by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
There is a quote, ascribed to Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero, which says:
“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 realizing that.”
These words clearly were meant to describe the thousands of Salvadorans – in particular Romero himself – who were struggling so desperately for justice there. They speak of striving for what Pope Francis calls “Social Ecology”. That is, the interconnectedness of our entire environment – economic, political cultural and religious.
An all-important dimension of Social Ecology is WAITING. In fact, another similar “Romero” quote states: “It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.” From that will come “a sense of liberation” resulting from this attitude of waiting, of quiet, of “esperanza” (translated in Spanish as not only waiting but convinced hope).
In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis goes on at some length in this regard. “Christian spirituality,” he writes, “incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity… We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity which is quite different from inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working which forms part of our very essence. It protects human action from being empty activism…” (LS #237)
We know, however, that rest, deliberate quiet, stillness do not come easily in modern (especially American) society. We live and participate in a frenetic environment with its hyper-stimuli driven by 24/7 news cycles. We live in a noisy world and feel that we must always be “doing something”. While for most of us this “doing” is aimed at entirely worthwhile outcomes, nevertheless our intense ways of going about it are unsettling and nerve-wracking.
There is a reason why God imposed Sabbath commands early in Salvation History:
- Rest for humans, animals and the land every seven days. “For six days work may be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest.” (Leviticus 23:3)
- A Sabbatical year every seven. “For six years sow your fields and for six years prune your vineyards and other crops… But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath.” (Leviticus 25 3-4)
- A Jubilee Year once in every fifty. “This fiftieth year…shall be a jubilee for you…you shall not sow, nor shall you reap…” (Leviticus 25:10-11)
Aside from a God-given mandate, intentional resting results in physical, mental and emotional well-being. There is no need to belabor this point. It is clear and is a major part of the advice given by every doctor, psychologist and counsellor. The challenge is to get down and do it. It is to do what the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutierrez, used to tell us: we need to waste time actively. He was convinced that every worthwhile action requires a clearly thought-out theory. Rest gives us the time and space to “theorize”.
Finally, stepping back regularly to take the long view is an act of humility. To quote once again from the statement ascribed to Saint Romero:
“WE ARE WORKERS, NOT MASTER BUILDERS, MINISTERS, NOT MESSIAHS. WE ARE PROPHETS OF A FUTURE NOT OUR OWN.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.