Founder's Week Prayer Service No. 1

Death Anniversary of Theodore James Ryken (1871)


Reading

From the Autobiography of Theodore James Ryken, our founder (ca. 1871)

The Holy Spirit is an admirable artist. He is bound by neither rules nor models, and He works where and how He wills. Of the winds we do not know where they are going. It is quite the same with the Divine Spirit.

If one were to detect the origin of this congregation down to its deep roots, (recall that) these same roots become as thin as very thin hair. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find their first seed.

I led a worldly life from my fourteenth or fifteenth year until about the age of nineteen when, after powerfully being put in my place, I turned toward God, fell in love, and put myself in His service. I felt strongly inclined to works of penance and to prayer, and to avoid all social interaction with my worldly companions.

Thanks to the reading of good books, I finally felt an inclination to a solitary, penitential, and contemplative life. In order to reach that goal, I adjusted my way of life in the world completely to the same purpose, so that it could serve as a preparation. Moreover, I made several attempts to enter a monastery, particularly that of La Trappe. This inclination was also much stimulated by a saintly Trappist brother who, on the suppression of his monastery, had been obliged to live in the world, close to my village of Nieuwkuijk, and I went often to see him.

For some four years, I made many and strong attempts to enter it, yet everything remained in vain. The conditions of the Netherlands, in which all religious orders were forbidden to exist, and also a bodily defect, were as many obstacles preventing me from reaching my so much desired goal.

In the meantime, I was asked to instruct the children in Christian doctrine, like the Chapel Ladies are doing here in Belgium. My confessor, a saintly old Capuchin said: “This is perhaps the thing for which God has destined him, meaning the instruction of children.” I however accepted this as nothing but as a matter of secondary importance, not intending to devote my whole life to it, intending always to strive after my first purpose.

 

Meditation

“I was powerfully put in my place”…. these words can strike us with dread. To many, the phrase suggests an act of humiliation – either private or public – or of being removed from a place of our own choosing to a situation that we worked hard, even for a lifetime, to avoid. But such is not the “place” that Ryken was referring to.

In the Middle Dutch mystical tradition, “to be put in one’s place” primarily refers to a return to the sacred ground from which every human being emerged: be they affluent or poor, white or black, well-educated or not. This ground is God, the very origin of our being – in whom all things originate, and without whom nothing has meaning. “To be put in my place” is to acknowledge that ultimately we – in spite of all we have achieved by the sweat of our brow – remain dependent upon God.

This, however, is not the direction where our global culture pulls us. Today, we idealize too much the rugged individualist – the woman or man characterized by self-determination and autonomy. Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with being such a person. Stretched to the extreme, however, the individualist would prefer to be alone – unable to appreciate the need for the help, encouragement, and edification of others, averse to working together with others.

Ultimately, the individualist would question the need for God in his or her life. To them, trusting in the “Providence of God” may be nothing more than a pious or naïve sentiment. In their mind, God has left us to ourselves – and this gives them the justification to work hard – even for a religious project or purpose – but without any reliance on God.

“I was powerfully put in my place….” Ryken never really revealed what precise event or events brought about this experience. And it would be nothing more than a futile or vain exercise to speculate on what actually happened to him. What matters is the outcome of these events on our founder when he was a nineteen-year-old apprentice.

He had come to an awareness – a powerful awareness, in fact – of his need for God and God’s reign over him. In the depths of his being, he may have understood God’s words to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

“I was powerfully put in my place….” God in His goodness reminded me that I have come from Him… and to His Majesty I must return.

 

Prayer

Loving Father who reigns over all,
as we commemorate these days the memory of your servant Theodore James Ryken,
grant us, his followers,
a renewed understanding
of your deeper calls
to our religious family.

Giveus the courage and vision
which you have graced our Founder,
to overcome our present fears and limitations.

Mayour daily labors
contribute to the realization of your Kingdom
today and for always.

Grant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Click here to download the Founder’s Week Day 1 Prayer Service PDF

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