American Martyrs and St. Patrick Catholic Church
Thursday, December 01, 2022

Jason Obergfell’s Reflection

Happy New Year, my friends!

This past year (or more) probably hasn’t been easy for any of us, and we’ve looked forward to the arrival of 2022.  Now that we have settled into the new year, maybe it’s a good time to reflect on 2021 and start living our hopes for 2022.        

 

Ministry Update

This year has been one of positive developments relative to my mission work (thanks to your collaboration!):

  • Ecological bathrooms: Until 2021, we had done projects of 20 bathrooms or less.  In early 2021, I pursued a grant for a project that would fund 40 bathrooms.  It was approved in late 2021, and the work will be done in 2022.  In the meantime, we were chosen by Rotary International to implement an ecological bathroom project serving 115 families.  Towards the end of 2021, we were chosen by UNICEF for an ecological bathroom project serving 337 families. It was a year of growth!
  • Home for Youth with Special Needs:  My fiancé, Heidy, started 2021 without a job due to her employer being another victim of the pandemic (40 jobs lost).  I encouraged her to seek an opportunity to serve an unmet need, and Divine Providence led her to a home for young adults with special needs.  Many of these “kids” have been abandoned by their families.  For example, one young man was simply left on a bus as a child and has been living at this home since that time.  It is clear that Heidy has a gift for working with these kids.  Look at those smiles!
  • Water projects: We finished implementing wells with hand pumps for 175 families, while at the same time pursuing additional funding for a new project.  The new funding was approved and will provide wells for over 144 more families in 2022.  The quality of our work has led to a long-term relationship with more opportunities.
  • Workshops: Throughout the pandemic, we have offered monthly virtual workshops to address forgiveness and human relations issues.  In 2021, we focused on self-care due to the special stresses of the pandemic.  A message I saw at a pharmacy described our motivation, “Life doesn’t consist simply in living, but rather in being well.”  We strived to help people “be well” physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Our final topic of 2021 was “caring for our common home,” meaning the environment that sustains us.
  • Human Dignity and Human Rights project: During 2021, we organized and presented monthly virtual forums addressing human rights, with a particular focus on racism.  People directly affected by racism shared their powerful testimonies.  We also conducted a survey in indigenous communities.  These efforts generated valuable information for a report we are preparing on racism that will be submitted to the UN in 2022.  The testimonies that we have gathered clearly explain the tangible effects of racism in people’s lives.

 

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An Epiphany about the Christmas Spirit

I’ve been thinking about the “Christmas Spirit” a lot lately.  It had been 2 years since I’d been home for a visit, and I decided to spend Christmas with my family in the United States.  The Christmas Spirit often means enjoying time with family, but it extends beyond our biological family.  It is also a spirit of goodwill towards others in our human family.  It is about noticing the needs of the most vulnerable.  It is a spirit of care and compassion.  It is moving from “my good” to “our good.”  During the Christmas Season, we focus on the common good.  The Epiphany (January 6th) shouldn’t mark the end of the time when we live with the Christmas Spirit.  Instead it should be the day of the illuminating realization, our personal epiphany, that the Christmas Spirit is actually the Christian Spirit we should live with year-round. 


If Seeing is Believing . . .

A recent arrival to the home for youth (where Heidy serves) is named Fany.  She has a tumor behind her eye and is living at the shelter/home while being treated.  Heidy helps Fany with her homework, which includes things like reading.  One day after working with Fany, Heidy told me that when it hurts too much Fany doesn’t want to see anymore.  She wants instead to close her eyes, and it is impossible to make additional progress on her homework.

 

It struck me that this comment captured well how we often deal with life.  We don’t want to see anymore when it hurts too much.  We don’t want to “see” the effects of our actions on the environment, because it hurts too much to consider what that means for our future.  We don’t want to “see” poverty or injustice in our world, because it hurts too much to believe that so many people are actually living through such realities on a daily basis.  When Fany doesn’t want to see anymore, she closes her eyes.  That doesn’t mean that her homework disappears.  She just doesn’t see it anymore.  When we don’t want to “see” environmental degradation, poverty, or racial injustice, that doesn’t mean they no longer exist.  In our societal context, it is actually quite the opposite.  Our choice to not “see” such things actually results in them getting worse.  We need to know about something before we can care about it; we need to care about something before we will become motivated to take action.   

 

I Believe . . .

At Christmas, the Word became flesh. Jesus walked among us.  He was “love” in human form.  We all say “I believe” when we profess our faith at church, but I have an uncle who has always said, “I believe” when he receives Communion at the mass.  Most people quietly say, “Amen.”  He clearly states, “I believe” when the priest says, “The Body of Christ.”  That has always struck me, but I recently had my own epiphany about his response.  We call it “Communion,” because that is what we seek.  We seek to be in communion with God’s spirit, but what does that mean after the mass is over?  My uncle’s response provides a reminder for me.  “I will BE the body of Christ.  I will LIVE in a Christ-like way.”  All of our professions and responses are only words unless they find life within us. 

 

Believe me when I say that I realize it isn’t always easy to BE Christ-like or LIVE in a Christ-like way.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus, even during the Christmas Season.  After all, Jesus was born in a manger because people turned Mary and Joseph away in their moment of need.  We live in a world of polarization and people feeling rejected.  We are called to be in communion with the “Christmas Spirit” that we celebrate because of Jesus.  We, too, are called to live with love.

 

This message might seem impractical.  I would contend the opposite.  If we don’t work for the common good, we end up creating the “common bad” instead.  Jack Johnson said it well in one of his songs,

We could close our eyes [but] it’s still there.  We could say it’s us against them.  We could try, but nobody wins.”  Sometimes it seems like every person thinks s/he is the one who is completely “right,” while the other is completely “wrong.” Often the meaning of words is manipulated to justify a particular perspective.  Is that the Christmas Spirit?  In the words of Jack Johnson, “In the true sense of the word, are we using what we’ve learned?


Question for Reflection

In the true sense of the word “Christian,” how am I using what I’ve learned to BE and LIVE?

 

Praying that 2022 will be a year of believing and blessing,

 

Jason

 



 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:8

 
 
 
Jason Obergfell
 
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