Wednesday, 20 July 2016

GONE WITH THE WIND



It was a lovely summer’s afternoon that Sunday when we sat as a family and enjoyed a sumptuous Sunday lunch. We had roast beef as well as fried chicken which had been marinated in all sorts of flavorsome spices and herbs; accompanied by an assortment of vegetables including of course the dreaded Brussels sprouts.

I have never understood why God created this particular vegetable; but create it He did. No doubts He has His reasons and one day we’ll discover how beneficial it is for us and how silly and uneducated we have been to dislike it so. However, for now at least, most people I know don’t seem to like it.

I don’t count myself amongst them, of course. I’m neutral in this respect. I would eat Brussels sprouts if offered to me but I would not go out of my way to ask for them in a gourmet restaurant.

But that Sunday, Brussels sprouts were on the menu. I believe they were mixed with walnut pieces and fried onions, if memory serves me right.

We have had Auntie Gertrude from Australia staying with us for a few days so we also invited Father Frederic to Sunday lunch. The two had never met each other so we sat them next to each other around the large dinner table.

It was a lovely meal with pleasant conversation on no particular subject and all subjects that came to mind.

After lunch, we all moved to the living room to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and continue our discussion.

Father Frederic sat on the sofa leaving a little room for someone else to sit beside him and a few minutes later, as we all made ourselves comfortable, Auntie Gertrude came in and sat beside the priest.

Sadly, and embarrassingly for her, as she lowered herself in the well upholstered settee she accidentally broke wind with a thunderous loud noise.

I should mention at this stage that Father Frederic is somewhat hard of hearing; and he therefore did not notice nor pay attention to what had just happened.

I immediately tried to cover Auntie’s embarrassment by asking him loudly some Ecumenical question that came to mind.

As I leaned towards him speaking a little louder than usual I noticed his face going a little pale as the tell-tale strong smell reached my olfactory senses.

He looked at me accusingly as Auntie got out of the room saying “By dingo cobber! I forgot the biscuits in the kitchen … they're special I brought from Adelaide ... I’ll go and get them!”

As she got out of the room, followed by the rest of the family, she added somewhat undiplomatically "they are not as bland as those English biscuits!"

I was left alone with the kind old heavenly priest and the smell from hell.

Suddenly, the Ecumenical question became totally irrelevant as my mind went blank and my hurt pride and wounded honor urged me to shout at the top of my voice “It was not me!!! It was her!!! She did it and went out leaving me sharing her stench.”

But being the stupid gentleman which I am, I said nothing. I kept quiet and protected a lady’s pride and honor by my silence.

“Would you like a biscuit?” I asked Father picking up the large serving dish which was there all the time.

“That’s a lovely piano …” replied Father Frederic getting up from his seat and moving towards the open window. “Our church organ needs mending … it doesn’t pump so much wind in the pipes as it used to.”

Somehow, the uneasy conversation which followed and the fresh air from the open window, diluted the heavy atmosphere in the room as eventually the rest of the family rejoined us accompanied by an innocent looking Auntie Gertrude.

Since that day, Father Frederic keeps his distance from me whenever we meet.

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Monday, 18 July 2016

It happened on the bus ...

I don't know why, but complete strangers tend to start conversations with me whenever we meet. It could be on the train, or in the park walking the dog, on the bus, or anywhere. Complete strangers start a conversation by talking first about the weather, something we do a lot here in the UK, and then, before long they are telling me their life story. What is it about me that attracts complete strangers like flies to ... a honey pot? Why can't they leave me alone?
The other day I was on a long journey on a bus and I was quietly reading my newspaper "The Daily Gossip" when the man sitting next to me went, "Arrr me hearty! Shiver me timbers!"

I was startled by this sudden unusual outburst. I was expecting the more traditional opening gambit, "Nice weather we've been having lately, don't you think?"

Instead I got this pirate type utterance in what seemed a quiet authentic piraty type accent. And indeed the man, or so it seems, was a genuine pirate.

He told me he was a vegeterian pirate.

Have you ever heard of such a thing, or person?

He was a vegeterian pirate. He had a carrot on his shoulder.

I asked him, "How come, if you're a vegeterian pirate, you only have one carrot on your shoulder? Why not have a variety of vegetables?"

