In the previous reflection, we said that ordinary persons seek to know and nurture the gifts they possess – ones they would eventually give as a gift to others – in order to show their gratitude to God, who had graciously bestowed these gifts to them. The act of rendering to God what is due to God is the virtue of justice. Most of the time, we understand justice only in terms of a social project for re-creating a world marked by economic and relational imbalance. But this is not the kind justice that we are referring to in this reflection.
Ryken was accustomed to address God as “His Majesty.” It may come across to us as old-fashioned – a manner of speaking that has no place in a highly democratic century like ours. If I feel this way, however, I should ask myself if, unconsciously, I believe that God is – and should be – on the same level as me. There are forms of spirituality today that emphasize such a manner of relating to God: “Jesus is my friend,” “God and I are one.” While there are many who developed a relationship with the Transcendent through such spiritualities, we must also emphasize that this is not the spirituality that Ryken passed on to his sons and daughters.
Like Ryken, we are called to turn toward God and fall in love with God. When we do, we develop an intimate relationship with a God who constantly assures us (as Ryken had pointed out in his Report): “With eternal love, I loved you.” However, Ryken also understood that our response to that divine love is to give to God what is due to God. To do this, according to the Founder, one must have “sufficient time” for doing spiritual exercises. He would later specify what these are – observance of silence, spiritual reading, celebration of the Eucharist and other forms of ecclesial worship, retreats, and examination of conscience.
Even the way we comport ourselves while following these spiritual exercises should show that we truly believe that we are present not only before a God who loves us unconditionally, but also before a God – “His Majesty” – to whom I am not an equal. None of the exercises Ryken recommended are novel – and because of that they can rightly be considered as ordinary spiritual exercises for ordinary persons.
A Reading from our Xaverian tradition
It should be well established by the Constitution that the Brothers have sufficient time for their own religious perfection and spiritual exercises. They should therefore not undertake any new house or mission unless it is possible to do so according to this established way. This is indeed an important item, which should be given special attention. Wise stipulations should be made in the Constitutions to maintain this provision, because it is indeed important and there is always 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… including the proper selection of a brother’s confessor and spiritual director. In case one is not in such a position to fulfill these spiritual exercises, 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…. We should request church authorities, who have the power to change our Constitution, not to make any change with regard to this item, not even under the pretext of doing good or of whatever necessity there may be….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. (From the Scheme written by Theodore James Ryken, ca. 1838-39)
A reading from the Middle Dutch Mystical tradition
It should be known that the soul of a human person (or any creature) can never be one with God to such a degree that it is transformed into God or vice versa, as, for example, food and drink are transformed into human flesh and blood, or like the union of body with soul. That would be contrary to truth and to faith. There can never be a union of man with God in one person – that was only given to the human nature in our Savior Jesus Christ…. A human being is essentially other than God – in person, nature and being. [From “An Anonymous Treatise on Ruusbroec’s Teaching”, ca. 1440-1450]
Points of Reflection
1. The generous offering of our gifts to the world as a matter of justice to the One who is the Author of those gifts is not a straightforward matter. In truth, the authentic gift we are from God is often at variance with the values of the world and the various collectives in which we participate. What practices, individual and communal, do I follow in my life in order to appraise my true identity and gifts?
2. In particular how much of my day do I devote to the practices of stillness, prayer, reflection, and personal study? Living out of "the Ground" means to act in accord with the life and action of God in my life and in the world? Do I spend enough time in receptive attention to allow God to slowly transform my compulsive activity into responsive activity?
3. At the individual level, do I structure my day, that is do I establish a personal day order, that gives "sufficient time" (i.e. priority), to the listening, prayerful, and receptive stance? At the communal level, do we structure our living situations, our style of living, and our day orders in such a way as to foster the necessary simplicity, solitude, silence and shared conversation that foster personal and communal receptivity?