Air-Miles for Jesus

28aFrank Sinatra knows what he’s singing about.  It’s not about the destination but it’s all about the flight.  “Come, fly with me.”  Flying “Coach” is the one who takes little risks, says the right things and ruffles very little feathers hoping to just get there for a safe landing.  In other words, “Coach” is “Now Here to safely There.”  Flying “Business” is the exciting way to travel.  “Business” began at your birth and continues through this “gift” of life – “Business” is full of taking risks – failures and learned lessons, wrong friendships but finding the right partner.  “Business” is full of adventure with wisdom that enlarges, builds up strength, raises fortitude with an always awe for our Creator. “Business” is not “Now Here and safely There” but it is fully “Here.”

I’ve been earning air-miles for years hoping to build them up into a free trip or at least a discount.  (Sounds like a good Catholic?)
Southwest who took over Air Tran was an adjustment for me since I’ve used Air Tran for years.  Southwest offers a downsized way to travel so my over 34,000 earned miles with them may never be used.  Southwest Airlines can be called “Catholic-lite” because it pretends to be something that it is not.  It’s a complete risk-free “Coach” intended to get you to your destination with an imitation “Business” section.  But Southwest’s one free drink and four inches of extra butt room does not a “Business Class”  or a “church” make.
What does this have to do with our Christian faith?  I’ve been raking in air-miles toward heaven since I was born – by keeping careful track of what’s been banked (my wonderful personality) and what’s expired (“I don’t sin!  I have lapsed moments.).  Catholics call them indulgences, complete with earned benefits and rewards when properly accumulated and then cashed in when you, well, cash in.
My favorite presently is Delta Airlines – a classy airline but with very baffling rules.  (Sound Catholic to you?)  Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond are Delta’s rungs toward salvation.  I’m at 23,542 “MQM,” which stands for medallion qualifying “miles” in reaching platinum.  It’s a goal I know I can reach if I was just a nicer person.  Does God want what Delta wants?  Do you really believe that God teases you just to tease you like God did to Job?  (It’s my own fault, when I was 8 years old, I should have chosen Delta and flown all over the place!)
Delta also have “MQS” or medallion qualifying “segments.”  It appears Delta give you points for stopping and getting back on again.  Interesting.  Isn’t that what God says to us every step of life’s way, “Stop and get back on” – again and again.  How many heavenly miles is that worth?
When I reach a certain rung, Delta’s survey assures me that every Delta employee I meet will use my name.  (Do I need to hear “Jagodensky” mutilated all morning?)  Please bear in mind the middle letter, “Q,” qualifying.  I may think I qualify but the Delta folks and God may not agree.
What does this have to do with our Christian faith?  The Bible says, “justification through faith alone.” Those four words puzzle us Christians.  Where does “good works” fit into this salvation picture?  Is thinking positive thoughts about someone each day worth at least a mile or two?  Is holding a door for people worth three miles for me and they lose five miles when they hold the same door?  (As though I was going to release it early?!)  How about helping a friend move?  That’s got to be worth at least 25,000 miles.  (30,000 if it’s Saturday.  It kills the whole day!)  The one I love is this one.  I get angry at a good friend because of something he did.  So, do my miles cancel themselves out?  I earned fifty miles for being honest with him but in my anger lose those fifty miles.
“How many miles does it take to get me to heaven?”  You cannot earn what’s already been earned for you because of what began this very night.
We know God’s gift of Jesus to us is a completely free and unearned gift but we still play these miles games with the greatest part of our lives: salvation.  We just can’t seem to believe and own that this gift of life and its completion is completely free.  How many of us prefer to sit in airplane’s ”Coach” – ”the seat’s a little tight and the bathroom’s okay, I think I’ll stay here.”  We refuse the “Business” that Jesus will obtained for us through his resurrection.  Our Christian motto ought to be, “Jesus earned, we received and now we respond.”

How often do we choose the safety of “Coach” with our indifferences, lacklusters, passionless and complacent lives when our religious miles have already been counted and cashed in by God’s Son.  That’s the Christmas gift to each of us tonight.  Jesus earned for us all the miles we need to live a full and meaningful life, as Mel Torme’ wrote for us “whether we’re one or ninety-two.”  Can we unwrap this freely given gift, receive it in humility and then say each day, “Thank you?”  And then say, “Your Son earned it.  We’ve received it.  Now we respond.”
We then use this life’s gift with grace and fortitude and all the “MQS’s” zeal and fire we can muster.  God doesn’t want a medallion from us but we do believe God wants the passions, the carings, the concerns that surround us – especially in the less fortunate, very especially toward the less fortunate among us.
God’s “qualified” us for a life that’s already been achieved.  God doesn’t us to be “Now here to safely There” creations of Himself.  Fly “Business” every chance you get.  “Now Here to Safely There” is purely selfish.  Scrooge’s conversion to a fuller life comes about by the powerful comment, “Humanity is your business.”  Humanity is our business.
I wrote this two weeks ago and just learned from Delta that I now have a “Gold” standing with them.  That means that I will not be seeing you all in purgatory.  Sorry.  The recorded telephone message the rest of you will hear is, “I’m sorry for any inconvenience in your flight delays – your call is very important to us, we value you as a customer – please, stay on hold a little while longer, a Delta representative will be with you shortly.” And then, after and being on-hold with weird music, a guy from India whom you can’t understand will baffle you with even more regulations.
God tells us tonight to worry not about the destination but to do your life’s work here and now – this night and tomorrow night and the night after that, and all the while in between saying to ourselves and everyone around us … “just enjoy the ride.”

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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