A Conversion Dream: ...Fasten Your Seat Belts
Growing in the Faith
“Please be seated and fasten your seat belts!” were the words of the airline stewardess in my amazing dream. I call it amazing because with the dream came a feeling of incredible peace. Looking back on it now I believe that I was given a precious gift: a vision from the heart of God.
Even though I am a Christian, the heart of God was not usually my main focus or concern. I had always been trying to sort out my heart and my desires. But what does God desire? What is going on in God's heart? What makes God rejoice? What makes him bleed for sorrow and love of us? What does God want for me, for humanity, for a Church divided and falling apart? That is what my dream was about.
It was a ride on a large passenger airplane. The plane was experiencing turbulence and I seemed to be going about my business not concerned. Then the stewardess asked my friend and I to sit down and buckle up. We did so as the plane was shaking apart and descending for a terrible crash. Before I tell you what happened next, let me start from the beginning.....
I was born into a Catholic family and was the youngest of seven children. My father was an airplane mechanic in the Airforce. He comes from a large French Catholic family with strong values and he has also inherited a huge joyful heart. My mother was a homemaker and raised us the way we should go. Since I can remember she had been involved in the Charismatic Renewal and has been a very devout woman of prayer. My parents did their best to bring us up in the faith. They taught us with words when necessary, but many of the gifts they passed onto us came by their example. They continue to hold hands and love each other like when they were teenagers. They loved each other and us through good times and bad. My family experience is an expression of life I cannot put into writing, but would make an interesting book to say the least.
As a family of nine, we attended Catholic Mass on a weekly basis. I still remember our family dressed in our Sunday best loading into our station wagon with the sun shining off the dew on the grass. It wasn't “all perfect,” but to this day we have somehow managed to stick together even through the most difficult times. I always remember our home as a place of service, equality and faith. Today, I believe it has been my parents' Catholic faith that has given each of their children the gifts to succeed in life. I only pray that we continue to pass on the tradition as our parents did so that this life will not falter in future generations.
There was a time when I would not have valued my Catholic faith as much. I remember as a child being bored with the Catholic Mass. However, there were a few things I did take with me from my upbringing in the faith. When I was about four years old I curiously stood at the foot of a statue of Mary. She seemed so peaceful even though she was crushing the head of a snake. I remember also the Church across the street and questioning my parents about why we were going into separate churches. Little did I know that devotion to Mary and Church unity would play an important role in my faith experience as an adult.
Another time at about the age of 10 I remember having trouble sleeping one night. I had trouble with nightmares as a child and this night was particularly stressful. In desperation I told my brother in the bunk below me that he could keep the three dollars he owed me. He said I would regret it in the morning, but with the peace that flooded my soul I knew the trade was worth it. I look back at this time as a testimony to my Catholic faith and the Sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist and Reconciliation at work in my life.
Saying Yes to God
Although I had some important roots established in my faith, it had its limitations. My Catholic convictions were impressive for a grade-school student, but in the area and times I lived there were not the youthful movements in the Church that could deal with the challenges of a teenager. As a result the world became an influence in my life as well. My older siblings were getting more involved in the lures of the world and challenging the faith and authority of my parents.
It was at this time when my oldest brother had an “Evangelical born again experience” while living with my sister who was married to a man becoming a Pentecostal minister. My brother came home brimming over with love for Jesus who rescued him from a dead-end-road of teenage parties and drinking and loneliness. I also had a deeply profound 'Pentecostal' experience at this time. I can remember at the age of twelve feeling the bliss of heaven for two weeks. In these two weeks the peace of God healed my soul broken from depression I struggled with as a youth. As well as inner healing, the words of Sacred Scripture began to fill my mind and soul. It all made sense to me at a personal level of how God loved me enough to die on the cross. My nightmares turned into blissful dreams. I'm sure my soul was in heaven, while God opened up his heart to me in these dreams. They were full of such an incredible peace and hidden symbols and messages to this day I am unraveling.
I also had a number of mysterious experiences that still make me marvel at God's effect on souls. One was a momentary gift that enabled me to see in the eyes of passers by the state of their soul. I did not know who these people were but I saw an incredible loneliness in their eyes. It was like the opposite of the infinite peace I had felt. It was not a fleeting emotion that I saw. What I saw in their eyes was an infinite void. After a few seconds the gift disappeared and everyone looked quite normal. I believe God was making me aware of all our need for him. He was giving me a dose of apostolic fervor. I wanted to reach out to them after knowing St. Augustine's words were so true:
Another happening was my reaction when I found out there were Churches named after Jesus Christ and God that did not follow his teachings correctly. My heart was crushed and devastated. I look back on this now as a peculiar reaction for a child and can only attribute it to the Holy Spirit reacting in me. I felt the same way at a Christian retreat weekend where the Eucharist was being served only to the Catholics. I wept with a broken heart and prayed that all Christians would participate with a full communion. All these experiences from the loving heart of God should be able to turn a young person's life around, you would think. However, going back to school meant a peer pressure I could hardly bear. The wheat grew up fast on rocky ground, but then withered and dried in the heat of the Sun.
I tried a Catholic youth group. It consisted of sports and games and the same peer pressure there was at School. I tried a more “Bible Christian” type youth group. It consisted of sports, games, some Bible study and memorization and the same peer pressure I found at school. I brought this to the attention of my mother and she gave me a commitment prayer to pray. I prayed it each day after school hoping for that peace to come back and for that peer pressure to go away. How could I acknowledge God before my peers without God's strength in me? My oldest brother prayed over me so I would receive the Holy Spirit and be given the gift of tongues. I started speaking various words that sounded like Latin. Today I can see that this was a sign that I had already received the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation the year before.
However, there comes a time that one must say yes to God by allowing these Catholic gifts of God's gracious presence to take hold of their lives. Junior High was not the time for my all out 'Yes!' to God. So, in junior high I suppressed my faith and made up my own set of rules to get along with my peers. Mass became a very boring task to overcome each week. The culture counter to my parents' generation was drawing me to a life of self-gratification and pleasure. There was no time for paying respect to a Jesus who gave everything away for love of us. As the youngest of seven, I was simply doing what my older brothers and sisters did and we did what most other teens of our generation did; we indulged in the popular culture of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. At least to some degree this culture taught us to abandon the family values our parents encouraged, such as, family first and relationships with self-giving values. In my case, I would justify my high school 'playboyishness' with a few values I would try to include. For instance, I would never get a tattoo or a piercing. At any rate, my faith was not formed well enough to compete with the lures of the world so I gave up on it and chose the world with a bend toward being a nice clean cut type of guy. However, this was not enough and my soul was empty. I began to feel unable to face this life alone.
