On Suicide and Matt Walsh

In the wake of actor Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, internet bête noire Matt Walsh (predictably enough) published a controversial post on the topic. You can click through and read the whole thing: in a nutshell, he asserts that suicide is always, and in every case, a conscious choice on behalf of the deceased, and that depression is as much a spiritual matter as it is a medical one. Normally I would allow such a post to pass by uncommented upon, but it engendered such mixed reactions among my social media circles, that I thought it worthwhile to share my own thoughts on the matter and illustrate where Walsh’s hubris and lack of knowledge led him astray.

On the first point, Walsh’s primary sin here is one of hubris. He mentions his own experience in passing and, while I have no knowledge of his medical history, from the way he talks about depression, it seems that he makes the all-too-common mistake of conflating “being depressed” or going through depressive/melancholic episodes in life with the medical condition of clinical depression. The former is an emotional state, in most cases transitory and dependent upon the events in one’s life, while the latter is genuine mental illness, often chronic, and with almost no bearing on what is happening in the life of the sufferer.

One of the tragic realities of mental health is that those who suffer from illnesses or conditions quite often find it next to impossible to explain to healthy individuals what their struggles are like, in part because afflictions of the mind often bear a superficial resemblance to those undergone by everyone else. The flip side of this coin is that many people erroneously assume that they possess an accurate understanding of living with a mental health condition is like, based on a faulty assumption that it is similar or identical their own experiences, when really the resemblance is only superficial.

I have Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and there have been multiple times when I have been exasperated at how this dynamic plays out. For example, I might mention in conversation that I really struggle with procrastination, and receive a reply that goes something like, “Oh yeah, that’s a problem for me too. But you know, all you really need to do is just buckle down and get stuff done.” How do I even begin to explain to the person that, no, you don’t know what it is like? Where other people will experience of feeling of reticence to start a major project, born of temptations towards weariness or simply fatigue, I experience a paralyzing burst of anxiety and trepidation that makes me feel as if my mind and body alike are locked in chains, and the longer I am unable to move and the closer a deadline approaches, the tighter the chains become.

The same principle applies for clinical depression. Being of a melancholic temperament myself, I’ve gone through depressive periods in my life at various dark times and struggled with suicidal thoughts, but I have never suffered from depression. My experience is a categorically different one from those who deal with depression, because the root causes are fundamentally different. It would be arrogant for me to assume that I understood the mental state, anguish, and toxic despair of one in the depths of depression, and that I could accurately assess their ability to make competent moral judgments relating to themselves and their own self-worth.

Sadly, this assumption is exactly what Matt Walsh did in his post. And while he is correct in that the victims of suicide still technically possess the choice to live or die, if said victims perceive that they no longer possess this choice, it is effectively the same as if they have been stripped of it in reality.

On Walsh’s second point, that depression is as much a spiritual matter as a medical one, his piece contains a core of truth but badly misses the mark. First, his assessment of the vital role that the spiritual life plays in these struggles holds much truer when applied to emotion-based, melancholic episodes. This, combined with how blithely he brushes aside the genuine medical realities of clinical depression, serve as further indication that he conflates “being depressed” with depression. Were they one in the same, his argument would carry water. Unfortunately, they are not.

Second, while it would be germane to ascertain whether there is a spiritual component to an individual patient’s struggle if one were recommending a course of treatment, it is hardly relevant to the point he is examining. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a condition of spiritual death (brought about perhaps by a life of dissolution or promiscuity) causes a particular individual to fall into serious clinical depression, and they commit suicide. What is at question is not how they got to that point, but whether or not their judgment by that point was so seriously impaired by their illness as to diminish or even destroy their capacity to make rational decisions.

The plain fact of the matter is, when a person takes their own life, we have no way of knowing under what mental pressures they labored, and how their illness distorted their capacity to make rational, moral judgments and see the world as it exists outside of the fog of their illness. Depression is a genuine mental health condition; this is a fact that no serious person or institution disputes. Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, acknowledges the light that modern medicine has cast on this area, and therefore points to the mystery in which these tragedies are ultimately shrouded.

