A Catholic Seeking after God
Do you hunger for a personal relationship with God? Do you long for spiritual cleansing, liberty and peace? The following short articles explore the teaching of the Bible on the way of salvation. Please read them. Earnestly seek God in prayer to open your heart to the message of the gospel. He promises to reveal himself to honest seekers. ‘You will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul’ (Deuteronomy 4:29).
The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).
The Lord Jesus described two ways, the broad road leading to destruction and the narrow one leading to life. How can we know the way that leads to heaven, and avoid the other?
The gospel is the true way to life because it is God's message to humanity. People have invented several religions but all of them are false; the Bible warns us that ‘the world through wisdom did not know God’ (1 Corinthians 1:21).
God's message is recorded in the Bible. It was written by holy people who were guided by the Holy Spirit. We can trust the Bible because it is God's book. We can also be confident that it is the sure guide to heaven. The Holy Scriptures ‘are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15).
What about church tradition? Jesus warned us against tradition (Mark 7:1-13). He accused the Jews that they were ‘making the word of God of no effect through your tradition.’ They should have remained faithful to the written Word, and we should take heed not to repeat the same mistake.
What about religious teachers? We should listen to them as long as their teaching is faithful to the Bible. We ought to imitate the noble people of Berea who ‘received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11).
What about our personal opinion? We should eagerly seek God's way, not our own. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5).
The Bible is the only sure guide to heaven. The person who learns, believes and obeys its message can say: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105).
Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28).
It is our responsibility to obey and love God, our Creator and Ruler. However, since the beginning we have rebelled against him and, because of our sins, we are guilty and in danger of hell.
There is only one way of escape, as the Bible says, ‘without shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness)’ (Hebrews 9:22). During the Old Testament period God commanded his people to offer animal sacrifices on the altar at the Temple in order to teach us two basic truths – firstly, sin must be punished, and secondly, the sinner can be freed if somebody else was punished in his place.
The Old Testament sacrifices were a picture of what Jesus, ‘the Lamb of God,’ would do on Calvary. ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). Christ, the perfect and sinless One, took upon himself the sins of his people. He suffered and died on the cross to pay the penalty demanded by the Law of God for their sins so that they could be freed.
On the day before he suffered, Jesus instituted the ‘Lord's Supper’ so that his disciples would continue to remember him and his sacrifice until he returns. Sadly, tradition has changed its meaning. The Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. It is true that Jesus said, ‘this is my body...This is my blood.’ However each time he explained, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ The bread and the wine are a remembrance, a memorial of his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.
A more serious error is taught by the Catholic Church. The Mass is regarded a sacrifice for sin; indeed it is said to be the same sacrifice of Christ because it ‘perpetuates’ and ‘makes present’ the sacrifice of the cross. This teaching contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible:
Christ entered ‘into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another -- he then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many’ (Hebrews 9:24-28).
The daily sacrifice of the Mass implies remaining sin and guilt. In Biblical Christianity there are no more sacrifices for sin because Christians are assured that all their sins are forgiven forever. The Lord proclaims: ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is remission (forgiveness) of these, there is no longer an offering for sin’ (Hebrews 10:17, 18).
Would you continue to rely on a man-made sacrifice, or would you approach God on the merits of the unique, perfect and finished sacrifice of Christ on the cross?
There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5).
Since God is holy and we are sinners, it is impossible to approach him on our own. We need a mediator to cleanse us from sin and to present us to God. The mediator is Jesus Christ: ‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the only mediator because he alone shed his blood to secure the freedom of his people from the slavery of sin.
Sadly, human tradition has obscured the clear teaching of the Bible. Unwilling to follow the Word of God, people have invented other ‘mediators.’
Mary, the Mother of the Lord
Mary is highly favoured among women because she was chosen to be the mother of our Lord according to the flesh; Christians joyfully call her ‘blessed’ for her unique privilege. However, Mary is not our Mediator.
