Pondering by Monsignor Ferrarese

In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful study of Abraham Lincoln’s mode of operating within his administration, “Team of Rivals”, she tells an interesting anecdote about Lincoln’s wisdom and his talent in dealing with the often-contentious voices within his Cabinet. She relates that one of the members of his cabinet was furious over the actions of someone else in the Cabinet. In fact, he was so angry that Lincoln perceived the danger that could wreck the unity of his government.

He told this Cabinet member to write a letter to the offending cabinet member detailing the offense and the repercussions envisioned by him. Lincoln wisely added that when he completes the letter that he run it by him first before sending it.

The Cabinet member did just that. After a few days, he produced this long letter and gave it to Lincoln. Lincoln read it while the Cabinet member waited. When Lincoln finished reading the letter, he asked the writer, “How do you feel now that you have written this letter?” He responded, “Much better!” to which Lincoln responded, “Now tear it up!”

Lincoln rightly understood both his need to articulate his anger and how counterproductive it would be when the offending party read it. Luckily, the writer, now detached from his emotions, saw the wisdom of Lincoln’s advice and heeded it. He felt better and the situation corrected itself without the letter’s angry interruption.

In the world of communication, speed has become an inordinate value that can both serve the purpose of this communication or thwart it completely. In the past, when someone had to get a message to another, he or she had to send a written letter or missive. One had to consider each word carefully since it was difficult to erase something once written. It took a long time for it to be delivered.

Once the Internet and the computer became available, it changed many ways of communicating. Books became longer since something did not have to be rewritten completely, but through word processing, thoughts and words can be moved and added to at will. The email meant that I can write a friend and they can read my communication almost instantly, even though they live a continent away! However, that means my thoughts can be uncensored by reflection. Many of us, when angry for instance, have sent a reply that we regret. Often I have learned that if I have a lot of emotion invested in an email, I write it and then do not send it. The following day I reread it before I send it. Often I find I dial back the rhetoric and the emotion since I have a more detached view of what I am trying to say.

Then there is Twitter.

Though I have never used Twitter as a form of communication, I have seen the havoc it can create in politics and religion when someone has immediate access to hundreds, thousands and even millions of followers! While I have known people who carefully choose what they send out on Twitter, it is so immediate and so widespread in effects that it is almost impossible to consistently monitor the effects of a tweet.

When the person communicating is a President or a Pope, the effects of putting out a thought to countless people without reflection or even a second look later on can at best be confusing and at worst destructive. There is little self-discipline in this quick process of producing a tweet.

I am sure there are other vehicles of Internet communication with which I am not familiar. The point of my reflections is that pondering the meaning of what we say and what we write is a very important element in communication. We have a responsibility to be careful in what we say and write. Often one word can have destructive possibilities; and even if not that serious, the thought does not have the time to properly ‘gestate’ in the person.

What a great example we have in Our Lady. Scripture says that she spent much of her time in watching Jesus, her Son, growing and maturing. She pondered these things in her heart. She was the first Christian contemplative.

In this fast-paced world, nothing can take the place of going slowly while considering and pondering things, before we act and before we speak. Who knows how many evils we can avoid by pondering the meaning of things! Seek the Truth slowly and deliberately in the silence of our minds and hearts!

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The Drama of Our Own History by Monsignor Ferrarese

When I was a kid, I used to love TV shows dealing with war. At that time, there were two that I watched almost religiously (pardon the pun!): ‘Combat’ and ‘The Gallant Men’. I was enthralled with the heroism and courage of these men. I wanted to be part of this courage and the sweep of history.

So one day I was at dinner with my Mom and Dad. It was an ordinary day. I was so excited in watching one of these shows the night before that I said to my parents, “I can’t wait till there is a war! I will sign up right away and go into combat!” My parents, who seldom agreed on anything, put down their utensils and looked first at each other. Then my father said to me, “As long as you are in this house, you are never to say that again. You do not know how horrible war is. It is not like a TV show. Enough!” With that word (in Italian, ‘Basta!’) they went back to eating silently. I was embarrassed and very quiet for the rest of the meal. I never forgot that conversation.

