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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Prayer for a Blessing on the New Year 

O sacred and adorable Trinity, hear our prayers on behalf of our holy Father the Pope, our Bishops, our clergy, and for all that are in authority over us.

Bless, we beseech Thee, during the coming year, the whole Catholic Church;
convert heretics and unbelievers;
soften the hearts of sinners so that they may return to Thy friendship;
give prosperity to our country and peace among the nations of the world;
pour down Thy blessings upon our friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and upon our enemies, if we have any;
assist the poor and the sick; have pity on the souls of those whom this year has taken from us;
and do Thou be merciful to those who during the coming year will be summoned before Thy judgment seat.

May all our actions be preceded by Thy inspirations and carried on by Thy assistance, so that all our prayers and works, having been begun in Thee, may likewise be ended through Thee. Amen.

January 1st is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God 

My parish no longer offers a New Year's Eve Mass, so I need to somehow roust myself from slumber after a late night to attend Mass in the morning. Thankfully, the Mass is not that early, but any time before noon on New Year's Day falls into the "early" category for me.

At any rate, it is a holy day of obligation, celebrating Mary as Mother of God. My devotion to the Virgin Mary is very strong, and aside from The Jesus Prayer, one of my favorite aspirations to say repeated under my breath during "down moments" during the day is a portion of the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us."

Even if Mass was at 4 a.m., I'd be there for the Blessed Mother.

A good explanation of the Church's teachings on Mary's role as Mother of God can be found here at this link from Catholic.com.

For a Communist Regime, Not a Half Bad Idea 

China Rings in New Year, Rings Out Hemorrhoid Ads from Reuters via Yahoo News.

Lead: "BEIJING - China is ringing in the New Year by banning television advertising for sanitary towels, hemorrhoid ointments and other items deemed unappetizing during meal times, the China Daily newspaper said on Wednesday."

This is one import from China I think we might all welcome here in the states.

Superlative Season, Part IV 

Radio and Records Magazine, which has eclipsed Billboard Magazine as the definitive resource for musical ranking in recent years has released their lists of year end most popular songs in various formats. As a classic rock fan at heart, I don't spend a great deal of time listening to what's current, but I've heard enough to form some opinions. Most of them are not positive, but that's another post.

According to Radio and Records, here are the most popular songs of the year in some formats I enjoy, accompanied by my own choices:

CHR/Pop
R & R: 3 Doors Down--When I'm Gone; M.C. & B.: Counting Crows--Big Yellow Taxi (I like the Three Doors Down song a lot though.)

Hot Adult Contemporary
R & R: Matchbox Twenty--Unwell; M.C. & B.: Train--Calling All Angels. (Another case where I like the magazine's choice too, but there is another song I liked better.)

Country
R & R: Mark Wills--19 Somethin'; M.C. & B.: Martina McBride--Concrete Angel. (Martina's song is sad, but powerful and beautiful. The Mark Wills song is cool too, especially the video. Us 80's kids can related.)

Rock
R & R: 3 Doors Down--When I'm Gone; M.C. & B.: Nickelback--Never Again (Really tough choice! Linkin Park, 3 Doors Down, and even the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Styx and Lynyrd Skynyrd had some new tracks in 2003 that caught my ear.)

Adult Alternative
R & R: Coldplay--Clocks; M.C. & B.: Dave Matthews--Grey Street (The new Dave Matthews solo CD, Some Devil, was in my Christmas stocking, and will definitely have some songs on the Best of 2004 lists.)


Looking back over the charts in these categories, there really was a lot of quality music out there in 2003. The problem is, it was engulfed by so much garbage, and the popular culture tended to emphasis the garbage instead of the good stuff.

Ripped from the Headlines 

Each year, the good people in the linguistics department at Lake Superior State University in Michigan create a list of overused words and phrases that they "banish" from the English language. If only they had the power to enforce this banishment. Here are some highlights from the list for 2003:

*Place Stamp Here* Printed on the corner of return envelopes. If you don't know where to put the stamp without instructions, then you are too dumb to be allowed to use the U.S. Postal Service.

*Companion animals* They're PETS, for pete's sake, PETS!!!!!

*Bling-Bling* A hip-hop word for "jewelry". I'm kinda bummed they're dumping this one, since I finally just learned what it meant this past week after months of wondering.

*Shock and Awe* This became "the mother of all overused phrases" in 2003.

*Ripped From the Headlines* A euphemism for "the writers of this program couldn't come up with an original idea".

*Hand-Crafted Latte* Due to a merciful dearth of Starbucks Coffee Shops in Maine (there's only one that I know of) this one never made inroads here. Fine furniture can be hand-crafted, delicate figurines can be hand-crafted, but latte?!?!? Give me a major break!

For the entire list, click on this link to an article from the Associated Press via Yahoo News.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Light Blogging Today 

Lots to do, out-of-town relatives in the house, including an 11-month-old, so things are hectic. I hope to get back into the groove tomorrow. God bless.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Today is the Memorial of St. Thomas Becket 

As is often the case, much of the information that follows originated with Catholic-Forum's Patron Saints Index.

Born in 1118 at London, England, Thomas Becket was of Norman ancestry. He was educated at Merton Priory, Paris, Bologna, and Auxerre and became a civil and canon lawyer, as well as a soldier and officer. In time, he became Archdeacon of Canterbury, and thanks in part to his friendship with King Henry II, Thomas became Chancellor of England and Archbishop of Canterbury. This was of course pre-reformation and pre Henry VIII, so England was a Catholic nation at the time. The relationship between Henry II and Thomas soured as the archbishop opposed the King's interference in ecclesiastical matters. He was exiled several times, only to return. At one point, the king was so irritated by Becket's opposition to him that he uttered "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Some of his soldiers took the king at his word, and Thomas Becket was martyred while praying at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral on this day in 1170. Henry II is reported to have been quite grieved by this, since he did not really want Thomas killed. Despite their stringent differences, the king considered the archbishop a friend. Pope Alexander III canonized Thomas Becket three years after his martyrdom.

St. Thomas Becket is the patron of clergy, Exeter College Oxford, Portsmouth England, and secular clergy.

Image of martyrdom of Thomas Becket from http://www.catholic-forum.com

St. Thomas Becket, Pray for Us.

Holy Father Keeps the Heat On 

Pope Presses Case Against Gay Unions from the International Herald Tribune.

The comments were made in the pope's Angelus message in St. Peter's Square yesterday. The only way the tide will be turned is if powerful people like the pope and the president continue to speak out against gay marriage and to mobilize their supporters to do the same. The silent majority just cannot remain silent and allow this to occur.

Beware the Almanac-Bearing Man 

FBI Urges Police to Watch for People Carrying Almanacs from the Associated Press via The Washington Post.

Part of me is glad that the government is staying on top of things in preventing terror, but another part of me thinks it's creepy that the feds could possibly haul you in for questioning for merely carrying a popular and interesting reference book in public. The price of freedom?

Superlative Season, Part III 

Today, the Associated Press announced that it's sports story of the year is not really a sports story, but a sports-related legal story, which digusts me to no end. I am of course talking about their choice of the Kobe Bryant Case as the "AP Sports Story of the Year 2003", as voted by newspaper and broadcast members of the Associated Press.

