Friday, December 31, 2010


The Star of David is for many people a symbol of Judaism in much the same way that the Cross is a symbol of Christianity. Much to my surprise however it is a relatively new innovation (and by that I mean no more ancient than the Medieval Period) and not necessarily universally accepted.

The term Star of David was originally the Shield of David and was not first used in association with the six sided star. Later they became synonymous and the term cemented into the Star instead of Shield of David. Though in use in many different ways since that time, it did not become a general symbol of Judaism until the 17th century and only recognized internationally in the 19th century as symbolizing the Jewish people in both religiously and secularly.

That being said, some Orthodox Jews refuse to use the symbol because of its early use in magic. Spanish and Portuguese Jews tend not to use the symbol either.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


My father was a jack of all trades, master of none. Well, almost none. But home improvements were not one of the ones he mastered. That caused my mother do develop the habit of saying, “If anywhere following the declaration ‘it’s fixed’ the words, ‘all you gotta do is . . .’ are said, it’s not fixed.” The dryer was “fixed.” All you had to do was hit the start button, manually start the tumbler and then slam the door shut. It was not working as it should.

If this sounds odd it oughtn’t. It is certainly a mentality very prevalent in our society today. There is less emphasis on living life the way we were designed to live it and more on helping people live the life they want to live supported by medications, surgical procedures, and devices that will either allow a person to do as they will or erase the consequences of their actions. Do you want lose weight but you don’t want to give up the foods you love or exorcise? Then ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS take this pill and everything will be just fine. Want to have multiple partners, use this device so that the natural consequences of our actions are frustrated allowing you to live as you wish.

As Catholics we have a call to try to live as naturally as possible within some amount of reason. Chances are that unless something is wrong with you, living the Catholic life fully would render half of the economy, not the part trying to get you hooked into some kind of behavior but the part that is either helping your body cope, rid or recover from it, dead. The focus is not with what is wrong with you but what is right, and how can we neuter or rid ourselves of that so that I can live I wish.

Is that any way to live? Can true happiness really be found living in a fashion directly opposed to one’s nature? If you are a banana and you keep trying to be a plum, the only thing you’ll end up being is a second rate banana.


1. INRI - IESVS•NAZARENVS•REX•IVDÆORVM or Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews
2. JMJ - Jesus Mary and Joseph (a blessing.)
3. AU – Alpha and Omega – I am the alpha and the omega
4. IC XC NIKA – Jesus Christ Conquers
5. AMDG - Ad majorem Dei gloriam or for the greater glory of God
6. BVM – Blessed Virgin Mary
7. DNJC - Dominus Noster Jesus Christus ("Our Lord Jesus Christ
8. IC - Jesus (first and third letters of His name in Greek
9. HIS – Darn spell check! This should have been IHS or the first three letters of JESUS in Greek
10. RIP - Requiescat In Pace ("May he rest in peace")
11. VRSNSMV – SMQLIVB – from the Benedictine medal Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


OMG, people think that they R so modern with TXTing. LOL! The Church has been using this system 4 centuries! See if you can name what these abbreviations stand for (or at least their English equivalent. This is just a small fraction of the ones used by the Church but I think them the most common.

2. JMJ
3. AU
6. BVM
8. IC
9. HIS
10. RIP

Answers tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “It is in some ways more troublesome to track down and swat an evasive wasp than it is to shoot at close range a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss.” from C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”

ROSEMARY SENT IN QUOTE II: “If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with actions, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each one of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life." ~Author Unknown


I rather enjoyed being where I was for the Christmas. There are those who were of course away from home and loved ones. Frank sent this site in from Xerox where you can sent a message to our soldiers.

My sister sent these in:

Bishop Lennon's "Website blog."

Dave sent in another gorilla Messiah. This one is in Cleveland.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Achk! Christmas Eve is tomorrow!

And in a completely irresponsible way I blew off part of Tuesday on a fun errand. The reason for the trip will be explained in the New Years Eve bulletin for the parish. (You can go here to read bulletins, read about the parish, hear our homilies, etc. . .)

I was window shopping the way someone who doesn’t really need a car goes and looks at cars. I was invited by the Schantz organ company to come look at their facility. As I left St. Sebastian I said, “Shucks, I forgot my camera,” and the first thing they said when we got there was, “Take as many pictures as you like.” I wanted to share the trip with you pictorially but . . .

According to the documents of Vatican II, Musicam Sacram, para 62, “The pipe organ (my note: notice, not the electric organ that sounds like a pipe organ) is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is the traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things.

