“Prophets of a Future That Does Not Belong To Us”: Pope Francis Uses Prayer of Bishop Untener

Today Pope Francis gave the traditional address to the superiors of the Roman Curia. He cleverly developed the many aspects of mercy (in this jubilee Year of Mercy) with an anacrostic on the word misericordia (Latin for “mercy”). He concluded his address with a prayer sometimes attributed to Archbishop Romero but first spoken by Cardinal John Dearden.

As Rocco points out at Whispersthis prayer was in fact written by none other than Bishop Ken Untener – one of the most well-known of the liberal wing of the U.S. episcopate after Vatican II. Untener, Dearden, Romero – as Barry Hudock tweets, it’s a liberal trifecta.

Be that as it may, it sure is a beautiful prayer. Here it is.

Every now and then it helps us to take a step back
and to see things from a distance.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.

In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part
of the marvelous plan that is God’s work.

Nothing that we do is complete,
which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.

No statement says everything that can be said.

No prayer completely expresses the faith.

No Creed brings perfection.

No pastoral visit solves every problem.

No program fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.

No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.

This is what it is about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,
knowing that others will watch over them.

We lay the foundations of something that will develop.

We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.

We cannot do everything,
yet it is liberating to begin.

This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.

It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.

It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter
and to do the rest.

It may be that we will never see its completion,
but that is the difference between the master and the laborer.

We are laborers, not master builders,
servants, not the Messiah.

We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.



  1. The translation from English to Italian and back to English loses some of the grace of the original. Especially the last line, which should read “We are prophets of a future not our own.” Still, the sense is there. Very good sense. The Pope has excellent taste in spiritual writings!

    1. @Rita Ferrone:

      The translation from English to Italian and back to English loses some of the grace of the original.

      See, this would never have happened if whoever did the translation had followed Liturgiam Authenticam to a tee.


      Funnily enough, I rather like this version better than the original. To my ears, this sounds far more poetically promising (except yeah, maybe for that last line).

      Regardless, it’s fun to see where and how they differ, and speculate how such linguistic variations had come about.

      How does, for example, one go from this:

      “We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.”

      to this:

      “Mettiamo il lievito che moltiplicherà le nostre capacità.”

      to this:

      “We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.”

      It may be that we will never find out, eh?

  2. Thank you for sharing this profound reflection but please note that the Cardinal’s name is spelled Dearden, not Deardon. I am director of the John Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project and hope to have his works published to share his voice and his vision.

  3. prayer – NOUN
    1. a devout petition to God or an object of worship.
    2. a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.
    3. the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.
    4. a formula or sequence of words used in or appointed for praying: the Lord’s Prayer.
    5. a religious observance, either public or private, consisting wholly or mainly of prayer.

  4. Maybe it should be called a devotional, or a pious meditation. It’s like John Henry Newman’s “I am a link in a chain” quotation, which is reproduced sometimes on prayer cards. I don’t think it’s helpful to quibble about what to call it.

    I would ask, instead, whether the effect of saying these words together is prayerful, and brings us into an awareness of the presence of God. To those questions I would answer yes.

  5. I have loved this reflection for a long time, so it’s good to see it getting wider circulation – from Pope Francis, no less!

    Looking at the discussion, let’s read one another’s comments in the most favorable light. In his comment, Steven didn’t deny it was a prayer; he expressed a personal view that it was MORE of a poem. As others have noted, the two are not mutually exclusive. Some of my favorite prayers are poems.

    Here’s a suggestion for all readers: find one or two people with whom you can share the entire piece, or at least a couple of your favorite lines – it makes an excellent Christmas gift!

  6. It’s a good reflection for parenthood, too!

    Inquiring minds want to know how a prayer from Saginaw, MI made its way to an Argentinian pope. I suppose Francis may have thought he was honoring Archbishop Romero? But then how did it get from Saginaw to El Salvador?

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