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“A Future not our own”

2 October 2011

One of my classes this semester is called Christian Ethics and Social Problems, which is essentially about how Christians through time have thought about how it is to address social issues. Given the problems I had with the model that was being employed last year, this class is serving as an academic marching grounds to play out the debates that I keep having with myself, and to problematize any solution I claim.

We spent time over the past two weeks studying the social gospel (Rauschenbusch), liberation theology (Gutierrez and Sobrino), and the Catholic worker movement (Day). By the end of the week, especially by the end of the discussion on liberation theology, I was feeling completely hopeless about my ability to do anything—the world’s problems being so large, and solutions so limited.

Then today, as I was perusing my quotes notebook on Evernote, I found the oft-quoted prayer of Óscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador:

It helps, now and then,
to step back and take a long view.
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.

After reading this, I felt freed to be able to do what I feel called to do, to see myself as a part of the grander story, and to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,” as St. Paul wrote in the portion of the Epistle to the Philippians read today.

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