Redemptive Suffering and the Phony Victim Complex

Frank - crucified

Frank - crucified

Genuine, spiritually powerful redemptive suffering  does exist as a genuine call from God. However, what most of us experience is far from redemptive, because our suffering is not in union with Christ’s suffering.

Redemptive suffering is not long-faced misery, because it is life-giving and life-affirming as we live in, with and through Christ our Saviour. This suffering might involve physical pain, but  it is lived in the Light, in peace and in joy. When we are no longer the centre of attention, but we chose to make Jesus Christ the centre, all heavy, psychological despair and mental anguish dissipates like insubstantial mist under the burning sunlight.

It takes humility to realize our miserable, self-inflicted suffering does not save anyone, least of all ourselves. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour really goes against our grain as human beings because we want to earn our salvation, purify ourselves by suffering  out of a misplaced sense of guilt. Ironically, it usually takes suffering to break down our ego and pride.

Once exhausted by trying to save ourselves, we often must hit rock bottom before we are desperate enough to change, to let go of our pride and control and surrender in humility to Christ our Saviour. A drowning man realizes he needs to be saved. A sick man grasps the truth that he needs to be healed.

The words from Isaiah 58:5-6 are like brilliant beams of light, cutting through any false notions we might have about this season of repentance that we call Lent.

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Yes, we tend to think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when we do so, we become morose and end up centering more on our own sacrificial devotions than on God. Lent is a time to get rid of the flub in our lives but only so we are able to connect more to the Heart of our Beloved, and more on the people around us who are in need. Lent is not an excuse for dramatic acts of fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, figuratively or literally.

Our Father is not interested in such spectacles which simply focus on ourselves and our sins. As mortals. we are all the same. As St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. (Romans: 3:23) This fact is a given. The truly repentant man, the sort of man who is acceptable to God, is described in the Psalms. A repentant man is contrite, humbly acknowledging his sin in simplicity, trusting more in God’s mercy than any of his own heroic acts of supposed repentance. It is God alone who washes us from guilt, who cleanses us from sin. He is not concerned with mere outer actions of repentance like sacrifices but on our inner attitude. Only a humble and contrite heart will do.

Not only is God looking for an attitude of true humility but He desires positive actions. We all fall into the dubious habit of asking, ”So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” Wrong question folks. Isaiah 58:6-11 is quite clear,

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Then the Scripture breaks into words of glorious joy, inspiring hope in all of us mere humans because positive acts of mercy, love and concern shine like beacons of light into this world of ours. God will then forgive us and vindicate us. He will answer our prayers with mercy because we have shown mercy in positive acts of love and concern to those in need.

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39 thoughts on “Redemptive Suffering and the Phony Victim Complex”

  1. Apostle of Divine Mercy

    We must have compassion for those who suffer for victims of rape, murder, abuse,incest, bullying, or any one who feels alienated in any way is truly in need of our intercession in spiritual and physical ways. I think we should be careful to any effort to find God “phony suffering” for it is difficult to know the mind of another, and in fact the Message of Divine Mercy given by Jesus to Saint Faustina encourages us to intercede for others in compassion, prayer and works of mercy. We all can encourage each other to offer up suffering in union with Jesus, not in judgement of where they are spiritually but as a sister and brother in Christ, encouraging us to become more like Jesus on Earth. I find it offensive that you use the words “phony victim” for suffering is relative to the mental, emotional, and physical condition of the person, and only God knows their heart. Many disbelieved Saint Faustina was suffering, and perhaps we should let God judge who is really suffering in union with Him. Perhaps you are only speaking about your own suffering, but as a mother I am sure that you really suffer when your children are hurt, and we can offer this up to God in a redemptive way. Jesus I Trust in You. See the Marian Web Page for more information on the Chaplet of Mercy and the Feast of Divine Mercy. http://thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/praythechaplet.phpa

    1. melanie jean juneau

      I am not denying the reality of redemptive suffering. I also agree we must have compassion for those who suffer

      Perhaps the word phony is too harsh because our intentions are good- we do desire to unite our suffering with Christ’s. However, first we must be transformed by the Holy Spirit till we are able to say with St. Paul,”No longer I that lives but Christ that lives in me.” It is presumptuous to think our suffering is redemptive, will save us and those around us. Only Christ’s suffering saves man- that is why He came to earth.