The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin and that by her suffering she contributed to our salvation. It also teaches that she was taken up to heaven and appointed our mediatrix. She is also called our life and the gate of heaven. None of this is taught in the Bible. On the contrary the Word of God teaches that Jesus was conceived without sin; he died for our sins; he ascended into heaven and he is the only mediator. He alone is our life and the gate to heaven. We should therefore look to Jesus Christ alone.
Mary said: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1:46-47). Mary desired the Lord’s exaltation, not her own. Moreover she plainly teaches us to look upon God for salvation, and not to herself or anyone else. God is ‘my Saviour,’ she confesses.
We should call upon the name of Jesus, and not upon the name of Mary, because the apostle Peter declares, ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
The Catholic Priest
The leaders in the New Testament church were called pastors, elders and overseers (bishops); but they are never called priests, and for good reason. The Old Testament priests were replaced by Jesus Christ, the ‘High Priest of our confession’ (Hebrews 3:1).
The Old Testament priests were sinners; they offered the blood of animals, and entered in a man-made temple on earth. Jesus is much better because he is sinless, offered his own blood, and entered into heaven itself. ‘Such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people's, for this he did once for all when he offered up himself’ (Hebrews 7:26,27).
What need is there for a Roman Catholic priest to offers sacrifices for sin if we have Jesus Christ for our Priest? ‘He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them’ (Hebrews 7:25).
Do you want to know the way the heaven? The Lord Jesus gives us a plain answer: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Come to the Father through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator.
Through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins (Acts 10:43).
God alone can forgive sin, the breaking of divine Law. When David committed a serious sin, he found peace after he confessed to God. ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5).
Human tradition has once again distorted the teaching of the Bible. Catholic priests claim the power to judge sinners and give or withhold absolution (a judicial sentence of forgiveness). Catholics are taught that Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance when he told the apostles: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (John 20:23).
Undoubtedly Jesus gave them power to forgive. But we must ask: what kind of power did Jesus give them? Did he appoint them judges in God’s place? Or did he commission them to forgive sins by proclaiming the gospel? The answer is clear if we read the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of the New Testament.
There is no evidence in the Bible that the apostles heard confessions or gave absolution. Rather they preached the gospel and urged people to repent and believe in Jesus to obtain forgiveness. The apostle Peter preached, ‘To him all the prophets witness that, through his name, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins’ (Acts 10:43); and the apostle Paul said, ‘Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins, and by him everyone who believes is justified’ (Acts 13:38,39).
If you desire God’s forgiveness, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, just as the apostles taught, and you will be saved.
Christians should confess their sins. However they should not confess to a Catholic priest. Confession to a priest is a human invention, unknown in the church for many centuries. Jesus taught us plainly that we should confess directly to the Father, ‘Our Father in heaven ... forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matthew 6:9, 12).
There is another critical mistake in the Catholic religion about forgiveness. The Church teaches that God's forgiveness is incomplete. After a person is ‘forgiven,’ He must perform acts of penance to make satisfaction for his sins. Even after death, most Catholics expect to undergo purification in the fire of Purgatory.
The Bible assures believers that ‘your sins are forgiven for his name's sake’ (1 John 2:12) and ‘the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us form all sin’ (1 John 1:7). They need not make satisfaction for the sins that Christ took upon himself; they need not go to purgatory whose sins were cleansed by his blood.
No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11.
Once Jesus asked what the disciples thought about him. The apostle Peter answered: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus commended Peter, saying, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:16-18).
What is ‘the rock’ upon which the Church is built? Some say it is Peter; others think it is Peter's confession, ‘You are the Christ.’ In a sense, the church is built on Peter, the other apostles, and the prophets (as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:20) because it is founded on their teaching about Christ.
The Roman Catholic claim that the church is built on Peter because he was made the universal bishop of the church is false. Even though he was a prominent apostle, Peter was not considered the head of the whole church. The Vatican teaches that Peter is ‘the Church's supreme pastor (shepherd)’ (Catechism paragraph 857); but Peter himself would disagree because he identifies Jesus Christ as ‘the Chief Shepherd’ (1 Peter 5:4).
