Do you think that your prayer requests are not answered fast enough? Or that your prayer requests are ignored by God? Do you suppose that God is withholding any good from you because you’re not perfect? By now (if you haven’t skipped any chapters of this book) you know that this isn’t true. However, worry is easily triggered when our prayers are not answered. They are triggered by old messages from which we have not yet been completely healed.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
(Psalm 84:11 NIV)
Father God is your Doting Daddy. You are favored. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for you; this includes sending his Son Jesus to Earth to suffer and die for your sins so you won’t have to do it. If he did that for you, of course he’ll do anything else that will help you spend eternity with him in Heaven. Whatever you ask, if it’s within his kingdom, he will do it for you. It’s never a matter of, “Will You, Father?” It’s always a matter of trusting him for the “when” and “how”.
In Psalm 84, do you get stuck at the word “blameless”? Okay. Who among us is totally blameless when we pray? Not me. Not you. Not anyone on Earth. To get unstuck so that we are free to enjoy fruitful prayer lives, let’s look at what “blameless” means in scripture. It’s not synonymous with the word “perfect”. So keep reading Psalm 84. The next verse gives us a clue about what it means to be blameless before the Lord:
Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
To be blameless before the Lord means that we are trusting him. It does not mean that we never sin. What it does mean is that we prefer not to sin. We prefer to be holy. We prefer to be like our Abba-Father. And we repent every time we realize we have sinned.
For example, in the story of Job we read that he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1 NIV). Only Jesus totally avoided sinning (because he was God) and Mary his Blessed Mother (because she was conceived without the effects of Original Sin). Job is like the rest of us. He was considered blameless because he preferred the ways of God even when he was grievously tested.
Do the following words of Psalm 101 sound like you?
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.
Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.
My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.
No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.
Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.
Those were verses 3-8 (NIV). Now let’s look at the preface to it, verses 1 and 2 (NIV):
I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life —
when will you come to me?
I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.
King David wrote this song and sang it heartily to the Lord. He meant every word. But don’t think he was perfect. He was blameless but he was definitely not guiltless. We too are blameless if we love the Lord more than we love the ways of sin and we work at growing in holiness daily.
As you look at Psalm 101, rejoice in the ones that describe you. The Father is patting you on the back for getting this far on your spiritual journey. Take everything else to the Sacrament of Confession. Make the commitment to work on these areas until you can check them off the list too. The Father will be very, very pleased with your commitment. He has given the Holy Spirit to you so you can make great progress in holiness. This is what it means to be blameless.
Prayer is like a love letter
When you ask for something in prayer, does it feel like you have to make God change his mind about something? “Please, God, heal my friend who has cancer.” As if he didn’t want to do it, but maybe since you asked, he’ll do it anyway.
Let’s dig a little deeper. What I’m really asking you, my friend, is: How strong is your trust? How much do you trust the Father’s goodness? For you? After you say “amen”, do you get up from your prayer chair feeling lighter, happier, and joyful because you’ve put the whole matter into the Father’s hands?
I hope that by the end of this chapter, your prayer times will feel like — more than ever before — an exchange of love between you and the Father. What matters most is the time spent in prayer, not what you prayed for. Is it quality time? Like you’re sitting on your Divine Daddy’s lap and you really don’t want this time to end.
One of my very special times with Abba-Father is first thing in the morning when I’m out in the yard with my dog. The day is fresh. It’s a new beginning, and since I love new things, I delight in the newness of the day with all of its potential still ahead of me. So I start my prayers by admiring the colors of the sunrise or the dew on the grass (my slippers are getting wet, but that’s okay) or the fresh scent of rain that’s lingering on the leaves of the trees (I’m glad it stopped raining before the dog needed to go out). This is a wordless prayer. This is my morning dose of giving love and receiving love with the Father.
Then I say out loud, “Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this day. Bless this day and help me to return it to You as a gift that You will enjoy.”
At this point, I start slipping off of Daddy’s lap. My mind shifts to the dog. Oops! Okay, refocus.
