One of the foundations of my Christian faith is the following prayer:
- It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
- We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
- No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
- This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
- We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
- We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.
The essence of this prayer for me is in the lines: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.” This rings true as a matter of Christian theology. It helps me to keep myself in perspective. It is indeed liberating.
I thought that this was a prayer composed by my personal saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero. This, however, is not true.
It was written in November 1979 by Kenneth Edward Untener, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, for a memorial mass for deceased priests that was celebrated by Cardinal John Francis Dearden, the Archbishop of Detroit, Michigan. This context helps to understand the prayer’s talking about imperfect prayers, confessions and pastoral visits. The immediate audience for the prayer was the deceased priests and those priests in attendance to honor their comrades. But the real audience is everyone.
Later it purportedly was used by Archbishop Romero. I hope that it was, but regardless of whether it was, it is something, in my opinion, that expresses Romero’s theology. Here, for example, is what he said about everyone’s being a worker who strives to do his or her best and thereby gives God’s grace an opportunity to enter into the world and do the rest:
- “How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work. That just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench. And each metal worker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market worker at her stand, are performing a priestly office! “
 See Post: My Christian Faith (April 6, 2011).
 Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, Homily (March 28, 2004), http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/peace/pfg032804.htm.;Bishop Ken Untener, The Practical Prophet : Pastoral Writings at iii (Paulist Press; New York 2007)(Untener called this prayer “Reflection on Ministry”).
 We Are Prophets of a Future Not Our Own, American Catholic Council Newsletter (June 6, 2001), http://americancatholiccouncil.org/newsletter-june-6-2001-2. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who can confirm that this prayer was used by Romero. Where? When? Source?
 Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero at 13 (Harper & Row; San Francisco 1988) (compiled & translated by James R. Brockman, S.J.).