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Dear St John Paul II… a thanksgiving for your holy influence in my life

Dear St John Paul II… a thanksgiving for your holy influence in my life

Dear St John Paul II,

What a blessing to go to Mass this morning on your feast day! Your life had such a big impact on mine; your holy influence has fueled some of my best prayer practices and my most earnest studies.

Long before you instituted World Youth Days, you struck a chord with me as a youngish youth minister when I accompanied my youth group to Madison Square Garden. You told us: “Look to Christ!” So simple, yet so life-changing. We have so much that distracts us in this age. Only one thing is needed: keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.23.47 PMYour love for the Blessed Mother caught my attention. I had mixed emotions about Mary until I read your advice in Redemptoris Mater about Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. You said it was a way to better live my baptismal promises. That inspired me to say yes to Marian Consecration when I was invited by some local friends to do so. Who knew the timing would be just months before my breast cancer diagnosis? I would need Momma Mary all the more during that time. But you know that ANY TIME is a good time to get closer to Mary.

To this day, I remember my profound shock and joy when the The Catechism of the Catholic Church came out in English in 1994. I have a first edition. Some people laughed that I cared to read it. Yet its teaching grounded my love for Christ and the wisdom of the Church. It’s amazing footnotes and multiple indices sent me back to grad school for my Masters to learn what all that “alphabet soup” meant — all those abbreviations! — all the magisterial teaching and the wisdom of the church doctors and saints continues to thrill and inspire my life and my work. I’m still learning from it, by the way. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed to write a monthly column in Catholic Digest about it for the last few years.

A happy fallout of learning the Catechism in the 90s is that it put me in touch with the profound theological master, our dear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Reading you and reading him made me grow to love Christ and the Church all the more.  What a legacy your remarkable friendship has given the world!

Your Theology of the Body renewed my marriage and gave me a path for raising my teens — sharing with them God’s plan for marital love and fidelity to whatever vocation that God gives them.

I remember standing with my Bob and my daughter Katie in St Peter’s Square with you, toward the end of your earthly life. It was our first general audience in 2004. That was a long time since our youthful selves were at the Garden in ’79. But your age and infirmity did not matter, you were still happy to be with us. By then I knew you were a living saint. I yelled out my love and prayers with that crazy throng as you passed by in your Popemobile.

Let me tell you one last thing. When I was a young mom, I stumbled upon your musings about “the feminine genius”, in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… Little did I know the impact they would have. Later, those writings, and related homilies, and your encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), would eventually become the basis of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood.  How can I ever thank you for that? Maybe someday in heaven, right? I’m hoping my work is part of that great thank you. Did you have a hand in my book being recently translated into Polish is advance of the next World Youth Day in Krakow? Either way, I’m crediting your influence.

Speaking of all good things Polish! I have loved the Divine Mercy devotion and St Faustina for years, thanks to you! It has changed my 3 o’clock hour. Not to mention your addition of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. That was brilliant.

Okay I’m rambling here, but you get the point. Thank you, thank you, dear Papa! There’s so much more I could write and gush about. I know you are praying for the universal church, and for your little friend here, who is writing a new manuscript with fear and trembling, and looking to you again for your holy tutelage. What a gift to ask for your intercession!

St John Paul II, pray for us!

50 Shades’ ain’t sexy… forget the movie — try a virtual marriage retreat during National Marriage Week

50 Shades of Grey, the movie version of the best-selling novel, is hitting theaters this weekend. Lots of commentary about the film’s negative attributes is floating around the blogosphere. Matt Fradd, author of Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity, has a video up at Covenant Eyes:

Fradd’s points would make good conversation fodder around the dinner table for parents and teens. So would this article. 

Certainly, from a spiritual standpoint, one might be very wary of the film  but even some secular reviewers have panned this movie, calling it 50 shades of Nay! (<– salty language alert) but kudos to those brave enough to call out the abuse of women this movie glorifies.

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Here’s an idea for married folks: Forget going to the movies for Valentine’s Day, this is National Marriage Week!  

Why not try a virtual marriage retreat with your spouse?

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Finally if you want to do a bit more reading, you might enjoy this excerpt about respecting human dignity, with a focus on the feminine genius. Fortunately, Jesus, in the Gospels, led the way. St John Paul II unpacks some of Jesus’ groundbreaking respect for women in Mulieris Dignitatem:

In all of Jesus’ teaching, as well as in his behaviour, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honour due to women. The woman with a stoop is called a “daughter of Abraham” (Lk 13:16), while in the whole Bible the title “son of Abraham” is used only of men. Walking the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus will say to the women: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me” (Lk 23:28). This way of speaking to and about women, as well as his manner of treating them, clearly constitutes an “innovation” with respect to the prevailing custom at that time.

