Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, November 07, 2003
YOU CAN'T STOP ONEALISM: Now that Sean Gallagher has left blogging for the greener pastures of print journalism, you may have been asking "Does this mean no more homilies from Fr. Shawn O'Neal?"

Fear not! For I am pleased to announce that through special arrangement with the good pastor of
Saint Joseph's Parish of Bryson City, North Carolina, we will be posting Fr. O'Neal's homilies here at Sursum Corda.

For those of you who weren't hanging around this corner of the Internet in early 2002, you should know that Fr. O'Neal had--for a time--a blog known as Onealism. Although he displayed a mastery of topics ranging from Argentian macroeconomics to international soccer, he eventually decided that the pastoral care of souls was a higher calling than spending every waking moment on the Internet like the rest of us.

Ladies and gentlemen (he's going to kill me when he reads all of this), without further ado I give you..Father Shawn O'Neal...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:03 PM
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Father Shawn O'Neal's Sunday homily
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.

Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17
Jn 2:13-22

Once again, the rules of liturgical poker come into play today. This feast of the dedication of the cathedral of Rome takes precedence over a Sunday during Ordinary Time. Yes, what I said was correct. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome as it has been since 324. The construction of the first Basilica of Saint Peter began in 324; the church was dedicated three years later. So you know, “Lateran” is not the saint’s last name. The church was named first for John the Baptist and named in later years as well for John the Evangelist. Lateran is the name of both the hill where it is and the family who gave the land so that a church could be built there. Popes lived at the Lateran rather than on the Vatican Hill from the time of the Lateran Basilica’s dedication until the beginning of the Avignon Captivity in 1309. Catholics throughout the world celebrate this feast as a sign of unity with the whole of the Church and also out of respect for the Papacy.

I know that many of you use your missalettes during Mass. Did you read about the inscription on the baptistry next to the cathedral? Both for those who did not use their missalettes and for those who did not see the inscription, it says: “Think not your sins too many or too great: birth in this stream is birth to holiness.” The inscription is one of many within the baptistry. I will present two other inscriptions for you.

“Birth in this stream is the birth to holiness.”

Baptism is not simply the rite that allows people to enter heaven. Baptism is the first formal proof that Jesus has claimed us and called us by name. Baptism provides us the opportunity to grow closer to God throughout our lives. No matter whether baptism occurs for a child or for an adult, the waters of baptism serve as a catalyst for an increase in faith not only for the sake of the person baptized, but for the sake of all people throughout the world. Baptism is not simply the rite that allows people to enter heaven; through baptism, we can help all people to enter heaven. We do not simply get sprinkled with water or immersed in water; we become the vessels of that powerful stream as described within the first reading. God wants us to bring forth abundant life through the gifts that we have received from him. God wants us to pour out constantly what we have and what we are so that all people can share in new life and greater holiness. The power of Holy Spirit flows through us as the water flowed from the temple to the sea. We have been called not to go with the flow, but rather to be what flows, and what flows is what gives life. As Adam was called to cooperate in creation, so the New Adam calls us to cooperate in salvation.

“At this font, the Church, our mother, gives birth from her virginal womb to the children she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”

There comes a point when we must speak of the Church in the first person rather than in the third person. We are the Church. Unfortunately, saying that “we are the Church” can appear to emphasize either a special, secret understanding of things or a type of political agenda. It has been used in that manner, sad to say. But the reason that we have been chosen by Jesus to be united in the Church is so that we can unite all people in Christ. We believe that all people share the same birth in God. We believe that God wants all people to live life with the utmost joy. We believe deeply that all people want the same thing. All people want joy and they want it to last forever; unfortunately, at times we choose to grasp for things that bring us only temporary joy. We have been called to help reunite people with God. We seek people for a greater reason than so they may be card-carrying members of the Roman Catholic Church; we seek people so that they may be united fully with God and His people forever through the Church He founded. We have not been commanded to simply enroll people in our Church; we have been commanded to help people write their names in the Book of Life.

