Sunday, July 31, 2011


For the first few days of this week I'll be heading to New York to visit with my sister.  See you when I get back!

Friday, July 29, 2011


Well let’s finish what we started.

You might want to send a letter to your bishop. Do you want to give him a heart attack? Write him about something positive that you are grateful for in his ministry or in the diocese in general. Then keep the address handy because you will have to send him a get well card during his recovery in the hospital.

The envelope should be addressed such:

The Most Reverend
Richard G. Lennon D.D., M.Th., M.A.
Bishop of Cleveland
1404 East 9th Street
Cleveland, OH 44114

(If you can’t find all the initials for your bishop that is Okay.)

The opening salutation is tricky. Traditionally it is, “Your Excellency,” or the more formal, “Most Reverend Sir,” however, many times these days when people are made uncomfortable by such formalities the much plainer, “Dear Bishop,” is used. How do you know which one to use? My general rule of thumb has been that if I know the man I write, “Dear Bishop” unless I know otherwise that he likes formalities – and if I do not know him at all I will write, “You Excellency” and allow him to tell me that we need not be so formal if that should be the case. But that’s me.

A good close is, “Respectfully yours,” especially if you have been. If you have not it really doesn’t matter how you close.

A couple other quick notes: A priest is given the salutation, “Dear Father Soandso” though there is a more formal, “Reverend Sir” for special occasion or if you don’t know his name. A permanent deacon is known as “Deacon” as in “Dear Deacon Lastname,” or “Dear Deacon,” and not “Dear Rev. Sir” which I believe (correct me if I am wrong) is reserved for transitional deacons.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


A female college student acquaintance was taking a class in which the students were asked to come up with 10 words or phrases with which they identified themselves. The student’s first word was “female.” She was upbraided for saying this and the professor was in wonder that anybody would choose their sex as an aspect of who they are that filters the way they relate to the world. (I wonder if the same dressing down would have occurred if the student had referred to a different lifestyle choice?) 

In point of fact in the Christian world – and in particular the Catholic Christian world this would have definitely been in the top ten if not the top two (child of God vying for first place) proper descriptions. We are not souls occupying a body – we are very much our bodies (and we say every week that we believe in the resurrection of our bodies.) Our sex is far more than other aspects of who we are. “Bald” or “stoop-shouldered” or “athletic” do not carry the same weight in having an effect in how we see the world as does being male or female. This foundational mark of who we are is also the lens through which we see the world and relate to others and God. It is not something to be ignored but something to be cherished, understood, appropriately used, and celebrated. To say that it is inconsequential is damaging to the dignity we have as human beings and to the ability to feel at home in our bodies.

There are those who would solve much of the world’s problems by doing what is possible to rid ourselves of the differences between men and women. This seems logical. In history there has been an inequality between the sexes and erasing that which makes us different does seem like a logical fix. But it is not. Erasing our identity is not a move toward health but a different sickness. Rather, a full respect of who we are as embodied beings, accepting it, honoring it, and realizing (as it says in the rite of blessing at marriage) that we are partners equal in the inheritance of heaven, and correcting any inequalities there may be between the sexes is the path to a better world. We can only do this by recognizing the true worth of our bodies and their unique gifts rather than ignoring the fact that differences exists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


So last week I was walking Sebastian (me looking like a priest) and we came across another dog and master and for some reason the conversation turned to abortion. You can probably guess my opinion and my friend’s stance (he is non-Catholic) was that he was opposed to it, but did not feel it his place to tell a woman what to do with her body.

My response was that I do not want to tell a woman what to do with her body either. That is none of my business. I do want to say what she can do with another person’s body. Of course that is where the debate fell apart for my friend did not see the other body in the womb as a person until it is fully born and viable: a topic for another day.

That being said I think I want to recant part of my argument. Yes, I do want to be able to tell people what to do with their bodies – men and women. And I bet you do too. We do it all the time. It is built in to certain aspects of our laws. For example the most obvious is restricting drinking to minors. You may not put that in your body or not only you, but the person who sold it to you or gave it to you and possibly your parents will be held responsible under the law. You may not commit suicide. We know it is your body and your pain but it is actually illegal to do it though it you are successful there is little worldly anyone is able to do.

