July 07, 2017
As people ask how things are going with The Human Thread, my most regular reply of late has been “trabajo de hormigas.” From Spanish, quite literally, it is “ant work.” The Chileans, among whom I most often heard it said, understand it to be meticulous work, slow work. Just as ants move small objects (although large in comparison to their bodies), the advancement of dignity, decent work, just wages, and workplace safety is slow in progress, but it has dramatic results in the lives of tens of millions around the globe.
Yesterday, it was announced that Cornell university cut ties with Nike. The result of a two-year campaign by students in Cornell Organization for Labor Action, this administration decision joins Cornell with Rutgers, Georgetown, UC Santa Barbara and Northeastern. This effort began when Nike refused to allow the Workers Rights Consortium to independently monitor its factories. It is pleasing to see Cornell University take these steps. Frankly, if other colleges and universities would stand by their values, the conditions for garment workers around the world will improve. For that matter, if we as consumers, demand better, more complete information and stand by our values, conditions will improve.
It is indeed slow, meticulous work, but we must savor the gradual growth of a movement in a genuine fashion makeover. We want a fashion makeover, not for some clothes that will be out of style in the fall, but for clothes made in justice. If we each do our part, we will achieve, together, a bold example of the “trabajo de hormigas.”
Perhaps it is worth sharing what is known as the Romero prayer.
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.
Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him. For more information, visit the USCCB.