My Dad had fought four long years in World War I. As an artillery sergeant, he was wounded a number of times while on the Austrian Front. My Mom was in a small town in Calabria during the Allied Bombardments of World War II. She often told me about how she would go running out into the countryside as the bombs started to drop. History, for me, was not in books. My parents lived history. My parents were history.

I, therefore, grew up with the idea that history is not found only in classrooms or TV shows. History is the record of real life with its real successes and real mistakes. That is why Santayana’s warning is so real a warning: “If you forget history, you are condemned to repeat it.”

The work of great historians is augmented in a positive sense by the great popularizers of history. Chief among these is Ken Burns. His documentaries, especially his major work on the American Civil War and his upcoming work on the Vietnam War are especially important because they translate the lessons of history for the common person who may not be a reader. In addition, their visual nature produce an impact that is hard to equal on the printed page.

History, our own and our world’s, is not chiefly an academic subject. One history professor in high school, trying to emphasize the important of that subject, put up his finger and moved it. He said, “Could we do that if we did not remember someone and sometime when we observed that movement?” That is history.

When we translate this to the area of our Faith, the importance of history is further augmented. Church history or Salvation history (to use a couple of common terms) is an account of how God has worked in the past. Because God is always the same, for Truth does not alter itself, it is religiously imperative that we become aware of the past so that we can avoid the pitfalls of the future.

In the area of heresy, for instance, the same issues keep popping up. In a sense, there are no new heresies, just old ones dressed up in modern clothing. Whether it is Arianism (that denies the Divinity of Christ) surfacing itself in movies that seem to do away with the miraculous and concentrate on the earthly, or Gnosticism (some have a special knowledge that is not available to the common person) which emerges in many new age movements, it is imperative to our faith to know the past and to learn from it.

The broader understanding of the importance of history is that God always illuminates reality with eternal significance, so that everything that occurs in the present and moves to the past has lessons to teach us if we have the humility and the perceptiveness to mine the deep deposits of its possibilities.

God, like any great artist, does not waste anything but finds a way to incorporate it in His ultimate vision. It is so important for us to be mindful of this and be able to develop the capacity to ‘read reality’ as we learn what God is saying to us.

In this sense, history is a revelation of God.

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Letting Go by Monsignor Ferrarese

So many people get stuck. That may seem a strange statement; but for many reasons, I have found many who get stuck in the past, get stuck by anger or by an exaggerated commitment to their own agenda. Once the process begins of identification of the self with a particular plan or point of view, an obsessive, protective, and irreconcilable aura surrounds that reality. Any contradictions to it or different points of view are not considered just as another opinion but as a threat to the very well being of the self to which that point of view is identified. Often we call things of this kind “territory”. Once we have decided (often automatically and not really completely consciously) that this thing is mine, then I will fight to preserve it even when to do so is counterproductive to my welfare.

I have seen this often as a Pastor. When you delegate something to someone to do, it becomes something extrinsic to them. They consider my request and, thanks to their generosity and the valid needs of the parish, they agree to do it. This could be as simple as a physical change in things or a form of leadership. Soon that person makes the work their own. In common parlance they take ‘ownership’ of it. When they meet with opposition or with others who want to help, they often (but thankfully not always) react with an aggrieved anger that makes it seem that the ‘interloper’ has questioned the goodness, commitment and very well-being of the original person. He or she identified themselves with their work so that any suggestion or improvement on what they are doing is considered as an attack on their person.

What is necessary in that given situation is this thing we call “letting go”. In the example just cited, it involves the inclusion of suggestions and helpfulness as something that does not threaten the person.

This process of identification and letting-go is seen most poignantly in how we identify with our family, our country and even (on a lighter note) with our sports franchises. Perhaps this latter example may be more fun to look at since we invest family and country with more seriousness and hence our thinking can more easily be compromised by emotional responses.