Women who are pregnant should not drink alcohol or smoke heroine and I have no problem enforcing that. Ten minutes after they have their baby if they freely choose to go back to it I will be sad, but at that point “I don’t want to tell a woman what to do with her body.” But anybody with two brain cells firing will say that it is not only immoral but should be illegal to engage in an activity that will seriously harm a human being for life. And what is more harmful than ending that life all together?

This is just another example of a phrase that gets thrown out to cower people in an argument which is not given much analyzation. (Is that a word?) “Of course you don’t want to interfere with another’s freedom do you?” Well perhaps in certain incidences you do when it involves another human life.

Of course the next question will be (and the objections are a lining up for a mile) can we force someone to recognize a baby in the womb as a person? Again I say yes. Our human history is replete with examples of the law forcing others to recognize other humans as persons equal under the law. It is sad that (some) women who had to fight to be recognized as equal under the law in our own country may wish to make it law that they may treat their children as objects to be done away with at will.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “Anything you need more and more of is not working.” Author unknown

QUOTE II: “It is the most personal that finally becomes the most universal.” Tayard DeChardan


Ed sent this in from Unequally Yoked - "An athiest girl picks a fight with her Christian boyfriend." It is interesting.

From the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter:  "The FEST in Wickliffe, Ohio is one of those rare moments when your entire family can not only be gathered as one, but can also be strengthened and inspired to live out their faith. FEST 2011 is the eleventh FEST held on the grounds of the Center for Pastoral Leadership and has brought hundreds of thousands of families together over the past decade. What makes the FEST truly special and unique is its ability to span across generations with something for everyone in the family. Here is the story of how the FEST has impacted one such family, The Yaughers."

Did you know that there is an approved Marian Apparition in the U.S.? P did! Here is a link to the story.

Fr. O sent in this "Shakespearean Who's On First."  Love it.

R. sent in this link to a video of the birth of a giraffe.  Is life not awesome?

A sister friend - a Sister of Life came to visit here at St. Sebastian this weekend.  She said to let women know about their retreat schedule.  I always listen to sister so here is a link to their site.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Sometimes people will say that they are glad that they are not a priest because of the sad stories we must hear all the time in the confessional or during difficult moments of people’s lives. But those stories are balanced out by the great ones told about the highlights from people’s lives.

For example during my wedding preps I always ask the question, “How did the engagement take place?” Though enjoyable, it also says something about the people involved. At least a quarter of the time the guys tries to plan something memorable and romantic and his soon-to-be-finance is not interested in doing whatever activity he has planned. One guy buried the ring in the beach where they liked to go building sand castles. The plan was to go out and start digging and say, “Oh my! What is this?” Of course for the first time in her life she did not want to go sand castle building that day. “But we HAVE to!” “No! I don’t want to go! I’m tired and hungry.” Of course he has to find away to go out and get that ring worth thousands of dollars out of the sand without giving away the surprise.

Much more of the time it works out. One of my favorites was a guy who brought his girl to the Christmas concert at St. Sebastian knowing how important her parish was to her. At the end they went over to one of the side shrines and he proposed to here there. It nice to know that chivalry is not completely dead. 99.5% of the time the guy still talks to Dad and Mom and still goes down on one knee when he asks.

There are the stories about how they met also. Online social network stories are popping up more but “met at the bar” stories seem to be waning. Perhaps my all time favorite “How We Met Story” was when the couple was very young and she beat him up in karate class at first making him cry and later solidifying their friendship until this coming year when they shall be known as Mr. and Mrs.

Do you have a story to share?  For those who got married or are engaged take the poll to the right.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Thank you to everyone who helped clear up the mystery of a cardinal’s name. As Mom always said, “You learn something new every day.”

While we are at it, we might as well look at how one writes to the pope. (You can extrapolate from this how to do so electronically.)

