On this day in 1980, the Voice of the Voiceless, Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down and killed as he celebrated the Mass in a hospital chapel in El Salvador. Romero was a man of great courage who knew that speaking up for the victims of oppression and injustice in El Salvador put his life in danger. He was not deterred by violence and believed strongly that the Church and its leaders needed to be a voice for those who voices were silenced.
He also understood that each and every act of love, justice, and mercy are all building blocks to a kingdom with a longer vision. Each opportunity for love and mercy are to be seized and acted upon, yet none of what we do is complete. We often think that what we must accomplish is large and that. I think it is fair to say that those who minister in whatever capacity in the church struggle to do as much as possible for the advancement of God’s kingdom. All the while we might find that task frustrating. There is always more to be done to accomplish the unveiling of the Kingdom. Do you ever feel as if you should have the answers? Are you ever vexed that your efforts seem not to produce the results you expected? Have you ever felt that your gifts are not enough or that you have not the skills necessary to do God’s work? Have you ever tired of trying to please everybody all the while knowing that you will not meet everybody’s demands? This prayer of Romero’s might be liberating for you.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even 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 a 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 the 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 far 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 the Lord’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.
At various points in the last twenty years, since I first read them, I have taken great comfort in these words. While on one hand they may suggest that we never get to see the fruit of our labour, on the other hand they remind us of who we are and how we can contribute in God’s work. We are prophets of a future that is not our own. We are indeed people on a journey who must come to grips with the notion that we are the workers; we are not the Master Builder. I personally have found these words to be very liberating. There are days that I feel that I must be all things to all people – rereading this prayer is always a great way to step back from that idolatry.
“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.” We are very valuable gifts in God’s work. But it is just that – God’s work. We need not be the messiah – we need to be faithful workers. Many of us work in ministry where we are watering seeds that have already been planted. I know I feel very much like that in my ministry at St Aidan’s. Not a day passes that I am not grateful to the priests who preceded me in this role because they sowed love well. Now while I water what has been sown, I sow some more –perhaps different seeds. One day another will be watering those seeds. It is true for laity as well. Generations have ministered at churches like St. Aidan’s. Many of the seeds that others have sown in past years are growing into full bloom for those who are newer in our community. And so it will be in the generations yet to come. The work we do today will be watered by disciples tomorrow. This is ministry; in our church, in our families and in our community. We are hard at our laying ‘foundations that will need further development.’
Romero was a gift to the church because of his strong prophetic voice. He did not live to see the many who have watered and tended the seeds of justice that he planted. But many have been changed because of this man, his life, and his death. We was indeed a prophet for a future that was not his own – and he faithfully believed and accepted that truth. May God grant me, and grant us all, the wisdom to accept it as well.