“The use of other instruments may also be admitted . . .” Clearly the pipe organ (after the human voice) is the first among equals. And wonderfully so. One person like a spider at the center of a giant web can, by using every available limb, mimic the sound of an entire orchestra. And unlike its electric counterpart, worthy as it may be and helpful when the means to obtain a pipe organ are not available, it is more earthy, more organic. It just doesn’t SOUND like what it is supposed to be, it IS what it is supposed to be. Air is pumped into a giant pressurized lung, and when the organist pulls out a certain stop (or channel) for the air and then presses a key, the air rushes through tubes until it reaches a pipe of metal or wood, blows across an opening or vibrates a reed which starts the pipe resonating sending a sound out into the nave of the church.

The technology for making organs, like making stained glass windows, has not changed much over the centuries. The organ company makes their own metal by combining lead and tin in different proportions depending on the sound they desire and pours them out in sheets. Someone then cuts out the parts of a pipe (there are more than you might think) so that they are laid out in flat pieces much like they might look if you cut them out of construction paper before assembling them.

They are then rolled and soldered, their constituate parts added, then they are brought to the sounding room where they are set up on a work organ so that they may be tuned with all of their brothers and sisters. They are then cleaned and stored.

While this is going on, the carpentry shop is making the wooden pipes as well as the console and the other wooden components. The whole thing is then assembled in the assembly room before it is taken apart again to be ready for shipping. We saw part of one being constructed. It would contain about one quarter of the pipes of a gigantic organ that the company was working on for a Jesuit parish somewhere on the east coast. This piece was three stories high and big enough for a small family to live in.

During all this time another department is making the blowers that supply the wind to the instrument. This is of course a major step forward from the days when some altar boys would have to spend the Mass pumping giant bellows to make the instrument sound. Then there is the pipe – like steam pipes in your house for heat, that take the pressured air to the instrument from a separate room (it would be too loud to have in the Church) to the organ and all of the separate notes in as complicated on a very large scale as a computer chip board is on a tiny one.

Finally the whole thing is shipped out to its home where it is installed and every pipe and note must be tested again for tuning and proper air pressure to make sure it blends will not only within its rank, but the overall organ as well as the space in which it will live.

Quite an undertaking! Quite an instrument! Quite a lot of talent and old word craftsmanship!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “People are losing the ability to enjoy Christmas by indentifying it with enjoyment. When once they lose sight of the old suggestion that it is all about something, they naturally fall into blank pauses of wondering what it is all about. To be told to rejoice on Christmas day is reasonable and intelligible if you understand the name, or even look at the world. To be told to rejoice on the twenty-fifth of December is like being told to rejoice at quarter past eleven on Thursday week. You cannot suddenly be frivolous unless you believe there is a serious reason for being frivolous.” from G. K. Chesterton’s, “The New War on Christmas.”


Sorry for the late post – Tuesday being posted on Wednesday yet! Well, Christmas is almost upon us and I had an all day meeting yesterday that I thought was only going to be an hour. Sorry. I’ll try to post over the next two days but no guarantees!


Some of you asked for a better picture of the rug mentioned on Monday. Apparently this picture was not sufficient:
Here is the actual rug as it appears in the chapel of the rectory:
Thanks to Miss Linda here is a some Christmas cheer:

A friend of Fr. Pf's was flying over the parish in the Goodyear blimp and took this picture of St. Sebastian Parish.

From the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter: "The Diocese of Cleveland, Department of Communications has assembled the following TV Mass schedule for the Christmas and New Year season." Read more here.

From the same source: "Did you know, you only have one more month to experience the "Treasures of Heaven" exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art? This exhibit of Medieval European religious art is open now through Monday, Janaury 17, 2011" Read more here.

And I'll end it there so that you get a post today!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


This is the story of how this past Friday I obtained the second most expensive object that I own.
This is the most expensive thing that I own. I told you this story a couple of years ago.

The story of how I obtained the second most expensive thing that I own began about half a year ago. There are people in my parish who sing in the Akron Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Occasionally they give me one of their complimentary tickets. Sometimes my parochial vicar goes with me, sometimes my sister, and sometimes I go all by myself. So at one of these concerts that I attended all by myself I was standing in the lobby at intermission and trying to stay out of the way. Somehow that place was in front of a table selling raffle tickets to raise funds for the chorus.

“This is a very nice rug isn’t it?” I turned around and looked at the rug and it was indeed a very nice rug. It was $4,000.00 worth of nice rug and so I said, "Yes, it is a very nice rug."

