The Power of Regular Rosary Prayer

In my work as a software developer, I often run into “walls” when trying to solve difficult problems. Most of the time I get through these blockages by just writing snippets of code no matter how ugly they may seem. But it helps me see the problem and the solution more clearly and provides me something I can shape into a beautiful, optimized solution. Getting to the desired solution is not a straight shot where I code everything perfectly the first time. It is a series of making wrong decisions and correcting them. I call it thinking with my keyboard.

Remember, no one sees your first draft (unless you started the day before the deadline)

Our happiness in life is a lot like the challenges I face when writing software. It’s not always easy to find happiness. It almost seems like life is a rigged game where being happy is something that is always just out of reach at best and an impossibility at worst.  In his article, When you Can’t Hear God, Keep Talking to Him, Dave Zuleger sums up the futility we often feel when we try to find happiness:

We know that our trials will produce a faith that is tested, refined, and full of glorified joy (1 Peter 1:6–7). We know deep realities that can create deep hope beneath even the deepest pain. Except sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we preach these truths to ourselves and our hearts aren’t moved at all. We groan, and wish that life was so different than it is (Romans 8:23). We pray and pray and pray, and things only seem to get more overwhelming and more difficult. Sometimes our hearts simply ache with the pain of broken dreams, broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken sinfulness.

Have you had that experience? Hope doesn’t come. Happiness doesn’t flood your heart. The clouds of depression don’t blow away. Overwhelming struggles simply overwhelm you more. Relationships are not restored.

He concludes that we need to continue to pray and lay out concerns and worries in front of God.  It is in continual prayer that we often hear God.  Like a software engineer needing to just write code to figure out the solution, we often need to just pray and meditate on different things to eventually hear what God is trying to tell us.

This is why praying rosary mysteries daily is such a great form of meditation.  Every day is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Jesus and the Catholic faith through the rosary mysteries and ask for Mary’s help in making sense of it all.  We have to explore our faith through prayer so that we can better understand God’s response.

It may seem doubly painful to dwell on our problems in prayer.  After all, who wants to recall their pain and suffering on a regular basis?  But through the rosary mysteries, we can see that pain through the lens of our faith, not through the lens of our secular world which offers very little in terms of answers and solutions.  You can’t find the true solution to your problems by avoiding laying them before God in prayer.

Look at Jesus in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary in the garden of Gesthemene.  He was going through immense agony over his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But Jesus did not hide that pain away in an attempt to appear tough or unphased.  He had no issue bringing his concerns and fears before God in prayer saying “Father if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  The agony in the garden of Gesthemene perfectly highlights what we are to do when life has is down — pray, pray, pray, and pray some more!

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To end on a lighter note, here’s a quotation attributed to St. Francis de Sales for you to you think about.  You could easily substitute the word busy with sad, worried, or any other word that describes your situation:

Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.

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And Jesus Wept…

We are coming down the home stretch of this Lenten season.  Like a movie, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is hitting its climax as Jesus’ miracles get larger and more public but so does the ire of the Jewish authorities.  It, of course, culminates with Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  Similar to how the readings are hitting their crescendo, so too should our observance of Lent.  It’s time to pick up the praying, fasting, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and just putting our faith front and center in our lives.

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  I want to focus on one specific verse.  It’s a short, three-word sentence — “And Jesus wept (John 11:35).”  It is easy to overlook the significance of this sentence when you know what Jesus is about to do.  In fact, this sentence does not seem to make a lot of sense.  If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep?  Naturally, the other people wept because they did not know Jesus was going to raise Lazarus.  But why would Jesus, someone who healed and raised others from dead, weep when he knew that Lazarus’ state was only temporary?

English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue ...
English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue that stands next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ weeping ties him to our shared humanity with him.  It is so easy to see Jesus’ divinity in the accounts of him healing others, performing miracles, and resurrecting from the dead.  On top of that, we have the Catholic Church and it’s billion+ members in all its grandeur.  But after 2000 years we tend to forget that Jesus was also human.  He shared all the same emotions as us except the tendency to sin.  Even when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, his weeping told people that he sympathized with them and understood their grief.  He did not distance himself but instead drew us closer to God by making himself more relatable.

When we pray the rosary, we should remember Jesus’ humanity in addition to his divinity.  Remember that despite all the miracles he performed, Jesus was one of us.  He showed grief at the death of a loved one.  He showed fear in the Garden of Gesthemene before being arrested and crucified.  He showed anger when he threw the merchants out of the temple or the countless times he chastised Peter.  Even going back to the story of Lazarus, the Gospel says that Jesus was “perturbed” by everyone’s lack of faith.  Yes, it seems like Jesus wasn’t immune from frustration.