“This is the fountain of life, which cleanses the whole world, taking its course from the wound of Christ"

We believe that Jesus is the temple and that the water that flowed from His wounds is the water of which Ezekiel symbolically spoke. God wanted us to be cleansed in the water and now God has called us to cleanse people in His name with that same water. We do not baptize in the name of any pope, bishop, or priest; we baptize in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Everything our Church does must flow the water that came from the side of Jesus. Everything done by everyone within the Church should have its source in Christ. If it is not done that way, then thank God that we have a Savior who calls us to be washed in Him as long as we recognize our sinfulness and ask for healing. We know that we are baptized formally only one time, but we are called to be washed constantly in that water. Each time we touch that bowl of holy water, we are called to thank God for washing sins from us and for allowing us to be part of bringing forth the Kingdom on earth. Think about what Jesus has done for us! Think about what Jesus wants us to do as a result of us becoming vessels of holiness.

This could be a day for congratulating ourselves as an institution, but I hope that it is a day of healing and encouragement for us as the Church. I hope that we worship God in Spirit and in truth and I hope that we can help all people to worship God in Spirit and in truth. I hope that on this day when we celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, we rededicate ourselves to be holy temples and living stones that make up a Church that cannot be swayed by the evil in this world, but rather be strengthened in the Spirit. I hope the water of salvation flows mightily from beneath the threshold of us, a Church made holy by the hands of God.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:38 PM
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BISHOPS TO MEET NEXT WEEK: The NCCB will meet next week in Washington, D.C. A report from the National Review Board is expected.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:01 PM
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THE CHURCH: Fr. Jim Tucker offers an extended meditation on the Church, and on what it means to belong to her and what it means to leave her. Here's an excerpt:

A person who is brought up Catholic understands this instinctively, because everything we learn and believe and do leads to this way of seeing the world. In a way, we can say that the Catholic cannot imagine the existence of Christianity without the Church. That is why dissenters and "cafeteria Catholics" don't leave. We've heard people say, "Well, if they don't like what the Catholic Church believes, why don't they go become Presbyterians or something?" It's because, in spite of their divergence from the Church's teaching in concrete particulars, these people have a love for the Church that overpowers their desire for intellectual consistency. It might not make sense to the head, but it is perfectly understandable according to the logic of the heart. I was very sad to see Andrew Sullivan leave the Church, even though there was a general attitude of "Don't let the door hit you on the way out" in certain quarters. I think his writings have shown an interior conflict and a struggle to find a way to reconcile his moral choices with the Church's teaching. Even if this shows a stubborn pride on his part (in choosing his will over the Church's voice), it also shows the fact that he was trying to take the teachings seriously and come to grips with them somehow. He was paying attention because these things mattered to him. His more recent writings have seemed bitter and much less inclined to wrestle with the issues, and that's a shame. Would it have been better for him to have continued living and professing his contradictions from within the Church? I don't know. But, one way or the other, to have left is very sad.
And it for these reasons, of course, and others that I was cheered to learn that Andrew found himself back at mass this week.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:16 AM
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A LONG CONCLAVE? George Weigel speculates that the next papal conclave may be a long one, particularly if it is held soon. With so many new Cardinals, it may take time for them to feel each other out. Also, the Cardinals will be staying in much more comfortable accomodations than in centuries past, which may reduce the pressure to accomplish the job quickly.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:05 AM
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JOHN ALLEN: Lots of good stuff this week: Russian President Putin visits the Pope, speculation about new leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Capuchin revival, etc. I would also note that NCR is solicting donations through Allen's page for its annual appeal. I suppose it might be prudent to contribute so they don't decide to move Allen into the premium content section of the NCR site...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:58 AM
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THEY TAKE THE EARLY BUS: A portrait of the lives of janitors who live here in Contra Costa County. The article notes the role that their faith and their union play in helping them deal with the hardships of life. Just like my Irish ancestors...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:49 AM
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OPERATION PHONE HOME: The USO is sponsoring Operation Phone Home, a campaign to raise money to purchase prepaid phone cards for members of our armed forces stationed overseas during the holidays.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:37 AM
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Thursday, November 06, 2003
OUT OF AFRICA? Will the next Pope be an African? Christianity Today asks the question, and looks back at the consecration of the first African bishop, Joseph Kiwanuka of Uganda.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:25 PM
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OUT OF THE ASYLUM: Claude Muncey has some good observations on the problem of mental illness in the corrections system, including a link to a recent NYT op-ed on the subject. The facility I volunteer at is a minimum security county jail that doesn't have any medical facilities, so I generally don't see guys with serious and persistent mental illness. But even out there we get a few guys who seem somewhat borderline. Of course, a lot of folks who are addicted to drugs and alcohol (which describes a large chunk of the jail population) have some of kind of underlying behavorial health problem. You always wonder what is going to happen to guys when they get out. Some make it and some don't. Claude's right that we can do better than we're doing.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:49 PM
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TAKE BACK YOUR SABBATH: Christianity Today reports that North America's "largest purveyor of Christian merchandise recently began opening its 315 stores on Sunday afternoons. CT isn't pleased by this development, and urges Christians to "take back" Sabbath time:

