Fr Bonnie's Reflections

BETWEEN ADAM AND JESUS CHRIST: WHO IS OUT OF HIS SENSES? HOMILY FOR THE 10TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Adam and Jesus prop

We consider someone to be out of his or her senses when the individual behaves in a way that falls short of what the society expects. For instance, when someone decides to walk the streets naked or pick up things from the garbage to eat, people would conclude that the individual is out of touch with reality; in other words, insane. On another note, some psychiatrists believe that we all have various degrees of insanity; hence the theory that nobody is entirely sane.

The Gospel Reading today (Mark 3:20-35) presents us with the visit of our Lord Jesus Christ to his hometown, Nazareth, after leaving home for a while and ministering around the region of Galilee. Jesus’ pastoral visit to Nazareth turns out to be a verbal attack on his nascent ministry. Two significant accusations come after him: being out of his senses and being possessed and working by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons.

The First Reading (Gen.3:9-15) tells us the story of the Fall, that is the first sin in the Garden of Eden. After eating the forbidden fruit, God called Adam and asked, “where are you?” Replying Adam says that he heard God in the garden and decides to hide because he was naked. Further inquiries about the awareness of being naked showed that Adam ate the forbidden fruit and he blames God indirectly by saying, “the woman you put here with me gave me, and I ate.” That means if God did not bring the woman the story could have been different. The woman shifts the blame on the persuasion of the serpent, and the snake could not say anything because the reason was clear, to make them disobey God and lose the grace of paradise.

This reflection tries to examine the actions of Adam in the Garden of Eden in line with the events following the ministry of Jesus Christ in Nazareth. The primary idea is to establish who is out of his senses and under the power of Beelzebub. Of course, we have lessons to learn.

  • “Where are you?”

This is a common question family, and friends ask themselves especially when they speak over the phone. People often ask the question to know how safe you are, how close you are to them and what you might be doing. When Adam gets the question from God, he could not say precisely where he was. Contrarily, Adam gives an answer that indicates what he was doing and why, “I heard you in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”

Come to think of it; God was not asking because he could not locate Adam physically (God knows everything), He was asking Adam, “where do you stand in the instruction I gave to you; where do you stand in my relationship with you?” The answer Adam gives to the question is apt as he indicates that he was naked. He lost the divine clothing, and that pushed him away from God.

If God the Father directs the same question to Jesus Christ, the answer would be, “Father, I am in Nazareth fulling my ministry, I am in Nazareth doing your will.” The liturgy of the word today is inviting every one of us to answer the same question; “where are you with God?”

  • “Who is out of his senses and under the power of Beelzebub?”

In the Garden of Eden, Adam ate the forbidden fruit through the insinuations of “Beelzebub” appearing as a serpent. Consequently, humanity disobeyed God and obeyed the devil. In Nazareth, our Lord Jesus Christ could not eat, not that he is forbidden to eat, but because of his preoccupation with spreading the good news in obedience to the will of God which also includes freeing humanity from the power of the evil one (Col 1:13).

In the estimation of the relatives of Jesus Christ, he is out of his senses because he had no time to eat. Furthermore, in the thoughts of the Scribes, he is possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons because he was casting out demons. Considering the narrative of the fall and the ministry of Jesus Christ in Nazareth, “who is out of his senses, Adam, or Jesus Christ?”

To be out of one’s senses, in relation to God, means disobedience. An excellent example is the story of the prodigal son. The passage in Luke (15:17-18) tells us that the prodigal son suddenly comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father. What this means is that when we operate outside our spiritual senses, we offend God and obey the devil. Adam is, therefore, the one who is out of his senses.

As we march into a new week, let us strive to become the faithful brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ by being in our right senses with God through our conscious obedience to Him. Since our Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the slavery to sin to righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18), we should always stand close to God and do His will so that when we hear His footsteps, we could run to embrace Him and not to hide from Him.

Being in our right senses with God may often lead us to our being out of our senses with the world starting with our families and relatives. Often, our family ties, values, and expectations could run into conflict with our vocation and relationship with God leaving us to choose between family and God. The tension between family expectations and divine expectations could be troubling but St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (2 Cor.4:13-5:1) that we should not be discouraged because our inner self would be renewed day by day as the affliction is momentary but the glory is eternal.  

Have a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead and remember to be where God would want to find you when He comes into the garden of your life.

Fr. Bonnie.   

THE SEARCH FOR THE SELFLESS SHEPHERD. HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

JESUS AND A LAMB 2

There are two types of people in the world, the SELFISH and the SELFLESS. Selfish people cannot hide for a long time because everything would end up being about themselves, how they feel, what they want, how they see things, what they think, and all the other indications of the self. On the other hand, there are the few selfless folks whom people often regard as being stupid because they always consider others first. The selfless are always looking out for what would be of benefit to others and could even go with nothing so that others could have something.

Reflecting on the Gospel Reading of last Sunday (Mark 6:7-13), one could see another (hidden) reason our Lord Jesus Christ instructed the apostles not to carry provisions for their mission. From our opening statements, we could see that he wanted them to go through the route of selflessness by discarding personal effects that could potentially trap them into selfishness. The apostles were asked to drop the burden of material possessions so that they could think less about themselves and focus more on their mission.

The Gospel Reading this Sunday (Mark 6:30-34) narrates the return of the apostles from their “take-nothing-for-the-journey” mission. They did excellent work as their reports demonstrate and sensing that they were tired, our Lord Jesus encourages them to take a vacation to a quiet place. However, they could not as people were coming and going in great number. Even attempting an escape with a boat to a deserted place was not possible as the people hastened to their destination on foot before they could arrive.