“Would you like to buy a ticket?” I did until he said that they were twenty dollars. “It sure would be swell of you. Tickets sales have been a little slow lately.”

Well what was I going to do? I got in for free for heaven’s sake and I do like to promote the arts. So I got out my twenty dollars, said goodbye to it and exchanged it for a ticket stub that promised fame and fortune if I should be so lucky.

Jump ahead six months to Friday last. I am at the Christmas pops concert and enjoying it immensely until I look at the program. The second half involves a sing-a-long.

I loathe sing-a-longs.

If I wanted to sing along, I would join the chorus. So I decided that I would quietly sneak out at intermission but ran into so many parishioners that by the time I could escape it was time for the second half to begin so I stayed.

To kick off the second half they brought out representatives of the corporate sponsors (one of which was my bank! Good going bank!) And just before they walked off they said, “We have one more bit of business to which we need to attend. Mr. Bank Person, would you please draw the winning ticket of the $4,000.00 rug?”

He did and handed to the speaker who said, “And the winner is . . . I knew this would happen. I can’t read it. Can you read it?”

Nobody wore their glasses so one person gave it their best shot. “Jooooooooooooooooohn Vaaaaaaaaalenskull. Anyway, it’s number 44. Please come to the table after the concert.”

“John Valenskull”? That’s almost “John Valencheck.” And I DID buy a ticket in the mid forties. And I DO have very poor penmanship (especially when I think the effort futile). I think I just won! Should I clap or make a Woohoo noise?

And then I thought, “Now there is the possibility that there really IS a John Valenskull who bought a ticket in the mid-forties. That could be very awkward.”

So I kept quiet.

But I DID sing with much gusto at the sing-a-long.

After the concert I went to the table and said, “I bought a ticket in the mid-forties, I have VERY poor penmanship, AND my name is John ValenCHECK, not SKULL. I would like to check and see if I am the winner.”

They produced the ticket and there indeed was my name: Rev. John Valencheck. There were congratulations all around and apologies: My apologies for not writing more neatly and their apologies for not having the foresight to have at least one person on stage with their glasses on.

So I walked through E. J. Thomas Hall with a giant rug on my shoulder. People would call out, “Hey! It’s number 44! Valenskull! Congratulations.” Most people were happy save for those that I accidently whapped with the rug.

I carried it half way across the University of Akron campus and stuffed into my car. At home Fr. Pfeiffer helped me put it down in the rectory chapel were nobody would walk on it. Nobody is going to walk on the second most expensive thing that I own even if it is a rug.

And that is the story of how I obtained the second most expensive thing that I own.


Friday, December 17, 2010


Happy December 17th! Every year the Church switches the emphasis of advent from preparing for Jesus’ second coming to His immanent coming in the manger at Bethlehem. Today we begin the “O” Antiphons. These antiphons are the one sentence introductions (and conclusions) to the Gospel Canticle that is part of evening prayer or vespers, in turn part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayers of the Church. Each day they proclaim one of the titles that the Old Testament uses for the coming Messiah. Tonight’s will be “O Sapientia,” or “Oh Wisdom.” You know these from the advent song, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The proper verse for today would be, “O come now wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily . . .”

Thursday, December 16, 2010


A friend of mine has a pond. In midsummer we looked out and saw these gigantic fish. “See those fish,” he asked me, “when we got them they were quite small. You put them in your pond and they eat the ‘seaweed’ that grows in there. As little tykes they eat voraciously, but when they get that big they barely eat at all because they are not growing like they were. So they lazily swim around all day not accomplishing much of anything.”

That can happen in the faith life too – personally, on a parish level, even in religious communities. Grand goal being met the individual or the institution enjoys the beauty it has created but with no new goals being developed become “fat and lazy” spiritually. Many a pastor has contemplated burning down the parish church to get people motivated toward a cause once again. (Not that I recommend that – there are more constructive things to do!)

Are you excited about Christmas for a “birth of the Savior” standpoint or is it an established ritual that you go through without much thought? Don’t settle for anything less than being excited. It is glorious. Don’t let it be something you get used to. Set a new goal, achieve something wonderful. Bring life and a new understanding to Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Sorry, computer problems made today's post late!

At the last Chesterton meeting we came across this line from his essay entitled Dogs, “If the dog is loved he is loved as a dog; not as a fellow-citizen, or an idol, or a pet, or a product of evolution.” I am not entirely sure that this is a universally accepted statement. In fact, I know that it is not.