THE KOBE BRYANT CASE

Kobe Bryant image from the Associated Press


This choice is particularly irritating in light of the many other REAL sports stories from which the AP voter had to choose. Just think back over the year gone by in sports: Lance Armstrong's fifth Tour de France title, the Florida Marlins' surprising win over the Yankees in the World Series (hee hee hee!), Annika Sorenstam becoming the first woman in ages to play on the men's PGA Tour, Tampa Bay's Super Bowl win over Oakland, and my choice for sports story of the year:

THE OUTSTANDING SEASONS OF THE BOSTON RED SOX AND THE CHICAGO CUBS

Kurt Mueller hits Grand Slam #2 on 7/29/03. Image from http://boston.redsox.mlb.com Sammy Sosa after hitting career homer #55.  Image from http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com


I'm predicting that my sports story of the year award for 2004 will be another tie, this time between the 2004 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The AP will probably choose something sleazy again.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Another Marian Prayer 

It's been a long, hard day of difficult work, and it included a close call in traffic for me that could have resulted in serious damage, injury, or worse had I been going a little faster, been driving a different vehicle, or had not been as alert as I happened to be at the time. Someone was definitely watching over me today. For this reason, today's Marian prayer, continuing in the series of prayers to Our Blessed Mother I have been posting, is to Mary under Her title of "Our Lady of Perpetual Help".

O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O Sweetest Mary, let thy name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on thee, for, in all my needs, in all my temptations I shall never cease to call on thee, ever repeating thy sacred name, Mary, Mary.

O what consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what emotion fill my soul when I pronounce thy sacred name, or even only think of thee. I thank God for having given thee, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely pronouncing thy name: let my love for thee prompt me ever to hail thee, Mother of Perpetual Help. I make this prayer through Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from http://www.byzcath.org

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Superlative Season, Part II 

Today's superlative for the year nearly past is the best book of the year. I am a proud bookworm, and always have two or three books going at any given time, as well as a pile of others nearby just waiting to be cracked open. The catch is, most of what I've read this year was not originally published in 2003. One book was, and it was not only the best book I read in 2003, Amazon.com's customers chose it as the most popular book of the year as well.

Amazon.com's Best-Selling Book of the Year for 2003 (and my own personal choice for best book published this past year) is...

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX!

Cover image from http://www.amazon.com


For once, my taste and that of the mainstream public coincide!

The "M.C.& B. Golden Bowl of Warm Spit Award" for Worst Book of 2003 goes to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, a work of heretical fiction that some of the more ignorant people who read it consider may hold some merit as truth.

Devastation of Biblical Proportions 

The latest reports out of Iran are that at least 20,000 people have died as the result of the 6.6 magnitude earthquake that hit the region near the city of Bam in the southern part ofthat country. Local officials are estimating that the death toll will be much higher, maybe even double the current estimate. The latest on the quake is here at FoxNews.com.

It's easy to question why a merciful God would allow such a disaster to happen and claim so many innocent lives. As a matter of fact, it's events such as this that cause many to call into question the existence of God in the first place. The reasoning that "it's all part of His plan" just doesn't wash with many of us.

Having experienced more than my share of loss over the past eighteen months, I feel like I've becoming somewhat of an expert on the place of God's plan in our lives. God does not think, act or behave in a manner that we as humans can even begin to understand. His will, His almighty plan for each soul He created, just simply cannot be put into a human frame of reference. It is useless to even try to do so, and thus leads only to frustration and confusion. The best thing we can do is TRUST. He will never, ever fail those upon whom his favor rests. Take comfort in the understanding also that, while not impossible, it is very hard to shake the favor God holds for each of us as His children.

I think I can sum up my beliefs about the Father's will and why he allows bad things to happen to good people best through an analogy that I've used on this blog before. We can no more comprehend God's will for humankind than a grasshopper can comprehend the uses of a personal computer. The grasshopper is real, and so is the computer, but the two are just on different planes of existence. So too is it with our human understanding and God's divine will. Have FAITH!

Map image from http://www.foxnews.com


May St. Agatha, patroness against earthquakes intercede before God the Father on for the peaceful repose of the souls of all those who have died in this tragedy in Iran, and also intercede for the injured, orphaned, widowed, and others who suffer in its aftermath.

Mad Cow Madness 

Investigators Tentatively Trace Diseased Cow to Canada from the Associated Press via Yahoo News.

Translation: If our beef industry is going down, we're taking Canada's with it.

Rejoice! It's the Feast of St. John! 

There's no way I could let this one slip by, since St. John the Apostle is one of my all time favorite saints.

The following is based on information from Catholic Forum's Patron Saints Index, as well as the book John, Son of Zebedee by R. Alan Culpepper:

John was born the son of Zebedee and Salome, and was brother of Saint James the Great. Together, John and James were called the Sons of Thunder by Jesus for their sometimes hot-tempers and impulsive ideas. John was a fisherman and first a disciple of Saint John the Baptist. He and his brother were friends of Saint Peter the Apostle long before they were called by Jesus during the first year of His ministry. He traveled everywhere with Him, becoming so close that John is believed to be the one known as "the beloved disciple". There are some indications that John and James may have been relatives of Jesus, although distantly. He was at the Last Supper, as were all the apostles, and is thought to be the only one of the Twelve not to forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion, standing at the foot of the cross. From the cross, John was made guardian of Our Lady by Jesus, and he took her into his home. Upon hearing of the Resurrection, John was the first to reach the tomb and immediately believed. When he met the risen Lord at the lake of Tiberias, John was the first to recognize Him.

During the era of the new Church, John worked in Jerusalem and at Ephesus. During Jesus' ministry, he tried to block a Samaritan from their group, but Jesus explained the open nature of the new Way, and he worked on that principle to found churches in Asia Minor and baptizing converts in Samaria. He was imprisoned with Peter for preaching after Pentecost, but they miraculously escaped through the intervention of one of God's angels. Though there is some dispute among scholars, John is widely believed to have written the fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and possibly the Book of Revelation. He was the last surviving of all the apostles, and the only non-martyr, dying of old age at Ephesus around the turn of the second century. He is buried there and a church was built over his grave, but it is now a mosque, which puts the kibosh on pilgrimages I would guess.

John is considered a martyr in will but not in deed, and it is thought by some that God let him live out his years naturally to show that it is not a necessity for one to give one's life for the Faith in order to gain eternal life. John certainly had plenty of situations in his life in which he could easily have been martyred, but it just wasn't God's will for him.

There are some legends about John that are interesting, even if they cannot be historically verified. He seemed to be very good at performing flashy miracles.:

*Emperor Dometian had him brought to Rome, beaten, poisoned, and thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, but he stepped out unharmed and was banished to Patmos instead. (I would have loved to have seen the look on the emperor's face!)

*He prayed in a temple of Artemis; fire from heaven killed 200 men who worshipped the idol. When the remaining group begged for mercy, he raised the 200 from the dead; they all converted and were baptized. (Again, I would have loved to have seen the faces of the witnesses.)

*Ceonops, a magician, pretended to bring 3 dead people come to life; the "people" were actually demons who mimicked people so the magician could turn people away from Christ. Through prayer, John caused the magician to drown and the demons to vanish. (So much for that little scheme!)

*When John denounced idol worship as demonic, followers of Artemis stoned him; the rocks turned and hit the throwers. (Priceless! John obviously had a sense of humor, and God supported him in it.)

John's patronages include: against poison, art dealers, Asia Minor, bookbinders, booksellers, burns, diocese of Cleveland Ohio, editors, engravers, friendships, lithographers, diocese of Milwaukee Wisconsin, painters, papermakers, poisoning, printers, publishers, tanners, Taos New Mexico, theologians, typesetters, Umbria Italy, writers, and my parish!

St. John image from http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints

O Glorious Saint John, you were so loved by Jesus that you merited to rest your head upon his breast, and to be left in his place as a son to Mary. Obtain for us an ardent love for Jesus and Mary. Let us be united with them now on earth and forever after in Heaven. We make this prayer through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Slipped from This Earthly Realm in 2003 

The following is as complete a list as I could compile of well-known people who have passed away in 2003. It is staggeringly long and sad.