As a child I could run to my parents when I had nightmares or fears. I recalled the time when I ran to Jesus as a twelve-year-old who modeled after my older brother. I thought about the faith, values and devotion of my parents. And by the beginning of grade 12 I began some serious soul searching once again. I recall praying one night, “God! If you exist, reveal yourself to me!” This is when things began to happen. Friends, family, acquaintances, occurrences and memories all began to speak to me of an ever present and all loving God.
I recalled one of the blissful dreams of my childhood. In the dream there was a bridge I had to cross and at the other side were two symbols. One was a world black and dripping with horrible goo and with it a feeling of fear and a terrible stench. The other world symbol was full of light and color. It had beautiful beads hanging from it. With it came a feeling of incredible peace. I woke up reaching out to the world of my choice, a world of peace and light. And nearing my graduation I decided it was time to make that choice again. I told my friends and they had a few laughs.
Some of us began to read the Bible, but it was on one grad party weekend at the lake when my decision became crystal clear. I was once again preaching around the campfire about how I felt God was speaking to me. One friend said that God is for the poor people. He created most of us to have it together and left us to take care of ourselves. I responded saying, “But if God is real, he is so much more worthy of our personal friendship than that and we would be crazy to miss a chance at getting to know an all loving eternally amazing God.” We agreed to disagree. However, God wanted the last word.
That night at four in the morning that same friend and I went into the lake without life jackets on in someone's homemade canoe we borrowed. We had been drinking some alcohol. One of the shallow values I set for myself was that as long as I did not do drugs, alcohol was okay. This shallow value nearly cost us our lives as our poor judgement got the best of us and the canoe tipped while there was still ice out in the center of the lake. It was freezing and we were literally in over our heads. The panic was instant. I remember my friend's eyes as round and as big as golf balls. We went for the canoe and it just spun around pulling us under the water. He was starting to drown and I remember my senses coming to me.
Thank God for that dose of courage, which seemed to come out of nowhere. I yelled at him not to panic and grabbed the back of his collar as I swam with one hand toward shore. After a few more desperate moments we were touching bottom and we dragged ourselves exhausted to dry land. I was somewhat excited. He just stared out into space after such a trying ordeal. There was a feeling in the air so thick you could cut it with a knife. The words of Jesus come to mind, “Fool(s)! This night your soul(s) (are) required of you.” “Tonight you will meet your maker! Why not get to know him before it is too late?” We are all so poor in spirit. If only we would be so humble as to admit it, then, praise Jesus, ours would be the Kingdom of Heaven.
On Fire for God
So my decision was made. I would go to my older siblings in Alberta who were sold out for Jesus and have a month long retreat to rekindle my faith. I absorbed all the books, tapes, songs and services I could grasp in those four weeks. Then after finding God under every new leaf, I had another major hurdle to face. I was concerned with backsliding again. So I went up for an altar call with a kind evangelical minister named, “Gordie Lagore.” He said that the spirit was speaking to him about someone at the front who was concerned about backsliding. “That was me!” I thought.
He continued to say something like how I was not going to leave there knowing that Jesus would not let me stray again. Then I felt the presence of Jesus well up my soul and I began to cry tears of joy. A woman beside me did the same. I guess it was two birds with one word from the Lord. The joy in my soul quickly subsided. It wasn't like the two-week honeymoon I had when I was younger. I guess God was calling me to more maturity and less puffy feelings of bliss by asking me to exercise my faith until I get to heaven. In fact, after going back home I found myself once again backsliding.
This time it was different. I was confident God would pull me through and sure enough less than a month later I was in the John Paul II Catholic Charismatic Bible School becoming a disciple. I have had some wonderful experiences in evangelical circles. There is nothing quite like a service where people run up to the altar dancing freely to the Lord. My Bible Christian experience gave me a reverence for the Bible that to this day enhances my Catholic faith. However, I did not appreciate as much the anti-Catholic comments I would hear in sermons from time to time. It was as if there is a need to justify being Protestant by taking a stab at the Catholic Church. I did not witness this inconsistency in Catholic circles. My parents raised me in that faith and somehow I knew that their Catholic example and their love for Jesus was also not without its merit.
Another Bible Christian experience I had disturbed me, when I was at a Pentecostal youth ministers conference called, “Firehouse '87.” It was when a man named Steve Fry was leading the worship service. His singing and worship leading was wonderful, right from the book of Revelation. This sort of worship I have now come to experience as mirrored in Catholic Liturgies of the Eucharist. However, at this Evangelical service, when they served their version of communion with salted crackers and Welch's grapefruit juice, I had a feeling that there was something missing. Deep down I felt this to be a shallow attempt at a memorial and even more a cover up of something more that Jesus intended when he said,
How could Jesus ask us to do something so weak and empty with respect to worship? And then Steve Fry said the very thing I was thinking, “There is something missing here.” He could not pinpoint it, but he had to go on a retreat with his wife to pray and discern what it was that was missing. Whatever the case, like Mary did, I pondered these things in my heart and was just trying to be like David, a man after God's own heart.
In spite of these inconsistencies I grew in a love for Jesus and the hope and faith that he would remain in my life forever. So I came home on fire and told all my friends about my newfound love for Jesus. Some laughed, others began reading their Bible, but then their motivation quickly subsided and I was left with one last friend to try and convert. I called him to come over for a Bible study. It was he and I as I rambled on about this zeal for Jesus I had. I spoke for maybe two hours. He left without saying more than goodbye. A year later he tracked me down and said he had been looking for me to ask me to be his sponsor. He became baptized into the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Although I did not become his sponsor because I was in another province at the John Paul II Bible School, I felt honored to have been instrumental in his decision to be baptized. I consider his unusual invitation to sponsor him as the greatest complement I have received, next to my wife accepting a proposal to marriage. Since I was unaware that God used me to touch his heart, I thought that was the end of my preaching days.