Unlike a cardinal, it is assumed that everyone regardless of rank is introduced TO the pope. As in, “Your Holiness, may I introduce to you Father Matthew Pfeiffer, Father Pfeiffer, this is His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.” This is a good thing to keep in your hip pocket. I know you are thinking to yourself, “Well, interesting – but when am I going to meet a pope or even a cardinal?” You’d be surprised. I was.

If you would like to drop the pope a note such as, “Everyone here thinks you’re doing swell,” you may write directly to him:

His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI
The Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

The opening of the letter should be, “Your Holiness” or “Most Holy Father” and close with, “Respectfully yours,”.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking, “What more can we do in order to make my parish a holier place?” A certain amount of that is good. It is a good thing to have another Mass or a class or more holy hours or confessions. But you can only add so much activity and then it just becomes more activity. And as the saying goes we just become busy people being busy – not necessarily growing in holiness. At some point a different approach is needed.

The most important thing that can happen is that the individual strive for personal sanctity. Instead of running around trying to make other people holy, the focus has to be becoming holier oneself. If a husband wants his wife to be holier, he must become so. If a mother wants her children to become holier, she should become so. If a pastor wants his people to become holier, he must become so. You can only give what you’ve got.

Here is the trick however – you cannot become holier FOR another person. That is to put on the appearance of holiness is not enough; to pray the rosary to be seen, to walk around with a solemn face, to speak condescendingly to others who do not appear to be as holy. Holiness in this regard is only a veneer and it is easily seen through. Rather such conviction must come from within and be a natural flowering of the faith, joy, and holiness taking root deep in one’s heart.

Starting clubs, prayer groups, initiatives, making posters, offering more and more and more stuff is a good start but too often a substitute for the hard work of holiness and a quick (and not as long lasting) fix. (Not that they are bad in and of themselves!)  The individual choosing holiness is the way the Church has always renewed itself. It takes A LOT longer for this “leaven to raise the dough” but when it does it is more deeply seated and longer lasting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Garrison Keeler once said, “God made man in His own image, and man had been returning the favor ever since.”  Historically that is the great American tradition.  Across a young nation, white clapboard churches would be built, a minister hired who would teach what those who support the church desired (within reason), and should they come to too strong a disagreement, there could be the changing of pastors to better meet the desires of the community.

Of course the effect of this is that over a great amount of time, God started to look more and more like what any particular community thought He should be.  That follows through to this day as amazingly God is coming more and more in line with what the culture at large has deemed worthy.  Good thing for Him too lest He become irrelevant. 

Then there is that pesky little Catholic church on the other corner.  Do they not understand that if they do not change with the times that people will no longer connect to God at all?  They cling to 2000 years of teaching.  Both God and man have evolved over time.  Instead of the wisdom of the popular culture and thinking people influencing and shaping an intelligent faith, they take last year’s teaching and say that it must influence and shape the culture.  Because of this they will always be a little bit odd – even in Christian circles.  They will always swim against the stream – be truly counter cultural and controversial. 

But they are nice to have around.  Somebody has to make the news interesting.  And they do nice art.  Sometimes.  If only they could be like everyone else.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND: “It is not science that redeems man: Man is redeemed by love.” Pope Benedict XVI Spe Salve
QUOTE II: “Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but it sure beats opium.” Fr. Mitch Pacwa


While looking for something else I came across these interesting websites: is not officially associated with the Vatican but is an interesting place to find out all kinds of information about it. Next in my searches came Finally is

C C sent in this link to an interesting conversion story. Thanks!

Annie sent this artist's site in called Art and Soul.

The following are from the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter:

"Recently, Dr. Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., a licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, PA, offered a workshop for the priests, seminarians and others in pastoral ministry on the subject of pornography and its devastating impact upon the lives of our people. Specifically, the presentation addressed the prevalence of pornography in our culture, the dangers of pornography, and the pastoral care for those individuals struggling with this affliction."  Read more here.

"The FEST, a free, one day Catholic family festival, will be held on Sunday, August 7th (12pm-10pm) at the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe. Tens of thousands will gather for games, activities and much more. The festivities conclude with Mass and fireworks display."  Read more here.

