Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
John the Baptist
Nativity of John the Baptist: The Exigency to Prophesy
Today we leave the rotation of the Sundays of the Year for a celebration of the Calendar Feast Day: the celebration of the Birth of John the Baptist. This feast is put near the first day of summer, because, in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will now begin to grow shorter. John the Baptist proclaimed that he must decrease and the Lord must increase.
I want to begin today with a brief look at the Book of the Prophet Malachi. Malachi is the last of the minor prophets, minor not in stature but in length. Using the medieval division of the books into chapter and verse, the major prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are 66, 52, and 48 chapters. The longest of the twelve books of the minor prophets are Hosea and Zacharia, 14 chapters. The other ten are 3 to 5 chapters. Malachi is always put at the end of the list of minor prophets because it has a dramatic ending: “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me.” and "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”
Elijah was the greatest, most powerful of the ancient prophets. The one who would come to prepare the way, would come in the power of Elijah.
John the Baptist was a prophet. We use that term prophet rather loosely to refer to anyone who has made an educated guess or simply a good guess about the future. Sports figures and reporters are called prophets when they correctly predict the outcome of a game or match. Political hacks are called prophets when an election turns out as they expected.
In Sacred Scripture, prophecy is much more than that. In scripture prophecy refers the proclamation of the Truth of God. This Truth is timeless because God is timeless. The prophecy might not always refer to the future. For example, John the Baptist, was being prophetic when he pointed to Jesus and said, “There is the Lamb of God.” John the Baptist was also being prophetic when he told Herod that the king was a sinner. That was the truth, and John lost his head for proclaiming it.“The time will come to pass that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” That is from the prophet Joel. That time is now. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us since Pentecost. We are called, like John, to prophesy, in the full meaning of the term prophet. We are called to proclaim the Truth of God.
Truth is not necessarily something that people want to hear. On Friday we celebrated the feast of the martyrs John Fischer and Thomas More. Both opposed the King of England, Henry VIII, in his declaration that he was the Supreme Head of the Church. He did not want to hear that he was committing adultery by marrying Anne Boelyn. He demanded that all the bishops and nobles sign the Act of Supremacy, declaring that the King had complete authority over the Church. Archbishop John Fischer and Sir Thomas More refused. Even after they were imprisoned, Fischer and More’s very existence irritated the King. These martyrs died because they were prophets, committed to the Truth of God.
There are times that I have had to tell people that their lifestyle is detrimental to their future. I can assure you that they don’t want to hear it. I have told many people that for them, this or that leads to deep problems. They don’t want to hear it. I have had young couples leave my office quite upset because I told them that there is a considerable increase in the percentage of unsuccessful marriages for those who cohabitate. They would rather that I lie to them, or make believe that I don’t know the truth. No, we are called to proclaim the Truth, even if it is unpopular.
I am sure everyone here has gotten into a squabble or two or ten with family members when you mention that a particular lifestyle isn’t proper. Certainly, if you ever told your children that something which is the other kids are doing is wrong, you have had a fight on your hands. Good parents put up the good fight. And, in the long run, the Truth always wins.
When John was born, his father Zechariah, his voice restored, proclaimed a great truth, “You, my child, shall be called the Prophet of the Most High.” The song, or Canticle of Zechariah, is prayed every day by the entire Church as part of the Morning Prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office. This prayer reminds us both of the central event of mankind, the Christ Event, and of our call to join John in proclaiming the Truth. For when we proclaim the Truth, we proclaim Jesus Christ.
Homily from Father Phil Bloomhttp://stmaryvalleybloom.org/
* available in Spanish - see Spanish homilies
John the Baptist
The Herald of Freedom
(June 24, 2012)
Bottom line: We are at the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom that will culminate on July 4. Today we celebrate the great herald of freedom - John the Baptist. He points the way to ultimate freedom - Jesus. And he teaches the steps to freedom: Virtue ("repent"), Solidarity ("share with the poor") and, when government encroaches on basic freedoms, push back.Today we celebrate the Birth of St. John the Baptist. It is such an important feast day that it replaces the ordinary Sunday readings. It is also important in the sense that his is one only three whose birthdays we commemorate. The other two of course are Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
This year the Birth of John the Baptist has an additional importance: It comes at the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom. During these fourteen days before Independence Day our bishops are asking us to study, give thanks and pray for religious freedom. What I would like to propose this Sunday is that St. John the Baptist is the herald of freedom.
