The story of Dorothy Day, warts and all

Jim Forest’s beautifully written and poignant All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day reveals the founder of the Catholic Worker movement as no ordinary saint, if her cause for beatification and canonization opened in 2000 proves successful.

The book does not gloss over any of the controversial aspects of her early life. Before becoming Catholic, Day sought an abortion, hoping losing the child would save her love affair with the baby’s father. Afterwards, she returned to their apartment to find the man had left, leaving behind only a letter urging her to forget him and a small amount of money that he had originally intended to pay a bar bill, Forest writes.

Four years later, she was delighted to become pregnant while in another relationship that, because of his atheism and her entering the Catholic Church, she realized she must end.

Canadian patrons help unearth Vatican’s Santa Rosa necropolis

TORONTO - A treasure that was buried for centuries within the Vatican walls will soon be on public display thanks to a triumph of local archeology and Canadian philanthropy.

The Canadian chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums will travel to the Vatican Museums in October to celebrate its role in the restoration of the Santa Rosa necropolis, a Roman cemetery of significant archeological and historical value. The patrons have donated about $1 million to the restoration cause.

Discovered by accident in 2003 when a parking lot was being expanded, the necropolis was a burying ground mainly for slaves, servants and Rome’s lower classes.

Opera star Mark Doss has seen both sides of the good-evil divide

TORONTO - When bass-baritone Mark Doss takes the stage as King Thoas in Iphigenia in Tauris Sept. 22, an altar of sacrifice will stand at the centre of the Four Seasons Centre stage. It will be familiar territory for Doss.

Doss has played Thoas in Christoph Gluck’s most successful opera before. He premiered the role with the San Francisco Opera. The Canadian Opera Company has borrowed the San Francisco Opera production. But Doss’s knowledge of altars and sacrifice goes deeper than the opera roles he has played.

Doss arrived at classical singing by way of the seminary. His love of liturgy and sacred music eventually spilled over and his big voice found a natural home on the operatic stage.

Thirty years later, Doss’s experience of life in the seminary still influences his approach to opera.

“I’m the kind of person who really deals with the words,” said Doss. “It comes from that background — the Gospel as the Word of God, and you see it’s a really powerful thing. So, why go away from something that’s really powerful?”

Project records New Testament in Latin

WASHINGTON - A new initiative got under way this summer for the first audio recording of the New Testament in Latin.

Vatican Press has partnered with Faith Comes By Hearing, a non-profit, donor-driven interdenominational ministry “committed to the mission of reaching poor and illiterate people worldwide with the Word of God in audio” for the audio recording of the Neo-Vulgate, the Catholic Church’s official Latin translation.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas played a key role in spearheading this project.

“I’ve been involved with making available the liturgy in Latin since I was ordained,” said Stravinskas, founder and president of the St. Gregory Foundation for Latin Liturgy based in Pine Beach, N.J. Stravinskas said in the early 1980s he celebrated the only Latin Mass in New York.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, the priest said he learned about Faith Comes by Hearing, which for the past 30 years has made the New Testament available by audio in more than 500 languages. He e-mailed them and said he was impressed with the program but noticed Latin was missing.

Encountering the icon’s mystery, meaning

VANCOUVER - Embracing the Christian life is a sacred mystery and icons possess a mysterious power to draw the spiritual seeker to Christ, says iconographer Matthia Langone.

Icons are artistic “written” images of Jesus, Mary, the saints or angels that offer a living theology and experience of prayer. Iconographers not only offer their creative charism to God, they offer their whole heart, mind and soul.

“It is a transformational experience, a vocation,” said Langone.

She should know. When she encountered Russia’s most prized icons while attending an ordination in Moscow about 15 years ago, she was so struck with the stunning images, the course of her life was changed.

Stained glass highlights gift of light

Stained glass windows are one of the most interesting phenomena in art. We might wonder why not simply paint pictures as it would be a lot easier than meticulously arranging pieces of coloured glass. However, their translucent beauty has a special characteristic not found in other forms of art.

Glass, it seems, was the earliest product used in ancient times as decoration in temples, tombs, palaces and as personal adornment. Many fragments of these ornaments have been discovered among the ruins of ancient cities.

But although glass has an ancient history, the earliest known glazing of window openings only dates back to 306 BC. And even then the glazing was not done with glass, but with coloured pieces of pot-metal, an easily malleable combination of cheap metals.

A full appreciation of glass as a material to transmit light and decorate walls came only with the large window openings of 12th-century Gothic architecture.  The windows had to be strong enough to keep out the elements and transparent enough to admit light.

Many of Catholic artist’s works draw inspiration from the Bible

TORONTO - Chris Fung was born and raised Catholic, but it was through art that he discovered his faith.

That art is about to take centre stage at Fung’s upcoming show, Our Best Is Now: How. The exhibit, which runs from Aug. 16-28, will feature more than 100 pieces from Catholic artist Fung, his sister Janine and cousin Nigel.

Catholic and artist weren’t always titles Fung held or coveted, though. At one point, he didn’t plan on being either.

