Friday, October 31, 2014


I was reading a book yesterday in which a mother was lamenting the fact that her child had to learn everything from scratch.  Man has been around for a debatable number of millennia but each one must start at scratch again; here’s how to walk, this is the color blue, 2 plus 2 equals 4, it is wrong to hit your sister.
To some extent this is true, but each generation hopefully builds on the shoulders of giants.  There are still lessons we must learn on our own, “I don’t care what you say.  He loves me and so I’ll give him my Social Security number.”  But we then can build on the greater experience of humanity.  “Now you understand why you do not hand your Social Security number over to anybody.  Here is how you can get yourself out of this jam and how to prevent it in the future.”
Faith is like this too.  The lived experience of 2,000 years of Christianity informs us how Scripture is to be understood.  Every generation does not have to come up with this understanding on its own.  The early Church fathers, the saints, the people of God all guided by the Holy Spirit have provided us with the glasses through which we understand Scripture.  This helps prevent tragedies like this:
To assist with this, bishops are charged in paragraph 25 of Dei Verbum to make sure that Scriptures in quality translations are made available, that they use of Scriptures is explained, and that Bible are produced with copious notes to assist the reader in understanding the Scriptures. 
Interestingly, they are also charged to create such Bibles even for non-Christians (prudently distributed) with proper notes and fitted to their purposes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Where you see a red rose bush, there was a Jesuit told to lay down on the ground on his chest before he was executed.”
It is one thing to look at a stained glass window or a statue or take in a reading about someone being martyred for the faith.  It is even something to hold on to a relic of a person, a piece of bone perhaps, who shed their blood for Christ.  It is another thing to stand where they stood and speak to people who are of the age that they could have witnessed the blood.


The Church faces many trials in the United States, but “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”  Once in Slovenia we saw a restored church building that had odd striped sections on the outside of the building.  Our guide told us that is where “the communists” through in the bombs and when the church was restored they left those sections decorated like that to remind future generations of when the Church was persecuted.
How powerful that is.  “THIS IS THE SPOT.”  No wonder the Church has always promoted pilgrimages.  “Here is the ground.  Here is the bullet.  Here is the blood stained shirt.”  It is not theory.  It was not because they were drug lords but because they practiced the Catholic faith and set about bringing that freedom to others.  There was nothing more important to them.  “Love for life did not deter them from death.”
That was part of the marvel of our mission trip to El Salvador.  To tell the truth, there is not much to see there.  But in another respect there is everything to see.  During the height of the civil war men with guns entered the Jesuit University, took the Jesuits and two women who were staying in the dorms (unexpectedly for the campus was supposed to be empty) and took them out on the lawn and shot them.  The ploy failed however when a witness came forward to say what really happened and that began the end of the civil war.  Today that area is a rose garden where a red rose was planted for the men and two golden roses for the two lay women, a mother and daughter.
In the shrine near by there are the bloody clothes, the blood tinted grass that was pulled up, the books with a bullet trail ripped through it.  Here is inspiration for living for something greater than the self.  How life lived faithfully and death faced bravely can continue to change the face of the earth; to know that such an action is not carried out in vain but continues to have repercussions both in this life and the next.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


There are 6.6 million Catholics in the United States.  There are approximately 38,000 priests.  Some of that number of priests includes those who are retired, sick, or in special ministry.  Of the lay people, even if they are retired or sick, they still need a priest.


Hopefully you are in an area where you have ready access to the sacraments.  But what we miss out on having “spare” priest around is the one who has time to go on a field trip with the school or teach in the classroom, goes to lay meetings, knocks on doors and sits down with someone for a cup of coffee.  Although the tide seems to be turning (very slowly) on the vocation crisis, the numbers simply will not be there for some time.  Even if one million men entered the seminary today, it would be six to ten years before they hit the street and retirements now are coming quickly.
We miss the nuns also.  The advantage with nuns at a parish today would not be one of cost.  Gone are the days when the nuns would work for almost nothing.  With smaller numbers they have needs too.  But here is the interesting thing: when the nuns went to the convent after school, they prayed together and ate dinner together in community.  You can bet that they talked about the school, about certain children that needed attention, asked for advice, all the topics that made for a stronger school. 
We are still blessed in Catholic schools with our lay teachers.  They are Catholic, most likely from the community and possibly even from the parish, and they believe in the mission of the school because believe me, they would not be there simply because the pay is so generous.  They have skin in the game more than just a paycheck. 
So there are some great areas of concern for prayer.  Beg the Master of Harvest to send more workers for the harvest: send more good priests, increase our nuns, make strong (and Catholic) our schools.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "Death in our day is having its belated due.  it is slipping out from under denials and disguises and bursting into explicit, obsessional, and at times, pornographic recognition."  (I'd give you the author but I can't read my handwriting from so many years ago.)
QUOTE II:  "Imperious Caesar dead and turned to clay might stop a hole to keep the wind away."  from Shakespeare's "Hamlet"


From the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter:  Four men were ordained in the diocese to the transitional deaconate who should be ordained priests later next year.  One of them were from St. Sebastian!  Read more here.