Our churches and families need to return to a Sabbath consciousness that can provide a platform for countercultural witness. Without being legalistic about it, Christians have a duty to protest the oppressive tyranny of time and productivity and an economic order that tries to squeeze inordinate productivity out of people's energies.

Such a witness will take varied shapes, but along with church worship it should be characterized by a cessation from paid employment, a respite from commercial activity, an investment in relationships, a receptivity to divine wisdom, a celebration of creation, and intentional acts of kindness.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:58 AM
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SHELTER THE HOMELESS: Winter is coming and the Catholic Community Services in the Archdiocese of Seattle is working to provide affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:50 AM
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Wednesday, November 05, 2003
NEVER A DAY OFF: The NYT writes about the lives of the undocumented workers who washed and waxed Wal Mart's floors. The article contains a screen shot of a web site used to attract Czechs to janitorial work.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:34 AM
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THE POWER OF PRAYER: Amy Welborn has a great reflection on prayer. Here's an excerpt:

In Catholic tradition, the primary purpose of prayer is, indeed, to shape and form us. In prayer we give ourselves to God in order to be shaped by him. There are other purposes, of course, but that the foundation and goal, and if you look at the matter cosmically, what we are doing is not just an individual deal - we are part of an entire creation that is laboring towards God. Our prayer binds us to God and brings us into his work of reconciling the world. Sometimes it strenghtens us to combat evil, sometimes it strenghtens us to endure hardship. This is just such a different sensibility than "stuff happens so we've got to run to God to make it stop." It's a delicate balance, but I think the kind of thinking that Goldberg talks about in his original post (which was about Pat Robertson and the hurricane) is just not recognizable in Catholic spirituality (which would make sense), the latter of which tries to walk that mysterious line through which we both are formed to accept God's will and strengthened and empowered to work with him to bring it to fruition.
I have to confess that this is hard thing for me to remember sometimes, since I move in circles where people talk about the need to be "prayer warriors," etc. Last Saturday at school, there was a lovely older woman I know who recounted how she and her prayer group had prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to stop the fires in Southern California, and lo and behold the rains came, so it must have been in response to their prayers, right?

A few years ago, an old friend of mine from Jersey, someone who I had played with as a child and who I hadn't seen in a long time, was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer six months after he had gotten married. It was just devastating. I remember hitting my knees a lot on this one. I really wanted him to make it. I begged, I pleaded, I promised. There was no high theology of prayer here, believe me. This was pure pagan bargaining with the Great Sky God.

After he died, my mother passed on to me something that my friend's mother had told her. At the very end, there had been no pain. And when I heard that, there was something inside me that knew that this was the answer I had been given. And for reasons that I can't really explain, I was so very, very grateful for it because it somehow allowed me to accept God's will in this. It was a gift I treasure to this day.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:57 AM
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DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE A FOUR-CHAMBERED HEART? Fr. Jim Tucker offers an interesting perspective on the Robinson consecration:

Many of the opponents of the consecration have said stupid things, as well. Is the canon now a real, live Episcopalian bishop? I read today that one Australian bishop commented that, as far as he was concerned, Robinson was not a bishop. Two points come to mind from the Catholic perspective. First, the moral rectitude of the subject of ordination does not interfere with the conferral of the Sacrament of Orders. If proper matter and form are observed, an intention to do as the Church does is present, a valid consecrator is the minister, and a valid subject is the recipient, a man is raised to Holy Orders even if he is living in open concubinage with three different people. Part of the problem, I think, might be that many of the opponents are evangelicals with a very low sacramentology and ecclesiology. One might well find that they have less in common with Catholicism than Robinson does. The second point is that, in the eyes of the Roman Church, the whole question is moot, because Anglican Orders are invalid to begin with. Arguing over whether Robinson's situation invalidates his consecration is kind of like arguing over the circulatory system of unicorns.
Ex opere operato strikes again....

