Friday, August 31, 2007


I was not entirely sure that I liked where this video was going but was somewhat surprised. Bearing in mind that all analogies limp, this is either food for thought or a good conversation starter. It is three minutes long. Here is, "A Man Fell In a Hole."


A unique opportunity will present itself next week. It will be Sunday Video On Tap XXX. It seems possible that the video viewings might be up next week by a crowd who wouldn't normally visit Adam's Ale. Do you have any suggestions for the perfect video? (Rob, this is too easy.)

The latest Catholic Carnival is up and running!

The Diocese of Cleveland E-Newletter asks did you know that The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person?

They also suggest reading Bishop Lennon's message from August 24th which you may find here.

The last bit of reading that they suggest is on Cardinal O'Brien's message about why he left Amnisty International.


Continued from last Saturday’s discussion on hands:

Of course saints hold other things besides clubs, knives, and other weapons. Some saints are holding plants. Many saints are seen holding palm branches, which symbolize victory over death. Jesus is sometimes holding a reed, which is associated with His passion. A lily represents purity or virginity. Many saints hold the lily but it is particularly associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.

There are some saints that have particular plants associated with them. It will be of no surprise to you that Saint Patrick will hold a three-leaf clover, which he used to teach about the Holy Trinity. St. Theresa, of course, is seen holding roses.

There are also many other objects that will either assist you in determining who is being depicted or give you some idea about what they are known for. A book (or books) may be a sign of great learning. If they have a book and pen, it may be that they did much inspired writing. A scroll is generally a sign of the Old Testament. They may study the Old Testament or it may be used to teach as we see in depictions of Saint Ann instructing Mary. A pen in the hand with a scroll may be an Old Testament writer or a writer in general. Other contextual clues will help fill you in.

A staff or a shell or both of them combined is a sign of pilgrimage or travel. Scales are a sign of justice. A church in a hand may have one of two meanings. If it is a particular church it either means that the saint is the church’s patron saint or that they personally had a hand in the construction of the building in some way. If it is a non-descript church chances are that the saint had a role in the general building up of the faith of the church. Music usually has something to do with the saint’s influence in this field. For example, St. Ambrose is often seen with scrolls of music for his (writing/influence depending on your opinion) of Ambrosian Chant.

An orb in the hand represents the world and is a symbol of imperial majesty. This is often seen in the hand of Christ the King, the Infant of Prague, Mary Queen of the Universe, and saints of royalty such as Saint Steven. Christ is sometimes seen with scales at the second coming as He weighs souls.

Then there are many particular objects. For example St. Joseph is most often depicted holding the tools of his trade such as square. Saint Vincent de Paul (who cared for the poor), St. Anthony (who was granted a request to hold the Christ child), and St. Christopher (who mystically bore the Christ child across a river) are depicted holding a young child. Saint Jerome often has a rock in his hand not because he was martyred with one but because of his great acts of penance (and he needed it!) Saint Pius V holds a rosary, Saint Ambrose at times a beehive, Saint Cecilia a harp or lap organ, St. Clare a monstrance, Saint Zita groceries, St. Peter keys, Saint Jude a shield with Christ pictured on it, and the list goes on and on. These objects are not just decoration but teach us something important about the saints.

Deep in my sole I feel that it’s pretty much a shoe in that next week we’ll take a look at feet.


As a little kid one of things that I feared that I would grow up and have a job in which I did the exact same thing in the same place every day. In kindergarten I contemplated being a bus driver because I liked our bus driver so much until I thought about driving down the same streets every day.

I am typing this up on Thursday because I know how busy I will be on Friday. There are few minutes to waste between a visit to the funeral home and having a wedding rehearsal for a wonderful couple. There is a great song playing on my computer and it’s a beautiful day and God is good. God I love being priest.

Being a priest was just first on my list. There were other things that I was willing to do if this did not work out. I do not regret this choice one iota. Can you imagine part of your job is working on your relationship with God and keeping your salvation in check?

Tuesday mornings I meet with some other priests for coffee and talk. I said this week, “This life is so great! I don’t understand why more men don’t do it.” Fr. O said that there was a study done about priest to determine their happiness with their vocation. Overwhelmingly priests say that they are satisfied or better with their life choice. This is backed up by a diocesan poll in which the priests of the Diocese of Cleveland stated the same sentiments. But the interesting thing is that although the majority of us are happy, our perception is that many other priests are not. So we think, “I must be the exception” and so hesitate to recommend the life to others. (Those who know me know that this is not the case here.) Thus with faulty perceptions we perpetuate the vocation crisis.

If you are considering a vocation let me tell you that if it is the life for you, there is nothing better. Don’t choose another lifestyle because others pressure you into it. Marriage is a true calling. Single life is a true calling. Church vocations are a true calling. It is a rare person who will be perfectly fine in any of these and it is sad how many people choose one for reasons other than responding to that for which they were made and called. Don’t be one of those.

The first question is not, “What lifestyle do I wish to live?” The first question is, “How can a best bless God with my life?” and then you choose a lifestyle to fit it. I had to give myself to Him in this way and for me it is absolute freedom. Oh, there are bad days, but they have to do with situations, not the priesthood. May you too know contentment in your vocation whatever it may be.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


This is an ugly story. It was one of my most disgraceful acts as a priest.