      When we dig deeper, with the help of a spiritual director, we usually discover the driving force behind our penitential, lifestyle is a deep, hidden guilt, a need to punish ourselves in the hope that this suffering will purify us and save those around us. Rather we are called to humility, knowing we need a Savior, that we cannot redeem ourselves by our own efforts. Once we surrender our pride, then our suffering can become united to Christ’s.

      Even dedicated religious usually get this wrong and are shocked when someone reveals their inner motives. Those who desire to grow closer to God are relieved and set free when they let go of a victim complex and accept Christ on a deeper level. Their sufferings are transformed, not as much of a burden because God now carries their yoke with them.
      THEN, we can live out true the Catholic understanding of redemptive suffering.

  2. melanie jean juneau

    This article is a call to live Catholic spirituality, to embrace true redemptive suffering and to live an authentic penitential lifestyle.

    Too often we say, “I offer up my suffering” or I unite my suffering to Christ’s” but we do not go deep enough into His Holy Spirit; we are merely giving lip service to the process. Dying to self is not a matter of saying a few prayers or even a matter of wanting it. The process of becoming one with Christ is a long journey. We need to understand this, and with the help of a spiritual director not assume we have reached this ideal.

    Yes, I did have an epiphany which transformed me; suddenly I could embrace my difficult life with joy. When I live solely in my head, intellectualizing my faith, I am grim and rely on my own strength to try and lift my suffering up to God. When I live only in my battered soul, my wounded emotions, I am weary and miserable.

    BUT, when I surrender my ego and pride and allow Christ to take control, He plunges me into His Spirit. I am living in Him and he carries the burden. Same life events, same pain but now there is am inner joy because the Resurrected Christ rises up within my puny spirit and He suffuses me with His life, light, presence. “The joy of the Lord is my Strength”

  3. On the surface this article does present as someone who has had an epiphany moment, all has become clear. However the opinion that you pose is against the precepts of the catholic church.
    Suffering in itself is not necessarily redemptive, but when you unite your suffering to the crucified Christ, your suffering is transformed. You can also offer your suffering up to God for the conversion of sinners, for souls in purgatory, for the sick etc, or even as penance for your own sins, remember although through confession your sins are forgiven expedition is still required.

    The church has always called for penance and penance is self inflicted suffering.

    Pope john Paul applied physical self mortification regularly.

    By your article you had the affront, through lack of thought I would suggest to reduce the suffering that people experience in their lives, tell them they are indeed full of self pride, and assure them that all that pain they feel means nothing in the end, it cannot be used to help your own salvation or anybody else.

    You reduce it to vanity all is vanity.

    Yet you proclaim yourself a catholic and you deliver a sermon that is against the teachings of the catholic church from the earliest of times.

    If you have a moment look up The life offering, given by Jesus himself to a Hungarian nun with full church approval. Jesus specifically request people,especially those who are suffering,and even dying to offer this suffering for the salvation of poor sinners. His request is serious indeed.

    People with mental illness, people with physical disabilities,those carrying illnesses not to mention those starving, and the martyrs in the middle was and Africa, some of those people have been burnt to death, you tell me their suffering means nothing and all it is is pride filled?

    I would suggest, before you send people off with an erroneous view of the catholic church, that you really find out how the church views penance and suffering.

    May God bless you

    1. You are missing the point and twisting my words.- This article is a call to live true Catholic spirituality, to embrace true redemptive suffering and to live an authentic penitential lifestyle.

      Too often we say, “I offer up my suffering” or I unite my suffering to Christ’s” but we do not go deep enough into His Holy Spirit; we are merely giving lip service to the process. Dying to self is not a matter of saying a few prayers or even a matter of wanting it. The process of becoming one with Christ is a long journey. We need to understand this, and with the help of a spiritual director not assume we have reached this ideal.

