#20 - May 2, 2005

Dear Friends,

Due to the many competing May events on the week-ends we will not gather as a group this month, coming together again on the first Sunday in June, the 5th. However I am sending an invitation to all those joining us in the Badaliya prayer to find a moment of recollection on the first Friday, May 6th, adding our Badaliya intentions to pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, to the Union of Charles de Foucauld First Friday prayer and fast for world Peace.

Last month I announced the coming beatification of Charles de Foucauld, originally scheduled by Pope John Paul II for May 15th, Pentecost Sunday. Although the beatification has been postponed to a later date that will be announced by our new pope, there is a delegation of pilgrims traveling to Rome from the USA who are all current members of the world wide prayer Union, originally established by Foucauld before his death in 1916. We will pray with them for a safe journey and inspiring pilgrimage in honor of Brother Charles and the continuation of his message in the world today.

For those who would like to read more about Foucauld I am including an attachment below that is a translation from a French language document that was circulated after the announcement of the coming beatification. I completed the translation with Patricio Rice who is the Coordinator in the Americas of the Lay Fraternity “Charles de Foucauld” from Argentina.

The statutes for Louis Massignon's Badaliya prayer was certainly inspired by Foucauld's vision of a network of Bishops, Priests, religious and lay persons praying in concert around the world. However, the Badaliya prayer has as it's ground the spiritual call to "substitution", to offer our lives through prayer and action to the reconciliation of the three religions that find their commonality in the patriarch Abraham. We are called, as Massignon was, to struggle with the meaning of offering ourselves in some meaningful way for the well-being, even the salvation, of those of other faith traditions. It is clear that this is not an easily understood path and can only be encouraged in the context of our world today and its needs. Through the deepening of our own faith, in imitation of the universality of Christ's message of peace for all, may we continue to reflect and grow in our commitment to this prayer in the spirit of Louis Massignon.

May I once again offer the words of Foucauld in his own voice: "Every Christian must look on every human being as a beloved brother or sister. Christians have the attitudes of Jesus' own heart toward every human being".

Peace to you.

Attachment to original email:

Charles de Foucauld

Echoes of his life:

From many points of view the life of Charles de Foucauld was out of the ordinary, but the dynamism that it reveals is eloquent. Some moments of his story carry their own message and are worthy of emphasis. Highlighting those will be the goal of this biographical sketch.

It will then be followed by a brief synthesis of the intuitions that guided him, and which reveal themselves to those who, wishing to get closer to him, are willing to make the effort to grasp the significance of his behavior and his activities, all of which requires studying his correspondence and spiritual writings. Thus it will also be necessary to speak of the contemporary relevance of his testimony and of the fruits of his charisma, which are demonstrated by the current and former groups that follow in his footsteps.

Some excerpts from his personal notes and letters will underline the different aspects of his message. The introductory phrases used as subtitles are extracts from the letters that he wrote between 1901 and 1916 to one of his friends, Henry de Castries.

“By what miracle has the infinite mercy of God brought me back from so far away?” (August 14, 1901)

Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg (Alsace), France on September 15, 1858. He had one sister three years younger who married Raymond de Blic in 1884. In 1864 the two children became orphans. At that time Charles was six years old. His maternal grandfather fostered him and his sister and took charge of their education. After the war of 1870 and the annexation of Alsace by Germany he chose French nationality for all the family and went to live in Nancy.

Charles continued his high school studies there. His childhood introduction to Christianity led to an ardent First Communion in 1872, but it wasn"t solid enough to see him through his adolescence and, after 1874, he lost his faith. Choosing a military career he applied to the École de Saint-Cyr where he was admitted in 1876. As a sub-lieutenant in the cavalry he led a dissipated enough life but that did not prevent him from demonstrating courage in the military operations in which he participated in Western Algeria.

In 1882 he resigned from the French Army and the following year undertook a trip to explore Morocco. The success of this perilous expedition, which he completed in eleven months disguised as a Rabbi and immersed in the Muslim world, earned him honors and prestige and opened the doors for him in the world of geographers and explorers.