posted by Peter Nixon 9:33 AM
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Tuesday, November 04, 2003
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE CATHOLIC PERIODICAL? Fr. Jeff Keyes (who seems to be recovering well from surgery) asks the question. Click here to post your answer.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:59 PM
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IRAQIFICATION: Fareed Zakaria worries that the Bush Administration, worried over the political fallout of our continued involvement in Iraq, may be inclined to move too swiftly in transferring responsibility for maintaining civil order to a poorly prepared Iraqi government:

There are no shortcuts out. Iraq is America's problem. It could have been otherwise, but in the weeks after the war the administration, drunk with victory, refused to share power with the world. Now there can be only one goal: success. The first task of winning the peace in Iraq is winning the war -- which is still being waged in the Sunni heartland. And winning it might take more troops, or different kinds of troops (send back the Marines). It might take a mixture of military force and bribes -- to win over some Sunni leaders. But whatever it takes, the United States must do it. Talk about a drawdown of troops sends exactly the wrong message to the guerrillas. In the words of one North Vietnamese general, "We knew that if we waited, one day the Americans would have to go home."
The problem with learning from history is figuring out what history to learn from. Is this Vietnam, Somalia, or post-war Germany?

posted by Peter Nixon 2:00 PM
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CATHOLICS AND LIVING WILLS: Catholic News Service provides an overview of this issue.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:49 AM
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WHERE ARE ALL THE LIBERALS? A couple of weeks ago, Dominico Bettinelli asked “Where are all the liberal Catholic bloggers?” It’s an interesting question, and one I’ve wondered about myself. While I’m not terribly fond of the labels, it’s difficult to deny that most Catholic bloggers seem both theologically and politically more conservative than Catholics as a whole.

Liberals may not always be comfortable with their Church, but they are generally comfortable with their congregations. If I was inclined to be glib, I might say that the difference between a liberal Catholic and a conservative Catholic is that the liberal Catholic gets mad when he reads the newspaper, while the conservative Catholic gets mad when he goes to mass on Sunday. The liberal Catholic may get incensed over the press reports of the latest directive from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it is the conservative Catholic who must contend on a weekly basis with what he sees as heretical homilies, insipid music, lack of compliance with liturgical rubrics, and a general watering down of the faith.

Fr. Rob Johansen has a subtitle on his blog that says “Because if I didn’t vent somehow I’d explode.” I get the impression that there are a large number of Catholic bloggers who feel the same way. Within their parishes, there are often few people who share their views and they often have to be careful expressing themselves if they want to avoid being labeled as cranks. It doesn’t help, of course, that some have a tendency to use a rhetorical club when a scalpel would have done the job just as well.

None of this is to say that there aren’t a lot of alienated liberals around too. While the percentage of Catholics who are truly angry about the fact that the priesthood is restricted to men is probably rather small, the percentage who know someone who had a bad annulment experience is probably quite high. Millions of American Catholics had become deeply cynical about the leadership of their Church even before the clerical sexual abuse scandal. Formed as deeply by their American culture as by their ecclesial one, the idea that discussion on any issue could be “closed” is unacceptable.

But in my experience, parishes are generally more sensitive to the concerns of alienated liberals than alienated conservatives. Pastors dealing with parishioners angry about a particular teaching of the Church may counsel patience, subtly suggesting that change may come one day. Pastors are more likely to get defensive when dealing with angry conservatives, because the issues the latter raise often deal directly with the pastor’s leadership of the parish rather than the directives of Curial officials who are thousands of miles away.

So Saint Blog’s has become, in a way, sort of a coffee house where conservative Catholics feel comfortable and where liberals tend to tread lightly. My own experience has taught me that liberals who enter these provinces need to have a tough skin and to know their subject matter thoroughly. You come in here preaching the “Gospel of Inclusion” and the patrons here will slice you up and send you back to Kansas even if you’re not from there.

Which is, of course, one of the reasons I hang out here, even though an objective analysis would probably put me significantly to the left of the majority of my blogging companions. I get challenged and stretched here in ways that just aren’t going to happen in my parish or even in most of the publications I read. Living in the hermetically sealed liberal bag that is the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s all too easy for someone of liberal inclinations to get intellectually lazy.

