On the twenty year old Bruno, all these events had had a very profound spiritual effect. Bruno’s devotion to Saint Remi is known to us through a letter he wrote to his old cathedral school friend Raoul le Vert. The letter was written toward the end of Bruno’s life from Calabria where he concludes the letter with the words: “Please send me The Life of Saint Remi, because it is impossible to find a copy where we are.” Continue reading Saint Bruno the Carthusian
Christian Culture: Film Recommandations
On Thursday, September 23, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina with the premiere by Famiplay of the film “We’ll rise at dawn ~ The strength of friendship”. Saint Pius of Pietrelcina was one of the most beloved and popular Italian saints of the 20th century and whom for half a century had concealed the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ on his hands, feet and side.
The film “We’ll Rise at Dawn” tells the story of 12-year-old Luca Paolucci from San Giovanni Rotondo, and his 13 year old friend Sebastiano of San Marco in Lamis just 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo in Southern Italy. These two boys intrigued and united through a strong bond of friendship and faith embark on an amazing journey in search of the man behind the real Padre Pio; a holy man, friar of miracles from southern Italy .
The film takes place in our time.
Luca is a 12 year old boy from San Giovanni Rotondo (south of Italy). He is intelligent, sharp witted and determined. One day, while eating supper at home, after spending the day visiting the church and museum of Padre Pio, he tells his parents about his plan to conduct a research among the people in his town who knew Padre Pio, the older people whom he wanted to interview to gather their testimonies, in order to write a book on the saint of Gargano. Luca has a ten year old sister (Miranda). The family are very close, their father is a scientist, a researcher at Padre Pio Hospital.
Luca goes to see his friend, Sebastiano, in San Marco in Lamis 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo, to ask him to team up with him on this initiative. Sebastiano accepts. He is a 13-year-old boy, within easy reach, amiable, a bit of a joker, despite a complex and difficult family situation: his mother is seriously Ill, and his father, an alcoholic often clashes with his son Sebastiano who is an only child.
The two boys begin their investigations by interviewing three characters, (two Capuchin Friars and one old lady) who knew Padre Pio when they were young and who have spoken with him in person, they are the real witnesses to some of his many miracles, his charisms, and extraordinary gifts. The saw Padre Pio’s sufferings first hand and his stigmata wounds like Christ formed in the shape of the Cross.
Here we encounter a new generation of faithful who have discovered Padre Pio, confronting the people who actually knew the saint. These three characters truly knew Padre Pio and fit quite easily into the narrative story of this fiction film.
Between one interview and another, the two boys exchange their impressions, they argue as friends do, and we see amusing interludes and boyish banter, alternating with some more serious and at times very moving moments. There are a sequence of amusing dialogues, for example between Luca and his little sister Miranda, between the two main characters, between the two main characters and their friends, family and some of the towns people.
We then get a glimpse and witness their family lives; A story of the two families. The health of Sebastiano’s mother is deteriorating rapidly. So is his father’s health, due to his alcoholism.
During a fight, Sebastiano is slapped in his face by his father. He meets Luca at Padre Pio’s ancient church where Luca attempts to consoles his friend. On their bikes they pass the plains between San Giovanni Rotondo and Monte Sant’Angelo. When they arrive at a fountain, Luca tells Sebastiano his parents have agreed to let him go with him to Pietralcina.
One day the two boys leave together for Pietrelcina with Sebastiano’s uncle… when… Something happens… and here I have to stop and say no more…
Padre Pio was a saintly capuchin friar from the southern Italian town of Pietrelcina who lived his ministry in San Giovanni Rotondo. He died in 1968, for fifty years he had on his hands, feet and sides the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ. He had extraordinary gifts – he could read the minds and souls of all people who came close to him (their past and their future). He performed numerous and incredible miracles. Today there are tens of thousands of devotees of Padre Pio throughout the world.
The miracles and stigmata of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina are widely known, as well as his profound writings on the meaning of Christian suffering. However, what is less known, are the most relevant aspect of his work: the prophecies that he made throughout his life.
Famiplay, is a cinema platform with Catholic values in audiovisual content, and wished to contribute toward a celebration of Padre Pio life by making his life and works known through the medium of cinema.