“An extremely strong interior Grace was impelling me.” (August 14, 1901)
But he was then gripped by a religious quest. Under the discreet influence of his family to whom he returned in Paris, he wanted to study religion and asked the help of a priest in order to enlighten him on the Catholic faith. At the end of October 1886, he spoke to Abbé Huvelin in the Saint-Augustin Church in Paris. Instead of giving him religious instruction, the priest, who would guide him spiritually from then on, invited him to make his Confession and receive Communion. For Charles de Foucauld this was a conversion, a moment of grace that would transform him for life. Resolved from then on to live only for God in Christ Jesus who had come to encounter him, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the request of his spiritual father. There he discovered the humble and hidden life of God Incarnate in the person of Jesus, the poor laborer of Nazareth. Attracted by the desire to love and imitate him with all his energy, he decided to become a Trappist monk.

Entering the Notre-Dame-de-Neige (Our Lady of the Snows) Monastery in 1890 with the intention of submerging himself forever in a poor Trappist Monastery in Syria, he continued to search for more and other ways to grow in the imitation of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Six years later he requested to leave the Trappists. Permission was granted to him in February 1897 and he was authorized to follow his own personal vocation.

On the advice of Abbé Huvelin, he returned to Nazareth, requesting accommodation near the gate at the convent of the Poor Clare Sisters. He became their domestic servant. He lived there as a hermit in prayer and poverty attempting to discern God"s will for him. At the end of three years, having taken as his motto, Jesus Caritas (Jesus Love), and as an emblem, a cross mounted on a heart, his desire to imitate Christ in universal love impelled him to accept the prospect of priesthood. He was prepared for this at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Trappist Monastery, and on June 9,1901 he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Viviers. This is why he will be beatified under the designation of “diocesan priest”.

“I have just been ordained a priest and am making arrangements to go to the Sahara to continue the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth.” (August 14, 1901)

He resolved to go back to the south of Morocco where he had traveled in the past in order to radiate love (divine charity) and to bring the Eucharistic presence to the poor in non-evangelized regions. With that purpose in mind he established himself in Beni-Abbés in Algeria on the border with Morocco. At the outskirts of that Oasis he built not only a hermitage but a fraternité (fraternity), that is a house open to everyone: Christians, Muslims, Jews….. He wanted to be brother and friend to each and every one. Available to the poor, ransoming slaves, welcoming soldiers from the local garrison, offering hospitality to travelers passing through, he also spent long hours of the night and early morning in prayer. On the wall of the chapel behind the altar, he drew a large image of the Sacred Heart “ extending his arms in order to embrace, hold, and call all people, to give himself for everyone”. He would have liked to see companions come to the fraternity in order to witness to the light of charity and the Gospel, and to live together as “ little brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” according to the religious rule he had written in Nazareth. He also wished for the arrival of “little sisters” who would show the goodness of the heart of Jesus through their hospitality and ministry. But no one came. And his plans for Morocco were never to be fulfilled.

In 1904, thanks to a military officer who was also a friend, he moved to the south of Algeria. He realized then that he was the only priest in a position to go among the Touaregs and make contact with these people who were even more abandoned than the population of Beni-Abbès. In that he saw a sign from God, and Monsignor Guérin, the first Apostolic Prefect in the Sahara, accepted his installation in the Hoggar region. In 1905 Charles established himself in Tamanrasset as the only European living in that village of some twenty huts sheltering a few Touareg families.

The beginning was difficult and living conditions extremely harsh. Little by little, he was accepted and it was these same Touaregs who helped him when he became seriously ill. He would stay alone in what was his “Nazareth”, but to be alone in the midst of people seemed good to him: “One has action here even without doing great things, because one becomes part of the country, one is accessible, and so very little". He learned their language in order to get closer to themand to understand and appreciate them through the dignity and values of their own culture. In order to protect and conserve the dialect of the Hoggar, he anonymously completed a unique and considerable linguistic and scientific work.

In 1911 he lived on the Assekrem Plateau for five months in a place where he hoped to see many people. Within the context of his time and making maximum use of resources supplied by France as a colonizing nation, he unceasingly strove to promote the human, intellectual and moral advancement of the inhabitants of the desert preparing them so that they might also discover one day the secret of his religious life. He wanted this responsibility to be shared in France, and for that goal he envisioned a “confraternity” that would unite all Christians of good will into a major network for the service of those regions in the process of development and not yet touched by the Gospel message. He traveled to France on three occasions to further explain and launch his project. He thought to return in 1915, but the 1914 War kept him in the Sahara.