Which, of course, suggests a warning for some of the denizens of Saint Blog’s. If you are a conservative looking to sharpen your thinking, this may not be the best place to do it, as far too many people are apt to reply to your latest post with “Amen! Amen!” (or dare I say “Ditto! Ditto!). Maybe it’s time to take out that subscription to the National Catholic Repoter…

posted by Peter Nixon 9:28 AM
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Monday, November 03, 2003
I WAS HUNGRY AND YOU FED ME: A new Census Bureau study suggests that there has been a significant increase in the number of families worried that they did not have enough money for food or unsure whether they can afford to buy food. Certainly comports with what we are hearing from local food banks, as well as our own parish food distribution efforts, where demand is certainly up this year.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:24 AM
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IT IS DONE: Christianity Today has a very lengthy list of links to reactions to the consecration of ECUSA Bishop Gene Robinson. Interestingly, many of the Third World primates who objected to Robinson's consecration are talking about "impaired" rather than "broken" communion.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:50 AM
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"THEY FIXED MY BOO-BOO." A couple of years back, there was a picture circulating around the Internet of fetal surgery to correct spina bifida in progress. One of the child's hands had extended through the incision and was wrapped around the surgeon's hand. That child, Samuel Armas, is now 4 and recently testified before the U.S. Senate. This story from Catholic News Service has the details.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:44 AM
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THE FROZEN NORTH: One step forward, two and half steps back seems to be the pace of progress in Northern Ireland. Terence O'Keefe reports in this week's Tablet.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:33 AM
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Sunday, November 02, 2003
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A SUNDAY NIGHT: In Chapter 10 of his book Paths to Prayer, Bishop Robert Morneau offers the following as a vow of stewardship:

I unreservedly and with abandon commit my life and destiny to Christ, promising Him practical priority in all the affairs of my life. I will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
It’s a little scary, although perhaps not as scary as Saint Ignatius’ Suspice prayer. Still, it is a bracing thought. What does it really mean to “commit my life and destiny to Christ” and “seek first the Kingdom of God?”

My own experience suggests to me that a decision to follow God in this way is not really an act of the will. A greater power than our will is at work. Elsewhere in the chapter, Morneau cites Dorothy Day’s comment that conversion is like falling in love with God. I think that is certainly true. But for me, at least, it wasn’t love at first sight. God wasn’t the popular blonde who was always the center of attention, and who all the boys wanted to be around. She was the “artistic” girl, the odd and mysterious one who always seemed to be in the corner of my vision. In time, it was her very oddness that attracted me. I found myself wandering by her house, hoping to catch a glimpse of her and placing myself in places where I might cross her path. I always seemed to arrive just after she had left. I would see her back, but never her face. But she always left behind a presence, something I could feel, smell or taste, something that beckoned me to keep following. Now she is almost an obsession, and there are times when I wonder whether I have gone mad.

I have found myself being drawn deeper into a life of discipleship, not out of any merit on my part, but because I have lost the will to resist. Like the fish on the end of a line, I have grown tired of fighting and am allowing myself to be reeled in. There was a time when my faith was a discrete part of my life, something that was easy to put into a compartment alongside other interests and priorities. Over time it has become the lens through which the rest of my life is viewed. It increasingly shapes all my decisions about the use of my time, talents and resources. I find the words of the Psalmist have become my own:

There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the House of Lord, all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the Lord, to behold his temple. And now my head shall be raised above my foes who surround me, and I shall offer within his tent, a sacrifice of joy. I will sing and make music to the Lord! (Ps 26)

posted by Peter Nixon 10:47 PM
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SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: When we opened the door to the chapel this morning, the cat ran out. This despite signs on the front and back doors of the chapel telling people to make sure the cat is out before they lock the door. The reason for this is that the cat tends to make "offerings" on the chairs if it is locked in all night, and sure enough, our feline parishioner had been generous in this regard.

Small turnout today, which is not surprising since it was very cold out and we were competing with the 10am start of the Raider game. One guy was going home this week and another was getting out a week from Monday. We pray over the men who are leaving Cursillo-style, with the whole group laying on hands. The young man we prayed over today was very young, with a gentle face and demeanor. He looked more like a Franciscan novice than a guy serving a jail sentence. I always wonder what brings them up here, but of course I never ask.

Please pray for Matt, who is getting out this week; for Tony, who is getting out next week and will rejoin his pregnant fiance; for Larry, Greg and the rest who have some time left on their sentences.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:37 PM
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