December 20, 2020.
Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday December 20, 2020 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land. And also for an end to the pandemic and recovery of health for the world.
On this fourth and final Sunday in the season of Advent, Christians around the world are preparing for the great celebration of the birth of Christ, Christ's Mass, known as Christmas. Perhaps this year, more than any other, we look forward to celebrating a renewal of the birth of God in our world after losing so many to a devastating pandemic and the necessary social distancing that has kept us from celebrating with family and friends. As we listen to the story that we call the Annunciation, how "the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin" named Mary, we can rejoice in sharing this story with our Muslim friends in a special way. The Qur'anic version is beautiful and a wonderful means of enhancing our own experience of this miraculous birth of Jesus.
In the Christian story, we are transported to a small backwater town called Nazareth where Mary's "Yes" to God, called the "Fiat", is an invitation to all of us to submit to the will of God. Submission is the wonderful meaning of the word, Islam. Nazareth itself, where we are told Jesus was raised in the lowly family of a village carpenter, has been the inspiration for many spiritual seekers, including Charles de Foucauld who was a friend and mentor to Louis Massignon, the founder of the Badaliya prayer movement. Massignon called him an "older brother". In his search for where God was calling him, Foucauld spent three years in Nazareth, offering his prayers and service to a community known as the Sisters of Saint Clare. Living in a hut just outside the walls of the monastery, Foucauld found his vocational calling. It was to the poor carpenter of Nazareth that he would dedicate his life that took him to the priesthood and eventually to the Algerian desert. There he embraced and served a Muslim Berber tribal group known as the Touareg people. His witness to the love of Christ for all of humanity in this barren desert community became a source of his own spiritual growth as he gave hours of his time, meeting the needs of the community, translating the poetry written in the Berber language called, Tamashek, into French as well as the biblical texts. He came to see himself as a "Universal Brother". Foucauld decided to remain in Tamanrasset and offer refuge to his Muslim community if necessary during World War I when an armed militia raided his fortress and killed him on December 1, 1916.
Foucauld's own "Yes" to the carpenter of Nazareth led to the foundation of the religious communities of The Little Sisters of Jesus. and the Little Brothers as well as a vast network of lay communities dedicated to his writings and his spiritual path, initially published by Louis Massignon, He will soon be canonized in the Roman Catholic Church as a Saint. Saints offer us a model of spiritual growth toward holiness. When we know their whole life story we can recognize all of our own struggles in human life too. The miracle is seeing how God uses those struggles and painful experiences to heal and transform us.
In their 2020 Newsletter, the Little Sisters of Jesus recount how Brother Charles of Jesus' well-known prayer of Abandonment came into being. This prayer is about human littleness, and embracing our poverty and dependence on the mercy and love of God. These spiritual communities are known as "Jesus Caritas", Jesus-Love, the kind-of love we are to have for all our brothers and sisters. Little Sister Magdaleine founded the Little Sisters of Jesus based on "the lessons" of Brother Charles' actual lived life and death. When she was forming her community of Sisters who would live in poor neighborhoods in the midst of, and in service to, Muslim communities in the Sahara and eventually throughout the world, she turned to her notebook with quotations from Brother Charles' meditations. She titled the first one, Abandonment. This was the final prayer of Jesus: "Father into your hands I commend my Spirit". LS Magdaleine wrote: "May it not just be the prayer of our final moment, but of every moment". The quotations from the meditations of Brother Charles that he wrote when he was a Trapppist monk in Syria in 1896, began with "I surrender myself, entrust myself, and abandon myself". LS Magdaleine had a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, handing the infant child Jesus to her; of Jesus abandoning himself into her own hands just as she abandoned herself into his. This was her inspiration for gathering together with her first novices to create a prayer from Brother Charles' repetitive meditation that they could say each day. This became the Prayer of Abandonment that followers all over the world of the spiritual legacy of Brother Charles de Foucauld have adopted.
"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".
It is not easy to pray this prayer from our hearts and truly mean it and yet that is the very meaning of Islam, and the invitation to all Christians, especially at this moment when the whole world is faced with a pandemic that has so disrupted our lives and made the future so insecure. This very unusual Christmas when we welcome the birth of Jesus, a revered prophet in Islam and a manifestation of God in Christianity, into our world once again, may we join the Little Sisters and Brothers and the Jesus Caritas communities all over the world in surrendering our lives into the hands of God with confidence and abundant hope for a better future for everyone.
Peace to you and a Blessed Christmas Season,
News Notes 2020: Little Sisters of Jesus (p.46-48). For further information about the Little Sisters of Jesus see www.petitessoeursdejesus.net/en
For photos from the life of Charles de Foucauld click on Photos to accompany the book Dialogues with Saints and Mystics at www.dcbuck.com
(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)