Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.
Henry David Thoreau
Brothers Paul van Gerwen, Augustine, Polycarp, and Sebastian left us a rich spiritual legacy. The legacy is not only about the foundation of Saint Mary’s, but also about the shaping of our Xaverian spirituality. These men formed a small band of Brothers. Each Brother stood ready to answer God. Each desired to make himself available for God so that God could be more present in his life and through the life of the small band of Brothers to the world.
As we turn toward the future, will we find our truest life, as Thoreau suggests, by being awake in our dreams? Are will willing to share our dreams? Do the dreams ask us to stand ready and to make ourselves available so God can be more present through us to the world? Can we truly embrace the future with hope if we do not take risks as our early Brothers did?
In 1866, this simple band of Brothers did one thing. They responded to a real need in the Church. This small band deeply desired to bring the hope of Christ to poor families. Their world would become poor children, largely orphans, in Baltimore. The price of this pearl was real. Each Brother was asked to leave the familiar and comfortable. Three were Europeans, one American. They would move from Louisville and Bruges to embrace their unknown future with hope, in Baltimore.
What are the needs today that the Church is having trouble serving? In the USA and Belgium, how can we, given our ages and health, let God be more present in our lives and through us to people in need? In the West, I am convinced there is still something we can be doing together for those in need. In our younger regions, what are the most pressing needs in Congo or Kenya? How can the Brothers in those regions work together as a Congregation to bring the hope of Christ to the poor? In embracing our future with hope, we are, I believe, simply living our spirituality. Are you willing, like our early Brothers, to dream and to be awake in our dreams? Like our early Brothers, are we willing to leave the familiar and comfortable to embrace the unknown future?
Embracing the future is not simply about ministering to people with needs. We are not an NGO. The early Brothers knew this. Whether in Bruges, Manchester, Louisville or Baltimore, these bands of Brothers learned how to mutually help, encourage, and edify one another. They learned to work together. (FP) What impelled these Brothers to embrace the unknown challenges of the future? What inspires people today to be in community with each other?
To embrace the future with hope, it seems to me that we also have to embrace the depth of our communal spirituality. It is the communion with the living God which is at the heart of your life (FP).
Paul van Gerwen’s influence on the small band of Brothers, whether he was with the small band in Louisville, Manchester, England, or Baltimore is profound. I believe his influence on our spirituality is also profound. Contemporaries noted Paul as a very spiritual man. His peacefulness, faith and love of Christ were his hallmarks. In his time, our Constitution called each Brother to a twofold purpose as a religious: personal sanctification and the sanctification of others. Paul’s understanding of this twofold purpose is quite evident. In Paul’s Annual Report in 1868 we read:
…we aim also to train the pupils’ hearts to virtue, and thus to form them in those virtues which will make them good citizens, by first making them good Christians. We are happy to be able to report that their progress in learning has been satisfactory, while their general good conduct has come up fully to the standards of our reasonable expectations.
Of the four Brothers in the small band during the foundation of Saint Mary’s, three knew the Founder personally. They would have known that Ryken wanted his Brothers to “…make God’s word their home…to spend time each day in solitude and prayer opening themselves to God’s living word… and to enter into an intimate relationship with God…” Ryken desired his Brothers to unite contemplation and action. Ryken desired a community of religious Brothers…who would participate in the Church’s mission through a life of gospel service lived in solidarity and availability among the people (FP). As we embrace the future with hope, are we awake in Ryken’s dream of the power of a community in mission.
Our Founder’s vision of a “community of laymen who as religious brothers would be sent as missionaries to the world—especially to the poor, the weak and oppressed…” (FP) is the product of his imagination having been captured and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. As we embrace the unknown and difficult challenges of the future, hope impels us to be bold and to let the Spirit lead us to new life as the Spirit did to the Brothers at Saint Mary’s. What is capturing our imagination today?
Our history has shown us that a small band, being of one mind and one heart, whose imagination is inspired by the Spirit, can do wonders in bringing the Lord to others and others to the Lord.
Ted Dunn, Ph.D., of Comprehensive Consulting Service, who does a lot of consultation for religious congregations, challenges us with the following quote: “When a community has more memories than it does dreams, it is dying.” Dunn goes on and asks a number of questions. What kind of dreams might you want to share? What do you want to do just for the love of it? What would you love to do not only because it brings us new life, but also brings a smile to God’s face? Will we let the Spirit capture our imagination as Ryken did, as Paul van Gerwen did and the many who have gone before us?
Do we dare dream? Could a small band, perhaps a Brother, an Associate, a Volunteer or Collaborator come together for a set period of time to live our spirituality in an intentional way while serving a real need in the local church? Could an existing community invite an Associate or Collaborator to be a part of a deliberate outreach to those in need in their parish? Could an existing community open its doors periodically as a place of solitude and prayer for neighbors or alumni of our schools? Could we form a volunteer community that is centered in prayer and community? Could our USA communities twin with own of our African communities for prayer and fraternal support other than financial?
Will we let the Spirit capture our imagination?
Will we be awake in our dreams of the future?
Will we be bold enough to let the Spirt lead us?
Will we stand ready to respond?
Will we be perseverant enough to kindle and rekindle the flame past to us?
Will we, as Brothers, Associates, and Collaborators, embrace the future together?
Thank you for sharing the spirit of Brother Paul and other pioneer Brothers that made Saint Mary’s and the Xaverian charism a reality. It’s nice to see that our Brothers are being honored today with Brother Lawrence in St. John’s, Brother Charles in the Mount and Brother Moses in Nairobi. March on, God will provide!