To achieve this, “We’ll rise at dawn” is now available on Amazon. Directed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Benjamin, Catholic priest, composer, writer and filmmaker a personal friend of Padre Pio, the film highlights the strength and intensity of friendship, whilst embarking on a wonderful journey to discover the truth about their local saint Padre Pio and his miracles.
I would not hesitate to recommend this film for family viewing of any age. The following links have been provide for you to watch a trailer, read about the production company and to rent or buy the film.Continue reading “We’ll Rise at Dawn ~ The Strength of Friendship.”
The impact of her posthumous publications, including Story of a Soul published shortly after her death, are extremely significant. The originality of her spirituality, also called the theology of the “Little Way” of “spiritual childhood”, has inspired multitudes of believers and also deeply affected many non-believers. Thérèse’s “little way” is understood simply to mean that we only need to… Continue reading The Story of a Soul ~ St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus O.C.D.￼
At the age of twelve, Jesus already began to exercise His Mother in detachment and to show her the degree of perfection to which He intended to elevate her. Undoubtedly, up to that time she had innocently enjoyed all of the tender-hearted endearments and affection of her Son, the Child Jesus. That is why on finding Him in the Continue reading Mary, The Personification of Faithfulness to Grace
“The Church, in her fidelity, values all things according to the preferences of her divine Spouse. Now, our Lord esteems His elect not so much by the activity of their works, as by the hidden perfection of their lives; that perfection which is measured by the intensity of the divine life, and of which it is said: ‘Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Again it is said of this divine life: ‘You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.’”
The good always seeks to spread.
In fact, the more perfect a being, the more good they radiate around themselves. Everything that is full of life, joy, love, seeks to spread love, joy and life. This is true for all things and in all areas of one’s life. Take the example of a flower which is perfection within a plant; it spreads the radiance of its colour, its fragrance and its seeds. A bird which is happy to live freely, rejoices the whole countryside with its melodious song.
Its the same for man. When a person has found something that they are happy with, they want to share it with everyone, a magnificent landscape, an inspiring book, just to give an example. All life, all joy, all love, wants to spread even if just a little. Because what we liked, what exhilarated us, that should and ought to also please our fellow men and exhilarate them in turn.
It is therefore a consequence of human solidarity if we are full of ourselves and therefore full of bitterness and envy, we will only pass on to others what we have. However, if we are filled with the peace and gentleness of Our Lord, we will overflow with that peace and gentleness which enables us to console others.
We are able to distinguish two kinds of joy and love: expressed and unexpressed joy, manifested and hidden love, in short, the active outer life and the contemplative inner life.
In the active exterior life, you know that you are able to communicate your beliefs and feelings, and how you achieve it. If truth be told, this is a gift that not everyone has in their possession; it depends a lot on one’s physical make-up. Those who have a beautiful voice, a profound air, gracious manners, and whatever else there may be? They know how to impose themselves upon others and transmit their ideas or their desire. They are the great orators, they are great teachers of men; some among them, are saints, other politicians, or even men who, without being on a public platform, succeed within society in uniting enthusiasm and empathy for them.
Yet, it is quite another thing to have a heart filled to brim with love and a radiating mind or to have a gift in gratifying and persuading others. These are two quite distinct genres.
You could, for example, be aflame with the love of God and have compassion for the poor, but be witless or blind and not have two pennies to rub together; in this case, no one would ever suspect what is within your heart.
I read somewhere the story of a child who cried when he was happy and laughed when he was sad: it was impossible for him to communicate his joy and his sadness, but he still had inner joys and sorrows.
So we have to conclude this: a good word, a smile, these are really good entities and they spread a little consolation around them, just like a flower or a bird of spring. But this radiance of our words, of our actions, is not yet the radiance of our ideas or our feelings.
Our ideas and our feelings, all that we have in the heart of light and love, these are realities which are no longer physical, material, but moral, spiritual, invisible, that is to say therefore, that they must also have a spiritual, invisible radiance.
To better understand how necessary this is, let us for example compare, a good thought toward a star.