At my last parish we had an outrageously large confirmation class. We did everything we could to notify people that the time was coming to register your child for confirmation. There were announcements from the pulpit, notices in the bulletin, and letters sent home to parents. We were going to be inundated, stretched to our limits, and there would be a point at which we would just no longer be able to accommodate any more exceptions to the program. They would have to wait until next year.

Of course a parent showed up a week or so before confirmation begging to have her child confirmed. It matters not one iota how she acted or treated anyone at the parish including me. The important part of the story is that at one point I curtly asked her to leave. Following some last comments she had standing on our front stoop, I slammed the door.

It would not be that Fr. Valencheck had treated her poorly but that the Catholic Church had treated her disrespectfully. This damage might not be limited to her alone but to her children as well, perhaps even into the next generation. So I sent a letter of apology and offered to do what I could to help her. There was no reply.

At the other end of things I have had a number of meetings lately in which persons have said that they had a poor experience of Church in the past, usually that involved some sort of incident with a priest, and that I was able to set things right. That is a good feeling tempered somewhat by the tale above.

We want (me included) priests to be perfect. We want them never to be angry, irritable, or short. They are supposed to be close to God are they not? They are to set the example for all are they not? And this at all times and in all circumstances. That would be nice. But unfortunately priests are men and some are better men than others and better at certain times than others. Besides, anything you want and demand your priest to be, you better be prepared to be.

That being said, an unfavorable incident with a priest does not constitute an unfavorable treatment by the Church. If a surly priest yelled at you for parking on the front lawn of the Church or for talking too loudly before mass, a surly man yelled at you, not the Roman Catholic Church. There is nothing I can imagine that a priest could do that that would warrant leaving the Eucharist, the sacraments, and the one true Church.

Of course there is a priest for everybody. I am not for some people just like some counselors or doctors or artists do not work for everybody. That does not make them bad counselors or doctors or artists, neither does it invalidate a counseling method, a type of medicine or a style of art. So if it is possible you go see another priest. If it is not you keep your eye focused on the Eucharist.

It’s John Chapter 6. It’s the Eucharist, the Eucharist, the Eucharist. Nothing else matters.

Which brings us to the flip side of the equation. Of course it matters. We see that in evangelization. You can have all the right answers, they can be irrefutable, but if you do not love, if you do not have a relationship with the other person, it is next to impossible to bring them to truth. Love and trust will win more people to Christ than all the truth, fact, and verse you can muster. It may be a sad truth we learn in heaven that donuts have brought more people to Christ than warning them that they were going to hell.

Maybe not.

But maybe.

But what is clear is that it is about relationship that they actions of another cannot destroy and the love of another can demonstrate. Such is the perfection of God as dealt among flawed men.


What spiritual direction is to faith I need the equivalent in some aspects of modern art and architecture. I went to the see the new addition to the Akron Art Museum (a post for another day) and spent some time in the modern art section. I went to my most troubling pieces and tried to spend some quality time with them. There was one piece in particular I was going to try to “figure out”. I read the artist’s and curator’s explanation. Best of all I was able to be there while some people who did love the piece were able to coo over it. “Look at that line,” one said. Another, “look how flawless that surface is.” They bent and stooped over it, taking it in at different angles and obviously admiring it greatly. (I was hoping that there would be a picture of it on their web site so that I could share it with you but alas, there is not.)

It just didn’t work for me. I could appreciate the great skill that went into the piece and feel that it should be preserved for others to see as a technique of art that could be incorporated into something else, but I have a hard time classifying it as art. That does not mean that it is not art. Here are just some possibilities:

1 My definition of art is too narrow.
2 It is so far ahead of me that I just don’t get it. For example, it took me a long time to appreciate icon.
3 It speaks to something that I just happen to have no interest in but need to appreciate because to someone else it is extremely relevant.
4 The key to understanding it has not been revealed to me.
5 There is nothing to get, I am just reading too much into it.
6 It isn’t art.

So I am trying to stay open. If I am going to have a good opinion on this however whether it be positive or negative (or somewhere in between) I am going to have to meet with a qualified “spiritual art director”.

That is the kind of approach that is needed when one questions the faith life. I find it interesting when someone vehemently disagrees with Church teaching and when asked why they disagree with a particular teaching the response is, “It’s not fair,” or “I don’t like it,” or “God wouldn’t say that.” When pressed for further details such as how do they know or if they know why it is that the Church teaches as she does, the conversation is blown away with the swipe of the arm as if going after an annoying fly thereby brushing off any chance that a meaningful exchange of ideas could even occur.

No teaching of the Church stands on its own. It is like a carefully constructed ball of yarn and to yank at one thread is most likely to effect many other teachings. Each teaching is not a referendum item that can be voted in or out without effecting the greater understanding of the whole.

For example many people want the Church to change her teaching on same-sex marriage. Ultimately that teaching would not stand on its own, it would effect the teaching on the meaning and purpose of marriage, sexuality, the purpose and meaning of man and life, and ultimately the way Scripture may be interpreted and how Tradition and the lived experience of the faithful for the last 2,000 years are seen. In truth, it would change the entire fabric of the faith.

That is the artwork of the Catholic take on faith. A visceral response to a limited understanding of its teaching does not make it false or untrue or unbeautiful. I find even those who make the time to understand the depth of a teaching and still disagree with it at least respect the logic, breadth, beauty and history of it while holding a contrary or modified position.