As many of you know I am a Yankee fan. Now the Yankee organization has never provided food for me or shelter or any other benefit. But because of my father’s identification with them (as an Italian American with his hero— Joe DiMaggio!) I followed suit wanting to be like my father. Now if the Yankees win a game, I am elated. When they lose I am sad and even depressed! Their enemies are my enemies. I can’t even think of the city of Boston without a pervasive feeling of nausea and disgust at their apparent ‘illness’ of being (dare I say the hated words!) Red Sox fans!

All of this makes no logical sense and may even seem crazy to someone who knows nothing about baseball. Such is the power of identification. When it extends to fatherland—one can kill with impunity the enemies of the fatherland!

We engage in this process of identification and territorial ownership in very many ways. Think of the parishioner who claims a particular pew and seat as theirs! Just try and sit there!

We even identify with our past hurts (the basis of our lack of forgiveness), with our children (our lack of objectivity regarding the true nature of ‘our little darlings!) and even with our religion (think of the pogroms and the wars of religion). As one can see this process can be very dangerous. We need something of the character of Mr. Spock (from ‘Star Trek’) to guard against its excesses. This is the benefit of ‘letting go and letting God!’

At the heart of this process of letting go is the valuing of detachment as a virtue. Mr. Spock can dispassionately size up a course of action because he does not identify with the process, the problem or the result. This is hard to do. However, when one begins with first principles and adheres to them, one has a fighting chance.

St. Ignatius of Loyola calls this ‘indifference’. By that, he means not being unfeeling, but always remembering the basic first principle: We are here to honor and serve God, and thereby save our souls. That is what matters. Whatever moves that goal closer is good and whatever retards it is bad. With that in mind, we can see many of our identifications as not being able to pass this test and so we can let them go in the interest of the higher goal of giving glory to God.

When I consider the angst that these identifications bring and how much better I feel when I can let go of them, it makes the letting go something welcome and comparatively easy to do. Holding on is hard, unnecessary and exhausting. Letting go is freeing, joyful and renewing. It is truly a wonder why so many people choose the tougher path of holding on to our false identifications.

There are, of course, some non-negotiables like my faith in Christ as a key marker of my self-image, but these are few and far between.

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On a Ledge by Monsignor Ferrarese

What has been accomplished in the reality we call the United States is amazing! And when we place this at the heart of the developing of a world of technological sophistication and democratic freedoms, the modern world is so truly awe inspiring. When in a plane approaching New York City for example, you see the vastness and the brightly lit skyline of our home; you can truly see how lucky we are that we have the orderly government we have, the conveniences of living (everyone has hot water and indoor plumbing and electricity!) and the more contemporary breakthroughs like the internet and modern travel etc.! We have to admit that we are lucky to live in the modern world.

But we can miss the fact that this whole human biosphere is very fragile and our very interconnectedness can signal our demise. These are sobering thoughts. But they must be seen and factored into the priorities we adopt in our lives.

For instance, this new vice of hacking could mean financial ruin for many, paralyzing our infrastructure. So much is dependent today on the internet and its sophisticated way of interweaving the hopes and expectations of each other with material processes that can, in that very interconnectedness, be very fragile.

I remember during the last black-out I still lived in East Flatbush. It was the feast of the Assumption and I barely made it home from Breezy Point, the traffic lights being all out. My neighborhood was one of the last to see the electricity restored. The dependency on this current of energy we call electricity was very evident. I had to go to bed when the sun went down since I could not read, could not call anyone, and could not watch TV etc. I was so glad at sunrise since I had light to wash and shave (with cold water since the hot water heater was also dependent on electrical power). Much of the food in the refrigerator was already spoiled. My car was low on gas but the gas pumps were not working either. Much of life was at a standstill.

Mass, however, was not so dependent, and so there was no question about the sacraments since they date back from before much of our technology.

Boy, was I glad when the electricity went back on!

What happens to us when the hackers find a way to paralyze our electrical grid? Or more horrifically, when terrorists get access to nuclear or chemical or biological materials? Much of the stockpiles are in countries with a weak rule of law and hence a greater vulnerability to sabotage and theft.

My reason for showing how precariously we stand on a thin edge is that we can have the idea that the government can protect us from all this. But it cannot.