*565 brave members (and counting) of the U.S./U.K. led coalition in Iraq
*An undetermined number of innocent Iraqis killed in the conflict and its aftermath
*Shuttle Columbia crewmembers: Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon
*Countless victims of disease, poverty and natural disasters around the world
*Bob Hope
*Katharine Hepburn
*Gregory Peck
*Fred Rogers
*John Ritter
*Hume Cronyn
*David Brinkley
*Robert Stack
*Buddy Ebsen
*Johnny and June Carter Cash
*Donald O'Connor
*Sen. Paul Simon
*Robert Palmer
*Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan
*David Hemmings
*Willie Shoemaker
*Hope Lange
*Bobby Hatfield
*Gordon Jump
*Charles Bronson
*Buddy Hackett
*Warren Spahn
*Celia Cruz
*Barry White
*Art Carney
*Gregory Hines
*Sen. Strom Thurmond
*Nell Carter
*Warren Zevon
*Robert McCloskey
*David Bloom
*Richard Crenna
*Maurice Gibb
*Rod Roddy
*Nina Simone
*Sen. Frank "Ted" Moss
*Elia Kazan
*George Plimpton
*Al Hirschfeld
*Johnny Paycheck
*Sen. William V. Roth Jr.
*Lynne Thigpen
*Michael Jeter
*Bobby Bonds
*Bill Maudlin
*Gov. Frank O'Bannon
*Trevor Goddard
*Sheb Wooley
*N!xau
*Sarah McClendon
*Little Eva
*Sir Denis Thatcher
*Maynard Jackson Jr.
*Edwin Starr
*Russell B. Long
*Donald T. Regan
*Herbie Mann
*J. Paul Getty
*Fred Berry
*Jonathon Brandis
*William Steig
*Michael Kamen
*Sam Phillips


Grant them eternal rest, O Lord;
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Amen.


Also notable, but not necessarily on the same level as those listed above:
*Uday Hussein
*Qusay Hussein
*Idi Amin

Speaking of a Terror Threat on the Vatican... 

Do we need any further proof that these terrorists do not simply have an axe to grind with the United States and western culture? It's an axe to grind with anything that is not strictest Islam. Christians, Jews, and even moderate Muslims like Pakistan's Mushariff and the people of Turkey are all targets of these power hungry terrorists. It's nothing short of a religious war for domination of the world by extremist Muslims. If combatting this threat doesn't qualify as a "Just War", then I don't know what does.

"Howard the Sitting Duck" 

A disturbing juxtaposition of headlines today.

First, read these:

*Berlusconi: Christmas Terror Threat at Vatican from FoxNews.com
*U.S. Looking for No-Shows on Canceled Flights from MSNBC.com
*U.S. feared Las Vegas a Target from Reuters UK

Then read these:

*Dean Not Ready to Pronounce Bin Laden Guilty from FoxNews.com
*Dean Not Ready to Pronounce Bin Laden Guilty from the San Francisco Chronicle
*Dean: Bin Laden Guilt Best Determined by Jury from CNN.com

Exactly WHAT constituency is Dean trying to attract? The suicidal, the sadists, and the terrorists? The Democrats are afraid at this point to openly attack Dean, since he is so far ahead of the other primary candidates that he has a good chance of becoming their nominee. They certainly don't want to have to eat their words later when they fall into line behind Dean if he gets the nomination. After all, there is no WAY most of them would ever jump ship and vote for "W.".

Still, you know that many of the sensible Democrats (yes, there are some), are just cringing as they witness this slow-motion train wreck. Unless they can somehow unite behind Joseph Lieberman (their only real hope against Bush in times like these if you ask me) and reignite his campaign, the Dems are looking at McGovern '72 all over again. Starting with Reagan, the conservative Democrats started to defect to the G.O.P. (in the ballot box if not in official party designation), and in ensuing years, some moderates have followed suit, leaving the liberals to become a growing force in the party.

To be fair, I should say that Dean did backpedal furiously later in the day yesterday after making that statement to The Concord (NH) Monitor newspaper, but I think first comments are always the truest window into a person's beliefs, not the ones made after gauging the reaction of others.

The G.O.P. is just chomping at the bit to take on this clown from Vermont, but for now, they know the best strategy for their man is to keep looking presidential.


On another note, that first set of headlines should underscore that the covert war on terrorism led by the U.S. is working, and "the good guys" are winning. Every day that passes without a major terrorist attack against the west is a win for us and a loss for Al-Qaida and their slimy ilk.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Why Learning to Spell is Important 

Someone ran a search that brought them to this blog today using the search term "Catholic missles". An interesting idea, and a quick solution to many of those troublesome people and issues that dog the tenets of the Faith, but not at all Christ-like. Do you think (and hope) they might have meant "Catholic missals"?

Superlative Season Has Begun 

With Christmas Day behind us, the attention of many turns back on the year that is coming to a close. Over the next few days, I'll be presenting some of the year's superlatives from established entities, and my own opinion to counter (or maybe concur, but don't count on it).

Family Fun Magazine's Toy of the Year for 2003 is...

THE FIVE ALARM FUN CENTER!

Image from http://familyfun.go.com

"There's room for four in this red-hot stationary playset. And with two steering wheels, two helmets, flashing lights, a siren, horns, a clicking key, and a pretend CB radio in the back, it's got everything rookie firefighters need to keep things smokin'. "

On the other hand, Maine Catholic and Beyond's Toy of the Year for 2003 is...

THE KUNG FU HAMSTER!
Kung Foo Hamster image from http://www.stupid.com (really!)

"He's a plush hamster, smartly dressed in a martial arts uniform. When you press Kung Fu Hamster's left arm, he sings "Kung Fu Fighting" in a high-hamster voice, complete with backup music. At the same time, he spins his Nunchakus and shuffles his head and shoulders like a Kung Fu master aching for a fight."

(Runner-up: Kung Fu Baby)

I hope you got one or the other in your stocking this Christmas.

NOT What One Wants Coming Down One's Chimney on Christmas Eve (or Any Other Eve) 

Nude Man Pulled From Chimney on Christmas from the Associated Press via Yahoo News.

A quote from one of the investigating police officers in the case says it all: "He doesn't appear to be a hard-core criminal, just stupid."

Do ya reckon some beverages of an alcoholic persuasion were in some way involved in this tawdry situation?

'Tis the Feast of St. Stephen 

You know...the day Good King Wenceslas looked out and saw that snow lay on the ground, bright and crisp and even? Looking out on the Feast of Stephen here in Maine this year, I see that mud lay on the ground, brown and cold and gloppy. That wouldn't make for much of a song. But I digress.

Stephen is probably best known as the the first known person to be martyred for their Christian faith. You can read all about it in The Acts of the Apostles:

The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

Then they instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God." They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

They presented false witnesses who testified, "This man never stops saying things against (this) holy place and the law. For we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us."

All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
(Acts 6:7-15)

(From verses 1-50 of Acts, Chapter 7, Stephen essentially runs the Sanhedrin through the proverbial wringer. By verse 51, he's got a full head of steam.)

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it."

When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 7:51-60)

St. Stephen has some unique patronages, including being patron of casket makers, deacons, horses, masons, diocese of Owensboro Kentucky, stone masons and headaches, the latter I find most appropriate for a saint whose feast comes the day after a major holiday where "enhanced" eggnog is often part of the celebrations.

An odd (in my opinion) tradition related to St. Stephen's Day comes from the British Isles. Apparently it is (or was) an occasion for boys to go from house to house, one of them carrying a dead wren on a branch decorated with all kinds of bright, streaming ribbons. Stopping in front of each door they sing a song and receive little gifts in return. The wren is "stoned" to death in memory of Saint Stephen's martyrdom. Actually, though, this represents a relic of the ancient Druidic sacrifice of wrens at the time of the winter solstice. Let me tell you, if some kid shows up at my door waving a dead bird on a stick, he is not getting any treats. He'll probably get a swift kick in the rear end. But I digress again.