Does some teaching of faith from the Church strike you as wrong? Sit with it for a spell. Learn not just that it is being taught but why. Speak to someone knowledgeable about it. Be open to the possibility that it may be something more than what the newspapers report it to be. There is the possibility that it may be art and that it may touch you. And if it turns out that it doesn’t, you will not have lost out on anything but will at least understand better your brothers and sisters point of view.

Monday, August 27, 2007


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” Saint Augustine

QUOTE II: “A thing is not necessarily false because badly uttered, nor true because spoken magnificently.” Saint Augustine


H. P. threatened that if I didn’t quote St. Augustine for Tuesday she would rain down physical harm upon my person. For those of you who want more quotes from the incomparable St. A, look here.

Did you miss the Feast in Little Italy? Here are some more pictures from the Plain Dealer.


If you have a beautiful voice, presume God wants you to sing. If you are teacher, presume God wants you to teach. Use you gifts in service of others.” (Author unknown to me, but told to be by Mrs. P)

People want burning bushes. Burning bushes are rare. What is it that God wants you to do to build up humanity and give glory to Him? You have thousands of clues in your life already. Maybe part of your discernment of God’s will in your life is finding out the gifts with which He has blessed you.

If you can pray, assume God wants you to pray for others. If you are artistic, assume God want you to inspire others with your gifts.

Not everybody is called to be a missionary. Not everyone is called to be married. The Church needs electricians as well as organists. How are you going to live your vocation so that you give glory to God and lead others to Him?

If you can inspire by the written word, assume God wants you to write (or blog). If you have the capacity to heal, assume God wants you to heal.

Sometimes God gives us multiple opportunities. Once I met a lady who received her acceptance letter to a religious order on the same day that a man proposed to her. Both were goods, both were things she felt called to, both were holy vocations. Sometimes there is simply a choice and once we choose we give it our all and don’t look back.

If your talent seems small, assume God will do something bigger with it than you will ever realize. If life continually leads you away from your strengths, assume God is trying to stretch you for something greater.

Yesterday afforded the opportunity to spend some time with a number of our seminarians. Bowing to an inner conviction and accepting the call of the Church they move steadily on toward the priesthood. Have no fear men. Presume God is calling you and be faithful, obedient, and holy.
Readers, please pray for them and for all seminarians.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Maybe this should go for televisions too!


The Diocese of Cleveland E Newsletter asks did you know The National Catholic College Admission Association is a non-profit organization of Catholic colleges and universities committed to promoting the value of Catholic higher education and serving students in the transition to college? Check it out here.

Kay sent this site in. It's actually pretty cool. I hope you enjoy it also.

The latest Catholic Carnival is up and running.

And finally, a little something to brighten your Sunday:

Saturday, August 25, 2007


It is the last day of the St. Clare Festival to benefit the school. Stop by and eat today of you are around here and hungry!

Friday, August 24, 2007


You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands. As parishioners come up for communion you can tell who works hard with their hands for a living and who needs to write notes to remember to call someone about homework. There are very young hands that are smooth and plump and old gnarled hands of age. You cannot know everything about the person, but you can surmise much.

So it is with depictions of the saints. Hands are very important. For example you might notice that they have on them the markings of the crucifixion. If from other contextual clues you have surmised that it is a depiction of Christ, you know, obviously, that the scene is from after the resurrection. If it is not Christ it is of a saint that was granted the stigmata and so search for further clues as to whether it might be Saint Francis or St. Pio or some other saint.

Objects in the hands of saints are fascinating. Often we see weapons. St. Paul is often seen with a giant sword in his hands. I used to think that it had something to do with the way he spread Christianity, “Like a warrior, using the Word like a two edged sword!” But these weapons are all instruments of their martyrdom.

Some are very general such as with the sword that may mean a general martyrdom or beheading. A battle axe pretty much suggests that the saint in question was beheaded. Clubs should be fairly obvious as are rocks which St. Steven is often seen carrying. Saint Bartholomew who we celebrated yesterday was filleted alive and so he carries filleting knives. Some saints had their skins racked off of them with a wool comb and so proudly display that by which they showed their love of God.

Some saints have rather unique objects that are readily associated with them such as St. Catherine’s wheel. St. Lawrence who reportedly had a great sense of humor clutches the gridiron on which he was roasted. Legend has it that he told his tortures, “I’m done in this side, you can turn me over now.” St. Peter of course embraces his cross which is reversed from Christ’s cross for he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as our Lord. Then there is Saint Andrew whose cross resembles a giant X.

One wonders what modern day martyrs will be shown holding. For example, will those shot ever hold a gun or bullets? One author suggest in the future we might use such objects as electric prods and bombs. Who knows?

One very interesting Church is St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale, Pennsylvania. The artist, Maxo Vanka who painted the church in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s did a wonderful job of using tradition symbols for an updated message. One in particular called, “Injustice” is difficult to look at and not just because of the gas mask that the allegorical figure is wearing. Once again, look at the hands. Thick gloves cover them as if trying to protect itself its own dirty deeds. It deals with things of this world with disdain. In one hand is a mighty sword, but it is not the sword of its own martyrdom but the weapon that slays its many victims. In the other hand is held scales of justice, but the bread (Jesus) on the one side is far outweighed by the gold contained in the other. Fascinating!

There’s more on hands but that will be continued next week.


Amnesty International is promoting abortions for all of the usual reasons in areas of violence where women are often raped. Many Catholics have withdrawn their support of AI because of it. There are at least two debates there that could go on for a thousand years, but what I found most interesting was the debate that ensued over what exactly Catholics should believe (mostly by non-Catholics).

