3 Easy Steps to Grow in Holiness

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Christianity in the 21st seems to get more difficult as each day passes. Unfavorable Supreme Court decisions, hostile media reporting, and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse scandal makes the desire to follow the teachings of Christ quite tough. Jesus even promised that the way to Heaven would not be easy. In Matthew 19:24 he declared, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” On average, camels grow to the shoulder height of 6 feet high and the length of about 9-10 feet. Typically, the khaki-colored creatures weigh well over 1,000 pounds. The eye of a needle is quite small, just slightly greater than the width of the thread that goes through it. Certainly, Jesus’ example was only hyperbolic when it comes to entering Heaven! Right?!

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The late Catholic nun Mother Angelica quipped, “Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every Christian.” Holy individuals make it appear easy to live the holy life. However, when we try it ourselves it is quite different. Not to downplay that difficult road toward Heaven, because it truly is difficult, I have learned that in some ways holiness need not be as cumbersome as we may make it to be. I wish to share three tried and true steps to grow in holiness.

1. Pray Daily: You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you have already begun.’ 10
St. Josemaria Escriva. Praying is plainly described as talking with God. Relationship involves dialogue: speaking and listening. Prayer involves a two-way conversation. If you are unsure what to say to God, maybe begin your prayer simply in silence–waiting for God start. Some people feel more comfortable petitioning God for help. That is also a great way to start prayer. Just be sure to allow time and be open to God’s reply as well.

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2. Learn from Scriptures and Saintly Writings: Another easy step to increase holiness is to open up a Bible or read a spiritual work by a saint. The key to this step is not the length of time, but instead the frequency and consistency by which you acquaint yourself with spiritual writings. Schedules are busy with work and family obligations taking up a large chunk of the day.

Begin with small and reasonable goals with how much time to spend on spiritual reading. Maybe your daily routine allows for an hour, maybe it only allows for a few minutes. Start will just reading for 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised how much your week will improve with insight from those holy men and women!

3. Small Sacrifices: The third thing to incorporate into a daily routine is sacrifice. True love involves giving yourself for the other. It involves sacrifice and reduction of selfish tendencies. Authentic change and orienting your life towards holiness will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take time and likely a lot of time. Be prepared to grow in holiness for the rest of your life!

Because of the long term commitment, I say let’s start small with manageable tiny sacrifices. It may simply involve refraining from a sarcastic comment when your spouse, friend, or neighbor annoy you. St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” That would be a small, but still sacrificial moment. Once you have the daily routine of sacrifice for your loved ones day pat then you may focus on larger sacrifices.

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Starting, or perhaps restarting, your spiritual journey need not be impossible. Developing a daily habit of prayer, frequent spiritual reading, and looking for the good of the other [and the Ultimate Other] through small sacrifices will help your increase your virtue and transform your life.


“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

“So be holy  just as your heavenly Father is be holy.” –Matthew 5:48

 

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Fasting from Fast Food

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The idiomatic phrase ‘you are what you eat’ usually comes up at the beginning of each New Year. Health experts, fitness coaches, doctors, and well even your family and friends may have resolved to eat better and more nutritionally in 2019. Last month, my wife gave birth to our fourth child [Yes, the fourth is finally with us!]. Along with the excitement of bringing a new child into the world comes an added responsibility that one more person is dependent on us to learn about the world and grow as a productive, respectful, and loving citizen. the fourth is with us

Our daughter received the Sacrament of Baptism this past Sunday—the entrance into the life of grace as an adopted child of God. Not only do we as parents have the duty to provide for her physical well-being, more importantly, we are charged with the [awesome] obligation to be the first educators of the truth of the Gospel. During the Baptismal Rite the celebrant (priest or deacon) proclaims the following to the parents and godparents of the child,

On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring him (her) up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.

If you are not aware of the Christian Baptismal ceremony than I certainly hope you have learned a bit our the significance of that event. However, you may be reading this through the lens of an already faithful Catholic and this news of Baptism may not be too novel. “We already know the significance of Baptism! What does ordering a juicy cheeseburger have to do with Baptism anyways?!”