From the same source: What is the origin of Halloween?  Read more here.
Are you thoroughly confused about what happened at the Synod on the Family?  Michelle Johnson from EWTN sent this thirty minute round up video.  Things are much different that what was reported in public media.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


This past Sunday was Priesthood Sunday.  It started off rather marvelously with one of St. Sebastian's own being ordained to the transitional diaconate and our introduction of a new seminarian from the parish.  How else can you celebrate?
I'll tell you.  The 5th graders made Happy Priesthood Sunday cards.  I'll share a couple of them with you.
One young man wrote, "You are an awesome priest.  I hope you are here until I am 30.  That would be awesome."
I'm not sure what happens at 30.  Maybe he'll be ordained then and won't need me any more.  Or maybe 30 just seems really, really far away - but I am further away from 30 now than he is.  In any event, it is likely since they are considering a new retirement age of three years past death.
Another great kid included the passage, "Since, on the seventh day, God finished with the work He had been doing, He rested on the seventh day."  Then he added, "Take a break like God did!"
Perhaps the most ominous one was this one.  In each of the cards the kids included their favorite Bible passage.  So for Priesthood Sunday one student included, "Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing."
Still, they all did this to me:

Friday, October 24, 2014


Dei Verbum first part of paragraph 25
Very often people who have cooled to the faith return when they have children.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s good in that they return because they see value in the faith and want to pass it on.  It is a bad thing in that they missed years of growing in the faith and won’t have those years of developed relationship and understanding of God to pass on.  You can’t give what you don’t have.
In a similar manner, the Council Fathers exhort especially priests, deacons, and catechists to immerse themselves in Sacred Scripture; to draw ever more deeply from the well to nourish the faithful.  You can’t give what you don’t have – and ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ – and what do we have to offer if we don’t know Christ?


But clerics and catechists are not the only game in the sites of the Council’s gun.  If someone is under the impression that dust is considered a good, Catholic, protective covering for a Bible, the Fathers wish to relieve them of that misconception.  They “forcefully and specifically exhort all the Christian people . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.’ . . . Therefore let them go gladly to the sacred text itself.”  They don’t use much more clearer language than that.
We are all encouraged to engage the Scriptures at Mass, in Bible studies, and in other forms of prayer and formation.  But in a special way we are encouraged to use Scripture in prayer.  When we pray we speak, when we read the Scriptures, we listen.
Read the Bible.  If you think you do not have time, be creative.  Buy a read version for your car ride and play it on the car stereo system.  Keep a Bible open in your bathroom and read one paragraph a day while you brush your teeth.  Have a service send you a verse a day on your computer.  Do something. 
This year the Church will be exploring the Gospel of Mark in particular.  Maybe for Lent take a day and read through his Gospel.  Get to know his style, his emphasis, and his personality. 


In any event, engage this ancient writing that formed our culture and changed the face of the earth.  (I'm not recommending the book shown to the right - I don;t even know it - just liked the cover.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014


“Be careful of the shower.  We call her the Widow Maker.”  This was part of the welcoming talk.  They don’t have hot water tanks as we do here.  Instead, a dubious looking wire hangs down over the shower and into the shower head and warms it on the spot.  This means one should never, ever touch the showerhead when in the shower.  I forgot this once.

I was standing in the shower using the hose when it popped off of the showerhead.  Reaching up to jam it back on I felt a tingling in my left arm and wondered if I was having a heart attack.  That was when it occurred to me that I was being electrocuted. 
The other different thing about this country is that you may never, ever put toilet paper down the toilet.  Really, really bad things happen when you do this.  This led to some interesting stories over our stay of which I will spare you.
So we took our first trip to the orphanage.  We walked out of our house, out of the gate past the man with the gun, down the street to the other side of the bock where there was another gate and another man with gun (who didn’t smile until our last day there) who let us pass, and up to another wall with a giant, solid gate in it and rang the bell.  It felt a little bit like Dorothy and friends at the door to the Emerald City.


Over the door to the house the children made a sign that said, “Bienvenido” with all of our names.  It was the last time I was to be called “Fr. John” for I was hence dubbed, “Papa John” after their favorite pizza shop.