He is the herald of freedom in an absolute sense because he the forerunner of Jesus who is Freedom itself. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8:32) Politicians sometimes quote this verse, but by "truth" Jesus does not mean some kind of ideology or political program. To understand what Jesus is saying you have hear the whole sentence: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." By becoming disciples, we know the truth - Jesus himself. By knowing Jesus through prayer and sacraments, we experience freedom. Jesus himself is the Truth that makes us free. John, therefore, is the herald of freedom because he announces Jesus.
John heralds freedom in a very practical way. Do you remember his basic message? It is: Repent, change your life. "Produce good fruit," he says, "as evidence of your repentance." (Luke 3:8) And what is the good fruit? I want to mention a word that has lost its meaning for us. That word is "virtue." It might sound boring, but virtue is essential for a good life. It comes from the Latin word for "strength" and it includes things like courage, patience, fair-play, respect, sportsmanship and generosity. Without virtue freedom becomes impossible. Our founding fathers envisioned a "Republic of Virtue." They knew that democracy could not succeed unless ordinary citizens practiced basic virtues: honesty, self-discipline, habits of work, etc.* In his Farewell Address George Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." It's only logical when you think about it. The natural human tendency is to take the path of least resistance: sleep in, turn on the TV, play video games, surf the Internet, get a six-pack, use drugs, toss the wrapper on the ground, leave the task to the next guy, watch out for number one. You know what I mean. We need religion to counter-act self-indulgence.
In recent years sociologists have made some embarrassing studies - embarrassing, that is, to sociologists themselves who tend to be non-religious. Their studies show that attendance at a weekly service (such as Mass) correlates with better health, longer life, lasting marriages, young people avoiding destructive behaviors and - surprise - happiness. God has given us a command to keep holy the Lord's Day. It's not that he needs anything we can give him, but that we need to worship him. Many people have fallen into the habit of only going to Mass when they feel like it. Some even think that it wrong to go to Mass unless they feel like it! Nothing could be further from the truth. You need to go to Mass especially when you don't feel like it. Our natural tendency is downward. Let me say it again: We need religion to counter-act self-indulgence. John the Baptist said it better than I ever could: Repent, produce the fruits of repentance - don't be afraid of virtue.
Virtue - which is self-government - makes democracy possible. And as John the Baptist teaches, virtue moves a person outside of himself. When the people asked him, What shall we do? He said, "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry." (Lk 3:11) Democracy depends on people solving problems on the smallest possible level. Family members should take care of each other, as best they can. We need community organizations to address issues that families can't handle alone. St. John the Baptist teaches us to not wait for the government, but pitch in and do our part. In showing how everyone can practice solidarity, John the Baptist heralds freedom.
There's something more - and this is the tough part. When a ruler departs from God's law, John the Baptist teaches us to push back. He challenged King Herod for marrying Herodias - his brother's wife. Herodias was not amused. She got the king to imprison John and eventually to murder him. He stands at the head of a long line of Christian martyrs, continuing into our times: St. Christopher Magallanes, put to death for opposing laws of a repressive Mexican government.** Saint Maximillian Kolbe and Edith Stein, who died in Nazi concentration camps. And more recently Shahbaz Bhatti - a practicing Catholic in Pakistan. He was murdered, as Time Magazine reported, "because he had called for changes in a blasphemy law used to persecute religious minorities."
Now, you and I are not living in a country where people are being put to death for their faith. But we are seeing disturbing government encroachment on basic liberties, including the first freedom - freedom of religion. Our bishops give seven examples. I have placed a summary in today's bulletin. Our bishops are asking us to join them in pushing back. We do this by praying and by studying these issues.*** Our first prayer of course is gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy. Ultimately those freedoms don't come from the government, but from God himself.****
We are at the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom that will culminate on July 4. Today we celebrate the great herald of freedom - John the Baptist. He points the way to ultimate freedom - Jesus. And he teaches the steps to freedom: Virtue ("repent"), Solidarity ("share with the poor") and, when government encroaches on basic freedoms, push back. Amen.