What could be the cause of this unstoppable search for Jesus Christ and the apostles? We could find the answer to this question in the character of the mission of the twelve. Their missionary work among the people in the various towns and villages was so effectual that the people wanted more. The people encountered messengers that differ from the ones they had. The people met messengers without interest in material things as they did not travel with anything apart from their walking sticks and sandals. The people met shepherds who were interested in gathering the sheep than in scattering them.

The people could go in search of Jesus Christ and the apostles because they could see the difference between them and their conventional selfish and arrogant shepherds who would instead wound than heal them. The people could go in search of shepherds who would instead unite than divide them. The search for Jesus and the apostles confirms the narrative of the First Reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6), where God says that He will gather the remnant of His flock and appoint dependable shepherds that would replace the deceitful ones.

The people were looking for the real shepherds, and as our Lord Jesus Christ puts it, they were like sheep without a shepherd which is another way of saying that they had incompetent and selfish shepherds. Their shepherds failed them, and consequently, they could go out looking for the real ones that would satisfy their spiritual hunger.

David’s description of God as a shepherd in the responsorial psalm (Psalm 23) gives us a perfect picture of the ideal engagement of a true shepherd with the sheep. The true shepherd provides, protects, and preserves the sheep. God is looking for shepherds that would give those leadership qualities for the well-being of the sheep.

Moving Forward!

The message today is for both shepherds and the sheep; in other words, for every one of us. God is looking for committed shepherds who would gather the sheep from their dispersion. God is looking for shepherds who would provide for the flock not draining them with material demands in exchange for spiritual support especially the “miracle galore” of our day and age. God is searching for shepherds who would lead the sheep on the right path, not those that mislead them into destructive routes.

Shepherds are invited by the instructions of the First Reading to live up to their vocation. The idea of detachment from material provisions as our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed for the apostles would help shepherds to become selfless and focus on the needs of the sheep. In the Gospel narrative, we read that the apostles had no time to eat; that means the zeal for God consumed them (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).

On the part of the sheep, there would be the need to keep up the sincere search for the Lord. The word of God assures us that those who search for the Lord, with their hearts, would find Him (Jer. 29:13). The real search for God does not entertain excuses; distance does not pose a barrier. Like the people in the Gospel Reading, the committed sheep go beyond powers to search for the Lord, and the found him just as he promised that when we seek, we shall find (Matt.7:7).

As we celebrate the Word and the Sacrament today, let us resolve to become committed shepherds and sheep of God who is the ideal shepherd. May God’s unfailing graces remain with us as we place all our hope and trust in Him. Have an awesome Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

DISCOVERING THE DIVINE PURPOSE AND WILL. HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

HIS PURPOSE

You are not an accident; your life is not just an event without a plan or direction. Your current situation is not the definition of who you are. If you look around, you could see the clouds (blue and white alike) hanging up there in the skies. You could also see the sun, the moon or the stars depending on where you are, and your time zone. What about the mountains, hills, oceans, rivers, streams, the flowers, and trees? You could see human beings and animals with their respective dispositions exuding life. Don’t forget that there would be a morning after the night just as one season goes before another.

The rhythm and dynamics of the universe indicate the presence of an expert planner, an unbeatable architect, and an author and finisher per excellence. The universe gives us an obvious idea that there is an eternal ordering of these things and events and someone is in charge. Forget the claims of the big bang theory (not the movie), which is the scientific explanation that the universe started about 13.7 billion years ago from the explosion from a single tiny super-force point.

God is the creator and maker of all things and not a sudden big bang. God created the world out of His irreprehensible will and purpose. Consequently, everything in the world exists for a divine purpose. In the Second Reading Today (Ephesians 1:3-14), St. Paul tells us among other things that God not only blessed us with every spiritual blessing, But He also chose us before the foundation of the world. This goes back to what God says in the book of Jeremiah (1:15), “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you a prophet to the nations.” In another place we read (Jer. 29:11), “for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The primary lesson from the Second Reading today and by extension, the other Readings is the fact of the divine will and purpose for us. The will and purpose of God include His destined love for us through which we gain adoption, redemption, forgiveness of our sins, and riches of His grace which he lavished upon us. However, we are required to respond to God’s purpose by proclaiming His glory and working towards our salvation which is the height of God’s purpose for our lives.

In the First Reading (Amos 7:12-15), we read about the distinction between human purpose and divine purpose in the ministry of two men. Amaziah was a priest at Bethel, and from his opening statement, he functions by proclaiming the praises of the king. Hence, his purpose lies in the royal courts. The presence of the prophet Amos made him uncomfortable because he saw a competition instead of a companion.

Amos, on the other hand, represents a typical example of an honest response to divine purpose. As he relates to Amaziah, he had no prophetic background. He was instead a shepherd and a dresser of the sycamore tree and was only responding to God’s purposeful design to proclaim His word among His people.

We could, from the narrative in the First Reading, ask ourselves where we belong; the camp of Amaziah or Amos? One is fulfilling the purpose of man, and the other is performing the divine purpose. We fulfill the purpose of man when we struggle to make impressions to get the approval of people especially those in authority. We attempt to achieve the purpose of man when we see competition instead of companionship in the work of God. On the other hand, we take the route of Amos, the divine purpose, when we rely on God for direction and proclaim His praises to His glory and for our sanctification.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 6:7-13), our Lord Jesus Christ gives more clarity to divine purpose in the context of sending the twelve on their first apostolic work. During the commissioning, he asks them not to carry physical provisions except a walking stick and their sandals, why? First, God will provide for them (Gen. 22:8). For every divine purpose, there is a divine vision, and provision. In the journey of life, there is the need for us always to remember that God is marching with us and our human provisions could become prohibitions. Hence, the need for us to depend on God. St Paul would say to the Romans (8:28), we know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those he has called according to His purpose.