My faith started to dwindle into the old ways again, but I somehow was still counting on God to keep drawing me to him. Sure enough after another two weeks I was in Radway, Alberta, at the John Paul II Bible School. Here I would discover to my surprise two very special women: Mary, Jesus' Mother and Shawna, who would later become my lovely and precious wife. I would also become aware of my love for teaching here at this Bible School named after the pope of my youth. Yes! A Catholic Bible School! “Wow!” I thought, “Prime evangelical territory where I can witness my love for Jesus and the Bible!” Wow! Was I in for another surprise!
Looking back on it now I can see the sincerity mingled with the pride. Jesus did want me to share about him, but it was not necessary to practice preaching when for example, a priest from halfway around the world was trying to teach us about the real effects of God's love in his missionary experiences. Yet, after just a few days it became clear that these Catholics who were entrenched with 'worship' of Mary and 'idolatry' of the Eucharist were in need of some admonishing Bible quotes. Even as I began to act like the text book (Bible) Christian, I began to question the attitudes behind this anti-Catholic' philosophy. My Bible Christian passions to join the revival of the world to Jesus was missing something about Jesus' plans. Jesus was a servant. Jesus was submissive to the will of the Father. Why? Why not just be God on his own? Jesus was setting the example of who God is as an undivided Trinity. From the Father comes an obedient Son and from the Son comes an obedient Church and from the Church comes her obedient children as well. Eventually, my passion for a revival to Jesus would also have to include a revival the Jesus' Bride the Church, with all the obedience, humility and forgiveness required in order to belong to such a kingdom.
A New Kind of Fire
I was determined to find the truth. It was either Catholic Christianity or Bible-Christianity and the Bible would be my tool to discern which was right. My belief on discerning Biblical truth at the time was that the Holy Spirit would give me an edifying feeling when I read the Scripture. If I 'discerned' the Catholic Church to be wrong even on one account, based on my interpretation of Scripture, that would give me license to say I cannot attend or belong to an erring Church. So the anti-Catholic argument need only find a few Scriptures that seem to contradict Catholic teaching (only by imposed interpretations) and they can jar someone away from their marginal or weak Catholic faith. I say weak, because with so many attempts at distorting Catholic beliefs one needs to have a strong and enlightened faith to refute and/or stand up to anti-Catholic arguments. What a poor way of discerning Christian truth.
I could essentially use this 'me and the Bible' method to refute any group of Christians. No wonder those Christians under the authority of the Bible alone (Sola Scripture) theology are dividing the Churches again and again. The Bible becomes the best bet for those Christians forced by a conscience that has been showered with anti-Catholic (or anti-fellow Christian) jargon to look elsewhere for Christian truth. The Catholic Church becomes a taboo and if someone begins to look there for truth they are discouraged by many Christians, even by some Catholics themselves from looking toward her. Yet this 'me and the Bible' philosophy was making me an arrogant loaner. I would go off and pray to Jesus alone, just to get away from the Catholic Christians who I felt could not pray to Jesus as well as I could. I would open the Bible to refute anyone regardless of their age or status or denomination. I found myself saying to elder Christians who were trying to give me advice, “Well, I'll have to pray to the Spirit and see what he says to me about it.”
And all along I felt I was being a true Christian, when in reality I was being proud and making decisions based on my flesh. The union of the Spirit and the Bride, who were calling me to fellowship, breaking bread, the teachings of the apostles and a living tradition and communion of prayers was the last thing on my mind. Yet deep down I felt a mix of loneliness and stubbornness. I was tempted to get discouraged, because the Jesus I had known was becoming more and more obscure. If God was God he was Peace, he was True and he was One. If I could not find the truth in those who claimed Jesus gave it to them, then Christianity was false. Yet this was all I had known.
I sincerely prayed to Jesus for grace to know the truth. I would test out the Protestant and Catholic arguments. No Evangelical denomination claimed to have the truth in their Church authority, they said it was from the Bible. Only the Catholic Church claimed to have authority and that the Bible was an authority subject to the Church's authentication and interpretation. Essentially, Evangelicals submit to Catholic authority by admitting the Bible is authentic, because the Catholic Church authorized the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. That alone could have convinced me that the Catholic Church was the place to look for the answers. But I had been convinced of the Evangelical perspective and it would take more than one answer. For me to embrace Catholicism, the Church would have to be right on every doctrinal issue and would have to explain all the inconsistencies I was misled to believe. I only trusted the Bible at the time and would have to use it to discern if the Catholic Church had authority to be the custodian of the Bible and the one true Church. I clung to the Scripture that says,
Yet, what was I in need of Comfort from? I was already on fire for God, yet this struggle for truth would teach me of another kind of fire. The purging fire of truth that burns the ego and it was here in the pain of being wrong and needing a change of mind and heart where I needed comfort the most.
My sincere quest for answers would be a frustrating one and would frustrate and test the patience of those from all sides I would prod for these answers. I pulled out the Bible one afternoon and asked a few of the students if they would like to answer a few questions. I asked them if they believe it is okay to say that Mary is an Intercessor. They said of course. Then I quoted the Bible saying, “There is only one intercessor between God and man, that is the Holy Spirit.” They started singing a Marian hymn and shut me out. I was taken aback. The truth as I interpreted it should have caused them to see the light. And yet they did not get harsh with me, they just sang a loving song to Mary as if to kindly show their allegiance to her even in the face of contention. I continued to 'side with' the Holy Spirit, but this experience made me more aware that this Marian devotion was deeply rooted.
As well, I was beginning to get to know these people as very kind and loving. They were Spirit filled with a very deeply rooted love for Jesus Christ as well. They spoke of miracles in their lives and the lives of their families. If not convinced about Mary, I was at least aware that this deep devotion did not appear to interrupt their faith in Jesus. I would bring all my concerns to my sister, as well as her husband who was a Pentecostal youth minister. They lived less than an hour drive away. So on weekends I would go there asking all sorts of prodding questions and then bring up these questions with people at the Bible school during the week. I just wanted some straight answers. But I was beginning to really annoy everyone.
Mary an Intercessor?
