September 8, 2014 | The Nativity of the Theotokos
Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
Proficiat to everyone! This year we celebrate our 175th Anniversary as a Congregation. What are we celebrating? Let’s go back in time to our roots to discover the answer to this question.
The year is 1839. It is June in Bruges, Belgium. June 15th to be exact. It’s a day filled with God’s grace. It’s also a rainy morning. Clouds are blowing in from the North Sea. We see Theodore James Ryken enter a small house painted white on Ezelstraat. He appears filled with joy. His step is light. We discover the reason for his joy. His dream of founding a new way to live the Gospel is partially realized. Bishop Boussens of Bruges, at the recommendation of the Redemptorist Fathers, has given him permission to start a congregation of laymen, Brothers. Its purpose is the sanctification of the members and that of their neighbor. Bishop Boussens helped Ryken acquire this a humble residence.
As we watch Ryken come and go, he appears agitated, on edge. His joy seems to dissipate. We find out that he is waiting for his first candidates to arrive. The sun sets. June 15th comes and goes. There are no candidates. We see through the window of a candle lit front room. Ryken is sitting there. Alone. Pensive. Disappointed. Sad and lonely. His thoughts retrace his recent past. He recalls the joy of his two years in the Trappist monastery. Then came Napoleon’s ban of religious life. He thinks of his mother who recently passed away. Now he is alone. The time spent with the Redemptorists is most recent. They encouraged him to follow his dream. This is a time of God’s grace.
June 16th arrives. The sky is steel blue. The rain has passed. Ryken comes out of the house. Joy has returned to his face. “They certainly will be here today,” he thinks to himself. He becomes more anxious as the day ends. No candidates. Through the candle lit window, we see him reading what appears to be a Bible. “Trust in The LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.” He sits quietly. He learns to trust.
June 17th arrives. We see Ryken pacing in front of the house. Lively step. Noon comes. Then sunset. No candidates. Disappointed, sad, lonely, reflective. “Should I have rejoined the Trappists in Switzerland?” he says to himself. Again through the candle lit room, we see him sitting with the Bible. “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” Ps. 18:2. He sits quietly in contemplation. He learns to trust.
The same scene occurs on June 18 and June 19. Finally on June 20, an exuberant and enthusiastic Ryken greets the 34 year old Willem Duchateau, a tailor, and the 30 year old Lambert Smisdom, a weaver. The two candidates make Ryken’s vision of a band of Brothers a reality. The evident poverty of the community did not discourage this small band of Brothers, but rather impelled them to learn some key elements of community: prayer, trust in God and each other and the need to work together for the common good.
We celebrate the 175th Anniversary of our very humble beginnings recalling Ryken’s simple faith, his example of contemplation and prayer, his learned trust and his ever present zeal for the life. In the remaining months of 2014, I am asking each of our regions for find appropriate ways to recall and to reverence our deep story and to share it with our lay Associates, Collaborators and our school communities.
This is indeed a year of celebration! Starting in November, 2014 through February, 2016, we are invited to celebrate the place of Consecrated Life in the life of the Church. There are three focal points to the celebration: a grateful remembrance of our past; embracing the future with hope; and living the present with passion. The real challenge is the latter. These are powerful focal points for our prayer, reflection and renewal as an apostolic congregation. Again I am asking each of regions to find appropriate ways of do what the entire Church is being called to do in the course of the next year. Our sponsored schools will also celebrate the year in ways appropriate to today’s adolescents.
Both the celebration of our 175th Anniversary as well as the celebration of Consecrated Life are two concrete ways for us to start reflecting on the Directive of the 27th Chapter that calls us to renew and revitalize our community life and spirituality.
When I contemplate our founding story, I am inspired by Ryken’s faith, perseverance, trust and zeal for the life he was trying to birth. I am encouraged by the willingness of Willem and Lambert to share Ryken’s vision and make his vision their way of relating to the Church and world. I am equally inspired because the beginnings were very humble. The poverty in which the Brothers lived was very stark and would be for the next one hundred years in the life of the Congregation. There is a lesson in their story. Simply these Brothers, whether living and ministering in Bruges, Bury, England or Louisville, Kentucky made do with what little material possessions they had. And they did great things for the Church. It was not possessions that established our congregation’s mission. It was passion for the gospel of Jesus.
My meditation has been returning to these central questions, “How willing am I (are we) to make do with what material possessions we presently have?” “Do I (we) live in conformity with what our charism calls us to? Humility and simplicity?” “What type witness are we giving the Church today whether we live and minister in Bolivia, Haiti, the USA, Belgium, England, Congo, Sudan or Kenya.” “How do we as a congregation witness to the joy of the gospel?”
Lastly we celebrate our Brothers. For the past sixty years or so, September the 8th, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, has been the entrance date for very many Brothers. So a warm Proficiat to each of you for your faith, your perseverance, your trust in God and your zeal for the way of life that is the gift we received and the gift you have been giving as a gift with great fidelity to our Founder. The Greek Orthodox Church uses the title Theotokos for Mary--the bearer of God. It is my prayer that each of us, in imitation of Mary’s humility, simplicity and trust, continues to be bearer of God for each other, for those with whom we minister, for those to whom we minister and for our Church and world. I pray also for our renewal of zeal for our way of life. Our deep foundation story inspires much hope as we try to live the present with passion and embrace the unknown of the future with hope.