St. Stephen image from http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints
Holy St. Stephen, Martyr for Christ, pray for us.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

The New Poll is a BIGGIE! 

The current poll probably overshadows all the others that have been posted here this year. For the past week and a half, I have been taking reader nominations for the "Catholic of the Year" for 2003.

The nomination parameters were:
*Pope John Paul II, God, and canonized saints were not eligible.
*Organized groups were eligible.
*Your nominees did not have to be still living, but they must have had some kind of impact on Catholicism in 2003.

The nominations received via comments and e-mail were all good ones. I was a little surprised by a few omissions. Though not necessarily all choices of my own, I would have expected Cardinal Bernard Law (nominees had to make a major impact on the Faith, not necessarily a good one), Mother Teresa, the Knights of Columbus and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to have been nominated. Since the nomination process was open to everyone for quite some time, these twelve nominees are the choices. There are no write-ins or "other" on this poll.

Of course, I would like high participation in this poll to get as big a picture as possible, so I am leaving it open from Christmas night until midnight, January 6 (the twelve days of Christmas). You may only vote one time from a given I.P. address. If you have a blog of your own and would be so kind, I would be very grateful if you made mention of this poll, and encourage your readers to stop by and cast their vote.

The polling service I use, Dream Tools, has no strings attached. They do not send spam, put a cookie on your computer, or track you in any way other than remembering your I.P. address to prevent repeat votes.

I will post a profile of the person voted our "2003 Catholic of the Year" when he or she is announced on January 7, 2004.

"Urbi et Orbi" Christmas Message of Pope John Paul II 

Descendit de caelis Salvator mundi. Gaudeamus!
The Saviour of the world has come down from heaven. Let us rejoice!
This proclamation, filled with deep rejoicing,
echoed in the night of Bethlehem.
Today the Church renews it with unchanged joy:
the Saviour is born for us!
A wave of tenderness and hope fills our hearts,
together with an overpowering need for closeness and peace.
In the crib we contemplate the One
who stripped himself of divine glory
in order to become poor, driven by love for mankind.
Beside the crib the Christmas tree,
with its twinkling lights,
reminds us that with the birth of Jesus
the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity.
The crib and the tree: precious symbols,
which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!

In the heavens there echoes the proclamation of the angels:
"To you is born in the city of David
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).
What wonder!
By being born in Bethlehem, the Eternal Son of God
has entered into the history of each person
living on the face of the earth.
He is now present in the world
as the one Saviour of humanity
For this reason we pray to him:
Saviour of the world, save us!

Save us from the great evils which rend humanity
in these first years of the third millennium.
Save us from the wars and armed conflicts
which lay waste whole areas of the world,
from the scourge of terrorism
and from the many forms of violence
which assail the weak and the vulnerable.
Save us from discouragement
as we face the paths to peace,
difficult paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary;
paths which are always and everywhere urgent,
especially in the Land where You were born,
the Prince of Peace.

And you, Mary, the Virgin of expectation and fulfilment,
who hold the secret of Christmas,
make us able to recognize in the Child
whom you hold in your arms the heralded Saviour,
who brings hope and peace to all.
With you we worship him and trustingly say:
we need You, Redeemer of man,
You who know the hopes and fears of our hearts.
Come and stay with us, Lord!
May the joy of your Nativity reach
to the farthest ends of the universe!


Pope John Paul II image from http://www.shjolg.com

THE HOLY FATHER'S CHRISTMAS 2003 "URBI ET ORBI" BLESSING: "May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us."

Results of the Christmas Mass Poll 

The question for this abbreviated poll was: "Which Mass are you planning to attend this Christmas?"

The results are thus:

*Late Christmas Eve (Midnight Mass or its equivalent) (45.5%)

*Early Christmas Eve (27.3%)

*Early Christmas Morning (starting at 9:00 or before) (18.2%)

*Late Christmas Morning (starting after 9:00) (9.1%)


When we have had small children with us, my family and I have always attended the early Christmas Eve Mass. This year, due to combined factors of distance and having to work the day after Christmas, there were no little ones in the house this Christmas, so we attended Midnight Mass.

It was truly beautiful, one of the best liturgies I have attended in some time. Even the music director, about whom I have complained on this blog, seemed to straighten up and fly right for this one, having clearly practiced a great deal with the combined choir, recruited and rehearsed talented musicians from within the parish, and chosen a bevy of appropriate and reverent hymns to celebrate the birth of Our Savior. He even used a consistent Mass setting (Dan Schutte's "Mass of God's Promise") and went so far as to announce what it was so we could follow along in our missalettes. The priest presented an excellent liturgy and a thought-provoking homily centered on the lyrics to the hymn "What Child Is This?".

I was fully engaged in the Mass from beginning to end without distraction (except for a little bit of worrying about having to shake hands with that guy coughing a lot behind me at the Sign of Peace), and left the church with the joy of the true spirit of the birth of Christ in my heart. It was as it always should be.

Standard disclaimer: This is not a scientific poll, just a snapshot of the sentiments of visitors to this blog in the past week who have chosen to take part. You may only vote once from a given computer, and neither the polling service nor I can track the origins of votes.

Midnight Mass Homily of the Holy Father, Christmas, 2003 

Pope John Paul II at Christmas Midnight Mass, 2003.


"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given" (Is 9:5).

The words of the Prophet Isaiah, proclaimed in the First Reading, contain the truth of Christmas, which together we re-live this night.

A Child is born. In appearance, just another of the world’s many children. A Child is born in a stable in Bethlehem. He is born in a condition of extreme deprivation: poor among the poor.

But the One who is born is "the Son" par excellence: Filius datus est nobis. This Child is the Son of God, of one being with the Father. Foretold by the Prophets, he was made man by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a Virgin, Mary.

When, shortly, we shall sing in the Creed "... et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est," we shall all kneel. We shall meditate in silence on the mystery which is accomplished: "Et homo factus est!" The Son of God comes among us, and we receive him on our knees.

"The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). On this extraordinary night the Eternal Word, the "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5), is born in the lowly and cold cave of Bethlehem.

"Be not afraid," says the angel to the shepherds, "for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). Like the unnamed and fortunate shepherds, let us too run to meet the One who has changed the course of history.

In the austere poverty of the crib we contemplate "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). In the vulnerable and weak newborn babe who cries in the arms of Mary, "the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men" (Tit 2:11). Let us pause in silence and worship!

O Child, who willed to have for your crib a manger; O Creator of the universe, who stripped yourself of divine glory; O Redeemer, who offered your vulnerable body in sacrifice for the salvation of humanity!

May the radiance of your birth light up the night of the world. May the power of your message of love thwart the proud snares of the evil one. May the gift of your life make us understand ever more clearly the worth of the life of each human being.

Too much blood is still being shed on the earth! Too much violence and too many conflicts trouble the peaceful coexistence of nations!

You come to bring us peace. You are our peace! You alone can make of us "a people purified" and belonging to you for ever, a people "zealous for good deeds" (Tit 2:14).

For to us a Child is born, to us a son is given! What an unfathomable mystery is hidden in the humility of this Child! We would like to touch him; we would like to embrace him.

You, Mary, who keep watch over your all-powerful Son, grant us your eyes to contemplate him with faith; grant us your heart to worship him with love.

In his simplicity, the Child of Bethlehem teaches us to rediscover the real meaning of our existence; he teaches us "to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world" (Tit 2:12).

O Holy Night, so long awaited, which has united God and man for ever! You rekindle our hope. You fill us with ecstatic wonder. You assure us of the triumph of love over hatred, of life over death.

For this reason we remain absorbed in prayer.

In the luminous silence of your Nativity, you, Emmanuel, continue to speak to us. And we are ready to listen to you. Amen.

True Meaning of Christmas Alive and Well in Maine 

Image by John Patriquin of the Portland Press Herald at http://www.portland.com
A second grade nativity procession Christmas Eve at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.