The Pentecostal point of view about Mary was that Catholics make out of Mary another goddess like Helen of Troy. Paul rebuked the early Church for making Helen of Troy an intercessor between God and man. He said that only the Holy Spirit does this interceding. Back to the Catholics I found out that they do not teach that Mary takes the Holy Spirit's place, rather she is an instrument of His intercession like any preacher or Christian who has been called to pray and intercede with the Saints. God is jealous when it comes to false gods, but he is not jealous against nor does he compete with those he loves. He gives them a purpose and a place under the Holy Spirit's inspiration.
What is more, with the Catholics I received a sign. I smelled roses outside of the chapel at the Bible School. I looked around the area for flowers and then I looked in the Chapel. No flowers, just some of the students praying the Rosary and the aroma of roses as poignant and as certain as the scent of apple pie in mom's kitchen. Now what would I say as an Evangelical giving someone guidance when they asked me about my understanding and experience against the Catholic prayer of the Rosary? “My only experience is that I found it is a prayer that has the fragrance of an offering of roses.” This was the first major hole in my 'Bible Christian passion for Jesus'. How could I be passionate against a loving sign from God?
Moreover, with the sign came a witness to a truth I had been reluctant to embrace. These alleged spiritless Catholics were witnessing to me the same genuine love my parents had. This was a love that seemed effortless and natural. It was my understanding that the source of their love was the Sacraments. As well, devotion to Mary was beginning to look like a strong example that if you apply the Catholic faith there is always plenty of love to go around, especially for those and from those who live in heaven. The flag I was waving about a free and complete love for Jesus was appearing more like a partial Christian perspective that put fetters on love and truths it deemed too Catholic. Was it freedom in Jesus not to have an active devotion to the saints and Mary in heaven? Was it freedom in Jesus to believe that I held all the authority I needed with the Bible in my hand at the expense of a humble submission to Church authority and any real sense of Christian unity? Was it freedom to believe I had one up on a billion other Christians just because I felt being 'saved at the altar call' meant that Jesus could pump me up above everyone else? Bible Christian thought once again was making God more distant from humanity.
In bearing Jesus, Mary was more like a surrogate mother where God would just borrow her in order to enter humanity. Catholics were saying God came into the world in humility asking this lowly girl from Nazareth to be his mother. When she said “Fiat” that made an eternally loving God not only pour eternal love out into humanity through her, but God also left his mark on her. Her obedience gave her an eternal maternal place in the kingdom of heaven. This God, is an awesome God and he has an effect on everyone and everything he touches turns to gold. One by one, scales were beginning to peal away from my eyes and I was noticing the Catholics around me witnessed a freedom that gave me a whole knew perspective of who Jesus is. He is not some ferocious black hole that obliterates everything in his path or is arrogant and insistent in having his own way. Jesus comes into creation as a humble seed and takes all things to his Father's bosom and brings them to their full life and purpose. Like Mary, I pondered all these things in my heart.
I was now more open to finding out the truth with respect to other concerns I had about devotion to Mary. For instance, the Bible forbids the making of images. Catholics use statues all the time. They kneel before statues of Mary. Are they adoring Mary as well? Yet God also commanded the Israelites to mount statues of angels on the Covenant Box of all places. He also commanded two large statues of angels to be placed in the Holy Temple. He commanded a bronze serpent to be raised upon a pole. Moreover, he only allowed a healing to occur if those Israelites bit by a snake would kneel toward the bronze statue. I found the Catholics were using these images in that same biblically acceptable manner. They made them as reminders of those who loved God and they knelt to them in respect for those who obeyed God's will. A king would not condemn a man for kneeling to his beloved to propose marriage. Nor would God condemn these Catholics for kneeling to a statue of Mary to show honor to the Mother who stood at the foot of the Cross of her dying Son.
And the crucifix, which in one glance can stir in the heart the depth of God's love, is a reminder and an image no less important than the images of letters that form words that make up our gift of the Bible. In fact, if you have to destroy all images, then the Bible with graven images of words on paper also has to go and any pictures or forms of art whatsoever. In all things there is a balance. Do not idolize any images, only use them to stir the faith, hope and love that find their source in God.
Catholic devotions and prayers to Mary and the Saints also seemed to contradict the Scriptures, since the Bible forbids communing with the souls of the dead. Yet Jesus communed with the souls of Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration. The patriarch and prophets and saints in heaven are not dead at all. They are eternally alive in God. So Jesus was not breaking any rules or making any exceptions on the Mount of the Transfiguration. Jesus' life in the soul lifts all of humanity to a higher level in the Body of Christ and communion of saints before God. Catholics were not consulting the spirits, they were uniting their prayers with the saints in heaven to make a more pleasing offering to God. The words of Jesus sealed the Catholic teaching of Communion of the Saints in my mind and heart:
Another question I would raise to Catholics was that did they not fear that in honoring the Mother they would take away from honor due to the Son. That is like saying when you have a birthday you should be the only one who gets to eat the cake. Here I found another striking difference between Catholic and Bible-Christian thought. If you found out a hometown boy won the gold medal in the Olympics would you not congratulate the mother if you saw her walking down the street? Or would you walk by her and purposely avoid her so that the winner of the gold medal does not get jealous if he sees that his mother is getting some attention on his account. Catholic devotion to Mary made perfect sense.
If God's love is eternal and is a cup overflowing as Psalm 23 says, then devotion to Mary is just a sign of the overflowing love of Jesus her Son. The Gospel of Luke admonished me quite directly about my lack of devotion to Mary when I read Mary's own words:
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she proclaimed these words with a loud cry! Should I let the Holy Spirit's words resound so loudly on deaf ears or should I ponder them in my heart and discover their true meaning and use this devotion to Mary as a sign of a Christian who like Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. I used to think Jesus was discouraging devotion to Mary when he said in response to a praise of his Mother, “My mother and brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.” He also said that those who obey God are his brothers, sisters and mother. Jesus was not discouraging devotion to his mother. He was raising devotion to his mother and the saints to a higher level. Not just of a physical (maternal) connection, but of a spiritual connection. She is the Mother of obedience to the invitation of Gabriel to bring God into the world. Jesus was not minimizing devotion of Mary, he was maximizing it. Don't marvel that she is my physical mother, marvel that she is my Mother by a spiritual bond of obedience. Give her a higher honor as Spirit filled Elizabeth did, because her obedience has brought Salvation to the world.
Mary had the gift of free will. What if she said, “No!”? We owe her our love and gratitude. Look at the fruits of her devotion to God -- Jesus Christ himself. She is our model of how to bring Jesus into our home. Her life teaches us how to just say, “Yes!” with all your heart to Jesus.
