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Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, Happy Easter!

What a joy it is for me to announce this message: Christ is risen! I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons…

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious!

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4). What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom.

This same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, down to hell – to the abyss of separation from God – this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus and transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life. Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope.

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness. Because God is life, life alone, and his glory is the living man (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4,20,5-7).

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.

Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long. Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?

Peace for Africa, still the scene of violent conflicts. In Mali, may unity and stability be restored; in Nigeria, where attacks sadly continue, gravely threatening the lives of many innocent people, and where great numbers of persons, including children, are held hostage by terrorist groups. Peace in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Central African Republic, where many have been forced to leave their homes and continue to live in fear.

Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.

Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century. Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth! Made the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.

Dear brothers and sisters, to all of you who are listening to me, from Rome and from all over of the world, I address the invitation of the Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever. Let Israel say: ‘His steadfast love endures for ever’” (Ps 117:1-2).

[Unscripted remarks] Dear brothers and sisters who have come from all over the world to this Square, the heart of Christianity and to all of you joining us via the media, I repeat my wishes for a happy Easter! Bring to your families and your nations the message of joy, of hope, and of peace that every year, on this day, is powerfully renewed. May the Risen Lord, who defeated sin and death, sustain us all especially the weakest and those most in need. Thank you for your presence and the witness of your faith. A thought and special thanks for the gift of these beautiful flowers that come from the Netherlands. I affectionately repeat to all of you: May the Risen Christ guide all of you and all of humanity on the paths of justice, love, and peace!

[Pope Francis then imparted the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.]

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Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia says:

Lombardi said today that Francis has now moved to a suite in the Domus, leaving the simple room which he was assigned by lot along with the other cardinal-electors prior to the Conclave. The suite had been prepared for the new Pope in anticipation of renovations others might’ve sought to the Palace apartment; the study in Francis’ new quarters is shown above.

As the pontiff determined where he’d live, the Vatican previously stated that Francis wanted his living arrangements to be marked by “simplicity and sharing.” Beyond his Masses in the house chapel, the Pope is said to have been taking his meals in common with the Domus’ residents and guests…

Beyond seeking a humbler set-up – not to mention a home-base that’s less isolating and, perhaps, easier to sneak out of as he sees fit – Francis’ decision to remain at S. Marta underscores a unique reality of the new papacy: unlike his predecessors since time immemorial, the pontiff has no personal household of aides and domestics who’ve come with him to the Vatican. As the household traditionally shares the Palace residence with the Pope, the lack of a “family” of his own means that Francis would’ve been occupying the old apartment by himself.

Rocco has some more details and some good pictures of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.  He reports that the Pope will still use the office suite in the Papal Apartments of the Apostolic Palace for meetings and other work.

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DNATree-616x602I’ve passed on a flawed genetic history to my offspring. My father’s line gave me Von Willibrand Disease, which means that many of us bruise and bleed easily and for ages, and my mother’s family bequeathed Coeliac Disease, which explains a long family history of digestive disorders. From both sides, I’ve passed on to one of my daughters an allergy to bee venom. In addition, a very rare complex of infancy cancers has popped up in my father’s line several times; my brother, my son, and a couple of distant cousins have all been victims (and survivors).

All of these disorders are damaging and potentially life-threatening if they’re not diagnosed or understood; all of them are manageable if they’re expected.

It’s only in the last few decades that we’ve learned about the genetic nature of these disorders. (My husband bemoaned that I didn’t break down till I was out of warranty.) Some of the younger members of the family have been offered genetic counselling, which – as pointed out in this article by Philip Burcham on First Things – is code for eugenic destruction of those the geneticist considers to be imperfect.

Let us imagine Jessie [the writer’s grandmother] fell under the spell of the coercive eugenicist my wife resisted and agreed to abort her three OI-affected offspring—Lloyd, Mabel, and Cyril—while retaining her firstborn Laura as her sole “genetically pure” child. How, precisely, might snuffing out her affected offspring have made my local society stronger?

Aborting these three babies would only have exacerbated the severe skills shortage afflicting our state economy. The multigenerational list of those who would have been flushed away is incomplete but includes a doctor, a medical student, several nurses, and an even greater number of teachers, plus a headmaster, two scientists, a systems engineer, a musician, an occupational therapist, a dental technician, a physiotherapist, a draftsman, some pastors, and several skilled tradesmen.

Each has been a caring, socially engaged, and responsible citizen without a single criminal conviction among them; none has depended on the state as a welfare recipient during his working years; and virtually all have been, or remain, selfless contributors to several mainstream branches of the Protestant tradition in Western Australia. The loss of human and social capital to our state had Jessie aborted her three OI-affected offspring would have been substantial.

