American Martyrs and St. Patrick's Catholic Church
Monday, December 18, 2017

Jason Obergfell’s Reflection

 

  December 2017

 
Dear Friends,
 

The Advent Season is upon us, and it is a time for reflecting on what Christmas is all about.  In doing so, we are called to reflect on what our Christianity is all about.  If the Three Wise Men are an example of anything for us, maybe it is that Advent is a time of journeyingin hope rather than waiting in hope.  The Three Wise Men were not in the place they needed to be in order to receive Jesus.  Are we in the place we need to be spiritually, or do we also need to embark upon a journey in order to be in the right place to receive Jesus on Christmas Day? 

 

“Whatsoever you do for the least of the least of my people . . . ” - Matthew 25:45

As Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Matthew, we are called to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us in the world.  I am very thankful that I am able to do that in Bolivia as a result of your support.  Here are some of the ways that your support has impacted lives during this last year:

  • The collective contributions of so many of you made it possible to fund my work on water projects in rural communities.  This led to over 50 new wells with hand pumps being installed in 2 different communities, which will impact roughly 250 Bolivian lives for a long time to come.  I was also able to help develop a relationship with a new funding source that plans to support similar water projects in the years to come.
  • I worked with a pastoral team to teach a 12-session course on Forgiveness and Reconciliation to 35 people.  We also developed shorter workshops based on content from the longer course, so that we could reach more people.  We gave a 1-day workshop to four different groups (totaling roughly 300 people) focused on understanding our emotions, explaining common ways we express our anger, and providing techniques for improving inter-personal communication so it can be more assertive and less violent. 
  • Julio, the Bolivian engineer I work with, and I obtained a grant to facilitate implementation of our economical ecological toilet and solar treatment system in communitiesduring 2018.  The grant will act as a rotating fund for paying the upfront production costs associated with bathroom projects in communities lacking proper sanitation.  Our new alternatives were well received when we presented them at an international seminar on new and innovative technologies for water and basic sanitation in May of this year.
  • I continue to collaborate with other missioners on a human rights project addressing the situation of women and children in Bolivia.  Your donations helped make it possible to sponsor a 2-day leadership conference and forum for women.  This conference built upon the achievements of a similar conference we initiated in 2016.  The conferences have produced fruit, as evidenced by women from our conferences creating and leading their own event for women during the month of October and taking on leadership roles in their communities.
  • I have been involved in many faith-based community building efforts throughout the year, both in Bolivia and during my time in the United States.  I was blessed to share about overseas mission and learn about ways people are living their faith in communities in the U.S.
 
“The Word became flesh and lived among us.”  - John 1:14

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, says, “We seek a compassion in ourselves that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”  Advent is an important time to reflect on compassion as God sees it and how it relates to our individual lives and the society in which we live.  Do we allow ourselves to fully recognize the vulnerability that others live with?  Do our individual choices and societal decisions demonstrate the type of compassion that Father Greg Boyle describes?  I wonder sometimes.  A good friend of mine recently said, “The thing wrong with this country is all of the people getting a check from the government.”  That was quite painful for our other friend sitting right in front of him, who is eking out a living on less than $1,000/month, which he receives in “a check” after being severely injured at his job.  Do we even notice the vulnerable living among us, much less stand in awe?

The Parable of the Talents

I’m sure you’ve heard the Parable of the Talents many times . . . “To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.”  The end of that parable has often been hard for me to understand, until I recently noticed that it is followed directly by the passage that I mentioned earlier . . . “Whatever you did for the least of these people, that you did for me.”  That put the Parable of the Talents in better context for me.   The Parable of the Talents acknowledges that God blesses each of us with talents and skills, but it also implies that not all of these gifts are valued equally in the world in which we live.  Nevertheless, we are each called to use our blessings to the best of our ability and not squander them.  The parable essentially just establishes the basic premise that we are called to do something with what God has given us.  What is the “something” that should be done?  That matters just as much.

 
“I was hungry, and you gave me food.  I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.  I was naked, and you clothed me.  I was ill, and you cared for me.  I was in prison and you visited me.” - Matthew 25:35-36
 

It is probably often overlooked, but the words say “gave me” and “clothed me” and “cared for me.”  The words don’t say anything about getting compensation in return.  It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that this follows right after the Parable of the Talents.  In isolation, it might sound great to start off with more and end up with more.  It might also sound like God is blessing the rich and cursing the poor; however, it also says “to each according to his ability.” This seems to indicate that the expectations are relative to your ability (and realistic opportunity).  Jesus sure seems like he is making it clear that the “more” that a person might have is “more responsibility” for the most vulnerable among us.  Instead of contradicting what Father Greg Boyle said about standing in awe at what the poor have to carry, Jesus seems to go six steps further and says “it is your responsibility to respond to the needs that the vulnerable people have.”

 
. . . that you do [or do not do] unto me.” – Matthew 25:45

What example does Jesus’ birth at Christmas provide for our spiritual journey during the rest of the year?  God came to earth in the vulnerable form of a baby in humble manger.  Right before leaving us with the Sacrament of the Eucharist (to help us be in communion with his spirit), Jesus humbly washed the feet of his disciples rather than “looking out for #1.”  Jesus “flipped the script” on us.  He said, “that you do unto me.”  Jesus explicitly identified himself with the vulnerable, not the powerful.  He chose to serve others needs rather than to seek his own enrichment.

 

Maybe we should “flip the script” on my friend’s comment and start to ask if there is a moral problem at the other end of the financial spectrum.  In the 34 years from 1980 to 2014, the income for the top 1% of the population has increased at a rate nearly four times the rate of the bottom 50%, and the income for the next 10% has increased at roughly double the rate of the bottom 50%.  That means the top 1% now earn, on average, roughly 95 times the minimum wage.  During those same 34 years, the top 1% of the U.S. population has seen its share of the total wealth increase 50%, now owning roughly 39% of the total value of everything in the U.S.  The share for the bottom 50% was negative 0.1% by 2014. 

 

“The panacea of Wealth has been urged . . . instead of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness . . .”   - W.E.B. Du Bois

Sister Elena Angel Diez, a retired missionary sister, recently passed away in our barrio.  Only a few days before she died, the parish priest asked her, “How do you feel after all of your years of service in mission?”  Without hesitation, she replied, “I feel at peace.”  I found her response to be in sharp contrast with the final words of David Cassidy, the musician and actor that starred in the 1970s sit-com “The Partridge Family.”  His final words were, “So much wasted time.”  Our final words will likely reflect our truthful judgment of how we lived with beauty and goodness, not wealth.   

 
Question for Reflection
As I journey onward, does that quiet voice inside me say, “I feel at peace” or is it saying, “So much wasted time”?
 

Praying that Jesus will be born into your heart this Christmas,

 
 
Jason

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Please consider supporting my work in Bolivia as a way to help respond to the vulnerable among us.  To donate, please send a check made out to “Jason Obergfell” with “Mission Trust” noted in the memo portion of the check to:     

              
 

For more about what our faith teaches regarding the building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society, see:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm
 
 
 
 

If you would like to help support Jason's mission work in Bolivia, please send a check made out to

Jason Obergfell” with “Mission Trust” noted in the memo portion of the check to: 

Mrs. Fay Obergfell  / 1457 South Smith Road / Lexington, IN  47138