Founder's Week Prayer Service No. 8

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From the Plan by Theodore James Ryken (ca. 1837-38):

Without a doubt, one is working according to the plan of Divine Providence by establishing a well-suited institution that adapts itself to the needs of the times in the Church…. We have conceived a plan to establish a Congregation of laypeople to propagate the faith and extend the Church…. In this Congregation one becomes a missionary, a follower of the Apostles, making so many beautiful sacrifices for God by leaving one’s fatherland, friends, and whatever is great. In this state, a layperson is lifted up to the religious state and trained to be a missionary in overseas countries. By becoming a member of this Congregation, a layperson gives more honor to God and renders better service to the Church.

Laypersons who belong to this Congregation are nearly the equal of priests. Both, indeed, see a large field that is widely open for their zeal; both have manifold motivations which inflame their hearts, urged by compassion, to start with the work of evangelization… But laypersons have humility in their possession. Thus, let them not complain about the lay state. Through it, they have humility, which is an easier and more certain way for achieving the conversion of others in the noblest way. Humility can do what honor and knowledge cannot – to move God to move souls. Rejoice, then, O layperson, because it seems that the Supreme Being found a means to satisfy your zeal for helping others and to make you rich in merits. If you feel a call to the religious state and for the conversion of others, you will find in this Congregation your destiny.

For greater encouragement, we will adorn this Congregation with the lofty name of Brothers of St. Francis Xavier, in order to become, through his example and intercession, real children and followers of this apostle of the gentiles and to walk in his footsteps. The name of this insatiable laborer for souls will indicate, with one word, what is intended for the Congregation. According to his example, you will not listen to the voice that says: “You can do good by remaining in this country.” Listen instead to this summons: “Go throughout the world and teach all peoples.” Follow the example of the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep ― an act which is even more important than leaving one’s fatherland and friends. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert to find the one which was lost? In the same way, if God is calling you to this life, leave the ninety-nine in the desert, in Europe, where so many are caring for them. Go to America – not however to seek the one sheep that is lost, but rather the thousands who are deprived of all help. Lead them back into the fold.



“I put myself in His service”…. Because he had fallen in love with the One who chose him despite his evident limitations, Ryken readily put himself at the service of “His Majesty.” With unusual courage and readiness to take risks, the Founder went as a layman to the vast American frontier where God had bidden him to go. He later began the Congregation in 1839, hardly thinking about the need for financial security and societal acceptance. He simply put himself at God’s disposal, armed with nothing more than the conviction, enthusiasm and commitment of his heart.

Ryken had come to know the depths in the ordinariness of his being. He understood that, for God, class and rank did not matter. What alone was important was to have one’s heart ablaze, ready to “start with the work of evangelization.” According to him, even laypersons who are situated on “ordinary ground” could draw others to the Word of God through their humble living. And when they live harmoniously with others, their life together becomes a gospel witness. Through it, God manifests in a powerful way His care and compassionate love for all of His creation.

Ruusbroec, the master of Middle Dutch mysticism, writes that only such ordinary persons could reach the highest level of the mystical life. This is to become “common persons” whose love “flows out to all in common” and who live as “willing instruments of God – through whom God does what He wants, and the way He wants.” They are ready to go wherever God bids them to proceed, allowing themselves to be given away as nourishment for a world that hungers for His Word.

In order for them to reach that mystical height, Ryken proposed that his followers “walk in the footsteps” of Saint Francis Xavier. In fact, they are to take the name of “this insatiable laborer for souls” as their own. With the word Xaverian to identify them, Ryken’s sons and daughters would recall God’s particular mandate for them at every moment: “Go throughout the world and teach all peoples.”

Yet God does not want “common persons” to be committed apostles only. According to Ruusbroec, “common persons” are real contemplatives, people for whom “both contemplation and action come readily and are perfectly at ease with both.” It is this lofty state which Ryken hoped his followers would achieve as they become more and more immersed in the life of the Congregation: “If it is God’s pleasure to lift our proposed plan to that very height that we intend, then its members will have the privilege of following both the lives of Martha and Mary.”

“I put myself in His service…” Xaverians are thus called to be constantly alert to God’s bidding. When God asks them to allow Him to become present in their lives, they simply put themselves in His service. It is by this act of self-giving that God becomes present to the world through them.


Further Reflection

God’s bidding often moves us beyond ourselves and into places and situations that are not often comfortable or familiar. And yet, we are equiped with the tools and talents to acheive something worthwhile in these moments of unpredictability. Often, we learn something about ourselves or others that would not have been brought to light in a more familiar circumstance.

In a reflection at the 2006 Assembly in Brugge, Brother Art Caliman, made the following observation about St. Francis Xavier and Ryken:

“The image of St. Francis Xavier continued to inspire Ryken and his followers to the point that it might seem to some that being ill-prepared and over-extended are truly part of our charism.  And to a point that is accurate.  Ryken, like Xavier before him, knew that there would always be reasons to settle in to the very good work that we do;  that there would always be good and reasonable objections to moving on right now;  that there would always be need for more planning and preparation.  But Ryken, like Xavier, was “insatiable,” even relentless, in his mission impulse – seeing people and places in desperate need of hearing the Good News of God’s love for them, he could not wait for a better moment.”

Sometimes we understand intimately where God is asking us to go. Our own desires point us there. But we cannot muster the will to move through the fear of failure, the unease of change, or the discomfort of the unknown. But do we have time to wait for a better moment?

Enter a place of silence. Notice your breath. Know that God holds you in being. You are loved.

Ask God where the Spirit is moving you. Maybe you already know. Take your fears to God. Recall God’s mercy and love. 

Being ill-prepared and over-extended is not always an acceptable or desirable position to be in. However, sometimes we allow our fears to convince us that we are ill-prepared and over-extended when we are not. When it comes to our encounters with other human beings, esspecially those who are marginalized, God has equiped us with the ability to love.

Today, love. You cannot wait for a better moment.



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 alwaysGrant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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