Irish Holy Family Lay Associates Annual Assembly.

| September 2nd, 2010

Irish Holy Family Lay Associates Annual Assembly took  place in Emmaus, Swords, Co. Dublin on Saturday 25th September. Everyone who attended enjoyed the day.

Sr. Catherine gave the following presentation  based on Article 84 from ‘A Way of Life’:   “Lay Associates are pledged to live the spirit of the ‘Family’ of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles… share in the life of the local Church … bear witness to community and unity … meditate on and pray the word of God…deepen their Eucharistic life,  share actively in the meetings of the group …”

The presentation, for the most part, was in the form of a dialogue with the Assembly.

Catherine began by referring briefly to the nature and meaning of a commitment or pledge. In making a commitment we are trying to influence the future. We are assuring God, ourselves and others that, trusting in God’s promises to us, we will remain faithful. The ultimate meaning of the promise I make today can be clear only at the end of my life, and the meaning of my life at the end will be different because of the promise I make today. We consider commitment as total when it somehow involves the whole person of the one who makes it. These are the commitments that constitute fundamental life-options – e.g. marriage, religious life, priesthood, etc. Within this commitment it is possible to make a further commitment to give a special focus to one’s life and to adopt a particular spirituality to sustain and nourish us. Holy Family Lay Associates commit themselves to follow the Holy Family Way of Life. where they find spiritual nourishment for their faith journey.

Examples were given of responses given by lay people who said where they find nourishment:

  • The Scriptures: “The Four Gospels nourish my spirit more than anybody or anything else.
  • John O’Donohue’s books and poems referring to God’s presence: “Nature is the oldest Scripture… It holds the first encounter of light and darkness, earth and water, fire and air… the Poet-Carpenter who loved the earth found his vision in the ‘lonely places’.
  • The Eucharist – the self-giving of Christ.
  • “Being a Christian touches every part of my life.”
  • The memory of parents who were honest, upright, God-fearing and hardworking
  • The poetry of Patrick Kavanagh
  • The prologue to John’s Gospel
  • Extraordinary people – e.g. Gordon Wilson, Jean Vanier
  • Music


(Defining ‘spirituality’ as a way of living in relationship with God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the members of the Assembly were invited to share briefly with the people near them re situations, people, experiences etc. where they found nourishment for their faith journey.)

Catherine then spoke of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles – referring to some of the personal experiences he had – beginning with his experience on the eve of his First Communion in the Cathedral of Bordeaux when he prayed before an image of Our Lady, and later, his very profound experience in the Seminary at St. Sulpice and, finally, at Issy where he conceived the idea of his Association.  The core spirituality which he proposed to the members of the Holy Family is the ‘imitation of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who loved, sought and desired only God Alone in all things.’

Sometimes there are limits within our commitments of which we are not aware. It is possible for us to think that we are committed wholly to something or someone when, in fact, we are not; or, on the other hand, the depth of our commitment  may be much less than we thought it to be. The apostle Peter believed that he was totally committed to Christ – and yet, he denied him vehemently three times – (cancelling out the response to Jesus’ question – but you, who do you say that I am? And also his statement – ‘even though everybody else may deny you, I will never deny you.’) On the other hand, like Judas, we may be far more committed to someone than we had realised …

Referring again to the content of Article 84, Catherine spoke of the importance of meditating and praying the Word of God – personally, in the Family and in the group. Many groups are already doing this. As Fr. Noailles said: “The word of God is an unction…” – it anoints us. The Assembly was invited to share what they considered profound personal experiences in the life of Jesus: it was very heartening and uplifting to listen to the contributions from so many members. It indicated a familiarity with the Scriptures. Catherine then referred to ‘core faith’ experiences in the lives of people, quoting from various sources.

Terry Anderson, one of the Beirut hostages, who spent several years in isolation spoke of his experience: “Faith is what you find when you’re alone and find you’re not.”

Viktor Frankl spoke of his experience in the concentration camp: “Sensitive people were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom… He said his mind clung to his wife’s image. He goes on to say, “I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise… For the first time in my life I saw the truth that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which one can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief can impart: the salvation of humankind is through love and in love. … For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory… My soul found its way back from the prisoner’s existence to another world.”

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, describes a core faith experience which he had as he sat by a river bank: he said that the eyes of his understanding began to be opened… he understood and knew many things – and this was so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him… he experienced a great clarity in his understanding. This was such that in the whole course of his life – even if he had gathered up all the helps he had had from God – all the things he knew, and added them all together they would not amount to as much as he received at that time.

Members of the group then shared some core faith experiences: they agreed that this approach would be very helpful when sharing passages from Scripture, especially the Gospels, in their local groups.

The assembly then reflected on the account of Jesus’ Baptism as a core faith experience for Jesus. In the account from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “…the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then withdrew to the desert to come to terms with what he had heard – What did it mean to be the Son of God, the beloved? Then followed the three temptations to view his Sonship in terms of power.

Further discussion and sharing took place – reference was made to the importance of attending meetings regularly and sharing in the Eucharist. One particular comment from a member of the assembly is worth concluding with. He said that even if we are not able to read the Word or write it, we can listen to it and proclaim it by the way we preach it through our lives.

The following short excerpt from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame might inspire us to contemplate God in the wonder of His creation:

“At the approach of dawn Mole felt a great awe fall on him … he bowed his head…. He felt wonderfully at peace and happy… he only knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near… In that utter clearness of the immense dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper: … “Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking, “Are you afraid?” “Afraid?” murmured Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! … of Him? O never, never! And yet, O Mole, I am afraid!”