Back securely in his arms, I go through a series of other morning prayers, which I continue while I’m on my porch sipping hot tea. It’s a personal liturgy that I call “Tea Time with the Lord”.
My other most-favorite special time with Abba-Father is what I shared with you on Day 12, the Golden Moment of Holy Mass.
These and other prayer times are very comfortable. Very intimate. Very relaxed. But don’t think it’s always like this for me. I still have prayers of angst — the type of prayers that are based on worry or fear or trials. I’m still working toward the goal of making all of my prayer times to be love exchanges that include prayer requests instead of prayer requests that include an exchange of love.
When I was a teenager, I sometimes wrote notes to my parents and left them on their bed pillows. I did this after an argument had left me feel unheard or misunderstood. When I failed to get my point across with spoken words, I put them into writing. This sometimes had good results. My parents read these notes after the heat of the moment had passed; they sought me out to discuss it further and calmly.
This was like a prayer request that included an exchange of love. In contrast, my love letters to Ralph were like love exchanges that sometimes included requests.
Have you ever written a love letter to Father God? This will be the spiritual exercise for today. But first we need to get rid of some misconceptions and reinforce your trust in God. By living consciously — paying attention to the misconceptions we need to replace with God’s truth — we grow in faith, joy, and trust in the Father’s love.
Prayer is not so much a conversation with God as it is an exchange of love. Much can happen in our prayer requests that have no words. It’s the language of the heart. All heart. In his tremendous love for us, Abba-Father’s heart mingles with our hearts, placing within us his desires, which we in turn offer to him as prayer requests — often without realizing that he placed the desire within us in the first place.
When a bad situation is worrying you, how do you pray about it? Worry is a red flag warning us that there are triggers that we still need to dismantle. Are you worried that the situation might never end or that it will end badly? This happens when we do not fully trust God. Are you worried that God doesn’t care, doesn’t listen to you, or is waiting for you to reach sainthood? This too happens because we don’t fully trust God.
“Can you add a single hour to your life by worrying?” Jesus asks, rhetorically. “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why worry about anything else? Look at the birds. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” He sighs. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and you’ll receive everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Just focus on today. Each day has its own troubles.” (See Matthew 6:26-27, Luke 12:26, and Matthew 6:33-34.)
Saint Marie V. Therese Couderc (1805-1885) said, “God always gives more than we ask.”
Do you suppose that God is withholding anything good from you? Why would he do that? Is it because you’re not doing everything the way he says you should? That would be like saying he refuses to be good to you until you’re good. Do you see how silly that is? It’s quite impossible for God to be “not good”.
None of us can walk without blame every day of our lives and every moment of our days. This is why Christ has given us the gift of the Sacrament of Confession, which is also appropriately called Reconciliation. And this is why the Catholic Mass includes a Penitential Rite. The Penitential Rite fully absolves us of sins unless we are not willing to change. (Grave sins, which have pulled us so far from grace that we’ve endangered our eternal souls, need more than a public rite. They need the full Sacrament of Reconciliation, one-on-one with God through a priest.)
Of course, the Penitential Rite is a meaningless ritual if we don’t consciously bring to mind our sins and desire God’s forgiveness. And since the Penitential Rite is short, zipping by too fast for a good examination of conscience, we should arrive at Mass prepared for it. For example, when I realize I’ve sinned again, I send a quick, quiet prayer to the Father: “Hey, at the Penitential Rite tomorrow, this is what I need you to forgive. Thanks, Abba!”
All of the various life-changing elements of the Holy Liturgy of the Eucharist give us the opportunity to walk without blame. Continually participating in Mass can produce an ever-increasing holiness. Daily Mass speeds up the process. If it’s available where you live but your schedule interferes with getting to daily Mass, ask God to make it possible. If your circumstances suddenly change, don’t complain but realize that God is working another miracle in your life.
God does not withhold good from you just because you’re imperfect. That is more of a human trait than a divine trait. He even answers the prayers of sinners! Jesus often healed a person first and then told him or her to “go and sin no more”. He didn’t wait for people to prove their holiness before giving them a miracle. He didn’t back then and he still doesn’t; he hasn’t changed.