The second part of the narrative urges them to go along with a walking stick and a pair of sandals. Walking stick would remind us of the staff of Moses. During the encounter at the burning bush, God asks Moses, “what do you have in your hand” (Exodus 4:2), and he says a stick and God says him to drop it on the ground and it turns to a serpent. God later asked him to take it by the tail, and it switches back to a stick. If we read further, we could see that the stick was instrumental to many wonders including creating a road through the red sea. When we think about how to go through the journey of life, we should remember what we have in our hands and use it; needless to ask what is in our hands because we have lots of potentials from God.

The sandals, on the other hand, disclose the readiness to execute the divine purpose (Eph. 6:15). Taking the sandals along is an indication of the willingness to walk the talk, wearing the sandals is an indication that we are ready to go any length and anywhere to proclaim His name. The sandals show that we have a platform to fulfill the divine purpose.

Moving Forward!

Life without purpose is a disaster. Unfortunately, most people search for their purpose in the wrong places. It is only in God that we can find the full expression of our purpose in life. There is also the need for us to understand that for every purpose there is a process. Joseph, for instance, had a divine purpose, to become a prime minister in Egypt and feed the people of God during the famine and to fulfill that purpose he had to pass through the process of hatred, rejection, and even imprisonment but he did not lose his  “walking stick”; his dreams. He did not also forget his sandals, namely, his readiness to help others.

As we march into a new week, may we like the apostles be ready to go where God’s purpose leads us. May we rely more on divine provision more than the human dependences that could potentially lead us to deficiency. Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

POPULARITY DOES NOT MAKE THE REAL PROPHET. HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Prophet without honor

Once upon a time, an entertainment company, while organizing a Christmas holiday program signs a contract with a very popular musician to feature in the three-day event. When people learned that the popular musician would be live, tickets sold out. However, a day before the event, the popular musician became very sick and was rushed to the emergency room. It was very late to cancel the contract, and he sends a message to the company regretting his inability to attend but recommends another musician who was not popular with the people.

The news was not suitable for both the organizers and the people who bought tickets. Some people decided not to attend the event following the report of the inability of the popular musician to attend. Fast forwarding into the event, the performance of the unpopular musician takes everyone by storm. As the show progresses, people no longer felt the absence of the popular musician as the stand-in musician takes the event to an entirely new level.

During an interview session with journalists towards the end of the event, the chief director of the entertainment company among other things relates that his greatest learning in the entire process is that popularity does not make a good musician. Hence you don’t need to be popular to be good at what you do. We can apply this instance in the ministry of the prophet; popularity does not make the real prophet.

The liturgy of the word today focuses on the identity and ministry of the prophet. In the First Reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5), the prophet recalls his mission to speak to the people about their rebellion against God so that they would know that a prophet exists among them. In the Second Reading (2 Cor. 12:7-10), St. Paul tells us about the personal weaknesses and limitations of the prophet which for him serves to checkmate the propensity to self-exaltation (boasting). In the Gospel Reading (Mark 6:1-6), we hear the story of the rejection of the greatest prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ, during his first pastoral visit to his hometown, Nazareth.

The disaffection and repudiation that trailed the visit of Jesus Christ to Nazareth have a lot to do with the popularity clause. Simply put, he received rejection because he was not popular among his people as a prophet. The Nazarenes did not see him study under any of known rabbis nor did he enroll in any of the rabbinical schools. Furthermore, his father was a carpenter, and his mother was a simple folk in the village. There was nothing spectacular about his relations either, and the people retained the idea that nothing good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). Should we blame the Nazarenes for rejecting Jesus Christ? One could imagine that they were acting within the limits of their knowledge and the word of God says that my people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

In retrospect, Jesus Christ left Nazareth for the desert where he spends forty days in fasting and prayers. He goes as a carpenter; he goes as the son of a humble woman called Mary. He goes as a common Nazarene who was very much like other folks. After the baptism of John and the desert encounter, Jesus comes to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the Messiah of the people. He comes to the familiar ground with unfamiliar packages. Jesus comes not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs, and farm implements, but the broken lives of the people. He comes as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading (2:2-5) about a prophet amid the rebellious people. He comes not only as Jesus but also as the Christ (the anointed one). Our Lord Jesus Christ visited not merely as a member of the community but as its master, teacher, Lord, and savior.

Reflecting on the episode at Nazareth, we could derive lessons from the following high points:

  • Familiarity is a faith killer

The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is a derivation from the Book of Proverbs (25:17), which says that constant visits to a neighbor’s house could bring weariness and hatred. Familiarity means to have a kind of household closeness to someone or something. The more familiar we get, the more comfortable we become, and that could weaken our active engagement.

The Nazarenes could not connect to the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ because they were familiar with his family background and could not see anything prophetic about the son of the carpenter. Consequently, they could not uphold him in faith. Often, we repeat the mistakes of the Nazarenes in our relationship with God. Does your daily (frequent) encounter with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist facilitate or diminish your faith in His real presence in the sacrament? Do we become so familiar with the priests of God that we lose confidence in the “prophet” in them?

