VATICAN CITY - One of our young people at Newman House recently asked me whether I ever cry. I tear up quite rarely, save for the liturgy, when it happens not rarely, and not just at funerals. Perhaps it is a grace God has given me, to feel on occasion the reality that the liturgy makes manifest. Tears often mark an intense encounter with reality, and the liturgy opens to us the world that is most real. Whether grace or simple sentimentality, weepiness can be rather awkward for a priest as it gets in the way of leading the worship and is rather distracting for the people.

It’s also a problem if you are doing live television. It happened again May 1, as I knew it would. I had the privilege of providing the commentary for EWTN’s broadcast of the beatification Mass for Blessed John Paul II. I knew the tears would come from experience; they came when I did the same duty for Global Television at the World Youth Day Mass in Toronto, and for John Paul’s funeral Mass in Rome. On all three occasions, I was not the only one with moist eyes.

Looking out upon that immense crowd on Sunday, many of whom wept openly, it was evident that these tears were different. Indeed, on all three occasions the tears came for different reasons — rather like the tears that come to weepy priests during the high point of the Church’s liturgy, the sacred Triduum.
Ever since medieval engineers discovered ways to open up the stone walls of their cathedrals, architectural glass has been among the glories of Western imagination.

The glass has not always been coloured. Classical Revival architects in the Renaissance wanted their churches and residential interiors lit by clear windows. The pioneers of architectural modernism followed suit — hence the handsome expanses of clear glass in such projects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s splendid Toronto Dominion Centre.

But the art of splintering light into the colours of the rainbow returned to architecture with Romanticism. That 19th-century movement in the arts saw the renewal of things the medieval glass-makers knew well: how to paint with light, how to shape and mould interior space with colour, how to fashion moods of devotion with symbols and images and abstract patterns.

Toronto artist Sarah Hall is today one of the world’s most talented inheritors of this venerable tradition. And with nearly a thousand works to her credit, she is also one of the most prolific living contributors to her art. Over a career spanning some 35 years, her highly expressive, richly colourful projects have been installed in churches, synagogues, schools and other public places, including an embassy in Ottawa and Toronto’s Scotia Plaza, across Canada and the United States.

A book that acknowledges Hall’s accomplishment has been overdue for some time, but at last it has arrived. It’s called The Glass Art of Sarah Hall and is published by Glasmalerei Peters, a German fabrication studio that has translated several of the artist’s complex designs into reality. This portfolio of 27 installations includes a brief introduction by architectural historian Karen Mulder and a thoughtful essay on glass, spirituality and Hall’s distinctive esthetic by J. S. Porter, a Hamilton, Ont., poet and essayist.

“The visual artist’s task is to renew — in a world of throwaway marketing images intended to seduce or numb — the viewer’s relationship with the ancient qualities of the heart by new pictorial means,” Porter writes. “Reconnecting with the sacred means revitalizing spiritual traditions that have borne transcendent light throughout human cultures for centuries.”

In Porter’s view — and he is certainly correct — Hall performs this task in an original and penetrating way. “Her windows,” he notes, “call us into reverence and contemplation; they evoke wonder and mystery.” They do so by presenting images deeply ingrained in the history of the Christian West — the Cross, the waters of Creation and baptismal Re-creation, the fire of the burning bush and Pentecost — in very fresh, vibrantly hued visual languages.

If Hall’s vocabulary of symbols and signs is usually traditional — whether the tradition she is working in is Christian or Jewish or other — her search for creative means equal to the job of communicating ancient meanings has taken her far afield from the realm of simply tinted glass. She casts prisms for inclusion in some works; she hand-paints, laminates, sandblasts and screen-prints her panes and fragments of glass. And in recent years, she has been especially interested in the possibilities for visual drama afforded by new glass products coming off the technological assembly line.

Hall first demonstrated the incorporation of photovoltaic cells in her glass art in 2005, for example, in a piece she contributed to Canada’s entry in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, an international competition of solar-powered house designs held each year in Washington. This beautiful secular work was called Northern Light, and its cells produced energy that was stored and later used to illuminate the building’s foyer.

Her most ambitious handling of new materials so far, however, and the first permanent installation of photovoltaic glass art in North America, is the award-winning True North/Lux Nova. Fabricated in Germany, this lyrical, devout composition, illustrated well in the book under review, was designed for the façade of a 12-metre ventilation tower over an underground theological library at Regent College, a Christian studies institution on the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. True North/Lux Nova stands in a park at Regent College’s heart, recalling Christian devotion with its inscription of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The religious theme of the piece is further reinforced by 12 crosses that shimmer against a cascade of silvery blue, violet and white. And this luminous tower of fused and etched glass also provides a memorable reminder of the peace that can reign between humankind and the environment: It declines to add to the burden already on the public electricity grid, and, instead, creates from sunshine (via embedded solar cells) the energy needed to power a column of light that glows by night behind the glass panels.

