Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Recently at Mass we sang, “Be Not Afraid.”  In these posts readers have picked up on a disdain for songs in which a congregation is asked to take on the role of God speaking to His people, which is something that this song does as exemplified in the first line, “You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst” or as in the first line of the refrain, “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”  

So, as I am singing along it occurs to me to change the words.  What if the song were more about my trust in God than playing God speaking to someone else?  The song then goes like this:

I might cross a barren dessert,
but I will not die of thirst.
I will wander far in safety
though I do not know the way.
I shall speak His words in foreign lands
and all will understand.
I shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid,
He goes before me always
I’ll follow Him
and He will give me rest.  (Rough attempt)

Instantly it song switches from being advice such as Mom might have given you:
“As Mom said, ‘Strive to do your best and you will go far,’”
to a song about doing my best:
“I will strive to do my best and go far just as Mom said.”
Or better, it is like changing the words to 1 Corinthians from “Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is . . . “ to “I am patient, I am kind . . .” in a homily.  It makes love less about being some mysterious thing “out there” that we hope to catch like a cold and more like something we are to become.

The song becomes so much more empowering strangely enough.  One might think it would be more empowering if one were in the person of God announcing that you are going to give the protection, but stating that you believe that you have God’s protection to march forward makes it immediate - like professing the faith, “I believe in one God, the Father the Almighty!”

If I could (and it were legal), I would change the words to this song in our books.  I would also suggest to hymn writers (I know, you don’t want my advice) to consider this when choosing texts for future ecclesiastical music.  Place people in awe of a great God rather than in His person and inspire us to deeper faith.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "People who read the Atlantic are smarter than the readers of Go Fug Yourself, but sometimes smarter people don't make better decisions; they just come up with better excuses."  from Helen Andrew's article "Shame Storm" in First Things

QUOTE II:  "There is no content to a shame storm.  It is mindless by its very nature.  It is indifferent to truth, even in cases where the truth could possibly be determined.  Therefore, like the Ring, it cannot be used for good."  same source

IN OTHER NEWS:  For his 10th anniversary, Fr. Matthew Pfeiffer's parents had his favorite Caravaggio painting redone by local artist (at St. Francis de Sales) Louise Udovich with some updates:

 Now in the painting is Fr. Pfeiffer as Matthew, his uncle Bob Pfeiffer takes the place of St. Peter, and Fr. Orndorf and I sit beside him.  In place of money is our Back Alley Card game along with a few other cool details.  Wow.
5 minutes

Monday, May 20, 2019


I greatly enjoy writing homilies.  I typically start planning a homily about Tuesday for the following Sunday.  There is a lot of prayer, thinking and reading that goes in to them.  I like to think it makes a difference and maybe (hopefully - at least I pray that) it makes them less painful to listen to, but I was relieved of the delusion a long time ago that the effectiveness of a homily has much to do with me and talent or knowledge.

I have incontrovertible proof that this is the case.  It is because this frequently happens:

Friday, May 17, 2019


Can you believe that put that monstrosity in you parish church and called it art???

(This happens often enough that I bet most people could think that this statement refers to their situation.)  

So there is art, and then there is a subcategory of art known as liturgical art.  Liturgical art is used largely during the liturgy or in church buildings (or as part of church buildings) whose purpose is to lead the viewer more deeply into the truths and mysteries of the faith.  It is the reason churches are called catechisms in stone.  It is why the church, particularly during the counter reformation invested so heavily in the arts.  There are some things that are so much easier to see and be moved by (Beauty) than it is to be taught by dissertations (Truth).

There are some pieces of art that, while they may be worthy of a museum, are not worthy of our worship spaces - and now that I think about it, there is A LOT that is not worthy of either.

Pieces of “art” that are not clear or beautiful are not (IMHO) pieces of liturgical art.  Pieces that need way too much explanation, that attempts to “mean” way too many things to way too many people, that express the artist’s angst more than a theological truth, that are not beautiful or moving, or just leave the typical viewer scratching their collective heads and wondering “what the get out?” is not liturgical art.

A statue of the Virgin Mary that turns so many people off that brides bring their own statues to their wedding is not liturgical art.  A statue of the Holy Spirit that is so far out there that nobody would even know that it had anything to do with spirituality many times even after learning the title is not liturgical art.  A wishy-washy or incredibly bland portrayal of Christ on His Cross that is so nondescript (presumably so that viewer could imagine anything that he wants - making him the artist perhaps, not the creator of the art piece) is not liturgical art.

I have encountered all of these.  Some of them are still worthy as a piece of art perhaps, but not for Church.  Part of the very purpose of the art is to strike someone so deeply that they want to spend time with it - hopefully at first glance - to be drawn in - to be made curious - to be moved to think about spiritual truths and not immediately about how much they dislike it.  Some well meaning artist may say, “But I am expanding their ideas of art!” may be doing a good job in that respect, but they are not doing a good job at liturgical art.  They run the risk of pushing away souls rather than attracting them.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


I . . . 