He said that he left some room for the rabbit. He then turned to the man sitting on my other side and said "What's up Doc?"

Well, it turned out that the man on my other side was indeed a doctor. He was on the bus because someone had stolen his bicycle. 

He said that he was short of cash and, if I wanted, he could give me some quick medical advice for a small charge.

As it happens, I did have a small personal problem on my mind which I was too embarrassed to discuss with my own doctor. But you know how it is, don't you? You don't want to discuss a personal matter with someone you know, but you're quite happy to discuss it with a stranger you'll never meet again. So I whispered the problem in his ear. Because I noticed that the carrot on the pirate's shoulder was trying to listen to our conversation.

The doctor asked me, "What are the symptoms?"

I told him they were yellow cartoon characters on TV named Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa. I wondered what that had to do with my medical problem.

He then asked me, "How's your libido?"

I replied, "I sold that Italian car; which is why I am now travelling on the bus."

He explained that there was nothing to be ashamed of in my situation and that sometimes people do have strange habits in the bedroom. The trick is to be spontaneous.

"Let's not be English about it" he said. "If you feel like being amourous with your wife in bed; you don't knock her on the head with your umbrella and say 'Hey ... have you got a minute?'

"Be adventurous. Be amourous at any time and at any place."

"Mind you," he continued, "they'll never let me in that restaurant again !!!"

After a moment's silence, he went on.

"Some people have a problem in the bathroom too.

"For example, I had a patient once who suffered from rheumatism. So I advised him to keep away from any dampness whatsoever. Now he sits in the bath and vacuum cleans himself.

"Another patient always took an alarm clock with him in the shower. He would set the alarm at exactly eight minutes and then shower quickly before the alarm clock rang. He would rinse himself first, put shower gell all over him and create a great lather of soap, and then speedily rinse it off before the alarm bell rang.

"If he was not quick enough, he would still get out of the shower, even if he was still covered in soap, and put his clothes back on again. He never bothered to dry himself to save on towels. Instead he would wring his arms, legs and other bits before getting dressed."

At this point, mercifully, the bus reached my stop and I got off hurriedly. In my haste, I dropped the stick of celery that was resting on my shoulder.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Testing ... Testing ...


Read this bit from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a couple of times. 

“Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and He will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, He will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out”. (1 Corinthians Chapter 10 Verse 13).


Let us now consider what St Paul is saying. God will not allow you to be tested beyond your power of endurance; or your tolerance level.


Let’s face it – God is not in the business of losing His followers. Those devoted to Him. It does not further His cause one bit if His own followers are so tested by the world’s evils that they loose their Faith in Him. This is contrary to His love for us. He will not allow us to just perish.


Remember also what Christ said about the shepherd who would rather leave ninety-nine sheep in a field and go looking for the one that is lost until it is found. He concludes: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent”. (Luke Chapter 15 - Verses 1 – 7).


So when you’re in difficulty and troubled beyond belief, remember that God will not let you down. He will not let you be pushed to your breaking point.


Just pray and praise Him over and again, that He is still in control of the situation, however bad it seems to you, and He will provide you with a way out.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Reminiscences of a priest


Father Ignatius put the phone down and settled in the armchair near the fireplace. It was a cold winter evening so he warmed his hands by the fire then picked up his cup of cocoa and took a sip or two. There was nothing to capture his interest on television, so after watching the usual dismal news he switched it off and turned his thoughts to the phone call.

It had been some months since he last spoke to his great friend Monsignor Thomas. They had trained together for the priesthood in Rome many years ago, and he hadn’t seen the Monsignor for some time now. As usual, Monsignor Thomas ended the telephone conversation by saying: “Dominus vobiscum” and Father Ignatius replied “Et cum spiritu tuo”.

The Latin words reverberated in his mind. It’s such a long time that he celebrated Mass in Latin he thought.

“Yet there was a time when all Masses were said in Latin,” thought the priest as he put down his cup of cocoa.

His mind wandered to his youth, as a young priest, and how different life was back then. In those days sermons were different too, he thought. “There was more meat to them,” he mumbled to himself.