Leafing through this volume, I found myself thinking back again and again to a line from Porter’s catalogue essay: “She makes visible the usually invisible thrust of life.” Sarah Hall does exactly that, celebrating in new glass the old symbols by which we know God, life and each other.

He was the face of evil, an indiscriminate murderer, a terrorist whose tentacles reached across nations to snare others into an ideology of hate.

Now Osama bin Laden is dead and Christians are called to sober reflection, not celebration.

The announcement that bin Laden had been shot dead in his Pakistan mansion by U.S. Navy Seals sparked rejoicing around much of the Western world. It had taken almost 10 years to sniff him out after the 9/11 attacks that claimed more than 3,000 lives, including 24 Canadians. The search was long but retribution was swift — a bullet to the head and a hasty burial at sea.

In the days after bin Laden’s mercenaries brought down the World Trade Centre in 2001, then U.S. president George W. Bush declared that America would have its justice. Asked if he wanted bin Laden dead, Bush made a quip about the bad guys in old-west posters: “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” But there was never a sense bin Laden would be taken alive and face trial.

In his inaugural homily in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict concluded, “At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in St. Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: ‘Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!’ ”

Indeed, the whole Church will look back to that day — that’s the new feast day for Blessed John Paul. For the feast day’s Office of Readings in the breviary, an excerpt from the day’s “be not afraid” homily has been chosen.

The “be not afraid” inaugural homily remains one of the electrifying moments of the entire pontificate, and John Paul repeated the exhortation to Christian courage and witness over and over for nearly 27 years. Yet to go back to Oct. 22 means more than words; there are striking images from that day too.

During the inaugural Mass, the entire College of Cardinals processed to the new pope to show their fidelity and loyalty. One by one they knelt in front of his chair and kissed his ring. Yet when Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland for 30 years at that point, approached the new Polish pope, John Paul tried to prevent him from kneeling. He rose from his chair, and as the old cardinal kissed the fisherman’s ring, the young pope embraced him with profound emotion, kissing his forehead, kissing the primate’s ring.

There was not a dry eye at Mass as Fr. Joe LeClair delivered his public apology at Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Church. This, following an article in the Ottawa Citizen that disclosed the most personal of Fr. LeClair’s financial records, described the lax financial control measures at Blessed Sacrament and insinuated that parish funds had been used to support his gambling habit. The picture was dire, the tone accusatory.

And I can just imagine the many conversations which have ensued. The debate might be about the merits of the Church, the priesthood, the number of priests being called out for wrongdoings.

There was a time when I too would have reacted to this story in such a way. For many years I had left the Church, believing it to be an outdated institution, way too top heavy to attract its future and imploding by its incessant focus on rules and ceremony. And then I attended Blessed Sacrament. The church was full — of young people, of music, full of good energy, or dare I say Spirit. And there was Fr. Joe and his gift of bringing the Gospel to life, of making it relevant to us today.

I had witnessed these things before. But this didn’t seal the deal for me. For me, it was the depths of Fr. Joe’s humanity and his humility that stood out. He was not only a priest, he was human, just as I. Struggling, just as I. And at times hopeful and joyful, just as I. This was not just one way. He was not all knowing and all perfect. He was being honest about who he was.

The early months of 2011 have witnessed many hundreds of people killed in North Africa and the Middle East because they dared to demand the right to vote in free elections. In Canada, where freedom is taken for granted, this week’s federal election will be snubbed by 40 per cent of eligible voters.

It is a sad statement about the state of our democracy when millions of citizens give voting day the cold shoulder, particularly when so many people in so many countries are giving their lives for the right to cast a ballot. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, hundreds have been killed this year alone by regimes that refuse to grant citizens the ballot. Canadian troops are in Afghanistan and our fighter planes are supporting Libyan freedom fighters because we believe their struggle to replace oppression with democracy is just. But at home millions of Canadian citizens, many of whom presumably support the Afghan and Libya interventions, treat their own democracy with indifference.

The explanations for that are varied but none offer a good excuse for citizens to shirk their civic duty. Yes, four elections in eight years add up to voter fatigue. A string of minority parliaments has created an atmosphere of hostility in Ottawa that is off-putting to voters. There have been a series of scandals over the past decade, from the Liberals’ ad-scam fiasco to the Conservative’s Bev Oda affair, which have deepened voter cynicism. Attack ads, commonplace among all major parties, debase our democracy and foster harmful polarization in society. Yet, staying home on election day is not the answer.

