Choosing Not To Choose Is Choosing

There is a battle going on in today’s Gospel, but Jesus is the only one who speaks! The Pharisees don’t need to open their mouths – in fact, they willfully remain silent – because Jesus is battling for their hearts. But their hearts are hardened. They are not there to hear Jesus teach or even to hear the Scripture.  They are only there to watch Jesus, hoping to catch him in the act of doing something “so that they might accuse him.”

Jesus knows this. He has sparred with them before. He knows what they are about. And so he calls them out, gives them the opportunity to engage, to discuss, to reconsider. He calls up the man with the withered hand and asks the Pharisees one of those brilliant “Jesus questions”; they can make a choice for truth or continue in their untruth. They must choose what is true or say what is untrue! But they know that no matter how they answer, they won’t get their way, because they can’t have it both ways! They are unwilling to make the choice and so they remain silent. They refuse to answer.

Choosing not to choose is choosing.

What is Jesus’ response? He is angry and grieved. The Greek words used to describe his reaction are unique in the New Testament. His anger is synonymous with the wrath of God; but Jesus’ grief is described with the intensive form of the verb “to be sorry or grieve.” Jesus is displeased with their blindness, and filled with sorrow at their willful hardness of heart, because he has come to save them too. But they cannot rejoice with those who have been healed and set free from sin. They cannot see the Messiah restoring all that has been injured by sin, and calling them into his glorious kingdom. They have closed themselves to what is happening right in their midst.

It is not enough for them to ignore him or dismiss him or even talk against him. It is not enough for them to refuse to hear the beauty of his words or the freedom that he teaches. They must destroy him. Rather than allow themselves to be moved by the good, they harden themselves against this thorn in their side and determine to kill him!

This is a fitting Gospel for the saint of today: St. Sebastian was one of the many martyrs executed during the persecutions of Diocletian. As a Roman soldier, Sebastian was found to be a Christian and did not back down at the threat of death from those who had hardened their hearts against the truth. Like Christ, he stood firm even as they shot him full of arrows because he was determined to obey God and his conscience rather than men, as the Collect for today’s Mass reminds us.

St. Sebastian, intercede for us, that we might remain open to Good and stand firmly in the Truth, no matter the cost!

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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Hope

There is a light snow falling as I write. It covers the dulled yellow and green grasses that are still visible here in West Michigan, making things look fresh. Snow on roadways can be quite treacherous. There are many who forget that traction, and a wet or snowy surface, can result in sliding, slipping, spinning, and much greater stopping distances.

If you’ve ever been in mud, on a dirt road, caught a patch of ice or snow, in a way you didn’t intend, with a vehicle or on foot, you know what I mean. Suddenly you can lose all sense of direction or feel caught in slow motion while being out of control of the situation. I kinda feel like that when looking at what has been going on in our country, on so many levels and in so many situations. It can be overwhelming to know where to focus. The readings today can help.

“We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end…hold fast to the hope that lies before us”, is a directive from the First Reading. The Gospel acclamation calls out, “May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.” 

My focus is on hope. It’s the hope and promise of God. The Lord of the sabbath is my hope. I am to be His hands, his body, hope and love in this world. It is my charge, given through the waters of baptism.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.” St. Augustine of Hippo

Please spend some time with the links you find here. My prayer is that you too may find hope to do what is yours to do to keep hope alive in this world as Joyce Rupp so beautifully said,

Faithful Companion,

in this new year I pray:

to live deeply, with purpose,

to live freely, with detachment,

to live wisely, with humility,

to live justly, with compassion

to live lovingly, with fidelity,

to live mindfully, with awareness,

to live gracefully, with generosity,

to live fully, with enthusiasm.

Help me to hold this vision and to daily renew it in my heart,

becoming ever more one with You, and my truest self.  Amen

You Keep Hope Alive

Hope Has a Name

Future + Hope

All My Hope

Hope for the Future

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Beth Price is part of the customer care team at Diocesan. She brings a unique depth of experience to the group due to her time spent in education, parish ministries, sales and the service industry over the last 25 yrs. She is a practicing spiritual director as well as a Secular Franciscan (OFS). Beth is quick to offer a laugh, a prayer or smile to all she comes in contact with. Reach her here bprice@diocesan.com.

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New Wine and Fresh Wineskins

On December 12, 2020, I gave my life to God.  Again.

Reflecting upon this realization that I was promising to do God’s will, not my own, yet another time in my life, I wanted to consciously be active in this dedication. In the past, I have said the same words of promise to God, then gone home from the retreat, the conference, the Mass, and continued my life. MY life, not His. 

In today’s Gospel, we read:  “No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 21-22)

Similarly, I cannot continue to pour my renewed devotion to God into the same wineskin. I cannot continue my ways. I cannot act as though this miraculous, beautiful moment of encounter with the Lord does not require complete change. Instead, I must pour myself into a new wineskin. A new way of holding and presenting myself. 

