The Trinity with Brother Charles

As we journey deeper and deeper into God, we become more and more aware of his presence in everything that is good and in all the opportunities to turn evil things on their head, we become more and more aware of his presence in other people, and we grow in our lived experience of God as a Trinity of Persons.

That is the Christian mystery that is at the centre of all the other great Christian mysteries: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will come to learn this more and more and see that God is a communion, a unity, and Love.

Some Catholics tend to have devotion that focuses more on Jesus, more on the Father, or more on the work of the Holy Spirit. And that’s OK. But then again, many Catholics have a very Trinitarian spirituality. This is spirituality that appeals more to me, personally. When I think of spirituality focuses on the whole Trinity, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity comes to mind, of course (she is even quoted in the Catechism to this effect).

Another saint with Trinitarian spirituality is Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Charles de FoucauldBrother Charles is perhaps best remembered for his Jesus-centred thinking: “I should carry on in myself the life of Jesus: think his thoughts, repeat his words, his actions. May it be he that lives in me.” It is a very real part of his way of living his faith. He meditates constantly on the Gospels. He loves to adore Jesus in the Eucharist. He must become as Jesus so that Jesus can be taken to those who need his divine care and love.

But the spirituality of Charles is not only Jesus-centred. He was also conscious of the presence of an all-powerful Father. In one of his meditations he wrote down these words:

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.

And nowadays, those who are inspired by Charles’ example perhaps know this passage of his writing best. It is writing about the Father who governs all by his providence and to whom we can run like a little child.

In addition, Brother Charles himself prayed the Veni Creator, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, daily. He implored the Creator Spirit to come, bestow his sevenfold Gift (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Piety, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord) on us and guide us in ways beyond our conscious understanding and apprehension:

Come Holy Spirit, creator, come
from your bright heavenly throne,
come take possession of our souls
and make them all your own.

You who are called Paraclete
blest gift of God above,
the living spring, the living fire,
sweet unction and true love.

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
finger of God’s right hand;
his promise, teaching little ones
to speak and understand.

O guide our minds with your blest light,
with love our hearts inflame;
and with strength, which never decays,
confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our deadly foe;
true peace unto us bring;
and through all perils, lead us safe
beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know;
through you the eternal Son,
and you the Spirit of them both,
thrice-blessed Three in One.

All glory to the Father be,
with his co-equal Son:
the same to You great Paraclete,
while endless ages run.

So here, with brother Charles, we have an example of Trinitarian spirituality, with no clear focus on any one Person of the most Holy Trinity. We can emulate this example, if we wish, by praying the Prayer of Abandonment and the Veni Creator, combined with a meditative reading of the Gospels or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. In such an approach we would invite communion with each of the Three Persons individually and together.

Receiving, Not Only Giving

Prof_Titus_BrandsmaBlessed Titus Brandsma was a Carmelite and a university professor. It was said of him that his door was always open, and he always listened to and helped whoever came to him. He was a good ear. He had kindness in his eyes and in the lines of his face. He set aside time for anyone’s problems, be they academic, private, or spiritual.

In other words, Father Titus was always giving. This was normal for him.

When he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp, it was said of him that the professor who was always giving now became someone receiving just as much as he gave. He could not support himself. He could not go it alone. He received help from his fellow prisoners graciously and kindly. He continued to give, but he also received a lot. It was often necessary. The consoler was himself consoled. Maybe late in life, he learned to love his fellow human beings, not only as the one far removed and always able to assist, but also as the one in need and receiving the graces of friendship, justice, and generosity.

Brother Charles of JesusAs I’ve mentioned a few times, something similar happened with Blessed Charles de Foucauld. (See this post, this post, and this poem.) He went to other people to give them Jesus. He expressed a wish to travel to the end of the world for one soul, and he made his home with non-Christian people. Of course, that’s a good thing to do. But it can never be the whole story, for in those people is Jesus. And since we must receive good things from Jesus, we must receive from our neighbours, too. It happened to Brother Charles in this way. There was a drought in the desert. The people among whom he was living were starving; the goats were dry of milk; everything was horrible. Charles himself ran out of supplies and became gravely ill. His non-Christian neighbours nursed him back to health and, at cost to themselves in a time of great need, saved his life. Charles’ life was changed. He was no longer the one going always to others, strong and empowered, to help them and give to them. He, too, was helped. He, too, was empowered by others. He, too, learned to receive from his neighbours. And that, too, was an act of love.

These stories are dear to me, because they remind me of myself. I have tendencies like those of Blessed Titus and Blessed Charles. I need to learn the same lessons as they learned, and I hope they can help me with these difficult turns in life. We sometimes have to learn to receive with as much love as we learned to give.

The “Our” in “Our Father”

Charles de FoucauldI do not make any request for myself alone. I do not say ‘my Father’ but rather ‘our Father.’ I do not say ‘my bread’ but rather ‘our bread.’ I ask for nothing for myself alone, but I rather am careful to ask for all people, for us all, children of our Lord, loved by him, all of us, whom he has redeemed by his blood.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld  (1858–1916)

Sanctify the World

Brother Charles[Jesus says,] Without speech, in silence go and establish places of pious retreat in the midst of those who do not know Me. Carry Me among them… Bring the Gospel there, not by preaching it by mouth, but preaching it by example; not proclaiming it, but living it. Sanctify the world. Bring Me to the world.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld  (1858–1916)