Click on the photo for the encouraging full story from Jen Fish of the Portland (ME) Press Herald.

(By the way, I never realized that Joseph wore basketball shoes. It must have made the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem a bit easier. Kids are so great!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

What Christmas is All About 

I was originally going to quote some thickly worded church treatise about Christmas in this post. However, knowing that plenty of other blogs around these here parts will likely do that, and never being one to follow the crowd, I am choosing instead to go with everyone's favorite blanket-bearing, thumb-sucking theologian, Linus from my most-beloved comic strip, "Peanuts". He offers up the best and most concise meaning for the season I can imagine. It's actually a scene from the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special, in which he quotes the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14.

Image from http://www.peanuts.com


"Can't anybody tell me what Christmas is all about?!" Charlie Brown cries in anguish and frustration. He's had it up to here with all of the blatant commercialism and exploitation of the season he's been witnessing of late.

"Sure, I'll tell you what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown," Linus replies.

"LIGHTS, PLEASE!"

The now-empty theater in which the Peanuts gang has been preparing their play goes dark, and a spotlight shines on Linus as he walks to center-stage.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"


Linus steps out of the spotlight and walks calmly over to Charlie Brown, who is speechless.

"That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown."

Yep, it really is that simple, and yet that powerful. Leave it to a kid (albeit a fictional one) to get right to the point.

It is my sincere hope that you and all your family, friends and loved ones have a peaceful and joyous Christmas, celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ into our world and into our hearts as the greatest gift ever given.

Image from http://www.prayergear.com

It Seems That Holiday Stress Has Gotten to Just About Everyone 

Reindeer Tackles NBC Reporter in Alaska from Reuters via Yahoo News.

I think it was the reporter's question about flying around the world with a view of nothing more than the rear end of Rudolph that caused him to snap.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I Only Post These Silly Quizzes When I Like My Results 

Aragorn

Aragorn

If I were a character in The Lord of the Rings, I would be Aragorn, Man of the West, leader of the Rangers who guard the hobbits.

Who would you be?
Zovakware Lord of the Rings Test with Perseus Web Survey Software



While the LOTR movies portray Aragorn very well, you get a much deeper understanding of him from the books. Between the films and my reading, I believe he really is the character with whom I have the most in common, although there are many others with characteristics I admire and strive toward.

Nattering about Names 

I've always had an interest in etymology, the history of words and languages. In particular, I am interested in how some names have stood the test of time, while others have come and go. I was doing some genealogy research over the summer, and found that many names that were common in the 1800s, like "Ebenezer" and "Millicent", are practically non-existent today. The waxing and waning of names over time becomes especially evident when one looks at the list of saints whose memorials are today. I got these from the Patron Saints Index at www.catholic-forum.com.

Agathopus
Anatolia
Basilides
Besa
Cleomenes
Dagobert II of Austrasia
Eunician
Euporus
Evaristus
Frithbert of Hexham
Gelasius
Hartmann of Brixen
Helen Guerra
Herman of Scheda
John Cirita
John of Kanty
Mardonius
Mazota of Abernethy
Migdonius
Nicholas Factor
Saturninus
Servulus
Theodulus
Thorlac Thorhallsson
Victoria
Vintila of Orensee
Zeticus


Okay, I'll give you "John", "Helen", "Nicholas" and "Victoria", and maybe even "Herman", but how many of those other names do you hear on people these days? Have you met a "Frithbert" lately? How about a "Vintila"?

"But they come from other cultures! Of course you won't hear them that much in the U.S." you might say. "Well," I might reply, "John the Baptist wasn't born in New Jersey, yet there are still plenty of people named John around these days."

150 years from now, as our descendants research their genealogy, will they wonder whatever happened to names like "Kody" and "Ashley"?

By the way, where the heck are Austrasia, Orensee or Brixen?

Getting All Gregorian On Us 

The ZENIT News Agency has an interesting article on their site (www.zenit.org) by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. On occasion, Fr. McNamara answers questions from readers regarding liturgical issues. The current question regards Gregorian Chant. A reader inquires about guidelines for its use at Mass, and Fr. McNamara gives a very thorough response. It includes the following quote from No. 41 of the revised General Instruction on the Roman Missal:

"All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful. Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, set to the simpler melodies."

For the full article, go to http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=46699v.

The Politics of Christmas 

Republicans say "Merry Christmas!"
Democrats say "Happy Holidays!"

Republicans help the poor during the holidays by sending $50 to the Salvation Army.
Democrats help the poor by giving $50, one buck at a time, to panhandlers on the street.

Democrats get back at the Republicans on their Christmas list by giving them fruitcakes.
Republicans re-wrap them and send them to in-laws.

Democrats let their kids open all the gifts on Christmas Eve.
Republicans make their kids wait until Christmas morning.

When toasting the holidays, Republicans ask for eggnog or mulled wine.
Democrats ask for a "Bud."

When not in stores, Republicans shop from a catalog.
Democrats watch for "incredible TV offers" on late night television.

Democrats do much of their shopping at Target and Wal-Mart.
So do Republicans, but they don't admit it.

Republican parents have no problem buying toy guns for their kids.
Democrats refuse to do so. That is why their kids pretend to shoot each other with dolls.

Republicans spends hundreds of dollars and hours of work decorating the yard with outdoor lights and Christmas displays.
Democrats save their time and money, and drive around at night to look at other people's lights.

Democrats' favorite Christmas movie is "Miracle on 34th Street."
Republicans' favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."
Right-Wing Republicans' favorite Christmas movie is "Die Hard."

Republicans always take the price tag off expensive gifts before wrapping.
Democrats also remove price tags off pricey gifts ... and reposition them to make sure they are seen.

Republicans wear wide red ties and green sports jackets at Christmastime.
Democrats do too, all year round.

Democrats' favorite Christmas carol is "Deck the Halls."
Young Democrats' favorite Christmas carol is "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
Republicans' favorite Christmas carol is "White Christmas."
Young Republicans' favorite Christmas carol is "White Christmas."

Democrat men like to watch football while the women fix holiday meals.
On this, Republican men are in full agreement.

Republicans see nothing wrong with letting their children play "Cowboys and Indians."
Democrats don't either, as long as the Indians win.

Republicans first began thinking like Republicans when they stopped believing in Santa Claus.
Democrats became Democrats because they never stopped believing in Santa Claus.

***This has been making the rounds on the Internet for several years now. The original author's name is lost in the mists of cyberspace.***


Monday, December 22, 2003

Poll Glitch Resolved 

If you've tried to vote in this week's poll on Christmas Mass, you've probably been out of luck. There was an error in the settings that I uncovered and have since repaired. Everything is functional right now, so vote away!

Another Marian Prayer 

This isn't a prayer to Mary, but a prayer by Mary. It comes from Luke's gospel, and is known as "The Magnificat". It's the hymn of praise Mary gave to God when she arrived at Zechariah and Elizabeth's house after the annunciation of the coming birth of our Savior.

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."


It was included in today's Mass readings, and our priest made the point in his homily that Mary's prayer includes two extremes: the praise and joy Mary holds for God and the great things he has done for her, and the chaos that can ensue when God brings his justice down upon those who do not follow in his ways. The priest encouraged us to maintain our own praise and joy for God and the many wondrous things He does for us in our own lives, even when the larger world in which we live seems to be full of chaos and problems.


Remember Central Coastal California's People in Your Prayers 

The news from central California about the huge earthquake today is still trickling in at this point. As of right now, three people are known dead, but the number of injured and missing is unclear. Let us pray for the intercession of St. Agatha, St. Emidius, St. Francis Borgia and St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (patron saints against earthquakes) for intercession before our Heavenly Father that the casualities and damage will be limited, that those who are physicially or emotionally injured are healed and that no more earthquakes or aftershocks will hit that suffering area.