This becomes even more explicit in regard to women whom popular opinion contemptuously labelled sinners, public sinners and adulteresses. There is the Samaritan woman, to whom Jesus himself says: “For you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband”. And she, realizing that he knows the secrets of her life, recognizes him as the Messiah and runs to tell her neighbours. The conversation leading up to this realization is one of the most beautiful in the Gospel (cf. Jn 4:7-27).

Then there is the public sinner who, in spite of her condemnation by common opinion, enters into the house of the Pharisee to anoint the feet of Jesus with perfumed oil. To his host, who is scandalized by this, he will say: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (cf. Lk 7:37-47).

Finally, there is a situation which is perhaps the most eloquent: a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus. To the leading question “In the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?”, Jesus replies: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. The power of truth contained in this answer is so great that “they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest”. Only Jesus and the woman remain. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”. “No one, Lord”. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (cf. Jn 8:3-11).

These episodes provide a very clear picture. Christ is the one who “knows what is in man” (cf. Jn 2:25) – in man and woman. He knows the dignity of man, his worth in God’s eyes. He himself, the Christ, is the definitive confirmation of this worth. Everything he says and does is definitively fulfilled in the Paschal Mystery of the Redemption. Jesus’ attitude to the women whom he meets in the course of his Messianic service reflects the eternal plan of God, who, in creating each one of them, chooses her and loves her in Christ (cf. Eph 1:1-5). Each woman therefore is “the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake”. Each of them from the “beginning” inherits as a woman the dignity of personhood. Jesus of Nazareth confirms this dignity, recalls it, renews it, and makes it a part of the Gospel and of the Redemption for which he is sent into the world. Every word and gesture of Christ about women must therefore be brought into the dimension of the Paschal Mystery. In this way everything is completely explained.

Read Mulieris Dignitatem for more.

 

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

The long pontificate and life of St John Paul will have a lasting impact on the church until Jesus returns. Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.23.47 PMGiven his canonization today, I thought I’d share with you some of John Paul’s gifts to the church, and extraordinary accomplishments, that have held meaning for me through the years. He’s been an inspiration to me since I was 18, a college frosh when he was elected. I’m so grateful that in 1979 I was among the youth who greeted him in New York, as I chaperoned a trip to see him. (More on that below.) Decades later in Rome, I was, again, among the throng at a 2004 papal audience alongside my husband and daughter. Both experiences were unforgettable!

Today I woke up at 4am to watch the canonization. This, after giving a women’s retreat at Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, NS, that highlighted our new Saint’s writings and teachings! But I could not miss it “live”. And as I sat there in my bed in my hotel room before I had to catch a plane home, all the fondness for this Saint flooded back to me. It’s not just who he was, but what he wrote and taught that has inspired me and helped to shape me as a Christian.

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Here’s my Top Ten List of Inspirations from St John Paul II:

  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church – This was a monumental achievement, as it was the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years. From my archives: some commentary on catechism trivia.  
  2. His Marian Devotion, especially through his Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, and his writings on Mary, including Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  The latter gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been personally inspired by John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on his life.
  3. The feminine genius, as described in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… and other related homilies and writings, such as Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). I truly believe these were the fruit of the Saint’s devotion to Mary, our Mother. These specific works also had a positive influence in my own life, and I tell that story in my book… which I’m giving away in a free drawing here.
  4. The Theology of the Body – a series of papal audiences and teaching given over several years on human love, sexuality, and anthropology. You can find classes in this area of study here. In the US, there is a Congress this summer.
  5. His Apostolic visits to 129 countries around the world — including 7 trips to the United States.
  6. The myriad of saints he canonized.
  7. Restoration of the Sistine Chapel.
  8. His books, outside of his magisterial teaching, that are now read in popular culture, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Love and Responsibility.
  9. The Jubilee Year 2000 (and the years of preparation for the new millennium).
  10. World Youth Days (I never did get to attend one, but I was at a special gathering for youth in Madison Square Garden with JP2 in 1979.)Below is a favorite quote from WYD 2000.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!

Thank you St John Paul for your holy influence in my life! St John Paul, pray for us!