What matters to God is that we put real effort into growing in holiness, one day at a time, one small step forward at a time.
Praying in the name of Jesus
Jesus said, “Which of you parents, if your son asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, would you give him a snake? If you give good gifts to your children, imagine how much more your heavenly Father wants to give good gifts to those who ask him!” (See Matthew 7:9-11.)
When you were a child, who did you go to first when you wanted your parents to buy something for you? My kids went to their dad first. Ralph would complain to me that the kids treated him like a “walking wallet”, but he enjoyed doting on them. He liked being generous with them. (He still does.) I, on the other hand, tended to be more practical. I needed to be convinced that it was a good decision.
Abba-Father does not need to be convinced. If it’s good for us (or for whomever we’re praying), the answer to our prayer requests is on its way, already planned out. Although it might take some time to implement, God’s creative power went into action the first moment we began to turn our thoughts to asking him for help. And if what we desire in prayer was placed in our hearts by the Father’s heart, you can believe with all confidence that he’s already doing something about it.
But do we always see him this way? Any time we cajole him or try to make a deal with him, we’re acting on the misconception that his mind needs to be changed. For example, if we promise, “I’ll start going to daily Mass if You give me that financial help I’ve been waiting for”, we’re assuming that he needs to be bribed. We might not realize we’re doing it, but a prayer that contains no bribe would go like this: “I’ll start going to daily Mass because I want to grow in holiness and I want to feel closer to You. Thank You for the financial help You will provide at the right moment from the right source.”
God wants to answer your prayers because you are you. He cherishes you even with all your faults. Every prayer request would literally start with a “thank you” if we understood this.
Prayer is an exchange of love with the Father.
Another misconception we sometimes have is that God sorts through our prayer requests like he’s stingy. Any time we list all the reasons why a prayer request is important, we are treating God as a father who is not eager to generously dote on us.
Jesus urges us to expect the Father to answer our prayers out of his great love for us.
“In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27-28 NIV)
Notice that Jesus said we are to take our prayer requests directly to the Father, in his name.
Why his name? What does it mean to ask “in the name of Jesus”? Why not all three Persons of the Trinity? Remember that Jesus is our Mediator. Therefore we go through Jesus to reach the Father. As we pass through Jesus, we are cleansed by the blood of his sacrifice. When the Father looks at us and our prayer requests, he sees us as the beautiful gem that he created.
And the Holy Spirit is our Advocate. When we don’t know what to pray because of the intensity of the problem or because we don’t have enough information upon which to base our prayers, the Holy Spirit delivers to the Father the wordless yearnings that dwell deep in our hearts.
To pray in the name of Jesus means to pray in the personality of Jesus and in the love of Jesus and in the sacrifices of Jesus and in the Sonship of Jesus and everything else that is Jesus. During the time when the scriptures were written, doing anything in the name of someone was to do it on his behalf.
Too often, we tack the name “Jesus” at the end of our prayers like it’s an exclamation point. Or like we’re stamping our request with a seal that makes it officially Christian. We treat it like a magic word even though we know that prayer has nothing to do with magic.
The name of Jesus does have power. But the power is in his authority over evil, his authority to implement the Father’s will, and his authority over our lives. And praying “in the name of Jesus” is powerful only when we say it in the context of an exchange of love. There are many men in this world who are named Jesus, especially in Latin America. The name itself has no power.
Many years ago, I learned from an ex-satanist that Satan worshippers infiltrate Christian churches quite often, but only where the people lack personal relationships with the Holy Spirit and are therefore not active in the gifts of the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s charism of the discernment of spirits, they don’t recognize the evil that’s in their midst. Satanists blend in, pretending to be Christians. They even baptize their children.
“How does this not save them from Satan?” I asked my friend.
“Easy,” he said. “When they say the name ‘Jesus’, they think of some guy in South America.”
