One of my favorite prayers is the Prayer of Oscar Romero. The irony of this prayer is that it was never spoken by Romero, it was actually written by Saginaw Bishop Ken Untener for Detroit Cardinal John Dearden in 1979. The one who wrote it is not the one who spoke it, and the one who spoke it is not the person credited with it. This backstory is most appropriate as you reflect on the words of the prayer.
It seems everyone wants instant answers and wants to be right. We see this now in the debate about going back to school. If you open to full-day in-person learning, you are jeopardizing public health and putting teachers at risk. If you keep kids home, you are killing the economy and setting kids behind. In this binary argument, no one wins. The result in many places is that decisions are made attempting to navigate between these two ends. The result satisfies no one and is a reaction to these binary choices as opposed to a response to the challenge. This would be a great time to take a step back, and as the prayer says, "take the long view."
The students and schools we serve are facing significant pressures, and the need for assistance is at historic levels. The risk of reacting to this situation is great. However, the Catholic Schools Foundation is obligated to respond and not react. We owe this to the students and schools we serve, and to the donors who entrust their resources to us. Good decisions cannot be made reacting to panic and fear. Decisions must be made with facts and with hope and faith. This is how the Catholic Schools Foundation best serves its mission, and it seems to be working.
Over the summer, the Catholic Schools Foundation provided an additional $500,000 in emergency and retention aid to families struggling financially during this pandemic. These were not just the poorest of the poor families, but these were some previously middle-class families who are now facing financial insecurity as they were laid off or their business was shut down. They just need a little help as they get back on their feet and are struggling to keep their child in a Catholic school. These efforts are paying off. Families are feeling confident to send their children back and taking this pressure off of families as they look to recover from these last few months. This would not be possible without the support of our generous donors. Every gift matters, and this is true more than ever.
We do not know what the start of the school year will bring, but we know that the Catholic schools will be there with these families, providing the high quality education for which they are known. This is possible because families are committed to Catholic education; teachers, pastors and principals have given tens and hundreds of hours to prepare for the opening of the year; donors have stepped forward to support our work to be able to help provide for families during these times. These people have all taken the "long view," and we are grateful.
As we start the school year in the coming weeks, continue to battle this pandemic and look towards the upcoming election, I will be reflecting on this prayer often -- praying that we at the Catholic Schools Foundation can continue to "plant the seeds that will one day grow."
Prayer of Oscar Romero
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.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.