Our first meeting with the kids was a bit stiff – or at least I thought so.  “Here are your guests!  Say hello!”  Some of the people in our group amazed me at how they weaseled their way into the children’s attention right away.  I’m of the type to stand back and wait until their ready which can take some time.  In either event I was WAY out of my comfort zone. 


It was “Kids Day” in El Salvador -  a kin to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day etc.  So we all piled into two vans (one looking shocking like the Mystery Machine of Scooby Doo fame) and headed out to a pupuserea for our first taste of authentic El Salvadorian fare – avoiding of course, all fruit, water, and ice.
We took over much of the restaurant and it took some time for the food to get to us.  Though the children were lively they were exceeding well behaved.  I would have been very proud of them if they were from my school.  We drank sodas out of real glass bottles with straws that were too short (I lost mine inside not have learned yet that one must bend the straw) and watched the women make our food.  Snatching a handful of (something) they would pat it into a hollow patty and then fill it with whatever we ordered and then toss over to a hot griddle where another lady tended them.  When they were done she slid them over to another lady who piled them on plates and sent them out to the customers.
It was quite good.  If anybody out there knows how to make these things I would really like to know.
By the time we got back it was quite late.  We trudged back to our house through gates and guards and had our first nightly meeting in which we prayed and talked about our experiences.  For me, it was odd.  I did not feel like we were actually there yet, but more like we were in a place made to feel like El Salvador and perhaps we would turn a corner and find ourselves in the middle of New York or something.  That would change soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


We hit the city of San Salvador after an hour or so and encountered traffic driving patterns that I haven’t seen since my last strip to Rome except without the motorbikes that Romans call mosquitoes.  Everything looks just a bit tired.  The only things that looked shiny and new were the North American establishments that opened up shop there such as McDonalds, Mr. Donut, Papa John’s, and the like.  The civil war there ended on 1992, a little over two decades ago, but they don’t look ready to let their collective guard down quite yet.
There are the few incredibly rich and everybody else.  We never saw the incredibly rich but we stayed in what was called a “good part of town” for the everybody else.  That meant at the head of the street there was a gate and man who minded it twenty four hours a day.  He was incongruous with his broad smile and the shot gun that hung on his shoulder as permanently as some people wear a necklace. 

Getting out of the car we chuckled at the plants that were growing there.  Plants that we would pay a lot of money for back in the U.S. to have as house plants.  A number of twelve foot ficas trees grew on the street (I can’t keep those things alive to save my life.)  I’ve never seen them that large.
The houses are all jammed together – no side lawns.  A wall guards each of the houses springing up from the edge of the sidewalk.  Every house sports a twelve to fourteen foot wall with razor wire strung across the top and a steel gate. 
Once inside it is discernible why the country might be reluctant in getting rid of its endless miles of razor wire.  It is very common for buildings to have a center court open to the air onto which rooms are just open.  In the U.S., we would have screens and lockable doors, a dog, maybe an alarm, but there is not so much as anything to keep a fly out.  It is a beautiful feature but if I lived in a one story, flat roofed building that I couldn’t secure and I had just been through a war, I might want my razor wire too.
The afternoon was spent moving in and napping.  I got a bed with Sharknado sheets and so was very happy.  That evening would be our first visit to the orphanage.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "What is is the great teacher."  from Richard Rohr's, "Everything Beloved"
QUOTE II:  "The present moment has no competition."  same source

This picture was taken by Ray of our St. Sebastian statue early in the morning before the K of C 5K.

From the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter: Called to Man Up, the Diocese of Cleveland's Conference for Young Men will be held at Walsh Jesuit High School, 4550 Wyoga Lake Road, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on Saturday, October 18, 2014 beginning at 8:30 a.m. and concluding with Mass beginning at 4:00 p.m.
Adam sent in this video about the transformative power of classical music.  20 minutes.

Monday, October 20, 2014


No comics today.  Sorry.  But I will continue a little more about the trip to El Salvador. 
As we were coming in for a landing it was already obvious that we were not in Akron, Ohio anymore.  Palm trees dotted the landscape and roofs tended to be made out of corrugated metal instead of shingles or tar flat roofs.  The heat greeted us immediately as we walked off of the plane.  The airport, like most of the buildings we saw, had major areas open to the elements.  Who needs to be hermetically sealed in a building when it never snows I suppose. 
Customs was not as horrible as we were told it was going to be.  As we snaked through the line we saw a fair amount of surfers with their boards in large bags.  Another group was on a mission trip and as we passed each other zigzagging through the ropes we would fill each other in on the plans of our trip.