Two of my favorite people in the world have a couple of dogs that they love all out of proportion, at least according to Chesterton. I was invited to a birthday party for the dogs once and the mother of the people with the dogs gave me some tips about attending. 1) They are not to be referred to as “the dogs” but “the boys.” 2) Do not show up without a wrapped present. 3) And most importantly, do not say anything about this being the least bit strange.

Being a good Catholic boy I followed the rules flawlessly and must say that I had a very good time. The boys went to play in the backyard with their new toys (including my boy that I brought with me) and the adults sat in the living room and drank human drinks out of human glasses held in hands. To tell the truth I did not mind this a bit. The “parents” are lovely people and they perform their parental role with just enough tongue in cheek to let you know, “We know this is a tad over the top,” and just enough tongue out of the cheek to say, “but don’t ruin it.”

There are those however who with tongue entirely out of cheek and flapping quite wildly who believe that dogs, and indeed all animals are on par with humans – or even somehow superior. They have taken a noble and even godly position of caring for the welfare of animals to an extreme desiring animals to have the rights under the Constitution as do human beings.

Not only is this not good for animals, I dare say that it is not good for human beings either. If we are going to give animals such recognition, it also requires something back from them, something they are not capable of giving. Sure, they are affectionate, helpful, and beneficial to human beings in many ways, but in the end they remain animals and to expect more of them is to put undue pressure and expectations on them. I hardly thing an bear that makes its way into a downtown area can be expected to be good citizen or that geese will start observing hygienic laws around city parks.

To lose the essence of what animals are is to lose an understanding of who we are. If a snake (an animal like any other) should crawl up to a baby, I will not have a debate about which has a better right to be there. I will take my shovel and beat the snake senseless. And if the baby were going hungry I would have no qualms about serving up snake-kabobs. A human being is, after all, a being with a unique and superior dignity.

But the opposite is also a huge blunder. The mal-treatment of animals is below our human dignity and the dignity of the animals that God gave us. When He handed Eden over to Adam it was not to do with as he pleased, but to tend it and nurture it

C. S. Lewis said, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” If we understand that humans have a superior dignity, then that does not mean that animals may then be treated willy-nilly. It means that man has a greater responsibility in tending to the welfare of these beings because we have a greater capacity for it. Understanding nature and the proper order of things will allow us to love animals as they should be loved – not as superior beings completely incapable of sustaining such a lofty position, nor as nothing more than objects to be used as we will. When we act like animals or gods, it is the animals that suffer and in turn, so does our human dignity.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “John Paul II drew great attention not because he got faith to align with society, but because he challenged society.” Fr. Benedict Groeschell CFR

QUOTE II: “In Church one Sunday I realized that being a Lutheran meant more than simply attending services. Ultimately, it meant believing everything that the Lutheran Church believes and teaches, and I simply couldn’t accept the changes in its teachings. They implied that individual judgment takes precedence over authority; that no Pope, no council, and certainly no Church can dictate how a person should live. Therefore, if need be, I was free to create a religion to suit myself. I realized that Luther had done just this; and because he had, I could no longer remain a Lutheran.” by Tim Drake in the book “Surprised by Truth 2”


Those of you in town: On Friday, December 17th, the WALSH UNIVERSITY CHAMBER SINGERS will be performing at St. Sebastian at 7PM. "Sing Angels, Kings, and Folk" Admission is free.

This was sent in by Lynn. In is not particularly religous in anyway but worth a gander. They may look like they are goofing around but there is an incredible amount of talent going on here.

The Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter reports, "Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon uses his address to the First Friday Club of Cleveland as a teaching moment with a message for youth on the Catholic view of particating in God's plan." Read more and see the video here.

From the same source: NEWS TO ME!: "Did you know, this year on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) apparitions of Our Lady in Wisconsin have been given official diocesan approval? Reading from his decree at a special Mass on December 8 at the Champion, Wisconsin shrine, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay stated..." Read more here. "Our Lady of Wisconsin?" That will take some getting used to.

Not Catholic but inspiring none-the-less. Sent in by another Lynn! Thanks.

There have been some updates at Living Faith Network - helping bring faith the workplace.

If you need a laugh, CK sent this in. It helps to have and love dogs. I was snickering in my office for some time over this one. Thanks CK.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I did not expect to write to you until much later today. It was supposed to be a very busy morning. But instead it turned out to be rather more relaxed.

Yesterday was a whirlwind day not ending until about 8:30. Today I have a funeral but was in no state to write something thoughtful by the time I was able to find time to write last night. So instead I set my alarm clock early and thought to wake and write this morning.