“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 2282-2283)

As Psalm 19 says, we ourselves can not be completely certain that we are totally free of sin, and therefore we must ask God to pardon us from the offenses that are hidden to us. Given this truth of Sacred Scripture, it is the height of arrogance and ignorance to presume to gaze into the mind of another soul, or a whole class of peoples, and pretend to enjoy accurate knowledge of their thoughts, motivations, interior struggles, and moral culpability. This power belongs only to the Almighty.

An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory by Lodovico Carracci, c. 1610

Gospel Reflection: The Leaven of Christ

Gospel Reading for February 18, 2014:

Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

What does Jesus mean by “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”? Certainly the disciples did not understand Him. They took leaven literally and assumed Jesus was to refer to the actual leaven, or yeast, that goes into baking bread. Our Lord’s meaning is something else entirely (hence His stern rebuke of His disciples who, despite being the closest companions of the Son of God, still default to a materialistic way of thinking).

Leaven, as stated above, is yeast, the ingredient which makes bread rise. It goes at the heart of the dough and is integral to the success of the whole bread baking enterprise, which in 1st century Palestine was a critical and labor-intensive daily activity. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the ingredients, leaven is alive. It possesses a life of its own (as least until the baking is finished), and this life serves to transform the final product into which it is placed.

In the context that Jesus intends to communicate to His disciples, and to us, “leaven” refers to whatever it is that rests at the center of our souls and thereby animates and drives our lives and our actions. For the Pharisees, this “leaven” in their souls was observance of the Mosaic Law. Their entire lives and conceptions of themselves depended on it and all its minutia. For Herod, a pagan Gentile, his leaven was hedonism and indulgence of the appetites. Both of these foci, Christ is warning us, are roads to perdition.

As Christians, Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else, must be the life and leaven of our souls! We are meant to live with Him dwelling within us, in our very heart of hearts, animating our souls by the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The more He lives in us, the more we rise to become like Him Who is the Bread of Life.

Anything other than this is an obstacle to salvation. The hedonism of our present age has obvious soul-destroying effects, but we also need to be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has devoted a good deal of time talking about this subject.

As human beings with personalities and preferences, we are bound to be drawn to various forms of worship, spirituality, and forms of prayer, and apostolates inside the Church, and well we should be! As St. Therese so eloquently put it, some of us are called to be roses, others lilies, some daisies, and still more to be tiny wildflowers. However, if we idolize these preferences by allowing them to supplant Jesus and the life of Christ at the center of our souls, they become a hinderance, rather than the particular means of our salvation.

Liturgy is one prominent and contentious example of how this can occur. If one is a devotee (as I am) of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and this devotion becomes such a “proof” in your mind of your own piety that you neglect to care for the needs of Our Lord in the distressing disguise of the poor, then the Mass of the Ages has become, for you anyway, the leaven of the Pharisees. By the same token, one can adhere to a very progressive liturgical style and congratulate oneself on creating a very welcoming, inclusive environment. However, if in doing this, you cause the Body of Christ to be made subject to routine abuse through the improper reception of Holy Communion, or if you water down the essential truths of the Faith in order not to cause offense, thus leading others into error and sin, then you too have taken a leaven that is not Christ into your heart.

Lord Jesus, You are the Bread of Life. Through the reception of Your Word and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, take up Your dwelling in our hearts and drive from our souls all that would hinder us from dwelling with You for all Eternity in Heaven. Amen.