The repercussions of the European conflict were felt all the way into the Algerian desert. A rebellion arose against the French presence. Certain tribes demonstrated their desire for emancipation while others looked to benefit from the circumstances by pillaging and raids. Conscious of the danger, Charles de Foucauld decided to stay where he was in order to protect the local population and to work towards serving the future of what had become “his country”. In 1916 he built a small fortress to serve as a refuge for the people of Tamanrasset in the case of attack, and, at the request of his neighbors, went to live there. It was there that he was surprised by a group of rebels on the evening of December 1, 1916. He was captured by a deception and tied up while his residence was ransacked. On the sudden arrival of two soldiers, his young 15 year old guard panicked and shot him at point blank range. Charles de Foucauld died, an isolated victim of local violence... Many others that same night died at the front lines of World War I.

* * *

Echoes of his testimony

The message transmitted by Charles de Foucauld is understood by the way he lived and by what he tried to achieve. It is also contained in the many pages he wrote where he allowed himself to express the essence of his spiritual experience. Nearly one hundred years after his death, we are still far from completing the inventory of his rich spiritual testimony. It is nonetheless possible for us to underline certain major elements and present them briefly here with quotes from personal letters to his friend Henry de Castries:

“I clearly understood that I could do nothing other than to live only for Him.”
(August 14, 1901)

What is paramount from his conversion to the end of his life is his absolute and unwavering fidelity to the passionate love he experienced for Jesus. Charles had the good fortune to be gifted with a heart capable of extreme love. As soon as Grace placed him in the presence of the mystery of Godliving in Christ Jesus, he became inflamed with divine love. This love for Jesus, his “beloved Brother and Lord”, had nothing to do with feelings into which he might otherwise have been plunged by narcissistic pleasure. Rather his love was a desire. Less than five months before his death, he wrote: “Love consists, not in feeling that we love, but in desiring to love”. This decision to love Jesus led him to imitate him and to try to think, say and do what Jesus would think, say and do in the different circumstances of life. In 1902 Charles de Foucauld summed up his spiritual project in the lines he wrote to his former high school friend Gabriel Tourdes: “Imitation is inseparable from love, you know: whoever loves wishes to imitate. It is the secret of my life. I have lost my heart to Jesus of Nazareth crucified 1900 years ago, and I spend my life trying to imitate him as much as I can despite my weakness”.

I must thus imitate the hidden life of the humble and poor laborer of Nazareth.
(August 14,1901)

The figure of Jesus that seduced him and that he wanted to imitate is that of “the worker, son of Mary” (Mk. 6:3) (the carpenter in English biblical texts) living the simple and ordinary life of his contemporaries and country folk in Nazareth. He is particularly struck by the humble circumstances that surrounded the Incarnation of the Son of God: “God, the Infinite Being, the All-Powerful becoming man, the least of all men and women”. Starting out from this discovery that Grace had revealed to him, he then writes of what he sees as being his vocation and calling: “ I am yearning to finally live the life for which I have searched more than seven years, and which I had envisaged and anticipated while walking the streets of Nazareth where the feet of Our Lord had walked as a poor craftsman unnoticed in humiliation and obscurity.” And he outlines for himself the following life-plan: “For me, to always want to be the last in the least of places in order to be as little as my Master was to walk step by step with Him, as a faithful disciple, to be with my God who lived that way all his life and has given me such an example since his birth, “.

“To read, re-read, and meditate on the Gospel and oblige oneself to practice it.”
(August 14, 1901)

Charles de Foucauld desires to have permanent contact with his “Only Model” and his beloved “Brother” for whom he wants to be a “little brother” and that is realized in a privileged way through his devotion for the Gospel and the Eucharist. He spent long hours reading and meditating on the Gospel where he reencounters the words and examples of Jesus who he wishes to imitate and follow though his affection. He advises his friends to make space in their lives for these moments of intimacy with the Lord. ”It is necessary to try to impregnate yourself with the mind of Jesus by unceasingly reading and re-reading, meditating and re-meditating on his words and examples, that this may effect our souls in the same way as a drop of water that falls and falls again on a tile, always in the same place.” He also spent much time before the Blessed Sacrament where his faith told him that Jesus was present with all his saving power for the world. Thus Charles of Jesus was devoted to these “two tables” where, according to the faith of the Church, Jesus continues to be present in the midst of his followers “every day until the end of time”.