“We were not afraid to say things the way they were; and still are now. We warned our flock of the dangers of sin, and an eternity in hell. We told them what was right and what was wrong …”

He remembered a particular sermon where he spoke against trying to contact spirits and visiting so-called mediums.

Now sermons seem to have been toned down for fear of up-setting the congregation.

“We have to be politically correct” he said to himself.

He realised that things change over the years, and change is sometimes inevitable. But it isn’t always for the better, he argued with himself.

“Back then,” he thought, “people used to fast for twelve hours before taking Holy Communion. They used to genuflect at the Altar rail and take the Host on the tongue. None of this queuing up the center aisle and holding the Host in your hand business as we do now.”

His sighed quietly as he recalled other changes which befell the Catholic Church over the years. People used to kneel as they entered the church or took their place in the pews. Women had their heads covered; either with a hat or a scarf.

He brought to mind an incident last summer when a young lady attempted to enter the church for Sunday Mass dressed in a bikini top and short pants. He happened to be at the entrance of the church and he stopped her.

“You must let me in,” she protested, “I have a perfect right!”

“Madam,” Father Ignatius replied in his stern voice, “you have a perfect left too, but you’re not coming in dressed like that!”

He smiled at the way he handled the situation and was awakened from his reveries by Father Donald entering the room.

“What’s on TV?” asked Father Donald in his broad Scottish accent.

“Only dust …” replied Ignatius still smiling.

“I like it,” said Father Donald laughing, “I’ll tell the housekeeper in the morning. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your joke!”

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

I'm running out of priests ...

 

Father Ignatius usually waited at the door of the church to greet the parishioners on Sunday as they left after Mass. He noticed that for the last few weeks there was a new face amongst his flock. A man in his mid-thirties, always alone, speaking to no one and leaving in a posh new car. Unlike the old rusty cars that normally frequent this church in a poor desolate town hit hard by the downturn of the economy.

One Sunday, the priest introduced himself to the newcomer as he was leaving church.

"You're new here," he said, "welcome to our parish. I am Father Ignatius!"

"Hello Father," replied the man, "how remiss of me not to introduce myself. Perhaps we can go somewhere to talk. After the congregation has all left, that is."

Minutes later, both men were sitting in Father Ignatius' office enjoying a cup of coffee and biscuits.

"I'm not from this town," explained the man, "although I have been visiting churches in this town, and others, for the last six months or so. I visit a church for a few Sundays and then move on to another one."

"I see," replied the priest with a smile, "you're not like one of those Michelin or Egon Ronay people who visit restaurants and publish guides giving each restaurant a number of stars depending on quality, are you?"

The man smiled. "No," he said, "not quite like that. But I am searching for a priest actually, rather than a church!"

"I don't understand," replied Father Ignatius,"what is this priest's name? Perhaps I know him."

"You see Father," continued the man, "I am running out of priests to confess to. I want, and need, to confess to a priest I can trust and respect. And sadly, there aren't many around these days!"

Father Ignatius was taken aback by the man's response but thought it prudent to say nothing. He picked up the pot of coffee and replenished the man's cup as well as his.

The man continued.

"Let me explain, in the first church I used to attend the priest there used to preach about the sanctity of marriage. How marriage is a Holy Sacrament and it is for ever; and how divorce is wrong.

"I was married at the time and we went to that church for some time, my wife and I.

"Then things went wrong and we divorced. The priest tried his best, to be fair, to get us to reconcile and to save the marriage. But it didn't work out and we divorced.

"He warned me about the Catholic Church's position regarding divorce, re-marriage or even co-habiting with another woman; and explained how difficult it would be to get an annulment of the marriage from the Church.

"Anyway ... I continued to go to that church for a year or so. Then we discovered that this very priest had an affair with a parishioner and that he was leaving the priesthood to marry her.

"I saw him a few months later in the street. I asked him how come marriage is for ever and he can leave the priesthood when he feels like it? He replied that circumstances change! What sort of answer is that?"

Father Ignatius said nothing. It was obvious that this man had a lot on his chest he wanted to get off; and that he was indeed very angry at what seemed to him to be double standards.

"In another church I moved to after that," the man went on, "in conversation, the priest there told me that he did not like the wine because it made him dizzy. I asked him what wine, and he said, the wine in church.