"Did you know that the A to Z index on the diocesan web site has over 100 links to catholic resources and information?" Read more here.

As seen when visiting Assisi:
Catholics Next Door is a Youtube channel about - well - the Catholics next door.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I don’t speak a lick of Italian. Like when you have a cold and you realize how much you enjoy breathing, when you cannot communicate with anyone you realize how much you enjoy being able to talk to others when it is necessary.

Take last week. I was in Italy with the parish choir. On our last night (Sunday) we went to Mass at the Vatican, the choir singing and I concelebrating the 5:30PM Mass with Cardinal Comastri. Our tour guide leading the choir to where they would be to sing dropped me off at the sacristy of the basilica of St. Peter. The sacristy, sometimes as small as a generous bathroom in some parishes, could probably fit the entirety of St. Sebastian in it.

Including the bell tower.

I was in there alone. Well, that is not exactly true. It just felt like I was in there alone. There was actually an older gentleman (I guessed him to be a sacristan of sorts) who spoke no English, and two young altar boys in cassock and surplus, one of which was able to speak and understand enough English to inform me that he didn’t speak English. The most communication we had was when one of the altar boys, being boys, started to do something that they shouldn’t, the sacristan would say something to him and then look at me and roll his eyes. I knew exactly what he meant.

The cardinal was praying the sung vespers out in the basilica and they started laying out his Mass vestments. One of the servers signaled me over to a cabinet and took my alb from me, unfolded it, and started helping me vest. Two other priests walked in at that point. One spoke only Italian and the other understood enough English for me to say, “Please tell me I won’t have to say anything.” “Justa you follow me. Do what I do. You be-a fine.”

Vespers, I gather, went long and they bundled up all of the cardinal’s things and escorted us to another sacristy closer to the altar at which we would be celebrating. The choir was taking their place in the choir box and the cardinal processed by, smiling and nodding, and slipped into the sacristy. The priest who spoke a bit of English pointed at the choir box and asked, “Your choir?” After affirming his assumption he smiled and said, “Fine, fine!”

I desperately wanted someone to come up to me and say, “Here’s how we are going to do it. I wanted to know how we entered. Where do I go? Where do I sit? Will anything be expected of me? Will I distribute communion? Where? Can I please not say anything! I don’t know Italian.” Well, that didn’t happen. The cardinal came out and next thing I know he is pointing to the procession which is leaving without me. I jumped into place. There were the two altar boys, the two other priests, myself, and the cardinal playing cleanup. The procession made its way past the choir box and I was able to hear the beautiful singing, and we made our way to the altar right behind the altar which you always see the pope celebrating from.

I copied the priests in front of me, genuflecting (I didn’t see a tabernacle) and then reverencing the altar. The priest I was following went to sit in the seating area at the side of the sanctuary and so I followed him. He wouldn’t let me in which I found strange so I tried to go around him. “No,” he said, “you go!” and he pointed up by the cardinal. “Whoa!” I thought. Slowly I made the walk up to the dais waiting for someone to say (in Italian) “not there!” But nobody did. And there I sat, next to the cardinal, underneath that famous window of the Holy Spirit, just beneath the chair of Peter, at the very end of that glorious St. Peter basilica, on a stump of a chair. It was another one of those “How on earth did I end up HERE” moments. Once again I wonder – why don’t more guys want to do this?

The readings were of course in Italian and after one of the other priests read the Gospel I was able to relax a bit knowing that there was nothing for me to do except sit there and pretend that I understood the homily. The offertory was a moment to pray and listen to the choir fill that glorious space up with their singing. Then it was time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist and we came down to stand next to the cardinal, I to his right.

I will admit to being a little distracted in hoping he wouldn’t turn to me and say in Italian, “You take this part.” The little altar boys appeared again and passed out concelebrant books. Drat. My savior, the priest who could speak a little English whispered, “Can you speaka ANY Italian?” “No!” was the response with suppressed desperation. “Then a trade-a me places.” We did. And sure enough the cardinal turned to his right for part of the Eucharistic prayer and my guardian priest snapped it up. As I read along in Italian I would think, “Ooooh. I would have slaughtered that word. Oh! And that one. And there’s another.” As best I could I approximated what was being said in my thoughts in English or Latin.

