December 19, 2021.

Dear Friends,

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 19, 2021 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, an end to the pandemic, and recovery of health for the world.

In the Christian liturgical calendar, today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. For the past three weeks, we have been reflecting on the what it means to prepare for the birth of Divine Love into our hearts and minds and into the world in the form of a tiny human child we call, Jesus. The reading chosen from the Gospel according to Luke narrates how Mary sets out to the hill country in haste to the house of Zechariah and Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. She has heard from an angel that Elizabeth too is pregnant with a special child, miraculously in her old age. In this story, Elizabeth's infant leaps in her womb in recognition of the child Mary is carrying within her. The meeting of the young Mary with her older cousin is ripe with meaning and has been depicted in artworks in churches and museums throughout the world.

Elizabeth's child, named John, grew up to be known as John the Baptist heralding the coming of Christ, the anointed One, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. All three, Zechariah, John and Jesus are revered in Islamic tradition as significant prophets. We call the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation. The feast of Christmas that we await is celebrating how the Incarnation, (the embodiment) of Divine Love, takes place in the birth of Jesus, and in turn, within each one of us. This, so that we can bring that precious love into our daily encounters and our world.

This timeless journey very much influenced spiritual masters such as Louis Massignon and his mentor Blessed Charles de Foucauld. At the beginning of his faith journey Foucauld spent three years in Nazareth as a hermit monk drawn to the early life of Jesus who he called, the poor carpenter and living in a small hut outside the walls of the convent of Clarisse Sisters, or Sisters of Saint Clare. He drew sketches of the life of Jesus to help with educating the Sisters. The essence of his spiritual legacy was formed out of this experience and he became a Priest and a hermit, who served the Muslim Tuareg people in the Sahara Desert. There, in his simple hermitage, he drew a wonderful image of that visit of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth on a cloth sheet and hung it on the wall behind the table he built as an altar.

Like the intercessory prayers of the 10th century Sufi Mystic, Hussein Mansour al-Hallaj, Massignon believed that Foucauld's prayers for him also contributed to his dramatic conversion experience in Iraq in 1908. Their years of correspondence convinced Massignon that he was being mentored by a Saint. In his dedication to serving the Muslim Berber tribal community in a remote part of the Sahara Desert in Algeria, Foucauld discovered in time that his mission was to witness to his experience of Christ, not through sermons, but rather through service and great love. He experienced himself as a "universal brother" and studied the culture and language of the Tuareg people and published the first Tuareg-French dictionary. During World War I, he continued to serve the people in his hermitage having spent 12 years listening to them and providing medicine and provisions for them as he was able. On December 1,1916, his hermitage was raided and he was assassinated at age 58.

At that time, Massignon was serving the French army during the war and only heard of Foucauld's death months later in a letter written to him by his wife. His first response was to rejoice that his mentor was now a martyr for his faith and truly a Saint. Although many lay and religious communities who have adopted Foucauld's spirituality throughout the years know of the part that Massignon has played in insisting that his mentor's legacy not be forgotten, the general public may be unaware.

Before World War I, Foucauld had established a small group of lay spiritual seekers in Paris dedicated to being witnesses to their experience of Christ in the daily world they lived in that included Louis Massignon. However, when the priest was killed, no one believed that anyone would remember him. It was Massignon who first self-published Foucauld's spiritual writings known as Le Directoire, the Directory, and convinced the French writer, René Bazin to write the first biography of our soon-to-be Saint. The lay Foucauld association continued under Massignon's guidance and he encouraged those who were attracted to Foucauld's spiritual path to found religious communities of men and women open to living in the midst of Islam serving the Muslim communities around them as Foucauld had done. It was Massignon who introduced the cause for sainthood to the Vatican on March 26, 1928. The hermit priest was declared venerable on April 24, 2001 by Pope John Paul II and Beatified on November 13, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. On May 27, 2020, the Vatican announced that he would be canonized in Rome. The date is now set for May 15, 2022.

Among those who have embraced the spirit of brother Charles are The Little Sisters of Jesus. In their 2021 News Notes, they quoted the following thoughts of the Responsible of the religious community known as the Little Brothers at the time of the Beatification of Foucauld. Brother Marc Hayat wrote his thoughts as a letter to his Brother, Charles. In part, he wrote:

"Dear Charles, my brother,

It is not an accident that 'brother' was one of your favorite words, a word that conveys relationship and openness to others. You never knew it but when your spiritual director, Fr. Huvelin introduced you by letter to the Abbot of the monastery he was sending you to for a retreat, he wrote, 'This man makes religion into a love affair.' ...When you died, Moussa, the Tuareg chief, wrote to your sister these words: 'Charles the marabout did not die only for you, he died for us too. May God grant him mercy and may we meet him again in Paradise.' You were passionate about going toward the one who was furthest away, and you lived that to the end. What an inspiration you give us!"

A marabout is a Muslim holy person. The love and respect of this desert tribal people for their marabout, is what we aspire to embody in our monthly faith sharing gatherings. May the spirit of Advent and Christmas fill us with renewed faith as we face the many challenges of a complex modern world. May we treasure the vast diversity of world cultures and all of life on our threatened planet.

Peace to you and may you be blessed at Christmas and into the New Year,

See Chapter 2 in "Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon" for the life story and writings of Brother Charles de Foucauld.
Photos of Foucauld and his life in the Sahara as well as of his drawing of Mary and Elizabeth can be found on my web site

(See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)