As God lights a star in the night sky, He instills within our minds an act of trust in Him and a desire to comfort all the poor suffering hearts upon the earth. What was most valuable and most important? The star, or the act of faith and charity? It is obvious that what is within our soul is far more important than the whole the celestial sphere; a scientist pointed out that if a man is materially very small in the presence of the stars, he is infinitely greater than all of them through his spirit since he can know them and know that God has created them, whilst the stars don’t know anything about God or creation.
So a good thought is infinitely greater in value than a star! A heart full of love is a home hotter than the sun! Could you ever believe that God would allow this absurdity, of a star to radiate its light which radiates billions of miles away and for millions of years, to make known the ardour of this distant entity, of this spinning globe of matter? in the frozen vastness of space, and that a soul united to God is deprived of its radiance or that its radiance depends on some type of unfortunate physical conditions: a voice more or less clamorous, a more or less intelligent air, a more or less considerable force? No! A hundred times no!
The Church that is right when she teaches us the extraordinary and important dogma of the Communio Sanctorum — Communion of Saints — the fellowship of those united to Jesus Christ in Baptism. All of our good thoughts and our good sentiments, our acts of Faith and Love which are just like spiritual stars; they radiate both faith and love ad infinitum. They are centres of consolation, and of strength; souls which are united to God forming an immense constellation which dazzles the eyes of angels and which must never be extinguished in the heavens of Holy Mother Church.
The apostolate of the contemplatives, a silent and invisible apostolate, rests entirely upon this affirmation: love is something tangible, concrete, and even what is most real in the world, and the world can only be saved through acts of Faith and Charity.
This is what God is asking of man, it is what repairs the evil caused by sin, it is what consoles and strengthens those who are suffering, not through good words, or money, not even (outward) examples of virtue, it is Faith and Charity, which give life to these words, to these alms, to these examples.
But Faith and Charity still have a far more extensive action than the external works which they have to animate.
Indeed, a heart united to Our Lord, an immolated soul cooperates in the redemptive action of Our Lord which in turn radiates love within hearts, in union with the hearth of divine Charity.
Outer works reach only the exterior part of men; inner acts of charity impart life and consolation to countless souls within hearts.
The material alms are extremely limited, but the alms of contemplatives are an inexhaustible source within both time and space.
If the role of contemplatives is so little understood and so difficult to support, it is because, here, everything happens in the invisible; it is absolutely necessary to live in the night of supernatural Faith. But what makes this life so difficult is also what makes it worth. A man’s life is substantial and beautiful insofar as it is animated by Faith. Those who only believe in what they see are cowards who achieve nothing at all and will meet their death in a pensioner’s reclining chair, or behind a grocery counter without ever having made a fortune, because it takes a certain kind of daring and fearlessness to make a fortune! It is through a leap of faith that all great businesses become possible. Imagine what kind of a leap of faith it took for Christopher Columbus to be the first to set off on an uncharted and perilous ocean and discover the Americas! Well, to be a cloistered religious, to be contemplative, one has to have significantly greater faith. We must set off just as Saint Peter did, walk upon the sea which at any moment seems intent on swallowing us up. You have to (as the Little Flower Thérèse of the Child Jesus reminds us) go through extremely dark tunnels, so dark that you begin to wonder if the sun still prevails. You have to take a chance and risk your life, you have to throw yourself eyes closed into the arms of the Good Lord who is waiting for us within this darkness. This is the price of the heroism of the saints! Entering the unknown, taking a chance and without a second though, make the jump based on good faith. Its a risk that many would not take.
But what these heroes — whom are bolder than all of the navigating and explorers in history—, are discovering is not the New World, the continent of America, it is not even El Dorado or the Seven Cities of Gold —a new earthly paradise— it is, right here below, on earth, the true Kingdom of Heaven, promised by the Son of God.
It is for those who live like this in Faith that Our Lord said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29) and here I would like to remind you all that Faith in Our Lord is not blind faith. The Bible does not tell us to exercise “blind faith,” but a faith which is firmly embedded in objective reality.
Prayer to Saint Bruno
O God, merciful Father, who called Saint Bruno to the solitude of the desert to found the Order of the Carthusian monastery; We ask you to free us from the sorrows of this world through his intercession and to grant us the gift of peace and spiritual joy that you have promised to those who persevere in seeking you.