The wedding feast at Cana also caught my eye. Mary is mentioned first, before Jesus and the apostles as the list of pertinent guests is written. As a Bible-Christian I would have to ignore that fact. As a Catholic I could go on to ask, “Now what is John doing to mention Mary first, even before Jesus.” He obviously is not putting Mary above Jesus. But maybe when I read the account of the wedding feast I will find out something about this humble Jewish woman's place in the kingdom of God. Sure enough she persuades Jesus, even against his and his Fathers original plans to show a sign. The water turns to wine. Mary is a sign of God's will for us in his banquet. We can plead to God to make a difference even beyond what seems to be the trend or the natural or supernatural order of things. God is calling all of us to intercede in the Spirit so that Jesus purpose can be fulfilled and so that the world will have the Joy of Jesus Wedding Feast. God is calling us to have a role in his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Mary is our first model of how to pray to God. Mary has a role in God's plan of salvation. As the Scripture says,
Notice these words are written within the context of what is the mission of the Christ Child. She has a desire for souls that her Son died to save and God cares about his Mothers wishes. Again at the foot of the Cross a forceful Catholic Scripture changed my heart about Marian devotion. Jesus said seven words from the Cross. It is said that these words pertain to every soul, since Jesus' mission on the Cross is to save every soul. When he said, “Father forgive them....” he did not only forgive the Roman Soldiers. He forgave all sinners. When Jesus said, “I thirst!” He did not merely mean that his throat was dry. He meant that he was thirsty for the salvation of all souls. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He did not just mean his suffering was over. He also meant that the suffering of all humanity due to sin what also nailed with him to the Cross. When Jesus said to John, “Behold your Mother!” and to Mary, “Woman, behold your son!” He was not merely making a traditional arrangement to have his mother taken care of when he was gone. He was making an arrangement to have all souls that loved him and listened and obeyed his every word take care of his Mother as if she were their own and she to take care of all souls as their own Mother of obedience.
What kind of Mother do we have? One that obeyed God by saying, “Yes!” with all her heart even though it would be pierced when her Son's heart was pierced. A Mother obedient enough to stand by her Son up to his torture and death. I was becoming convinced of a deeper Catholic meaning to things -- a meaning that magnified God as a God of love -- a God who magnified himself not by lording it over his creation, but rather by entering into, loving and magnifying his creation. God is not a self-seeker. God is not intimidated or insecure. God is a generous and selfless lover. God is the Son of Mary, a lowly Jewish girl. Jesus is a family man, not merely stemming from his humanity, but from his Godliness and from the will of his Father.
My entire journey to an understanding of Mary led me to glorify God and see God as more loving than an anti-Marian, anti-Catholic perspective would guess. That fragrant offering to heaven, the Rosary, became not a dead prayer of vain repetition. It became a vocal heartbeat of love to God, where Mary could teach me through the main Gospel images how to put on the heart of her Son, Jesus Christ. Like David, a man after God's own heart, I could use the five daily decades of the Rosary as five stones to sleigh the giants in my life that stand in the way of God's plan.
You Must Be Born Again
Infant baptism was another issue. I was convinced to get baptized into Pentecostal waters after being told that my infant baptism was invalid. How could you receive Jesus in baptism without being able to intellectually embrace Jesus? So I was baptized again, but by the time I was baptized the Catholic Church was beginning to make more sense to me and I was doubting my second baptism. I was very disturbed without knowing if and when my faith began. I talked to a Bishop about it and he of course acknowledged my infant baptism was valid. He said it was important to consciously participate in our baptism by embracing it with our sense of reason as an adult.
This all made more sense, but I had to find my own Biblical understanding of infant baptism. Jesus welcomed the little children into the kingdom of heaven. I also read from King David's psalm that perfect praise comes from the mouths of infants. If infants could receive grace to communicate perfect praise to God, then how could they not receive baptismal grace to communicate perfected souls to God, souls released from original sin and unhindered from entering the Kingdom of God? How else could a child enter the kingdom at Jesus request but by baptism? Peter said,
So baptism is a calling, in that God loved us, not that we loved him. It would be backwards to think that we make a personal commitment to God and then receive him in baptism. Jesus direct presence in Baptism is the center of our faith, not the individual moments we choose for Jesus. These 'feeling for Jesus' experiences are important in Christian growth, but it is the mark of Jesus in Baptism that is the life source of that growth. God first loves us and calls us into his Kingdom by baptism, which is an expression of God's love. We receive special graces through that expressed love to decide for Jesus with the proper heart in our daily walk of obedience to the will of God. Graces like sanctifying grace come before baptism, however baptism is key for initiating our life of faith in God's love. God often gives people grace to repent before baptism, however such repentance is not required before an infant's baptism since they have not experienced the effects of original sin.
They have only to recognize their salvation that came the day they were baptized and live by it as they grow in a Christian home. As Peter wrote in Scripture, “Your baptism now saves you.” Being saved or born again to Evangelicals meant accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, not baptism. Born again to a Catholic means baptism, which gives us a means to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. It is one thing to feel like Jesus loves you and weep out of gratitude for his love, it is another thing to return that love daily.
Not all who say, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do God's will. To do God's will requires a special gift of regeneration, of recreation. Jesus said,
Born again to Jesus meant being born of water and the spirit (John 3:3,5,7). That is Baptism. To Catholics the Spirit is given in Baptism and later more fully in Confirmation. So water and Spirit go together as the Scripture neatly reads. I heard other Scriptural arguments for and against baptism, but it all came down to interpretation. Was that what the original author and God was intending for that Scripture? Or was that just how I read the Scripture to prove my point? When someone else has a different Scriptural point of view the kingdom of God can potentially divide. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. There must be another authority on the final interpretation of Scripture than my own.
It was not enough to say that the Bible is the final authority, because the Bible is nothing without a reader and the reader interprets all that he reads. Besides, the Bible refutes personal interpretation in Peter's letter,
Peter is not only refuting the basis of Bible Christianity, which is building a religion of personal interpretations of the Bible, Peter is also refuting individualism as a guide to the Spirit's anointing. It takes a group of men guided by the Holy Spirit to know Scripture and truth. And when did the Holy Spirit begin guiding men? When Jesus breathed on his Apostles and they received the Holy Spirit and He would guide them into all truth and He would never leave them. God breathed on Adam and he came to life. God breathed on the Church and it has come to life. Such a breath can never be taken away. Such life never ends. Such a promise.... from Jesus.... nothing can destroy.