Praying in the name of Jesus means that we are to pray like Jesus prayed. We communicate with Abba-Father, like Jesus did, in a father and son (or daughter) exchange of love. Our asking for his divine help is then an expression of our love for the Father as well as for whomever it is that we’re praying. Our requests are communicated with an awareness that the Father is loving us more deeply, more actively, and more adoringly than any human ever could.
We don’t ask in order to change God’s mind, for he already wants what we want if it’s good and if it will bring his kingdom to earth more fully. Memorize this! He already wants what we want! Imagine that. Petitioning God is only a matter of communicating — in a mutual exchange of love — what we already both want!
The problem is, most of us need help arriving at this truth. We have been tricked into disbelieving it by the examples that gave us wrong information about God. Once again we need to differentiate between God the Father and human fathers. Our human parents and other people have not always given us what we requested, even when it was God’s will that they should. We’ve learned since early childhood that we can increase the likelihood of getting what we ask for by throwing temper tantrums or promising better grades or making a convincing argument. Manipulation works. But not with God. And then we wonder why God is letting us down.
Manipulation is not love. God never manipulates us. Sure, he manipulates circumstances, but he lavishes upon us such freedom of will that it’s impossible for him to even consider manipulating us into doing his will. His love is completely unconditional.
On the other hand, conditional love is built into our experiences so deeply (often called codependency) that it seems perfectly natural to expect it from God and to apply it to how we treat God. Watch out for manipulation sneaking into your prayers! For example, praying a novena (a set of prayers for nine days) can be either a sacrifice of time motivated by love or an attempt to bribe God (“If I do this prayer dutifully for nine days, You will give me what I want.”)
The first time I prayed a novena as a new Catholic was in the late 1970s, I offered it for a loved one who had signed a contract to buy a condo in a nudist community. For all kinds of reasons I worried about this. The urgency of the matter motivated me to try a novena of the Rosary. Amazingly, after only three days, the deal collapsed and she changed her mind.
I wondered, “Am I required to finish all nine days of this novena?” Of course not. Sometimes we do need to fulfill our commitment by completing the novena, but God is not a legalist. The novena is not a contract, nor is it a bribe. My willingness to make a sacrifice of time because of love for my friend was all that the Father had wanted from me.
God gives us the desires of our hearts
Abba-Father’s greatest desire for us is to live by faith, hope and love: the faith to trust him, the confident hope of spending eternity with him, and the love that we receive from him here and now, which we share with others. Anything you desire that aids these three essentials of faith is a desire that God has planted in you heart.
A popular type of manipulation today is to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down when selling a house. In 1994, Ralph and I put our New Jersey house on the market so we could move to Florida. When too many months passed and the situation was getting dire, friends advised us to bury a St. Joseph statue. “Surely that gives him a headache!” I joked. “Why would he want to be buried in the yard and upside down?”
Ralph and I considered the truth behind the superstition: St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the home. So we sat down together, held hands in prayer, and asked the Father, in the name of Jesus, to sell our house quickly. We asked St. Joseph to pray for this, too. Thirty seconds after we said “amen”, the phone rang. It was a real estate agent. She had a client who wanted to see our house. A half hour later, they arrived. By the end of the day, they gave us a contract to buy the house.
As much as St. Joseph is patron of the home, Abba-Father is infinitely more so. God already wanted our house to sell. Remember, he already wants what we want if it’s good and if it will bring his kingdom more fully to Earth. By moving to Florida, although we didn’t know it yet, we would build Good News Ministries of Tampa Bay, which has gone global and is still very active.
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)
Put the emphasize on “give”. When we are in a good father-child relationship with Abba, he puts his own desires into our hearts. We do not need to convince him with temper tantrums or promises to become better Christians or any convincing argument. He had the idea first and then he convinced us!
Every prayer (including petitions) should be an intimate dialog with the Father. For example:
Human: “Good morning, Abba! Thank You for the gift of this day. Please help me get that job I applied for. Or else my family is going to suffer financial disaster.”
Abba: “Trust me, my beloved child. That company will make you miserable. But I did place in you the desire to find work. Look elsewhere.”
