Founder's Week Prayer Service No. 3

Reading

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From the Scheme by Theodore James Ryken (ca. 1838-39)

It should be well established in the Constitution that the Brothers have sufficient time left for their own perfection [their own ongoing formation as persons *noteand spiritual exercises, and therefore not undertake any new house or mission unless it is possible to do so according to the above established way. This is indeed an important item, which should be given special attention.

Likewise, wise stipulations should be made in the Constitution in order to maintain the way of life stated above. It is indeed important and yet there is a great danger of losing sight of it. Consequently, from now on everything must be done and established in the Constitution that can prevent this danger.

In case all the above mentioned means are not available regarding quantity as well as quality, regarding places as well as persons, and as far as the latter are concerned,… then one should refrain from starting a new mission if one wants to avoid destroying the whole Congregation and perhaps promoting the loss of souls rather than their salvation.

Since this is so, one should make important arguments which should convince those who would try to discourage us from taking this perspective. By humble petitions we should request church authorities, who have the power to alter our Constitution, to not make any change regarding this item, not even under the pretext of doing good or of whatever necessity there may be. Too often, in fact, experience has proved the truth of this opinion.

Look at Jesus Christ himself spending thirty years in solitude and only three in preaching… One should not tell us that we do not need all this so badly…. Let us keep all this in mind, even when we have a good number of such Brothers, so that the care for one’s personal perfection may remain constantly alive. I do believe, indeed that a soul who has worked during many years for itself in a solitary corner, and gathered much spiritual riches, will afterwards convert many more souls than, perhaps one hundred others would do. 

*NOTE: From The Working Papers: “Lay theologian Michael Downey writes that spirituality, in the broadest sense, refers to ‘the experience of consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms… of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one person perceives.’ For Catholics in particular, Downey’s definition im-plies that spirituality is a person’s (1) authentic quest for the God revealed in Jesus Christ and experienced through the gift of the Holy Spirit within the life of the Church, and (2) a person’s deliberate and progressive pursuit to realize full integration through self-transcendence, i.e. the act of moving beyond a life centered on the ego and characterized solely by socio-historical pul-sations, survival instincts, and functional ends. This definition is consistent with the pre-conciliar understanding of religious perfection as ‘the union of the soul with God through charity.’

But Ryken understood that the life in common by itself is not an adequate safeguard for disposing his brothers to such a mode of presence. To serve properly the plan of ‘His Majesty,’ Ryken called each of them to forcefully work at their own perfection (note: union toward God through charity), for how will they inflame others if they themselves are not afire? Indeed, one usually produces that which is similar to oneself. [Plan, §18]”

 

Meditation

“I turned toward God”…. This action presupposes that a person is, first of all, firmly rooted in “ordinary ground.” It signifies persons who have accepted – if not, come to terms with – the personal charisms that God has entrusted to them and, in so doing, have become – or are in the process of becoming – “satisfied and most at peace with themselves.” Being thus, “they are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper” (Ps 1: 3).

Firmly grounded in the Providence of God and the ordinariness of their being, they become more and more undistracted by the allurements of the world and less deceived by its illusions. Indeed, they would perceive the presence of God, much as the Prophet Elijah did on Mount Tabor – not in a mighty gust of wind, not in a shattering earthquake, not in a searing fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence” (cf. 1 Kgs 19:11b-12).

“In silence.” Once the ego no longer gets between us and God, once our self-serving plans no longer vie with His – then there shall be silence. In that state, we will sense where God is and yearn for His coming.

The psalmists sang exquisitely of the longing of those who established themselves on the ordinary ground: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. When shall I come and behold Your face?” (Ps 42:1-2) “How long, O Lord? How long will you hide Your face from me?” (Ps 13:1)

One waits for God. We cannot demand that He be present according to our selfish terms. It is a painful wait, one that requires patience and perseverance from the ordinary person. It takes time, “sufficient time” as Ryken put it. And the Founder understood that developing such a capacity for waiting for God is so important that everything else should be abandoned for its sake.

For Xaverians, then, there is no project, no ministry, “not even the pretext of doing good,” that is far more important than their formation as women and men who are well-grounded in their ordinariness, even if it takes years to happen. The Founder offers Christ as the best example of this formation: “Look at Jesus Christ himself spending thirty years in solitude and only three in preaching.”

God would come, according to Ruusbroec, “like a flash of sunlight… elevating our spirit in the wink of an eye.” When He comes, the ordinary woman and man, undistracted and unburdened for they are satisfied and at peace with themselves, will be able turn to God with both attentiveness and ease.

 

Further Reflection

How do we personally turn toward God? Turn inward? To the silence? Have we put aside time to be with God, as Ryken insisted of his Congregation in the passage above?

The “flash of sunlight” experience that Ruusbroec speaks of is a common narrative; St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Demascus acheives this profile (Acts 9:1-19). But, can our spirit be elevated without turning in, toward God? Paul’s conversion took place while walking a long road. Was the execution of Stephen and Paul’s subsequent persucution of Christians (Acts 7:54-8:3) on his mind as he traveled? In Acts 26:14 Paul recounts the Voice saying “It hurts you to kick against the goads.” Was his hatred for the Christians vexing, even to himself? Did this vexation move him beyond himself?

Take a moment to listen to your own breath. Enter your interior silence.

Is there something inside that is keeping you from union with God? As with Paul, remember, it can be those things most vexing that open us to the light of God.

Remain in the silence. Bring to the silence that pain, that worry, that obsticle causing you discomfort.

What are some words or phrases that come to mind when you enter your interior silence? Please share those words or phrases in the comments section below.

 

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.

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

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

Grant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Click here to download a PDF of the Day 3 prayer service

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