      Yes, I did have an epiphany which transformed me; suddenly I could embrace my difficult life with joy. When I live solely in my head, intellectualizing my faith, I am grim and rely on my own strength to try and lift my suffering up to God. When I live only in my battered soul, my wounded emotions, I am weary and miserable.

      BUT, when I surrender my ego and pride and allow Christ to take control, He plunges me into His Spirit. I am living in Him and he carries the burden. Same life events, same pain but now there is am inner joy because the Resurrected Christ rises up within my puny spirit and He suffuses me with His life, light, presence. “The joy of the Lord is my Strength”

  4. SclrHmnst, Christianity is indeed the very acme of wishful thinking, but why should the truth, itself, be ugly, not to be wished for, not to be hoped for, undesirable?

    And since Hope is no less than one of the theological virtues, why would God not have made our lives and destiny to be rewarded by these most extravagant of hopes and wishes? He made this universe with its billions of galaxies for li’l’ ole us. God is clearly crazy about us, and nothing is too good for us in his eyes, although we do need the perspective of eternity to appreciate it even when under the cosh (blackjack).

    Chesterton expressed that aspect of the matter in a very neat epigram:

    “It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”

  5. When your legs are hanging off, your heart’s ripped apart and your soul shredded – how do go about smiling and singing “praise Jesus hallelujah!”

    How do you reach that place ? I am serious – show me and I’ll certainly give it a go. I just want to say, “Oh take it and shove it ! I’ve had it with this crap.”

    Which is also a valid response according to the Scriptures and psalms. ?

    1. Only when we are utterly fed up with our circumstances are we willing to change because letting go of our crown as king or queen of our tiny world is frightening. It means surrendering our whole paradigm, our whole worldview and admitting we are wrong. So I usually react with joy when a friend reaches the breaking point and joins you to yell in frustration and anger, “Oh take it and shove it! I’ve had it with this crap.”

      Words are powerful. Even if it seems foolish, when we verbally surrender our victim complex, give up our scapegoat role to God, asking Him to become the sacrificial lamb for us- there is a radical shift. Often people experience immediate relief and even laugh with joy.

  6. The sweeping generalizations in this article are rather irritating to me. I know of no one who is taking on dramatic acts of fasting or self-inflicted punishments, etc., etc. What I see are average folks having to put up with the oppressiveness of evil people. Good Catholics being insulted by their parish priest who puts on a dramatic, spiritually empty act during the homily and thinks it’s a sermon. I see Good Catholic parents having to jump through hoops and pay upwards of $125 per kid for all the empty, spiritually bereft activities they & their children have to go through to get their kids confirmed. And what, we are supposed to take this sitting down and be nice and composed about it all? Sorry, but I’m mad as hell. But you would like to preach that “…what most of us experience is far from redemptive, because our suffering is not in union with Christ’s suffering.” This comment is particularly arrogant.

    1. melanie jean juneau

      I am glad you are “mad as hell”. Believe it or not, I completely agree with you. I realize your inner spirit is reacting with righteous indignation to evil and wishy- washy religion. In union with the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to speak out, to be a light in the darkness, to counter empty religion with true spirituality.

      I am speaking rather about a suffering which arises out of our own inner, personal guilt. Embracing self- imposed suffering in the vain attempt to sanctify ourselves because only God can sanctify us.

    2. I agree. Plenty of presumption in this article’s scribblings. The word that comes to mind in the various wispy tangled phrasings and sentiments is “vapid.”

    3. melanie jean juneau

      Perhaps our disagreement is a matter of semantics. I agree the poor, the Anawim who suffer are blessed, loved by God in a special way but their suffering does not redeem them or others. Only Christ’s suffering and death has the power to redeem and save. The reason Christ had to be born, suffer, die and resurrect was to save man from sin but also disease and oppression. “By his wounds we are healed”. Unless we suffer united to His Love, our suffering is not redemptive.

    4. Joseph – My topic is the exact opposite of vapid or wispy. I am speaking about becoming brutally honest with ourselves and our spiritual attitudes.

      I have walked with priests, religious and staunch pillars of Catholic parishes, as we have “taken on ourselves” and torn away all phony posturing. We all discover that we have stolen God’s job by becoming scapegoats, victims, suffering for our own sense of guilt and for the sins of others.And we discover we are not as humble, or as Christ like as we had thought.

