My wife and I got our second Moderna vaccinations last week. When we got home from the clinic, we gave a cheer and said now, at last, we can look forward to being again with family and friends. The Covid-19 pandemic, in our area, increased rapidly in March–April 2020. That is when we went into our Covid-19 retreat. We got our supply of face masks. No more visits. No more classes. Carefully sanitized grocery shopping.

The Covid-19 pandemic at home and around the globe has been a strong reminder of the fragility of human life as well as of our interdependence and need for one another. 

These past months I have done a lot of reading, thanks to Kindle,….and a lot of thinking. It has been much more than an old-style forty-day retreat. We have had more than a year of topsy-turvy polarized politics, topsy-turvy polarized religion, and a lot of just plain nonsense and irresponsibility about Covid-19 precautions.   

Occasionally various lines from a reflection, written by an old Michigan friend, Ken Untener, the fourth Bishop of Saginaw, kept popping onto my head. He had often told me: “It helps, now and then, to step back.” On Covid-19 retreat, and now as we look toward better days, Ken’s words offer wisdom and reality. Ken’s reflection, titled “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” is my Another Voice post for this week:

It helps, now and then, to step back

and take the long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is 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 another 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 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 effects 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 God’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.


“Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” is an excerpt from a homily given by Cardinal John Dearden (1907 – 1988), and written for him by then Father Ken Untener. The occasion was a Mass for deceased Detroit priests on October 25, 1979. Ken Untener was named Bishop of Saginaw in 1980.

On March 27, 2004, Bishop Kenneth Edward Untener, Bishop of Saginaw, died of leukemia. He had been my older seminary classmate at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit: he in college and I in high school. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1963. Two years later, seminarian John Dick was sent by his bishop to study in Louvain. Years later Ken became my contemporary church hero as well as my good friend. On occasion we even shared the same stage as speakers at catechetical and continuing ed conferences.

Ken Untener’s death on March 27th at age 66 coincided with my 61st birthday. His death on my birthday touched me deeply. 

Yes indeed….It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. We plant seeds that one day will grow.

  • Jack

13 thoughts on “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

  1. Jack,

    Excellent thoughts for our current times as we step back and take a long view.

    Bishop Untener himself was a true prophet who did not see the results of his work. He and his prophetic words are sorely missed.

    Dennis Wasco

  2. Dear Jack,
    Again you have written consoling words. It helps me to remember that I don’t have to accomplish anything that I can see to have made a difference. Just by “keeping on keeping on” is part of a plan bigger than I even need to know. I am so thankful that the likes of Ken Untener and Jack Dick come into our lives to validate that it’s okay to not know the answers but to just continue to take steps on the journey. It all somehow fits.

  3. Ken Untener was part of a generation of pastorally-minded bishops, a great gift to the Church in the U.S. If this sort of appointments to leadership could happen once, it can happen again. Let’s keep hoping.

  4. This article is a wonderful reminder of past days in the Archdiocese of Detroit when we actually dreamed of a different church. Unfortunately with the death of both Deadon and Untener the church experience in both Detroit and Saginaw has regressed. But we can still pray for a different future.

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