Uhm . . . 

How do I say this?

I agree with the article that I was in the Akron Beacon Journal this past week - but I don’t think I agree with it for the reason that the person putting it forth would want.  But I think I am happy.  In a pollyanna way perhaps.

Alyssa Milano, protesting the more restrictive abortion laws (or, in my way of seeing things, the more life protecting laws) asked women across the nation to stop having sex as long as this trend toward life continues.


Yes.  More power to you.

I think Lysistrata would be proud.  In the Greek comedy, Lysistrata got all the women together to withhold favors from their husbands until they gave in to their demands.  In the current case, it is asked that casual sex that could result in a child being conceived be refused unless a child is actually wanted and hopefully between two committed adults.  (Hello definition of chastity.)  I am flabbergasted.  Though she sees it as a punishment and incentive (particularly to men) to make abortions more greatly available, it is a salvo for the dignity and power of sex, the respect women should have for themselves, the responsibility men should have for families and the life and dignity that should be afforded to every human person.  (I fail to see how this punishes pro-life women who, quite frankly, are already trying to live this way as a virtue.)

In Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI said that he feared that if contraception (and let’s be honest, abortions are in high use where contraception has failed) were of common use, casual sex would greatly increase, women would be used as objects, and men would abandon their responsibilities.  What better way to correct that than to say, “I will not abuse my body, my dignity or risk conceiving an innocent life into being unless I am darn ready and want to do so.” 

So . . . and I never thought I would say this:  GO ALYSSA & LYSISTRATA!  YOU ROCK! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull.  They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure.  They ar estranged from their families and their neighbors.  It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive.  We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other."  Wendell Berry in Sun Magazine


There is an excellent article HERE entitled, "'The Numbers' Don't Look So Good - What Should the Church Do?"

Ordination is THIS SATURDAY at 10AM at the Cathedral of St. John on the corner of East 9th and Superior in downtown Cleveland and YOU are invited.

This coming Monday:
 The last Theology on Tap Akron!

 M. S. is updating this picture because we can't fit any more priests on it:
Great Pro-Life speaker:  1 hour fifteen minutes:

Monday, May 13, 2019


We have a really nice Paschal Candle stand.  It was designed specifically for our parish by the architect who designed all of our buildings going back to 1928.  It was created to go with the "new church" whose cornerstone was laid in 1958.  It still looks pretty good except that for the last 10 years (the entire time that I have been here) its shine has been dull (due to time) and there has been a crook in the stem making it look like this from the side: 
It's all Leaning Tower of Pisa-ish so one had to be careful how the base was placed in the sanctuary so that it leaned backwards and nobody could tell that it was at a slant.

Then this year for our 90th anniversary we had it fixed!  It was buffed up and was all shiny and new looking and a machinist fixed the bend so that it stood straight and tall.  And then this happened:
For ten years, nobody so much as bumped the candle stand.  Then, right after Easter, in an accident that could happen to anybody (don't worry, I still love you - I'm just having fun) it was dropped and the holder part broke in two.

This is tricky because the rubrics call for an Easter candle a lot.  We needed it for baptisms that day and so Cathy S. stood in as a candle stand for a whole baptism:
BUT!  Thank goodness - the repair was easily made and we had our candle back until after the 10:00AM Mass this past Sunday:
FOR TEN YEARS that stand stood there and nobody so much as breathed on it wrong.  We get it fixed up and it already has been broken twice within one Easter season.  

BUT THIS IS NOT UNUSUAL:  The paten on my chalice looks like an old 33 and third that his been sitting in a car in the hot sun for several days.  "Don't leave your records in the sun, son.  They'll warp and they won't be good to anyone" - so goes the song.  For years servers carried them without incident and when I had it replated they started dropping it as though it were a live fish coated in oil on steroids.

Maybe God doesn't like shiny, flawless things.  It DOES make sense.  He does love US after all.  Right?

Just the same, we will give it one more try:

Friday, May 10, 2019


According to Wikipedia anyway, the Skytree Tower in Tokyo is the tallest tower in the world.  But is it a work of art?  

We can ask the question as to whether it is attractive.  Is it noble?  Is it innovative?  Is it noteworthy?  Is it worth visiting?  It it awe inspiriring?  Is it an achievement of human innovation?  Does it ennoble the human person?  One might be tempted to answer yes to all of these questions and still there could ensue a lengthy debate as to whether it is a piece of art.

On the other hand, talk about Notre Dame Cathedral in France and no serious person would carry on a debate about whether it is also a piece of art or not.  Not even those who put a worn shoe under glass and declare it art would give us any serious push back.

