratic.  At the same time, I want to disavow you of any claim to my ownership of moral authority, superiority, or knowledge.  I could easily argue the other side.  I also have failed personally with indulgences on more than one occasion (mainly inebriation) of which I confess personal failure.  I am sure I have fallen short on countless other yardsticks of morality and am confident that any vote will have strings attached to unholy alliances.  So, do not be angered by positions and recognize I value yours.  I put myself above no one.  I have regrets and successes in life that run deep and expect to have more of both, God willing, may the Holy Spirit be guiding my every action.

I am in good company, at least with people that have strove for knowledge and education.  “Democrats lead by 22 points (57%-35%) in leaned party identification among adults with post-graduate degrees. The Democrats’ edge is narrower among those with college degrees or some post-graduate experience (49%-42%), and those with less education (47%-39%).  Across all educational categories, women are more likely than men to affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. The Democrats’ advantage is 35 points (64%-29%) among women with post-graduate degrees, but only eight points (50%-42%) among post-grad men.”

And “party affiliation among all Catholics is similar to that of the public: 37% describe themselves as independents, 33% as Democrats and 24% as Republicans. About half of Catholics (48%) affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic while 40% identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP.”

How can Catholics of that magnitude be Democrats given Pro-Choice policies, Women Reproductive rights, and LGBTQ issues (mainly definition of marriage)?   I cannot answer for this large number, but will point out how I have found myself in this camp.  Twenty years of social work services in homelessness and mental health services has taught that fighting poverty and helping the poor is not profitable and our unchecked free market system does not have the answers.  I am not alone in this belief. Mark Stricherz puts it this way:  “As someone who has grown to appreciate Catholic social teaching, I believe that the basic test of any civilization is how it treats its least citizens. In my personal and professional experience, I have concluded that the federal government is a better vehicle than business or the free market to meet that test. That’s why I am a Democrat. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus (1991),”The more that individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority.”

The history of the national Democratic Party lifted most elderly people out of poverty, gave health insurance to the aged and infirmed, and gave health care to 11.5 million people thru the affordable care act without the doomsday predictions of the opposing party.  My academic studies (master’s in social work, bachelors in philosophy and psychology) has taught me the in-depth the history of social justice issues on our country and the democratic party has had alliance with our catholic foundational beliefs on many fronts.  My experience has demonstrated the same.

One political action group puts it this way:  “Democrats for Life of America exists to foster respect for life, from the beginning of life to natural death. This includes, but is not limited to, opposition to abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Democrats for Life of America is one of over 200 member organizations of Consistent Life: an international network for peace, justice and life.”   Notice that they are against consistent against a culture of death on all three social issues.   What separates catholic democrats from catholic republicans, in my view, is a belief that catholic republicans avoid social responsibility by riding on a pro-life platform that offers criminalization of women without having any investment at the myriad of social problems that foster unwanted pregnancies and other social problems.    And criminalization of abortion does not and has not been an effective policy.  While catholic democrats “believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies.  We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available as they face pregnancy: including, among others, support and resources needed to handle the challenges of pregnancy, adoption, and parenthood; access to education, healthcare, childcare; and appropriate child support.  We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.”   This is huge task and requires democrat and republican support to realize.  It is proven that effective social policy, access to health care, and fighting poverty works.

Pope Francis understands the far reaching consequences of poverty and social justice issues.  A Washington Post article implies that if you read his encyclical you have to all but be a democrat.  I disagree.  Be a republican but foster your party to do better in areas of immigration, poverty, capital punishment, labor, environment, and global economic arbitrary disparities that foster terrorism and war.     (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-test-of-faith-pope-francis-puts-2016-gop-hopefuls-on-the-defensive/2015/06/18/bc3af116-15d2-11e5-9518-f9e0a8959f32_story.html)

The LGBTQ issue and civil unions I have less to address here.  We as Catholics know too little to address the incompatibility of recent science of biological determinants that indicate it is not a lifestyle choice versus the literal translation of the bible.  My take is the church should not be involved in legal marriage at all.  This is a U.S. issue that the church fulfills a civil union that implies civil rights.  Get out of that business and perform the catholic sacrament of marriage for the catholic faithful in line with our beliefs of procreation.   The vast numbers indicate we are missing something and we should not foster a climate of hatred or denying civil benefits based on our narrow understanding of this area of human genetics and human love.

Now, sometimes catholic democrat’s causes can be hijacked as well by the party and act in name sake only.   Promoting access to abortion services without serious commitment to promoting efforts that increase the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies and abortions is not acceptable as well.  Maintaining abortion is wrong for women and for the unborn while supporting greater access to ability to carry pregnancy full-term, access to prevention services, access to education, access to employment, access to housing, and access to other protective factors is what it means to be a catholic democrat.