"I was amazed. I said hesitantly that this is not wine, it is the Blood of Christ.

"He smiled and said to me, yes ... some people like to believe so. It is all symbolism, really!

"How can a Catholic priest believe and say something like that openly, Father? It makes me so angry. How can the Catholic Church have priests who believe such a thing? Why don't they make them leave the Church rather than spread their personal beliefs? In another church the priest said he preferred to celebrate Mass in Latin, and with his back to the congregation; like in the old days. He said the current Catholic thinking is wrong."

Father Ignatius was about to speak when the man continued, somewhat irritated.

"I left that church too after a while. In another church the priest there preached from the pulpit that Catholics should be responsible and not breed like rabbits. His very words. When he was asked later whether he condoned contraceptives he said 'NO' and people should use the rythm method instead. What's that? Having a rythm and blues band in the bedroom with you?" asked the man in anger.

Father Ignatius remained silent.

"I'm sorry Father," the man continued after a moment's silence, "I shouldn't get angry with you. I hardly know you and here I am shouting at you.

"But as you can see, I am very upset with the Church and the priesthood. I am just running out of priests to confess to. How can I go to Confession to a priest whom I do not respect; or trust that in a few months time he will not leave the priesthood to get married.

"I can give you many other instances of bad priests I have met in my time. Like the one who was so interested in golf that he postponed a funeral arrangement so he does not miss out on a tournament he was playing at. Or another one, whom I asked to celebrate Mass for a dead relative, and I gave him a generous donation; yet he never celebrated that Mass for my dead parents. Despite two or three reminders.

"Is that Christ-like? Would Jesus have behaved like these priests?"

"I doubt very much that Jesus enjoyed a round of golf," replied Father Ignatius trying to lighten the mood a little.

The man laughed heartily.

"You see," continued Father Ignatius, "you're expecting too much from us priests. No one is perfect. Except God, and Christ, that is.

"Priests, like the original disciples, are ordinary men. With their own faults, weaknesses and foibles. Men, chosen by Christ, who are like the rest of us sinners, full of doubts and confusion.

"Now I am not either excusing or condoning the behaviour or utterences of the priests you have mentioned. I agree with you, there are some priests who perhaps do not meet the standard expected by society or indeed which they owe to our Lord.

"Priests are men who have chosen to follow our Lord by preaching His message to the world. As such, they have a special responsibility and duty to our Lord and they will be answerable to Him one day when they meet face to face.

"As shepherds, their duty is to care for the sheep and to lead them to Heaven. Not risk losing the flock by their behaviour or by what they say or believe.

"I am truly sorry that you seem to have met some priests who have disappointed you. I shall certainly pray for them as I will for you."

Father Ignatius stopped for a while. Something he often did when he wanted to get a point over forcibly.

The man smiled and said nothing. The priest continued.

"Your relationship should be a one-to-one relationship with God. With Jesus; with the help of the Holy Spirit.

"Your responsibility is to Him alone. To love Him and to love your fellow man as best you can.

"The priests and the Church, or Churches from other denominations, are there to set guidelines, road maps, blue prints as to how we can best follow God's message in our lives. These guidelines should be based on Bible teachings and where necessary supplemented by guidance from the priesthood.

"Sadly, as you have found out, not all priests meet the standard expected of them. But this does not take away your responsibility to build a one-to-one relationship with God and to seek His help and guidance when in doubts or in difficulties.

"I hope and pray that you will find a church, or a priest, whom you can respect and trust; as you say. A priest you can discuss matters with, or even go to Confession to.

"My request to you, is that you do not judge us too harshly. Indeed, we are all sinners; some of us perhaps deserving more forgiveness than others."

The man smiled and thanked Father Ignatius for his time listening to him. As he departed, the priest said a silent prayer for all priests who fail to set the good example expected of them.

STORY BASED ON TRUE FACTS

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Monday, 11 July 2016

Watch Out ... There's a camera about.


I’m sure you’ve seen those programs where they stop unsuspecting people in the street and film them in funny situations for showing on TV afterwards. Some of the situations can be quite hilarious and the victims usually laugh and agree to have the film shown on TV.