So in the end if we place all our hopes in our material success and perceived invulnerability, we fail to see the fallacy of this stance. Nor do we understand the richness of our spiritual tradition and how necessary it is to the survival of humanity. Whatever happens in the future, we will depend on men and women of faith, of honesty, of hope, and of Christian love.

One of the stories I love comes from Roman times when it was a capital offense to be a Christian. Plague would break out in Rome. Pagans would flee the city and often leave their loved ones to die alone in the homes, so frightened were they of contamination. But the Christians did not leave. They stayed to take care of their sick family members and even to help their abandoned pagan neighbors. Lets say the Pagan lady next door (we will name her Aunt Louise!) was left to die by her family because of their fear of contamination. Her Christian neighbors, working with the courage and the compassion of Christ, go into Louise’s house to take care of her. Let’s say she recovers and gets to be healthy again. She decides she wants to be part of this new movement that has saved her, even though she was a pagan enemy of the faith. Could you imagine the confrontation that occurs when her family returned to find her alive and Christian!

When the next ‘plague’ hits, much will be destroyed; but not faith, hope and love! This is what we stand for as Christians. Everything else that seems so important (fame, wealth, power) will be done away with. How wonderful it is for us to work for things that last!

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In Every Age by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs Von Balthazar, in his book on the significance of St. Therese of Lisieux to the Church makes a distinction between a saint who has merely local importance and one who has an ecclesial importance. Take, for example, St. Francis Cabrini: the first naturalized citizen of the United States who worked so tirelessly for the needs of the immigrant community in our country. She was clearly a saint and very significant in our history, but there is little real devotion to her in Asia or Africa or even in most parts of Europe. She is a local saint.

An ecclesial saint has significance for the whole Church throughout the world. A good example of this is St. Francis of Assisi. What St. Francis stood for was true and important for all of humanity: the poverty or simplicity to which every Christian is called. It is the way of the Incarnation, the Word ‘making Himself empty’ of his divinity (in Greek: Kenosis), giving Himself to a process of diminishment even to death, death on a cross (Philippians).

It had a particular resonance for that age since it was the precursor of the Renaissance and the expansion of the material sector of people’s lives. God was sending a message to that time of the importance of the pathway of simplicity. It was also a spiritual message that still has validity to this present day. The ecclesial nature of the sanctity of St. Francis is seen in the universality of his message especially in modern ecological concerns.

Is there, therefore, a saint or saints that speak to the modern world with a particular message that is both urgent and universal?

I think there have been two saints that have left a permanent mark on our age and to whom the world needs to listen deeply. They are St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II. St. Teresa is from the more ‘charismatic’ and ‘prophetic’ wing of the Church and St. John Paul from the more ‘institutional’ side.

Mother Teresa began her religious life in a very traditional way in a very traditional order: the Sisters of Loreto. She was a teacher and a very good one at that. However, she then felt a ‘call within a call’ when she saw the extreme poverty of Calcutta. After receiving permission from the institutional church, she ventured out of the convent into the streets of this foreign city, dressed in a sari, the traditional Indian dress for women. Besides being an act of courage and traditional sanctity (many saints have helped the poor), it speaks to us especially in our age because of the global nature of the action. She entered a completely different culture and began to pick up the dying that had simply been discarded onto the streets of that city. She went to the garbage heaps of Calcutta to rescue the still-breathing fetuses thrown away after abortions. She spoke of the ‘poorest of the poor’ and made that phrase a common category of concern of the age. Now with television and the other modern forms of communication we are truly one city. The poor are all around us and we can no longer pretend we do not see the enormity of the problem. In her worldwide vision, she says to us today: you cannot be a Christian or even truly human if you ignore the reality of the vast poverty in our world. Her ecclesial witness forever links sanctity and the alleviation of poverty.