Coronation of the Virgin, by Fra Angelico, 1434-1435. Musée du Louvre, Paris

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 36) – Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart

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The big event of this past week was my trip to the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Elysburg, PA for the Reception of the Holy Habit by my best friend, who is now called Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart!
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This now occupies a permanent place in my wallet

I arrived at Carmel about 45 minutes early, which gave me time to socialize a little with the Dale family and to pray Lauds quietly in the chapel while the sisters chanted the Divine Office from behind the cloister grilles. Then at 8 AM the clothing ceremony began. All the sisters processed into their side of the chapel, and Sr. Channing came and took her place kneeling at the communion window before the priest. How can I describe what I felt when I heard her voice for the first time in months? It was like a fire of devotion being stoked high in my heart! There followed about a 40 minute ceremony consisting of prayers (mostly in Latin) and a blessing of the various parts of the habit, veil, cincture, and mantle, with which she was vested, as well as the bestowal of her new name as a religious. At the end, a crown of roses was placed on her head and she (according to the guide, as all this took place behind the curtained grille) prostrated herself in the middle of the floor while her sisters sang Veni Creator Spiritus. After about a five minute pause, the Holy Mass, offered in the Extraordinary Form, began.

Afterwards there were refreshments in the public part of the monastery and Sr. Mary Magdalene was present along the Mother Prioress and another sister in the speak room to greet well-wishers. I had thought that I would only have a moment or two to visit, but happily she was allowed to stay and visit for at least a half hour (naturally, her family was granted much more time, and in private). We were able to catch up, I was able to tell her about my visit with the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Wisconsin, and mostly I was just able to bask in the effulgence of my dear sister’s happiness and joy. She looked utterly radiant in the Holy Habit of Carmel, and my heart was caught up with thanksgiving to Jesus who has blessed and favored her so abundantly. Glory be to God!
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Even the Infant of Prague was decked out in Carmelite fashion!

With the reception of the Holy Habit, Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart is a novice and an official nun. In a year’s time, God willing, she will make her First Profession of Vows, and I pray fervently that I will be able to be present on that day as well.

— 2 —

One last note on that subject: last year (2013) Sr. Mary Magdalene used Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator to receive a patron saint for that year, and she received St. Brigid of Ireland. The day in 2014 on which she received the habit and became a nun just happened to fall on…the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland.

— 3 —

Last Sunday was the World Day of Consecrated Life, and I thought that this image from the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. Facebook page was a perfect summation of the beauty of the consecrated vocation.

Pray for the grace of good vocations.

— 4 —

Apparently the United Nations has seen fit to dictate to the Holy See on what Catholics ought to and ought not to believe regarding abortion, contraception, and gender ideology (never mind the fact that they totally ignored the extraordinary progress the Catholic Church has made in implementing world-class standards and practices for protecting children against sexual predation).

Billy Newton has a typically excellent piece over on at Blog of the Courtier touching on this and asking, “Is the media honeymoon nearly over for Pope Francis?” I’m not sure that this will be the tipping point, but it will come eventually. There is no doubt about that.

— 5 —

Winter Olympics! I don’t know about you, but I love the Winter games even more than the Summer ones. I am especially looking forward to the ice hockey, figure skating, and snowboarding events. Go Team USA!

— 6 —

Tomorrow* is the Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, who is not only an excellent example of how even the worst circumstances can serve to draw us to Christ, but also of the virtue of Christian mercy and forgiveness. Once asked what she would do if she were to meet those who abducted and enslaved her as a young child, she said that she would kiss their hands, because were it not for that, she would never have known Jesus.

If you have not seen the film Bakhita, I recommend it. A tad melodramatic at times, but well-worth viewing and reflecting upon.

And hey, go follow Sr. Lisa Marie Doty on Twitter (@Sr_Lisa)! She’s awesome and, like St. Josephine Bakhita, is a Canossian sister!

*Original post said today, which is actually the memorial of Pope Bl. Pius IX. Mea culpa…

— 7 —

The Sum of Perfection by St. John of the Cross

Forgetfulness of created things,
remembrance of the Creator,
attention turned towards inward things,
and loving the Beloved.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 35) – Vocations and Comic Books


Reminder to please pray for Sister Channing Dale tomorrow, as she will be receiving the Holy Habit and moving up to the novitiate in Carmel. I will be sure to carry all the needs and intentions of my readers with me when I go to the Mass in Elysburg. That trip will entail leaving at 3:30 AM, which I realized today is appropriately Carmelite. After all, The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross begin thus:

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
–ah, the sheer grace!–
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

— 1 —

This Sunday is the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord, otherwise known as Candlemas, because it is on this day that the candles to be used in the church throughout the entire year are blessed. Be sure to bring in some votive candles with you and have the priest bless them; every Catholic home should have blessed candles on hand for use during an Anointing of the Sick.