“A fraternal and universal charity sharing up to the last morsel of food with all the poor, every visitor and all the anonymous people who come by.”
(June 23, 1901)

Charles, passionate with love for Jesus and wishing to love all of humanity"s brothers and sisters, simultaneously cherishes with every attribute of his heart and mind the people who are close to him, those who he can meet, but also those who he doesn"t know but who he senses are going through material or spiritual distress. With the example of Jesus, the universal Brother of all human beings and the universal Savior who came to call the poor, the sick and sinners to a new and happy life, Charles de Foucauld orientates his life to the service of humanity. He accepted the priesthood because of this commitment and that is why he chooses to go to “the most feeble souls, the most neglected sheep”. He would say: “This divine banquet, of which I am the minister, must be offered not to brothers and sisters, nor parents, nor rich neighbors, but to the most stricken, blind ,and the most abandoned of souls, who are most in want of priests”.

“And receiving all humanity like a beloved brother and sister”
(June 23,1901)

Charles de Foucauld was convinced that Jesus the Savior, who he had encountered and known by experience to have transformed his own life so much, was this same Jesus of the “heart burning with love”. The one who had revealed himself through the silent comprehension and quiet goodness of the people around him, and who was the universal Savior that belongs to all. Everyone has the universal right to know him, most especially those who are the most distanced from this hope in Jesus. He wants to be a “missionary” of this Jesus, by living “goodness” in the same way that he himself benefited. “My apostolate must be the apostolate of goodness. In seeing me they must say to themselves, "Since this man is so good, his religion must also be good"... I would like to be so good that they would say : "If such is the servant, then how must be the Master!"” In order to reach out with goodness to all and to each one, he tries to see Jesus in all humanity, every person being a presence of Jesus as true as his real Presence in the Eucharist.

This aspiration leads him to concrete attitudes: he wants “to belong locally”, conversing with the Touareg in their language, participating in their way of life and their customs, wishing for their progress in material and moral advancement. He opts for the route he discovers in Jesus" hidden life, in his humble “insignificance” all the way to annihilation on the Cross. He is not looking for immediate results, leaving to God all concern about conversion to the Christian faith, perhaps in “centuries”, he said. Finally he wishes that many Christians throughout the world proclaim the Gospel in this way by being near and discrete, by “having kind and fraternal affection for everyone, by giving every possible service, by handling all contacts affectionately, by being a brother (or sister) to all...”

* * *

Charles de Foucauld´s testimony: The Message for Today

His beatification and spiritual legacy confirms the profound importance for our times of the rich spiritual message left to us by Charles de Foucuald. Here we will consider those aspects of his testimony that correspond mostto contemporary concerns, illustrated by other quotes taken from his correspondence with Henry de Castries.

“God is so great! There is such a difference between God and what is not of God!” (August 14,1901)

Charles de Foucauld was a man who always sought to creatively leave well traveled paths even to the point of having a flair for provocation, especially in his youth. Then, at the decisive juncture of his conversion, one can say that it is God who became the one who provoked him by standing in his path. His expedition to Morroco was already a challenge to embark on adventure which the explorer posed both to himself and those who knew him. God had taken him at his word by permitting him to be confronted by an encounter with the believers of Islam: “Islam produced in me a profound disruption...the vision of this faith, of those souls living in the continual presence of God, made me perceive something larger and more authentic than mundane occupations: "ad majora nati suma" (we are born for higher things)...”

A mysterious tension between these two “partners”, Charles and his God, would thus become the mark of his entire spiritual journey. Does not the core of Charles de Foucauld´s holiness consist in this difficult apprenticeship of confrontation with the “Other” and of continual abandonment to Him? Is this not the story of all human liberty when faced with God in Christ Jesus?

Charles de Foucauld , with his personal limitations, his ups and downs, shows that holiness is an unceasing climb towards the perfection that is found inGod alone. He is very close to our mode of being: change, renewal, re-commencement are the determining traits of contemporary culture.

“Here I am the confidant and often the advisor to my neighbors.”
(January 8, 1913)

Another feature of his holiness is that the concrete realism of his commitment to people is claimed, transformed and raised up by the breath and fire of the Holy Spirit. Charles de Foucauld is always engaged and totally “present” to the situations in which he lives. He is someone who fully enters into what he sees and hears, into what he decides and undertakes, into what he understands to be the burning questions that arise. He inserts himself into his present reality with exceptional intensity. He does so with all his intellectual competence, technical skills, and with an exact sense of circumstances and needs. Consequently, for example, he teaches local women to knit, introduces seeds to the vegetable gardens of Tamanrasset. He does so with his own temperament, sometimes with excesses due to his character, his past history and his training, but always with conviction, good will, enthusiasm, and courage. Considering these inner dispositions one is not surprised that he was so attracted by the life of Nazareth: There Jesus signals the deliberate and explicit taking into consideration of ordinary day-to-day human reality.