Likewise, but in a very different way, St. John Paul II spoke his indispensable message to the world: the spiritual, intellectual and moral coherence of the Christian Gospel for all humanity. In his writing and in his worldwide vision, he witnessed to the unity of the Gospel perspective and the irreplaceability of its summons to every human being on earth. He visited more places on earth and spoke to more people in person than any Pope in memory. He called together all religions on earth to Assisi to pray; and at his funeral, every nation, every perspective, every religion was present. He was the world face of Christianity that says that a Christian cannot be saintly until he or she is engaged with the entire world. This global Christian perspective must be ours even in the humble specificity of the urban parish church, in the hermit’s daily sacrifices and even in the unbeliever of good will.

In both the global concern for the poor and their suffering, as well as the liberating message of the gospel that transcends all earthly divisions, we see the giftedness of St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II as truly ecclesial saints for the modern world.

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Pope Francis to meet with President Trump tomorrow

The Holy Father & President Trump will meet for the first time tomorrow.  Here’s a link to America Magazine’s prognosis:  http://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/05/22/optimism-vatican-eve-trumps-visit-pope-francis

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Sign of Hope in Syria: Aleppo Consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima

Here’s a little bit of good news from Aleppo, Syria.  On the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Mary at Fatima the city was consecrated to our Lady of Fatima.  Here’s a link to the article on NCR:  http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/sign-of-hope-in-syria-aleppo-consecrated-to-our-lady-of-fatima

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At Every Stage by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the things that stands out about the Church is her insistence at respecting the human person at every stage of his or her existence. This, of course, starts in the womb. The Church seems to be the only one upset about the way our society disposes of living, developing human beings in the womb. That accumulation of genetic processes that occur with amazing intelligence without any human direction (but of course for us believers with Divine assistance!) is an important fact of life.

However, one also has to see the concern of the Church for the human person as he or she ages and dies in this earthly life. The traditional respect for the body of a deceased person is part of this revered continuum. End-of-life (earthly life that is) issues are part of this love for God’s creation of the human person. Hence the care with which we urge each person to communicate to their loved ones their wishes in regard to the extent of medical intervention that is envisioned by them as well as the rites desired by them to be celebrated at their passing away to higher realms.

This respect, when extended to dealing with the remains of a person, may seem to be exaggerated. What does it matter what one does to a dead human body? But Christianity, following from Judaism’s real respect for the physical nature of the person, always counseled an honorable and reverent burial of the body. Cremation was not allowed for a Christian because of the future resurrection of the body. Our concept of the soul being the real human being that is released from the body at death is a remnant of Platonic philosophy. Christianity and Judaism take our flesh much more seriously. Even in the doctrine of the Eucharist, we receive not the soul of Christ but His body! It was always the militant anti-religious forces that pushed cremation of the body as an act of unbelief in Christianity. Even today, cremation is allowed by the Church as long as two conditions are met: that the cremation not be construed as an act of unbelief in the resurrection of the body, and secondly that the cremains be interred in a Cemetery and not kept in the home or scattered in the backyard!

Recently there was a news report that a man, to honor his friend’s passing away, promised to go to every Ball Park that they had gone to together and to deposit some of his friend’s ashes at that park. He was to do it by flushing them down a toilet at the park during one of the games! Clearly we react to this simply because flushing remains into a toilet strikes us as an act of disrespect no matter what the intentions of the person might be.

The Church’s insistence on the burial of the remains in consecrated ground is part of her continued call to respect the dignity of the human person at every stage of life, even into the person’s death. This, I think, is a very good thing in a world where everything becomes disposable. The human person is a product of genetic heritage (Nature) and earthly history (Nurture). As such, the reality of each person must be honored and what that person ‘is’ includes what the person has become through the accidents of history and their own free choices.

Whether we are talking about the embryo in the womb or the elderly person in the hospital bed, the holy is present and must be reverenced. We are not free to do what we want whether by Abortion or flushing down a toilet to this being that becomes through its own history. Many react at any strictures imposed on human choices, but doing whatever I want is not freedom; it is license, which, unfettered, could be very destructive to humanity and even the earth.

Often our commitment to great ideals is revealed through small actions which, when taken together, exhibit and even protect one’s basic stance in life. One can speak greatly about the love of parents to their newborn baby, but it is the daily diaper changing and the daily feeding and the, often nightly, tending to the infant that shows the love.