  • Rejection of Christ is the rejection of his blessings

The most pathetic aspect of the Gospel narrative today is the rejection of Jesus Christ by his people. In fact, the text says that they took offense at him. Luke’s (4:16-30) account of the same visit tells us about a more aggressive attempt to kill Jesus Christ, but he eluded them.

The Nazarene rejected Jesus Christ because he was not a famous prophet among them. They refused him because of their familiarity with his background. They rejected him because they could not stand the truth. It could have been a bitter experience for our Lord as he exclaims, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

The consequence of the rejection of Christ is that he was not able to perform ANY MIGHTY DEED there apart from curing a few sick people. Here we learn that our rejection can limit God’s mighty deed in our lives. We need to accept him in faith before the Lord can function effectively in our lives. Do you receive or reject the Lord at those critical moments in your life? Would the Lord today marvel at your faith or lack of faith like the Nazarenes?

  • Going forward

God is not interested in how popular or unpopular a prophet is. What is essential in our acceptance of the message of the prophet in faith and trust in God not in the prophet. Often we seek God in distant places where we think that popularity brings miracles when we can find around us. The central message of today is the call for us to undo the deeds of the Nazarenes by not allowing the privilege of “God with us” to diminish our reverence, faith, and acceptance of him so that he can perform mighty deeds in our lives.

May the grace of God abide with us as we place all our hope in Him. Have a blessed Sunday and an awesome week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

DIVINE RESCUE FROM ETERNAL POVERTY, SICKNESS, AND DEATH HOMILY FOR THE 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

Saving Hand of GodPoverty, sickness, and death are three terrible afflictions besieging the human society. In fact, it appears that our daily struggles often aim at reducing the impact of these deplorable conditions. However, they remain with us still. Poverty is a reality even in the neighborhood of the extremely rich in the world. Somewhere in the Gospels, our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that we will always have the poor with us (Matt. 26:11). Despite the progress in medical sciences, sicknesses are still on a geometric rise. The presence of millions of hospital and billions of doctors around the world have not defeated the siege of disease and sickness; in fact, new ones are still emerging. Death itself is a debt all of us would pay at various points in our earthly life no matter how long we live.

The First Reading today (Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24), tells us that God did not make death. God created the world to the standard of excellence and even made man to be imperishable. However, it was through the envy of the devil that death entered the world. In the Second Reading (2 Cor. 8:7,9,13-15), St. Paul reminds us that our Lord Jesus Christ, though rich, became poor to rescue us from poverty. Finally, the Gospel Reading (Mark 5:21-43), gives us practical instances of divine rescue from sickness and death. We shall dwell briefly on the Gospel story before making some practical applications of the divine rescue to our Christian life and vocation.

The Gospel begins with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ from the other side of the sea where a large crowd was waiting for him. In the crowd, a Synagogue official, Jairus, approaches our Lord and prostrating before Jesus begs him to come along to attend to his dying daughter, and our Lord follows him. On his way, a woman with hemorrhages, for twelve years, says to her self (in faith), “if I touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” And according to the structure of her faith, she gets instant healing when she touched the clothes of Jesus Christ.

Now, with the length of time our Lord spent with the events surrounding the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, Jarius’ daughter moved from sickness to death as reports had it. However, our Lord encourages Jarius to hold on to his faith without fear. Fast forwarding to the house of Jarius, our Lord says she was sleeping and ignoring the ridicule of the mourners, he goes into the room with Peter, James and John and raises the child up to life by saying “Talitha koum,” which means “little girl, I say to you arise.”

We have so many lessons to learn from the Gospel narrative. For the sake of focus, we shall be dwelling on how we can obtain rescue from eternal poverty, sickness, and death. For the sake of clarity, the word eternal means everlasting. In this context, therefore, we are looking at the eradication of the ultimate poverty sickness and death which are beyond the physical ones we know.

  • Standing out from the crowd

The crowd usually is disorganized, insensitive, and lacks purpose. To experience divine rescue, you need to stand out from the crowd and distinguish yourself with a genuine goal. From the Gospel Reading, we could see that there was no prior appointment nor arrangement between the woman with the hemorrhages and Jarius. What they did was to stand out from the crowd and make their appointment with the Lord.

Every day, Jesus comes over the other side of our lives. Often, we do not notice him and at other times we prefer to move along with the crowd without making an effort to stand out from the crowd and experience him in a personal way as the woman and Jarius.

Standing out of the crowd is a choice and a decision we need to make. We stand out from the crowd when we decide to walk in the light and shun the darkness of sin (1 John 1:5-7). We stand out from the crowd when we show our love by our obedience to God (John 14:15). We stand out from the crowd when though we are in the crowd we are not of the crowd (John 17:15-16).

  • Defying the obstacles of the crowd

The moment you decide to stand out from the crowd, you will contend with the challenges of the crowd. The crowd would discourage you and tell you about impossibilities. With the woman, she had to fight through the crowd in the effort to reach her goal. She may have to fall several times, but she keeps going. While the crowd gives her several reasons to back out, she gives them one reason to keep going; the grace of God which is always sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

In the case of Jarius, the crowd tells him not to bother Jesus Christ because the child is dead; the crowd tells him of impossibility, and he stands on the ground of possibility as he also stands there with the Lord of impossibilities (Matt. 19:26).

  • Upholding your faith

Faith does not make things easier; it makes things possible. The woman’s faith had to be tried by her struggle to reach to the clothing of Jesus Christ. The faith of Jarius had to go through the trial of interruption by the woman with the issue of blood and the message of the death of his child. On your journey through life, you may contend with many trials, uphold your faith and do not give up.