Jesus asks a lot of us.  He asks us to live for the Kingdom of Heaven and convert by turning away from our sinful or earthly ways.  Like a defiant teenager rebelling against his parents, we may tell Jesus, “Easy for you to say!  You’re perfect!  You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”  But Jesus replies, “I understand perfectly.   Remember, I know what it is like to be human.  I shared the same feelings and emotions.  And I ask these things of you because I know what it is like to be you.  I’m not some distant God who does not know the human condition for I experienced it personally.”

You think you have it tough, try healing a man on the Sabbath!

Fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and confessing sins are all difficult during Lent.  And in general, living a spiritual life can be difficult.  But the Church calls us to this life not because it expects us to fail.  The Church does not call us to a holy life that is completely beyond our ability to grasp.  The Church follows Jesus’ teachings born out of his experience being human and knowing what we are capable of.

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Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

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God Must Come First!

Love
Love (Photo credits: PB Teen)

What’s more important, serving God or serving each other?   points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters.  It’s not that we have to choose one or the other.  We are called to do both.  But it is a matter of priority and focus.  If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church.  Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries?  Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift.  I encourage you to read his article in full.  The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally).  Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.

Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.  In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her.  We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  Notice the order?  Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation.  But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well.  When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation.  In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.

On to the First Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will.  Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan.  Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down.  While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands.  Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.

Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways.  We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world.  But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first.  And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.

I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.

“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5

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Praying for Those Who Hate the Prayerful

God Isn’t Fixing This! (Article title from the New York Daily News)
I do not want to hear one more politician say that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their family.  For the love of God. Do Something (Facebook post from The Coffee Party USA)
“Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again” (Tweet from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)

We witnessed something new in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack and that is an attack on people who resort to prayer. It is an almost knee jerk reaction that many people have to offer “thoughts and prayers” in the face of tragedy. Whether it was the terrorist attacks in Paris, Fort Hood, World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, tragedy seems to bring out people’s deep rooted, and often suppressed, spiritual side. And for as long as I can remember, offering your thoughts and prayers was as natural and inoffensive as saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes.

But with the San Bernardino attack, I saw the automatic “thoughts and prayers” sentiment immediately shamed by both the media and politicians.  I find it amazing that changing your Facebook profile picture to the Eiffel Tower or the French flag or liking posts is seen as supportive but don’t you dare pray for the victims! As if that wasn’t shocking enough, I was also surprised how quickly that movement got started. To me, it felt like people already had their talking points ready to go and just needed a catalyst to roll it out. Like they say in politics, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And in this case, the San Bernardino tragedy seemed to provide the right setting to attack the idea of finding comfort through faith and spirituality.

When you look at the overall theme of these attacks, they do fall apart and make little sense with even minimal scrutiny. The premise is that we can’t stand around praying but we need to act. The assumption is that prayer and action are mutually exclusive and we aren’t capable of doing both. I have repeatedly said, especially in my meditations on the Second Joyful Mystery, how prayer is not always an end in itself.  Rather, it puts us in the state of mind and heart to more readily receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act in a way in accordance with God’s plan for us.  In this light, prayer and action actually go hand in hand.  We pray before we act so that we can act justly.

When you see the link between prayer and action I think it becomes clearer why the media and politicians want to shame those who turn to prayer in the face of tragedy.  If you are trying to push through an agenda the last thing you want to do is have people stop and meditate on it.  By saying that we need immediate action with no time for serious contemplation, politicians are actually saying, “Don’t think about it.  Don’t debate it.  Let’s just get this 1000 page bill signed into law.”  And then the politicians (and the special interests they are beholden to) can celebrate how they alone did something to address the problem without the help from that rule-laden man in the clouds.

“Sorry God, I issued an executive order overriding you”

Let’s suppose we could remove the link between prayer and right action.  Is there still value in praying in the wake of tragedy?  You bet!  Prayers open a dialog with God and makes you more open to his grace and comfort.  It doesn’t change what happened but it can provide an understanding deep in your heart (even if it’s one your mind can’t comprehend).  Think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary).  His prayers did not stop the authorities from arresting and ultimately crucifying him.  But it did put Jesus into a state of mind and heart to endure the upcoming hardship.  And so when we are faced with tragedy, prayer can help us cope with the overwhelming sorrow.  And let’s also remember that tragedy usually involves the loss of life.  The recently departed need prayers too both for God’s mercy and to decrease their time in Purgatory.