      Most of us deny it and justify our stance. Once we see the reality of egocentric spirituality and renounce this false position, our outer suffering might remain the same but inwardly Christ is now the victim sacrifice, bearing our burdens, dying to set us free. When our eyes are on Christ, then He becomes the centre of our consciousness and not ourselves, then the inner joy of the Holy Spirit replaces misery.

    5. Ye, I agree with you, Donna, on this subject of redemption. If anything I wish more people understood that the only way any of their suffering will not have proved redemptive, is if they ‘don’t make the cut’, prove not to be children of light, destined for heaven. That we are all ‘other Christs’ albeit in embryo, is something I believe the church has been derelict in inculcating in the flock. It is an area in which that saying, ‘All things work together for good o them that love God’ would be applicable.’

      On Mt Tabor, when Jesus was transfigured, it wasn’t that he was suddenly glorified (indeed, the greatest manifestation of his glory was his passion and crucifixion), but that it was suddenly and temporarily made visible as a SIGN of his glory.

      When you consider the description of Christ as the Suffering Servant in Isiah – I would imagine, more a description of him during his hidden years – it gives us a clue also as to why Jesus designated the poor in his Beatitudes as blessed. When Francis visits the villas miserias, he is, in a certain real sense, walking on holy ground, the ground regularly hallowed by the passage to and fro of those Anawim, whom he is also blessed by through his compassionate interaction with them.

      Perhaps, some of the young women are unmarried mothers, and the men not strangers to thieving, and perhaps when they go to Mass, their demeanour sometimes lacks restraint, but only God knows what oppressive stresses, disappointments and shame they must habitually have to contend with. And I expect this would apply ‘in spades’ to the homeless rough-sleepers even more, although I think only in the US would there be homeless families.

    6. Perhaps our disagreement is a matter of semantics. I agree the poor, the Anawim who suffer are blessed, loved by God in a special way but their suffering does not redeem them or others. Only Christ’s suffering and death has the power to redeem and save. The reason Christ had to be born, suffer, die and resurrect was to save man from sin but also disease and oppression. “By his wounds we are healed”. Unless we suffer united to His Love, our suffering is not redemptive.

    7. I’m glad to see this. I suffer on the. Cross thirty years. My life is hell because at age 28 I trusted doctors and others. I’m alone in the world treated like garbage because I have been disabled sick a burden to a loveless mother who ruined me out of guilt and dem
      Niall at her roll in destroying me. Oh yeah she molested me or someone like father or half brother as a small child in middle of night. In 2008 I smashed pictures swore at them all. And God has allowed all hell to come against me.

      This writer is arrogant likely healthy as shores with her tribe of family. One week of my suffering would change her tune. Stop judging lady. Too many useless bloggers like her. Go visit the est homes and abandoned people unable to smile and show love not judgement. I never respond to any internet tripe but this b is really mean spirited. Adios to her.

    8. Sue- I am not unfeeling or mean-spirited to those of us who suffer. My life has been a difficult combination of poverty, a husband with clinical depression and dealing with my own inner demons of anxiety rooted in generational abuse. But none of my sufferings brought me salvation. The message of this article is we need a Saviour, especially when one has suffered like you.

  7. It seems like this article needs a clearer distinction between penance and suffering. With penance, I agree this should be accepted with a grateful heart and joyful face, and should focus on helping others, praying, and controlling appetites (almsgiving, prayer, fasting). Suffering is different though. If a person is suffering from debilitating pain, such as cancer, we wouldn’t judge them if they don’t appear to be living in “light, peace, and joy”. There are many sufferings such as poverty, death of children, abuse, etc., that cause real heartache and/or physical pain. While the Church teaches we can offer these up for souls, it would be discouraging if a person thought because he is experiencing “mental anguish” that he must not be making Jesus Christ the center, or that his suffering cannot be redemptive. I think what you’re trying to say is that each person should examine his own reasons for appearing “long-faced”, and should be careful not to focus inward, but to keep his eyes on Our Lord (that doesn’t mean it’s always wrong for us to be sad or long-faced). Also, that bad choices can lead to consequences that cause suffering (i.e., self-inflicted suffering). I agree. However, I am guilty of at times failing to look for ways to comfort someone in mental distress. It is unhelpful to judge that another’s (or our own) mental anguish is a result of selfishness. I imagine that Our Lord on the cross may not have been full of “light, peace, and joy”. Peace to you!

