A prayer attributed* to the late Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, begins:
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…
Romero was assassinated by a Salvadoran National Police death squad calling itself, “Little Angels.” The triggerman was the CIA trained and supported leader of the assassins, who shot the archbishop while he was saying Mass in a chapel surrounded by nuns. “You should have seen the blood that came from that priest!” he is quoted as saying later.
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…
Romero had organized a grassroots campaign to uncover the fate of thousands of missing Salvadorans, presumed to have been kidnapped and murdered by government agents. It was 1980 and a seething conflict within the country was about to explode as Ronald Reagan would pump more U.S. money, arms, and effort into El Salvador than had been done since Viet Nam. The military government, which controlled the country based on the interests of the wealthiest two percent, who also owned sixty percent of the land, was galled that Romero would bring the resources of the Church to witness for and attempt to protect the poor majority.
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…
Poking around for information about missing peasants was one thing, but when Romero issued a nationally broadcast radio sermon calling for Catholic members of the military to refuse to shoot their fellow countrymen and lay down their weapons, his heart became a target.
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.
Twelve years and seventy-five thousand deaths after Romero’s, the horrendously savage civil war came to an end, although its effects continue today, leading to a constant stream of immigration northward by those seeking safety. Our fingerprints and tax dollars are all over the carnage, something we should not conveniently forget.
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.
Vision and hope spring from the accumulation of ordinary small acts of love, planted in each and every moment, and which blossom to make for a better future. In the midst of turbulence and diatribe, we need to keep loving and sharing love – it will feed and nurture a future not our own.
*This prayer, while continuously associated with Oscar Romero, was actually composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI.