How does one begin to dry the tears streaming down the ash-stained faces of Parisian Catholics? To be sure, Notre Dame Cathedral is a treasure for the world, for people of all nations and creeds. But it is first and foremost a Catholic church — where the sacraments have been celebrated for centuries, where the faithful labored more than a hundred years to erect a glorious monument to God. To watch this sacred space burn during Holy Week — the most solemn of the Christian liturgical year — stings all the more.

I am a firm believer in “right to life.” However, I contend that this profound phrase covers much more than the abortion issue that has become its moniker. Personally, I believe that God, not the U.S. Constitution or a Supreme Court ruling, is the final authority on the matter. I believe that a heartbeat is enough to validate personhood and protection for those fetuses conceived in a mother’s womb. Clearly, everyone in America does not agree and so the debates continue.

During his Thursday news conference, Attorney General William Barr communicated clearly and with confidence and authority the “bottom line” that neither President Donald Trump, nor any member of his campaign or family, nor indeed any American anywhere colluded with Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. Barr did exactly what the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, charged with executing the laws of this country, should do: thoroughly explain the law and the decision in this matter. Barr was under no legal obligation to discuss this report with the media, but he did so in the interest of public confidence in the process — confidence that should and will increase with those who are open to reason.

Following the announcement of Ascension Providence’s brand unification, I want to share the excitement of our physicians, nurses, other caregivers, associates and leaders to incorporate the name of Ascension — one of the nation’s leading nonprofit health systems — into our brand identity. Providence has been part of Ascension since its founding in 1999, and this transition now identifies our health system with resources including 2,500 sites of care and 36,000 healthcare providers in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

April 15 (Tax Day) fell during the Christian Holy Week this year for Americans. And so this week Christians were “rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and “rendering unto God the things that are God’s,” giving Uncle Sam his due and giving God God’s due. Accountants from behind office desks and from behind church pulpits are advising American Christians on their civic and religious obligations.

PARIS — Since my family and I arrived for a visit Sunday morning, we’d spent a lot of time outside Notre Dame without actually entering, deterred by long lines. Instead, we’d been holding out our arms for pigeons in the hope they’d land on them and taking video of the Palm Sunday procession that came through the square, with bishops and a cardinal in his bright red robes waving palm fronds. The bells had rung crazily, joyfully. Years ago, I had sat by myself on a bench, brought nearly to tears by gratefulness for this structure that had watched Paris through centuries of life.

U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently released his health-care plan, which he calls “Medicare for All.” With a name like that, one would think that the proposal involves extending the Medicare system, which provides health-care insurance to the elderly, to all Americans. But Sanders’ plan is something different. It would outlaw most forms of private health insurance and eliminate all out-of-pocket costs — something that Medicare doesn’t now do.

CNN reports, “For the first time ‘No Religion’ has topped a survey of Americans’ religious identity, according to a new analysis by a political scientist. The non-religious edged out Catholics and evangelicals in the long-running General Social Survey.” Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, found that 23.1% of Americans identify as “No Religion.” In the survey, 23 percent say they are Catholic and 22.5 percent say they are evangelical Christians.

When Amazon pulled out of a huge project planned for the Long Island City neighborhood in New York in the face of local opposition, spectators from other cities (and many in New York) were aghast. Amazon’s “HQ2” was supposed to generate 25,000 well-paying jobs.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” the astronomer said, like someone who knows history’s ear is pressed against the door. He stood in the hushed attention of the room in Washington as he called up the image on the screen behind him. You know it by now: a smoke ring, an orange doughnut, a blurry circlet of light closed around a profound darkness. By the end of the day, it would be familiar to millions of people as the first photo ever taken of a black hole.

This time last year I wrote about communities innovatively responding to local economic and social challenges. The trend continues, strengthening democracy at the grassroots level. Left behind, though, are local journalism organizations, still struggling to find a sustainable economic model. Without one, they will not be able to maintain their connection to local readers and viewers as well as attract the younger readers and viewers they need for the future.

Tax Day, April 15, is a day all dread or like, but another way of looking at it is April 19: Tax Freedom Day. That is roughly the time of year by which an employee will have made the money he or she must pay in taxes. Everything else earned afterward is the amount the worker gets to keep.

It’s almost here, the day most Americans dread above all others: April 15, when income tax returns must be filed. As you read this millions of people are furiously crunching numbers in a frantic game of beat the clock, rushing to get their forms off to Uncle Sam in time.

I had lunch last week with a former college professor and his wife — dear friends who take an interest in my life and retirement-era writing well beyond coursework from last century. His “attaboys” on my current-century columns are especially treasured since he was once dubbed the best college journalism professor in the nation by a news-writing society. Based on his frank criticism of assignments submitted during olden days of learning spent in Burleson Quadrangle ivy-covered towers at Baylor University, I take his current positive feedback these days as genuine.