Well, usually God does not give us a forewarning so clearly. However, we do understand that the words “trust me” comes with a darn good reason. The thing is, are we going to trust him so much that we relax? I don’t mean we fall asleep waiting. We have to keep our eyes open and our prayer-ears listening for God to say, “Now! Go there. Do that. Knock on that door and it will be opened for you.” Meanwhile, we’re relaxing in his superior plan, his wisdom, and his genuinely deep concern for each of us.
While waiting for the results of our prayers, it’s easy to wonder: What if I miss opportunities when I relax? What if by relaxing I become lazy? What if by relaxing I don’t try hard enough? What if by relaxing the problems get worse because I’m trusting too much in God? These questions especially come to mind when we’ve tried our best and nothing happens or it gets worse.
In reality, “nothing” never happens. In other words, something always happens whenever we entrust our prayer requests to our Father. It only feels like nothing happens because it’s too soon for the fantastic plan that God is implementing.
Trusting God so much that we actually relax is not the same as doing nothing. We must try our best to be part of the solution to the problems we pray about. God wants a partnership with us. If we have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and we have the charisms that come with it, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us on what to do, when to do it, and what to say. But remember that he gives this kind of help exactly when we need it, not sooner (see Matthew 10:19).
A popular saying is, “God helps those who help themselves.” This can be misleading. Many people assume that they must first do everything possible and then leave the rest to God. The danger with this is that we too easily put ourselves in charge. We plan and plot and try to make a difference, and then when we fail, we finally turn to God for help. God wants a partnership with us that gives him the lead.
To entrust our prayer requests to Abba-Father is to relax in his love. It’s an active (not passive) relaxation. It’s a peace we feel while praying in joyful hope as our guardian angels tell us, “God’s got this.” It’s a quiet readiness to spring into action when the Holy Spirit says, “Now! Go and _____.”
When you pray in the name of Jesus, think of: “in the love of Jesus — my love for him and his love for us and Jesus’ love for the Father and the Father’s love for the Son.” Praying in the love of Jesus is powerful because of the concern he has for us and the authority he has over evil. This authority came from the Father’ love and is empowered by the Holy Spirit in an outward activity of love.
Praying in the love of Jesus also means “I want what Jesus wants,” knowing that Jesus sees a much bigger picture than we do regarding the circumstances of our prayer request. Jesus wants what the Father wants, and the Father wants what Jesus wants. Praying to the Father in the name of Jesus is a loving union of divine desire.
Such prayer is effective because God is already speaking the answer of the prayer into reality. He desired it before we did, and he planted this desire in our hearts. We have but to participate in the loving union of divine desire by asking, thanking, and trusting. We entrust the timing and the ways and means to God (all three Persons of the Trinity).
The breaking of this union of love is what blocks the process of answered prayer. It happens often and all too easily. Any time we insist on doing things our own way, we are interfering with the holy union of divine desire. Likewise, praying for others is probably the most difficult challenge because their free will blocks God’s plans. It’s much easier to pray for the rain to stop!
Summer in Florida where I live has thunderstorms nearly every day. When it’s raining, I usually ask God to stop the rain at my destination by the time I reach it, and sure enough, I receive what I asked for. Jeanie has a similar relationship with the Father. She experiences miracles nearly every day. She says, “I ask our Lord to free up a parking spot for me as I enter a super full parking area. Since God is a God of details, I even ask him for the small, incidental stuff, and often get it!”
Perhaps you too have discovered how easy it is to receive a miracle in matters that don’t involve interference from the free will of others. Do you have people in your life for whom you’ve been praying a marathon of pleas for many years? And you’re still waiting? God is waiting, too — but not passively.
I had been praying for 20 years for a loved one to return to the faith and to his family. During that time, Abba-Father has continually ministered to me. When I cried, I climbed into his lap and he comforted me, and I felt his tears.
