One of Theodore James Ryken’s most cherished prayers was: “O Lord I cannot understand your ways, but I must adore them.” I thought of this prayer during and after my experience of attending the 2012 Brothers Assembly in Bruges, Belgium.
I spent 13 years as a member of the Congregation, left and married my wife Gwen on July 13th, 1975. On our 37th wedding anniversary, we were on the plane to Bruges, the birthplace of the Congregation. I thought how ironic this was and how Ryken’s prayer took on a new meaning for me.
Bruges is a beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because the city has been preserved and restored to maintain its gothic, medieval architecture. And so with its cobblestoned streets, the city must have looked much as it did in 1839, and it was easy to imagine walking where Ryken walked as he thought, prayed, and planned how to establish his religious community. For me, there was something special, almost spiritual, about being there. I wondered during the quiet moments of the Assembly what Ryken would think today of the CongregaMon as we approach the 175th Anniversary of its founding. I think he would be proud and amazed at the thousands of lives that his band of brothers have touched and enriched through their ministries in Belgium, the Congo, Kenya, Haiti, and the United States (among other places).
During the Assembly we spent long days, hours of discussions, moments of prayer, and times of worship. I struggled with the goal set before us of re-‐articulating the charism of the Xaverian Brothers. For me one thing was clear, that charism is changing. For the first time in the history of the Congregation we are longer only vowed members, but also XBSS Collaborators, and now Xaverian Associates. I felt proud to be included in a new way as a member of the Xaverian family and hopeful that as we journey forward together we can mutually edify, enrich, and support one another
As meaningful as the Assembly was, there was something else that I carried away from Bruges that was far more important. Having been a member of the Congregation for 13 years and now working with Gwen on our Xaverian publications, I have always known about its international nature. Occasionally, I have met Brothers from Belgium and Africa, but I never before had the opportunity to spend a week praying, discussing, eating, and worshiping with them. What a wonderful opportunity that was! I now know these men and can understand better their struggles to live contemplative but active lives as Xaverian Brothers. I now know these men not just as a name or as a group but as true Brothers and friends of mine.
Of the all the thoughts and memories that I carry away from Bruges, it is these men and these memories that I treasure most.
As you no doubt already know, Richard is Co-‐Director of the Xaverian Brothers Associate Program.