This makes me think… about Mary as the New Eve

This makes me think… about Mary as the New Eve

In Mary, Eve discovers the nature of the true dignity of woman, of feminine humanity. This discovery must continually reach the heart of every woman and shape her vocation and her life.

-Blessed John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, par 11.

I’ve always been moved by this illustration.

evemary-reduced

Crayon & pencil drawing
by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO.
Copyright 2005,
Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

 

Among Women 168: The Silver Jubilee of Mulieris Dignitatem

Among Women 168: The Silver Jubilee of Mulieris Dignitatem

Among Women looks at the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Mulieris DignitatemMy guest is author-blogger Genevieve Kineke who has long studied this document and who recently released a commemorative book edition of John Paul’s letter with commentary and ways you can study this ground-breaking document for women.

You can win a copy of Genevieve Kineke’s book on Mulieris Dignitatem! Enter the free drawing by sending your comments me, Pat Gohn, at amongwomenpodcast@me.com, or visit the Among Women podcast facebook page. The contest will close on Oct, 31, 2013.

Also of note to podcast listeners, the Pontifical Society for the Laity in Rome invited over 100 women from around the world to meet to study Mulieris Dignitatem anew, we’ll also look at the life of a little-known 8th century hermit, St Ulphia of France, and I’ll tell you where I’ll be speaking next in the next few weeks.

Listen to the Among Women podcast here. 

 

Discussions of a “theology of women in the church” continues in the press… my thoughts

Two pieces that have come out in the press this past week that continue to express interest in what Pope Francis alluded to when he talked about “a deeper theology of women in the church.” One very much reflecting an important Marian perspective found in magisterial teachings, and the other offering a wide ranging sampling of opinions from Catholic women from around the country — yours truly was even quoted among them.

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My photo of a pilgrim image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

The first is from theologian Pia di Solenni, PhD, in the National Catholic Register, who very much echoes my own view that the church already has a theology of women, and what we need is a deeper integration of that message world-wide. Further, in my previous post, and in my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, I made the point that Blessed John Paul II’s writings are calling women to a new feminism that fully integrates our Christian values. And in so doing, the Church must look to Mary, the Mother of God, as shedding light on a woman’s dignity. Long before John Paul took up the subject, we have had centuries of Marian meditation and Mariology, such that Mary ought to be the cornerstone of that new feminism, just as Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity.

At the Register, Di Solenni describes her doctoral studies that explored John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignatatem as well as other works. She describes John Paul’s thoughts on womanhood through the lens of Mary… and how an adequate theology must look deeply into the woman as she truly is, not just what she does.

[John Paul II] focused on Mary, the woman, whom, in Mulieris, he had set up as a paradigm for all humanity, including himself and every other priest, by virtue of her response to God’s call.

The shift to Mary emphasizes the change in emphasis from doing to being. We actually know very little about what Mary did. But we know who she is: the Mother of God. Her ability to become a mother fundamentally enabled her to be open to God in a relationship that only a woman could have. Her response, uniquely feminine, paradoxically, became the model for all humanity.

Toward the end of John Paul’s life, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a letter to the bishops, On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, which emphasized that women “have a role in every aspect of society.”

If we follow the example of Mary, that means working from within, wherever we happen to be, whether as chancellor of a major archdiocese, a mother home with small children, in business, politics or countless other places. It means recognizing that women bring something to the table by virtue of who they are rather than simply by what they do.

If Mary’s role as homemaker had been so vital, Jesus would have left the preparation of the Passover meal to her and not to the apostles. (I’m willing to bet she would’ve put on a better spread.) She was defined by who she was, by her relation with Jesus, not by what she did. Similarly, we know that the apostles weren’t the smartest or the holiest bunch of men. But Jesus didn’t pick them for their accomplishments.

[Read the rest.]

I think there are two areas that we should address when we want to discuss a theology of women… the first is the role of women in the church alluded to in the Pope’s comments. Specifically, that is, roles within the Church that equal leadership, that is the doing of things. Yet, this doing must flow from the primacy of one’s being. And the context of being is the larger context, embracing the doing. DiSolenni’s point is the profound starting place… women bring something to the table by virtue of who they are rather than simply by what they do.

In yesterday’s Washington Post’s “On Faith” article by Elizabeth Tenety, a wide-ranging discussion continues under the headline, “What Catholic Women Want.”

