A Single Family revealing the Church-as-Family
A Family Growing in Unity and Diversity
One tree, one sap, many branches, the same Founder, the same spirit,
different ministries and vocations.
Island and Chapel of Our Lady of All Graces,
Martillac, France Here Fr. Noailles drew up
the Rules and Statuts of the Association of the
Pierre Bienvenu Noailles dreamed of a new society. Faithful to his vision, he laid the foundations of his project and realised it, not in the manner of a politician but rather like a mystic. It was the work of a lifetime. He opened up new ways, skilfully using the loopholes of civil and church law which left little place for new types of religious foundations.
Canon law separated the different forms of religious life in order to distinguish more easily between them. Fr. Noailles, on the contrary, envisaged a spiritual family that would transcend these separations by offering the Church and the world a witness of unity while respecting the diversity of vocations and commitments.
His would be a flexible Family, in which laity, priests, religious women, would know they were called to holiness by virtue of their baptism, a Family where all are called to proclaim the gospel, each according to his or her state in life, mutually enriching one another through their differences, inspired by the Holy Family where Jesus, the perfect priest and the first person consecrated by the Father receives all from Mary and Joseph; where Mary and Joseph live their vocation as a married couple in mutual love.
The very structures of what Fr. Noailles was trying to build were ‘charismatic’ and reveal, quite apart from the witness of its members, this aspect of the “Church-as-Family” Constitutions article 3.
This vision was revolutionary for his time. Pierre Bienvenu Noailles worked all his life to further it, drawing up rules for each branch and for the Association as a whole, going to Rome to present them to Popes Gregory XVl and Pius lX.
He experienced failure. Some branches of the tree died. The priestly branch, founded in 1822 after several attempts, did not develop as he hoped, the priests remaining only as Associates. Even though he was affected by schisms and departures they never made him deviate from his initial vision.
The world of his day had to be given new life and its wounds healed. Whereas a few centuries previously, St. Sergio of Radonège (a 14th centure monk and patron of Russia) proposed “conquering the divisions in the world by the contemplation of the Blessed Trinity”, Fr. Noailles presented the contemplation of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the “lovely image of the Trinity”, as a source of unity for his spiritual family, the church and the world. This contemplation, far from being passive, led him to act to alleviate suffering wherever he saw it so that it could be said of this man what was said of Jesus himself:
“He went about doing good…” (Acts 10, 38)