Once a person becomes a member of the Church the sacramental life of grace only just truly begins. In order for me to be an effective teacher and protector of the Catholic faith in my household I need to increase in holiness myself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving” (CCC 1434). 

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Among the seven most poisonous sins includes the vice of gluttony. Gluttony refers to a type of greed, specifically in relation to food and drink. Excessive overindulging in food leads to all kinds of issues—for both the body and soul. Saint Josemaria Escriva plainly describes the ill effects of gluttony by stating, “Overeating is the forerunner of impurity.” Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) if  we cannot take care of ourselves physically what hope do we have for spiritual progress?

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Both my wife and I started an exercise program called The 21 Day Fix. While that title speaks of a fix, a more appropriate moniker would be reorientation. Spending three weeks of portioning our meals, ensuring a balance of all the food groups, and regular fitness regimen will help us re-focus our daily living towards health and wellness. My wife challenged myself and her to give up fast food throughout the week. Parents will children know how easy it is to fall prey to the temptation for the quick and ‘easy option’. This is especially true when schedules get crammed with school and work obligations.

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I implore the Holy Spirit for the virtue of temperance to aid me in staving off the alluring sin of gluttony. I also challenge you to fast from a thing in your life that may have consumed your lifestyle— it need not be fast food, perhaps, you suffer an addiction to social media, gossip, or material possessions. Whatever temptations you face in your life please know that I am with you in this journey of holiness. More importantly, our loving God knows our struggles and desires to help us overcome then. Please feel free to share your particular temptations and/or resolutions to grow in holiness in the comment section. I greatly desire to have a conversation with you and will pray for strength in your situations!

 

10 Catholic Role Models I Appreciate!

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Coming off the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be easy to move directly into “Black Friday” Christmas shopping mode. The hustle and bustle of completing the holiday to-do list certainly puts pressures on people to rush. As a result, sometimes we forget that thanksgiving is not merely a day of the year, but rather a mindset. Recognizing the blessings in your life is not a novel, Americanized concept. Actually it is quite old. According to ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” I needed to hear that wisdom as I too suffer immensely from gratitude nearsightedness.

Acclaimed Catholic journalist and essayist G.K. Chesterton pithily proclaimed, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Since focusing my attitude toward gratitude, I have noticed a seismic shift in my approach to treating my wife, kids, customers, and co-workers with more respect and patience. Along big component to thanksgiving is sharing with others gifts that helped you out, for me ten outstanding individuals helped shape—and continue to shape—my Catholic faith. These following ten Catholics are role models I am incredibly thankful for God allowing to enter into my life by either reading their works or listening to their speeches.

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1. Venerable Fulton Sheen: Reading the works of the American archbishop helped me learn my faith in a clearer and more articulate fashion. His book The World’s First Love: Mary the Mother of God influenced more than any other work on deepening my relationship with the Blessed Virgin.

2. St. Josemaria Escriva: Since receiving his book The Way as an unexpected Christmas present, this Spanish priest became a huge role model for me. Fr. Escriva’s practical advice and wisdom on work being a pathway to holiness helped me become not only a better employee, but also a better husband as well.

3. St. Catherine of Siena: Over the past couple of months, I had the privilege and joy of acclimating myself with the teachings of this Doctor of the Church. In light of the recent clergy crisis, I oftentimes sink into despair as I think that a simple lay person such as myself has nothing to contribute or weight to affect the good of the Church. Reading the many letters of Catherine of Siena proved to me that even the laity have the ability—and the charge—to holiness and call on Church leadership to be good shepherds to lead the flock faithfully!

4. St. Maria Faustina: Being my wife’s confirmation saint, I did not learn about Sister Faustina until we started dating in college. Along with the impact the Polish nun had on my wife, her Diary of a Soul proved to be a fruitful read for my spiritual life. As a lifelong Catholic, I always knew of God’s mercy, but her ability to articulate boundlessness of Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy icon now have become staples in my spiritual life.