It is largely a discussion of the doings of women, and within it, and one aspect the article describes is the seeming inequity of women not being allowed to be priests. The Catholic Church has an ordained hierarchy. Francis makes the point that the subject of woman’s ordination is closed. And frankly, I don’t have a beef with that, and never have. I believe that decision flows from the being question. The “doing” of things is not requisite for the dignity of being. Yes, the human dignity questions go very deep, all the way to a person’s ontology — their very being. The dignity of a man, flows from his personhood, but in a man’s personhood we also see and regard his masculinity and his paternal gift, that of fatherhood. A woman’s dignity flows from her personhood, including her femininity and maternal gift  –motherhood. We share one human nature with complimentary and distinctive genders, male and female. There are ontological, biological, spiritual, and anthropologically differences between men and women, and respect for these aspects of our humanity need to be acknowledged.

Meanwhile over the last several years I increasingly see more women emerging in local Northeast church leadership and administration of dioceses and parishes. This trend, in time, may eventually lead to more qualified women serving in the Roman Curia or as leaders within Pontifical societies without having to be ordained. There is room for the complimentary gifts of lay women and lay men, as well as members of religious orders, to work in collaboration with the ordained hierarchy, as mentioned in DiSolenni’s article above.

I discussed the emergence of women leaders, both current and historical, with Ms. Tenety in our conversation leading up to her article, and I was very pleased to see her express similar ideas in her piece.

No one denies that women have played a crucial role in the spiritual life of the church, from the often-thankless work of raising children and ministering to the needy in parishes, to the theological contributions of the four female “doctors of the church” (all named since the 1970’s) like Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The church, as Francis referenced, already has a theology of women, centered in documents like ‘On the Dignity of Women’ and John Paul II’s work on what is called the “theology of the body,” the teaching that differences in gender point to differences in men and women’s nature. But even the pope says more must be done.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the first female director of communications at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that “women don’t feel heard. So just being heard is a major move forward.”

Catholic writer, activist and new mother Ashley McGuire recommends the Vatican start by convening a council of women theologians, activists, educators and leaders at all levels to help the hierarchy address “the issues women are struggling with and then helping the church then to present church teaching back to women in a way that reaches women.”

Permission to lead

One issue Catholic women struggle with? The question of authority and leadership in the church. This is 2013, they say, and Catholic women want to lead, they want to be allowed to lead, and they want to be encouraged to lead.

“The feminine presence in the church has not been emphasized much, because the temptation of chauvinism has not allowed for the place that belongs to the women of the community to be made very visible.” The source of that quote? Jorge Bergoglio, the man now known as Pope Francis, in a 2010 book.

The exclusion of women from the priesthood is one highly-cited practice that is often seen, even within the church, as plainly discriminatory, and a 2010 poll by The New York Times/ CBS showed that 59 percent of American Catholics favor the ordination of women. But the church does not operate by popular opinion and the longstanding teaching on the all-male priesthood is one of the oldest traditions of one of the oldest religions in the world. Pope John Paul II said the question of female ordination was not open for debate and said the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”; Pope Francis, in his news conference, affirmed that teaching. For some Catholics, anything short of ordination means that women will never achieve equal status or influence as men.

From my vantage point, according to the dignity of the human person, women already possess an equal status with men as persons, and women’s ordination will not change that, or strengthen it. This is a confusion of the being and doing. Not everyone is clamoring for women’s ordination and I was glad to see Tenety’s piece identify that.

Others see nothing unfair about men and women having different roles, and identify huge potential for female leadership in the church, from the parish level all the way to the Vatican.

“The first step is to encourage what is already permissible,” says [Sr Mary Ann] Walsh. In other words, deepening a theology of women would encourage the church to find ways to get women in positions of greater authority and influence. Catholic women have already proven their ability to lead major organizations like schools and hospitals. Can that authority extend to the Roman Curia?

Pope Francis says he wants to move beyond the image of the church as chauvinistic. Catholic women have some ideas on how to get there: Bring more women into key positions in the Vatican, as consultants and theologians and heads of offices that don’t require holy orders. Map an affirmative action plan for qualified females to infiltrate Curia positions, such as members of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, where few women today serve. Encourage women to work as chancellors of dioceses around the world. Help them to prepare for careers as pastoral associates, who fill many of the roles of the traditional parish priest, a task needed more than ever due to the priest shortage in the West. Some even say that a theological argument can be made for women to serve as deacons, with a spate of articles in the Catholic world exploring the issue. Catholic women across the ideological spectrum, many of whom point to female leaders already working in the church like Harvard legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon, now serving as adviser to Pope Francis on Vatican finances, nonetheless agree that these are positions that women not only can fill, but should.

