Universal Brother: Charles de Foucauld Speaks to Us Today
by Little Sister Kathleen of Jesus, New City Press
Review reflection by Sr Margaret Kerry, fsp
If you have read anything about Brother Charles your first thought may not be that he is a saint for our technological world. His life was one of hidden witness in the deserts of the Middle East. This book written by a Little Sister Kathleen of Jesus, a member of the one of the orders inspired by Blessed Charles, shows him to be a saint for our busy-always-connected world. My take on the spirituality of de Foucauld is as often as we are connected on social media, e-mail and streaming media we need a counter-balance of silence, presence, community and humility. Sr. Kathleen begins by retelling de Foucauld’s story for those who have not met him. My favorite introductory chapter “From Emptiness to Presence: Turning Religion into Love,” tells of his existential crises. It is what many young people face today. The cure, mediating on the Holy Family at Nazareth, led Charles to discover God in everyday, ordinary life. His meditation grew to became a charism, his charism gave birth to twenty groups, and today over 13,000 members world-wide live his spirituality.
Blessed Charles entered into intimacy with his Beloved Trinitarian God. His love bore fruit in one of the most arid desert places of the world. His hidden almost hermitical life was not a way to avoid people. It was a way he could embrace in any person as a brother or sister. Founding a religious order was an unfulfilled desire in his lifetime. He died during a raid, shot by someone claiming to deliver mail. Was this an ignoble death or the culmination of a life of holiness? It was love that defined his life so that his death became a martyrdom of love. “Love doesn’t consist in feeling that we love but in wanting to love,” he wrote, “when you want to love above all else, you do in fact love above all else.” For Charles living a life with Jesus as Nazareth meant simplicity of life, prayer, listening, humble work and humility. It was the way to be really useful to others as a “universal brother.” His spiritual director agreed that “Nazareth is a house that you build in your heart, or better still, it’s a house that you allow the hands of Jesus…to build inside of you.” Even if Nazareth is a little house, writes Sr. Kathleen, it has rooms for lots of people!
Blessed De Foucould lived among Muslim peoples as a witness of love. His conversion was awakened by Islam as he toured Morocco. His way to bring Jesus to others became a way of friendship. When I consider Blessed Charles in our present day technological entanglements I consider three things:
While Jesus hidden years at Nazareth inspired Charles’ spirituality of humility, work, prayer and listening he did not hesitate to live at the “fault lines of humanity” to be near those who did not know the gospel.
When we engage in social media it is important to begin at Nazareth in the simplicity and love of a family. As we shore up our spiritual life in humility and intimacy with Jesus we can move toward humanity’s fault lines online. There we may kindle friendship as we witness to the gospel message.
To attract others to the mystery of Christ, Blessed Charles said, we are first drawn to his sweet perfume.
Then without our effort our lives spread the same fragrance, that of the Holy Spirit, and a life fragrant with the evangelical virtues. Being a universal brother or sister means to listen to the other as we engage.
Living a life of interior silence deepens our ability to “Cry the gospel with our lfe.” On his clock Charles inscribed the words “It is time to love God.” While living the life of Nazareth Charles also focused on Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary went in haste to be with her cousin. He didn’t seek measurable success in his communication with others – he loved and surrendered all results to God.
Surrendering our results to God seems difficult for us as we engage social media today. We measure the likes, the retweets and the responses either negative or positive. To “Cry the gospel with our lives” begins with acknowledging that we are servants of the gospel, a brother and sister for others who knows that the fruitfulness of our efforts cannot be measured.
In this book Sr. Kathleen explains the origins of Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment, It is one of the most beautiful prayers of faith, trust and surrender that I know. Before embarking on our day and as we enter the labyrinth of social media it is a powerful prayer.
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,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.