When Jesus touched humanity he made an eternal impact, he even called it his Church. Whatever he builds cannot be destroyed. No sin a pope or any Catholic or Christian committed in the past can tear the Holy Spirit from the Church. To say that the Church fell because of the sin of its members is a lie. And the Father of Lies hopes to make believers of his lies to divide the kingdom of God.
In Western Christianity we see such division and this is the cause of a terrible fall of its members to godlessness, worldliness, divorce, abortion, skepticism, materialism, individualism, apathy, selfishness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, scandal, error and ineffective evangelization. This just refers to those who profess the name of Christ. And we are all Catholics. Some of us are just Catholics in denial, which would be the true definition of a Protestant or an excessively liberal Catholic. To be a true Bible Christian, then, I was compelled to submit my frail authority to the higher authority of the Holy Spirit and the Church. This not only made sense to me biblically, but practically as well.
When I looked for biblical scholarship and interpretation outside of the Catholic Church I found the closer I got to the source (Calvin and Luther) the more opinionated, error ridden and contradictory were the teachings. For example, Luther wanted to get rid of books from the Bible like James, Hebrews and Revelation. The closer I got to the source in Catholic biblical scholarship and interpretation (the Councils, the Fathers, the Apostles, Peter, Jesus) the more consistent the teachings were with official modern day Catholic teachings. For example, in the Vatican Council II we read,
We read about the same kind of unity based on Church imitation of the unity of the Trinity (one mind, one Spirit) from an early Church Father, Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle and bishop of Antioch:
This unity can be read from a willing, humble and obedient ear from the Apostles, Peter and Jesus as well.
Lord, Cannibal or Liar!
Another issue was the Mass. The Eucharist was not something I could just remain neutral on. Like the saying that Jesus cannot be understood as just a good man, rather he is either Lord, lunatic or liar, because he said he was God! The Eucharist also calls us to make a decision that is not so neutral about Jesus. Jesus said he was the bread of life.
We cannot take a neutral stance and say he is a symbol, anymore than we can say Jesus was just a good man. If he said he was God, his flesh avails our redemption. And if he said he is bread, he is either bread, cannibal or liar. I was not convinced about the symbol. The old law with the Israelites Bread of the Presence in the Most Holy Place is far more spiritually meaningful than Welch's grape fruit juice and crackers. So Jesus is not only made out to be a liar, but he also appears weak. Jesus let his disciples leave scandalized because they thought he was talking about cannibalism. They could not see through the eyes of faith that Jesus would provide for them in his body and blood without cannibalism being a factor.
Catholics profess it to be Christ's real flesh and blood indeed. They almost admit to cannibalism and this is the most vile thing. Yet, why is it not cannibalism? I was perplexed by the faith, humility and devotion it inspired in these Catholics. The Pentecostal argument also brought up Paul's saying in Hebrews that Jesus was sacrificed once and for all, not many times like the perpetual sacrifice of the Mass suggests. Yet the Catholics had a good answer to that: Jesus body is sacrificed only once, but if that means we cannot participate in it then it is of no use to us. Or at best we participate in it symbolically then how is that any different than the Old Law that Paul says was a reflection of the New. Are we not full partakers of the New Covenant, one that makes real those truths that could only be dreamed of, imagined or symbolized in the Old? Are we not kings and priests of the New Covenant, the New Covenant, the New Sacrifice?
The Mass is not a repeated sacrifice, it is the One Sacrifice of the Lamb in Heaven made new to us continually in God's eternal now. We travel back to Calvary again and again to receive his one Sacrifice. What an amazing way of making Himself present to us, by not even allowing the laws of nature and time to shade his love. Cannibalism is a natural act or even below nature. Jesus' resurrection is a supernatural act and we share in His supernatural resurrected flesh on the Altar of the Catholic Mass. Therefore, to say we are cannibals when we receive the flesh of Jesus is to say His flesh is separate from His divine nature. Besides, we receive Him sacramentally, meaning we truly receive his body and blood miraculously hidden in the laws of nature (bread and wine). It does not appear to be his body and blood, even though it is in a hidden miraculous sense. Therefore, if it does not appear to be his body and blood we are not guilty of eating human flesh, even though it truly is the flesh of Jesus by way of transubstantiation.
Moreover, we would be lifeless without this sacrament. Our spiritual survival depends on it. The Eucharist, then is the greatest sign of Jesus' Resurrection. What a way to elevate our understanding of Jesus. Whatever he touched turned to gold. He touched the sick -- they were healed. He touched the sinners -- they were forgiven. He touched the Apostles -- they became sure foundations and pillars of the Church. He touched the bread and the wine -- they became His Body and His Blood. This is impossible for man, but it is possible for an almighty and amazing God. Moreover, as the Trinity is One God, so the numerous Masses and Hosts united with Calvary are One Sacrifice.
The communal character of God in the Trinity is reflected in the communal character of the Eucharist. And such a Communion gathers us all together as one Body of Christ. His blood was shed on Calvary and all generations can truly stand on that hill if they have faith to see through the disguise of the bread and wine at Mass. My hope was truly kindled in this discovery, since Jesus has ascended, but his promise holds true, “I am with you always.” And hope is heightened when His body appears to the disciples. When we believe through the eyes of faith that this bread is Eternal Love, our hope is heightened.
As we do as He commanded in faith, hope and love, and eat His flesh, would we not be digested into the life of Jesus Christ instead of fall to natural doubts like symbolism or even cannibalism? The greater acid test of God's love would win the day. I was beginning to see the wisdom of the Catholic teachings that I so commonly refuted or overlooked as I misquoted or misinterpreted the Bible. There was still the issue of the Evangelical interpretation of John's words:
This was interpreted as Jesus' flesh avails nothing and all the previous words of Jesus body and blood being food and drink meant symbolic words of spirit and life. I read that Scripture over and at first glance felt it could be interpreted that way. But I read it more closely and wondered why Jesus would say, “Then what if you were to see the son of man ascending to where he was before?”, just before, “the flesh is of no avail.” If made more sense to read this as Jesus was leaving to his Father in heaven and wanted to remain permanently with His disciples who are lifeless and of the flesh so that they could partake in His spirit and life. Though His body ascended where He was seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father, the earth remained His footstool through the Eucharist, the sharing of His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine. The disciples are of the flesh that are of no avail without Jesus who is the word made flesh, full of light and truth, spirit and life.
