“Thank You,” St. Sebastian Parish

 

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This is my last Mass here in this glorious place. This bi-weekly experience has possibly meant more for me than for you. But I don’t know that for sure.

Months ago I’m walking through the Apple Store at Mayfair and a Sebs parishioner stops me. “Fr. Joe, I missed your sermon last Sunday because I had to work. I asked my husband what you said and he said that it was hard to explain.”

I was missing out with
the younger and family parish experiences.

After years at Alexian Village with older adults, I felt I was losing the younger and family parish experiences. I called Fr. Chuck and asked if only twice a month would be good for the parish and he said, “Yes.” It had to be the 8:00 am Mass because I had a 10:00 am Mass at Alexian.

I’m not a morning person but you woke me up as I walked down that single aisle. As the years worn on, the more awe I felt walking down the aisle of what was about to happen. Alexian Village fulfilled a meaningful niche for me for many years but you folks filled the whole bucket of what Mass means. Families – with far too many kids, oldsters holding their own as best they can, single people and strangers gathered together celebrating this time-honored ritual. Some of them were seen just once to see what it’s like, others from time to time and – how many of you, the regulars.

It was you who brought yourselves to me. Your laughter or…lack of laughter taught me how to speak to you. Your silence showed listening (and that scared me) and your chuckles taught me to “keep it coming.” And, so I did.

Getting two or four young kids dressed up
for an 8:00 a.m. Mass is remarkable…

I don’t know how long I’ve been here – 15 or 16 years is my guess. I don’t know most of your names but I know your faces and it’s the faces that intrigued me the most. Getting two or four young kids dressed up for an 8:00 a.m. Mass is remarkable when I think how my sleepy, single body dropped out of bed on those Sunday mornings.

Catholics wrongly think that “Church”
is that ancient building in Rome…

And why? It’s because of the community we call “Church.” Catholics still think that “Church” is that ancient building in Rome, but you are the Church with your child baptized here and your mom buried here – that’s the proof. You are the Church when challenged with foodless people living in your neighborhood and that distant land in El Salvador whose name took me two years to pronounce correctly. It all begins and is renewed weekly right here.

I haven’t been a total part of your parish but I’ve witnessed those of you who are total parishioners. You show each other that tender touch when words fail or that hug that speaks a thousand unspoken words. You are that smile that welcomes a new face and that smile that welcomes a face that’s been here for a hundred years. That’s “Church.” It’s not housed in Rome but it lives within all of your hearts. It’s not somewhere else but right here in this old, old church welcoming new and even newer members.

“…you all patiently waiting until I’d said
something shocking or sarcastic…”

I take with me to Christ King and St. Bernard parishes what you’ve given to me, that is inadequately stated in words. It’s your captivating spirit. Please don’t lose or forget about your spirit. It’s witnessed in your many outreach ministries and parish ministries. It’s found in your welcoming of priests – even a guy like me and you all patiently waiting until I’d said something shocking or sarcastic – it was only meant to keep you from reading the Sunday bulletin during Mass.

What do I take away from here and from you? Everything and anything meaningful to you. At times you said I preached “right on” and you also told me, sometimes, that I was a fool. That’s what I need to hear as I move completely into parish ministry. Will I be a hit? You bet I will. Will I fail? You bet I will. Will I survive? Gloria Gaynor already answered that question for me.

And the music.

What will I miss at St. Sebs? You’d never guess it but it was watching your children grow up. (And watching old people get even older.) And the music. Michael Kamenski is an oyster that is always open waiting to be opened even larger along with a beautiful choir that most parishes would kill for. It’s Michael’s cantors who put Barbra Streisand to shame while I always thought, “What a shame that those psalms responses were so short.” (“Just a couple more verses, please?”)

Besides the routine Sunday Masses, it’s the Christmas Vigils that I loved. I got to be a part of an over-filled church for the 10:30 pm service (Midnight! Mass) searching for hope, sharing mercy and praying for even more divine guidance and hope to see us through an ending year and a new one soon to open. (One year I had the 4:00 pm Christmas Vigil, slated for “children.” I had a couple of cute points to make for the sermon until I saw the church fill up and then fill up even more – with more adults than children. I panicked. I went outside and had a smoke and came up with an entirely new sermon, more substantial. Thank goodness for experience and a three-minute cigarette!)

When I left Alexian Village (or Alexian Village left me), there was a prayer service held in my honor and I asked to speak. After seven pages, I conclude to all of you at St. Sebastians what I told the Alexian residents, “This experience was never about my paycheck, it was never about my duty, it was never my job but it’s always been my pleasure.”

Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of your lives. Thank you for being a surprising, unexpected presence in my priestly and personal life.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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4 Responses to “Thank You,” St. Sebastian Parish

  1. Jack says:

    Thank you! Fantastic preaching and thought provoking statements! Best to you always!

    Like

  2. Caro Nelson says:

    Father Joe, you will be missed dearly by St. Sabastian parish and especially the choir! You always showed your appreciation for our choir and made me proud to be a part of it! Your three minute homilies and even your one sentence homilies were inspiring yet made me want more! I hope your next parishes understand and know how fortunate they are to have you be a part of their family! You will be dearly missed by ours! Wishing you all the best and that you feel God in your heart everyday of the rest of your life!

    Like

  3. ebrzeski says:

    Fr. Joe, we were an 8am family with three little kids who sat in the front row for a few years until we moved across town two years ago and had to change parishes. We loved celebrating mass with you. We’ve gone back a couple of times in the past two years after moving and it still felt like home. Now that you’re at a new parish, any return to an 8am at Sebs will just not feel the same. Thank you for all that you shared with the sebs community. You were, and still are, a blessing.

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  4. Dan says:

    Thanks for keeping us on our toes and making us uncomfortable in the pews. We’ll stop at Christ the King on occasion to get a dose of Fr. Joe.

    Like

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