    1. melanie jean juneau

      I agree with your points however, my main thesis is man tries to redeem himself through penance and suffering out of deep-rooted pride rather than revealing all his sinfulness and throwing himself on the mercy of Christ.

      The same acts of penance can be rooted in humility but more often arise from a religious spirit which wants to come to God looking perfect, purified. This is a Pharisaical attitude.Often people must exhaust themselves and hit bottom before they call out to Jesus for salvation.

      In my experience, when I am living in Christ, connected to God, my inner spirit is lighter and more joyful than when I am living in my ego and emotions. Same day, same series of events, same physical pain but rather than bearing suffering alone, Christ bears my burdens with and for me and my emotions are transformed.

    2. “I agree with your points however, my main thesis is man tries to redeem himself through penance and suffering out of deep-rooted pride rather than revealing all his sinfulness and throwing himself on the mercy of Christ.” How do you know it’s prideful and Pharasaic?….’Let us read the lives of the saints; let us consider the penances which they performed, and blush to be so effeminate and so fearful of mortifying our flesh.’ St. Alphonsus de Liguori
      St. John of the Cross says, that he who teaches that exterior mortification is not necessary is not to be believed, although he should perform miracles. ‘
      ‘He who gives little important to exterior mortifications, claiming that interior mortifications are more perfect, clearly shows that he is not mortified at all, exteriorly nor interiorly.’ St. Vincent de Paul
      ‘Where there is no great mortification there is no great sanctity.’ St. Philip Neri
      ‘He who does not mortify his palate will neither know how to mortify his flesh.’ St. Paul of the Cross
      Mortification must always be done in humility and under the direction of a confessor or spiritual director. To judge that one does is out of pride and not love of God is strange to me and sounds well, pretty judgemental.

    3. melanie jean juneau

      When we begin the spiritual life we are filled with zeal, wanting to become saints, embrace heroic suffering with visions of becoming saints or even martyrs for the faith.Yet, inevitably these altruistic dreams are not rooted in humility- this is simply a fact of the spiritual walk.

      All of us are the same; our root sin as humans IS pride as illustrated by the story of Adam and Eve, who ate of the tree of knowledge, wanting to be as wise as God, trying to usurp God’s role.

      Perhaps I sound judgemental because this article is written in the third person rather that as a personal journal. My attitude is not as a judge but as a fellow sinner who is simply sharing an insight, shining a light into the tricky walk of transformation into His Presence on earth. So I can say, ” No longer I that lives but Christ that Lives in me. Then my suffering is redemptive, in Love

      We agree that everyone needs a spiritual director because our motives are never as altruistic as they appear on the surface.

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  9. Suffering is part of life. The reason we suffer is because good and bad things (from our perspective) happen either randomly or from some cause that was or wasn’t within our control. There may or may not be a purpose for our being here and for what does or doesn’t happen to us or to others.

    The Israelites would explain tragic events as punishment for not being faithful to their god. Christians see a redemptive value in suffering. Muslims blame Israel or the U.S.

    Nature uses suffering to teach us how to survive. We suffer hunger and thirst to remind us to eat and drink and exhaustion to tell us to rest. We suffer failure to learn to strive to succeed. We suffer loss to teach us to value what we have.

    It’s all good.

    1. melanie jean juneau

      Agreed. However, most of us are bound in guilt; we subconsciously think we deserve to be punished and twist our suffering as a payment for our sins. We look for suffering, so normal hardships become a means to keep us in prison by shutting out the love and light of God.

      We do not feel we deserve His love till we purify ourselves by our own efforts. In this light, we are stealing God’s job because what we are actually doing is not moving towards humility but to grandiose ideas of saving ourselves.

