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Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

First Reading
Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15
God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and sends him to the Israelites.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 103:1-4,6-7,8,11
A prayer in praise of God’s mercy

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12
Paul teaches that the Scriptures were written to set an example for us.

Gospel Reading
Luke 13:1-9
Jesus preaches a lesson on repentance.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Now into the third week of the Season of Lent, our Sunday Gospel prepares us to hear Lent’s call to conversion and repentance. Today’s reading is found in the chapters of Luke’s Gospel that describe Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. During this journey, Jesus teaches and heals. He must also respond to those who question and challenge his authority and actions. There is no parallel in Mark’s or Matthew’s Gospels for today’s reading from Luke. While Mark and Matthew describe an incident in which Jesus curses the fig tree, today’s reading makes the barren fig tree the subject of a parable.

Luke tells us that some among the crowds report to Jesus a massacre of Galileans by Pilate. The intention of the crowd seems to be to ask Jesus to explain why these people suffered. It was commonplace to render people’s suffering as evidence of their sinfulness. Jesus challenges this interpretation. Those who were massacred were no more or less sinful than the ones who report the situation to Jesus. Jesus replies that even a fatal accident, a natural disaster, ought not to be interpreted as punishment for sin.

Jesus’ words at first appear to have a fire-and-brimstone quality. Jesus says in essence, “Repent or perish as these people did; all are sinful before God and deserving of God’s punishment.” The tone changes, however, in the parable that follows. The parable of the barren fig tree contrasts the patience and hopefulness of the gardener with the practicality of the property owner. When told to cut down the fig tree because it is not producing fruit, the gardener counsels patience. If properly tended, the barren fig tree may yet bear fruit.

Throughout his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus has been teaching about the Kingdom of God. In this parable, we find an image of God’s patience and hopefulness as he prepares his Kingdom. God calls us to repent, and it is within his power to punish us for our failure to turn from our sinfulness. And yet God is merciful. He delays punishment and tends to us so that we may yet bear the fruit he desires from us.

This, then, is our reason for hope: Not only does God refuse to abandon us, he chooses to attend to us even when we show no evidence of his efforts. Next week’s Gospel will give an even clearer picture of the kind of mercy that God shows to us.-loyolapress.com

Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

First Reading
Genesis 15:5-12,17-18
God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising him many descendants.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 27:1,7-8,8-9,13-14
A prayer to God who is our salvation

Second Reading
Philippians 3:17-4:1 (or shorter form, Philippians 3:20-4:1)
Paul encourages the Philippians to remain firm in their faith that Christ will subject all things to himself.

Gospel Reading
Luke 9:28b-36
Jesus is transfigured in the presence of Peter, John, and James.

Background on the Gospel Reading

On the second Sunday of Lent, we move from Jesus’ retreat to the desert and temptation by the devil to the glory shown in Jesus’ Transfiguration. On the first Sunday of Lent, our Gospel always tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. On the second Sunday, we always hear the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration.

The report of Jesus’ Transfiguration is found in each of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The context for Luke’s Transfiguration story is similar to that found in both Matthew and Mark. The Transfiguration occurs after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ prediction about his Passion. After the prediction there is a discussion of the cost of discipleship in each of these Gospels. The placement of the Transfiguration story close to Peter’s confession and Jesus’ prediction encourages us to examine the Transfiguration in the larger context of the Paschal Mystery.

The Transfiguration occurs on a mountain in the presence of just three of Jesus’ disciples—Peter, James and John. These are among the first disciples that Jesus called in Luke’s Gospel. We recently heard this Gospel at Mass, on the fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Only Luke’s Gospel, which often describes Jesus at prayer, indicates that Jesus is praying as his appearance changes to bright white. Luke indicates that the three disciples were sleeping while Jesus prayed. They will be sleeping again as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before his Passion and death.

As they awake, Peter and the disciples see Jesus Transfigured and Elijah and Moses present with Jesus. Elijah and Moses, both significant figures in the history of Israel, represent Jesus’ continuity with the Law and the Prophets. In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, there is reference to conversation among Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, but only Luke’s Gospel explains that this conversation is about Jesus’ later accomplishments in Jerusalem. Luke describes this as his exodus, connecting Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection with the Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.