The details about the woman show that she did not touch the body of Jesus but his clothes; some translations would say the fringe or helm of his garment. Other people were standing close to our Lord and may have touched his hands or any other part of his body, but nothing happened. This woman touched just the clothes with faith, and her story changed.

What is your faith quotient when you come before the Lord in worship especially in the Holy Eucharist? To experience divine rescue, you should come with faith. The word of God says that without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would come to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

May we always remember to stand out of the crowd, defy the crowd, and uphold our faith as these would bring about out divine rescue from the perpetual poverty of divine grace, the sickness of sin and eternal death which is the final separation from God.

Have a beautiful Sunday and a gracious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

THERE IS SOMETHING IN A NAME! REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Name is John

Growing up, we had a dog called Pony. She was very daring and fertile and soon became a matriarch. I was very fond of her, and she would always move around with me. In my curiosity, as a child, I wondered how Pony could identify her name since she was not human, and I tried calling her another name, (like Terry), but she would not respond, but when I mention her name, she will jump on me. Reminiscing on my experience of giving Pony a different name and her inaction, there is every reason to say that there is something in a name.

A name is often the first piece of information we have about people and which could potentially lead to favorable or adverse reactions. In the era of “google search” name is even more relevant. People generally value their names more than their birthdays. Imagine being in a crowd and hearing your name somewhere behind you. The immediate reaction would be to turn and see who is calling, but you may not get the same reaction when someone mentions your birth date in the same crowd. There is a kind of bond we have with our names, and that explains why people struggle to keep their names from every shadow of negativity. In fact, the Igbos of southeast Nigeria would say that good name is more valuable than money.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the birth of John the Baptist whose life was most spectacular. His parents were old, and God announced his birth through an angel when the parents had almost lost hope of making babies. The high point in the narrative of the birth of John the Baptist was the traditional search for a name for the baby. We could recall that his father, Zechariah, became deaf and dumb after an encounter with the angel Gabriel at the sanctuary where he received the message of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:20).

During the naming ceremony (Luke 1:59ff), the relatives wanted to follow the usual route of naming the first son after his father Zechariah, but his mother maintains that his name should be John. Since the name did not resonate with the family ancestry, they decide to seek the opinion of his father through signs and writing material. As he attempts to write, “his name is John,” his mouth opens, and he begins to praise God. At this point, it would fit for us to understand the meaning of the name John and connect our understanding to his mission as the prophetic bridge between the old and new testament and the forerunner of Jesus Christ.

The name John comes from the Hebrew Yohanan, which means God is gracious. The name replaces the name Zechariah which means God has remembered. With the priest, Zechariah, God remembered His promise and with the son, John, God shows his graciousness. Let us call to mind that grace means unmerited favor.  

In John the Baptist, therefore, God begins the gracious process and work of our redemption by preparing the ground for the coming of His Son our Lord Jesus. The birth of John the Baptist is the prophetic alert to the advent of the Messiah as the prophet Isaiah proclaims (Isaiah 40:3-5), and John himself corroborates (John1:23), “A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”

The life and ministry of John the Baptist indicate the graciousness of God, and we could identify the manifestation of divine graces in John through the following foundational qualities of the Christian life.

  • Selflessness

John made it clear that he is not the messiah, he is unfit to untie the strap of his sandals, and that the Messiah would increase while he would decrease (John 1:20; 3:28-30). John knew his position and kept to it.  The disposition of John the Baptist remains a challenge to most of our contemporary preachers who take pride in making lofty claims about themselves and making themselves “messiahs.” The central point of Christianity is Jesus Christ and not any man or woman of God.

  • Detachment

Worldly possession and materialism are rapidly overwhelming the Christian message. In our day and age, fashion, private jets, and other material provisions are becoming more important than the souls of men and women. How many preachers tell people about sin and repentance and the reality of hellfire? John the Baptist did not waste time to remind the people to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt. 3:1-2). His life of austerity demonstrated the need for people to detach from worldly affairs and reach to an attachment to God.

  • Truthfulness

John the Baptist had no business with political correctness. For him instead, it is about the truth and nothing, but the truth and this disposition towards the truth would lead to his death (Mark 14:16-29). The authentic Christian is the one who is up for the truth in season and out of season and no matter whose ox is gored.

Like John the Baptist, we are all invited to become forerunners of Jesus Christ by living up to our name as Christians. If there is something in a name people should discover great qualities in our Christian identity. In the story of the nativity of John the Baptist, we learn how to be patient and wait in prayer like Zecharia and Elizabeth. We are invited to wait because God will remember us at His time and he will be gracious to us. Furthermore, the ministry of John the Baptist invites us to show other people the way to Christ, not the way out of Christ. Our lives should bear witness to the graciousness of God.

As we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, we pray for the grace to become the contemporary reflections of John the Baptist by the good fruits of the genuine Christian life. May God’s grace abide with us always. Have a beautiful celebration and gracious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie

 

   

ADOPTING THE MUSTARD SEED MENTALITY. HOMILY FOR THE 11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

mustard seed

Once upon a time, a farmer gets to know about the Chinese bamboo tree that grows up to 70-80 feet, and he decides to buy some of the seeds and plant in his farm in their small village. He had thought that when the seeds grow into the bamboo trees, he will make a lot of money from them as people from his town and beyond would come to buy from him; he sure had a huge dream!