On one particular radio program the same old trunk was drug out. “This is the modern age,” slogan was slung around. A slogan by the way that was used since way before the time of Christ to justify just about anything and which means nothing in particular. A twist on an old rant was that there are really two Catholic Churches. There is the laity and the hierarchy (the latter being of course increasingly out of touch. That line has been used so often and for so long that they should be so out of touch by now as to be living on the moon.)

I find it interesting that people care. It is not enough for people to disagree with the Church, it's that they also want the Church to agree with them; to change its teachings. There is an incredible amount of proselytizing going on to win Catholics over to a much more secular viewpoint. I suppose a true Catholic can be annoying, like a conscience, a tiny voice in the back of your head asking, “Is this really right?” If you can get that tiny voice to say, “Yes, everything you are doing is good,” what worries have you?

True Catholics keep the debate alive, keep the conversation going, make people stop and think. Few would have even noticed what AI was doing if not for a large organization such as the Catholic Church. Most other voices in this conversation are too small or too fragmented. In a supposedly pluralistic society you would think that a contrarian voice would be welcomed, but such is not the case. Instead the voice that stands for life from womb to tomb is labeled “Intolerant” and is thus not tolerated.

It is so much easier to go through life with blinders on, just trotting on ahead down a road called Progress. But the road is simply named Progress and does not necessarily mean that anything good will come of trotting down it. There is one good strong voice that keeps saying, “Are you sure this is the way you want to go? Do you really understand where this is leading you?”

I have a few friends who are teachers in the public school system. They do not approve of the Catholic school system, the private school system, or home schooling because of the notion that all American children should be given the same education and thus the same start in life. I reply that I have never heard of anything so un-American. Thank the Good Lord that there are people who will be taught differently and have different opinions and thoughts. Why not have diversity?

Thank you to you Catholics who are strong in your faith. Thank you for standing for something other than the same old pile of gunk that is dumped on you in large doses daily through media, news, advertisements, by marketing campaigns, and opinion poles. Far from being a Catholic automaton as you are often labeled by those who want you to change you are actually one of the few who stand out, who risk thinking differently, who are not intimidated, who don’t just go along with the flow, who are not out just to be liked but to love.
Keep thinking! Don’t be sloganed or ridiculed or manipulated or intimidated or hoodwinked or just simply worn down into just fitting in and being quiet. Even within the Catholic Church you are in the minority. You are important despite what messages you might pick up. Be strong. Be positive. Be loving. But be a rock around which the stream going over the falls must move around. Be that tiny voice in the back of the American mind that makes it think also.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Like your name?

I hope so.

According to the CCC (2159), “The name one receives at baptism is a name for eternity”.


Please don’t get me wrong. I really, really like my name. It is a strong name with lots O’ history. “JOHN.” It means, “God is gracious” or as some etymologies put it, “God’s most gracious gift.” But I never go by it. I never have. Only the bishop and my Mom ever call me John. I was named after my grandpa and the Evangelist. I also had an uncle with the name and have a cousin with it. There were 5 people in my grade school class with the name and so we all took variations on John. 40% of my seminary class had the name John. (Okay, there were only 5 of us, but still.) At my last assignment there was a Fr. John, a deacon John, a Fr. Sean, and I was replaced by a Fr. John. (Hence the beauty of going by the name Fr. Valencheck.)

I can see it for all eternity, God will call out, “John,” and millions of people will look up and He’ll be forced to say, “No, not you, THAT John.” And millions of people will say, “Oh.”

Well, maybe not. It seems that in eternity each person’s name and person will be marked with a unique character of God, kind of like a fingerprint I suppose. “In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God’s name will shine forth in splendor (CCC 2159).” John Smiths of the world worry not. You will be unique in heaven.

But wow! If naming sticks forever, giving someone a name is pretty serious stuff. Giving a name is a special privilege (as is having someone named after you.) It is not insignificant that God let Adam choose the names of all the living creatures. “Whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen 2:19)”.

God did His own fare share of naming. He named Jesus, His Son, as well as John the Baptist. In “recreating” a person He symbolized a new state of happiness, a new way of life; new life! “You shall be called by a new name . . .(Is 62;2)” Thus Abram became Abraham; Sarai becomes Sarah; Jacob, Israel; Simon, Peter; Saul becomes Paul.

Naming puts us in special relation. Kids name pets, some people name certain possessions (cars, homes), businesses pay big bucks to name stadiums, and those who make scientific discoveries get to name them. We give nicknames to people we love (or really don’t love).

But none of these are as important as giving someone a baptismal name. “At baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies the man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church (CCC 2156).” (Isn’t interesting that confirmation is the first time we officially name ourselves just as we are told that now we are responsible for our faith and to be disciples that brings His Good News to the world? Of course, one may ratify his baptismal name at confirmation too.)