At communion I was handed a ciborium and left to my own devices. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how to say, “Body of Christ” in Italian so they got it in Latin. Nobody seemed to mind.

Then there was the problem as to what to do when I was done. Everyone else was still distributing and I stood in the middle of the sanctuary trying my darndest to look like I was SUPPOSED to be standing there. Finally a gentleman far off behind a curtain started going, “Psssst! Pssst!” I handed off the ciborium and went back to my stump.

From this point on I was confident that there was nothing else for me to do so I was able to relax. Of course Mass was all but over. We stood for the final blessing and started the procession out down the aisle, past all of the tourists, visitors, and pilgrims further back down aisle and into the sacristy. It is here that I learned that after you tell a cardinal that you do not understand Italian and he keeps speaking to you in Italian, you smile, nod, and say thank you.

Gads that was fun and inspriring. I wish I could do it again now that I know what to expect.

Friday, July 15, 2011


During St. Sebastian Choir’s trip to Rome we sang a Mass in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter. I was sent into a sacristy as big as St. Sebastian Parish with a sacristan and two little altar boys whose English consisted of smiling and nodding whilst everyone else went their separate ways. The main celebrant for the Mass was to be Angelo Cardinal Comastri, the archpriest of the basilica. I was rather nervous as you might imagine and wanted to make sure that I got his name correct and so was practicing it as I paced the room.

Interestingly enough when one addresses a cardinal such as in a formal introduction and using his full name, the title cardinal does not come at the beginning of the name as it would with a priest’s title such as in Father John Valencheck. Rather, it comes just before his family name. So it would be Angelo Cardinal Comastri. This is for reasons entirely lost to me. If you know why I would appreciate knowing.

A formal introduction would go like this (assuming that the cardinal was the highest ranking person etiquette wise in the introduction), “Your Eminence, may I introduce to you Fr. John Valencheck. Father Valencheck, this is His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Comastri.”

Of course if that is all way too intimidating or if you are so nervous that names start slipping out of your head, you could skip the remembering the name thing and simply say, “You Eminence” unless and until invited to do otherwise (and then only in private.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011


 The reason a habit is so hard to kick is that it fills space. The mistake many people make when trying to get rid of a bad habit is that they simply try to get rid of it. But then there is a void where normally the habit made its home. And the longer standing the habit the harder it is to get rid of it. The body (or mind) goes into automatic pilot. We no longer have to decide what to do in a particular situation or moment. The body simply says, “Oh yes, it’s ten o’clock at night. Let us munch a bag of Value Time Cheesy Curls and stay up too late watching T.V.,” or, “the hammer just hit my thumb. What do I say in this instance? Oh yes, ‘#*@&!’”

At times habits can be simply dropped. Most often they are easier to drop if they are replaced by something else. Left with a vacuum the body will go back and do or crave what it was trained to do. St. Thomas said that the worst thing about sin is that the body remembers. So if we are trying to not surf the internet till all hours of the night, it might be wise to find something constructive to do in the evening. Do night prayer, play with the kids, take up jogging so not only will you be healthier you will be tired when you go to bed. Trying to get out of the habit of yelling at other drivers? Practice saying prayers for them.

Be patient with yourself too. If it took your body 30 years to learn something as a habit it will take more than one day's (or week’s) practice to learn a new and better habit. Make use of the sacrament of confession – it keeps you honest and gives you grace. Find a buddy to travel the road with you and encourage you. Have a plan when you decide to do away with something. Utilize prayer even on days you are not tempted to your bad habit as a way of gaining strength for when temptation hits. It also helps to be healthy as much as possible (this is God’s plan for you.) We are most vulnerable when we are angry, lonely, hungry, and tired. Rest. Eat well and moderately. (It’s always a good thing to be a tiny bit hungry and a tiny bit cold.) Learn to handle/channel (not suppress) your anger, and get out with your friends and loved ones.