So also with the dignity of the human person. It is should be seen in the many small actions and decisions which enflesh and makes real that dignity.

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Pope Francis canonizes Jacinta & Francisco Marto of Fatima

Pope Francis canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the children who were recipients of the Marian appearances at Fatima in 1917.

Here’s a link to America Magazine’s coverage:

http://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/05/13/pope-francis-makes-history-and-canonizes-jacinta-and-francisco-two-child-saints

Here’s a link from the Vatican’s site:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2017/5/13/omelia-pellegrinaggio-fatima.html

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Christian Sexuality by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the major changes of the past half-century is encapsulated in the term: Sexual Revolution. Before this series of events, the Christian view of the place of sex in life dominated our social mores and even our legal system. Simply put, sex was created by God to be used exclusively in Marriage to procreate children and to provide a unity so that the family could survive the vicissitudes of this changing world. The teaching of the Church still consistently holds this view, but no longer by society.

The natural forces that God has given this sexual process are very powerful, like the forces keeping the atom together. When one splits the atom and releases that energy, overwhelming power is unleashed that is difficult to control.

Once the ‘sexual revolution’ split the atom of sexual energy, which God gave it for its own preservation, we have the present destructive fall-out of that energy. Convenient ways of controlling fecundity (Birth Control) has created a sexual mores where there is no consequence of new life and, hence, a virtual playground of sexual pleasure opened up in the place of a sexually responsible attitude. What began as married couples responsibly limiting the size of their family was taken up by society as permission to engage in sex for pleasure alone. The idea of taking the awesome beauty and power of sexually responsible love, involving life-long commitment, and making it a ‘recreation’ that can be used by anyone at any time is a bedrock of the false freedom that our culture thinks essential for meaningful living. And if Birth Control does not provide safety in the use of this pastime (sex), then one should be free to terminate a life soon to be born (Abortion). The only rule to be strictly enforced is that sex be between two consenting adults or two consenting minors. Even if a pregnancy occurs to a minor, they should be free to terminate it without a parent’s knowledge or consent. (You even need a parent’s consent to give a child an aspirin, but they can procure an abortion without a parent’s knowledge—legally!) Sex is a right and no one should be able to abridge or contradict that right, not even society or Church or God.

For a Christian, nay even for a thinking person, this is absurd.

The purpose of sexuality is the procreation of children and the strengthening of the marital union. Once it breaks through those God-given boundaries and becomes a recreational pastime with no moral or psychological repercussions, we have the breakdown of the family and the undermining of the nation. This is expressed through a host of domestic and national ills that have become all too common: Abortions, high incidence of divorce, Adultery, child sexual abuse, spread of pornography etc.

This does not even begin to interpret the destruction of the moral fabric that effects other non-sexual areas of human interaction: lying, gross indulgence in the material at the expense of the spiritual, falling attendance at religious services, and a general adoption of the importance of the flesh and its demands. When linked with the philosophy of individualism and the relativity of truth, we have every person for themselves. This leads to a lack of community and a general feeling of futility and loneliness. The whole moral edifice is off tilter.

God has created reality as a coherent whole. When something as basic and powerful as sexuality is loosed from the confines and limitations that God imposes on it, then are we surprised that the whole does not cohere and we are left with pockets of unrelated realities feeding the atheism and the nihilism of our age?

Just as an earthly ecosystem hangs together or fall apart when one important element is taken away, so the moral system that God has given to us begins to fall apart when such an important element as sexuality is misused.

The relative place that sex has in the divine ecosystem is seen when we opt for celibacy as a morally justified and spiritually beneficial state. The world stands aghast at this choice because it puts sexuality in its place. People who often confuse sex and love say “But how can one live without love?” You can’t, but love is not sex. It is greater. Many Saints have lived very nicely without access to sexual relations, but not without love of God and neighbor. Jesus Himself was a fully functioning, even an ideal, human person without any hint of a sexual or marital dimension.

Sex is a beautiful gift from God and invites us to be part of the creative dimension of God’s action in the world; but it has its place. And when that place is enlarged and its borders compromised, the whole human enterprise is at risk.

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