After purchasing the seeds with almost all the money from his savings, the farmer plants the seeds and following the instructions; he would water the ground every day. After six months, he could not see any sign of germination. After one year, nothing; he didn’t see any indication in the second nor in the third year. People started making fun of him for wasting his money, time, and energy. Whenever he decides to give up, he would remember the instruction to water the ground always. One day, during the middle of the fifth year, he was at the farm to water the field when he sees the seeds sprouting!

The farmer could not contain the excitement as he runs into the village to report the current state of his five-year-old bamboo seeds. Six weeks after, one could see bamboo trees towering high in the field. The farmer’s dream of having a farm full of bamboo trees becomes a reality. With the bamboo trees, he turns out to be a wealthy and famous man. Let us remember that his story started with some tiny seeds that took five years to sprout. Great things have humble beginnings.

We could call today “seed and tree Sunday” because of the prevalence of the phenomena in the First Reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) and the Gospel (Mark 4:26-34). One common denominator in the two narratives is that God is solely the one in charge of the growth and development of the seeds into trees. In the First Reading, the oracle the Prophet Ezekiel tells us that God will take a tender shoot and plant it on a high and lofty mountain where it will grow, bear fruits, and provide shelter for winged creatures.

In the Gospel Reading, our Lord Jesus Christ uses the image of a mustard seed to describe the kingdom of God. Now the mustard seed is typically small, but the tree that comes out of it is so huge that one could doubt the possibility of a tiny seed transiting to a gigantic tree. Here, we come to the heart of our reflection which explores the potentials of mustard and the need for us to adopt a mustard seed mentality.

The root of the mustard seed mentality is the awareness that great things have humble beginnings. Let us start by examining the physical development of the human person. All the great men and women on earth developed from a male seed that fertilizes a female ovum. Notably, these are tiny components of the reproductive system, but they determine human procreation and development. It is very accurate that little drops of water make an ocean and little by little the ant makes its colony.

In life, most people desire and dream about big things, but they, unfortunately, forget the root principle that “great things start small,” and that explains why most people die with their lofty dreams and aspirations. The fear of starting small is the easiest way to failure. You cannot lose your weight by merely registering in a gym; one needs to do the exercises regularly and little by little and get to the goal. You cannot become a great sportsperson or academic by just wishing; you need to start with the little details until you achieve greatness. You cannot become a millionaire by just saying it; you need to walk it as you talk it, slowly but surely.

In the Gospel passage today, our Lord Jesus Christ re-emphasizes the power of greatness in the spiritual life through humble beginnings using the growth process of the mustard seed. For every goal, there is a process. The kingdom of God is the goal of our spiritual life and to reach the goal we need to pass through a process which involves doing little things that would serve as steps to the target. The following constitute the mustard seed mentality which we urgently need in our journey to the kingdom of God.

  • Humility

Humility is vital in our spiritual journey. Our Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect example of humility as the word of God tells that though he was in the form of God Jesus did not regard equality with God. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). The sowing of the mustard seed into the soil depicts humility which goes before it’s exaltation to a huge tree.  In the Luke (14:11), our Lord says that those exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. In James (4:6) we read that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

  • Patience

There is a natural delay between planting and harvesting. Our opening story demonstrates this delay very well. The mustard seed does not become a huge tree overnight. The seed takes time to germinate, develop and grow gradually into a tree. Patience involves waiting; “be patient and wait for the Lord to act” (Psalm 37:7). God is the one that gives increase (Psalm 115:14; 1Cor. 3:6-7) and He does so at His due time, especially when we humble ourselves and wait (1 Pet. 5:6).

  • Obedience

Obedience involves openness, submission, and willingness to follow instructions. The mustard seed cannot grow into the massive tree if it fails to respond to the growth process. Obedience is the first rule in heaven and to make heaven we need to be obedient in all things. The fall of Adam was because of disobedience, but our redemption came through the obedience of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:19).

  • Love

St. Paul insists that love conquers all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Love could be found in every good thing because God, who is the ultimate good, is love (1 John 4:8). Love involves seeking out what would be beneficial to others. Hence it is selfless. Turning to the tree which the mustard seed had become, we learn that the birds of the air come to make their homes on them. At this point, the tree serves the need of others. The mustard seed grows out of the love of the one who plants and the one who gives increase and that love continues and reaches the birds of the air.

As we continue with the liturgy of this Sunday, let us continue to model our lives after the mustard seed or more appropriately adopt the mustard seed mentality by our humility, patience, obedience, and love. May we remember and sustain the fact that great things start small.

Have a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

THE EUCHARISTIC MEAL: A PRIVILEGE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE TOTALITY OF JESUS CHRIST. REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

COMMUNION

 Imagine getting everything you ever needed in a particular food. I mean everything! All the organic compounds, minerals, vitamins, haemoglobin; name them. Nutritionists are still undecided with regards to the food that contains all nourishment the human body needs. Some mention some seafood; others endorse some vegetables and fruits. While nutritionists continue their contention about the food with the highest deposit of nutrients, this reflection examines the Holy Eucharist as the most excellent meal that contains the most significant deposit of bodily and spiritual nourishment.  In the Holy Eucharist, we receive everything we NEED because we receive the totality of Jesus Christ.

We could recall that our Lord Jesus Christ had supper with the twelve apostles few hours before Judas betrayed him and handed him over to the authorities for condemnation, torture, and death. After the supper, our Lord takes a loaf of bread, and after giving thanks (blessing), he gives the bread to the apostles to eat saying “this is my body.” He also takes a chalice of wine, and after giving thanks, he gives the chalice to them to drink saying, “this is my blood.” We could read the details in the following passage: Matt. 26:26-28, Mk.14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1Cor. 11:23-25.