The rock could refer to Peter's confession about Christ, the Son of God, as St. Augustine and other Fathers taught. Even the Catholic catechism admits that this meaning is correct. ‘Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On the rock of this faith confessed by St Peter, Christ built his Church’ (paragraph 424). In either case, the papacy is not proved from Matthew 16.
We need not be in any doubt on the basic questions about the Church because the Bible gives us clear answers.
1. Who is the head of the Church?
2. What is the foundation of the Church?
3. Is there any other Rock besides the Lord?
The church of Jesus Christ is catholic (universal) because it is composed of all the people purchased with his blood from every nation of the world. The church is holy because its members are sanctified by the blood of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The church is apostolic because it follows the teaching of the apostles as recorded in the Bible. Every assembly of Christians, the local church, that believes and obeys the teaching of the Bible form part of the one, holy and catholic church of Jesus Christ.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
The words which Jesus originally told Nicodemus, a respected Jewish leader, apply to us as well. Unless we are born again, we will not enter heaven, even though we may be religious, attend church, read the Bible, pray, and try to live a good life.
Why should a person be ‘born again’? Why is this radical change necessary? The Bible describes the desperate condition of man’s natural state. He is not just ill or weak -- the natural man is ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). His mind is not subject to God’s will, and though he may be religious, he does not seek after the true God. He has no living relationship with the Lord and he can't do anything about it.
Therefore it is not a matter of turning a new leaf or resolving to live better. Religious rites (like circumcision or baptism) cannot help either – Nicodemus was circumcised but he still needed to be born anew. Many baptized people show no signs of spiritual life.
There is no ‘how to’ formula to be born again. It is neither a human work nor is it initiated by the human will. Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ prompt the life-giving operation of God. His children are born ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13). God gives life to whoever he wills.
Once a person is born again, he instinctively cries out to God, for now he is a child of the Father. Whereas the new birth is not produced by man, its effects are clearly seen in man. The apostle John gives three tests as evidence that a person is spiritually alive and well.
1. Faith: Previously he did not think much of Jesus. Now he trusts only in the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, whom the Father sent to accomplish our salvation. ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ (1 John 5:1).
2. Holiness: The child of God grows to become like his Father. He hates what God hates and loves the things God loves. He fights against sin and temptation and willingly obeys the commandments of God. ‘Whoever has been born of God does not sin … everyone who practices righteousness is born of him’ (1 John 3:9; 2:29).
3. Love: The child of God learns love from his Father; he desires to serve all people, especially his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. ‘Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God’ (1 John 4:7).
When you examine yourself in the light of the Word of God, can you honestly say, ‘Yes, I am born again’?
RIGHT WITH GOD
Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
How can a person, burdened down with the guilt of his sin, obtain peace with God? According to Scripture there is only remedy: justification by faith in Christ. ‘Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).
‘Justification’ is a legal term; it is the very opposite of ‘condemnation.’ The accused is condemned if the judge pronounces a ‘guilty’ verdict; he is justified if the judge declares him ‘not guilty’ and frees him from all punishment.
God, the Judge of the world, would certainly justify us if we were righteous. However the sad truth is that we are far from being righteous. We must plead guilty because we have acted contrary to his Law, and since we are sinners and unjust, God’s sentence must be our condemnation.
How then can a man be just before God? The Catholic religion teaches that God finally justifies a person when the sinner, by the sacraments, good works, penance and purgatory, becomes just and righteous.
Admittedly, God works in the life of his children, changing them to become more and more like his Son. Still, as long as they are on earth, Christians continue to sin (1 John 1:8). The Catholic teaching -- God justifies the righteous -- is bad news to every person on earth.
May God be praised for his unspeakable mercy: the Bible presents a different message! ‘To him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness’ (Romans 4:4, 5).
God does not justify the believer because he is righteous --he is not! God justifies ‘the ungodly.’ Neither does God acquit him because of any credit gained by personal good works. God justifies ‘him who does not work’! This is the true gospel, comforting balm for the poor sinner’s soul!