AmenContinue reading “The silent and hidden apostolate of the contemplative”
St. Francis reaffirms the divine character of Creation also in its material aspects, against the Cathars, who in those same years claimed that God had created the spiritual reality, while the material reality was of demonic origin. St. Francis of Assisi also argues against the mercantile mentality that was rapidly spreading throughout the known world and for which nature was being exploited simply for economic purposes, while the saint from Assisi argues that nature provides man with everything he needs and therefore invites us not to worry about scrambling about continuously, seeking ever greater but useless material goods. Continue reading The Canticle of Brother Sun
From the Hermit of Saint Bruno Nr. Canterbury (England)
On May 24, 2015, the encyclical Laudato si ‘appeared in which Francis I, the Bishop of Rome called all of Christendom toward an ecological spirituality (Laudato Si’ № 216), the foundation of an ecological conversion that modifies relations with the world around us (№ 217) and made more concrete through the application of practical directives. The Bishop of Rome names St. Francis of Assisi as the exemplar (№ 218) to arouse this sublime fraternity with all of creation which he [St. Francis] lived in such a resplendent manner.
The publication of this encyclical did cause some surprises though! both for the subject (ecology), not at all contemporary or prevalent within the magisterium, and for the chorus of praises coming from eminent peoples as the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I and former president Barak Obama, but also from other bon vivants of the world (such as Donald Trump who received a personal signed copy of Laudato Si’) but who’s objectives, actions, leadership and lives are in a totally opposite direction to the Kingdom of God; claiming to be Christians and only having time to attend Church during election years, somewhat akin to prisoners attending a parole board for early release.
Can we truly visualise St. Francis as the patron saint of Ecologists as we conceive it in this day and age by the greats of this world? Surely the sons of St. Francis, cannot remain indifferent to this question; is it not after all the honour of their seraphic Father which is at stake?
Saint Francis and nature
The relationship between the saint and nature can be summarised as follows: from the Creator to creature, from the creature to the Creator.
In first place from the Creator to the creature. Through creatures, St. Francis discerned all the goodness of God. He saw brothers and sisters in them, because they all had the same father (1st Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano 81). Thus, in his transport of love towards God, one day he invited birds to sing the praises of the Creator to thank him for all they received from him (1st Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano 58). In summary, it is because of his ardent love for God that he loved every creature of him at the same time.
From the creature to the Creator. For his soul so pure, the world was a mirror of Divine Goodness and a ladder whereby he might reach the Throne (2nd Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano 165). The saint had a much more tender affection for creatures who bore a symbolic resemblance to Jesus (1st Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano 77). Among them, he preferred lambs, because they reminded him of the One who had abandoned himself to his enemies, as an innocent lamb. All these things he said in an admirable way in the Canticle of creatures. We report the first and last verse, which show us the supernatural breath that animates the whole canticle:
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, Praise, glory and honour and benediction all, are Thine. To Thee alone do they belong, most High, And there is no man fit to mention Thee … Praised be [Laudato si’] my Lord for our sister, the bodily death, From the which no living man can flee. Woe to them who die in mortal sin; Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will, For the second death shall do them no ill.
Ecology is neutral in itself. It is the study of the environment where living beings live and reproduce, and of the relationship they have with this environment. Or so the dictionary says. The purpose of those who study this science is the conservation of these environments so that living beings are not in danger. It is normal for those in power to worry about it, but many do not.
However, ecological concerns have gained more and more momentum due to increased industrialisation; it can be said that in the last 20 years we have witnessed an invasion of ecological issues within our daily lives.
Where does this universal phenomenon come from? For many decades, international bodies, in particular the UN, have become champions of the ecological movement. Now what exactly is meant by ecology? What objectives does it pursue? To answer these questions, it is sufficient to refer to the official acts that have been issued over time. Let’s take a look at some of these goals.
First, the fundamental objective: a change in the paradigm, that is, in our conception of the world. Christianity had Christ the King. Men were subject to this Master whom was dearly loved and faithfully served, both by nations and by individuals. And man reigned over the lower creatures. The Revolution cast out Christ the King; man then proclaimed himself sole king and became intoxicated by this sensation, whilst destroying man’s superiority over other creatures. In short, it is a role reversal (as the word revolution implies). It is the adoration of the elements, possessions, money, the cult of Earth, and finally pantheism, none of which, I believe, are Christocentric.