Let us take a moment to process the highpoints of the narrative

  • He takes the bread, and after giving thanks (blessing the bread), he gives the bread to them saying eat, this is my body. It was bread before the blessing and after the bread becomes his body though still appearing, feeling, and tasting like bread.
  • He takes the chalice of wine, and after giving thanks (blessing the wine), he gives the chalice to them saying, this is my blood. It was chalice of wine before the blessings but after it becomes chalice of blood though still appearing, smelling, and tasting like wine.

Here, we confront yet another mystery like that of the Holy Trinity. “How could bread and wine become body and blood of Jesus Christ while still retaining the appearances of bread and wine?” Furthermore, we learn from the event that our Lord instructed that they eat his body and drink his blood always in memory of him. This instruction justifies the celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which is the highest prayer ever and the summit of the Church’s life and ministry.

The Sixth Chapter of the Gospel of John provides profound insights into the Holy Eucharist. After feeding the five thousand people, more people came looking for Jesus Christ, not for the word of God (the food of the soul) but because they had all the bread they wanted (John 6:26). Our Lord promises to give them the food that would give them complete satisfaction and this food involves communion with him. The following are the high points in the discourse:

  • Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you (John 6:53).
  • Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day (John 6:54).
  • My body is real food, and my blood is real drink (John 6:55).
  • Those who eat my body and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them (John 6:56).

To reappraise our opening statement, we have all we need in the Holy Eucharist because it introduces us to the totality of Jesus Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, we receive the body and blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, we receive the fullness of Jesus Christ who is fully present. Now, if we have Jesus Christ in us, we have all we need because we have the best.

It is not enough receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ; we must do so in the state of grace; that means we must receive him without the knowledge of or involvement in sin. Simply put, the Holy Eucharist is allergic to sin. During the first celebration of the Sacrament (at the institution), Judas received in the state of sin (disgrace), and the devil entered him (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). In First Corinthians (11:27-30), St. Paul discouraged unworthy reception of the body and blood of Jesus Christ which brings about condemnation and even sickness and death.

As we celebrate the feast of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ today, let us rededicate ourselves to understanding and appreciating the privilege of receiving the totality of Jesus Christ and may we always approach the sacrament with reverent love for the Lord and one another. O, Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All Praise and All Thanksgiving be Every Moment Thine!

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

“THREE-IN-ONE”: A CONCISE TEACHING ON THE HOLY TRINITY (UPDATED) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

HOLY TRINITY NOW

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is key to the Christian faith as well as the language all Christians speak and understand; it is the spiritual meeting point for all Christians. The message of the Holy Trinity tells us that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. In other words, God is ONE in essence and THREE in persons. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity gives us a more profound answer to the question, “who is God?”

The understanding of the Holy Trinity is not a product of mathematical calculation nor logical reasoning. Instead, it is a mystery which surpasses mere human understanding and which we can accept through our faith in God.  David submits to his limitations about the knowledge of God when he says that he would not concern himself with things too great nor marvels beyond him (Psalm 131:1). St. Paul adds that no one comprehends God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11).

There are many analogies which many people use to demonstrate the belief that there are three persons in one God. However, these do not give us even a near perfect understanding of the Holy Trinity. We shall leverage the pointers in the Bible.

The Holy Trinity Identified in the Old Testament

Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Firstly, we need to understand that the word “beginning” as used here points to God. Revelation (21:6) says: “God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

From the original Hebrew text, the name “God” which translates as “Elohim”  is the plural noun of “Eloah.” God (Elohim), in the sense of the passage above, indicates the fullness of Godhead, that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The participation of the community of persons will become more evident in the following passage.

Genesis 1:26a. “Then God said,  Let US make mankind in OUR image, and in OUR likeness.”

Here we connect the plurality of persons in one God. God the Father was referring to God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father was not referring to angels as some people presume because they are creatures and do not bear the image and likeness of God as we do. In fact, God could have also said: “let us make persons like us!”

Genesis 11:7. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so they will not understand each other.”

Here we see action by the community of persons in the Holy Trinity during the time the people of Shinar were building the tower of Babel. God the Father was again referring to God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Genesis 18: 1-2. “The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw THREE MEN standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. He said, my LORD if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.”

Here we learn that the LORD appeared to Abraham and he looked up and saw THREE MEN. Furthermore, when greeting the supposed THREE MEN, he said, my LORD not my LORDS.

Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is ONE Lord.” In Hebrew, the revealed name of God is Yahweh (I AM). The name is so holy that people are not allowed to mention it anyhow (in vain, Exo.20:7). The word “Lord” is thus used in place of “Yahweh” in most passages in the Old Testament including the one above.

With regards to the Holy Trinity, the passage above mentions that the “Lord our God is ONE Lord.” In Hebrew as in English, “ONE” could refer to number (yachid), or unity (echad).

In the passage above, the description is about unity (echad). The same usage is what we see in Genesis (2:24) “ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become ONE (echad) flesh.

Isaiah 6:8a. “And I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for US?”

In the vision of Isaiah, God the Father spoke about a mission which He shares with the Son and the Holy Spirit. That explains the US in the passage.

The Holy Trinity Identified in the New Testament

The New Testament gives us a more vivid presentation of the reality of the Holy Trinity. Though many people accept that God the Father is God, some people doubt the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Creeds we recite in the Church (Apostles and Nicene) are responses to the reality and faith in the three Persons in one God.

