From the Plan by Theodore James Ryken (ca. 1837-38):
Since the only purpose of the Congregation is to promote the salvation of souls, and since we have applied ourselves in particular to be useful not only for the Indian children but also for other services in the American mission, therefore, in the motherhouse and in other communities, we will place the highest emphasis on ways and means that would achieve these objectives.
The first is that the brothers work vigorously at achieving perfection in Christ. For how will they inflame others if they themselves are not afire? Indeed, one usually produces that which is similar to oneself.
The second is that the members are in possession of such knowledge that goes together with the zeal of teaching others the chief principles of Christianity and that, besides this, they have the ability to educate children in the ways of virtue.
The third means is that the members have knowledge of the language of the people they have to educate.
The fourth means is that the Brothers should have the necessary capacities to guide the Indians and their children to work for their own livelihood. By doing so, they will help them to lead a steady life, guarantee their own salvation, and render their conversion more stable.
The Brothers should also have such capacities that will make them provide their house with temporal means.
These ways and means are nearly all interconnected. However, the first is of a more lofty nature and could achieve more effectively the congregation’s proposed goal. The others are less necessary.
We will try to form a stable source of income for the motherhouse in Belgium so we could primarily focus on the fulfillment of the congregation’s primary objectives: the conversion of souls and the expansion of the faith in America. But until this is certainly achieved, we should work with all our might to bring about the spiritual development of the members of the Congregation. They should be accustomed to prayer, meditation, frequent recollection, and asceticism. They should also be accustomed to a particular obedience, a zeal for souls, and the knowledge for furthering the salvation of others. Finally, they should also be well-instructed in pedagogy, which is so important and requires so much knowledge.
“I put myself in His service”…. Ryken and most missionaries of his time took upon themselves the responsibility for “saving souls” of unbelievers who were inevitably condemned to the fires of hell unless they accept baptism. It was an unquestioned belief, impelling zealous Europeans to cross oceans and brave the unknown in order “to convert souls and expand the faith.”
There were missionaries in that period who believed that their duty to God and their converts was merely sacramental. But there were those, like Ryken, who believed that working for the “salvation of souls” went beyond Christian worship and formalities. Ryken, a man of natural intelligence but of limited formal schooling, understood the work which God entrusted to him in the light of education – “training (the evangelized) to become well-developed Christians through the teaching of literature…. the training in handicrafts, trades, agriculture – whatever is useful for a person in secular society.”
However, the Founder differed from his contemporaries in one important regard. He did not see himself – or any of his followers – as a missionary on whom the evangelized would be totally dependent for everything. In his mind, “the Brothers should have the necessary capacities to guide (them) to work for their own livelihood.” It is they, not the missionaries, who would ultimately “guarantee their own salvation” by putting into use the gifts they have – gifts which the followers of Ryken helped them to discover and develop. Ryken understood that they, after all, are called to be heralds of the Good News to their communities. Thus, Xaverians enable the people they evangelize to recognize that “they too are called to experience, express, and share the love of God with the world through their own giftedness.”
“I put myself in His service….” In order for Xaverians to achieve the work God entrusted to them, they must have the capacity to reach out effectively to those they are serving. They must be able to speak “the language of the people,” careful not to impose myopic views on others but comprehending instead the world of the people they are serving. As God has leveled with them on their ordinary ground, so are Xaverians called to situate themselves at the level of the people they are serving for Him.
Above all, however, Xaverians are called to put themselves at the service of God not only in terms of their ministries, but also “at achieving perfection in Christ.” Ryken rightly observed that will not be able “to inflame others if they themselves are not afire.” Only by developing a strong spiritual life could they “achieve more effectively the congregation’s proposed goal.”
When the Apostles gathered after Pentecost–the commemoration of the giving of The Law to Moses–they had their own bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Flames came to rest on each of them. They spoke in tongues. The locals thought they we drunk! But they were energized to share their witness of Jesus Christ, each in their own unique tongue (See Acts 2:1-13). Ryken asks his Brothers to be open to the same Grace.
Come to a place of silence and rest. Notice your breathing. Notice the rythm of your heartbeat. Now, recall a time when you felt most energized, most passionate about what you were doing.
What are some ways you can encounter that passion and energy again? Is it easy? Or do you need to carve out time in your schedule for that activity? Know that God wants you there–afire.
Continue to hold these moments of deep passion and energy in your minds eye. Were you aware of Spirit’s presence there? Did you thank God for this grace?
Sometimes our passions are simple: a few moments of quiet as we wash the dishes; sharing a meal with friends. And sometimes they are more robust: teaching; feeding the poor; being a parent, a friend. Simple or rubust, God calls us through our passions to become afire. Seek ways to spend more time afire. Share your passion in the comments section below.
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.