I often recall Pope Francis’ call to the millions of youth gathered in Poland at World Youth Day 2016 as he said, “The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.”

Therefore, I cannot sit still. I cannot continue down the same worn path, the same unenthusiastic living. It’s unauthentic. It is not actively living God’s will. It is selfishly hiding and hoarding the joy that I have been given. 

I ask you, my brother or sister, are you celebrating new wine? Are you placing your new wine in the new wineskins of new joy, new practices, new selves? Where are you placing your new wine? 

Read Pope Francis’ World Youth Day 2016 message in full by clicking here or watch the video by clicking here.

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Veronica Alvarado is a born and raised Texan currently living in Michigan. Since graduating from Texas A&M University, Veronica has published various articles in the Catholic Diocese of Austin’s official newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, and other local publications. She now works as the Content Specialist in Diocesan’s Web Department.

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Steps to Spiritual Growth

In twelve-step programs, one of the tools used for spiritual growth is the “three A’s”: Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. Each of our readings today highlights one or more of these steps in a spiritual growth process.

Awareness

St. Paul beautifully describes the awareness we need as Christians: that we cannot separate our bodies and souls when it comes to morality and our relationship with Christ. We must have interior and exterior moral integrity, for the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Once we know this, we can move toward accepting and acting on this truth.

Acceptance

In our First Reading, we see young Samuel with some awareness that someone is calling him. Like many of us, though, he goes to the wrong place, with pure intentions, when God calls. With the help of Eli, however, he accepts the call of God and becomes ready to put His will into action.

Action

In our Gospel, we see the first apostles going through these three phases rather quickly They become aware that Jesus is Messiah through John’s word, accept that truth, and spring into action, following Jesus and telling others about Him. 

Our psalm also speaks of this process: the psalmist becomes aware of God stooping toward him, he accepts God’s call, saying, “behold I come,” and he acts on God’s call to announce His justice to the vast assembly.

Sometimes I wish that God’s call for me were as explicit as the calls that Samuel and the apostles received. For most of us, though, the path to awareness of God’s will for us means prayer, to grow closer to God, and quiet meditation, so that we can hear God speaking in our hearts. Once we are aware, then more prayer and mediation come in to help conform our wills to His so that we can accept it. Then, when we act on our acceptance of God’s plan, our prayers and meditation can give us the strength to carry out God’s will.

So then by prayer, meditation, and following His will, we grow closer to God. That is what spiritual growth is all about!

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J.M. Pallas has had a lifelong love of Scriptures. When she is not busy with her vocation as a wife and mother to her “1 Samuel 1” son, or her vocation as a public health educator, you may find her at her parish women’s bible study, affectionately known as “The Bible Chicks.”

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He Knows Me So Well

There’s an obscure moment in an equally obscure musical during which two women, both in love with the same man, sing a duet titled I Know Him So Well. Oddly enough, this is the song that’s been running through my head as I read today’s lessons—though with slightly changed lyrics. Not “I know him so well,” but, rather, “He knows me so well.”

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing, and a lot more time, frankly, falling flat on my face. Every morning I start out with lofty resolutions about how I am going to move through my day in God’s presence, and every evening I do a brief Examen and find how many of those resolutions came to nothing. Do some spiritual reading? Um, nope, didn’t find time for that today. Follow through on my offer to help someone and actually, well, help them? Oops, that will have to be for tomorrow. Not think unkind thoughts about people with whom I disagree, but who are also children of God? Not even close. 

I despair, sometimes, of ever getting it right. And I wonder how it all seems to God, who started the day with me in my resolutions and promises and plans, and to whom I have to admit how much I failed. Failed, yet again, to be the “only Gospel my neighbor ever reads,” as St. Francis urges me. Failed, yet again, to put God first and myself second. Failed, failed, failed.

One of my favorite theologians, Frederich Buechner, writes, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.” I think about that as I do my nightly Examen: he already knows everything I’m going to say to him. He already knows my failures.

And, as today’s readings assure me, knowing all that, he loves me anyway. St. Paul tells the Hebrews that “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed (…) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” And St. Mark reminds us of Jesus sitting with people who are despised, with tax collectors, with sinners, and replies to objections: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

And there it is. He knows me so well. He knows my weaknesses. He knows how often I fail—but he also knows how often I try. He has come to eat with me, to walk with me, to offer me love and friendship, even though he knows me so well. That is precisely why he is here. And why I need to keep trying. Keep resolving to walk more closely with him every morning; keep examining where I fell short and working out how to progress every evening. Keep doing the best I can. Understand in all the trying and failing and trying again that I am a beloved child of God.

