Nine Days to Go (Inclusive)

Blessed Charles de Foucauld with a little boy, Abd Jesus, whom he redeemed from slavery and his friend Father Charles Guérin, Apostolic Prefect of the Sahara

Blessed Charles de Foucauld with a little boy, Abd Jesus, whom he redeemed from slavery and his friend Father Charles Guérin, Apostolic Prefect of the Sahara

On 1 December 1916, Blessed Charles de Foucauld was shot dead at his small fort in the Sahara. Was he a martyr? If so, it was of charity, not directly for the faith, for though he was shot because of his presence to others (however difficultly entwined that was with his own country’s policies and the details of a world war), it was not because of any article of the faith, nor because of any direct animosity towards a group of human beings as such.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld at Beni AbbèsBut what he was, was a model for the kind of life this blog promotes. Of course, he was human, with weaknesses, limitations, feelings, and even faults. But he was a model. He loved the Eucharist. He loved his neighbours. He had no formal apostolate, except perhaps one of translation, scholarly work, and “presence” to others (if these things can count as activities of a formal apostolate).

To a degree, his model of spirituality was in the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross – even before they were declared Doctors of the Universal Church. Over and over he read them. He knew with them that it is when we are most annihilated that we pray best and that it is love which makes prayer best.

His spirituality is known for its Trinitarian emphasis: on Jesus in others and in the pages of the Gospel, on the Father to whom his most famous prayer is addressed, on the Spirit known in the Veni Creator.

Brother CharlesHe believed in the value of silence and thought that earth was preparation for heaven, not only by what we do but by the time we spend, seemingly uselessly, with God. After all, the spirit was not made for noise but for taking things in; and if we want to give God to others, we must live in him ourselves; a spring can only give what it already has. He described the purification brought about by silence as a “desert” experience.

Above all, this man went on a journey of discovering what it means to see Jesus in others and to live a life of “Nazareth,” a quiet life that passes under the radar with and among people who may never have even heard the Gospel in its entirety (like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth). This involved standing up to injustices and taking clear positions on social justice. But it also involved a mere “being with” and a “togetherness,” a legitimate love and appreciation of the other. It was a spirituality of presence, even when the effects of presence seem fleeting. Such a “Nazareth” spirituality is accompanied by a respect, a great respect and preference, for the poor and abandoned. It involves poverty and humility of means; for Jesus did not use much or write large when he evangelized by his presence in Nazareth. It involves a recognition that the majority of people live their lives in Nazareth, not in the greatest acts of apostolate or at the highest heights of the world.

Last photograph of Brother Charles

Last photograph of Brother Charles

There is a general theme of how one can be a contemplative in the midst of action, though not hanging all one’s contemplation on the accomplishment of activity. It is a strange message to modern ears, but it is much needed. And it is one that, though he was himself a priest, Charles felt was relevant to laypeople.

Counting today (23 November) and 1 December itself, there are nine days left in the centennial year of the blessed’s death. For my part, I think this is a great time to get to know, and to love, Brother Charles better. At the very least and even if we do not focus our attention and thoughts on Charles, we could spend our time as he recommends:

To pray means to think lovingly about Jesus. Prayer is the soul’s attention that is concentrated on Jesus. The more you love Jesus, the better you pray.

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Pope Francis on Blessed Charles and the Mystery of Nazareth

francis-charles

It’s a bit old (since when is this blog “up to date”?), but here are some comments from Pope Francis which highlight Blessed Charles de Foucauld and “Nazareth” spirituality:

Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, grasped the import of the spirituality which radiates from Nazareth. This great explorer hastily abandoned his military career, attracted by the mystery of the Holy Family, the mystery of Jesus’ daily relationship with his parents and neighbours, his quiet labour, his humble prayer. Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is. Through his apostolate of charity, he became everything to everyone. Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations. For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbour, we are lifted up to God. Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity.

Normally, I myself think of this in reference to my actual situation: living among people who know not or understand not the Gospel, going about my daily life in a way that is (here in Thailand) perhaps not fathomed or not experienced.

But that is not the only application or horizon in question. The pope continues to apply this to family situations:

To understand the family today, we too need to enter – like Charles de Foucauld – into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.

The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions. There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far. The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust. It is a place of gratuitousness, of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to feel forgiven.

Mercy, Nazareth, family – so many deep themes, so little time to know and live them.

Nothing Distinguishing

ElisabethBlessed Elizabeth of the Trinity is one of those saints who died behind a cloister wall but who began a very holy life in the world. She had a deep longing to live in Carmel for many years before she was able to set herself physically apart from the world and detach herself from creatures in order to belong “only” to the Creator.

While she was in the world, she had a certain spirituality, too. It involved detachment. She valued uprightness, truth, and silence. But perhaps most surprising of all, she lived just like everyone else. She was not removed from her neighbours. She shared life with them. True, this sharing was coupled with a deep interior silence and a predilection for exterior silence; but nonetheless the shared life remained.

While she was still a young teenager, one of her friends described her thus:

During her lessons, nothing would distinguish her from the other girls in class, except, that is, when she entered into the church. Then it was as if she entered into a new world!

We see something very typical of the young Elizabeth Catez. Nothing distinguishes her from her fellow travellers on the road of life, except her comportment about holy things.

Perhaps we could call this a kind of “Nazareth” spirituality. After all, it must have been largely the same for the Holy Family in Nazareth: alike in the regular, humdrum things of the world, but especially attentive to and careful about the things of God. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have lived lives like everyone else with “nothing to distinguish them” from those with whom they shared life, except that more intense and fervent desire for God and the things of God. Such is the example of Elizabeth Catez; this she can teach us and call to our mind. The lives of the saints often highlight traits that are yet more brilliant in the life of Christ.

A Little Theology of Work from the Pen of a Teenager

ElisabethWork is the brother of prayer. Sometimes it seems tough, but there are satisfactions for those who endure it… Virtue, meanwhile, is that tender flower which seeks to immolate itself for the benefit of others, which makes happy those around it, which gives gentle consolation… Work and virtue! Voilà two weapons we ought to be armed with.
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880–1906)

Common, Simple, Human, True, Authentic

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help Minor Seminary in Sriracha,Thailand

Saint Joseph is the model for those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies… He is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need for great things; it is enough to have the common, simple, and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.
Blessed Pope Paul VI