Catholics in particular are called to actively promote the common good by engaging in the political process. For some, that means participating in public life by standing for elected office. But for most Catholics it means, at minimum, casting a ballot on election day for a candidate who can best represent Christian values in Parliament. Voting is not an option; it is a duty.

Canada’s bishops urge Catholics to carefully discern their choices. They believe a candidate’s views on life issues is a paramount consideration, as well as their position on a broad range of family and social justice matters. And even when there is no obvious choice — for example, when no candidate reflects the Church’s teaching on life — the obligation to vote remains. But it then becomes incumbent on citizens, acting respectfully, to continuously lobby MPs to advocate for a more just and moral society.

In many countries, people are willing to risk death to be able to cast a ballot in an open and free election. Canadians are blessed to have that privilege. We have a civic duty to vote but, also, we owe it to our less-fortunate world brethren to respect their cause by exercising our right on election day.
Many Catholics are reading the Holy Father’s most recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, as spiritual reading this Holy Week. Does many mean all?

Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI sheds light on a matter that English-speaking Catholics will encounter later this year. The new translation of the Roman Missal, which will take effect in Advent 2011, changes the words of institution, the words the priests says to consecrate the bread and wine, transubstantiating them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Holy Week is a good time to examine that.

In the current English translation the priests says over the chalice, “... it will be shed for you and ‘for all’ so that sins may be forgiven...”  The new translation will say, “... will be poured out for you and ‘for many’ for the forgiveness of sins....”
As I think back over the long winter now ending in Easter’s joy and promise, one spiritual event I took part in comes to mind with special urgency. The discussion, entitled “The Senses of Creation: Ecology and Symbolism,” happened one snowy weekend at the St. Mary of Egypt retreat centre, near Belleville, Ont. (This outstanding ministry is co-ordinated by Catholic Register columnist Mary Marrocco.)

The leader of the retreat was Gavin Miller, a biologist, ecologist and Catholic layman. Miller’s theme was humankind’s relationship with the realm of nature, as that ratio has been deformed, especially over the last two or three centuries, by motives of greed and exploitation long endemic in Western culture. This lethal link, however, is neither necessary nor inevitable. We can choose life instead of death, co-existence with nature instead of manipulation — if we are willing to view nature in the holistic perspectives opened in history by the Resurrection of the Lord.

The contemporary environmental crisis, Miller told us, is deeply rooted in an instrumental and utilitarian attitude toward nature that is typical of mainstream Western thought and practice. This impulse has a venerable history. Magic, for example, was the ancient bid to desacralize and conquer nature, to reduce everything to operational quantities.
What actually happened on that first Easter Sunday?

Every Easter, millions of Christians worldwide celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. They rejoice at the Scripture passages that recount the Risen Lord appearing first to Mary Magdalene and later to His disciples. The story is so familiar, so central to our faith, that even casual church-goers can almost recount it by rote. But what really happened that day?

In Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Christians have been given an Easter present to help them explore that question. The final chapter of Benedict’s book is a profound historical examination of the Resurrection. On the matter of that first Easter, he ponders: What is the Resurrection of Jesus?
We are living in a society with a secular set point. Any issue that is raised can only be considered if it is within a secular context. Anything that might smell of coming from a religious point of view is not welcome and even feared.

Such issues as embryonic stem-cell research, the large number of abortions taking place in Canada or the rampant use of pornography in society is expected to be discussed in non-religious terms — even if religion has something to say of value for the broader good.

This was made clear to me in an unusual way not long ago. I was writing about the debate on euthanasia. I happened to interview a woman, a physician and professor, who gave some very rational and secular reasons for opposing euthanasia.

An anti-euthanasia activist was furious at me for speaking to her. He said I had undermined his cause because the woman also happened to be a nun and her objection to euthanasia would just confirm to the society at large that this was another case of religious people trying to impose their values on secular society.
Wes Bentley, the son of two Methodist ministers from Arkansas, said his involvement in the faith-based movie and the support of other cast members have helped him get back on the right path. (CNS photo/Motive)MADRID - Playing a character with no apparent redeeming qualities was a blessing that helped Wes Bentley regain sobriety after years of addiction and isolation.

The actor made the comments to journalists in Madrid for the premiere of Academy Award-winning director Roland Joffe’s film There Be Dragons about the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei.

Bentley, the son of two Methodist ministers from Jonesboro, Ark., said he grew up in a “loving, supportive, spiritually strong family.” Over time he said he “drifted into another world” where “things got very dark and lonely. I had isolated myself from everybody who cared about me.”

The first scenes Bentley was asked to shoot were scenes in which his character, Manolo, was 78 years old, on his deathbed and about to reveal long-held secrets to his son. In the film, Manolo grew up with and attended the seminary with St. Josemaria but left after one year and ended up becoming a spy for fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, tore apart families, as well as the country.