Plans are afoot to scrap or circumvent the Electoral College as America’s vehicle for electing presidents. Beware: The unintended consequences could be dire. The current system turns each state’s boundaries into a firebreak, preventing corrupt, incompetent or unpopular election procedures from becoming uncontrollable infernos — nationwide Florida 2000-style interminable disputes, litigation and compromised legitimacy of presidents.

While every April 15 is an important day for the American taxpayer, this one holds special attention. That’s because the 2018 tax year was the first under a new tax law Congress and the administration passed — and the real effect of that law for small business has finally become clear.

Few topics are more difficult to have an honest conversation about than race. In 1997, President Bill Clinton created an initiative that started a national conversation about race. It was an ambitious agenda, yet one that offered hope that America could truly begin the process of racial healing. Fast forward to 2019 and we find the dialogue on race continuing this week at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin with its Summit on Race in America. Although the discussion has been national in focus, the conference provides Texans a unique opportunity to reflect on the state of race relations in our own state.

The electricity grid that services most of Texas, which is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), got almost 19 percent of its electricity from wind last year. That is an amazing fact in a state that is legendary for oil and gas. But despite wind energy’s dramatic expansion to become the No. 3 (soon to be No. 2) supplier of Texas electricity, not everyone is a fan. In fact, two pieces of legislation under consideration by Texas lawmakers, House Bill 2908 and Senate Bill 2232, would take some of the wind out of wind power’s sail.

The Trump administration is so corrupt that its answer to ethics scandals is to replace disgraced officials with lobbyists and executives to oversee the industry they used to represent. Of course, calling corporate lobbyists a solution to corruption is like saying rotten eggs are the solution to that moldy smell in your kitchen — they are only going exacerbate an already bad situation.

Scholars of postmodernism tell me there is now no such thing as common sense. Perhaps they are right. I don’t see a lot of it. And I don’t expect “my common sense” to be shared by all. I’m elderly now and some of my common sense is probably outdated. Nevertheless, I believe there are some things that all mature, thinking individuals should know intuitively — even in this confused and confusing culture that is America today.

Much of the world is laughing at the United States. Dictators smirk because the foremost liberal democracy has produced President Donald Trump. Adversaries rejoice because he is dismantling alliances that kept them in check for 50 years. Europe giggles uneasily as tweetstorms put into question the judgment of the man in charge of their military safety.

A telling moment arose during 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod’s Baylor Law School interview with veteran journalist and author Evan Thomas concerning his new, eminently readable, richly informative biography “First: Sandra Day O’Connor.” Thomas began telling the story behind the controversial 2000 presidential election in which the outcome hinged on mind-boggling recounts of ballots in the pivotal state of Florida. The Supreme Court stepped into the electoral morass, ultimately deciding what came to be known as Bush v. Gore, a ruling over which legal scholars still argue.

The much-anticipated dedication of the City of West Fallen Heroes Memorial Saturday offered much worthy of praise, including an appropriate speech about sacrifice, loss and resilience by Gov. Greg Abbott, complete with admiration for “the remarkable work the people of West have done to rebuild this community.” But the centerpiece was quite obviously missing. Because of thunderstorms, this engaging hometown memorial — complete with informatively written individual tributes to those who perished in the West Fertilizer Company ammonium nitrate explosion of April 17, 2013 — could be conjured indoors only through a hastily but astonishingly well-produced video of the memorial, complete with scene-setting drone footage, by West videographer Ben Ranzinger.

I am a firm believer in “right to life.” However, I contend that this profound phrase covers much more than the abortion issue that has become its moniker. Personally, I believe that God, not the U.S. Constitution or a Supreme Court ruling, is the final authority on the matter. I believe that a heartbeat is enough to validate personhood and protection for those fetuses conceived in a mother’s womb. Clearly, everyone in America does not agree and so the debates continue.

How does one begin to dry the tears streaming down the ash-stained faces of Parisian Catholics? To be sure, Notre Dame Cathedral is a treasure for the world, for people of all nations and creeds. But it is first and foremost a Catholic church — where the sacraments have been celebrated for centuries, where the faithful labored more than a hundred years to erect a glorious monument to God. To watch this sacred space burn during Holy Week — the most solemn of the Christian liturgical year — stings all the more.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

On the morning of April 14, more than 100 precision-guided munitions — most if not all cruise missiles fired from surface and subsurface naval vessels, tactical attack planes and a pair of B-1 long-range strategic bombers — took out three target sets in Syria. These targets were to include one chemical weapons production facility in Damascus and storage sites along with a Hezbollah command post near Homs. The attack demolished the intended targets.

In a community of miracles, First Baptist Church of West senior pastor John Crowder added one more to the mix during a service marking the fifth anniversary of the West Fertilizer Company explosion that riveted the nation. He and fellow civic leaders singled out for praise (and within 90 minutes) almost everyone somehow pivotal in the saga, from ill-fated firefighters racing to the scene, all the way to foot soldiers in the remarkable recovery period that Mayor Tommy Muska Tuesday night proclaimed concluded.