In his teens, Fung broke away from his faith as “the grass was greener anywhere else.” But when a friend committed suicide, Fung began his journey back to his Catholic roots, whether he knew it or not. To pass the time, he began drawing, though he had no experience with art outside high school art classes. Over time, it became more and more important to him, and the faith seemed to find its way into his art. Now, 12 years later, for the first time his work will be on display at a downtown Toronto art gallery.

A marriage guide for a ‘wedding crazy’ world

TORONTO — In Catholic Marriage: An Intimate Community of Life and Love, Dr. Patricia Murphy presents a booklet to help engaged couples preparing for the sacrament of Marriage.

“Sometimes it seems that the world has gone wedding crazy. Turn on the TV any evening and there is a good chance you will find a reality show dedicated to some aspect of planning the perfect wedding,” writes Murphy, an assistant professor of moral theology at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary.

The book invites engaged couples to look “beyond ‘Bridezilla’ ” and the myth of the “perfect wedding.” Instead, couples can look forward to their preparation for marriage by discussing important issues such as their future family and building a strong foundation for a lifetime commitment rooted in love and faith.

Murphy talks about marriage as a Christian vocation and life-long “commitment to love.” She also introduces couples to the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teachings on family and marriage as an “intimate community of life and love.”

Harry Potter goes out in style

One of the most successful movie franchises of all time goes out in style with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Bros.).

Though this eighth installment in the series that began with 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone may bewilder newcomers — if there are any of the uninitiated left, they will not find themselves mollycoddled by patient exposition — director David Yates provides a gratifying wrap-up to a decade of blockbuster adaptations.

Based, like its immediate predecessor, on the last volume of J.K. Rowling's run of phenomenal best-sellers, Yates' fantasy is too intense for the youngest viewers. But scenes of combat, although frequent, are mostly bloodless, while the dialogue is marked by only one mildly improper turn of phrase, making this climatic adventure acceptable for most other age groups.

Vatican newspaper says Harry Potter film champions values

VATICAN CITY — The last battle of the almost-grownup Harry Potter may be too scary for young viewers, but it champions the values of friendship and sacrifice, the Vatican newspaper said.

"The atmosphere of the last few episodes, which had become increasingly dark and ominous, reaches its pinnacle," said one of two reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 printed July 12 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The darkness "may disturb younger audiences," said reviewer Gaetano Vallini.

"Death, which was a rare occurrence (in the previous Harry Potter films) is the protagonist here," which is another reason the film may not be appropriate for everyone, he said.

"As for the content, evil is never presented as fascinating or attractive in the saga, but the values of friendship and of sacrifice are highlighted. In a unique and long story of formation, through painful passages of dealing with death and loss, the hero and his companions mature from the lightheartedness of infancy to the complex reality of adulthood," he said.

Pope asks artists to fill the world with beauty

VATICAN CITY - Greeting 60 artists who were honoring him on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Pope Benedict XVI asked them to give witness to the beauty of truth and love.

Meeting the artists July 4 at their exhibit in the atrium of the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict said the church and artists must intensify their dialogue and collaboration to make the world "more human and more beautiful."

The Pontifical Council for Culture organized the homage by the 60 artists -- the vast majority of whom were from Italy because of time constraints and the cost of shipping art, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, council president, told Vatican Radio.

Pope Benedict celebrated the anniversary of his ordination June 29.

Magazine aims to renew Judeo-Christian underpinning of Canadian culture

OTTAWA - An Ottawa-based think tank has launched Canadian Observer, a culturally conservative Canadian quarterly its editor hopes will engage Catholic readers.

“The culture has turned against Christians generally,” said Richard Bastien, a Catholic and retired economist who is a senior research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. Bastien also represents the Catholic Civil Rights League in the National Capital Region. 

The centre’s president, Joseph Ben-Ami, is the magazine’s publisher.

“We are constantly being challenged by various aspects of the culture and we must respond to that challenge by showing abandoning certain beliefs and practices will lead to chaos,” said Bastien.

“What we are defending through this magazine is not just particular policies or ideas, it’s a certain understanding of civilization — Judeo-Christian civilization.”

Rediscovering Augustine’s Confessions

Garry Wills has written a short book that teaches us how to read a longer book. If we follow Wills’ instructions we will discover new riches in St. Augustine’s seminal classic, The Confessions.

This book is the third in a new series called “Lives of Great Religious Books.” The series is meant to make classic religious texts accessible to the general public.

Wills is the right choice to make Augustine’s Confessions come alive for contemporary readers. Wills has studied the bishop of Hippo’s writings for a long time, both as an academic historian and a Christian believer. His ready familiarity, one might even say his friendship, with the person of Augustine shines through, making the Confessions come to life. Along the way, Wills provides helpful insights into thorny theological problems and breaks open elements of Augustine’s basic teaching on God, human beings and the spiritual life.

Reading the Confessions is hard work, partly because we live in a very different kind of culture and world. With the passing of 1,600 years, we read, remember and reflect differently.