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One side effect of Catholic new and social media is that I’ve encountered or gotten to know several married couples who met and wed after one or both spouses went through some form of discernment to the priesthood or religious life. I don’t quite know why, but whenever I read about that it always makes me kind of uneasy. I guess it is because I recognize that there is still a possibility (however small) that God intends for my life to end of that way, and that is a hugely daunting prospect. I’m just picturing what I’d likely have to do and it seems…impossible. I mean, really, quit work, go back to college full-time, at some place where I’d have no friends, no support structure, a decade older than almost everyone else there, trying to do the thing I’ve repeatedly failed to do on my own? Ridiculous!

I should be grateful for the clarity this insight provides (in knowing which path is certainly not for me) but it still causes me stress for some reason. Like I said, can’t tell you why, but at least this serves as a warning to any nice Catholic girls who might get foolish notions: keep on walking.

— 3 —

I did not watch the State of the Union address, because I had zero interest in hearing what the President had to say, especially stretched out over the duration of an entire hour. Instead, I opted for hockey (Sabres vs. Capitals), which was a vastly superior choice. And that is saying something, because my Buffalo Sabres a) lost in overtime, and b) are one of the worst teams in the league this year.

— 4 —

OMGOSH LOOK!

That’s right, it’s a new Serenity graphic novel, this one taking place approximately nine months after the events of the feature film. No spoilers, but the first issue is really good. We’ll have to see if Leaves On The Wind measures up to Better Days, my favorite of the three previous Serenity GNs.

And speaking of the Dark Horse-House of Whedon alliance…I saw today that Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaccs, the creative team behind Angel & Faith, are going to be moving over to center stage and running the upcoming “season” of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. At first I was somewhat distraught, since I absolutely loved what they did with A&F, and I’m not crazy about a new team taking over on of my favorite series. However, on further reflection, I’ve become more sanguine (no pun intended). This is most definitely a promotion for Gage and Isaacs, which means that the Powers That Be like what they did with A&F, and hopefully the new team will bring a similar level of talent to the table.

At very least, the comic book Buffy will now bear an actual physical resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar (the fact that she didn’t in previous seasons was a HUGE pet peeve of mine).

— 5 —

Finally picked up two new albums that I’d wanted for a while but on which I had been holding off: Silver Sky by The Infamous Stringdusters (my favorite bluegrass band) and The Ragpicker’s Dream by Mark Knopfler, who is kind of a British blues rocker (not entirely sure how to classify him; I just know that I love his music). Both are great albums that work exceptionally well as a whole package, as well as containing some fantastic standalone songs.

Of course, the album for which I’m really excited for is Lent At Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, coming out on February 11! These cloistered nuns sound absolutely angelic, and they are probably the artists I listen to the most on a day-to-day basis. I encourage you to buy directly from them, since they benefit the most that way.

— 6 —

One funny thing that I noticed in reviewing my Twitter habits is that the way I use Twitter varies in a rather consistent manner depending on the time of day. In the mornings, my tweets are almost always links and RTs of various articles or blogs, in the evenings I tend to put out more “original” content, the majority of which is about Catholic stuff, and then at night I’m largely just wasting time or chatting with people. Since I am looking to par down my social media usage, this is a useful insight. Going forward, I should probably restrict my Twitter time to the evenings, since it is then that it feels at least semi-beneficial and interesting.

— 7 —

Winter needs to end soon. Not because the low temperatures are getting to me (though it has been bitter cold this year), but because of all the bloody road salt! Seriously, that stuff is so freaking gross and I’m sick of it caking my car.

Have a great weekend!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 34) – Baby It’s Cold Outside

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It is frigid here in Virginia! After a week or so of milder weather, we are back down into brutally cold temperatures. It didn’t help that on Wednesday night we lost power at my house, but happily it was restored by late Thursday morning.