Both the democrat party s and some federal policies have failed us here.   As Mark says these “problems merit our concern, not our scorn. What the Democratic Party needs, as the nation needs is a new leadership class that seeks to overcome those obstacles. This class would have the toughness and soulfulness of Bobby Kennedy, the prudential wisdom of David L. Lawrence, and the compassion and Christian conscience of Robert P. Casey. I don’t begrudge good Republican politicians. But at a time when America’s wealthy and middle classes are growing estranged from and sanction violence against the poor and vulnerable, I hope and pray that the great Democratic public servants of years past can inspire those of today and tomorrow.”   Mark has voted for republican nominees at times despite being a democrat.  I state this to make the point that no party owns the Catholic vote.   Only you own your vote.

My opinion is the democrat party does more for promoting my beliefs.  At the same time I respect those that feel the Republican Party does more to represent their beliefs.  A bumper sticker like Pro-Choice or Pro-Life is not a get out of jail free card from social responsibility.  I personally like “choose life.”   It goes much deeper.  And factually, we will do more good with how compassionate we are every day than with our single vote.    That is why I am a Catholic democrat.  I hope you will join me.  And if not, I hope you will bring Catholic ideals to all the other issues facing our nation other than myopia on one topic.

For further reflection

. At Vienne (1311–1312) the council condemned the Knights Templar in the language of “anger and wrath” reminiscent of the prophets.37 Pope Julius II’s decree in Lateran V (1512) against the cardinals who had attempted to depose him minced no words: “We condemn, reject and detest, with the approval of this holy council, each and every thing done by those sons of perdition.”38 The Council of Constance (1418) denounced John Wyclif as a “profligate enemy” of the faith and a “pseudo-Christian,” and handed over his disciple Jan Hus to be burned at the stake.39

On Vatican II:  The genre can be precisely identified. It was a genre known and practiced in many cultures from time immemorial, but it was clearly analyzed and its features carefully codified by classical authors like Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian.49 It is the panegyric, that is, the painting of an idealized portrait in order to excite admiration and appropriation. An old genre in the rhetorical tradition of the West, it was used extensively by the Fathers of the Church in their homilies and other writings. It derives from neither the legal tradition of classical antiquity nor the philosophical/dialectical but from the humanistic or literary.

The purpose of the genre, therefore, is not so much to clarify concepts as to heighten appreciation for a person, an event, an institution, and to excite emulation of an ideal.To engage in persuasion is to some extent to put oneself on the same level as those being persuaded. Persuaders do not command from on high. Otherwise they would not be persuading but coercing. Persuasion works from the inside out. In order to persuade, persuaders need to establish an identity between themselves and their audience and to make them understand that they share the same concerns. They share, indeed, the same “joy and hope, the same grief and anguish.”59 The form prompts and enhances congruent content. It should come as no surprise that reconciliation has been one of the perennial themes of the epideictic genre. Although ecumenism of some form was on the agenda of Vatican II from the moment John XXIII announced the council, it found appropriate expression in the new genre and could feel very much at home there. Since the genre wants to raise its audience to big issues, its content in a Christian context is typically the major doctrines of creation, redemption, sanctification. Implicit in this penc. Implicit in these reciprocity-words, moreover, is engagement and even initiative. In the document on the laity, for instance, the council tells them that they have the right and sometimes the duty to make their opinions known.61 Implicitly the reciprocity words are empowerment words. Closely related to reciprocity words a

In this regard the council’s emphasis on conscience as the ultimate norm in moral choice is remarkable: “Deep within their conscience individuals discover a law that they do not make for themselves but that they are bound to obey, whose voice, ever summoning them to love and to do what is good and avoid what is evil rings in their hearts.”63 WI will summarize in a simple litany some of the elements in the change in style of the Church indicated by the council’s vocabulary: from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to conversation, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical and top-down to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from static to changing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from prescriptive to principled, from defined to open-ended, from behavior-modification to conversion of heart, from the dictates of law to the dictates of conscience, from external conformity to the joyful pursuit of holiness.

This is the style for the Church that Pope John seemed to be pointing toward in his allocution on October 11, 1962, opening the Second Vatican Council: the Church should act by “making use of the medicine of mercy rather than severity . . . and by showing herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness.”66 The shift of Vatican II in style of discourse

The shift of Vatican II in style of discourse has, therefore, deep ramifications. It and the many other special features I have mentioned distinguish this council from every previous one. By adopting the style it did Vatican II redefined what a council is. Vatican II, that is to say, did not take the Roman senate as its implicit model. I find it difficult to pinpoint just what its implicit model was, but it seems much closer to guide, partner, friend, and inspired helpmate than it does to lawmaker, police officer, or judge.