5. St. Athanasius: Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this amazing doctor of the Early Church. Since taking a graduate course on Christology and reading [enter book title], St. Athanasius’ intrepid stand against the most sinister heresy—Arianism—in the history of the Catholic Church always inspires and fascinates me! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the sainted bishop’s On the Incarnation.

6. St. Pope John Paul the Great: The Polish pope overcome much adversity in his life: losing his immediate family members by the age of 21, living through Nazi and Communist regime, and suffering from polio at the end of his life. JPII’s ability to suffer gracefully and his strong devotion and daily reception of the sacrament of Penance make him the perfect role model for faithful Catholics.

7. St. Francis de Sales: Although Frances was a bishop, his spirituality largely impacted the laity. In his spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life, remains today almost 500 years later a

8. St. Therese of Lisieux: Whether I experience doldrums or dryness in the spiritual life, reacquainting myself with the Little Way of St. Therese provides me spiritual nourishment to withstand those dry spells. The simplicity of her spiritual helps to provide me perspective that I do not have to perform grandiose works to grow in holiness. Actually, that path it founded by continually to pray and rely on trusting in God’s will. I am thankful for her loving witness to trust in the Father’s Divine Plan.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien: While the father of fantasy and beloved creator of Middle Earth may appear as an outlier in this list, the late Oxford professor strongly influenced and deepened my Catholic faith in recent years. His ability to teach truth without sounding preachy is second to none. Reading his works sparks my imagination. When I found out that his Catholic faith permeated his entire life, even his writing,  I too dove deeper into the pursuing the joy of the truth founded in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

More information about my admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien can be found be clicking on this link to an article I wrote for EpicPew: https://epicpew.com/an-unexpected-journey-the-case-for-the-canonization-of-j-r-r-tolkien/

10. Bishop Robert Barron: I discovered the awesomeness that is Robert Barron back in 2014 as I was teaching Old and New Testament Scripture classes to high school sophomore. His YouTube videos provided clear and interesting short clips about various topics on Catholic theology. I am indebted to his evangelization ministry Word on Fire as well. Along with his videos, Bishop Barron’s book Catholicism proudly is displayed on my bookshelf and is a frequent reference for many of my posts.

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Lord I am grateful for the wonderful individuals who followed your will and helped me learn more about the Catholic teaching and strengthen my spiritual life!

The Morning Everything Went Wrong…and Why I Didn’t Freak Out


Me [on the cell phone]: “Honey! Just what? I just got locked out of my car! And I am locked out of the house too.

Wife: “We cannot afford a locksmith today. You don’t get paid until tomorrow.

Me: I will try my credit card.

Wife: I am leaving work to at least let you in the house. Maybe we have a spare key.

Me: Thank you! But, I am pretty sure we don’t have any extra keys…


To say that my morning began a little off course or on the wrong footing is a big understatement. More accurately, Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day better describes the beginning of my Thursday. After my door dilemma, I make a few fast errand stops at the grocery store and the library before coming home again for my 2 year’s back-to-back speech and occupational therapy sessions.

Because of having to wait for the locksmith to free my keys from the car I had to really rush. My final errand was the library where my son toted around merrily a plastic box of toys. As we started to leave the library atrium, he tripped over his shoes and face planted on the floor—crying ensued and his lips started to seep crimson blood. Having no napkins, I could do nothing except for rushing my toddler to my vehicle and pray that the bleeding stopped before I would be able to get to wipes at home.

The morning smoothed out for my toddler, at least, as he did tremendously well during his therapy sessions. I still felt the busyness and wayward nature of the morning still pursue me as I had to make several phone calls to settle things with my student loan and an application on another loan my wife and I applied for recently. The off-kilter day continued a bit even when I arrived at work. My anticipated meeting with my manager on my monthly progress was unexpected cancelled and moved to the following day. Oddly enough, as someone who normally desires—actually craves—routine and regimen, I was fairly calm considering the maelstrom of morning madness! Certainly out of my natural character, upon reflection I came up with the following three reasons below for why I didn’t freak out.

