A week ago Pope Francis announced that Charles de Foucauld will be proclaimed a Saint. Yesterday we shared his early journey through some very unsaintly places. Today we see how Charles felt God was guiding him through some alarming, dangerous and life-changing locations.
A SERIOUS TRAVELLER (1882 to 1886)
Morocco, forbidden to Europeans, was Charles’s chosen destination. He left for Morocco with a Moroccan Jewish friend, Mordechai, who would serve as his guide. He kept a detailed journal of his tour.
“During my short stay in Tisint, I got to know several people: all the hajjis wanted to see me. The simple fact that I came from Algeria, where they had received a warm reception meant that I received the same welcome. I have since found out that several suspected that I was a Christian. They did not say a word, understanding perhaps better than I, what danger might befall me were they to speak up.”
For eleven months, Charles was subjected to insults and abuses. Several times he was almost killed. On May 23rd 1884, he arrived back at the Algerian border, barefoot, thin and covered with dirt. Once recovered from his exhausting and dangerous tour, he shared his findings, which were well-received.
A SEEKER AFTER GOD (1886 to 1900)
He left Algeria and settled in Paris, close to his family when aged 28 years.
“At the beginning of October of the year 1886, after six months of family life, while in Paris getting my journey to Morocco published, I found myself in the company of people who were highly intelligent, highly virtuous and highly Christian. At the same time, an extremely strong interior grace was pushing me. Even though I wasn’t a believer I started going to Church. It was the only place where I felt at ease and I would spend long hours there repeating this strange prayer: “My God, if you exist, allow me know you!”
“ I then spoke to Fr. Huvelin. I asked for religious lessons……How good you have been! How happy I am! I who had doubted so much did not believe everything in a day; sometimes the miracles in the Gospel seemed hard to believe; sometimes I wanted to mix passages from the Koran in with my prayers. But divine grace and the advice of my confessor dissipated the clouds…”
“The pilgrimage to the Holy Land, what a blessed influence it had on my life, although I did it in spite of myself, out of pure obedience to Fr. Huvelin …”
“After spending Christmas of 1888 in Bethlehem, having heard Midnight Mass and received Holy Communion in the Holy Grotto, at the end of two or three days, I returned to Jerusalem. The enchantment that I felt praying in this grotto which had resounded to the voices of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was indescribable.”
“I greatly thirst to lead the life that I glimpsed while walking in the streets of Nazareth, streets which had been trod by the feet of Our Lord, an unknown poor workman lost in abjection…”
Charles was attached to his family and friends, but he felt called to leave everything so as to follow Jesus. On January 15 1890, he entered the Trappists.
Charles was happy as a Trappist. He learned a lot. He received a lot. But something more was missing. On January 23 1897, the Superior General of the Trappists announced to Charles that he could leave, so as to follow Jesus, the poor workman of Nazareth. Charles left for Nazareth where the Poor Clares took him in as a servant. He had the time and space to sort out in his mind what it was God wanted of him. He wrote the Rule of the Little Brothers,
“…. closely linked to the cult of the Holy Eucharist that can be followed by a group without there being a priest among them. In August 1900, Charles returned to France, spent a year in a convent and received Holy Orders.
“I felt called straight away to go to the “lost sheep”, to the most abandoned, the most needy, so as to fulfil the commandment of love towards them: Love others as I have loved you, this is how you will be recognized as my disciples”. Knowing by experience that no people were more abandoned than the Muslims of Morocco and the Algerian Sahara, I requested and obtained permission to go to Beni Abbès, a little oasis in the Algerian Sahara on the boarders of Morocco”
When we speak of a desert,
our minds go to the geographical deserts of the world
long stretches of sand with clumps of date trees in oases scattered here and there. But the desert has a beauty of its own.
Brother Charles lived in the midst of such a desert among the Tuaregs.
But most of us are not blessed with such an experience.
“Desert” in Biblical thought is not a goal in itself but a passing stage.
You do not go into the desert to stay there, but to cross it.
In the Exodus we read about the march of the Israelites from slavery to freedom.
That journey took place in the desert.
The Israelites in facing many trials and sufferings
learned to walk with their God.
In the Gospels we read about the “Desert” experience of Jesus.
Going to the “Desert” was a period of preparation before He began His ministry.
He faced temptations to power, prestige and pleasure (Mk 1,12 – 13. )
For the Israelites as well as for Jesus,
the “Desert” was: -
a place to meet God
a place of powerlessness
a place of temptation
a place of rebellion and resistance
a place of yearning
a place of silence
a place of prayer
a place of renewal
The “Desert” can become all this for us
when we allow it into our life.
We have to find a “Desert” space in our busy life.
We have to create our own “Desert” and remain in silence.
The Prayer of Abandonment
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.