      This sort of attitude to our suffering is actually rooted in pride, not in humility.

      in God’s plan, all suffering can be put to “good” use, reminding us we are merely mortal, finite creatures who desperately need the salvation which comes from Christ.

    2. I don’t believe anyone needs salvation other than to be saved from self destructive habits that we might have such as drinking, smoking, addictions, compulsive lawlessness, etc.

    3. melanie jean juneau

      Really? Let me clarify; I am not speaking in the sense of an Evangelical who asks, “Are you saved?”

      I am referring to the inner , spiritual transformation where we come to the point of saying with St. Paul,”No longer I that lives but Christ that lives in me” Then our suffering is in union with our Saviour’s and is redemptive suffering.

      This is why Christ died on the cross and conquered sin and death. This is why we call Him our Saviour. If we only needed saved from bad habits why did man need Christ?

    4. “If we only needed to be saved from bad habits why did man need Christ?”

      We didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die for us. But the story of Jesus and his teachings about peace and love have, in a certain sense, saved many of us from potential ruin. The selflessness that we learn from stories about Jesus and the sayings attributed to him has been one of the most important lessons this world will ever learn. There is nothing metaphysical about it.

    5. melanie jean juneau

      I have been surprised by joy, by inner deliverance, by encounters with the liberating power of the Resurrected Christ. Even if it is a remote possibility that life in Christ is indeed a metaphysical reality, would it not be worth it to ask Him to show up, to prove himself to you?

    6. I lived 60 years off and on as a devout Catholic. I am free of all that now. Yes. I miss that feeling of closeness with a creator, savior and divine presence. But I won’t give in to those feelings again because they are generated by pure and simple wishful thinking. My wife gets knocked down by the Holy Spirit because she wants to be knocked down and to rest in the spirit on the floor of a church. How can I tell her (and why would I tell her) that it is a combination of wishful thinking and hypnotic suggestion? The results of all the faith I see are very positive, almost miraculous. But it is just wishful thinking turned into positive actions and experiences. It’s all in the heads of the believers. Once you know that, you can never go back to believing all this nonsense. “Harden not your heart”? How about “wake up”?

    7. melanie jean juneau

      You bring up valid points. There is a sort of wishful thinking spirituality that is not based in reality that is why we all need spiritual direction, where someone says- hey, you are deluded.

      But Christianity is not primarily a religion of following rules, learning doctrine, or trying to be good, it is a relationship, a covenant between a loving, Higher Power and man.

      In my experience, I can live on three different levels- in my head, guided by intellectual arguments and conscious choices, in my wounded emotions, often feeling past pain and like a victim. When I live in my emotions I can experience a false spirituality.

      The third, deepest level of existing is in my inner spirit which has the ability to connect with the Spirit of God. When we live in the Spirit, in communion with the living God, there is an inner knowing, a sort of light on eureka moment that is not hypnosis or wishful thinking. You know that you know.

    8. “When we live in the Spirit, in communion with the living God, there is an inner knowing, a sort of light on eureka moment that is not hypnosis or wishful thinking.”

      That sounds more spiritual than religious. I can see how that would work for you.

    9. melanie jean juneau

      insightful comment. Would authentic spirituality work for you, rather than emotional, wishful thinking?

    10. melanie jean juneau

      I think smart, intellectually inclined thinkers reject the childish sort of spirituality which many in the Church still cling to. You have been set free from this fake spirituality; you have been given the grace to embrace reality as seen in a harsh light. You have suffered.

      But I wonder if you are open to dig deeper into your core self. I wonder if you have searched in the silence, in the ground of your being, for a connection to the Almighty. I wonder it you are open to try once again, to give the Spirit a chance to prove Himself in a manner which you could accept.

    11. I’m not open to spirituality. It goes back to the wishful thinking. I’m sure I would experience a closeness to the divine which wouldn’t be real.

    12. I find your comments about your wife rather judgemental. Perhaps you are the one with a hardened heart who needs to wake up.

  10. “He will answer our prayers with mercy because we have shown mercy in positive acts of love and concern to those in need.”

    Melanie, this assessment is so accurate. Beautiful reflection. Thank you.

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