"Just Go About Your Business"?!?!? 

One day after raising the terror threat level to orange and saying that we are at greater risk now than any time since 9/11, Homeland Security Secretary today tells us to "just go about your business".

Easier said than done. With threat level elevations and increases in security coming at almost every major travel holiday since September of 2001, I fear that the American people are becoming complacent about them. If that is the case, it plays right into the hands of the bad guys as much as cowering under our beds in fear would. At the same time, major portions of the economic sector, not the least of which the travel industry, takes a hit each time the threat level goes up, which also plays into the hands of terrorists. Just increase the terror chatter, and the infidels start hermorraging money.

I commend Secretary Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security for doing a diffucult job as best they can. The conundrum we face as Americans, that of being cautious without being fearful, enjoying our freedoms without being reckless, just underscores the importance of the global war on terror that the United States is spearheading. As the president said when it all began, it's like no other war we've fought, since most of the hits and misses will go unknown to the public. In my book, every day that passes without a major terrorist attack is a victory in the war on terror.

In this season where peace on Earth and good will toward men loom large in the public eye, let us pray through the Immaculate Heart of Mary that our Lord Jesus convert those inclined toward terrorism to His will, and keep us all safe and secure as we go about our lives in this world.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Things I Learned After It Was Too Late, Installment #334 

Wrapping Christmas gifts is a difficult task, and it becomes exponentially more difficult when a curious and persistent cat decides to offer his assistance and won't take "no" for an answer.

Spiritual Fuel from JP2's Angelus Address Today 

These words of the Holy Father come from ZENIT News Agency.

"Christmas is already near.

When giving the final touches to the crib and the Christmas tree ... it is necessary to predispose one's spirit to live intensely this great mystery of the faith.

[Mary, Mother of Jesus] helps us to understand the key words of the mystery of the birth of her divine Son: humility, silence, wonder, joy.

She exhorts us, above all, to humility so that God will find room in our hearts, not darkened by pride and arrogance.

[The Blessed Virgin] shows us the value of silence, which hears the song of the angels and the whimpering of the Child, not suffocating them in noise and confusion. We will stand with her before the crib in profound wonder, enjoying the simple and pure joy that that Child brings to humanity.

[Jesus] will enlighten those who lie in darkness and in the shadow of death."


The article reports that John Paul II looked healthier than he did during the hectic events of October, and it was confirmed that he will preside at all the main Christmas liturgical celebrations. Viva il Papa!

Image from http://uk.fc.yahoo.com
The 100-foot high Christmas tree at St. Peter's Square and Basilica, 2003.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Catholic Bookstore For Sale 

St. Paul's Catholic Books and Gifts in Presque Isle, Maine, up north in Aroostook County has announced that it will be closing after Christmas if a buyer is not found. That part of Maine is somewhat rural, but the city of Presque Isle is the shopping hub for a decent-sized population which is heavily Catholic. There are no exclusively Catholic book and gift shops that I am aware of north of Portland. With some clever marketing, an Internet presence and some entrepeneurial spirit, this shop could be a prosperous little business for someone. I'm not in a financial position right now to do anything about it, though I would love to be a part of a business like this. If you or someone you know might be, call St. Mary's Catholic Church in Presque Isle at (207) 768-3671, and they'll point you in the right direction for more information.

The Filling Station 

This story for the Christmas season comes via Josh LeBlanc at Dei Gratia blog, who got it from LRS at the Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam blog, who got it handed to him in a note from someone he knew. And now, I'm passing it on to you. It's on the long side, but definitely worth reading. I found it to be an inspiring little tale and encourage you to pass it on to someone else or publish it on your own blog if you like.

***************

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. He had no decorations, no tree, no lights. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. There were no children in his life. His wife had gone.

He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through. Instead of throwing the man out, George, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the space heater and warm up.

"Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy. I'll just go"

"Not without something hot in your belly," George turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew. Made it myself. When you're done there's coffee and it's fresh."

Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said. There in the driveway was an old 53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked.

"Mister can you help me!" said the driver with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken."

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold; the car was dead. "You ain't going in this thing," George said as he turned away.

"But mister. Please help...."The door of the office closed behind George as he went in. George went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building and opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting.

"Here, you can borrow my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good."

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. George turned and walked back inside the office.

"Glad I loaned 'em the truck. Their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new tires..." George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The thermos was on the desk, empty with a used coffee cup beside it.

"Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought. George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator.

"Well, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on. "Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car.

As he was working he heard a shot being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Help me."

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. "Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The laundry company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound.

"Hey, they say duct tape can fix anything," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease. "Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills.

"You hang in there. I'm going to get you an ambulance." George said, but the phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your police car."

He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio. He went back in to find the policeman sitting up.

"Thanks," said the officer. "You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area."

George sat down beside him. "I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain."

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked.

"None for me," said the officer.

"Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city." Then George added: "Too bad I ain't got no donuts."

The officer laughed and winced at the same time. The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun.

"Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

"That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer.

"Son, why are you doing this?" asked George. "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!"

The cop was reaching for his gun.

"Put that thing away," George said to the cop. "We got one too many in here now."

He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need the money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pee shooter away."

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time.

The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job. My rent is due. My car got repossessed last week..."

George handed the gun to the cop. "Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Being stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry officer."

"Shut up and drink your coffee." the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn.

"Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

"Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?"

"GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran."

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.

"That guy works here," the wounded cop continued.

"Yep," George said. "Just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas, boy. And you too, George, and thanks for everything."

"Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems." George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box.

"Here you go. Something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day."

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It means something to you."

"And now it means something to you," replied George. "I got my memories. That's all I need."

George reached into the box again. A toy airplane, a racing car and a little metal truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours."

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier. "And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that, too. Count it as part of your first week's pay." George said. "Now git home to your family."

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good."

"Nope. I'm closed Christmas day," George said. "See ya the day after."

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left?"

"I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?"

"Well, after my wife passed away I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin' up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was getting a little chubby."

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. "But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will become a rich man and share his wealth with many people.

That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man."

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man."

Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again." The stranger moved toward the door. "If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned."

George watched as the man's old leather jacket and his torn pants turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

"You see, George, it's My birthday. Merry Christmas."

~Author Unknown

It's Funny What's Defined As "Odd" 

And I mean funny-strange, not funny-"ha-ha"! Many of the offbeat news stories I get for this blog originate in the "Oddly Enough" section of Yahoo News. Earlier this week, I was surprised to find that the story of Pope John Paul's approval of Mel Gibson's film The Passion was listed with the "Oddly Enough" stories. Some others around St. Blog's also found this as a questionable place to put the story. Today, I found this one in "Oddly Enough":

Austrian Emperor Made Miracle -- Vatican from UK Reuters via Yahoo News.

It seems that the Vatican is investigating Charles, the last emperor of Austria (from 1916-1918) for sainthood, and they have attributed a miracle to his intercession. This is a standard step in the canonization process, and has been for a long time. It happened with Mother Theresa, it happened with Padre Pio, and now it's happened with Emperor Charles. It's a great thing, to be sure, but how is it "odd"? It seems that the media is trying to subtly conjure up an image in the common reader's mind of this emperor changing his palace into cottage cheese or something with the wave of his scepter, when in truth it is likely something more subtle like a healing of someone suffering a chronic disease through prayers to Charles for intercession before God. Western society needs to stop expecting miracles to be on the major scale of those done by Christ in the gospels. Smaller miracles are all around us, but we often overlook them or explain them away.

I fear for a culture that starts referring to miracles and other concrete signs of God's involvement with mankind as oddities to be relegated to the novelty news sections of websites, the end of news broadcasts, and the back pages of newspapers. Ironically, the story of the ghost at Hampton Court Palace is not on in "Oddly Enough". Apparently that kind of mumbo-jumbo is easier for the media to swallow, and gets a more prominent placement for our consideration.

