by Andrea Noel
At a recent visit to my alma mater, I encountered a group of students who chose to participate in the annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program. ASB is a weeklong service learning experience that students voluntarily substitute for entertaining vacations during spring break. ASB is spread nationally and internationally, involves graduates and undergraduates, and responds to the needs of marginalized populations.
Throughout the week, students live together and work in teams at various sites providing services to forgotten residents in local communities. Each day, they reflect on their encounters at these sites. During my visit with the Washington D.C. ASB team, I witnessed meaningful thoughts students shared about people they met at schools, homeless shelters, and hospices.
One particular student shared that there exists this overwhelming need for change in the world. In Washington D.C. there are too many homeless people, individuals dying of AIDS/HIV, children abused and neglected, schools closing and over-crowded, violent crimes increasing, and fixed unemployment rates. This student said it seems impossible for one week of service to make any difference in the lives of individuals who encounter so much scarcity, violence, or disregard. The student believed the work of the week seemed hopeless.
After hearing this, I recalled a prayer attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero. This prayer was written by Bishop Ken Untener, of Saginaw, November 1979, in celebration of the lives of departed priests.
“…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…the Kingdom always lies beyond
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith…
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission…
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 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.”
May this prayer shape our ways of being present to those we serve as pastoral counselors and spiritual caregivers. Although problems around us seem monumental, let us do whatever we can with love and care.
 Untener, K. (1979) Archbishop Oscar Romero prayer: A step along the way. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/archbishop_romero_prayer.cfm