So that’s part of the doing questions that should be discussed, and I’d welcome Francis’ thoughts on this in the future — how women can best serve within the church’s leadership, besides the many roles they are already doing within catechesis, in schools, or as diocesan or parish staff members.

What remains is the larger framework — the being questions — that side of “what women want” that is more universal. Simply, women would like to know the church is for them, not against them. The Church does have a positive message about women — with aspects that we call the feminine genius, or the gospel of life, or the dignity of the human person, or theology of the body —  but much of it is still not widespread and known. The media’s contrary spin about the church’s negative attitude toward women has affected our cultural mindset. We need a renewal of our consciences on these matters, and I take up the idea of renewing our conscience in chapter one of my book.

This message to women — the beauty of the feminine genius and the call to a new feminism — is clearly suffering from a marketing problem among Catholic women themselves. One of the reasons I wrote my book was to begin conversations to familiarize women with what the church has already proclaimed about women, and share the resources on the subject.

I see advancing the dignity and vocations of women as an important part of the new evangelization that cannot be overlooked. It is easy to see that from a human dignity standpoint, anti-women biases, especially in the third world are still prevalent and need correction. And in the West, where women have the most advantages, there are mounting anti-life losses that affect the maternal core of femininity — contraception, abortion, sexual abuse, and more.

A new feminism, a deeper or more profound theology of women, universally preached and taught will have life-giving and healing results for women and men. As more people embrace this message, it will transform the landscape, not just locally, but globally. I said as much in Tenety’s article:

Pat Gohn, a Catholic author of a recent book on the church and women, sees the potential for a renewed theology of women to “have a ripple effect in civil society.” Says Gohn, “I think this idea of the dignity of women has not been made universal yet. Women are still suffering on multiple levels from all types of injustice like abuse and sexual slavery.” Because the Catholic Church has global reach, she says, the result of a deepening theology of women could “touch all of those problem areas where women are in trouble and in need.”

The impact could not only touch those in desperate poverty, but also women in the developed world who still struggle in other ways.

For example, Alvaré says, “corporate culture, law and policy would have to do a whole lot more taking account of motherhood than it does now.” Paid maternity leave for all mothers is on the table. So is an invigorated cultural effort to support women who want to work part-time in order to spend more time with their families. Also just as relevant, says Janet Smith, would be a greater respect for women who choose to stay at home and raise children.

“Feminism didn’t fight the diminution of a woman who chose to spend her time dedicating herself to being a wife and mother,” Smith says. Enter: a theology of women, which she says “to some extent is meant to show that women don’t have to live life by the rules of men.” [Read the rest.]

To be clear, an enriched theology of women, like any good theology, is never about what any of us might want, as Tenety’s catchy headline might read, as if we could concoct a recipe for it…  a theology must examine how the church might apply Sacred scripture and tradition to the problems of our time, and in this case, to the problems that face women. A theology is the study of God, and if we are talking about a theology of women in the church, we must look critically at God’s creation in light of God’s revelation. And God’s Incarnation has revealed himself quite profoundly in and through The Woman, Mary — God’s masterpiece of creation.

A deeper or more profound theology of womanhood would speak to women universally, and at the same time, it would not invalidate what has been already accepted doctrinally within the church. It would build on them, enhance them. Divine revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. We already possess the fullness of truth, thanks to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, we can grow deeper in our awareness and understanding of our faith traditions, such as the dignity of the human person, and of Mariology, already mentioned. These  social and Marian doctrines are in keeping with Scripture and Tradition.

One final thought for the moment in distinguishing between doctrine and disciplines. (And thanks to Fr Dwight Longenecker’s eloquence in an interview recently when he said, “Doctrines develop and grow, but they can’t be changed. A discipline of the church can be changed, however.”) We must remember that doctrine is different from the disciplines of the church, or even, say, the local or national hiring practices within dioceses and parishes. It is here where a deeper theology and universal acceptance of the dignity and vocation of women would assist increasing the number of women within leadership roles in the church, for that is within the disciplines of church governance, in collaboration with the hierarchy.

From a doctrinal standpoint, we already have the social doctrine of the dignity of the human person, and the dignity and vocation of women falls well within that. Plus, particularly in the last fifty years, the church through her popes have given us documents pointing out the beauty and strength of the feminine genius. And, finally, I’ll end where I began this post: we have Mary, whose power and influence cannot be overlooked in terms of the action of the Spirit of God through her.

We need a deeper, better, and more profound reception of these things now, and in the years ahead.

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