How can God justify the believer, seeing that he is still a sinner? The answer to this vital question touches the core of the gospel. God is perfectly just when he justifies those who believe in his Son because Christ, the Lamb of God, accepted full responsibility for their sins. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).
Sadly many people are too proud to accept God’s gracious pardon. They feel that they must also do something to merit forgiveness. Instead of trusting in him, they end up relying on themselves. The Lord Jesus once told a parable in the hearing of some ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.’
‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank you, that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other’ (Luke 18:9-14).
The first man presented his own righteousness and good works to God; the second approached God empty-handed. The Pharisee considered himself righteous and came confidently forward; the publican was painfully aware of his poverty and shame. Both went up to the temple to pray -- the self-righteous man asked for nothing; the publican pleaded for mercy. One was trusting in himself to be spiritually good, but in God’s eyes, he was not. The other depended solely upon God’s mercy and he went home justified.
Here we must make a choice between these two alternatives: complete trust in God or reliance on human effort. The Roman Catholic Church pronounces a curse on all those who say that ‘justifying faith is nothing more than confidence in the divine mercy, which forgives sins because of Christ.’ I must admit that for my justification, I have nothing but ‘confidence in the divine mercy’ -- just as the publican had.
Are you seeking to be accepted of God on account of your deeds, or are you leaning by faith upon the all-merciful God? Your answer marks the difference between your justification or condemnation.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).
I was brought up in a Catholic home. I heard the Evangelical message for the first time when I was 14 years old: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31). Evangelicals teach that a person is saved by faith in Christ alone, and not on account of personal good works.
To my mind this teaching was clearly wrong and dangerous. Wrong, because St James says that faith without works is dead; dangerous because it seems to encourage careless living since a person is not saved by works.
I was determined to study the Bible for myself. I found that James’ concern was to distinguish between true and counterfeit faith. ‘What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?’ (James 2:14). That kind of ‘faith’ is worthless; it cannot save anyone. True faith is recognized by the fruit it produces.
The central question was this: ‘Is a person saved by true faith alone? Or is he saved by faith plus the merit of good works?’ The answer of the Bible is clear and surprising: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Saved through faith ... not of works! It is amazing: the Bible that so emphasizes holy living and good works, also states that salvation is not based on personal works. The Christian does not depend on his ‘goodness’ or his efforts, but trusts completely in another Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Bible says that we are saved ‘not of works,’ it is referring to our efforts. Certainly it does not imply that salvation is an easy task. In fact the work of salvation is so great that no-one could perform it except God himself by his Son. It was necessary for the eternal Son of God to humble himself and become a human being, and having lived a perfect and sinless life, he gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. ‘Christ has redeemed (freed) us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13). The payment for my sins was the precious blood he shed; not my works and penance. Certainly that is why God wants me to believe in him.
One question remained: Why then should I perform good works at all? Immediately after stating that we are saved ‘not by works,’ the apostle Paul writes that we are saved ‘for good works.’ Good works are the result, not the cause, of salvation.
Today I am an Evangelical Christian and I am sure of heaven. This is not presumption for I'm not depending on myself and my deeds anymore; I trust in Jesus Christ, knowing that his death on the cross is the sufficient payment for the penalty of all my sins. My sole desire is to live worthy of the One who loved me and gave himself for me.
I am concerned for Catholics and others whose life is overrun by sin and yet feel that all will be fine at the end. The Bible warns them that their ‘faith’ is dead and useless to save them from hell. On the other hand, I'm also concerned about devout Catholics who are afraid of God’s judgment, and are doing their best to merit forgiveness and grace. They claim to believe in Jesus, but sadly they continue to rely on their own goodness and righteousness.
I want to share the same Good News I heard in my youth because it is the message of the Bible. If you want to be saved, believe on the Lord Jesus and stop trusting in yourself or anything you do. Stop clinging to your religion, and with empty hands receive the free gift of salvation. Then, for the rest of your life, give yourself to good works out of gratitude to our gracious and loving Father.