*************Charles Murray identified four "founding virtues." He writes "Two of them are virtues in themselves - industriousness and honesty - and two of them refer to institutions through which right behavior is nurtured - marriage and religion." In his book "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," he uses sociological studies to demonstrate how we are losing those virtues - and how that loss is changing our country. As they say, it ain't a pretty picture. I found the book very thought provoking, especially for us who have the task of teaching those virtues.
Another perhaps surprising book on the relationship of virtue and democracry is: "Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century" by Bill Donohue. He has a nice quote from Fareed Zakaria:
"Greece was not the birthplace of liberty as we know it. Liberty in the modern world is first and foremost the freedom of the individual from arbitrary authority, which has meant, for most of history, from brute power of the state." Zakaria puts his finger on how this first evolved: "The Catholic Church was the first major institution in history that was independent of temporal authority and willing to challenge it. By doing this it cracked the edifice of state power, and in nooks and crannies individual liberty began to grow." For this reason, he concludes that "the rise of the Christian Church is, in my view, the first important source of liberty in the West--and hence the world."
**Peter O'Toole gave a wonderful portrayal of Father Magallanes in the new movie For Greater Glory.
***Here is the Fortnight daily prayer:
Almighty God, Father of all nations, For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
****An online sample homily states it this way:
Our Bishops have identified several attacks on religious liberty. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers, including Catholic agencies, provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, is a national assault on religious liberty without precedent in our history.
There are other worrying measures at the state and local level too, notably laws which prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the Church to undocumented immigrants.
When the government says that we must do what our faith forbids us to do, or when it says we cannot do what our faith mandates us to do – then we too might be called to have the courage of John the Baptist to refuse those unjust orders.
It is a stark question that we face: Shall the government increase, and Jesus decrease? The Fortnight for Freedom reminds us that our liberty is not something we have invented for ourselves, much less is it the largesse of the government. It is God’s gift. We have been set free in Christ Jesus for freedom. The genius of the American experiment in ordered liberty is that it recognized this. As Catholics and Americans we insist again upon that recognition. We insist today as John the Baptist insisted before King Herod; we insist today as Peter and Paul insisted before the Emperor Nero; we insist today as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More insisted before King Henry VIII.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Homily from Father Andrew M. Greeley
John the Baptist
June 24th 2012 A.D.
Feast of John the Baptist
"For the hand of the Lord was with him"
Though he appears often in the New Testament, John the Baptist is still a man of mystery. We see him through the lens of the early Christians with only a hint that the Baptist’s disciples would argue that he was superior to Jesus. But the Baptist’s followers were lost in the waves of history, so we know very little about them or about him, save what the Gospels.
Were they really relatives? The question is not relevant. Jesus did seek out John’s baptism, though such ceremonies of renewal were common in the Second Temple era. John, we should be confident, was contemporary of Jesus whose life and work reflected the need of that time for a new era. John’s plea for metanoia – change and renewal – anticipated Jesus. But John did not claim as Jesus did that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.Story:
Once upon a time, there was this parish director of music, a young woman just out of musical school. She found a children’s choir which everyone loved, an adult choir which no one liked because they sang too long, a scola cantorum which sang Gregorian chant, which some people liked a lot, and a teenage choir that “jammed for Jesus,” which the young people liked totally, and they were by their own admission the only ones that counted. She was also going on for her master’s degree and had a boy friend, who was a baseball pitcher without a future because he played for the Cubs. The pastor was delighted with the young woman’s talent and work ethic.
After her first year he recommended to the financial council that she receive a fifty percent raise because, as he said, “She works harder than any priest I know.” We’re not considering a raise, they said. She’s only a kid. Let’s not give her a raise till she asks for one. If we do pay her more, she’ll be back in two years for more. More likely she will be out of here, said the pastor. This is a case of commutative justice said the pastor, who was kind of old and remembered these words from his social ethics courses. They still said no. He gave her the raise. Finance committee complained to the bishop who said that if she didn’t get a raise he’d hire her for the Cathedral.
That was that.
Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
John the Baptist
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Birth of John the Baptist
Luke 1:57-66, 80
Luke introduces his gospel narrative of Jesus with the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. In prior verses related to our passage, we learn that a priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have no children, both being well advanced in years. While Zechariah is performing his priestly duty in the sanctuary of the temple, an angel appears and says to him that Elizabeth will bear a son who was to be called John. But because Zechariah did not believe, and questioned the angel, he became unable to speak. After Elizabeth did give birth to a son, Zechariah wrote on a tablet, "John is his name." Immediately his tongue was freed and he spoke, blessing God. The child (whose name means "Yahweh has shown favor") grew and became strong in spirit for he was to become a prophet of the Most High.
The unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and the people of the new covenant in God's plan of salvation is clearly evident in today's feast. It is from the Jewish people that John the Baptist, Mary and Jesus are born so that the tender mercy of God will visit all people. It is from the Jewish people that the church receives the revelation of the most fundamental truths of faith. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, the church continues to draw "sustenance from the root of that good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles" (Nostra Aetate, #4).
The most fundamental truth from which we draw sustenance is that God is present in human history as one who extends to us the favor of merciful love. We also learn from the Jewish people that the mystery of divine presence is beyond comprehension. The "I AM" of the divine name is a name beyond names (Ex 3:14 and Jn 8:58). A child born of aged Abraham and Sarah or a bush that burns but is not consumed before Moses signals a presence beyond human understanding and control.It is precisely because the mystery of the divine presence is beyond comprehension that the decision to trust or not to trust is inevitable for every one of us. Zechariah, upon hearing the outlandish words of the Lord's angel, did not trust and became mute, unable to speak a word (Lk 1:20). Luke immediately afterwards tells us that the Virgin Mary, too, was not able to understand the promise of the Lord's angel. However, her response "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" is asked out of trust, not out of doubt. The mystery even of human friendship can deal with a thousand difficulties and questions that are asked out of trust, but is deeply wounded by even one question asked out of doubt.
To receive the gift of recognizing the divine presence through faith calls forth a wholehearted response. The essence of that response is not only to trust, but also to bless God with praise and gratitude. When Zechariah wrote on the tablet "John is his name" immediately his mouth was opened and he spoke a blessing "because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Lk 1:68-79). Mary's canticle of praise and gratitude in response to the favor of divine presence is one of the most beautiful blessings of the entire biblical tradition (Lk 1:46-55).
Today's feast celebrating the birth of John the Baptist reminds us to pray again for the faith to recognize the divine presence in our lives, to trust in God's tender mercy with an undivided heart, and to bless God always and everywhere with a glad and grateful heart. Further, in the difficult circumstances that life brings to us all, only as a grateful expression of trust that God's will is to love us can we with confidence pray, "Thy will be done."
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB
Homily from Father Cusick
http://www.christusrex.org/www1/mcitl/lowhome.html Meeting Christ in the Liturgy
John the Baptist
TWELFTH Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 38, 1.8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
"Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" (Mark 4: 38. 40)
Storms or no storms, in tempest and in peace, we must live by faith. The greatest test of faith is the confidence of belief in God through the fear brought by the terrors of darkness and the tempests of temptation. Faith is given by God precisely to sustain our weakness by divine power through the difficulties life will bring.
"Now, however, 'we walk by faith, not by sight'; (2 Corinthians 5:7) we perceive God as 'in a mirror, dimly' and only 'in part.' (1 Corinthians 13:12) Even though enlightened by him in whom it believes, faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test. The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice, and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it." (CCC 164)
"Perfect faith casts out all fear." The saints and martyrs, the witnesses, including the Apostles who feared the storm and the seas, are the ones to whom we look to learn how to be men and women of faith, even while enduring the temptations and doubts that flesh is heir to.
"It is then that we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who 'in hope...believed against hope'; (Romans 4:18) to the Virgin Mary, who, in 'her pilgrimage of faith,' walked into the 'night of faith' (Lumen Gentium 58; John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater 18) in sharing the darkness of her son's suffering and death; and to so many others: 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.' (Hebrews 12:1-2)" (CCC 165)
Faith is the gift of God, and through this virtue he enables us to call upon him in every circumstance, from desperation to joy, in tragedies and in blessings. Christ commanded us to "pray always." Prayer is the necessary means of union with God in every circumstance: "It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise. (Cf. Matthew 28:20; Luke 8:24) Our time is in the hands of God:
'It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop,...while buying or selling,...or even while cooking.' (St. John Chrysostom, Ecloga de oratione 2: PG 63, 585)" (CCC 2743)
"Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin. (Cf. Galatians 5:16-25) How can the Holy Spirit be our life if our heart is far from him?
'Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy...For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.' (St. John Chrysostom, De Anna 4, 5: PG 54, 666)
'Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned.' (St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Del gran mezzo della preghiera.)Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father's plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us. 'Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.' (Origen, De orat. 12:PG 11, 452C)" (CCC 2744)
The greatest prayer, the sacramental liturgy of the Church, is the place where prayer and love meet perfectly. "In the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays. The spiritual writers sometimes compare the heart to an altar. Prayer internalizes and assimilates the liturgy during and after its celebration. Even when it is lived out 'in secret,' (Cf. Matthew 6:6) prayer is always prayer of the Church; it is a communion with the Holy Trinity. (GILH 9)" (CCC 2655)
The best antidote to fear is the heart at prayer, confident of the mercy of God and the availability of salvation in the sacramental life.
I look forward to meeting you here again next week as, together, we "meet Christ in the liturgy", Father Cusick
(Publish with permission.) http://www.christusrex.org/www1/mcitl.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
John the Baptist
Birthday of St John the Baptist
Today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist, it is a midsummer feast just as the Birth of Christ is a midwinter feast—John being born six months before Christ.
There is a sort of theological logic in this, although some might call it a romantic logic(!), in that one of John’s most famous prophesies is that I must decrease and he must increase. From midsummer on the days do decrease until the arrival of Christ at Christmas when they increase again.You might wonder about all the hassle they had over the choice of John’s name in our Gospel reading; but names are very important and they were especially significant to the Jewish people and, as we see in the text, everyone felt they had a right to be consulted.
One thing about St Joseph’s Parish is that there are a lot of Baptisms which is a great joy for us all. I am sure that the parents think very hard about choosing a name for their new child. They want a name that sounds good, a name that means something.
The name John is made up of two words: Ja an abbreviation for God and the word for grace or favour. So the name John means God will show him favour.
This is an echo of the Angel’s greeting to Mary: you who enjoy God’s favour. We are told that John the Baptist lived an extraordinarily ascetical and penitential life in the desert and that he preached an uncompromising and harsh message. We know also that his life was brought to an end in a gory death at the whim of a dancing girl. Nevertheless, despite all these things he did enjoy God’s favour.
He enjoyed God’s favour because he was chosen to play a crucial role in the salvation of the world. He is the bridge between the old and New Testaments and is considered to be one of the very highest among the saints.
Everyone in the village assumed that John would be called Zechariah after his father and that he would most likely follow him as a priest in the Temple, but God had other ideas.
There is a good lesson for us here. We often think we know how someone will turn out in life, we often have very firm ideas about what we ourselves will do, but even more often God has his own ideas.
In the case of John he was marked out from his very birth to be the herald of Christ. God has marked each one of us out for special work in the world. Maybe we already think we know where God wants us to go and what he wants us to do, maybe not.
John is the one who brought Baptism into being for the Church and maybe this could give us a clue. Each one of us is Baptised, each one of us has made those Baptismal promises to reject Satan and to embrace belief in Christ. This is more than a clue to what God wants for us. He has chosen us to be his witnesses in the world.
We can surely say that John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament Prophets but you could just as easily say that he was the first of the New Testament Prophets, the first of the witnesses to Christ.
There is always a need for prophets in the Church and God has not been neglectful in providing them.
One example of a prophet that came to the fore in the last few years is Cardinal O’Brien from Scotland. Cardinal O’Brien is not afraid of ridicule; he fearlessly speaks up for the values of the Kingdom of God which are so unfashionable today. He has been a long term advocate for the poor whether at home or abroad. Most recently he has made a name for himself by standing up for the traditional understanding of marriage.
Maybe we aren’t all given the same gift of ‘holy brusqueness’ as the Scottish Cardinal, but each of us can make our own impact in our own way. Each of us is capable of being a Prophet of the New Testament. Each of us can find ways of making an impact for Christ on our neighbours.
As we have seen the name John means God will show him favour. But as we recognise this favour is shown not only to John, it is shown to all of us.
In our second reading we see how when St Paul was asked to say a few words in the synagogue of Antioch he gave a beautiful account of the history of salvation. And he concludes it by saying to his Jewish brothers: this message of salvation is meant for you. He speaks to the Jews of Antioch but he also speaks to us. This message of salvation is meant for us too.
We receive the salvation Christ won for us but we are also, like John, its heralds. We too proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. We too reject sin and proclaim our belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us do so in the traditional formula used at Baptism.
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