VATICAN II: DID ANYTHING HAPPEN? JOHN W. O’MALLEY, S.J. Recent emphasis on the continuity of Vatican II with the Catholic tradition runs the danger of slighting the aspects of the council that were discontinuous. Among those aspects are the literary genre the council adopted and the vocabulary inherent in the genre, different from that of all previous councils. Examination of these aspects yields tools for constructing a hermeneutic appropriate to this council, and not only shows how distinctive Vatican II was but also allows us to get at that elusive “spirit of the council.” The substance of this article was delivered as the Roland Bainton Lecture for 2005 at the Divinity School of Yale University and shortly afterwards as one of the “Gathering Points” lectures at Marquette University.

Internal Power

The Lord God did not counter the threats of history with external power, as we human beings would expect according to the prospects of our world. His weapon is goodness. He revealed himself as a child, born in a stable. This is precisely how he counters with his power, completely different from the destructive powers of violence. In this very way he saves us. In this very way he shows us what saves.http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html

More on Vatican II:  http://americamagazine.org/issue/684/article/novelty-continuity

Improve Church

I am a cradle born Catholic post Vatican II.  At times I have visited other denominations many years ago at the height of youthful disenfranchisement with my own church, but by and large I found the Catholic doctrine is solid – our delivery still remains an issue!  What our priest say after the Gospel is read is also key.  If I were pope, I would “order” a secret missive that priest slowly start expanding that segment of interpretation and application of the readings by about a minute a week or so until it achieves a significance of lasting impact.  Of course, that would call on our priest to have greater depth and oratory skills in a time of great shortage!  Pulling back quantity (number of masses) for quality (content) may in the long run fill the pews, and eventually increase discipleship.  In poorer communities, the morning mass should be followed by social morning breakfast (free perhaps with a non-public place for donations to help with cost out of sight of kids) where all members are encouraged to sit and dialogue on the sermon.

I contacted my parish several weeks ago to meet with the monsignor over healthcare conflicts as a social worker, first by e-mail with content and than by phone.  We scheduled a week out.  The day of the appointment I was cancelled. .   We came close to finding an appt. another week or two out and than I decided thanks but no thanks.  The secretary was great.  My own crisis of issues had resolved anyway.   Access to spiritual direction is an issue as well.  While I may have the skills and commitment to challenge myself (i.e. like this course), the spiritually fragile would be gone from the above.   They might return if a follow up note was sent by e-mail from the priest – sorry we couldn’t make it happen kind of thing.  The greatest weakness of our church are pastoral, followed by media and politicians appropriation of the faith.

Vatican II and Pope Francis

Michael Novak, author of article “Reconsidering Vatican II,” targets media for overstating and oversimplifying doctrinal shifts during Vatican II as well as currently, with the immense popularity of Pope Francis.

Through triangulation of reading several key documents of Vatican II (Sacred Liturgy, Dogmatic Constitution on the church, Social Communication,  Decree on Ecumenism, Church in the Modern World, and others), historical reviews of Vatican II impact and meaning (traditionalist, progressives, and reformist positions), and actions and words of Pope Francis, I am convinced that the vast majority of people have a misconception of Catholicism, Vatican II, and the living church, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Catholic apologetics (or their offshoot polemic apologist) do not have the ear of the masses or perhaps even of the bishops?

Our church pivots violently between oversimplified watered down catholicism and overly dogmatic traditionalism, neither of which can carry the word of Christ alone.  The former abandons the rich deposit of faith gifted to us over two thousand years of Christian development post Jesus Christ as well as the the morals and teachings the B.C. era.  The latter ignores the challenges of a living tradition subject to an ever changing world and  and treats the historical church as if it was a dead letter, not evolving, and wedded to the definitions of the pre-modern world.   Without a unified presentation that is coherent and consistent the voice of the church is given to “naysayers,” professional politicians, and media.

The media, through no fault of its own, serves the reader’s digest version of Catholicism while being swayed by the temporal desires of the day, The public digest the various forms of criticisms, predictions of doom, and overall negativity without access to well versed theologians, grounded prayer, or a well grounded independent faith. And like our political system, people run to their safe havens of silo’s of belief, sheltered in and bunkered down with like minded people, secured by the comfort of consensus and moral conviction.  The Devil himself is envious of such a well developed trap for dividing humanity – voluntarily built by laity and priestly types alike.

“The public does not go to the press for solid scholarship,” The press understands this and plays to what we want to hear and read.  

