Oscar Romero: Ministers, not Messiahs

by maggi dawn

It is the anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s death. Romero was shot in 1980 while he was saying Mass, in a church in San Salvador, and the world has not forgotten his cheerful humility, and his transparent commitment to living out the gospel he preached, in circumstances that were far from easy.

There is a prayer that is almost always attributed to Romero, and it reflects the Church’s memory of Romero so well it is not surprising that many have come be believe he wrote it himself.  Reportedly, though, Romero himself neither wrote nor said the prayer. The words were spoken in a homily given by John Cardinal Dearden in November 1979, at a Mass for deceased priests, and the words were drafted for Cardinal Dearden by Ken Untener, Bishop of Saginaw. The aptness of their sentiment quickly attached themselves to commemorations of Romero the following year, and so the prayer has come to be known as “Archbishop Romero’s Prayer”.

They are inspirational, liberating words, and an ongoing encouragement not to be overwhelmed by what cannot be achieved, but to work faithfully on the small task we find, in whatever corner of the world we find ourselves. “We cannot do everything… We are ministers, not Messiahs.” A fitting tribute to Archbishop Romero, who by all accounts would wish for no other legacy than to know that others continued the work of living and preaching the peace, liberation and justice of the gospel. Thank you, Oscar Romero. And thank you too, Ken Untener.

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 programme 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.