I understood almost nothing that my customs agent said.  I took six years of Spanish but remember almost none of it and certainly even less so when it is spoken quickly.  The only two lines I really got were, “You must pay $10” which is standard for everybody and “You’re done.  Go.”
There was a button everyone had to push also.  It was connected to a stop light and took on the feeling of a game.  If, when you hit the button, it turned green, you were free to enter the country.  If it turned red, a buzzer would sound and you had to go over to a table and have your luggage gone though.  (I got green!)
Jason, the young man who put the trip together for us, was waiting on the other side of the glass doors from customs.  That was a particular relief in a foreign country.  He took us to the curb where we awaited our transportation.  It was odd seeing how many people, old and young alike, stood in the back of pickup trucks to be driven around, not something one would want to get caught doing in the United States.  Surfers spent considerable time tying their luggage and boards to the tops of much more expensive modes of transportation.  We were afforded a truck and a microbus to head into San Salvador.  It had air conditioning of sorts but it wasn’t enough for 12 people and the hot, hot sun so we road with the windows down the wind being a relief. 



Friday, October 17, 2014


Paragraph 24 of Dei Verbum
If you want a good plant, start with good soil and good seeds.  If these are not in place all sorts of things could happen.  I once unknowingly used dirt filled with wild morning glory seeds.  As you might well imagine, about the only thing grown was wild morning glories.  Or thinking you’re planting cosmos and finding marigolds.  There’s a shocker.
In a similar way we are encouraged to harvest all of our theology, or catechesis, our preaching from the seeds of Scripture planted firmly in Sacred Tradition.  Because it is the Word of God, it constantly leads us to truth and deeper understanding of our God.  (Personal note) When one substitutes or dismisses the Word or takes the Word but dismisses its Tradition, all kinds of strange and new (compared with the 2,000 year old understanding of the faith) start popping up.  One need not look very far to see examples of this.  Step off of the Catholic front lawn and you will find people teaching just about anything you might want to hear in the name of Christianity.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Buenos dias” said the man with a broad smile wearing a security guard uniform and having a sawed off shotgun over his shoulder.  He unlatched the gate and swung it open for us.  This was a nicer part of San Salvador and we were staying in their version of gated community.  The first house on the right was the Love and Hope Orphanage, surrounded, as all the houses are, by a high wall topped with razor wire.  You ring the doorbell and someone opens a steel door and lets you in to the small court before the pleasantly sized home and its twenty or so children.
Inside a busy household is at work.  Children are completing their homework or kicking a ball on the small, well manicured lawn area.  Dinner is cooking, the tias and tios are helping with school work, tending a bruised ego, picking up toys, or sitting quietly with someone.  It is a true home of sorts and we were invited to come stay with them for a few days.
A young man joined the Catholic Church and the parish not long ago.  Hoping to get him more involved I asked him what his interests were.  He studied languages in college and now we are blessed that he offers classes in Latin for kids and adults at the parish.  “What are your other passions?”  He told of his mission activity down in El Salvador at an orphanage.  As it turns out until recently there was a parish in our area that took mission trips there and parishioners from St. Sebastian often joined in but they no longer go.


“Why don’t you put a mission trip together?” I offered him never thinking that he’s do it.


But he did.


And so eight of us got out passports out, packed bags and sunscreen and hopped on a plane with him at an hour in the morning I hadn’t seen in a long time.


When I got to the airport (at the agreed upon time I might add) I was the ONLY one there.  It turned out to be a good thing however as it would allow me to avoid publically embarrassing myself.  Going up to the counter to check a bag the lady behind the counter asked, “May I see your ID.”  Reaching into my wallet it was discovered, much to my horror, that I did not have my driver’s license!  This was the EXACT dream I had just the night before.


The day before I was at the ATM machine to get some funds for the trip when I realized all the cars stashed in my wallet had fallen out.  Had I dropped my driver’s license and lost it?


“Do I have time to go to Akron, get my license, and get back?” I asked the airline representative.


“Well,” she paused, “If you hurry.”


I ran out the door angry with myself.  A bus would have to be taken to my car already nestled in ling term parking, a mad dash made to St. Sebastian, a frantic search for my license, and then start all over again (assuming it was found).


Feeling dispirited standing on the sidewalk waiting for parking bus it occurred to me, “Wait.  I have my passport.  Shouldn’t that work?”  So I went back in and asked, “Can’t I just use my passport?”  The lady said, “Yes.  I was wondering how you thought you would get into El Salvador without it.” 
So we all eventually – a common theme for the whole trip - made it to the airport and on to the plane.  A flight attendant stopped by our seats and asked, “Are you missionaries?”
Confused we answered in the affirmative but asked, “How did you know?”
“Nobody from the states just happens to go to El Salvador unless they are surfers or missionaries.  And you don’t look like surfers.”
And thusly did our trip begin.