There is a depth and a mysticism to Catholicism that defies understanding, defies traditional and social media, and befuddle theologians as well.  Yet, many are willing to proclaim authority and the moral high ground despite ample evidence that we are mere specks of dust, wayfarers on a journey of the Cross that is still 2000 years young.  

The misconception that drifts into the church and the media is to dissect and divide events and timelines, to shape the divine according to our whims and fancies, to redefine without serious contemplation and knowledge of eschatology or grounded theology.  The church is divided by media into liberal versus conservative, pre-vatican II versus post-vatican II, believers versus non-believers, and countless other irrelevant distinctions given our fundamental belief that our beliefs call for an “authentic universal humanism” that serves all humanity, sinners and saints alike.  And again, this is not the media’s fault.

The drama and the divisions in the tabloids and the social media are of our own making, by our  own failings, and desires.  The naysayers and politicians will always be there to speak for the truth as well.  

As we prepare for Pope Francis, how can we learn from this error of oversimplification, demonization, idealization, and other all too human errors of cognition?    

Don’t ask me, I have no idea!  However, Pope Francis seems to be able to live and enunciate the humility and the divine at the same time.  He may have the answers as to what it means to realize Vatican II without jeopardizing dogmatic tradition and divine revelation.  And, the rest is up to you to be a discerning student of life and all things divine.

Vatican II reference

In defense of tradition catholic views

Vatican II reflection 40 years later

A review of “Reconsidering Vatican II” by Michael Novak has led me to believe that the author was originally from the progressive camp at the time of the “event” of Vatican II and with time and reflection firmly can to a reformist camp position.   On the one hand, he acknowledges great gains and insights regarding ecumenical issues and impact on relations with nations, eastern churches, and Jewish peoples.  On the other hand, he clearly depicts the devastating impact on religious orders that he attributes to the progressive expansion of Vatican II that bought the religious orders to a place of meaninglessness, disconnected from the church.  I see it as a laissez faire religiosity that unchecked, like capitalism, leads to dissolution of the main purpose of what the “system” or “institution is there for in the first place:  to improve “authentic universal humanism.”   The unity of progressive and traditional paradigms is required for true pursuit of the divine nature of the church.

Vatican II references and Preparing for Pope Francis

Liberation Theology:

Pope Francis has roots in Argentina that are strongly connected to Liberation theology.  His outlook and actions are reflective of this theology.  This scares western society.  Why?  Catholic/Christian roots have a rich tradition of social responsibility and economic justice.

The most recent defining doctrine for the Catholic Church is Vatican II.  I anticipate Pope Francis will be touching on many of the reflections that I jotted down below as I read over key documents of Vatican II: 

“Let us work to see that created goods are more fittingly distributed among men.”

“The People of God have not been immune from the faults and failings of human affairs — and are, therefore, subject to self-criticism and self-correction.”

“The faithful are called upon to embrace “a vision of a community of faith, hope, and love that answers to their deep and unsatisfied hungers for a truly human, truly meaningful existence.”

“On the other hand, a written record is a dead letter, needing constant interpretation and commentary in succeeding ages.”

“Though there may still be some who yield to the temptation to claim Omni competence for ecclesiastical commentators on the human scene and its contingent social, economic, and political complexities, they cannot appeal to this constitution for for such a pretension.  On the contrary the text tells us something significant about the churches true understanding of its own nature and function, as well as its modesty and humility with which it regards its relation to the world.”

“Or else, weighed down by wretchedness, they are prevented from giving the matter any thought.”  (Materialism)

“…implementation should be given to the right of all men to a human and civic culture favorable to personal dignity and free from any discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, nationality, religious, or social conditions.”  

 “In some places it even results in a decline of social status of the weak and in contempt for the poor.”  (Intensified wealth gap)

“…..payment for labor must be such as to furnish a man with the means to cultivate his own material, social, cultural and spiritual life worthily, and that of his dependents.” (Governing socio-economic life as a whole)

“…basic rights of the human person are counted the right of freely founding labor unions.”

“Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him.”

“It is not rare for those hired to work……to receive a wage or income unworthy of human beings.”

“Human beings should also be judiciously informed of scientific advances in the exploration of methods by which spouses can be helped in arranging the number of children.” (Ambiguous with regards to birth control)

“In even more sweeping terms, lack of full fidelity to the gospel on the part of Catholics is as an important cause of man’s unhappy condition today.”

The ditch for Catholics is a deep one when entrenched in our own moral failings – yet we attempt to prescribe morality for others.  It is time for serving and interior reflection – not condemnation based on our own sheltered and limited understanding. 