The definition of the word “art” as grown so wide that almost any object on earth could be categorized under its label.  When it can mean just about anything, then it runs the risk of not meaning anything, a danger for so many of our once cherished words.  I think this is why so many of us “unwashed masses” become disappointed at “art” showings.  There is a nagging suspicion not that we are simply having our palettes stretched, but that we are being hoodwinked.  “Wait a minute,” the thought might come, “how can you glue two Rubrics Cubes to a mannequins foot, call it ART and charge me $25 to get in to see it?”

Once again, I have no problem with the pretty, the interesting, the innovative, the excellent achievement, the thought provoking being put on display and charging people to see it.  But we return to the question, “But is it art?”

Who gets to decide?  Well, you do.  Someone got to decide that an unmade bed is art, you get to decide that, “No, while it might be well done and interesting, it is not art.”  And do not worry that someone with a PhD who tells you that you are simply ignorant and do not understand, thank him or her for their time in enlightening you and move on.

What I caution is to have some open mind about stretching your personal taste in art.  Because I don’t like something (or experts like or do not like something) only time will make reveal its relevance to humanity.  Experts have been wildly wrong as have the unwashed masses (of which I am one.)  After fads have faded, after peer pressure has dissipated, after political correctness has turned a new corner, after the glare has worn off and we can see an object for what it is, then we will know if it is art.

And as for art needing to beautiful . . . there will be those (there are those) who vehemently disagree with me.  That’s Okay.  I think they are wrong.  That is not to say that some things are not worthy under a different category, it is simply that it is not art.  Beauty and art should be almost interchangeable (but not quite - there are differences - but that’s another post.)  If, for the average person, there is way too much explanation that needs to take place, then it is not beauty, it is a statement - and usually about the artist more than anything else.  (There is a danger here too in that it can be such a new way of seeing the world that we simply don’t “see” it yet - but then again - we return to time.)  Skill, detail, care, influence, meaning, attractiveness - all these things are not enough.  If the object is also not beautiful, then, as worthy or useful as it might be, it is not art.

Thursday, May 9, 2019


A couple of weeks ago I made mention that Catholic clergy and institutions have a right, under certain conditions, to have a coat of arms.  St. Sebastian parish has a coat of arms that was designed almost at the founding of the parish.  Most priests haven't bothered with (or maybe know about) a clergy coat of arms, but I thought they were fascinating since I was a little kid and of course I had mine designed.  Why not?

So someone asked me to explain mine so here we go:

In the upper right and lower left hand quadrants are blue fields with squiggly white lines.  These are taken directly from the coat of arms of our major seminary, which most people call St. Mary Seminary but whose full title is St. Mary, Our Lady of the Lake Seminary.  The lake in question is Lake Erie.  So, at least in part, this is an homage to my seminary.  But my family has a lot of ties to bodies of water: all of my grandparents came over "on the boat," my Dad served on a destroyer escort in World War II, we grew up in Barberton who has Lake Ann as its defining feature, and we just also enjoyed lots of time on the water as a family.

In the upper lefthand corner is a fleur-de-li which is an artistic representation of a lily, most commonly associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary who I ask to guide me.  It is also associated with Joan of Arc on whose feast day I was ordained.  The three stars in the upper left hand corner were a suggested addition by Fr. Micheal B. Smith and come from the Slovenian flag, the country from which all my grandparents come.

The lower right is an eagle most associated with St. John the Evangelist.  This is a copy of a medley that was placed around my neck when I was born, the only difference being that the original had a banner on it that said, "St. John."  St. John is also the patron of the Diocese of Cleveland.

The hat is a galero, a traditional hat worn by clergy (though rarely seen nowadays on anybody's head.)  Clergy may not have helmets or other things so he gets this hat in black and with only two tassels.  (Of course, as a clergyman changes rank, the hat color changes and the number of tassels increase.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "Like much else, killing was something one could get used to."  from Christopher R. Browning's, "Ordinary Men"

QUOTE II:  "As if everybody did not know that while saints can afford to be dirty, seducers have to be clean.  As if everyone did not know that the harlot must be clean, because it usher business to captivate, while the good wife may be dirty, because it is her business to clean."  from G. K. Chesterton's, "What's Wrong with the World"


E. P. sent in THIS article about "No Fear Religion."

This Friday at 7:30PM the Akron Symphony Chorus will be performing Faure's Requiem at St. Sebastian parish.  Tickets are $20 available at the door.  For more information go HERE.  Here they are practicing on Monday night:
 Theology on Tap Akron! this Wednesday night!
 Theology on the Rocks starts up again this month!
Jordon Peterson's comments on "The Reason Modern People Can't See God Is Because They Don't Look Low Enough."  7 minutes.  