If Jesus flesh avails nothing, why would Paul say Jesus' flesh availed so much as to abolish the law, make peace and reconcile us to God. St. Paul also wrote of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. He also wrote of an unworthy reception of the bread and cup bringing condemnation to some Christians who were even dying as a result. The memorial of the Lord's Supper in the early Church was much more profound than the grape juice and crackers symbolism of the Pentecostal Church. As well, St. John speaks of the three witnesses of Spirit, water and blood that give God's testimony that is greater than mans'. If God bears witness to the Son in the breaking of the bread, how can this be a greater witness than mans if it were only symbolic? The last supper has to be a Godly memorial to be a Godly testimony, especially since God Himself initiated it.
Moreover, Catholic commentaries and interpretations of John 6 took the Scripture at face value. Jesus did not apologize to his disciples who were leaving him because they understood Jesus was saying he was giving them his flesh to eat. Jesus always made himself clear, like when Nicodemus thought Jesus suggested we go back into our mothers womb to be born again. Jesus said he meant being born again by the spiritual waters of baptism. Jesus only reinforced his words by saying,
Again I pondered these things in my heart. I thought of the Scripture,
If you have faith to believe that a perfect offering is made in every tabernacle around the world, then you know that his coming in the Eucharist spans the globe like lightning. As well, his body will gather together all Christians around the world and they will sore like eagles transformed by the love of Jesus' the perfect eternal lamb. Jesus was amazingly providing a way that we could receive his presence even while he was in heaven, through the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Like the faith required to believe Almighty God became a feeble human baby, I felt God was nudging me to believe that that divine human was now becoming bread for me. As Caleb said to the doubting Israelites, “. . . do not fear the people of this land [giants], for they are bread for us.” God, the Giant of Love and the Giant of Wonderful Surprises has become bread for us. It makes Christ Sacrifice on the Cross less distant than Protestant thought suggests. For Catholics it was so close you could taste it. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It was a Divine banquet. How could you, Spirit filled as you are, doubt it, miss it or replace it with crackers?
This was another way I found that being a believer outside of the proper authority led to doubt, because Jesus' teaching on the Eucharist makes theological sense. It was foolishness to man's understanding, but made me more of a fool for love if I believed it. However, you are forced to doubt it if you say your authority is from the Bible alone, therefore cutting off your authority from the apostles who appointed bishops who appoint the priests who offer up Jesus above the altar.
From this point I could see how Sacred Tradition fit in and worked alongside Sacred Scripture with the Church's authority and Magisterium. How could you have a Sacred Scripture without the authoritative Magisterium of the Church and how could the Church know which writing to discern without a Sacred Tradition preserving and illuminating the writings. Deep down I was becoming convinced of the Catholic positions. They seemed to be passing more and more tests of faith and reason. A eucharistic Church supernaturally leads her members to one mind, one Spirit rather than a Sola Scriptura church naturally leading her members into division. This is a banquet table that gathers all of its guests from every time and nation to the foot of Calvary as one Body, one Church wherever the Body and Blood of Christ is offered to nourish her rather than receiving symbols that are no more useful than those of the old law. These are the Christians whose least are greater than the greatest of the old law.
The questions I was raising led me to a pillar of truth in Catholicism, while the Protestant and Pentecostal response was turning into a weak cover up of important Catholic teachings. I was essentially being told that faith in Jesus was enough, you did not have to have coherent reasoning to accompany your faith. That theology might be good for some people, but generally it decreases our faith. Or a more simple comment was,
I could see that the Catholic Church was not being given a fair hearing. Yet, if the Catholics were right on even one of the issues, like the Eucharist, maybe they were right on more of the issues. The tables were turned. I now felt in a position to believe that the anti-Catholic teaching, whatever it may be, was the one that must be tested by the fire of truth. I would no longer test the Catholic Church with the smoke of deception. I had to see the Church with my own eyes like the Queen of Sheba had to gaze on Solomon's House with her own eyes to see its true glory. I could truly say with her, “and behold, the half was not told me.”
But after all this I was still looking for a sign to overcome my pride, I suppose, or to overcome the sin of sloth one embraces when faced with an important decision like following your conscience into the Catholic Church. As an Evangelical I understood perfectly well that there was no place for apathy when expressing love for Jesus and chasing after God's own heart. Now as I faced the pillar of truth it was either apathy or humility. So I chose neither, instead I would seek out the truth with pride and demand God show me in Scripture the answer to my question at that very moment. I opened the Scripture and found a quote that seemed to rebuke the Catholic Church. At that moment I felt the hair stand on the back of my neck and imagined a jealous God who did not want anything standing in the way of him and I. I felt convinced now, after all that sound Biblical reasoning to set it all aside for one flashy Scripture interpretation.
The next day I brought all this up with an assistant director of the Bible School, Ron Downy. Ron was a Catholic who knew enough of his stuff to give me the answers I needed to see a solid Catholic point of view. He asked me to read the Scripture that demolished the entire 2000 year old empire of Catholicism for me. I read the Scripture. He asked me to read it again. I read it again and again and it dawned on me that I interpreted it exactly the opposite of what it meant. Forget the misinterpretation, I totally mis-read the Scripture. The only thing Satan had left to keep me from the Bride of Christ was deception. So I knelt down in the chapel before the Eucharist. The solemn peace I felt there was beginning to make sense. But I was really struggling and wanted sincerely some grain of truth to hang onto from the Bible that meant so much to me. I opened up the Bible in humility and gazed my eyes on the words that were becoming increasingly blurry through the tears of joy,
A girl from Nebraska, Mary Ram, came over to me and said she saw the Spirit come down from the Crucifix and rest his hands on my head. God knows our hearts and blesses us when we do the best that we know how with his grace, no matter where we are in our faith. From that moment on I embraced the truth of the Catholic Church. I opened up the Vatican II Documents and the sentences filled with confirming Scripture quotes jumped out at me as the most reasonable explanation of a Biblical Church I have ever heard expressed or seen written.