Update #1: Congratulations to the Diocese of Harrisburg (where the Elysburg Carmel is located) on receiving a new ordinary: Bishop Ronald William Gainer, currently of the Diocese of Lexington (Kentucky). Among other things, it looks like at one point in his priestly ministry he served as chaplain to a community of O.Carms.

Update #2: Today is the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, the great Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church who defended the Faith against the Protestant Revolution and won thousands of souls back for Holy Mother Church. He is the patron of spiritual directors, and articulated and promoted the “universal call to holiness” some three and a half centuries before the Second Vatican Council. His idea that everyone, regardless of one’s state in life, has a particular vocation that is geared towards bringing them into a state of holiness, was quite far ahead of its time. In St. Francis de Sales’s day, the general understanding was that if one desired to live a holy life, it was necessary for one to become a priest or enter a religious order. We know today, as St. Francis did then, that this is not the case.

Today’s Office of Readings has a selection from his seminal work, Introduction to the Devout Life, that wonderfully addresses one of the key concerns that many of us feel today as we attempt to answer this universal call to holiness.

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.
Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.
The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.
It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

If You Are Hurting After An Abortion

…you can find hope, healing, and forgiveness.

Click on the links below for post-abortive resources and support groups:

Silent No More Awareness Campaign

Project Rachel

Rachel’s Vineyard

National Helpline for Abortion Recovery

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Remember, you are loved, and you do not have to suffer alone.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 33) – Back to Blogging in 2014

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Hey everyone! Wow, this is the first 7QT post I’ve managed to get out in months. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to blog more frequently (aiming for at least once a week, with the goal of working up to at least a couple of additional posts each months), so stay tuned for actual content on this alleged blog! ;) In a hopeful sign, my other principal resolution, to pray the entire Divine Office each day (I have previously only been in the habit of praying Morning and Evening Prayer), has been going very well, so I’m crossing my fingers that carries over to this resolution too!

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I get to see Sister Channing in two weeks! I got an email from her sister just a couple hours ago; Sister Channing will be receiving the Holy Habit of Carmel and her new name on February 1, and there will be brief reception for friends and well-wishers! I am so, so happy that my friend is progressing onto the novitiate, and that will get to see her briefly on her special day. Praised be Jesus Christ!

— 3 —

Speaking of the Discalced Carmelite Order, back in December I went on a weeklong visit with the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Holy Hill, Wisconsin. It was absolutely incredible, such a profound time of prayer and peace leading up to Christmas. So blessed and grateful to have had that opportunity.

In your charity, please pray for an increase in vocations to the Discalced Carmelites. Below is a prayer card that I received while on my visit.

carmelite prayer

— 4 —

A friend of mine passed along this song from the new Disney movie Frozen to me and I am completely addicted.

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Tomorrow I’ll be going to see it with my family, so I’ll be sure to write next week about how it is!

— 5 —

I reiterated today on Twitter something regarding Pope Francis that I think is worth repeating here. I think it is quite clear that he is the man to give the Church a “clean slate” on evangelization, and to open hearts that were previously shut to the beauty of the Catholic Faith. However, I do not expect him to succeed in reforming the Roman Curia. I wish him well and pray for his success, but I just do not see that as being inside his wheelhouse. And that’s OK. To continue the baseball metaphor, Pope Francis doesn’t have to bat a perfect 1.000 to have a successful papacy.

So, pray for him, love him, stay loyal to him, and be excited about his reign, but manage your expectations about him too.

— 6 —

I’m late to this bandwagon, but I have become a big fan of Once Upon A Time over the past few weeks. Currently about a third of the way through Season Two. Such a good show!

— 7 —

About six months ago, I took on the position of Managing Editor at Pocket Full Of Liberty, a conservative/libertarian political blog. We’ve got a great stable of contributors and a diverse range of viewpoints along the spectrum of the political Right, so please stop on over and look for some of my content there too! My last Featured article with them was What Pope Francis Can Teach Conservatives.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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