Top Five Christmas Specials 

This week's top five list is my listing of my top five favorite Christmas specials.

5) Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey (A cute and moving stop-motion animated story in the style as the Rudolph special, produced in late 60s/early 70s. It's about a donkey with very long ears that were the bane of his existence until he carried the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem and used them to help keep her warm.)
4) T'was The Night Before Christmas (A cartoon based loosely on Clement Moore's poem, only with clockmaking mice. It has beautiful and rousing music and a good message about perseverence, hope, and seeking redemption for one's transgressions.)
3) Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer (The consumate Christmas special. The message that it's okay to be different, and that each of us has something to contribute is a wonderful one for kids of all ages.)
2) A Christmas Story (This modern classic film from 1982 is pure nostaglia. It doesn't run very deep, but it's great family fun and a visit to the bygone era of the 1950s.)
1) A Charlie Brown Christmas (Beloved characters, a killer jazz soundtrack that sounds great at any time of year, gentle humor, a heavy slam on commercialization, and a strong message about the real meaning of Christmas makes this #1, hands down. I never tire of watching it several times each year.)

*Honorable Mention: The Little Drummer Boy, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol and Frosty the Snowman.
*Dishonorable Mention: Any animated Christmas special produced after 1980. There have been a few good live-action Christmas specials produced since then, but I can't think of a single good animated one.

Humbug! 

Security Camera Catches 'Ghost' at English Palace from FoxNews.com.

Image from http://www.foxnews.com


The castle in question is Hampton Court Palace just outside of London, which, among other things, was made use of frequently for various and sundry purposes during the reign of Henry VIII.

Sorry, I just don't buy the story of this spook. I believe in spirits in the context of our souls and beings who inhabit Heaven (such as angels), but the idea of hauntings and "ghosties and ghoulies" as they have been popularized in legends just doesn't wash with me. That's not to say I don't enjoy a good old-fashioned ghost story as much as the next guy, I just don't think they are true.

My theories are that this is either an outright hoax, or a flawed exposure of some sort on the film in the camera that took it.

Results of Last Week's Poll on Tabernacle Location 

The question was: "Facing the altar, where is the tabernacle located in your parish church?"

The results:

*In the center of the sanctuary (52.6%)

*To the right in the sanctuary (36.8%)

*To the left in the sanctuary (5.3%)

*In a separate chapel (5.3%)

*Other (0.0%)


As I mentioned in this blog a few weeks ago, our tabernacle was moved fromthe right of the sanctuary to the center a few weeks ago as Advent began, and the Advent wreath took up its old place. I feel it is more appropriate located in the center, and it looks very natural sitting there as well. My hope is that our priest will let it remain there after the Christmas season is over.

I am a bit surprised by the overall results. Lots has been made of parishes moving their tabernacles into "broom closets" (a.k.a.-small adoration chapels off to the side), and I expected to hear more readers saying that this had happened in their parishes. Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case, at least for those who responded to this survey.

Standard disclaimer: This is not a scientific poll, just a snapshot of the sentiments of visitors to this blog in the past week who have chosen to take part. You may only vote once from a given computer, and neither the polling service nor I can track the origins of votes.

Today is the Memorial of St. Zeno 

No, I haven't heard of him either, which is all the more reason to give him his due. The following comes from www.catholic-forum.com's Patron Saints Index, which I can surf through for hours.

"Zeno was a Roman soldier assigned to guard a group of Egyptian Christians imprisoned for their faith in the persecutions of Decius. During their trial he encouraged the prisoners not to apostatize. Arrested as a Christian, he was martyred by beheading with Saint Ammon, Saint Ingen, Saint Ptolomy, and Saint Theophilis at Alexandria, Egypt in 249."

Anyone whose love and devotion to God is such that they would lay down their life for their faith in Him deserves never to be forgotten. Hopefully this post will remind at least a few about the great and noble sacrifice Zeno made for his beliefs.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A Marian Prayer for the Weekend 

Here is the latest in a series of Marian prayers I am posting in response to an increased call from within to devotion to the Blessed Mother.

THE ANGELUS

The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

And the Word was made Flesh:
And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Your Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.


Image from http://www.ewtn.com/art/saints/angels

Catholic Terminology 101, Lesson II 

A new featurette of this blog is Catholic Terminology 101, designed primarily to refresh my own mind to the proper terms for places and objects in a church.

To refresh your memory, the other day I asked, is a SACRISTY:
A) the main area at the front of the church were the altar is located?
B) a chapel where a tabernacle may be located, often used for Eucharistic adoration?
C) an outward sign of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification?
D) an area where the priest and other ministers prepare for Mass, and where objects used in the Mass are stored?
E) a new model of Chrysler to be introduced in 2005?

The answer, of course, is E. There are holy water fonts built into the doors, and the rear seats fold down into kneelers. For a little extra, you can get the optional stained-glass windshield.

The new question is, can you define AMBO?
A) an elevated desk or pulpit from which the Mass reading are read and all kinds of communications are made to the congregation
B) an exotic liturgical dance that some feminist liberal elements are trying to get wormed into the revised G.I.R.M. It involves scarves, kazoos, and Yanni music.
C) the official liturgical term for the crook of your elbow
D) something a priest, deacon, or bishop would wear
E) what one of the "Dukes of Hazzard" says to introduce himself

Terrific! As If We Didn't Have Enough to Worry About When Traveling by Air 

One in 100 May Get Travel Blood Clots, Study Shows from Reuters via Yahoo News.

Lead: "Up to one in 100 long-haul fliers could develop blood clots, and wearing compression stockings, taking aspirin and traveling business class may not help, a study showed Friday."

Remember NBC reporter David Bloom? He was embedded with a battalion on the march to Baghdad last spring when he died suddenly. The cause of his death was determined to be an aneurysm from a blood clot that originally formed in his leg as a result of being in cramped conditions in an army vehicle for an extended period of time. That's the condition to which this report is referring.

Why do they tell us things like this? Isn't holiday travel stressful enough? Almost every week, it seems like some researcher announces some new common thing that they've discovered which threatens our health and well-being. (Insert sarcasm here:) How has humankind survived to this point in history with all these "hidden dangers" lurking?

It seems to me that in this particular case, getting up at regular intervals and moving around the cabin, as well as doing some leg stretches would be advisable.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

They're Left, but We're Right 

The Media Research Center has announced their farcical year-end awards this week. Here's one of my favorites:

The "What Liberal Media?" Award First Place Winner

CBS’s Lesley Stahl: “Today you have broadcast journalists who are avowedly conservative....The voices that are being heard in broadcast media today, are far more – the ones who are being heard – are far more likely to be on the right and avowedly so, and therefore, more – almost stridently so, than what you’re talking about.”
Host Cal Thomas: “Can you name a conservative journalist at CBS News?”
Stahl: “I don’t know of anybody’s political bias at CBS News....We try very hard to get any opinion that we have out of our stories, and most of our stories are balanced.”
– Exchange on Fox News Channel’s After Hours with Cal Thomas, January 18, 2003.

Leslie, have you ever even WATCHED your own network's news for more than five minutes? That's all anyone with half a brain would need to figure out their left-wing slant!

This year, I am naming CBS News as the worst of the liberal TV media outlets, and they are hearby awarded the prestigious "Golden Bowl of Warm Spit" for 2003 from Maine Catholic and Beyond. Dan Rather can display it beside his autographed photos of George McGovern and Mike Dukakis.

Some New Spiritual Fuel from Today's Gospel Reading 

"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."
~(Mt. 1:20-23)

Joseph's willingness to say yes to the messenger of God was one of the greatest "yes-es" in all of history, probably second only to the Virgin Mary's yes to God when the angel Gabriel appeared to her to announce His intentions for her to bear the child Jesus. In both cases, they said yes in spite of the difficulties and uncertainties that they sure knew would come with their assent. Mary and Joseph put their complete trust in God's will and His love for them, and they were not let down.

