St. Sebastians Catholic Church, Milwaukee

stsebssmallerI arrive for the Sunday 8:00 a.m. twenty minutes before the Mass begins.  The parking lot has one other car.  It doesn’t bother me.

I enter the 150 year old church, modernized now, and the ushers immediately greet me.  I grunt, half awake.  I’ve been coming here for over ten years, I think.  Always the second and fourth Sundays.  At the beginning I asked the pastor if he needed help.  I already had a 10:00 a.m. Mass and could only do one at 8:00 a.m. although I’m not a morning person.  I only wanted two Sundays a month (didn’t want to be taken for granted.)  He agreed.  A new pastor arrived, same arrangement; another new pastor arrived, same arrangement.

I enter the sacristy and get vested.  The sacristan has already prepared everything for the Mass and the grade school servers are slowly arriving with tussled hair and who still seem to be enjoying their sleep.

I enter the church proper and take a pew to hear the song before Mass.  I’ve found that the prelude is always moving and prepares us for the service.  It’s always a parishioner who serves as a cantor and accompanies Michael Kaminski, the liturgist and pastoral associate.  Always inspiring and subdued.  At 7:58 a.m., you would think that Noah’s ark just unloaded.  They all enter.  (I think that they’re sitting at home waiting for just the right minute before leaving for church.)  This is when the hugs and smiles begins.  One couple embraces another couple.  Children dart across aisles to greet another school chum.  (I’m thinking to myself, “It’s only been a week since they last saw each other!”)  Young couples with their children (all neatly dressed), middle aged couples who are glad their children have moved out, seniors and a splattering of single people.  Many sit in the same place.  On many Sundays, someone approaches me during my moment of solitude to tell me of a death in their family or someone that we know in common or a tell me of a sermon they enjoyed.  I smile, shoulder touch and wish them a good day.

The prelude ends.  We line up in back for the procession song, always uplifting and moving.  (I usually want to go home after their opening song.  Why continue?  We’ve just done it!)  The opening remarks are made.  The first reading is completed and the cantor sings a psalm that would put popular singers to shame.  (Again, I want to just go home because we have done it already again, but, alas I have to stay.)  The second reading is concluded.

We all sit patiently waiting for me to stand for the “Alleluia” to begin and the reading of the gospel.  I wonder how long I should sit there before standing.  It’s so quiet now.  So much has happened already and they still want more?  Each time I think to myself before standing, “Do you have something to say today?”  I answer myself and say, “Yes.”  I stand and the “Alleluia” begins.

After the gospel, it’s my turn to turn those ancient readings into something contemporary.  What can I give them to take home?  It usually amounts to one word.  I wish to leave them with one word to ponder or to consider.  The sermon is never longer than five minutes.  I get bored and I’m sure they do too.  It’s the way of our culture these days and my poor word power.  I make them laugh.  I hope I make them think.   And, I wish that they might relive some of my thoughts during this new week.

They pay me to do this twice a month, not a lot but it’s nice.  Don’t ever let them know that I’d do it for free.  It’s Church.  It’s families, by blood and by faith.  It’s folks celebrating their lives as best they can.  It’s a twice a month treat for me in spite of the early hour.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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