This new paradigm must be imposed on the whole world. Ecology is found to be an effective lever on all plans for achieving this goal. First, many Communists have laundered themselves into ecology. For example Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. In his book Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (1988), destined to revive a new world revolution, ecological problems play a preponderant part. Gorbachev himself is the founder of Green Cross International whom inform us that they ‘strive for a secure and sustainable future.’
Finally, it is a question of moulding and combining a political and religious synthesis: achieving a world government and a world religion. A threat of catastrophe must be created within the spirit of the people, to ensure social cohesion and the acceptance of a world political authority, which will be utterly totalitarian.
As for the origin of these ideas, we find them brought together in the New Age movement, derived in turn from the Theosophical Society. The latter was founded by Freemason Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875. One of her successors, Alice Bawley, founded the Lucis Trust in 1922, later renamed the Lucius Trust, a true world centre for the radiance of Luciferian cults and also the Lucifer Publishing Company. ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Lucis’ are from the same word root, lucis being the Latin genitive case meaning ‘of light.’ After the first two or three years, the name was changed to “Lucis Publishing Co.” (The Theosophical Society also used the name “Lucifer” for its early magazine publication.)
The encyclical Laudato si’.
Curiously, in this document we find exactly the same concerns held by the ecological movement. Firstly, the Bishop of Rome denounces the “dominant technocratic paradigm” which he believes to be the root of the current ecological crisis (ch 3), wanting to indicate in this manner the aims to power of industrial societies. To remedy this, he offers a new look at nature. We need “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale.” [№ 9] We note the confusion between the natural order and the supernatural order. While rejecting life-giving pantheism, he says that “The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship with him.”[№ 88] From the beginning of the world, but particularly through the incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy. [№ 99]
The creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. (№ 100) All these considerations are traversed by the same constant confusion between both nature and grace. Not only did Christ united with every man, but still with everything. “Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light: (…) God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore.” (№ 221). This distinctly evolutionary doctrine is taken up almost entirely by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ., scientist, palaeontologist, theologian, philosopher and teacher, is quoted in № 83 of Laudato Si’ (cf. note 53).
As for the New Age movement, it claims Father Teillhard as one of its inspirers. Chardin was Darwinian in stance and sentiments. In 1962, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned several of Chardin‘s works because of their ambiguities and doctrinal errors, the response to his writings by other scientists in the field have been extremely critical. In 1926 his superior in the Jesuit Order forbade him to teach ever again. This is the same man whom as the Jesuit held that humanity had descended from apes and were not created by God. A decree of the Holy Office dated 30 June 1962, under the authority of Pope John XXIII, warned: “It is obvious that in philosophical and theological matters, the said works [Chardin’s] are replete with ambiguities or rather with serious errors which offend Catholic doctrine. That is why… the Rev. Fathers of the Holy Office urge all Ordinaries, Superiors, and Rectors… to effectively protect, especially the minds of the young, against the dangers of the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and his followers. [Acta Apostolicae Sedis – Commentarium Officiale, p. 526, Annus LIV Series III Vol. IV. 6 August 1962]
In reality, God does not dwell within all creatures of His creation. As the creator of natural order, He is present in everything. God lives only within a soul that is in a state of grace; it is through supernatural faith animated by charity that God makes him present in a new way (Aquinas The Missions of the Divine Persons: I q. 43, a 3)
But let’s continue and finish the observation of this new look at things proposed by the encyclical. Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world (n 236) [ID., Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003), 8: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 95 (2003), 438]: is still a Theillardian ideology. “Decree of the Council of Trent (Session XXII) September 17, 1562 … The Mass must be celebrated either on an altar which has been consecrated or on a consecrated altar-stone or portable altar (Rubricæ Generales Missalis XX).” altare symbolum est Ipsius Christi — the altar is the symbol of Jesus Christ, the altar of his own sacrifice.