In ancient times a name was given to identify the essence, nature, or function of the individual. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Now, the names of individual men are always taken from some property of the men to whom they are given. Either in regard to time; thus men are named after the Saints on whose feast they are born: or in respect of some blood relations; thus a son is named after his father or some other relation, . . . Or, again from some occurrence; thus Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasses saying, “God hath made me to forget all my labors (Gen XLI;51). Or, again, from some quality of the person who receives the name; thus it is written (Gen. Xxv;25) that he came forth first was red and hairy like a skin; and his name was called Esau, which is interpreted red.” (SummaQ37 art 2 pt III)

Saint Ambrose of Milan and St. John Chrysostom urged parents to name their children carefully as they thought it was being done haphazardly. The Roman Catechism urged parents not to give their children strange, laughable, or obscene names. Saints names were urged as they gave the recipient a model of charity and a sure intercessor upon whom they might rely. Not to be left out were names of Christian virtues (like Hope, although I do not recommend Chastity at the moment) or Christian mysteries (Anastasius [resurrection], Athanasius [immortality]). One could easily imagine one of our Protestant parents naming their children in this tradition and having someone come up to you one day and saying, “Hi! My name is Rapture and I will be your hostess today!”

All silliness aside, our name is considered an icon of the person. Considering the importance of what is meant by the word icon in the Eastern Church, this is pretty serious stuff. Everyone’s name is sacred and demands respect “as a sign of the dignity of the one who owns it (CCC 2158)”.

So no matter what your name, find a way to accept, appreciate, and celebrate it. In some way it is more beautiful than you can know and more unique than seems possible. It is that by which God calls you (Jn 10;3).

And if you should blessed to name a person, bear in mind not only the honor but the great responsibility is picking the name by which even God will call that person.

Here are some sites for names and their meanings.

Monday, August 20, 2007


His Excellency Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie and chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) is urging his people to write to a list of Vatican and U.S. Church officials to protest the latest translation of the Mass according to an article in the Adoremus Bulletin. I thought this rather not the way Catholics went about such things. I wonder if he would be open to such maneuvering if it were a movement by his own people against something that he was doing. This effort could backfire on him when it is time for him to do something unpopular. If this is a good thing to do would it be unethical for those who are for the new translations to start a campaign against the bishop, to urge people to write to the Vatican and to prominent persons in the Church in the United States and indeed inundate Bishop Trautman with pleasant but contrary missives to allow the translations to go through? What if we do not like them once they are out? Should we start a new campaign to have them changed again? I find the effort very disturbing.

A few weeks ago a pastor wrote an open letter to the pope in his parish bulletin concerning the pronouncement that the Catholic Church was indeed the Church founded by Christ containing the fullness of truth and being the normative way for one to get into heaven. He took him to task and suggested that he should have kept the whole matter on the QT. Instead of taking the pope to task, it might have done this pastor well to help his people understand what was being said and how to address the issues in their own lives. His comments seemed more destructive than what he was opposed to.

Why is it that being anti-institution is so admired? Instead of taking what we have and trying to help people through it and appreciate it, self-appointed evaluators challenge every teaching of the church from pulpit to pew (or blog).

So the other day I was visiting a priest friend of mine who had a book sitting out on his table. It was entitled, “The Catholic Priesthood and Women.” I was just about to give him a tongue-lashing, “O for Pete’s sake! Not you too!” But he gleefully pointed out to me that was subtitled, “A Guide to the Teachings of the Church.” The book written by Sr. Sara Butler MSBT, professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York takes seriously John Paul II’s statement in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

I was rather impressed. Here was a person who got it. How long to we dialogue before we say, “Enough!” Let us move forward. Learn why the Church teaches as she does. Let us learn to cope with what we have because being stuck in a moaning rut is not productive. It keeps us chasing our tails while more productive work of the Gospel goes undone. Forward Christian soldiers!

The former liturgist for the Diocese of Cleveland a number of years ago met with interested persons throughout the diocese about changes in the liturgy. The lectionary was new then and it was brought up by several people that it was a poor translation and difficult to read. The priest pressed its merits but to no avail. He then confided that despite how we might feel about it we might as well do the best we can with it and move on. What was being accomplished other than wasting our time complaining about it? It was not going to change any time soon.

I thought a lot of him for that. Of course, we don’t roll over and die to everything that comes our way. There are battles worth fighting. But some are over and there are still soldiers fighting that just don’t realize it. Other battles need to be fought on the right field. And still other battles are worth just so much effort and then we need to get on with business.

“View everything sub specie aeternitatis.” When studied from the point of eternity, a lot of our fussing can seem quite silly.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “The works of Homer and Aeschylus and of the Greek sculptors are plants growing in our own garden” – Russell Sturgis

QUOTE II: “At St. Anne’s Psychiatric Clinic a patient cried out in bed, ‘I’m a prince! Arrest the Grand Duke!’ Someone went up to him and whispered in his ear, ‘Blow your nose!’ and he blew his nose. He was asked, ‘What is your occupation?’ He answered quietly, ‘Shoemaker,’ and started shouting again. I imagine we’re all like that man.” – Satre


Rob over at Catholic Scripture Study (it is still not too late to get caught up and join) has this link for the liturgy of the hours.

This does not speak to the mission of this blog directly but I find it interesting (and funny). Steven Colbert interviews Andrew Keen concerning his book that claims the internet is destroying culture. Particularly he points to non-professional reporters of news not living up to standards and how art is being stolen and artists (and consequently everyone else) suffering for it. Yes, there is a lot of silliness, but it also is an important question. It is about 5 minutes long.

This last Saturday was the closing of the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Little Italy. The Feast (not to be confused with the Fest) has been celebrated at Holy Rosary Church on a more grand scale than your average parish for over 100 years. The current pastor has done a lot to return to the mammoth feast day celebration from a beer drinking excuse to having some real connection to the commemoration of this awesome mystery. The volunteers are trained in evangelization and have a confession service provided for them before the event begins. Masses and a procession mark the beginning of the Feast. This year our own Bishop Lennon had the opening mass and the next night it was Archbishop Broglio who is a Cleveland native.

