American Martyrs and St. Patrick's Catholic Church
Saturday, September 21, 2019

Jason Obergfell’s Reflection

 Lent 2019

 
Dear Friends,

Easter is approaching rapidly, which means our Lenten journey is nearing its end. In many ways, Lent is a period of time that has similarities to the month of December. We are journeying towards renewal and resurrection. During December, we formulate resolutions for personal renewal in the coming year. During Lent, we make commitments to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in order to experience a spiritual resurrection at Easter. Sometimes we live up to those resolutions and commitments, and sometimes we don’t. It might feel like the amount of time left in Lent isn’t enough for us to really make changes in our lives. That reminds me of a story shared by the Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello:

 

There once was a fisherman that left early in the morning to begin his day, even though he was still in the darkness of the early morning hours. His foot tripped over something that appeared to be a bag, which he assumed had probably washed up with the waves. He picked it up and realized that it contained small rocks inside. To pass the time, he began throwing the rocks into the sea, listening to see how far he was able to throw each one. When daylight finally came, he looked inside the bag and saw three precious gems. He had been throwing a bag full of precious stones into the sea this whole time! “It’s too late! It’s too late!” he thought . . . It wasn’t too late! Three precious stones still remained! It wasn’t too late; it wasn’t too late . . .

 

It is never too late for us either. We can still allow God’s light to illuminate our way of seeing the world around us. We can notice the precious gems and pearl of great price that still remain in our bag. Ultimately, however, we also need to believe that it is not too late. We need to believe in Jesus’ words “Seek and you shall find” and have faith that we can still make positive changes happen by living out his teachings. Start now by taking just 10 minutes to read and reflect.

 
 

Emmanuel – God with Us

This newsletter is “Lenten stark” and lacks photos of my mission work in Bolivia, instead focusing on the messages that have stood out to me during Lent. It is my hope that these passages might motivate your own reflections on life in the context of faith. I have noticed throughout Lent that the Gospel readings each day have focused on what Jesus identified as the purpose of his presence. They have also focused on how Jesus clarified what our priorities should be in life:

 

“Jesus stood up and read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’- Luke 4:16-21

 

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me– Matthew 25:35-36

 

Jesus came to serve the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Not only that, he identified himself as those same people in highlighting that we either choose to live with his spirit or don’t. Who are the people that he identified? One thing they have in common is that they are often avoided. We need to be honest with ourselves and reflect on how we have avoided, and maybe have even demonized, the stranger or the person that is imprisoned or the person needing food, water, or clothing. Maybe we have done it so well that we aren’t even aware of who these people are anymore in the current reality. Consider the possibility that: the strangers might be migrants fleeing poverty and violence, the prisoners might be African Americans imprisoned at a rate 5 times that of white Americans for drug crimes (when the rate of drug use is equal), and the naked might be shabbily clothed homeless people struggling with mental illness.

 

Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” - Matthew 9:13

Maybe your initial reaction to the examples I provided above was tinged with the skepticism or cynicism that I hear from afar when I listen to the news coming from the United States. Maybe you notice the impulse is to provide practical justification for feelings of skepticism or cynicism. This isn’t new, and Jesus continued his commentary above by saying, This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Jesus spoke even more clearly about the importance of “seeing” as he continued: “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon [wealth].- Matthew 6:23-24

 

Jesus wasn’t ignoring that money is part of life. He was, however, very clearly identifying where it should lie in our priorities. Our priorities define which thing serves the other. Our first priority is to see and serve as Jesus did if we want to be among his disciples. Jesus did not hold back when it was necessary to reiterate the importance of living with these priorities: “Jesus rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ . . . ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’” – Mark 8:33-36

 

 

Our Greatest Temptation – “You will be like God.”

Maybe what Jesus calls us to do doesn’t seem practical much of the time. Even Peter felt that way, but Jesus clearly and strongly responded to Peter’s protests, because Peter had prioritized practicality. The serpent in the Garden of Eden was crafty, tempting Eve and Adam with the thought that God wasn’t practical, and that they could be just as wise as God and make better decisions themselves. “You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5

 

We are tempted similarly every single day with thoughts like, “A Christian response isn’t practical in this situation.” God’s reaction was pretty clear about being wiser than God. Adam and Eve lost their place in Eden. Jesus’ reaction was pretty unequivocal, too. He strongly rebuked even Peter, his chosen cornerstone. Not only did Jesus teach us himself with specific examples, he also left us with saints who could provide even greater clarity about Christian priorities.

 

 

Three Precious Gems and One Pearl of Great Price

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an [adult] man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

 

 

Resurrecting our Christian Identity

We are called to put the ways of a child behind us. Lent is a time to do that. We can choose to fast from our tendency to avoid, shun, or demonize others. Our most valuable almsgiving can be to give more of ourselves to those same people that we typically avoid. Our prayer can be for the strength to do these things, because they aren’t easy. Maybe you need to fast from the tendency to demonize supporters of Donald Trump. Maybe you need to fast from dismissing Democrats as “radicals.” Only you know how your heart has become calloused. It is much easier for almsgiving to be collecting coins for a foreign land than being patient, kind, humble, and a person that rejects attempts to dishonor others with name calling. This is our Christian mission and our Lenten call to fasting, giving, and praying.

 

How important is this Christian mission? For me, this excerpt from “The Missioner’s Prayer” written by John J. Walsh, M.M. captures it: “Mission is to Go to a no-place, Serve God’s nobodies, and (in the eyes of the world) Accomplish no-thing. In this may we realize that we are at the center of what Time, Meaning, and History are all about.” [bold mine]

 

Christian mission isn’t exclusive to the type of work that I do in Bolivia, and Saint Paul’s scripture passage about love isn’t exclusively for couples getting married. Both are integral parts of our Christian identity. Lent is about reconnecting with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Lent is a time for “seeing” where there is death in our Christian life, so that our spirit may also experience the joy of resurrection on Easter Day. It’s not too late . . . It’s not too late . . .

 

Praying that your Lenten journey will lead to spiritual resurrection,

 
Jason Obergfell
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If you would like to help support my Catholic mission work, during Lent I simply ask you to spread the word to others.

 

To donate, please send a check to “Jason Obergfell” with “Mission Trust” noted in the memo portion to:

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

 

Feel free to send your feedback to me at:

obies12000@hotmail.com or

1457 S. Smith Road/Lexington, IN 47138