Now, its the whole world that is sacred… since Christ is united with it. In the end, “The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways.” (№ 238) Once again we note the confusion between supernatural love, of which the Spirit is the principle and the love of God whom created the natural world. Although it cannot be said that a form of pantheism is declared in a formal manner, it is the natural outcome of such a doctrine, since participation in the divine nature (definition of grace) is in reality only natural. To impose this new paradigm and this new behaviour, the encyclical proclaims that ‘there is urgent need of a true world political authority [is this an ‘NWO?‘],’ … ‘it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organised international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.’ (№ 167-175)
To manifest this now ineluctable authority, it is recalled that states can no longer cope with ecological problems. The potential for an ‘ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilisation,’ is broadly described (cf. № 4 and the whole chapter 1). A worldwide consensus on these questions must be established (№ 216). The Church addresses her prayer for this purpose (№ 216). In short, the political world and the religious world converge. Numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. In the religious world itself, Churches and Christian communities —and other religions as well— have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. (№ 7-8).
In summary, we see a convergence between ecological ideology and the encyclical Laudato si’ even if the latter does not admit it because certain points of this ideology are too overtly anti-Christian, nevertheless, what matters for the Revolution is that it continues to march onwards. This is above all a practice, and for this reason it is not allowed to collaborate with it. Probably unbeknownst to its author, the encyclical is playing into the hands of revolution and the insurrection game.
It is impossible to recognize the countenance of the serene Bishop of Rome within the encyclical Laudato si’, it was after all written by him and what seems to be several ghost writers of the Curia. For the Bishop of Rome, as for the Catholic doctrine of all time, creation is similar to a mirror of divine goodness. The gift of science makes us realise how empty creatures are of God and makes us desire Heaven even more; at the same time, it makes us ascend back to the Creator, the “Summum bonum, the rotalis bonum which alone is the ultimate good.” (Laudes Domini) The “Summum bonum” is generally considered as an end in itself, as well as containing all other goods. In Christian philosophy, the highest good generally defines the life of the righteous, the life they lead in communion with God and in accordance with his precepts.
While according to the doctrine of the encyclical, at the service of a universal and cosmic fraternity, God dwells in all things, according to the Theillardian ideology. Objectively, this document gives a nudge to a revolutionary world.
More than ever we pray for the Church and all of humanity, that both may receive the enlightenment and strength to avoid the jaws of revolution. The latter certainly is not desired; if it smiles at church today it is to lure her into its game, but tomorrow it could also reserve a sadder fate for all. At Fatima the Virgin repeatedly reminded us of the urgency to pray for the Church and for its leaders. So let’s re-double our efforts.
BibliographyContinue reading “From St. Francis toward a Christian Ecotheology”
The Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart are looking for volunteers, priests or lay, to strengthen their fraternities on the Assekrem plateau and in Tamanrasset, in the Great Algerian South. Continue reading NEWS: The Charles de Foucauld family in Algeria calls on laypeople, priests to join them.
A life made of contemplation, prayer and service to the least of Charles de Foucauld (1858—†1916), beatified on November 13, 2005, in the presence of the “blue men” of the desert, those Tuareg whom he had loved so much and for whom he had canceled to become the last of the poor. With the boundless Saharan horizons and their absolute silence, broken by the prayers that the Tuareg intoned five times a day, it had been love at first sight. It was the desert that brought him back to the path of faith, that made him discover that restlessness of the heart finds peace only in the hours of prayer, at the foot of the Eucharist. Precisely this yearning pushed him where no religious had ever gone – to Hoggar, in the deep south of Algeria – to bear witness to universal faith and peace. Like Jesus in Nazareth, he wanted his presence to bear witness only to goodness and brotherhood.
In the hermitage of Beni-Abbès, in the province of Oran, on the border with Morocco, he had placed these signs: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, renounce himself, take up the cross and follow me”; “Do everything to everyone, with the only desire to give Jesus to everyone”; “Live today, as if you were to die tonight, martyr.” And when the First World War, crossing over from the European continent, armed the hand that killed him right in his hermitage of peace, that death was simply the most consistent outcome of a life that, after his conversion, had been pure praise of God, putting himself totally back into his hands, until he dissolves like the grain of wheat, which however here we see reborn even in the desert and becomes still life for those who know how to take up the arduous example. 