Saturday night was the procession to bring Mary “back indoors”. The crowds in the street were so packed from one side of the road to the other that it was almost impossible to move, but Cleveland’s finest cleared a path for us. The procession made its way through the streets of Little Italy around 9:30 PM lead by Cleveland’s Italian Band, followed by persons in nationality costumes from around Italy, then a bevy of nuns, priests and brothers singing “Immaculate Mary”, Mary being carried on a bier by eight stout men in black and white, followed behind by parishioners with blue and white votive candles.

The procession ended in front of the church, which formed a sort of balcony over the crowd. There were thousands of people there. I’d always wondered what it would be like to be on the balcony at St. Peter’s in Rome when the square was filled with people and now I have a pretty good idea!

A prayer service was held and during Fr. Rocco’s reflection his microphone went out just after he said, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” So we concluded with an Our Father, a blessing, and then the fireworks went off over the tops of the buildings. All and all quite the thing to see.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


There is a guest blogger today. In a conversation over coffee "C" brought up the topic of reiki and I realized my ignorance on the topic from what she told me about it and thought you might like to hear more about it. It is one thing to know that it is something we should avoid, it is another to know why. So without further adieu, here is C's post on reiki.

Just about every Catholic has been exposed in one way or another to New Age Spirituality. Parishes, retreat houses, hospitals, even exercise classes and spas throughout the country are offering New Age practices in the form of yoga, centering prayer, enneagrams, labyrinth walks, and crystals just to name a few.

One popular and widespread New Age practice is the healing technique called “reiki”. Reiki was created early in the 20th century by a Buddhist monk, Mikao Usui, who claimed to have received healing power after a long period of fast and meditation. The name reiki is a combination of the Chinese words “rei”, meaning “spirit” or “ghost”, and “ki”, meaning “life force energy”. Reiki is passed from master to student through a series of “attunements” that open the student’s energy channels and empower him to heal. In a Reiki session, the patient lies down and the Reiki practitioner moves his hands over different parts of the patient’s body in order to channel healing energy, sometimes invoking to help of “spirit guides”. The treatment is said to relieve “blockages” in the patient’s energy channels that inhibit the flow of healing energy. (Amusingly, Mr. Usui later decided that there should be an “energy exchange” in return for Reiki treatment in the form of a cash payment.)

Most Christians do not realize that practices such as Reiki, Yoga, Tai Chi, Feng Shui, acupuncture, and reflexology all invoke the universal life energy “ki” and are considered occult practices that are not compatible with Catholic teaching. The Vatican document Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life explains that the New Age regards God, not as a person with whom we can relate, but a force to be harnessed. Pope John Paul II called the New Age movement a “return to ancient Gnostic ideas” in which salvation is gained, not through Jesus Christ, but through secret knowledge reserved for a few special people (like Reiki practitioners, for example).

New Age practices are questionable on many fronts. Some patients will forgo legitimate treatment and put their hope in the power of Reiki. Some also question the ethics of asking for money for a “spiritual” treatment. But for a Christian, New Age practices pose a real spiritual danger, tapping into the supernatural evil of the occult. While the Catholic Church accepts all that is good and true in other religions, “energy modalities” like Reiki simply cannot be made compatible with the Christian faith.

This is just my own two cents:I can understand the appeal of New Age practices. They require no catechesis and no commitment. They are perceived as being religiously neutral. No one has to make any uncomfortable moral judgments. Reiki is instant, bland, and inoffensive, but then so are grits (yuck!). The Church and its sacraments have much better to offer.“Christians United for the Faith” has a great article for further reading:

Thank you C! This was very informative!


Here is a link to this week’s video on The official choice for this week is “Set Me Free” but I never can seem to get enough of “Dorian Gray” if you are in to listening to this kind of music.


If you are not into Catholic Rock here is something a little tamer sent in by S.F. WARNING: High sugar content.

Want to find your diocesan web site? Look no further.

How about all things Vatican? Look here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


By now what is about to be said might seem a bit obvious to you but when trying to decipher who a saint is looking at their clothes will provide a lot of clues. Of course if they are draped in red they are a martyr or if all in white, a virgin. That would quickly narrow the field. Franciscans will most likely be in their brown, Saint Patrick is always in green bishop vesture, Sts. Jude, Peter, and Joseph regularly have a golden yellow as part of their clothing while Judas has a dingy yellow.

In general depictions of saints for veneration show them at their highest rank on earth. If you were, for example, to have a statue of Saint Ambrose commissioned, you would more likely have him depicted as a bishop rather than at any other stage in his life.

Notice the bishop’s crosier, it always “open” or with the crook facing away from him. This is to show his jurisdiction over his diocese. If he were outside his diocese (or when someone such as a vimp is holding it for him) it is in the “closed” position in deference to the ordinary.

Other saints have clothes particular to them. Maxamillion Kolbe for example is often seen in his striped prison uniform and is (just about?) the only saint depicted wearing glasses. This is because once a person is in heaven, they experience the perfect beatific vision and it is no longer necessary for them to have these aids for seeing. Perhaps in the future artists will show him holding the glasses with which we have come to identify him.