And that he knows me so well.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

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The One Who Heals

If you have spent any time listening to or reading the Gospels, you are aware of the discord between Jesus and the Pharisees. His preaching called into question the status quo and that made them uncomfortable. And yet, Jesus kept preaching and teaching and healing. This healing of the paralytic in today’s Gospel is amazing on many levels. First, the man’s friends are unbelievably persistent. They have faith. The paralytic, too, must have had great trust in his friends to let them lower him down. And then, his faith in Jesus. Faith heals him. But notice that he participates in this healing. He not only has faith, but he moves, he picks up his mat, because of that faith. When Jesus says “rise, pick up your mat, and go home,” he does. There is no question, no pause. He believes, he trusts, he has faith.

Now what about us? Since it is January and many people focus on starting fresh in a new year, let us consider what we have brought into this year that might have been better left behind. What has Jesus forgiven in us, that we are still carrying around? Do we want to get up and walk? Each time we go to confession, each time we go to Mass and pray the Confiteor, each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we are given the grace of forgiveness. We are given the command to rise, pick up and go. Not in those words, but certainly in practice. Do we have faith in the healing power of Jesus? The paralytic, his friends, the crowds, all had faith. The crowd was “astounded” at what happened. 

Are you ever astounded after confession? I am. It usually happens at Mass, after receiving Communion, and I think about how free of sin I am and now Jesus is with me. The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is with me. In that moment, I have great faith that I am free of sin, that I can pick up my mat. I realize I cannot be lukewarm in my faith. I am compelled to do something with the gift of faith I have been given. 

Just as the paralytic man was given a gift of healing, we too have been healed. How have you been healed? Pray to see what you have been healed from and what you are healed for and then glorify the One who heals. 

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Deanna G. Bartalini, MEd, MPS, is a Catholic educator, writer, speaker, and retreat leader. She has served in ministry for over 40 years as a catechist, religious education director, youth minister, liturgical coordinator, stewardship director and Unbound prayer minister. For all of Deanna’s current work go to DeannaBartalini.com. 

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Forgiveness

“Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary, but it should not be an endless preoccupation. You must dwell also on the glad remembrance of God’s loving-kindness; otherwise, sadness will harden the heart and lead it more deeply into despair”  ~St. Bernard~

In today’s Gospel we hear of Christ’s miracle of the healing of a leper. Lepers were outcasts; they were seen as unclean and were often not treated with the dignity due a human being. Jesus, despite how lepers were normally treated, touches the man in order to heal him. In the same way that Christ heals the leper out of compassion, so too does He heal us from our sins. God’s love is freely given to us. As part of his ultimate plan for us to share in His eternal life, God the Father offered His only begotten Son as ransom for our sins. The same eyes that looked at the leper’s disease with compassion and saw human dignity looks at our lowliness and sees our worth as sons and daughters of God. However, like the leper, we must ask God to cleanse us. By participating in the Sacraments, most especially by receiving our Lord in the Eucharist and by seeking absolution through Reconciliation, we unite ourselves to Him in love. 

Paul’s exhortation to the Hebrews to persevere in faith in the First Reading urges us to do the same. He writes, “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still ‘today’ so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin”. He reminds us of a warning against hardening our hearts against the love of God and follows with a plea to encourage one another in faith. When we harden our hearts, when we do not seek Him in the Sacraments, we turn away from His love and we distance ourselves from His salvation.  By living the Christian life devoutly, we inspire and motivate others to do the same. Our love for and encouragement of one another is a witness to the love that God has for each of us. By bringing one another to Christ, we open, rather than harden, our hearts and “become partners of Christ”. 

May we live our lives with hearts that are open to God’s love. May we rejoice in the knowledge that Christ’s love covers a multitude of sins.

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

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Driven By Desire…For What?

What gets you out of bed before dawn?

We push ourselves beyond our superficial comforts for things that we value. Some people seem to focus on fun or competition and stay up late gaming. Some value their health or appearance, so they push themselves to get up early and exercise. Some prioritize learning and burn the midnight oil to read or study. Some people see their duty to family or friends as a value, so they push themselves beyond their need for rest or recreation to serve their needs. In each of these scenarios, a different value drives a person to stretch themselves.

What drives you?

What drives Jesus?

 “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”

We are all busy, and prayer can seem like “one more thing” that we can’t find time to do. Can we be as busy as Jesus was? He had just taught in the synagogue, left (maybe hoping for some rest) and healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and found himself faced with many people in need – some ill, some possessed, no doubt some who just wanted a word of encouragement. This began after sunset, so it seems he did not get a full night’s sleep.

And yet, he rose before the sun to seek out some silence and solitude. Why?

Jesus is always driven by the same thing: the Father. He does the will of the Father (Jn 6:38). He says what the Father tells him to say (Jn 12:49). He does the works he sees the Father doing (Jn 5:17-19, 14:10). He needs to be in communication with the Father, in solitude, to know the Father’s will and to do it perfectly (Matt 14:23, 26:36; Mk 1:35, 6:46; Lk 3:21, 5:16, 9:18, 11:1) .

