Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I received my "United Mileage Plus Summary" recently. It reads 7,076 miles, and has for a number of months now.

I used to fly United a lot when I was running around the country giving weekend retreats to people recovering from addictions of one sort or another. I'd started doing that many years ago now, when I was living in California for a few months at the home of a Jesuit friend of mine who's arguably among the best (read: funny, poignant, challenging, spiritual, erudite, accessible) retreat directors in that genre.

He and I had met the year before when I was out in California visiting a friend of mine who, like me, was in priest-school, but on the West Coast, rather than in the Northeast. We hit it off well, pretty much immediately, Tom and I did, and over the course of the next year, kept in touch.

Ever the one to play an angle, I hatched the idea of a junket whereby I could parlay spending time (*winter time*) on the West Coast with Tom, into the 'research' behind a Masters Thesis. (I was into my fourth masters degree program at the time -- could that be indicative of an addiction?) Tom was amenable, and I actually went out there right after school ended in the spring, and was there until the end of the following January.

During that summer I'd arranged to do some molecular biology at a school in Pasadena (with the highest ratio of Nobel-Prize-winners to students of any school, anywhere) in an attempt to discern whether I'd want to continue in biology studies after Ordination to the Priesthood, or move into studying church history for a doctorate, since I really love history.

Remember: I'm in priest-school in the Northeast.

Summer in Pasadena. Fall/Winter in Oakland/San Francisco.

How do *you* spell "junket"?

It was heaven!

And, to be honest, I did manage to come up with a Thesis entitled, "Toward a Theology of Recovery from Addiction," which turned out pretty well, I'd say. (It had nothing to do with the molecular biology stuff that I'd done earlier that summer, however....)

Anyway, as a result of spending all that time with Tom, and running hither, thither, and yon across North America (I think I accompanied him on thirteen retreats over the course of almost five months, many of which necessitated air travel) I began accumulating miles on United Airlines, since that was what Tom was flying.

Over the years since then, I've given well over one hundred of those retreats alone, and continued to amass lots of miles on United in the process. The year before I joined the Army, I did eleven of those retreats -- which is a fair number, considering I have a full-time job, and free-lance doing priest-things, on weekends, at a number of parishes.

Once I got into the Guard, however, I began getting orders to do Temporary Duty (TDY) assignments almost immediately. In the five months I was in the Guard before going to Chaplain Basic Training, I missed 33 work days out of 104, because I was so often on TDY. My employer has been *great* in terms of supporting my military activities, by the way! This past year, during the same time period, I missed 35 work days, again because of TDY.

All of this is to say that I've had to cut back drastically on the number of retreats I give, which has all but cut out the plane travel I used to do, as a result of my military obligations.

In April 2007, my United Mileage Plus account stood at 163,963 miles. In May 2007, at 163,963 miles. By the time I got back from Chaplain Basic Training (90 days of 'fun' for a 51-year-old, let me tell you!), my account stood at 0 (zero) miles.

My miles 'expired' because I'd not flown United in a while.

When I discovered this, I called United to let them know that a big reason for not flying had been the uncertainties of my schedule as I was in the process of trying to get the commission (I missed two trips to Thailand because of how goofy the accessions process was. Get this: There's a MEPS facility (Military Entrance Processing Station) on the post I can see from the Community where I live, but I had to go to Louisville, KY to go through MEPS -- and the Army kept putting off (over the course of ten weeks) when I was going to go there. Hence, no trips to Thailand!), and then my military service thereafter.

United Airlines' response: "Gee, that's too bad."

It still rankles me when I get my United Airlines Mileage Plus monthly statement.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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