￼￼From the Plan by Theodore James Ryken (ca. 1837-38)
Considering the fruit which the Congregation could produce with the help of God, we exclaim: What amazingly great good do we per- ceive in this lofty work if the Supreme Being is willing to give it His blessing! How many thousands of souls can be saved through it – people who are living now, their children and their children’s children! What holy works spring forth from this! How much can God be honored! What an amazing number of good things find their origin here! What a stream of spiritual treasures will flow, still a long time after our death, from this first source.
Let us direct our prayer to God, the sole giver and dispenser of all that is good. May He move you to dedicate yourselves to this work so as to participate in the wondrous fulfillment of His divine decisions for that part of humanity….
Let others exhaust themselves in the construction of costly houses and palaces, the establishment of theatres, ballrooms and lodges, the building of places of recreation and pleasure. Let them, at great expense, try to get – or even get – whatever their hearts want, whatever their yearnings may desire, whatever their desires may satisfy. Yet, which of these would give the slightest consolation at the coming of the Lord?
However, your action, dear Christians, by which you can promote the veneration of your God, His houses and institutions; by which you also have assembled His erring sheep – His untamed creatures who are often irrationally detested as peculiar beings by reasonable men – whom you have sought, found, caressed, and lifted up from the lowest squalor to become effective members of their society, of the true Church and heirs of heaven. This, we say, will guide and console you as a clear star so that, on the awesome day of the Lord, you can enter into eternal light, where all good and loyal servants of Our Lord will shine as so many suns from eternity to eternity.
Be, then, convinced of the large part that you will have in these good deeds, dear Christians. If you notice that your zeal is being stirred for this, for God’s sake let it not be weakened. You are losing nothing and your interest is one hundred to one! Amen.
“I fell in love”…. Deeply persuaded that God has totally accepted and unconditionally loved him, in spite of his evident imperfections and shortcomings, Ryken “plunged himself with confidence in the goodness of God.” However, his profound attraction to God was not a fleeting emotional experience.
In that overwhelming experience of God’s love, Ryken increasingly understood the depth of God’s love for those who have either not received His Word or been led astray by erring shepherds. In falling in love with God, the Founder’s “zeal was being stirred” by the very passion and compassion of “His Majesty.” This experience did not develop in one day. It took several years – with several faulty appraisals, unnecessary missteps, adventures in unfamiliar lands, and insults from skeptical clergymen – before Ryken comprehended the work that God has in store for him and his followers.
However, he beheld this vision “through a glass, darkly” – and this could be seen in his attempts to articulate the vision – often in a cumbersome manner – in the three Foundational Documents which he wrote from 1834 to 1839. Yet, despite the unwieldiness of these writings, one can perceive how not only the passion and compassion of God struck Ryken with awe, but also that God had entrusted him with this “lofty work.” And so he exclaimed: “What holy works spring from this! How much can God be honored!”
Ryken “fell in love” with God and, consequently, he heeded more attentively the voice of God stirring in his heart. Encountering God as he stood on “ordinary ground,” he became undistracted by the allurements which sidetracked the privileged and entitled: “Let others exhaust themselves in the construction of costly houses and palaces….Let them try to get – or even get – whatever their hearts want, whatever their yearnings may desire, whatever their desires may satisfy.”
As for ordinary persons who have fallen in love with God, the passion and compassion of the Beloved becomes their own. They understand that it is not only they that God loves and trusts unconditionally, but also those “who are often irrationally detested as peculiar beings by reasonable men.” These are those “who are separated and estranged from their own uniqueness, those who suffer from want, neglect, and injustice: the poor, the weak, and the oppressed of this world.” As God is passionate for them, so are “ordinary persons” who have “fallen in love” with God.
Close your eyes and, for a few moments, focus on your breath. Allow your mind to slow. Focus on the silence within.
God meets us in this silence. Often, as Ryken found, God reveals his love for us in this interior space. However, God is also met out in the world, in Creation, in the Other.
Maintain focus on your breath. Feel the air pass through your nostrils. Notice the sensation. Sense your body’s rest. Do you have any tensions? Aches or pains? Focus on trying to let them be. Just let them be present to your mind. Recall that mind and body are indivisably intertwined.
Can we be grateful for our aches and pains? Our minor sufferings? Without our bodies, without our sufferings how could we empathize with our neighbor? What is more ordinary than our fragility?
As you focus on any bodily aches or pains or sensations, call to mind an individual in your life that is suffering. Perhaps this person is estranged from their own uniqueness. Perhaps they suffer from want or neglect or injustice–however big or small. Maybe this person is poor or weak or in some way outcast or lonely. Place yourself in their suffering. Ask yourself, “is there something ordinary I can do to reveal God’s love to them?” A smile? An encouraging word? A helping hand?
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.