This, by the way, is how to wait with faith, hope and love instead of doubt, anxiety and fear. We climb into the embrace of our Divine Daddy. We continue praying with determination and sometimes with tears. We give our tears to the Father. We meditate on his compassion, his power, or whatever aspect of his goodness that we need from him at that moment.
Saint Nilus of Sinai (d. 430) advised:
Do not grieve if you do not at once receive from God that which you ask. He wishes to benefit you still more by making you persist longer in your patient prayer before Him. For what can be higher than to address one’s converse to God and be in communion with Him?
And Bishop Robert Barron has said:
One reason that we don’t receive what we want through prayer is that we give up too easily. What could be behind this rule of prayer? Augustine said that God sometimes delays in giving us what we want because he wants our hearts to expand. The more ardently we desire something, the more ready we are when it comes, the more we treasure it. The very act of asking persistently is accomplishing something spiritually important. So, when the Lord seems slow to answer your prayer, never give up.
Several times I asked God, “What’s the point of praying for this same person again today? You’ve got it. I’ve turned him over to you. Is it right to do this every day or does it mean that I haven’t truly entrusted him to you and let go?”
His reply: “You have been experiencing a small portion of what I feel about the countless people around the world who are choosing a life of sin instead of turning to Me. This is union with Me. Thank you.”
On other occasions he’s replied with: “Every prayer you offer to Me for this person is like a gold coin being dropped into a piggy bank. The size of this bank keeps expanding as you keep praying. Someday, when this person turns back to Me and your prayers for him finally reach fruition, this bank will break open and the contents will pour over him, showering him with My Grace. The more you pray, the more glorious will be the graces he receives.”
He has also told me: “This man will do great things for My kingdom.” I heard that one almost audibly. So instead of waiting with grief or anxiety, I wait with hope and peace. I trust in the future reality that Abba-Father has revealed to me. God, who lives in eternity where there are no calendars and clocks, has already answered my prayers. Time just needs to catch up with reality.
One day, about 15 years after this man chose to follow the voices of demons, I heard in my heart, very distinctly: “It is good.” In that very instant I received more than those three words. God wasn’t telling me that this man’s choices were good. He was telling me that it’s good for the family that he was not actively in our lives. And that was just the first of many benefits.
Simultaneously, in that moment of hearing “it is good”, the Father filled me with so much peace that it completely and permanently replaced all of the anguish I had been suffering for so long. I never asked him to relieve my suffering this way. He gave it to me because he cares.
No prayer is unproductive when it’s an exchange of love with Abba-Father. In all of my unanswered prayers and in everything that I’ve waited for, God has worked miracles. And I’ve learned important lessons, many of which I’ve been sharing with you in this book.
Jeanie’s story explains what happens when we pray persistently:
For many years one of my brothers was an active alcoholic. After losing several jobs and returning to drinking after a court-ordered rehab program, he finally lost his driver’s license permanently due to repeatedly driving intoxicated and having a car accident. I thanked God that he didn’t injure or kill anyone. About 35 years of prayer passed before he stopped drinking! When I asked him why and how he did it, he said he just decided to stop and then did it. As sorry as I was to see how he had ruined a period of his life, I’m thinking that God wanted my brother to desire to give up drinking.
Write a love letter to Father God
Immerse yourself in the love exchange that exists between you and your Divine Daddy. Start by thinking only about his goodness. He has so much goodness to share with you! Begin your love letter with thankful appreciation for the ways he has been good to you. Tell him what that feels like. (Of course he knows it already, but this writing exercise will help you know it more surely.)
Feel free to tell him everything and anything you want him to hear. But when describing problems, instead of being a faithless complainer, thank him for already implementing a plan though you cannot see it yet.
Do you know what he is telling you in reply? Remember, prayer is an exchange of love. It’s not one-sided.
Father God is saying to you, “I’ve got this. Thank you for joining me in waiting for time to catch up to reality. And all those beautiful words you wrote about my goodness? I feel the same way about you. I see that same goodness in you, even when it’s buried beneath sin. I know your heart and it is joined to My heart. Come and sit with Me awhile, My precious child. Let’s bask in the love that we have for each other.”
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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