On witnessing Jesus’ Transfiguration and seeing Jesus with Elijah and Moses, Peter offers to construct three tents for them. Having just awoken, perhaps Peter’s offer was made in confusion. We also notice that Peter reverted from his earlier confession that Jesus is the Messiah, calling Jesus “master” instead. As if in reply to Peter’s confusion, a voice from heaven speaks, affirming Jesus as God’s Son and commanding that the disciples listen to him. This voice from heaven recalls the voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism which, in Luke’s Gospel, spoke directly to Jesus as God’s Son.

In his Transfiguration, we see an anticipation of the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection. In each of the reports of the Transfiguration, the disciples keep secret what they have seen. Not until they also witness his Passion and death will the disciples understand Jesus’ Transfiguration. We hear this story of Jesus’ Transfiguration early in Lent, but we have the benefit of hindsight. In our hearing of it, we anticipate Jesus’ Resurrection even as we prepare to remember Jesus’ Passion and death. – loyolapress.com

First Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

First Reading
Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Moses describes the offering of praise for God’s deliverance of Israel.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 91:1-2,10-11,12-13,14-15
A prayer for God’s protection

Second Reading
Romans 10:8-13
Paul teaches that we are saved by faith.

Gospel Reading
Luke 4:1-13
In the desert, Jesus is tempted by the devil.

Background on the Gospel Reading

In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, after his baptism, Jesus is reported to have spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying. In Luke and in Matthew, the devil presents three temptations to Jesus. The devil tempts Jesus to use his power to appease his hunger, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him, and he tempts Jesus to put God’s promise of protection to the test. In each case, Jesus resists, citing words from Scripture to rebuke the devil’s temptation.

Each temptation that Jesus faces offers insight into the spirituality we hope to develop as we keep the forty days of the Season of Lent. We can trust God to provide for our material needs. We worship God because God alone has dominion over us and our world. We can trust God to be faithful to his promises. Jesus’ rejection of the devil’s temptations shows that he will not put God to the test. Grounding himself on the Word and authority of Scripture, Jesus rebukes the devil by his confidence in God’s protection and faithfulness.

This Gospel highlights for us one of the central themes of the Season of Lent. We are dependent upon God for all that we have and all that we are. Anything that leads us to reject this dependency or to distrust its sufficiency, is a temptation from the devil.

Luke ends his report of Jesus’ temptation in the desert by noting that the devil departs for a time. The implication is that the devil will return. Jesus knows that he will be tempted again in the Garden of Gethsemane. The depth of Jesus’ trust in God is shown most fully when Jesus rejects the temptation to turn away from the task God has given to him. Jesus’ final rebuke of the devil is his sacrifice on the Cross.

Jesus’ responses to the temptations of the devil teach us how we can respond to temptation. As we start our journey through Lent, this Sunday’s Gospel calls us to adopt the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation: God’s word alone will suffice, God’s promise of protection can be trusted, and God alone is God.- loyolapress.com

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Sirach 27:4–7
In his conversation is the test of the man.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 92: 2–3,13–16
The just shall flourish like a palm tree.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15: 54–58
Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:39–45
Each tree is known by its yield.

Background on the Gospel ReadingThe third and final section of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain begins: And he told them a parable. There are actually four parables, three of which we read today. They are all about how to be a good disciple.

The blind cannot lead the blind. And a disciple cannot be a good disciple unless he or she has learned from the teacher. Everyone who is fully trained is like the teacher who knows how to cure the blind. Before you can be a good disciple and teach others you must take care of yourself. Do not try to take a speck out of your brother’s eye until you have taken the board out of your own. Finally, only when you have purified yourself can you produce the good works that the teacher requires. Discipleship asks us to produce good deeds. But to produce them requires the integrity and purity of heart found in the teacher. When people see your good deeds they will know that this is because you have a good heart. 