Offer thanks for receiving and overcoming a temptation – offer the trial up! Take temptation and turn it into a grace that gives glory to God.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The staff of Adam's Ale has just returned from their concert tour in Italy but thanks to CK, a regular contributor to this blog we (I) can have one more day to get over jet lag because CK had graciously provided today's blog for just such an event.  If you enjoy her writing I highly recommend that you check out the links to more of her writing.  Or of you REALY dissagree with what she says, I highly recommend that you check out the links to more of her writing.

A few months ago I asked a friend to read something I wrote defending the teachings of the Catholic Church. An argument ensued that was more about my snotty attitude than the subject at hand, and my friend blew his stack and accused me of being closed-minded and orthodox. He explained (with no sense of irony) that he was open-minded and that is why I was to never again present him with ideas he didn’t like.

I was being a bit of a jerk that day, and I don’t mind if he’s mad at me, but I do mind if my bad example has soured him on the faith. I have no intention of broaching church-y subjects with him unless he invites me, but if I had a chance to defend orthodoxy I would use a story he once told me as a sort of parable:

My friend was vacationing on a Caribbean island. One afternoon, while walking on the beach, he saw an older man in the water far from shore calling for help, clearly on the verge of drowning. My friend is a poor swimmer, so he punched the nearest young man on the beach in the arm and snarled, “Do something!” Fortunately, someone came by on a jet ski and saved the poor old man’s life.

I would ask my friend if he remembered the man he punched on the beach. Perhaps that young man looked out at the old man who was drowning and said to himself, “Eh, is life worth living?” Or perhaps he asked himself, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Perhaps he thought the world is overpopulated and that it is good that a “useless eater” die. Or maybe he was a Darwinian who believed that natural selection was just weeding out a weak man and preventing him from passing on his inferior “bad swimmer” genes that are so detrimental to survival.

With one punch in the arm, my friend wordlessly declared, “Life is worth living! You are your brother’s keeper! Even if the world is overpopulated, murder by neglect is not the answer!  Forget Darwin! The lives of old men and bad swimmers are just as sacred as anyone else’s!” My friend is not as ambivalent on these subjects as he supposes. Not only did he demand that this young man accept his orthodoxy, he demanded it on the threat of violence!

My friend and I are both machine designers. He would never dream of building a machine out of butter and telling a customer that it would impose no load on the ground because we designed it to hover. This would be quite an unorthodox, open-minded engineering design, but it would also defy the laws of strength of materials, thermodynamics, and gravity. We know from basic human experience that such a design is doomed to failure.

Just as engineering demands “orthodoxy” to succeed, I have discovered by studying history, science, medicine, and many other subjects, that there is such a thing as truth – that reality demands orthodoxy. There really is a difference between right and wrong and it changes neither between individuals nor with the times, and when we stand by debating open-mindedly as to what that truth is, in the meantime people die (as in the drowning man example).

I have discovered that the Catholic Church just happens to have always been right when it has closed-mindedly warned us against ideas that oppose truth and goodness, as with its opposition to communism (and its ensuing millions of deaths), euthanasia (employed by the Nazis and now getting out of control in the Netherlands), and contraception (and its necessary backup plan, abortion). The Church throughout history has warned us in advance when an “unorthodox” idea is going to lead us down the path of misery and death. This has been the case too consistently for me to call it coincidence. I suppose someone could argue that the Church has just been lucky in her predictions – that sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut – but if that is the case, the Church is a magic squirrel.

I think my friend’s real beef is that he thinks orthodoxy is restrictive – that it limits the expanse of logic, inquiry, and creativity and that it leads to a life devoid of pleasure. I, to the contrary, have discovered from experience what Chesterton said so well: "People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy."

Friday, July 1, 2011



 Adam’s Ale is going on a short vacation. I and the whole staff here at Adam’s Ale (which is comprised entirely of me) will be traveling to Italy with the parish choir of St. Sebastian to sing a couple of concerts. Adam’s Ale will return sometime around the 12th of July. In the meantime, thanks for reading and God’s blessings from the entire staff here at Adam’s Ale – which – once again – is me.

The Rev. John A. Valencheck
Chief editor