I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Dear Friend, the Bible says that it is appointed for us to die once, and after this the judgment. Soon our brief life will be over. Yet death is not the end, for we must stand before the judgment seat of God. One of two destinies awaits us - either everlasting punishment in hell or everlasting life and joy in heaven.
Many people ignore this sober reality because they are preoccupied with their business and entertainments. Others think they are ‘good enough’ and therefore have nothing to worry about; while others feel that God will not send anyone to hell because he is a loving God.
All these futile excuses will be useless when we stand before the Judge of the world. Are we prepared for that day? It all depends on whether we believe or reject the true gospel of Christ.
The True Gospel and the Counterfeit
The apostle Paul was evidently in great distress and anguish when he penned his letter to the Galatians. The glory of God and the salvation of many people were at stake. False teachers had followed him and distorted the gospel he had preached. They did not openly deny faith in Christ or the grace of God. They simply added the rite of circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law as the basis for acceptance with God. The apostle Paul considered their teaching ‘another gospel.’ He writes:
‘I marvel that you are turning away so soon from him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:6-8).
If the apostle Paul considered that the addition of works to faith invalidated the gospel, what is the biblical verdict on the message of the Roman Catholic Church? The ‘gospel’ of Rome is faith plus works, grace plus merit, Christ plus the church, baptismal regeneration, penance, the sacrifice of the Mass, the rosary, indulgences, Mary, the pains of Purgatory, and so on. The apostle warns those who, in addition to faith in the Lord, seek to be justified by ritual or works, that they are alienated from Christ, and that he could be of no avail to them (cf. Galatians 5:2-4).
Repent and Believe the Gospel
We appeal to you, our dear friend, and implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. Reckon yourself an unworthy sinner and a rebel against the Sovereign God. Plead guilty before the Judge of the Earth; confess that you deserve the everlasting fire of hell; admit that nothing you do can ever pay for your sins.
Yet do not despair, look to the God of all grace and mercy. Stop relying on yourself, your works and your merit. Salvation is of the work of the Lord. Do not rely on a church, Mary, the saints, human priests, the sacrifice of the Mass, or in an imaginary purgatory.
Rather, trust wholly in Christ alone, the Son of God, who is the only mediator, the only high priest, who gave himself as the all-sufficient sacrifice for the payment of the sins of his people. To those who believe in Christ, the Bible says: ‘In him we have redemption (freedom from sin) through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:7).
May the Lord be merciful and grant you the grace of repentance to turn away from a distorted religion to embrace the gospel of Christ. May God grant you the gift of faith, to rest on Christ, his beloved Son, and to serve him all the days of your life while we anticipate his return to take us home with him forever.
Dear friend, you may still have doubts and questions about the way of salvation. I encourage you to keep praying and searching the Scriptures. We are willing to help you the best way we can. So please don’t hesitate to write and discuss any questions with us.
Perhaps, you now understand the gospel and the Lord has granted you repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. Now you don’t depend on anything you do, your own goodness, any saint or religion. Now you rely by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; he is your one and only Saviour. I rejoice with you and praise God for his wonderful grace. This is the beginning of an exciting journey -- the end is even better, heaven! You now desire to follow the Lord and to glorify him in all things. The Christian life is not a bed of roses. He gives joy unspeakable, but his wise providence will also lead you through much sorrow and pain. That is the way we grow and mature.
I encourage you to read the Bible every day with an attitude of reverence. God is speaking to you -- listen well! Go to a private place, and open your heart to God, our heavenly Father. Thank and praise him. Confess your sins and pray for yourself and others.
As a member of the body of Christ, the church, it is your privilege to join with a local Christian assembly. We need one another. The Lord wants you to be baptized in the name of the Triune God, and thereafter to partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of his sacrifice for us. The teaching and preaching of the Word is invaluable for every Christian to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord makes his face shine upon you and give you peace.
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© Dr Joseph Mizzi