Years ago I worked as a junior with an independent film maker and we were assigned to do such a film.

As I speak French well, the idea was that I would stop people in the street and ask them directions to a particular place in a heavy French accent. As they spoke, I’d pretend not to understand and I’d keep changing the location where I wanted to go.

The camera was hidden well out of view and the sound engineer explained the technical bits.

“The director will speak to you through this ear-piece” he said, “listen to his every instructions.”

I nodded.

“This is the latest microphone model. Cutting edge engineering technology.” he continued, “It looks just like a £1 coin, just two centimeters in diameter. Yet it picks up sound from a great distance.”

I pretended to be impressed.

“It doesn’t have a clip!” I said, “How will I clip it to my shirt?”

“You don’t” he replied with a smile, “you put it straight on your chest under the shirt. It goes straight on your skin.”

“You mean it is glued on me?”

“Not glued … we use the very latest adhesive solution on the market. Totally invisible, just like water. A tiny drop and the microphone is in place and no one will suspect you’re wearing it”.

Moments later I was ready for my first victim. I stood in the street looking confusingly in a map book and pretending to be lost. A tall man in a white priest’s collar walked towards me from the left. The director said in my ear “Aha … a man of the cloth. He’s bound to be very helpful. Stop him and … ACTION!”

“Scuze moi Monsieur!” I said in my best French accent “I cannot find ze hotel … where iz eet?”

He looked at the map and then proceeded to give me directions.

“Excellent,” whispered the director in my ear, “keep him talking!”

“Tres bien …” I said “Zat is ze hotel … but ze restaurant … eet haz moved … where iz ze restaurant?”

At this point I felt the microphone slip a bit from my chest. Obviously the adhesive wasn’t as good as I was told. It stopped again on my stomach.

“The sound quality has deteriorated,” the voice in my ear said, “get closer to him.”

I moved closer to the priest and asked another question.

“No good,” said the voice “I hear rumbling as if we’re on a train.”

I hadn’t eaten that morning because of nervousness. This was my first live interview. My knees were trembling. I had butterflies in my stomach and their knees were trembling too. A symphony of hunger pangs and trapped wind played softly into the microphone much to the distress of the director and the sound engineer.

“What the **** is that?” cursed the director in my ear, “fix it quick.”

I surreptitiously pretended to scratch my stomach whilst continuing the conversation in broken English with the priest. I tried in vain to push the microphone up to its original position but it slipped down a further few inches and stopped below the waistline !!!

“The rumbling has stopped” said the voice, “now we can’t hear a thing. Get even closer to him!”

How do I do that? I thought.

I can hardly ask him to bend down and address me down there so I can hear him better!

Can you imagine the conversation?

“Excuse me Father, I’ve had an ear transplant that went wrong and they put my ear down there. Can you speak a bit lower down so I can hear you more clearly?”

I ignored the director’s frantic screams and I tried to move the microphone again. But you can hardly scratch down there in public whilst conducting an interview with a priest … or with anyone else for that matter!

Perhaps if I pretended to get my handkerchief out of my trouser pocket, that should do it … Botheration!!! That didn’t work either. The microphone rolled down my trouser leg and fell on the ground.

“That’s better!” said the director’s voice “We can hear him but faintly. Get him a little closer”.

Easier said than done.

What do I do now? Do I lie down on the sidewalk and say “We French are very relaxed people. We don’t panic even when we’re lost. Why not join me down here so we can discuss directions?”

I gave up in sheer frustration.

In my best English accent I said “Thank you Father. You’ve been very kind to help me; I know my way from here!”

He smiled in total confusion at my sudden grasp of the English language. He shook my hand and then … looking down he said, “Someone has dropped a £1 coin. I’ll put it in the Sunday collection plate!”

He picked up the microphone and walked away!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Suffering ...


I was day dreaming the other day and I wondered; what if I came face to face with a genie? You know, the one out of a bottle or an old oil lamp. And what if he gave me one wish.

Just one wish. What would it be?

Happiness for myself and my family? Riches? Good health? That’s three wishes for a start; and I only have one wish to make.

As I sobered up and considered this carefully I thought I’d ask the genie to end all suffering in the world.