The way of conversion
Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg on 15 September 1858 to a noble French family, but in 1864 he was shocked by an incident: within a few months he lost both parents. Taking care of him and his sister Marie is his maternal grandfather, Charles-Gabriel de Morlet, who after the Franco-Prussian war moved to Nancy, opting for French nationality. Here Charles completed his secondary studies and then attended the Jesuit school in Paris, in the rue des Postes. He will say later, recalling those years: “I think I have never been in a more deplorable state of mind. At 17 I was only selfishness, vanity, impiety, desire for evil: I was like outside of myself” and sadly admits that, “of faith, there was no trace left in my soul”.  Upon graduation, he takes the exam for the military academy of Saint-Cyr, where he enters in 1876, and two years later we find him at the cavalry school of Saumur.
In both environments he stands out for his indiscipline and transgressions, for the games packed evenings of card and girls, for the quality of the cigars he smokes and the expensive clothes he wears. In 1880 he reached the desert for the first time which would later captivate him. He is in Algeria with the 4th Hussar Battalion — 4e Régiment de Hussards—, already with the rank of lieutenant, but once again the transgression prevails: he has brought a lover from France, with whom he lives more uxorio. When the colonel finds out about the affair, forces him to put an end to it or to leave, Charles, who is not the type to give up, returns to France. But when, in the spring of 1881, he learns of the insurrection in Bou-Amama, in the southern Sahara, he cannot resist the thought of his comrades fighting without him. He leaves for Algeria, reaches the front and during the battle is noted for both his courage and solidarity.
He now has the desert and its inhabitants in his heart, to the point that he asks for a license to undertake a trip into the sub-Saharan regions, enabling him to study them thoroughly. He was only 24 years old: the unknown now dominated his future, he now felt that he was born to inhabit that desert, that he was there to listen to the silence that filled those vast horizons. Settling in Algiers, he begins to prepare for the exploration of Morocco, a closed country and wary of foreigners. But first he had to learn Arabic, so his desire for knowledge re-emerges —neglected during his school years— and he begins to go to libraries, to take private lessons, to consult those who could help him. He meets Oscar Mac Carthy, an old explorer who had traveled extensively in Africa: without escort or luggage, regardless of material comforts, with pockets full of notebooks and handwritten papers. Oscar tells him that the biggest problem is the choice of disguise, as it is impossible to enter that hostile country without hiding one’s status as a Christian. Only two ways of dressing would have made him go unnoticed: Arab or Jewish. Charles opts for the latter style and, having chosen a rabbi as a guide, leaves Tangier on June 20, 1883.
The trip allows him to create a scientific work —both geographic, military and political, Reconnaissance au Maroc—,  but it is also an opportunity to undertake a “reconnaissance” inside his own soul. He returned to France profoundly changed and, after having tried in vain to forget those places, in September 1885 he left for Algeria, where he traveled kilometres and kilometres, to listen to the voice of the desert in the silence of the night, to look at the immensity of the starry sky, to understand the reason for the charm that emanates from that country made of sand and light. In particular, he is struck by the faith of Muslims and their constant invocation to God; those prayers confront him with his lack of faith and so, after years spent suffocating that nostalgia, it comes to the surface stronger than ever: it recognises the mistakes of the past and tries to answer the questions that are multiplying in him.
God, who also knows how to manifest himself through unusual ways, waited for him one evening at the home of a cousin, arranging for him meet Abbé Henri Huvelin: a man of great faith, capable of speaking to souls and recognising their pain. He immediately understood what the restless eyes of that young man were asking, but he did not press and waited. At the end of October 1886 he was in the confessional, in Saint-Augustin, and Charles went to ask him to instruct him, because he had no faith. Abbé Henri Huvelin made him kneel and invited him to confess to God; then he gave him the Eucharist. From that moment Charles de Foucauld found peace, which now transpired from the smile and from the words, from the letters that more and more often spoke of God, from the life he led in his sister Marie’s house and from the search to discover God’s call. he made a trip to the Holy Land and, while crossing the streets of Nazareth, meditating on the words of Abbé Huvelin —“Our Lord has so occupied the last place that no one has ever managed to steal it from him” (p. 116) —, he had the clear feeling of being called to the hidden life, in all humility.