The Cure of Ars & Benedictine Option

Sarah Metts published an article “Fighting Evil Like the Cure of Ars” (Catholic Exchange 08/04/2015).  In brief, the article postulates that the way to fight evil in the world (abortion, murder, oppression, violence, etc.) is simply to be holy.  She sites work by Peter Kreeft where he states our enemies are not “liberal media, anti-catholic bigots, or even the culture of death, but fallen angels and sin.”  To fight those enemies we need Saints like “The Cure of Ars.”  St. John Vianney lived at a time when Catholicism was clearly counter-culture in France.  In his example, he attracted sinners to his confessional booth from all over the world by his holy life.  The article neatly points out our path to sanctity maybe a little more humble (prayers, confession, mass, help the poor).

The article connected to me on-going pieces in the American Conservative by Rod Dreher on the Benedictine Option. In essence, he is challenging the catholic faithful to learn how to live in a culture that is fundamentally counter to our values. We cannot all retreat to monastery life and live according to Benedictine rules, but we can create enclaves within the culture by living holy lives and attracting “barbarians” to the light.

The idea is to retreat to an interior spiritual life that is deeper in meaning and practice, deeper than catholic rituals that at times come to feel like civil religion as opposed to instilled spiritual belief.  Or at the very least, a reason for a bull horn and a political stance.  The article quotes Richard Rohr’s quote from Falling Upward: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better….I learned this from my father St. Francis, who did not concentrate on attacking evil or others, but just spent his life falling, and falling many times into the good, the true, and the beautiful. It was the only way he knew how to fall into God.”

As a catholic I can do more by living my life in pursuit of sanctity via prayer, sacraments, confession, good deeds, study, and vigilance than I can by attacking the counter-culture. And trust me I am not claiming any victories here in my pursuit of sanctity, what little victories I have had were given to me on a silver platter and my epic failures were primarily my own inventions – or at least with my consent.

When we live happy lives in harmony (as well as model how to virtuously deal with suffering), help the poor, and practice our faith we can attract more converts to our kingdoms door and God’s grace will do the rest.

The Benedictine Option is not casting aside our role in the communities, it is arming ourselves within a counterculture with the tools to remain faithfully oriented to God.  A lot of fancy terms, saints, and philosophers come into play.  You can simplify it by a using the four gospels often and praying directly with God.  Still, the lives of the Saints provide us with role models of sacrifice and simplicity as well – but they would be the first to say turn your eyes to Jesus and God, not to themselves.   Veneration not idolization!

“Personal Holiness changes the world.”

Whose Kingdom do I seek?

Mt. 6:6:  When you pray go to a private room and close the door.  You may pray there, say a thoughtful version of the Our Father (Mt. 6: 9 to 15).  Fasting privately can also increase faith.   For most of us prayer is experienced as a solitary and often lonely experience.  It does not have to be long.

Difficulty in prayer is to be experienced with patience. Sleepiness,  monkey mind (anxious prayer filled with human concerns or individual concerns), or self-directed prayer that may limit the ability to let God’s intentions and presence surface in our consciousness are some barriers.   Simply pray for God’s desires for you, and strength to follow the grand design.

Here is the rub.  How can I follow a grand design when so few actually hear God’s plans (like Prophets) personally and to not get ahead of myself.  The act of prayer alone is a grandiose act.  The immensity of approaching a deity with a two thousand year old letter of introduction. That is faith.

We do have guide post in scripture and inscribed in our hearts. The mystical believer can fine tune through rigorous contemplation and holy acts their inscribed purpose.  For most of us, it is a little nudge judging a circumstance, reflecting, and coming to know what is right in God’s eyes, in our sixth sense, a divine intuition.

Humility must be applied consistently.  We have no ability to harness divinity at our own rate and our own plan.  We do not manage God.  We have some minute influence and management/ownership of worldly things, but very little purchase on spirituality or divine presence.  It is no wonder we seek comfort in worldly attachments.

Prayer, when in its purest form, seeks the kingdom of God for all, not the mediocre of the kingdom of men and all its entrapments and temporal promises.

Eternal life calls for me to not look for validation from men, but from God.  However, temporal life should call for the same measure of accountability, creating heaven on earth by numerous mortal acts of love.

How can you not share this when in the throes of grace or what you think is grace?  And if  shared no good outcome is to be found.  You become smug claiming a proximity to God closer than others or you become labelled “God’s Fool,” chasing a mission that cannot be realized.  Both of these are good outcomes given the range of other responses meted out by  opposing religions or fascist governments, No good can come from this approach.

Evangelize by deeds great and small without any words,  God will do the rest.  Entangled thoughts in complex times and an inexperienced way fayer make for confusing post.

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