1. Past Suffering Helps Present Pain: The great American Helen Keller once declared, Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Being born both blind and deaf, she overcame more than the average person. However, suffering if part of this fallen world. Past suffering from years, and months ago, helped prepare me for the stresses of yesterday. Former President Harry S. Truman stated, “The reward of suffering is experience!” We can learn how to cope with or overcome present pain from lessons in the past.

2. Monkish Methods: My primary objective this week was to limit complaining. If something frustrated me, I really made an effort to act as a mute monk in the situation. According to St. John of the Cross, “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Reflecting on the simplicity of this basic truth helped reframe my mindset when “everything” didn’t go my way.

Cardinal Robert Sarah also promotes the monkish method of silence as well. In his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise Sarah purports, “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.” There is no middle ground for the red-hatted Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This hard-lined approach toward negativity and complaining worked wonders for me so far! Reticence reverses resentful thoughts. Peace and tranquility ensues and takes place of the former chaos. Sarah beautifully compares silence to visible icons by saying, “Silence is an acoustic veil that protects the mystery… a sort of sonic iconostasis”

3. More Help from Mama Mary: Along with adding a “silencer” to my spiritual weapons against complaining and gossip, a healthy dose of praying a decade of the Rosary nightly with my family protected me against the wiles the Evil One set me that Thursday morn. St. Josemaria Escriva boldly claimed, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” There is a reason Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a common title the Blessed Virgin Mary—she is a perfect advocate in times of trouble!

Silence in trying times and refraining from complaining takes strength. Such power cannot originate from within the self. Looking to the witness of the saints, most especially the Mother of God we are provided hope to adopt a properly pious mentality in times of confusion and suffering. Cardinal Robert Sarah again speaks of the importance of silence, “Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness.”


“The Rosary is the ‘weapon’ for these times.” -Saint Padre Pio

Tsunami of Tiredness—Tips to Stay Afloat During Storms of Life

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Both a blessing and a curse, water exists as a life-giving resource or a potential deadly force—in the form of floods, monsoons, and hurricanes. The universality of hydrogen dioxide always is a great example to compare the stresses and storms of life against. Summer vacation does not always seem like a retreat especially as a father of three young children. Over the past week, my family traveled to a local state park and camped in a cabin, visited our municipal zoo, and went to a children’s museum. While on paper that seems a recipe for a smooth, carefree, and memorable family experience, the reality with having children with special needs do not necessarily match this ideal.

The power-struggle of putting our four-year old toddler to bed each night combined with daily challenges adapting to two sons on the autism spectrum needs to be frequently prepared for change led to lassitude. Actually, mere fatigue does not adequately capture my wife and I’s emotional, physical, and mental state. In fact, my energy was zapped from me and it felt like we withstood—ONLY by a great miracle—a tsunami of tiredness!

Precisely how did I live through the most recent storm of life?  Reflecting on the course of the past week, I realized some important ways to survive, or stay afloat, maelstroms of life.

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The Rock We May Cling To:

According to Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Old Testament also speaks of entrusting your concerns, weariness, and anxieties with the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 describes this, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Moreover, the Psalmist describes God as a bastion to remain safe: “But the LORD is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide” (Psalm 94:22).

What I find interesting is the description of God as a mighty rock as a place for us to hide. Amid stressful situations it may seem like a copout to go into hiding while the storm passes. However, hiding is not the same as fleeing.

As a parent, I go into brief periods of hiding [into another room or even outside] when the noise, raucous, and whining of my children compound on each other. Taking a five minute break in the form of “hiding” into another room or at least seeking “hiding” through prayer is actually a healthy thing that makes the difference to me parental mindset. Frankly, I need to utilize opportunities to “hide” or cling to the rock of Our Lord much more often that I do currently!

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Mary—Model to Mirror:

Along with the stalwart strength God affords us during the stormy seas of life, looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a role model to emulate is another way that I stay afloat during bouts of exhaustion. My family’s favorite appellation for Mary is Star of the Sea. In fact, through this devotion of Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] that my wife’s faith as. Convert to Catholicism deepened!