Christ the teacher is often seen in a white robe with a blue sash. During His Passion He is most often seen in red or white with red. After His Resurrection he is in white, occasionally with a gold band about His waist. The different color combinations help define what period in His life is being depicted. Christ as the Sacred Heart most often involves white and red clothing. (Please do not forget that color schemes change in iconography.) Sometimes too Christ wears red (to show His humanity) with a blue mantle (to show His divinity).

The same can be said for the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is usually depicted in all in white up until the Annunciation. From then on there is usually a blue mantle over the white. During the Passion the white is replaced with red. And of course her manifestations come with their own color schemes such as Lourdes (white with blue sash) and Fatima (usually all white and sometimes with gold trim).

Next week we will talk about feet and hands, which are far more interesting and telling.
Interestingly enough, if you want see some excellent examples of traditional Catholic symbolism concerning the saints, the artist and editor of the children’s book series, “Book of Saints, Super-Heroes of God” by Father Lovasik, S.V.D. and published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company nails the most accepted and traditional symbolism exactly.


You know what the youth wants don’t you?

You know they are board at mass. Right? You know what they want. They want to jazz the whole thing up. They want modern music. Rock and Roll. Maybe visual aids like projected graphics and lighting effects. This is what kids want and if we don’t give it to them, they will vote with their feet.

This is what I remember being told I wanted when I was a kid (an age that is getting further and further behind me.) I always resented it. Not all kids fall into this mode – especially those who are taking faith seriously. Yes, some do want it - or think that they do - but not all "youth".

I had the most wonderful experience on the Feast of the Assumption. Some high school boys were serving for me. It was suggested to me that I keep mass shorter “because people don’t really want to be there on a Wednesday night.” So I thought I would acquiesce and do Eucharistic Prayer II, the shortest of them all and one I rarely use on such occassions. The young men protested. “Oh come on!” they said. “At least do Prayer III.” I finally gave in to the pressure at which point there was cheering and general mayhem.

I am further happy to report that this is not the first time this has happened. Several times I have had students that when I say I am doing Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) have said, “You are not skipping all the saints are you?”

Nor is this the only parish at which this has happened. It happened regularly at my last parish also. I’ve also seen it happen with other priests and their students.

I have several priest friends who have Eucharistic Adoration on a voluntary basis for their youth groups and report that after having it for a number of months during the school year having youth and eventually their parents there in the hundreds.

Why? I can’t say for sure, but I believe that it is because the mass and the Eucharist is not dummied down for fear of shooting over our kid’s heads. They are entrusted with our great and most complicated traditions, allowed to take ownership of them, and are supported and encouraged. Done right and well, we already do really cool stuff once we take advantage of it and one gets into and used to it.

A person who once taught music at our seminary said, “You don’t suck people into Church by doing bad liturgy.” We can’t suck kids in by copying what they are already getting “out there”, because out there will do their stuff far better than we can. But "out there" cannot do what we do as well.

We cannot trick anyone into our doors by imitating pop-culture. We also cannot copy culture and stand apart from it at the same time in any sustainable fashion. And if we try, what happens to these people when they are no longer youth and must attend a “mainstream” mass for which they are utterly unprepared and feel alienated from?

By definition novelty is not sustainable. If it were, it would not be novelty. And how long can the novelty sustain faith?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain- and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot – and so it is.” Luke 12;54-55.

Nothing like a summer storm to keep you on your toes.

The Diocese of Cleveland is filling sand bags and moving the cattle to higher ground preparing for a predicted downpour with record high winds and flooding that has battle weary Catholics feeling disheartened. On the Feast of the Assumption began the trial of The United States of America vs. Joseph H. Smith and Anton Zgoznik. If you are not already aware of sordid details, here, here, and here are a few articles to catch you up to speed.

Our bishop, The Most Reverend Richard Lennon, stated that, “The trial is likely to generate coverage by the media.” How he knows this is mysterious. They say a prophet is only known after the fact. Time alone will tell if he is right or not. (Yes, I am being snarky and not toward the Bishop.)

Anyway, in a letter to his priests he asked us to share this information with interested persons. If you read this blog you might be more interested than the average bear about such things and so I share the following points from the Bishop’s letter with you.

1. The Diocese of Cleveland is NOT on trial; it is the victim of the alleged crimes.
2. The Diocese has fully cooperated with the investigation.
3. Any suggestion that those involved with the administration of the Diocese knew or approved of the activities charged against the defendants or engaged in similar conduct is false.
4. The Diocese does not condone criminal activity. (Did we really need to say that? O my.)
5. The Diocese was (allegedly) defrauded by a person who held a position of trust and by his business associate. While it is difficult to protect against fraudulent conduct, the Diocese has implemented steps since this matter was first discovered to strengthen its financial controls.
6. Catholics and all others who generously support the spiritual and social work of the Church can be confident of the continued good stewardship of by the Diocese.
You know, I remember when I was an assistant manager at a movie theater and some boys from a local Catholic high school came in wearing their varsity jackets and vandalized the men's room. It is a quirky thing that those Catholic boys were seen as a nuisance. Not those boys, but those Catholic boys from that Catholic school. Though the media has stopped reporting that every Tom, Dick, and Harry caught in the commission of a crime was a former Catholic altar boy or sang in the choir and St. Suchandso Catholic Church at some vague point in their history, there still is some thrill at finding a ne're-do-well who is Catholic.

To some extent there is a back handed compliment there I suppose, but on the other, what a clarion call for Catholics to be aware that their actions reflect more than on themselves. Professing to be Catholic and being no different from anyone else sexually, concerning drugs and alcohol, using inappropriate language, watching degrading programming, committing a crime, showing approval of ugly actions does not simply reflect upon oneself, but can reflect on the faith.

