In an earlier reflection on Xaverian Spirituality, we noted that ordinary persons show gratitude to God by discovering and accepting the gifts God had entrusted to them and nurturing these well. What this implies for us Xaverians is quite important: if spirituality refers to the ways and means employed by persons to achieve union with God, then the sons and daughters of Ryken cannot attain divine intimacy unless they are in touch with their personal charisms and foster them well.
The Founder understood that his followers, in being individuated, i.e. women and men who nurture the unique gifts given to them, would render the justice that is due to God. However, he was also very clear that they should guard against any inclination to become individualists, i.e. persons who are primarily concerned with their own plans and personal development that they have little or no consideration for the interests of those in their immediate society (family, religious congregation, etc.). While in touch with their gifts, individualists would develop these to achieve their own life goals.
Ryken was particularly fearful that individualism could corrupt the religious life form he envisioned for them, especially as it was a strong inclination in the country where he intended to mission them: “America is a large and extended country, where often missionaries are at great distances one from the other. Consequently, he who works alone is too much left to his own self. Being without any rule, superiors and confreres who look after him, he is in the greatest danger to suffer shipwreck, living among all kinds of worldly people. Among these people he hears hardly anything except that which is harmful….They detest those who remain unmarried and often urge them to marry, telling them in earnestness that this is more in agreement with reason.” He ended these musings with the following conclusion: “The person who is working in the missions without the bond of obedience, is tempted to be independent and become his own master, encouraged by the examples of the non-religious around him, as well as by his own sinfulness. He would do this even while arguing that he is doing something that seems to be good.”
Xaverianism calls a brother, associate or collaborator in ministry to move away from a vision of oneself as being the center of the world. It is a call to move away from the egoistic “I,” “me,” and “mine” to the other-oriented and communal “we,” “our,” and “ours.”
A reading from our Xaverian tradition
To be alone, without any advice, conversation, or help in spiritual and corporal needs; to live in distant places far from others and often in difficult conditions, without belonging to a band of Brothers who mutually help, encourage and edify one another and work together; to live, finally, without a Rule which has been well planned and composed for this particular lifestyle – all these contain so many dangers.
[From the Plan written by Theodore James Ryken, ca. 1837-38, §60]
A reading from the Middle Dutch Mystical tradition
Every Christian with a pure heart must abandon himself and commit himself to God and not to himself…. Man is corrupted by the honors, favors, and especially the greed that drives everyone. He becomes so tainted and enflamed that his ordinariness is forgotten and his giftedness infected. He no longer looks to the things of God, of virtue or of bodily good…. Spend no time for the pursuit of your advancement. It is all useless waste of time, and of no profit for life.
[From Resolutions and Intentions, by Geert Grote, ca. 1374]
Points of Reflection
- Ryken warned his followers against the temptation to determine life for himself or herself without regard for the members of his immediate community. How is this warning relevant to my life as a Xaverian in our highly individualistic Late Modern global society?
- Personally, is it a challenge for me to differentiate “being individuated” and “being individualistic”? Where do I feel my heart being pulled at this point in my life?