It’s time to double down.  If you see someone mocking prayer, that should be your call to action.  You don’t have to engage them on social media since their little soundbite quip requires a larger response and dialog than what social media usually affords.  Instead, think of their comment as a cry for help.  Those who mock prayer are the ones who need it most.  Give them what they need.

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5 Ways You Can Keep Religion Relevant

I came across this article the other day on the Drudge Report about how Americans are becoming less religious.  It read:

“The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still high compared with other advanced industrial countries, slipped to 89 percent in 2014 from 92 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.  The percentage of Americans who pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion important in their lives are down by small, but statistically significant measures, the survey found.”

Other headlines also found on Drudge:

  • Fatal rush-hour shooting near Penn Station
  • ZombiCon shooting leaves one dead
  • COPS: Thief stole operating room table from hospital!
  • CITY OF HATE: Breast-feeding mom mugged in Manhattan park…
  • COPS: Man killed for grabbing last piece of chicken at dinner

Anyone else making a connection here?  I’m not saying that correlation equals causation and that a loss of religion directly contributes to a raise in tragedies.  After all, the world has never really been a pleasant place.  However, I don’t know about you but I feel like the world is really falling apart at an accelerated pace.  I’m not just talking about large world powers colliding in global conflicts either.  I’m thinking more on a micro scale to individuals.  People seem to be much angrier and unhappy.  Everyone seems to fly into a blind rage at the slightest offense or inconvenience.  Or people are retreating into their own little worlds where they just don’t give much thought about their actions and who they may affect.  And this isn’t just me observing this.  Studies are showing a rise in death rates among middle aged, white Americans due to suicide and substance abuse.

 

While the decline in religion may not have a direct causation to the world’s problems, I bet that a return to religion would help alleviate some of them.  In these dark times we need to pray for those who do not practice their faith whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.  Or we need to pray for those who have twisted their faith into something that it is not.  We do live in dark times globally, but for many, individually as well.  And so we can look at Jesus’ example in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary for how we can approach these dark hours.

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

When the world or our individual lives feel like it’s in a downward spiral, we need to follow Jesus’ example and turn to God in earnest prayer like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We ask God for the strength to endure whatever is ahead.  Keep in mind that Jesus was still arrested and crucified despite his prayers.  Those prayers didn’t result in God removing hardship but helped Jesus find strength.  Maybe he found comfort and courage talking to God in prayer, like a child holding a parent’s hand when they are scared or upset.  And so we can also find comfort talking to God in prayer in a world hostile to hearing and living the truth.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

When I think of all the anger and misery in the world, I wonder how much of it is self inflicted because people have turned away from their faith.  How many people find themselves unhappy for reasons they can’t explain because they stopping listening to the source of truth for true happiness, Jesus Christ?  We pray for those who suffer because they have turned away from their faith.  May they find that practicing their faith can provide the answer to their unhappiness and suffering.

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning of Thorns

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus because they did not understand him or his teachings.  And so we find ourselves in a world that mocks Jesus and his truth because they do not know him.  Fewer people are taking the time to know Jesus through living their faith and turn to practices that dishonor him such as premarital sex, pornography, substance abuse, lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, and greed (to name a very small few).  We pray for a realization of the effects our actions have on others and a conversion of heart to Jesus’ truth.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

How hard must it have been for Jesus to carry his cross among a crowd of people, many who supported him and many who had turned against him.  As we journey through this world, let’s not be discouraged by those who are mean to us, attack our values, or wish us harm.  Rather, may we find strength in those who want us to keep fighting the good fight, get up when we fall, and continue living our faith.  While it may seem like the Church is beaten down and her critics are winning, so did it seem like the Romans and pharisees had their victory the many times Jesus fell under his cross.  But we all know that in the end, Jesus found strength in his weakness and those who tried to hurt him ultimately failed.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...

So many people stood before Jesus at the cross mocking him.  Today, so many people stand in front of his Church and mock her by living contrary to the truth.  But when the centurion, a Roman, at the cross witnessed Jesus’ death, he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  Jesus, at his death and supposed victory of the pharisees over him, showed a glimmer of the victory that was yet to come by converting the heart of an unbeliever.  And so we hope that through our tireless example of living for Jesus we too can turn even the most hardened skeptics into believers.

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A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

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Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

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