So the alarm reached over and whapped me on the head and I got up surprised not to see St. Augustine staring at me from the church as he is want to do in the winter when it is dark outside and the lights are on in the church and his image glows seeming to be staring at me through my bedroom window. Odd, I thought and went to the window. It was not snowing nor was Mull Avenue particularly covered with snow.

I woke up the house, turning on the lights, the coffee pot, feeding the dog and gathering materials for writing a homily – one of the few hours when the house is quiet and can walk around in my bathrobe and not fear running into anyone. Information and writing utensils in hand and steaming mug of jo I sat in my sitting room and thought of what to say for a family who lost their father who retired from this life after living for 89 years.

Half way through writing I noticed there were no lights coming on over at the school. Curious. Was I up too early? It had been a habit of mine for a while to DREAM that my alarm clock went off and so get up and get ready for Mass before realizing I had another hour or so of sleep coming to me. So I consulted TWO clocks and then looked outside again at what appeared to be a wintery but not so terrible day. (I had yet to actually go out in it.)
Another few minutes go by and there are no lights, no cars, no commotion. “IT’S A SNOW DAY!” Before the funeral there was to be school confessions and so a very packed morning – but not now! I finished the homily I bundled up, grabbed Sebastian and went to play in the park for a little while. He had a number of friends there to play with – others had the same idea including L.B., off from school and walking Fluffy Molly and they tore around the park kicking up snow as they did so.

After a little while out there it became apparent why school was cancelled – but I am looking forward to the after lunch constitutional with Sebastian just the same.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Occasionally one of the complaints lobbed at the Catholic Church is that she uses and celebrates things that were of a pagan nature. (“Were” being the operative term.) An extreme example is those who do not celebrate Christmas because the date at one time was the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. But as I was recently reminded at one time even the Cross was a pagan tool and symbol and now is the most central of Christian symbols.

The Christmas wreath was once too an ancient pagan symbol. In fact, our choices of symbols and dates are rather finite in this world and I bet you could find a pagan equivalent for just about every Christian one. The wreath once symbolized everything from the petition for the spring weather to return to an honor to the sun god. Evergreen and olive branches symbolize life and immortality. These too have been baptized into the Christian symbolic dictionary.

One way this happens is seeing the wreath placed at center of the Cross. Because evergreens symbolize immortality they are often placed either alone or at the cross beams of the Cross at graves. Readily associated with Christmas the wreath prepares us for the coming of Christ . Often interspersed with holy leaves the sharp edges look forward to the crown of thorns that He would wear and the red berries the blood that He would spill thereby encompassing much of the salvific actions of Christ.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


There was a fight in a local sacristy recently. “Stop wishing people a Merry Christmas,” one priest said, “It’s advent!” The other priest stepped out into the sanctuary and said over the microphone, “Once again, Merry Christmas everyone!”

For many people advent is like a black hole, a void, and our celebratory nature abhors a vacuum and so Christmas gets sucked into the advent season and we have most of our Christmas parties, put up our decorations, and sing our Christmas songs. Unfortunately the end result is that once Christmas comes we are so tired of it that we start packing it up just as the Church is just beginning to celebrate the season.

So how does one “celebrate” advent? There are few things one can do. There’s prayer and extra Masses. There is always that advent calendar of course and the advent wreath. A Jesse tree is always appropriate. There are the holy days to observe and celebrate during this season: St. Nicholas Day being one with the most traditions attached to it. But by and large advent is about NOT doing anything. It is about cutting back, it is about waiting, it is about being in a moment of silence before the noise of celebration begins. (That’s why we don’t sing the Gloria during advent.) It is like waiting for the apples to ripen on the tree in the summer sun – wait – wait – wait – and then just as it’s time for perfection – a deer comes and eats them – er – I mean you get to eat a great, ripe, fresh apple. The waiting makes it all the more special. If you can eat it every day, it loses something.

So what can you NOT do to celebrate advent? If you must put out your manger scene, wait to put out Jesus. Then when someone asks, “Hey! Where’s Jesus,” you have the opportunity to say . . .

Don’t put out ALL of your Christmas decorations. Don’t leave your tree lights on all of the time. Hold the three kings back. Hold back on the best treats at least for yourself. Try wishing “Happy Advent” to people – at least those who won’t think you too strange. (And when they ask you, “What did you say?” . . .) I used to send advent cards. No, you can’t find them – you have to make them. In any event, try to find ways to build the anticipation so that when Christmas hits and the wrapping paper is all over the house it is not the case of, “Well . . . that’s over. Now what?” It is rather, “Now we begin the celebration!”