A nautical theme exist in our living room and bedroom with the walls decorated with anchors. These aquatic ballasts symbolize the ability to be anchored in the Lord and experience security continual turmoil of daily stresses. As the supreme role model for humanity, the Blessed Mother of God shows us that obedience to God is possible. My personal favorite quote about Mary’s guidance comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the Doctor of the Church, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary” Another sainted doctor, Francis de Sales, provides incredibly powerful words to describe Mary’s intercessory influence, “Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”

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Ready, Set, and Prepare for the Next Storm:

Together with reliance on God and looking to Mary as a human role model, being prepared is absolutely essential for withstanding a current maelstrom you may be experiencing and for weathering future flurries.  According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “Discouragement is the enemy of your perseverance. If you don’t fight against discouragement, you will become pessimistic first and lukewarm afterward. Be an optimist (The Way, no. 988

Prepare yourself with seeing trials that come into your life as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of being a burden drown you in a sea of depression. I honestly did not realize that the Spanish saint’s feast day was today until I noticed a post from in a Catholic group I follow on Facebook. Even as I am writing now I struggle with physical stamina and mental mettle to complete this post. Suddenly, looking at an underlined passage that begins the chapter entitled Perseverance—I pause and realize that preparation does pay off! St. Josemaria reminded me, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints” (The Way, no. 983).

Without God’s previous preparation and my cooperation in that through my learning about the wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva, there conclusion to this post would be a little rocky [no pun intended!]. That being said, I am always willing to seek the advice of the spiritual giants who came before me. I always desire to seek an opportunity to better myself. While I failed to exit the most recent life-storm unscathed and with grace [both my wife and kids know that I lost my patience many times and pledge to be a better husband and father], my  reliance on God as a rock of strength, Mary as a guide, and the rest of the saints as models to emulate I will be better provided to stay afloat with the next  tsunami of tiredness hits. I pray that you find this read helpful and stay afloat with me using these tips during your storm(s) of life as well!

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Examples of a [Grand]Father

Early this week, my grandfather passed away at the age of 95. He left 11 children my grandmother in an abundance of Grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It is with more sadness and joy that I write today. My family – and the world – lost a holy man. His passing provided me an opportunity to pause to reflect on my own life. Sometimes it is important to stop and assess our spiritual life. Reflecting on my own path of holiness I need to take stock of whether I am living as God intended of me. Am I the best possible husband my wife deserves? What virtues may I improve on to become the best version of myself for my children? How am I doing as a Catholic man in today’s world?

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Saint Joseph is the Standard upon which all fathers should be measured on their greatness. St Josemaria Escriva said this about the foster father of Jesus, “St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. ”  I am convinced my grandfather model his life after St. Joseph. As a farmer, husband, and father, himself my grandfather diligently and humbly worked to provide for his family and lived in obedience of God.

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Obviously, we become biased toward our family members and especially hold them in higher regard after their passage from this life into the next. However, I have evidence that my grandfather modeled his life after the greatest male saint of all–Joseph. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 7:16-20,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.k16l By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.20So by their fruits you will know them.

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I see the holiness in my own father. I see my dad‘s humble witness to truth and to love for both my mother myself my siblings and the Catholic teaching. While my dad is a holy man in his own right, I believe his path towards holiness was forged in the days all his youth by my grandfather. I see loving examples of husbands and fathers in my uncles as well.

The example of a holy father figure carries a lot of weight. Its effects are tangible and stand the test of time.  “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessNothing is so gentle as real strength,” proclaimed Saint Francis de Sales. The gentle, patient, and humble example upon which my grandfather lived his life will not fade with his death. Instead, the legacy of strong father figures is continued in my father and uncles. Ultimately, I am faced with an important question: which kind of father do I want to exemplify to my own children? I hope to live up to the gold standard example of my grandfather’s [and St. Joseph’s] humble life. I continue ask God to give me grace to become the best version of myself on my pilgrim pursuit toward a joyous life!

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