The final parable, which we do not read today, is about building on the solid foundation of rock and not on sand. This is the only way to face the difficulties a disciple will encounter and survive.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9,12-13,22-23
David does not kill Saul.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 103:1-4,8,10,12-13
A song in praise of God’s mercy

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
As we bear the image of Adam, so we will bear the image of the one from heaven.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:27-38
Jesus teaches his disciples to be merciful as God is merciful.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of the teaching that began in last Sunday’s gospel. We continue to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Recall that in Luke’s Gospel, this teaching is addressed to Jesus’ disciples. This is in contrast to the parallel found in Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus’ words are addressed to both the disciples and to the crowds.

These words from Jesus’ teaching are familiar to us. They constitute the crux and the challenge of what it means to be a disciple: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, do unto others, lend without expecting repayment, judge not lest you be judged.

There are several similarities between Luke’s and Matthew’s report of Jesus’ great teaching. Both begin with the Beatitudes. Matthew includes nearly all the content that Luke does; the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel is longer than Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. There are, however, differences in language and nuance. For example, Matthew presents this portion of the teaching as a contrast between Jesus’ teaching and the teachings of the law and the prophets. This is in keeping with Matthew’s concern to address his predominantly Jewish audience. It is likely that Luke omits this contrast because it was unnecessary for the Gentile believers for whom Luke is writing.

Another point of contrast between Matthew and Luke’s presentation is the terminology. In Luke, Jesus contrasts the behavior of his followers with the behavior of “sinners.” In Matthew, Jesus contrasts the behavior desired with the behavior of tax collectors and Gentiles. Matthew concludes the teaching about love of enemies with the admonition to be perfect as God is perfect; Luke concludes by emphasizing God’s mercy.

In both Gospels, Jesus’ words challenge those who would follow him to be more like God. God loves us beyond our expectations, beyond anything we can possibly imagine. In response to God’s love, we are to love as God loves, beyond expectations and with a depth beyond imagining. – loyolapress.com

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Jeremiah 17:5-8
Put trust and hope in the Lord, not in human beings.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 1:1-4,6
Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
Our hope for resurrection is sure because Christ has been raised from the dead.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:17,20-26
Jesus teaches the crowd the way to happiness.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Peter to be his disciple. Jesus then travels with Peter and the other disciples. Luke reports acts of healing (a person with leprosy and a paralytic man) and the call of Levi, the tax collector. Jesus also replies to questions from the Pharisees regarding fasting and the observance of the Sabbath. In the verses immediately before today’s gospel reading, Jesus is reported to have chosen 12 men from among his disciples to be apostles. Apostle is a Greek word that means “one who is sent.”

Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of what is often called the Sermon on the Plain. We find a parallel to this passage in Matthew 5:1-7,11 that is often called the Sermon on the Mount. As these titles suggest, there are differences and similarities between these gospel readings.

When spoken from the mountaintop in Matthew’s Gospel, we can’t miss the impression that Jesus is speaking with the authority and voice of God. The mountaintop is a symbol of closeness to God. Those who ascend the mountain see God and speak for God; recall the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. As Luke introduces the location of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus teaches on level ground, alongside the disciples and the crowd. Luke presents Jesus’ authority in a different light. He is God among us.

Another distinction found in Luke’s version is the audience. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, although in the presence of the crowd; Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the crowd. In keeping with this style, the Beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel sound more personal than those in Matthew’s Gospel—Luke uses the article “you” whereas Matthew uses “they” or “those.” There is also a difference in number: Matthew describes eight beatitudes; Luke presents just four, each of which has a parallel warning.

The form of the Beatitudes found in Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospel is not unique to Jesus. Beatitudes are found in the Old Testament, such as in the Psalms and in Wisdom literature. They are a way to teach about who will find favor with God. The word blessed in this context might be translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “favored.”

As we listen to this Gospel, the Beatitudes jar our sensibilities. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, or persecuted are called blessed. This is, indeed, a Gospel of reversals. Those often thought to have been forgotten by God are called blessed. In the list of “woes,” those whom we might ordinarily describe as blessed by God are warned about their peril. Riches, possessions, laughter, reputation . . . these are not things that we can depend upon as sources of eternal happiness. They not only fail to deliver on their promise; our misplaced trust in them will lead to our demise. The ultimate peril is in misidentifying the source of our eternal happiness.