John 1:1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Earlier, we understood “beginning” as referring to God. Hence, we could say: “In God was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John (1:14) went further to explain this “Word” thus:

”And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son full of grace and truth.”

Here, John gives a proof that shows that Jesus Christ is God.

Matthew 3:16-17. “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

At the site of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a representation of the Holy Trinity. As our Lord Jesus Christ emerges from the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and God the Father declares him as His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

John 14:9b-10a,16. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,(the Holy Spirit) to be with you forever.

Our Lord here demonstrates the unity and equality he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit whom he identifies as another advocate after him. The reality of the Holy Trinity is evident here.

2 Cor. 13:14:  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

This short Pauline greeting is a concise expression of the equality of the Trinity of persons in one God.

Our takeaways from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity includes the following:

  • There are three Persons in One God. Not three gods, and not three manifestations or aspects of God.
  • The three Persons are uncreated.
  • There is unity in functionality among the three persons.
  • They are distinct from each.
  • There is One Lord, not three Lords.
  • The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share the same equality, eternity, immensity and omnipotence; there is one God.

As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity, let us pray for unity and mutuality in our relationships despite our individualities. Let us also learn how to co-exist and assist each other to succeed in our various preoccupations. Have an awesome Trinity Sunday and a beauty-full week ahead. May the Grace of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit abide with you now and forever. Amen.

Fr. Bonnie

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIVING BY THE POWERFUL INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

THE HOLY SPIRIT

Influence as the ability to have an impact on the character of someone is very significant in life. In fact, all the things we do or fail to do come from influences from various things inside and outside of us. Parents influence their children to act in specific ways. Teachers influence their students to adopt certain values or qualities. Friends influence each other in the best or the worst ways (Prov. 27:17). Apart from human influence, there are also influences from things like food, drink, environment, culture, society, and other things.  In short, life is a trajectory of influences, which could be direct or indirect, however, to experience influence from anyone or anything, one needs to be open to it; disposition encourages influence.

Today is the feast of the Pentecost which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles as they were praying together at the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Before his ascension into heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ instructed them not to leave Jerusalem until they receive the power from above; the Holy Spirit (Act 1:8). Ten days after, the promise was fulfilled. The Pentecost encounter narrative from Acts of the Apostles (2:2-4) says,

And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

To proceed in this reflection, we need to reappraise our understanding about the personality of the Holy Spirit. It is common to hear some people refer to the Holy Spirit as a “thing.” The designation is wrong! The “mighty wind” and “tongues of fire” in the account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost were outwards signs indicating His presence not Him per se. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew (3:16), the Holy Spirit manifested His presence during the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ in the form of a dove, and we cannot say that the Holy Spirit is a dove.

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Divine Trinity. He is eternally one and equal with the Father and the Son. In the beginning, we notice the presence of the Holy Spirit when the Book of Genesis tells us that the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2). In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was unknown as a person. Instead, we hear about the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38; Numbers 27:18, Judges 6:34). It was David who gave the full designation, “Holy Spirit,” in his prayer of repentance (Psalm 51:11).

If we can know the Holy Spirit, then he would become relevant for us. During the initial instruction about the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ promises the apostles that he would ask the Father, and He will give them another advocate, the Spirit of truth which the world cannot receive because it neither SEES him nor KNOWS him (John 14: 16-17). From our Lord’s instruction, we understand the power of knowledge; you cannot receive what you don’t know.

One may ask did the apostles know about the Holy Spirit before the Pentecost encounter? The answer is a big “YES.” Another question would be how? If we go back to the Gospel of John (14:17b), our Lord assures the apostles that they know the Holy Spirit because He (the Holy Spirit) abides with them and will be in them.

To make it more practical, every encounter with Jesus Christ is also an encounter with the Holy Spirit as well as with the Father because they share the same Godhead. We understand this more with our Lord’s reply to Philip when he made the request, “show us the Father” and our Lord says to him, “whoever has seen me has seen the father” (John 14:9). In the same way and by implication, the knowledge of the Son implies knowledge of the Holy Spirit.

If we know the Holy Spirit what impact do, we expect from His outpouring like on the day of Pentecost. Often, we erroneously assume that the encounter with the Holy Spirit must end in speaking in tongues and shouting. We need two things from the Holy Spirit, namely His gifts (1 Cor.12:1-11) and His Fruits (Gal.5:22).

However, for us to have a productive encounter with the Holy Spirit we need to be open to His impactful presence. The first thing we need to do is to disconnect from sin because the Holy Spirit is allergic to sin. Our Lord Jesus tell us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin which has roots in unbelief (John 16:8-9). In the letter of the Galatians (5:16-17), St Paul instructs that we should live (walk) in the Spirit and not in the flesh which is prone to sin. In Romans (8:8), St. Paul maintains that those who live in the flesh cannot please God.

When we make efforts to disconnect from sin, we qualify to climb up to the Upper Room for the new Pentecost encounter. Those who were at the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost received cleansing through their encounter with the risen Lord. We can say that they already have the template of the Holy Spirit in them when the risen Lord breathed on them saying, “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

The Holy Spirit is our teacher, let us listen to Him.

The Holy Spirit is our leader and guide, let us follow Him.

The Holy Spirit is our comforter, let us stay close to Him.

The Holy Spirit is our advocate, let us consult Him.

The Holy Spirit is our help, let us reach out to Him.

The Holy Spirit is God, let us adore and worship Him.

As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, let us strive proactively to walk in the spirit and not in the flesh. Have an awesome celebration.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

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