Already before his conversion, the young Charles manifested this orientation in life; the grace of conversion did not destroy his human nature but rather enhanced its peculiar characteristics. His way to sainthood was to go forward in the realism of his human vocation, inspired by love. His holiness carried within it the marks of simplicity, truth, authenticity; It testifies to what divine love can achieve in someone who wants to fully live the profundity of common human existence.

“To feel oneself in the hands of the Beloved, but of what a Beloved, and of what peace, sweetness, depth of peace and of trust!”
(February 17,1904)

Charles used the language of raw feeling but is full of biblical knowledge about Jesus, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Sacred Heart, the Church. He sees the Spouse of Jesus in the Church who from then on speaks in his name. He often goes back to those words of Jesus addressed to his apostles and their successors: “Whosoever listens to you, listens to Me!

Charles de Foucauld thereby presents an accessible and lovable portrait of the God of Jesus. He recalls the humility of the signs by which God shows himself to us with no triumphal airs but rather with the goodness and beauty of Jesus who overwhelms by love. His death on the cross and his openly wounded side confirm that “there is no greater love than to give ones life for those one loves”.

However it is not only through oral discourse that Charles de Foucauld tells us of God Incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and accordingly helps us to revisit the Gospels, it is also by the example of his life. If he adores Jesus present in the Eucharist, he also contemplates him in the poor with whom God in Jesus of Nazareth identifies. He places himself fraternally at the service of these “little ones” of whom Jesus speaks, and hence commands us to look again at the quality of our relationships and our rapport with others. He reminds us that “everything that is done to a little one we do to Jesus, and that all we omit doing for our fellow human beings, we refuse to do for Jesus”.

Full of a missionary zeal that reaches far and wide and moved by a determination for fraternity and service, he feels his own weaknesses as he takes on these challenges. Without weakening in his plans, he experiences failure as he also endures the difficulties of prayer and spiritual darkness. And Charles, who from childhood endured the scars of much suffering, would die in the anguish of solitude, with no apparent positive results.

These two experiences, of a fraternal life shared with many other men and women living under difficult circumstances, and that of a life of pain received as the Cross “where we grasp Jesus who is attached there”, are always part of our journeys and that of the Church. They are part of the plan of life for every Christian who is called to be “a living Gospel”.

“The building of trust, friendship, mutual knowledge, fraternization... is the preparatory work of evangelization” ( June 17,1904)

Charles de Foucauld wanted to be a missionary in a difficult land and chose to go against the current by not looking for success, efficiency and productivity. He knows his fruitfulness is to be found in the Cross of Jesus and in the weakness of human means. He would live out that mission with passion in the double meaning of the word, that is , as he accepts to offer his life until death like the grain sown into the ground, he would passionately love Jesus for whom he would “cry out the Gospel from the roof tops”, and he would passionately love his brothers and sisters for whom he wants to be the savior with Jesus.

The Gospel mystery to which he turns most often as a source for his life is that of the Visitation. He loved to contemplate that scene. Mary, after she receives Jesus in her womb, takes him to the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Jesus, still in the womb of his mother, sanctifies John the Baptist before his birth. Charles also wants to go “in haste” towards those to whom he wishes to make Love known “like Jesus went to them by incarnating himself”. He believes in the hidden radiance of the Eucharist where Jesus gives himself for the life of the world. Through his commitment he himself becomes a living presence of this bread shared in order to nourish the poor and the little ones. He favors dialogue, respect for others, and their cultural and religious heritage. He even dreams of a fraternal network of all the baptized: priests, men and women religious, laity, who would volunteer for a simple life in accordance with the Gospel in order to take responsible charge of the “most abandoned”. He wishes for each one of these volunteers of love to have the heart of a “universal brother” like Jesus, rooted and concretely engaged in their “Nazareth”.

All these priorities which he spontaneously put into practice in the terrain of his Saharan mission, can provide new impetus to the missionary vocation today. We are no longer in the same historical context in which Charles de Foucauld tried to live as a “universal brother” but we can be inspired by his intuitions at a time of inter-religious dialogue, globalization, and partnership. Today, moreover, in order to defend human rights, it is not unusual for some to die for the cause of justice. And also today, some accept to remain where social, ethnic and religious ruptures exist, and others choose to share the misery of the victims of economic disparity. And that applies even to countries of ancient Christianity that are now all just as much “ mission countries”.