I went looking for a report on the research Burcham mentions that shows that all of us are genetically imperfect.  The average person has around 400 genetic flaws that could potentially cause disease. And these are just the ones we can test for with our current level of technology. For most people, the risk is to their children if they have them with another person carrying the same flaw, but for one in ten people, their genes are likely to have personal health consequences.

Should they know? It seems to me it depends on the reason for checking. Early warning is a good idea, I believe. So many things can be done; so much trouble can be saved; if people know they need earlier and more regular tests, or a particular diet, or anti-venom agents. The bowel cancer that carried off several of my mother’s family two and three generations back has merely inconvenienced my own generation, with earlier diagnosis, and is not likely to appear in my children’s generation since those with the genetic flaws are taking regular tests from an early age.

Making marriage or reproduction choices on the basis of genetic testing seems trickier to me. I think there are far more important things to consider, but I understand that other people might take a different view. Their call, I’d say. Making the choice to abort a child that is genetically imperfect is a step too far. If this is what genetic testing is for, I want no part of it.

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slavesThe Patheos book club has been discussing the book ‘Refuse to do nothing’, by  Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim. It’s about the scandal of modern slavery – with an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide, it’s a bigger problem than most of us realise. The book suggests that we each should do what we can to contribute to its end.

Joanne Brokaw, one of the book club members, gives some examples:

For example, would you eagerly reach for a chocolate bar if you knew that the cocoa beans used to make the candy were harvested by young children, forced into labor and held against their will?  Child labor is used in almost 70% of the world’s cocoa production. As the sweet, chocolatey goodness melts on your fingers, imagine a young child, taken from his family and smuggled across the border to another country, working long hours with little food or pay, away from his family and threatened with violence. He made your treat possible.

Pick up your cell phone, and as you text, talk and surf the web, imagine a 6-year-old child in Africa – let’s say in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which boasts more than $20 trillion in natural resources at its disposal but is ranked by the United Nations as last in the world in human rights. This child is abducted by a militia group and given a machine gun, forced to kill his own parents (and likely rape and then horribly mutilate his own mother) and then instructed to burn down his entire village. That child soldier is now a  pawn in ongoing conflict over the minerals used to make electronics. He made your LOLs possible.

Imagine a young girl of 13; she argues with her mother, decides to run away, and ends up at the house of a friend’s older brother. A man living there locks her in a room, beats her, drugs her and then forces her into prostitution. She is denied food, and threatened with more violence, against not only herself but also her family if she tries to leave. Now imagine that it’s your own daughter, right here in the U.S., because 83% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens (based on confirmed cases of trafficking).

Imagine a man, born into a family with a debt owed to a sugar plantation owner. At birth, his life is already not his own. He, his children and his children’s children will toil under excrutiatingly horrible conditions, locked away from the outside world, bonded to a debt he didn’t incur but which continues to accrue – one step forward, ten steps back, forever working yet never getting closer to freedom…

… recognize that you have a responsibility to consider how everything you do affects everyone else. You don’t have to become a modern day abolitionist, hitting the lecture circuit or traveling to Cambodia to free young girls held in bondage. You can start by simply becoming an educated consumer. Read labels, look for “fair trade” symbols, ask questions about where your products were made. What we buy on the cheap often comes at the expense of someone else.

Joanne also gives some more ideas and some other reading – as does the first link at the top of this post.

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In this video clip, Michael Sandel claims that in the last three decades we’ve gone from being a market economy to a market society. Everything is for sale. He says that his book, ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, is not suggesting that we abandon capitalism – which (he suggests) works well for organising the production of goods and services, but that we debate the limits of the market – where do markets serve the public good, and where should other values prevail?

H/T to Michael Cook on Mercator, who outlines the two flaws Sandel sees in a market society:

The first is that it justifies inequality. Why should more affluent people get the best medical care, live in the safest neighbourhoods, or have the most political influence? He discusses this problem by examining the morality of queues. For instance, New York City puts on free outdoor Shakespeare performances in Central Park in the summertime. Demand is intense and the queues are long. Some people pay line standers over $100 to stand in the queues so that they don’t have to wait. In Washington lobbyists use the same system for congressional committee hearings. Time for money: isn’t this fair?

Not necessarily, says Sandel. The moral justification for markets is that they distribute goods efficiently to the people who want them most. But this isn’t always the case. Willingness to pay for a ticket may not indicate that the purchaser values the good more highly. In fact, a wealthy queue-jumper may not value Shakespeare nearly as much as people who wait for hours.