The Beatitudes are often described as a framework for Christian living. Our vocation as Christians is not to be first in this world, but rather to be first in the eyes of God. We are challenged to examine our present situation in the context of our ultimate horizon, the Kingdom of God. – loyolapress.com

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Isaiah 6:1-2a,3-8
Isaiah describes his vision and call from the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 138:1-5,7-8
A song of thanks to God who saves us

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (shorter form, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,11)
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel that he announced to them.

Gospel Reading
Luke 5:1-11
The fishermen (Simon, James, and John) leave their fishing boats and follow Jesus.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Last Sunday, we heard how Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. In the verses that follow, Jesus travels to the town of Capernaum and begins his ministry of teaching and healing. While in Capernaum, Jesus cures a man possessed with a demon and heals Simon’s mother-in-law. After spending some time there, Jesus prepares to preach in other places. The fact that Jesus had previously been in Simon’s home and healed his mother-in-law suggests that this encounter is not the first between Jesus and Simon Peter. We can read today’s Gospel, therefore, as a description of the developing relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches from Simon’s boat. Jesus turns to Simon and instructs him about where to lower the fishing nets. Simon and others have been fishing throughout the night and have not caught anything. Simon protests, claiming that such an effort would be futile. Simon ultimately obeys Jesus and lowers his nets into the deeper water as directed. Notice here that Peter calls Jesus by the title “master.” He already recognizes Jesus as a person of authority. They catch so many fish that the nets begin to tear; Jesus’ presence has created abundance out of scarcity, just as it did at the wedding feast at Cana, which we heard at Mass just a few weeks ago.

Simon Peter becomes a follower of Jesus immediately. He calls Jesus “Lord”—the title given to Jesus after his Resurrection—and protests his worthiness to be in Jesus’ presence. Today’s Gospel, therefore, marks a turning point in the relationship between Jesus and Peter.

Two of Simon’s partners are also named as witnesses to the event described in today’s Gospel: Zebedee’s sons, James and John. Yet Jesus’ words are addressed only to Simon. Jesus gives Simon a new job, telling him that he will become a different kind of fisherman. No longer will he catch fish; instead he will catch people. In these words, we hear the beginning of the leadership role that Peter will have within the community of disciples. Peter was chosen for this role. His task will be to bring others to Jesus. Already he is doing so; the Gospel tells us that all the fishermen with Peter also left their nets and followed Jesus.

We continue to speak of Peter’s leadership and influence in the Church today when we call the pope the “successor of Peter.” We participate in the mission of the Church when we bring people to Christ through the example and positive influence of our lives. – loyolapress.com

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19
The Lord assures Jeremiah that he will deliver him from all who fight against him.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 71:1-2,3-4,5-6,15,17
A song in praise of God’s salvation

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13 (shorter form, 1 Corinthians 13:4-13)
Paul describes love as the greatest of virtues.

Gospel Reading
Luke 4:21-30
Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth.

Background on the Gospel Reading

This Sunday we read from the Gospel of Luke, continuing immediately from last week’s Gospel. Recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and announced that this Scripture was now fulfilled. In today’s Gospel, we learn that the people of Nazareth are impressed by Jesus’ words, and yet they seem surprised. They still think of Jesus as merely Joseph’s son. They do not expect such words from someone they believe that they know.

This Gospel is about who Jesus is and who people believe him to be. The story of Jesus’ preaching and rejection at Nazareth is found in each of the Synoptic Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, this incident is told in a way that foretells Jesus’ passion and death and helps explain the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promise of salvation. In Luke’s Gospel this incident appears at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; in Matthew and Mark, this event is placed considerably later, after Jesus has preached and taught elsewhere. Only Luke identifies the content of Jesus’ teaching in any detail, telling us that Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. In Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth, and the townspeople take offense because Jesus is only the son of a carpenter. They reject his authority to teach them. In Matthew and Mark, it is only after Jesus is rejected that he observes times when Israel has rejected prophets.