If we could put a fraction of the trust in God's will that Mary and Joseph did, imagine how happy and at peace we would be. He loves us as His own children, and would never lead us astray. Though he does "work in mysterious ways" that we do not always understand, everything he asks of us is part of His greater plan, and we will reap His rewards if we just trust in the Almighty Father's will.

A Spiritual Fuel Encore Edition 

For some reason, there have been a number of searches leading to this blog lately looking for the lyrics to "The King of Glory", which I posted a meditation on a few weeks ago. It has since slipped down into archive land. To benefit those who are hear in search of those lyrics, and because I like that hymn, I am reposting that entry here:

I haven't heard this hymn sung in church for nearly 15 years. I'm not sure why, since it really brings home the true spirit of Advent for me and I'm sure many others. I cannot locate the hymn composer's name at this point, but I do know it is based in part on Psalm 24.

"The King of Glory comes, the nation rejoices
Open the gates before Him, lift up your voices.

Who is the King of Glory? How shall we call Him?
He is Emmanuel, the promise of ages.

In all of Galilee, in city or village
He goes among His people, curing their illness.

Sing then of David's Son, our Savior and Brother
In all of Galilee was never another.

He gave his life for us, the pledge of salvation,
He took upon himself the sins of the nation.

He conquered sin and death; He truly has risen.
And He will share with us His heavenly vision."


It reminds us of the truth behind Advent and Christmas: that Jesus was born for us so He could die for our sins and become our Savior, opening the gates of Heaven for us.

Could It Be? A Federal Judge With Some Actual Sense? 

Town Says 'No' to Nativity Scene, 'Yes' to Menorah from FoxNews.com

Lead: "A federal judge has given the town of Palm Beach, Fla., until 5 p.m. today to come up with a good reason why Christ in a manger should not be displayed next to a menorah on public property."

An excellent question, your honor! I'm dying to hear the lame response to it from the P.C. crowd. I could use a good laugh.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

A Rasputin Behind Lauryn Hill's Tirade at Paul VI Hall Last Weekend 

This comes from MSNBC.com, and in fairness I'll make it clear up front that it is speculation only, but I'll toss it out and let you consider it for yourself.

Was Hill influenced to attack Catholic Church?

Was Lauryn Hill’s anti-Catholic rant inspired by her controversial "spiritual advisor"? The singer made world-wide headlines after she blasted the church during a concert at the Vatican.

"I’m not here to celebrate, like you, the birth of Christ, but to ask you why you are not in mourning for his death in this place," Hill said. "Holy God has witnessed the corruption of your leadership of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy."

But a source believes that Hill’s comments may have been encouraged - or even scripted - by "Brother Anthony," a man whose teachings have influenced Hill so much that her friends have become concerned.

Hill became close to Brother Anthony three years ago and shortly afterwards, axed her management and others who had helped her become a success. Her next album did not do well. "I had a tape of [Brother Anthony’s] teachings," Hill’s former bandmate, Michael Pras, told Rolling Stone [magazine] earlier this year. "It was some real cult sh**. I couldn't believe that this dude was really serious."

Hill’s rep didn’t return calls for comment. "Like many people who become involved in cults, Lauryn Hill was at a low point in her life when she hooked up with Brother Anthony and she was very vulnerable," cult watcher Rick Ross [reports]. "The question now is whether her speech at the Vatican her own, or, as many people have suggested, under the undue influence of Brother Anthony."


Stay tuned!

It's the Memorial of Lazarus Today 

It's funny that you rarely if ever hear him referred to as "St. Lazarus", and I am not aware of any major facilities currently in existance in the western world dedicated to him. It's a mystery to me why someone as close to Jesus as his apostles, maybe even closer, has seemingly slipped between the cracks in the years since he was raised from the dead by our Lord. Anyone know what's up with Lazarus and if he even is a canonized saint?

AmericanCatholic.org's Saint of the Day feature has some interesting tidbits about Lazarus: "Legends abound about the life of Lazarus after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is supposed to have left a written account of what he saw in the next world before he was called back to life. Some say he followed Peter into Syria. Another story is that despite being put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa, he, his sisters and others landed safely in Cyprus. There he died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years.

A church was built in his honor in Constantinople and some of his reputed relics were transferred there in 890. A Western legend has the oarless boat arriving in Gaul. There he was bishop of Marseilles, was martyred after making a number of converts and was buried in a cave. His relics were transferred to the new cathedral in Autun in 1146."


Whether formally declared a saint or not, I'm sure that Lazarus has joined his good friend Jesus in eternal life in Heaven, and would intercede for us if we merely asked it of him.

Image from http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu
Rembrandt's "The Raising of Lazarus" c. 1630/31

Cardinals Are Certainly NOT Infallible! 

As if we haven't had enough evidence of the truth of the above statement over the past few years, Cardinal Renato Martino opens his mouth and inserts his foot saying that Saddam was treated "like a cow" upon his capture by American troops. What I find most troublesome is that this statement by one embarrassing example of "ivory tower syndrome" in the hierarchy will no doubt be referred to by many in the media as the official opinion of the Vatican on Saddam's capture, even though it is most certainly NOT!

There is much I could say about this, but I would like to defer to Sgt. Eric Johnson, one of the fearless bloggers at Catholic Light. Sgt. Johnson was on the ground and in the middle of it all when everything hit the wall in Iraq last spring. He is a devout and conservative Catholic, an articulate and passionate person, and speaks with greater authority (in my mind at least) than most people around St. Blog's or anywhere else about the situation in Iraq. After all, he's been there as a soldier. I'll admit that Sgt. Johnson and I do not always exactly see eye to eye on every issue that comes up, but on this one and most others related to Iraq, he and I are on the same page.

He's had many posts in recent days about Saddam's capture. They are all worthy of your attention, but the one I would most like to direct you toward is this one entitled "Sympathy for the Devil's Servant".

The good Mark Sullivan gives the cardinal a hard-core fisking worth reading over at Irish Elk blog too.

"It is as it was." 

Peggy Noonan's column this week documents Pope John Paul's previewing of Mel Gibson's film The Passion with his longtime trusted aide, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz. His verdict? Phrasing it in a way that only he can, the pope's official opinion of The Passion was expressed in five short words (passed along by Msgr. Dziwisz himself) that speak volumes: "It is as it was".

This pope is in a unique position to judge the worthiness of such a film. Not only is he Christ's Vicar on Earth and a brilliant man, but he is also a former amateur actor, an avid patron of the arts, and has witnessed more than his fair share of discrimination toward Jews during his younger years in Poland. As Ms. Noonan puts it in her column, "He would know cheap when he sees it, and he would know anti-Semitic, too. His approbation would not be given lightly."

If there was any doubt in your mind whether you should go see this movie when it hits theaters, it should be erased now. A film with Jesus Christ as the central figure cannot get a more ringing endorsement than that of the Holy Father.

I wonder what he thought of Return of the King?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Word Out of Rome 

Law of the Market Is Not Enough, Insists Pope from Zenit.org.

Lead: "The law of the market and globalization does not guarantee justice, so there must be solidarity to give people precedence over profits, says John Paul II."

In the three months I have been a part of "corporate America", I have seen firsthand some of the issues that the pope is addressing here. And as troublesome as some of the things I have seen here are, in less developed countries than this one, it's exponentially worse. Some corporate vipers do cruel things to bolster their profits to the detriment of their workers. Within reason, the best interests of people should come ahead of profits or one-size-fits-all policy. Think of Mr. Fezzywig and Ebenezer Scrooge, two bosses from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Who do you think would have found more favor with God?

I wonder if I can get the Holy Father to call my boss?
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