One of the great defects of a “market society” is that the affluent and the poor live in isolated silos. This is not good for democracy, says Sandel. A democratic society can only flourish when all citizens take responsibility for the common good. But unless people of different backgrounds mix and negotiate their differences, how can this happen?

Second, commercialisation can corrupt goods by treating them inappropriately. We all accept some limits: selling votes or trafficking babies is universally condemned. But the very fact that a price is set on a transaction changes people’s attitude towards it. Sometimes it demeans them.

He offers an interesting illustration. Switzerland needed a site to store radioactive waste. Economists studied the attitudes of residents of one small town to a proposed waste dump. A slim majority said they would support it, presumably out of a sense of civic duty. But when they were offered compensation for the site, support halved. “The intrusion of market norms crowded out their sense of civic duty,” observes Sandel. “Altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of a market-driven society is that it lets these virtues languish.”

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angryI’ve been reading The Most Human Human by Brian Christian. Christian is an American writer; the book charts his experience, research, and ideas about going up against computers in a Turing test. In the Loebner Prize contest, humans and AI programs compete to be found human. Judges conduct text conversations with the competitors, and award points. AI programmers covet the title of ‘The most human computer’. The title of Christian’s book comes from the award given to the human competitor that gets the most points from judges.

In the chapter I’ve just been reading, Christian talks about a key difference between the best of human conversation and how AIs ‘converse’. For meaningful human conversation, he says, you need a stable point of view, a unifying vision, a single style, and a memory of the current conversation and any previous conversations you’ve had with the same person. Furthermore, each conversation with the same person builds on the emotional connection made in previous conversations.

AIs, by contrast, excel at conversations in which each reply depends only on the previous remark, without any need to remain consistent and without any knowledge of the history of the conversation or the relationship. Christian follows programmer Richard Wallace in calling such conversations ‘state-less’. That is, remarks don’t depend on any pre-existing state.

The type of human conversation that most closely resembles AI conversation, Christian claims, is verbal abuse. Christian offers a typical exchange:

‘Oh, there you go right in with that tone of yours!’

‘Great, let’s just dodge the issue and talk about my tone instead! You’re so defensive!’

‘You’re the one being defensive! This is like the time you x.’

‘For the millionth time, I didn’t remotely x. You’re the one who…’

Each remark after the first is only about the previous remark.

Doesn’t this sound like some of the comment streams we’ve all known and hated? Christian goes on to say that such interactions are reflex reactions to the last comment rather than:

either the actual issue at hand or the person I’m talking to. All of a sudden the absurdity and ridiculousness of this kind of escalation become quantitatively clear, and, contemptuously unwilling to act like a bot, I steer myself toward a more ‘stateful’ response: better living through science.

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seven deadly sinsThere’s a passage in CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce where one of the ghosts surrenders the red lizard of lust that sits constantly on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. The ghost begs an angel to kill the lizard, although the lizard assures the ghost that his death will mean the death of them both. The lizard dies, and both ghost and lizard are transformed. The ghost becomes a man – a glorious risen spirit – and the lizard is transformed into a stallion, full of beauty and power.

“Do ye understand all this, my Son?” said the Teacher.

“I don’t know about all, Sir,” said I. “Am I right in thinking the Lizard really turned into the Horse?”

“Aye. But it was killed first. Ye’ll not forget that part of the story?”

“I’ll try not to, Sir. But does it mean that everything – everything – that is in us can go on to the Mountains?”

“Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains. Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak. What is a Lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”

“But am I to tell them at home that this man’s sensuality proved less of an obstacle than that poor woman’s love for her son? For that was, at any rate, an excess of love.” [The narrator had just observed a ghost begging for the son she had idolised, and for whom she had neglected all other relationships.]

” Ye’ll tell them no such thing,” he replied sternly. “Excess of love, did ye say? There was no excess, there was defect. She loved her son too little, not too much. If she had loved him more there’d be no difficulty. I do not know how her affair will end. But it may well be that at this moment she’s demanding to have him down with her in Hell. That kind is sometimes perfectly ready to plunge the soul they say they love in endless misery if only they can still in some fashion possess it. No, no. Ye must draw another lesson. Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?”

In the discipline of Lent – almsgiving, fasting, and prayer – we continue the life-long process of disciplining our natural appetites. I like to think of it as releasing all the energy I’ve put into wrath or sloth so that it can flow down healthy, life-giving channels. I’m going to try to use Lent to reduce my sins, recycle my energy, and reuse my time.

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