In Luke’s Gospel, the people are surprised but not immediately offended by Jesus’ words in the synagogue. It is the words that follow his reading from the prophet Isaiah that seem to offend them. Jesus challenges and provokes the people of Nazareth by referring to examples in which Israel rejected the prophets. He also challenges them to respond to his message, the message of a prophet, in a way that is different from their ancestors. This call for a new response leads to his rejection.

It is helpful to consider the historical context of Luke’s Gospel. Luke has witnessed the acceptance of the gospel message among many Gentiles. He endeavors to explain why the Good News of Jesus has not been as well-received by his Jewish contemporaries. Luke’s report interprets the cause of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth in the context of this later Christian history. Just as the people at Nazareth did not welcome the Good News that Jesus announced, so too many among the people of Israel will not accept the preaching of the gospel.

After Jesus’ words of challenge, Luke reports that there was a movement to kill Jesus by throwing him over a cliff. This differs from the reports found in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, where Jesus is said to be unable to perform miracles in Nazareth because of the people’s lack of faith. Luke says that Jesus walks away from the crowd that intended to kill him; it is not yet his time. The animosity of the people of Nazareth prefigures and prepares the reader of Luke’s Gospel for the cross. Luke wants all to understand that it is through his death on the cross that Jesus offers God’s salvation to all.- loyolapress.com

Epiphany of the Lord

First Reading
Isaiah 60:1-6
Jerusalem shall be a light to all nations.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13
Every nation on earth shall worship the Lord.

Second Reading
Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6
Gentiles are coheirs in the promise of Christ.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi seek out Jesus and do him homage.

Background on the Gospel Reading

The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Matthew’s Gospel tells a version of Jesus’ birth that is different than the one in Luke. Of the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us little more than, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod . . . ” The story of the census is found only in Luke’s Gospel, but we hear about the visit of the Magi only in Matthew’s Gospel.

We know little about the Magi. They come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following an astrological sign, so we believe them to be astrologers. We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts. The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentiles’ search for a savior. Because the Magi represent the entire world, they also represent our search for Jesus.

We have come to consider the gifts they bring as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation. We believe the meaning of the gifts to be Christological. Gold is presented as representative of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of his divinity because priests burned the substance in the Temple. Myrrh, which was used to prepare the dead for burial, is offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, his baptism by John, and his first miracle at Cana.- loyolapress.com

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle C    

First Reading
Micah 5:1-4
The ruler of Israel is promised to come from Bethlehem.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19
A prayer for God’s salvation

Second Reading
Hebrews 10:5-10
Through his obedience to God’s will, Christ consecrated all.

Gospel Reading
Luke 1:39-45
Mary visits Elizabeth, who sings praise to Mary and her child.

Background on the Gospel Reading

On this the last Sunday before Christmas, our Gospel reading prepares us to witness Christ’s birth by showing us how Jesus was recognized as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah even before his birth. The Gospel turns our attention from the ministry of John the Baptist to the events that preceded John the Baptist’s birth. The story of John the Baptist and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are reported only in Luke’s Gospel. Luke pairs the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, establishing John’s early connection to the Messiah.

Our Gospel reading recalls Mary’s actions after the announcement of Jesus’ birth by the angel Gabriel. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also with child. Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God’s plan for salvation. If we were to continue to read the verses that follow in Luke’s Gospel, we would hear Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God’s history of showing favor upon the people of Israel.

In Luke’s Gospel the Holy Spirit helps reveal Jesus’ identity as God to those who believe. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and sings Mary’s praise because she bears the Lord. We sing these words of praise to Mary in the Hail Mary. Even John the Baptist, the unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb, is said to recognize the presence of the Lord and leaps for joy.

It is appropriate in this season of Advent that we consider the role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Elizabeth describes Mary as the first disciple, as the one who believed that God’s word to her would be fulfilled. Mary’s faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people’s history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to everyone. Because of this, Mary is a model and symbol of the Church. May we be like Mary, open and cooperative in God’s plan for salvation.-loyolapress.com

SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast celebrates God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of Jesus. God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Thus, Mary was the first to receive the benefit of the redemption that her Son would merit for all.

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