Blessed Charles de Foucauld was a well-to-do nineteenth century French military man. He travelled extensively with the French Foreign Legion in Africa and always kept a soft place in his heart for that continent. He actually wrote a book on North African topography. Blessed Charles was also quite the man-about-town, well known in Paris’ cabarets and also known to keep a lady-friend in the capital city. Tiring of the fast life, Blessed Charles went back to his Catholic roots and eventually determined to become a Catholic priest. Attracted by the monastic life, Blessed Charles was first ordained as a Trappist monk but then found that even that cloistered life was not the solitude and seclusion that he sought. Blessed Charles eventually became a grounds keeper for a convent of cloistered nuns in Nazareth in the Holy Land. But even this obscurity did not satisfy Blessed Charles’ longing for insignificance in the eyes of the world.
Recalling his extensive touring of North Africa, Blessed Charles left Nazareth behind and took up residence in a remote village in the Algerian sands. Far and wide he was the only European in that desert area. But Blessed Charles was convinced that his Christian presence there, and especially his daily celebration and reservation of the Eucharist in his solitary hut, would radiate throughout North Africa and win souls for Christ. During his lifetime, Blessed Charles did not enlist even one prospective convert to his beloved Catholic faith. His dedication to bringing Christ to North Africa through his own zeal for the welfare of his neighbors and through the sacramental life of the Church was eventually and sadly awarded the gift of martyrdom. Blessed Charles was slain by wandering tribal raiders at the door of his humble home and church. Blessed Charles’ work lives on today through the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus who have taken up his mission of humble living among the poor and needy of the world.
At the conclusion of his recent encyclical on fraternity, “Tutti Fratelli,” Pope Francis wrote some very insightful and inspiring words about this newly blessed missionary. His Holiness notes: “I would like to conclude by mentioning a person of deep faith who, drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation towards becoming a brother to all. I am speaking of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Blessed Charles directed his ideal of total surrender to God towards an identification with the poor who were abandoned in the depths of the African desert. In that setting, he expressed his desire to feel himself a brother to every human being, and asked a friend to “pray to God that I truly be the brother of all.” He wanted to be, in the end, “the universal brother.” Yet, only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all. May God inspire that dream in each one of us.”
In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, some Greeks approach the apostle Philip and request, “Sir we would like to see Jesus.” Philip, accompanied by his fellow apostle Andrew, introduces the visitors to the Master. Jesus wastes no time in revealing to his Hellenic admirers that if they really want to see Jesus, if they truly want to experience what Jesus is all about, then they are going to have to die to their personal inclinations and begin to live for God alone. Only the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies will bear any fruit. “Whoever loves his life loses it,” Jesus insists. “And whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life,” the Master solemnly advises. Blessed Charles de Foucauld took these words seriously and literally. He abandoned all human comfort – inherited wealth, Paris society, military dignities, female companionship. He died to this world. And he courageously assumed a life of quiet dedicated service to God’s Will and especially to the rescue of humanity from spiritual poverty.
Abandoning himself exclusively to the Will of God, Blessed Charles wrote this prayer: “Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.” Blessed Charles death-to-self allowed him to become fully alive to God and His Will and fully alive to the holy man’s neighbors and their needs. Christ’s words and Charles’ example are meant for all of us as well.
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