Now wouldn’t that be wonderful? No more suffering from hunger and poverty. No more suffering from illness and old age. No more suffering from violence and bullying. No more suffering of any kind anywhere in the world.

I wonder what that would be like.

Then I thought about suffering. It comes our way from time to time and stays with us for varying periods, sometimes for ever, and hurts us to varying degrees.

Why, and what should we do about it?

I believe that God allows suffering to come our way for reasons best known to Himself.

But I also believe that He takes no great delight in seeing us suffer. It isn’t for Him a means by which He somehow “purifies” us from our sins, or an essential condition which we should accept gladly as a badge of honour, or some sort of sacrifice to repay Him for what He has done for us.

Let’s face it; there is NOTHING we can do which will ever repay what God did for us. And He does not, and never has, asked for repayment by means of suffering and donning sackcloth and ashes.

In fact the New Testament is full of evidence that God is against our suffering.

Christ acted against suffering when He saw the sick and the poor, the blind, the deaf, the dumb and the lame, as well as those possessed by the devil. On every occasion He stopped suffering by healing those brought to Him. Even when suffering was the result of death itself, as for instance when His friend Lazarus died and his family were distraught; Christ acted against the suffering of death and raised Lazarus once again.

I suppose it can be said that Jesus took upon Him all the suffering of the world when He hung dying on the Cross.

And even today, Christ is fighting against suffering. For He is alive and with us now as He was after the Resurrection.

His Holy Spirit fights against suffering through the hands of many who can heal through prayers and the miracles performed in His name. His Holy Spirit is at work fighting suffering through the miracles in Lourdes and elsewhere. His Holy Spirit is fighting suffering through the miracles and intercessions of the Saints. And His Holy Spirit is fighting suffering through us; yes … you and me.

When suffering befalls us God does not want us to accept it as a sacrifice and suffer in silence. To do so is tantamount to saying that He wills it and delights in it and we should accept it.

God does not ask the sick man to suffer in joy and not seek any medical advice, not to pray for healing and to do nothing about it; anymore than He asks anyone to accept suffering willingly and do nothing about it.

Only Christ accepted suffering willingly and He did so for a Divine purpose to redeem us all from our sins.

That God wills our suffering is in no doubt. But I repeat, He does not delight in it and He does not wish us just to accept it without any attempt to confront it and fight it. He would wish us to act against the evil of suffering just as Christ did when He walked this earth. Jesus welcomed the sick and the dying and He had pity on them and healed them. He did not tell them to go suffer in silence, or in joy, because He was too busy preaching about God's Kingdom. He acted against suffering on evry occasion and never turned anyone down.

Through prayers we act and seek help for the ending or easing of our suffering. Through the intercession of the Saints, the Archangel Rafael known as The Healer, or through the help of those blessed with the power of healing. We can and should act to ease or end our suffering whatever it may be.

Like the woman who dared to touch Christ’s garment we too should dare to ask for His help; rather than accept suffering as if it were our duty to just grin and bear it.

To suffer in silence and do nothing about it is a great disservice to the Lord as it portrays a certain lack of Faith and Trust in Him and His love and mercy.

Many people struggle under suffering for years and then miraculously they are healed. Miraculously whatever their reason for their suffering, whether ill health or something else, their suffering is eased or ended.

On every occasion those people have done something in great Faith to end their situation and condition. They may have visited a Faith healer, they may have visited a shrine like Lourdes, they may have asked a Saint’s or Archangel’s help. But they did something, rather than accept their suffering and not confront it.

Just like all those people who asked Christ to end their suffering. They dared to believe that God is but a prayer away and He wills the end of their suffering.

And we too, you and me, can perform our little miracles and end suffering when we see it in others.

When we see Lazarus starving at our doorstep, when we see the old neighbour needing help with the shopping or the housekeeping, when we see our colleague at work struggling under the bullying of an oppressive boss … we too can reach out our hand and help in some way to ease and end that suffering.

Maybe that is why God allows suffering to happen in the world. Not for us to accept it and suffer in silence. But to give an opportunity to others who see our conditions to help in any way they can to end or ease our suffering.

When I think about it, we don’t need a genie to end the suffering of the world. We have the power of that genie within us. We just don’t want to use it.

And that makes God sad.
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