To be continued.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


There is a lot of discussion about how boring certain priests can be.  Almost nobody talks about how boring a congregation can be.
Now, I am fortunate so this is definitely not about St. Sebastian.  But if your priest appears boring during the prayers of the Mass, look around and see to what he may be responding.  When he offers a prayer, do the people respond?  When he looks out at the congregation, does he see prayers in rapt attention or people with half closed eyes, arms cross, and a scowl that says, “Okay, entertain me.”  Is he dragging the people through the Mass like a man dragging a dead, wet cow across a sandy beach?  That can zap your energy.
Yes!  Priest (I) can be incredibly boring and priests are responsible for the lion’s share of the mood.  But are you, who have been anointed priest, prophet, and king at your baptism, giving him something with which to work?  Do you bring energy and prayer and ministry? 
It may or may not work in your particular situation but it can’t hurt and it certainly can help – if you don’t want your priest to be boring – don’t be boring yourself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Guess who was let go from jury duty for today.  I have to call back after 5:00PM though.
FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "The turn of the tide comes earlier than men judging by surface phenomena conceive."  from Hilaire Belloc's "The Great Heresies"
QUOTE II:  "There is no universal cry of indignation, there is no sufficient protest, because there is no longer in force the conception that man as man is something sacred.  That same force which ignores human dignity also ignores human suffering."  same source

From the Diocese of Cleveland Enewsletter:  This is pretty cool - the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus will be performing a FREE CONCERT at our Cathedral of Saint John Friday, October 17th at 8PM.  Read more here.
From the same source:  As you may know, I was recently in El Salvador (hence the picture above.)  Our bishop was also there recently to help celebrate the Cleveland Diocese's 50 year relationship with their diocese.  Here is reflection of his visit there.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a great article on Mother Mary Thomas, an 81 year old cloistered nun and painter.  St. Sebastian has a painting of (appropriately enough) St. Sebastian painted by her though most have not had the opportunity to see it yet.  It will be revealed in January.  She also came to St. Sebastian to give a talk and help us open our Academy of Culture and Arts (see more HERE) about a year and half ago.  More exciting things (good things) will be revealed in the near future.  It is a good story on which to keep your eye!  HERE is the article, pictures, and video.
Karen and Tony sent this in.  Thanks!

Monday, October 13, 2014


Believe it or not I shall not be posting today as planned as I have been called to jury duty.  I'll let you know how that goes . . .

God bless,

Fr. V

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Let's start with this: If today's title gave you pause - stop reading now.  Just stop.  It will save us all a lot of angst later.
A week and half ago I was in El Salvador on a mission trip.  I got back to my car at the airport, switched bags, and drove right to our diocesan priest convocation.  There I saw most of my priest buddies and we can sometimes get silly.  Hence today's post.  It may well be that I am sharing too much but I can't turn down a dare from these guys.
Now, of course when you get home from being away, what went WRONG is always FAR more interesting to hear about than what was wonderful, restful, and meaningful.  This is unfortunate but a part of human nature.  Especially a bunch of guys human nature. 
Today's story is a result of that.  More serious stuff will come later. 
So while in El Salvador many of the team came down with the El Salvadorian diet.  It is not pretty.  It can sneak up on you accidentally by drinking something with ice in it, or fruit that was cut with a dirty knife, or, as in my case, accidentally running your toothbrush under the tap.
Compared to everybody else mine was quite mild.  As soon as I realized what may be upon me, I took some medicine.  It seemed to take care of it right away.  But only seemed.  It was to be that there would be one more offensive.
We went on a long trip out to the Jesuit University to visit the very sacred spot where the Jesuits were martyred during their civil war.  It was then that my body started warning me that it was about to betray me one last time.
I didn't want anyone to make a fuss so I kept pretty quiet about it.  Things were Okay but time was running out.  When there was a break in our tour I asked our very helpful docent where the bano was.  She led me half way across to campus to the nearest one.  Time was quickly running out.  Not to worry though because there we were at the facilities and it was pretty fortunate too because much longer and this would have been a very different story. 
But then one of the worst things came to light.

There was not a lick of paper ANYWHERE.  It was too late to go back and ask one of the ladies who all seemed to have magic purses if they had anything I might borrow.  I had hit the end of the grace period.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem with truly intelligent people.  They are never there when you really need them.

Thanks to Fr. P for the song
Apologize for those who were offended.  It won't happen again.  I promise I think.