A Reflection for Foundation Day – excerpt from the Conclusion to the Working Papers on Xaverian Spirituality, Life Form, Ecclesiality and Mission
On embarking (a) journey to our roots, our past – remote and proximate – re-appeare(s) before us – times of exultation and times of despair, moments of hope and anger, crises and crossroads, partial failures and successes. When we behold these glimpses of the past in anamnesis (sacred memory), we begin to see how they are interconnected with the deeper narrative of the brotherhood… and perhaps this interconnection begins to show us what our past and present are for, the deeper calling within them, and what our outstanding future as a brotherhood could be. Thus we gradually discover that our life has been going somewhere, however unaware we have been to its direction and however unhelpful to it we ourselves may have been. We find in anamnesis a connective thread that has been forming beneath the surface of our lives, revealing the congregational charism that has been trying to establish itself in our existence.
We Xaverians are sons (and daughters) of a man who beheld within him – once and continually – the crucible of human experience: certainty and uncertainty of one’s deeper calling; fidelity and infidelity to one’s resolution; satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the real.
Brother Ryken came to an awareness of a life direction for him (and his followers) – the non-dichotomized life of Martha and Mary, the ghemeyne leven – and aspired to achieve that lofty purpose. Incarnating that aspiration occurred, however, within the ground of his graced humanity. It was an “ordinary” graced humanity in two ways: (1) self-determined to be without privilege and entitlement, and (2) open to the constant yet quiet irruptions of God in the unspectacular flow of daily life.
The first way to ordinariness was a resolution he took on. It was difficult to make, but Ryken resolved to take it with “single intention”; the second way to ordinariness was the mystery he would be summoned to turn toward through all his life. It was difficult to make but Ryken was undoubtedly self-disposed to stand ready before the inscrutability of God’s ways and to rest in adoring them: “O Heere, ik kan Uw wegen niet begrypen, maar moet die aanbidden. (O Lord, I cannot understand your ways, but I must adore them.)”†
The (com)passionate fire of the Spirit which beguiled Ryken would be actualized over time by ordinary men like him. By living the vowed life in communities centered around the Word and worship of God, freely choosing an ordinary life that foregoes privilege and entitlement, and turning constantly toward God, these men would become a band of brothers in touch with and responsible for their giftedness and transformed into common men who would lead truly contemplative lives and who would mission beyond their comfortable worlds, locate themselves at the margin of the margins, and form the inhabitants of these margins to discover their own giftedness.
The six men who helped Brother Ryken realize the Spirit’s deeper summonses and persevered in the Life to the end were unmistakably ordinary as he was… . It is with these ordinary men that we, present-day sons (and daughters) of Ryken, find our life narratives intertwined. From their stories and of the men who followed them – those whose memories we continually bless as well as those whose memories are continual warnings – we find the reasons for what we have become today as a congregation. What was true for our predecessors is true for us too, for we remain that band of brothers summoned by the Spirit to go out to the world, crossing boundaries, widening frontiers, educating within spaces both familiar and unknown. Their history, thus, is our on-going story….
†Letter of T.J. Ryken, Brugge, to Marie-Jeanne de Knyff, baroness d’Osy, Deurne, 20 September 1843. Copy boek der brieven, 1: 4.