Surely, his whole life was prayer, because he was always seeking to please the Father. And yet it is recorded for us in the very Gospels that Jesus went away from the work in order to pray. It’s stunning, isn’t it? The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word Incarnate, as man, must seek out actual times of solitude to PRAY, to be in union with the Father, to listen to the Voice of God.

When do you pray? Before dawn? At mealtimes? When you can? Can you never?

Does seeking the loving Face of the Father drive us to set aside times of prayer each day? Each year, I resolve to be more faithful to my daily prayer, and this year is no different! How well will I keep this resolution this year? How about you? No matter how well you are able to walk with Jesus and spend time with him each day, it seems certain that this world would benefit from an even greater commitment to prayer in 2021.

May God bless you abundantly.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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Childlike Awe

As a working mom, I make it a point to spend individual time with each of my kids as often as I can. They take turns having mommy “dates” and treasure their time with me just as much as I do with them. And although our one-on-ones often include a trip to the grocery store or the thrift shop, they get to chatter away telling me about whatever suits their fancy. These days, it’s usually either Legos or soccer. 

It’s so refreshing amid life’s calamities to spend time with children. No matter what stresses are thrown your way, you can’t help but smile at their antics, their silliness and even their mischief. Just the other day, I was fretting about some ongoing issues we are dealing with and my son just started singing his own version of “Fa-La-La-La-La” in the back seat. His words were more like “Fa-La-La-La-La-Dah-Doo-Dee-DOWN!” After we sang that together for a while we changed it to “Fa-La-La-La-Dah-Doo-Dee-UP!” and had ourselves a good laugh.

I wonder if we saw things through the eyes of children we would be more astonished at Christ’s teachings as the people were in today’s Gospel… “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” As parents we have authority over our children, but do we truly comprehend the authority of God? I think many times we don’t or perhaps we simply don’t think about it. 

Where is that sense of awe and wonder at reading His word? Does His fame spread everywhere this day in age because we, those who believe in Him, are speaking with others about Him in sheer amazement? Do we believe that he can drive out any “unclean spirits” that might plague us, whether they be unfortunate events, impure thoughts or unkind words?  

I find it interesting that the unclean spirit was able to proclaim with such certainty that Jesus was the Holy One of God. What about us, those of us who try our best to live good lives and grow in our faith. Can we proclaim with certainty “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”? Do we know who God is? Can we even fathom His holiness? 

With prayer and quiet time we can definitely experience glimpses of these concepts this side of heaven. When we allow child-like simplicity instead of adult complicatedness to enter our souls we can begin to grasp His grandeur. When we turn our hearts to praise and gratitude we can begin to know who He is. 

Today let us exclaim with the Psalmist: “O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name over all the earth!”

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling home improvement projects, finding fun ways to keep her four boys occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for almost 20 years.

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Come Follow Me

 Today we read about the day that Christ called to Simon and Andrew, saying: “Come after me, and I will make you into fishers of people.”

Christ called to these men, and they immediately dropped what they were doing to follow Him. His command was that compelling. 

Imagine looking upon the face of Jesus as He beckons you. Imagine hearing His voice tell you to come. What an immense gift those men were given.

We don’t have the benefit of a flesh-and-blood Jesus standing in front of us commanding us to follow Him. We cannot hear His voice directly tell us what He wants. Yet, His command to us is the same as the command He gave to those men 2,000 years ago. He calls us each by name to follow Him. He tells us we are His. Why? Simply put, He loves us. And His love for us is so immense that we can only fathom it. God longs for us to drop everything and to run to Him, proclaiming His goodness and vowing to give everything we have to serve Him. He longs for us to show this joy to others so that they, too, can see His glory.

However, we know that this is easier said than done, especially in today’s world. Sometimes we find that life gets in the way. Our jobs, the little things we must do to keep a household running, even our families—all these things are blessings in and of themselves, but they can also serve as distractions. These things can keep us from dropping everything and running to the arms of the Lord—even metaphorically. And they can keep us from teaching others about Christ’s goodness and mercy. 

Yet God is always there gently reminding us that He has called us and that we are to be fishers of men, just like the Apostles. He wants each and every one of us to bravely and proudly follow Him and to lead our families, our neighbors, and those in our community to Him. 

We must always remember that being a fisher of men is an important part of our faith, for we were not meant to hide our faith away. We were not meant to pray in isolation. We were not meant to simply go to Mass once a week and do nothing else for God. We are called to model Christ’s love and to be examples to others. It is by these actions that we will lead others to Christ, and it is our inner joy that will attract others. When we heed the call to truly follow Christ and to serve Him in all we do, we will indeed fulfill His calling to be fishers of men. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

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