Once again I chased God into the Catholic Church as David, a shepherd boy, a man after God's own heart. The Scriptures where opened up to me even more. The boring laws of Moses that were dead works from an Evangelical perspective, became an exciting means to know how to love God in his grace as a Catholic and the symbolism in that Pentateuch reflected the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and a Church full of faith inspiring icons and symbols.
I became fully aware of these Scriptures that meant nothing to me before and was able to embrace the Bible as not only a book that guides me to Jesus, but also a book that guides the Church to Jesus. For instance, when I read Jesus words,
I could only understand them as they applied to me, I could never understand it as it applied to the Church until I entered Catholicism. In fact, I found the word Church in evangelical circles almost a bad word. Who needs Church when you have Jesus? If we declare ourselves as individual authorities on interpreting Scripture we end up interpreting some of it quite nobly guided by the Spirit and some of it we interpret guided by our flesh. This latter interpretation causes contention in the Church and finally division upon division. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. In Evangelical circles I was in I was always discouraged from facing this dilemma. The cover up answer I was given is that there is no visible unity. Yet the Scriptures are so forceful on the visible unity stressed by the leaders of the early Church. St. Paul especially. He said,
He continued admonishing them,
Notice that St. Paul was correcting even those who divided in the name of Christ. Why would division in the name of Jesus who is God be wrong, because there is no division in God, the Undivided Trinity? I also heard the argument that there are seven churches in Revelation, therefore it is Biblical that there are plenty of denominations. However, the seven churches in Revelations were all of one denomination. All seven churches listened to the one Apostolic Authority that instructed them. The Catholic Church has many rites and hundreds of diocese with their number of parishes. Not one of them is their own entity any more than the seven churches of Revelation are divided.
We are all one Body in the one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one Baptism, and one God and Father of all. The Catholic Church is the only Church that presents a Jesus that meant what he prayed,
And so, Church unity is a requirement for the great commission, evangelization. If Paul came to the world today what would he do? Go join the Church that seems most appealing to him? No. He would say not to listen to those teachers that tickle the ears. It's not about being in a nice comfortable Church. Paul would shake us up. He would say the same things he said to the early Church. How come some of you are for Peter, Paul and even Christ all in the name of your selfish endeavors? You give these people a bad name. I will go among your factions so that I can identify the one that is genuine. And which Church could Paul find visibly genuine, but the one that not only declares that we are one in the Spirit whom we do not see, but also that we are one in mind and in the Lord that we do see in Truth under the appearance of bread and wine. After all, where the body is, there the eagles will gather.
We gather at the one Bread, one Body, one Lord, one God and Father of all who first loved us and that is how we become eagles. We feast on the body and fly like an eagle in the sky of God's love. We soar effortlessly, because Jesus' own flesh is our easy yoke. If we eat of the Divine who took all our burdens on his shoulders, then our meal takes our burdens away and fills us with divine power to love as God loved. Paul would encourage us about all our burdens and woes of a Christian kingdom that cannot fully stand because it is divided against itself. Paul would say the encouraging words of Caleb: “These giants are food for us!” This Giant God whom you cannot understand with your own reasoning is food for us in the Eucharist. And because he is food for us we can learn to understand his humility and grow from the lifeless seed in the mud to reach the heavens as tall as this Giant of Love.
A Dream Coming True: Filling My Heart with Joyful Laughter
As time goes by these childhood dreams where I was captured up to the giant and blissful heart of God are making more and more sense. I had a dream where I was full of peace and did not want to wake up. In the dream I was running from door to door with a friend sharing with people the message of Jesus. There were bombs falling from the sky. One even blew up a nearby school. I looked up and saw a beautiful and awesome sight. There were hundreds of planes at every level going in every different direction. Some were old single seating planes others were modern passenger planes. There were even war planes. It was not the image of the planes that was awesome, it was the feeling in my dream when I looked at them.
I believe now that these planes are the Christian denominations all claiming to have a grasp on the height and direction of God's love. Yet they are causing confusion in the real world. They are full of an awesome presence of God because they acknowledge him and God would never turn anyone down, not because they are right. Jesus was caught up in reverence when he saw the temple of Jerusalem, but he was torn with anger when he saw the moneychangers abusing it. They were using the temple to satisfy their own fleshly desires and worldly understanding.
Today Christians use the Church in the same way -- as a place to set up their own understanding of God, of Scripture. Yet our ways are not God's ways and our planes of spiritual bliss are not God's instrument of salvation. If we insist on building our church with the false teachings that divide us, we are wasting grace as our contentious pride consumes the food God provided for the flock entrusted to us. And when I am my own pilot and crash in the weight of temptations my entire dream of God's kingdom crashes with me, because it is a kingdom I made up.
Yet if I let God be the pilot and fly in his plane, the one he intended from the beginning I fall only back in my seat, in my place among the Christians, not above or below but in the same level and direction, not fallen only humbled, repentant and aware of God's mercy and loving direction.
Then I had a dream that I was in a plane and it was falling apart about to crash (see the first paragraph). I could only heed the warning to sit down and fasten my seat belt. No sooner had I done this, that the plane went from a doomed decent and became brand new as it made an awesome and strong recover to the highest angle of take off. Upon waking up I wanted desperately to fall back to sleep and be in that dream because I was so full of bliss as if I was in the very heart of God.
Yet, it is as though I am dreaming and my heart if filled with singing, dancing and laughter. These are the days of dreams and visions; these are the days of the two witnesses, Elijah and Moses. The new Elijah is Mary preparing the way of the Lord in the hundreds of visions or apparitions around the world where she is turning people toward her Son.
The new Moses is the Pope and the Church's Magisterium, which are the freedom Jesus provided us to live our dream of faith and leave the authorizing and interpreting up to that part of the Body appointed by the Holy Spirit to teach.
I am living in the days of these dreams. They are coming true. I toiled to discover the illusion of anti-Catholicism and the divine imagination fulfilled by the pillar of truth in the Catholic Church. When God imagines, it is created. And I am seeing unfold before my own eyes, in my own generation a massive conversion of committed Christians back home to the Catholic Church. Our planes are landing and we are boarding God's plane and we are on the verge of an amazing ascent.
Fasten your seat belts!
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