The Role of the Lay Associate

When I was first asked to reflect with you on the role or vocation of the Holy Family Lay Associate today, my first reaction was to say “No”.  The reason is that I think it is something that should be done by a Lay Associate.  However, in the end I agreed.  I would like to warn you, though, you are not going to hear anything new!  However, perhaps your memory will be jogged about something you had forgotten or you may suddenly see something in a new light.

What is a Lay Associate of the Holy Family?  First of all, as you have heard a hundred times, the word “Associate” in our context means “member”.  All of us, Sisters, Consecrated Seculars, Priests and yourselves are Associates – full members of the Holy Family.  It would be better perhaps to forget the word “Associate” and use the word “Member”.  This would avoid the confusion of thinking that Lay Members are just associated with the Sisters – a kind of lower level in the hierarchy!  I wonder if you really believe that you are full members just as the Sisters are?

So, what are the implications of being a full member?  As I think you will have said on the day of your Commitment, you promise to live the spirituality and mission of the Holy Family. The spirituality of every member of the Holy Family consists of imitating Jesus, Mary and Joseph whose lives were centred on God Alone.   Our Founder took two spiritual trends that were very popular in France from the 17th century – God Alone and The Holy Family – and joined them together to give us our way of life.  These two focal points of our spirituality are inseparable and therein lies its originality.  Fr. Noailles could be said to have summarised this spirituality as, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph loved, sought and desired God alone in all things”; in fact, everything we are called to live is contained in that very brief statement and flows from it.  All the different Vocations live this spirituality according to their own specific Constitutions or Statutes as well as more up-to-date documents that we receive from time to time.

You have beautifully-written Statutes and they merit being read and reflected on constantly.  They are not something that you can read once and for all.  By reflecting on them you will be able to discover how you personally are called to live for God Alone in the footsteps of the Holy Family.  We all do this in different ways.  So it would be worth taking some time to reflect on how you personally live this, and perhaps put it in writing for yourself.  Then you can review it from time to time.

When we read the Founder’s life or writings, we see how he lived this spirituality.  However, we must remember that he was a man of his time and the details of the spirituality that he recommended to his Family were suited to people living in the 19th century.  Our challenge today is to translate his teaching so that it is relevant for people who are living in the 21st century in a kind of world that would have been totally unimaginable for someone living 200 years ago.  We are called to allow our spirituality to unfold within the context of a faith which is evolving from something that was bound in doctrines and dogmas about a God in the distant realms of heaven into a constant awareness of the Divine Presence permeating the universe and finding human expression in Jesus of Nazareth.  Remember, if something is not evolving and growing, it is dying.  For the past ten years we have been invited to “unlearn” lots of things that we took for granted.  One of those things is that there is a deposit of faith that is unchangeable and cannot be touched or questioned.  But why should we continue to express our faith in terms that are suited to the Middle Ages and, as someone said recently, which no sane person would believe in the 21st century?  As members of the Holy Family, it is our responsibility to reflect deeply on this, to read as much as we can and to spread the good news. Sometimes people say “But why is the Church not telling us this?”  People who say this usually equate the Church with the priest who says Mass on Sunday.  But the priests and bishops are not the Church.  We have allowed the Church to become clericalised an,d according to Pope Francis, that is the cause of the criminal behaviour that is rife today.  The Church is made up of all baptised people – and most of those are Lay People.  So we all have a responsibility for the Church and for making it relevant for people of our time.  It is time for us to take on our own authority and to play our role in a responsible and courageous way.

And what about our common mission – the mission that all of us have?  One of the ways our Founder spoke of this was “to spread and strengthen the faith”.  The faith meant something very different to him from what it means for us today.  He was trying to build up the Church after the destruction of the French Revolution.  What are we trying to do today?  What kind of faith are we spreading and strengthening today?  Is it something static or is it alive and active?

Another way of expressing our mission is “To be and create Family”. What would that Family look like?  What does that phrase really mean?  We are all aware of the debate on the various kinds of family that exist today.  What kind of family are we?  What characterises us?  What kind of family are we trying to create?  Where, among whom, are we trying to create it?

And the most recent way we have of expressing our mission is “To promote communion”.  This, of course is very much in keeping with the thought of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si.  We are becoming more and more aware that we are part of a whole and that the human race is not the pinnacle of creation but is very dependent on everything else for its very existence.  This has many serious implications for us – something else that merits reflection.

So, we have lots of challenges, invitations and calls if we are to play our part in the evolution of the Church responsibly. It would probably be profitable to reflect on these and discuss them during your meetings.  Remember your meetings are not prayer groups or Scripture study groups even though prayer and Scripture reading may be part of them.  They are reflection and support groups which help us to live our spirituality and mission and take up our responsibility for the development and evolution of the Holy Family and the Church.  So let us ask ourselves if we are we taking these challenges seriously, or are we content to remain in the false security of our spiritual comfort zone.  If we are, we will become increasingly irrelevant in a very fast-moving world.  In this world, as you know, more and more people, especially younger people, are finding deep meaning for their lives beyond what we thought were the “absolute certainties” of the past.  These so-called absolute certainties no longer sustain or nourish thinking and reflective people.  So let us reflect seriously on how we can unlearn and move out of old patterns – how we can re-work our tradition and spread the good news.

Áine Hayde

Irish Assembly, September 2018