What would you not want to see you priest doing? Do you think there are movies you would not want them to be seeing? Bars you don't want them to go into? Are there jokes you would lose respect for them telling? Are there manners of dress that you would be scandalized they wear? I hope so. But never forget that the same standard falls on everyone's shoulders. We are all called to be holy, priests are not called to be holy for anyone. And just as ugly as a fallen priest is to the general public, a fallen Catholic is ugly to someone searching for God and holiness. Both have someone's soul at risk.

That is what is truly ugly about this case.


When I was shorter and had much more hair and being a priest not much more than a passing daydream, I imagined the seminary a far different place than it turned out to be. I don’t know why, but I thought it would be much more, I don’t know, English, which is quite ludicrous I know. It was pictured as an old mansion type building set on the shores of Lake Erie. Leather bound books would be in oak bookcases in a library with leaded windows. Classes would be held in sitting rooms and be rather like sharing the wisdom of the elders than formal classes. In chapel we would sit in choir stalls and wear cassock and surplus and sing in Latin.

Not quite.

So I thought as I was giving a tour of the seminary during the FEST, I would take some pictures and give those of you who have not been in a seminary a little taste of what one is like. The tour is a rather limited one (or the tours would have gone on for hours) but you might get a better idea of what one looks like.

First I would like you to meet Fr. Mike Gurnik, classmate and head of vocations for the Diocese of Cleveland. He roped me in to give the tours of the seminary at the FEST. He’s the go-to man if you are thinking of becoming a priest in our diocese.

This is the seminary. Well, actually it is the Center for Pastoral Leadership (CPL) and actually houses two seminaries, St. Charles Borromeo Minor Seminary and Saint Mary, Our Lady of the Lake Major Seminary and Graduate School of Theology. In addition to these are all the other training programs for service in the diocese as well as some other programs run out of some of the buildings on the campus. The land was originally a farm evidenced by the large barn still on the back of the property. The farm was willed in half, one half going to the Good Shepherd Sisters who built the Marycrest School for Girls, the other to a Jewish Community who built Telshe Yeshiva.

In 1954 the Diocese bought the property from the sisters, expanded the building, and in different manifestations has had a seminary there ever since. The CPL sits on 54 beautiful acres and has a combined floor space of almost 280,000 square feet.

In the entrance way you will find this bronze piece in the floor that has the coat of arms for the Diocese. Legend has it that if a seminarian walk across it, he will not be ordained. Not wanting any prospective future seminarian to accidentally tread across it on this day, Fr. Gurnick put a plant on top of it.

If you turned left, there would be the Aula Magna (large hall) that was once the movie theater for the seminarians who were strictly forbidden to leave the grounds. Since then the floor has been leveled and it is now a large conference room. This is where Dawn Eden came to speak when she came to Cleveland.

In the other direction and through these beautiful gates is the Bruening-Marotta Library. It is one of the finest theological libraries in the United States. It is home to some historically significant works including the Bishop Ignatius Horstmann Collection that served as the original seminary library. The oldest book in this collection, which is pictured here, dates back to 1504.

As you walk around the building there is nary a corner that is not used as a display for art. One of the collections is known as the Hallinan-Newman Art Collection considered one of Cleveland’s premier religious art exhibits.

One of my favorite pieces is this one, hand carved in Germany. When closed it presents the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “In principio erat verbum . . .” “In the beginning was the Word . . .” When open we see a beautiful manger scene.

The heart of the campus is Resurrection Chapel. It is oddly shaped with the separate naves stemming from the sanctuary. This was from the Marycrest days when the nuns could have their own private chapel, the resident another and the third I was never quite sure about. Perhaps it was for visitors. Seen here are some of the many statues of saints that surround the seminarians as they pray.

This nave is used for the recitation of the Divine Office. The seminarians face each other for morning, evening, and night prayer, chanting the verses of the Psalms and prayers in an alternating fashion.

At the head of this nave is the Tellers Brand Pipe organ, a gem of an instrument. No matter how hard they try, electric organs just do not quite cut it like a good pipe organ.

Here is a model of a seminarian’s room. You can tell it is a model and not the real thing. No seminarian is this neat. That would be unhealthy.

There is a lot more to see, but you would get board reading and I would get board typing. There is of course the refectory where the seminarians and others eat. Fr. Gurnick supplied us with the statistics that the boys eat about 24,000 eggs and 30,000 slices of bacon for breakfast each year. And this is during a health craze in our country. Because of this there is also a weight room, gym and racquetball courts. Not to be forgotten are the classrooms that are not unlike typical college classrooms, lounges, recreation areas, courtyards, and other various and sundry nooks and crannies.

Here is one last thing though. This is model of the previous building which still stands in Rockefeller Park on Ansel Road which housed Saint Mary Seminary before it moved to this site. Talk about a gem of a building. But actually I would like you to notice the little white building to the side. There has been much speculation over the years as to what this house was. Some thought it the bishop’s house or some other building that was originally on the grounds. I know the truth. And now you will too. It is my house. When I was taking my model train set down, I brought one of the houses with me, opened the glass case and set in there about 12 years ago and there is has remained ever since. And that’s the rest of the story.

Here is the Vocation site for the Diocese of Cleveland. Please pray for the seminarians returning to studies soon!