Feast of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (December 1)   2 comments


Above:  Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Hermit and Martyr

One volume in my library is Saints Behaving Badly, by Thomas J. Craughwell.  The author summarizes the point of recalling the impious behavior of certain men and women who went on to become saints:

The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world.  Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, urging us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true–that is, himself.

–page xii

Foucauld’s story is not in that volume, but it is suitable for inclusion in that book.

Charles Eugene de Foucauld, born on September 15, 1858, at Strasbourg, Alsace, France, came from an aristocratic family.  His father was Francois Edouard, Viscount de Foucauld de Pontbriand and Deputy Inspector of Forests.  Our saint’s mother died on March 13, 1864.  His father followed her in death on August 9 of the same year.  A maternal grandfather, Charles Gabriel de Morlet, a retired Colonel of Engineers, raised our saint and Marie, his sister.  At the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) the German Empire came into existence and France lost Alsace and Lorraine to the new nation-state.  Foucauld and his family had to move because of this.  They settled at Nancy.

Foucauld, raised a Roman Catholic, lost his faith as an adolescent in 1872 and regained it 14 years later.  He, a lazy student as a young man, entered the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1876.  Our saint’s military career, much of which he spent in Algeria, was brief, for his scandalous behavior led to his discharge from the army in 1882.  During 1883 and 1884 he explored Morocco on behalf of the French Geographical Society.  The expedition was dangerous and life-changing.  As our saint witnessed expressions of Muslim piety he began to question his own lack of religion and to consider the possibility that God might exist.  Back in France, the support of certain French lay Roman Catholics and one Father Huvelin helped Foucauld to reclaim his Christian faith in October 1886.  Our saint resolved to live for God alone from that moment forward.

Foucauld acted on that pledge.  He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before becoming a Trappist monk in 1890.  As a Trappist monk he lived in France then in Syria.  Our saint left the order in 1897 and became a servant at a convent of the Poor Clares at Nazareth.  The nuns encouraged him to become a priest, a vocation he was reluctant to accept.  The ordination occurred in 1901.

The newly-minted priest became a hermit in the desert of Algeria.  At first he lived at Beni Abbes, near the Moroccan frontier.  Later our saint relocated to Tamanghasset, in southern Algeria.  He lived among the Touareg people, studying their language, and writing a dictionary and grammar (Volumes I and II) of it.  Foucauld sought to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with his life.

I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

–Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Foucauld pondered founding a new religious order.  He did not live long enough to do that, for marauders shot him at his hermitage on December 1, 1916.  He was 58 years old.  Eventually the Little Brothers of Jesus (1933) and the Little Sisters of Jesus (1939), inspired by our saint’s example, in turn inspired by the life of Christ, came into existence.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified Foucauld on November 13, 2005.  The Episcopal Church added his feast at the General Convention of 2009.

Robert Ellsberg wrote:

Alone, a seeming failure by the end of his life, Foucauld was to become one of the most influential spiritual figures of the twentieth century.  He was responsible for reviving the tradition of desert spirituality in our time.  Rather than a retreat from humanity, he believed, the experience of being alone with God made us truly available to encounter and love our neighbor as ourselves.  In contrast with triumphalistic models of mission, Foucauld exemplified an evangelism of presence, an encounter with people of other faiths on a basis of mutual respect and equality.  Furthermore, he pioneered a new model of religious life, patterned after the life of Jesus himself, whose only cloister was the world of the poor.

All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 525

I have had conversations with people (both Christian and otherwise) who have recounted stories of having been on the receiving end of obnoxious evangelism.  These experiences turned them off, did nothing to draw them closer to Jesus, and did not glorify God.  Certainly the obnoxious evangelists meant well, but they did not seem to know which tactics to employ.  Foucauld understood well, however, the importance of proper motivations and tactics while seeking to convert people to Christianity and to make disciples in all nations.  Indeed, as many missionaries and trainers thereof have known well for a long time, insulting and alienating the population (or just one person) one seeks to convert is a counter-productive tactic.  Some of them have learned from the examples of holy people such as Foucauld.






Loving God, who restored the Christian faith of Charles de Foucauld

through an encounter with Islam in North Africa and sustained him in the desert

where he converted many with his witness of presence:

Help us to know you wherever we find you, that with him,

we may be faithful unto death; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God , for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5

Psalm 73:24-28

James 1:2-4, 12

John 16:25-33

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 95


2 responses to “Feast of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (December 1)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Leon Bloy, Jacques Maritain, and Raissa Maritain (November 4) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Magdeleine of Jesus (November 6) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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