Friday, May 3, 2019


So the beautiful is not just matter of taste but a transcendental.  There are things that are fascinating, innovative, novel and maybe even pretty and which draws one in.  But does that make it beautiful?  

Beauty is more than personal taste.  Beauty is beauty by its nature.  It is Truth and the Good made visible.  Thomas Aquinas adds these characteristics: integrity, due proportion and claritas.  It is something that draws one in.  It is also admirable: when one stands before that which is beautiful it is more than being attracted, it is being awed and enveloped, it is being inspired deeper into truth and goodness.

A few decades ago a Supreme Court Justice (Potter Stewart) in rendering a decision on hard core pornography side stepped defining it, a thing which he found very difficult to do, by saying, “I know it when I see it.”  But is it entirely subjective?  No, there are elements that must be present.  Is it entirely objective?  No, there are things that seem to have all of the right elements but just, somehow, fail.  Can someone be coached into seeing the beauty of something that at first did not strike them as beautiful?  Well, yes.  It may be called developing good taste.  Can one be fooled?  Oh, definitely.  Can something be beautiful without me seeing the beauty in it?  Yes.  Etc.

Like the building up of a good culture, could it be that beauty needs the collective experience of “the many” and time to be declared truly so?  (This helps rid us of the bias against, "I don't like the color blue," or "Anything to do with this politically correct topic/style is tops with me.)  Are critics and experts just pretty good predictors who have a step up on weathermen but who, similarly, are at times spectacularly wrong?  Could a ten million dollar “work of art” today be thrown in the ash heap of the future along with the thought, “What were they thinking?”  I think so.  

Beware of the prophet that declares something beautiful too out of the norm and pressures you to follow suit (but be open to skeptically considering) and don’t be too quick to jump on board declaring something long thought to be beautiful to be destroyed because what might only be fashion has influenced us too much.  Beauty doesn’t get to be beauty simply because someone says so.  But a lot of human beings over a long period of times certainly have a defining voice.
All of which makes judging art more difficult (but not completely impossible either.)  So the next question is, “Are art and beauty permanently joined at the hip?  Does a work need to be beautiful in order to be art?”

Thursday, May 2, 2019


About ten years ago the Diocese of Cleveland changed from permanent pastorates to term limits.  I was on the committee to assist the then bishop in deciding.  I was less than enthused with the prospect.  As with most new new things (please, can we never have yet another new miracle method for teaching in schools that will be all the rage for three years and then never be heard from again) it sounded like a cure that would solve all of our problems.  The caution that I had at the time was that we were simply exchanging one set of advantages/difficulties for another set of challenges/difficulties and were we sure that we wanted this exchange.

Apparently we did.

The argument for pastor term limits are quite good.  If there is a problem priest, there is a date at which canonically he may be removed.  (Despite what many people think, the bishop does not have the power, except in limited circumstances, simply to move a pastor at will.)  It also provides a chance for a priest who thinks that it is time to move to have a convenient way and date to do so.  So there is a lot more flexibility and ability to change things up.  It gives a bishop a lot more power to help a parish that is failing under a particular priest and in some ways it gives the people more power.  If they don’t like the guy that is their pastor, when the time comes for the priest to renew his pastorate, it is the opportunity for the bishop to say, “Maybe not.  Your people are revolting.”

So why would there have been permanent pastorates in the first place?  (Chesterton warned against tearing down a fence unless you first know why it was there.)  The argument for permanent pastorates is quite good.  In an article in a recent First Things, the author listed some of the advantages to permanent pastorates.  The first is a certain amount of protection from punitive acts of a bishop.  It brings more power locally for a priest (and congregation) to say, “We will not do that here.”  (With term limits, there may be some fear that soon you will be moved to a difficult assignment for sparing with the bishop.)  There is more of a chance to develop long term relationships instead of the “father” of the parish changing every six years (making it a bit scary for staffs also.)  

A lot depends on the people involved.  Will a term limit cause a man not to do some difficult work such a replacing an expensive roof or firing a popular figure who is working against the goals of the parish?  Will he tempted to say, “Let the next guy handle it.”  Or would permanent pastorates cause another man to say, “Nobody can touch me, I’ll spend my days watching T. V.?”  

Is more episcopal oversight better than greater subsidiarity?  It is difficult to say.  A lot depends.  If you have a crummy pastor you are probably glad for term limits, if you have a crummy bishop, you probably wish for permanent pastorates.  

We seem to have stuck a balance in the Diocese of Cleveland (and a lot depends on the solicitude of the bishop who is sitting in the cathedra.)  We have six year term limits that are indefinitely renewable in theory.  So a problem pastor or a pastor who thinks he has run his course can be moved or move on.  Or, in theory, he could stay there for years if good still seems to be happening.

Which is best?  The answer is bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.