Brother Albéric and the call of the desert
Back in Paris, in March 1889, one last problem remains to be solved: which religious order is most suitable for him? He makes several retreats, spends months in prayer and finally feels that he is drawn to the Trappists so that, having given all of his possessions to his sister, he reaches Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, where he is admitted to the noviciate with the name of Brother Marie-Albéric. Despite the hardness characteristic of La Trappe, Charles stands out for his helpfulness, austerity, thoughtful judgment, but above all for his humility, which is reflected in his every gesture and in the words he writes to his sister: “For me, everything continues to go really well. From day one, my life goes on smoothly. And my soul, how’s it going? I was just not hoping for it: the good Lord makes me find in solitude and silence a consolation on which I did not count. I am constantly and absolutely with him and with those I love”.  Doing God’s will was his only desire, and that very will now asks him to leave Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and settle in the most remote monastery of the Trappists in Syria. He returned the call of solitude in the desert, the charm of those silent places, to live in greater poverty, near the Holy Land, where the Son of God had worked and suffered.
He leaves Marseille on June 27, 1890, heading for the Cheïkhlé Trappe —a monastery lost in the mountains, with about twenty Trappists—, where he continues his noviciate marked by work in the fields, meditation, reading and prayer, until the day of his religious profession. February 2, 1892. But brother Albéric, who wants to follow an even more demanding rule than the Trappist one, has the inspiration to found a small congregation that traces the life of Jesus as much as possible: only in this way does he consider it possible to witness the love of God in abandoned countries and where the Gospel is ignored. To do this, however, he must leave the Order he has just entered. He talks about it with his confessor, Dom Polycarpe, and writes the doubts that haunt him to Abbé Huvelin. The old spiritual director knew well that it was impossible to hold him back when he felt inside “the mysterious call” and therefore, after various correspondence exchanges, he authorised him to follow that project of a solitary and totally hidden life, but rejected the written rule for the foundation of the Little Brothers of Jesus, considering it impossible due to excessive severity.
It was February 1897 when he left Brindisi  to reach the Holy Land with a ticket given to him by the Trappists and, once he arrived in Nazareth, he went to the Poor Clares to have a place as a servant. The abbess, mother Saint-Michel, knew very well whom she was standing in front of and treated him like a sacristan: he would sleep in a hut in the shadow of the monastery, receive a piece of bread a day, and have plenty of time to pray. It was exactly what he was looking for, and the hermit life he managed to lead made him deeply happy, it allowed him to apply his rule to the hours of day and night, marked by intervals of work and prayer. The following year, Mother Saint-Michel sent him to Jerusalem to deliver a letter to those Poor Clares. He arrived totally exhausted, with his feet blistered and sore from the long journey and mother Élisabeth du Calvaire decided to hold him back for some time in order for him to recover. Confident of his great intelligence as well as of the immense faith of that man; he who had presented himself as a beggar, the abbess managed to convince him, with the help of the Abbé Huvelin, to embrace the priesthood. At the beginning of August 1900, Charles thus returned to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, where Dom Martin had been waiting for his arrival, Dom Martin made Charles complete his preparation for the priesthood at the Grand Séminaire for the clergy in Viviers (Ardèche). It was a year of study, prayer, seclusion, but also of reflection, during which he discovers that he is called not only to the pure hiding of Nazareth, but to live that form of life by bringing the Eucharist to the wildest districts, among the “infidels” and the souls who have been forgotten the most or who are lost.
On June 9, 1901, he was ordained a priest and remained among the Trappists awaiting the answer: he had asked to settle between Aïn and Touat, in one of the French garrisons without a priest, and be authorised to aggregate some companions to practice the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament. In September he takes leave of the Trappists of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and lands in his Africa, taking with him only the necessary to build the chapel and a few books. The French soldiers, knowing that the well-known explorer, already their comrade, had come to the desert to respond to such a noble and admirable call, welcomed him with enthusiasm and wanted to escort him to Beni-Abbès.  Here he buys land where water passed and begins, with the help of the fusiliers, to build a hermitage, starting with the chapel where he would exhibit the Eucharist.  He spends many hours of the day and night in meditation or adoration, lying at the foot of the altar; the rest of the time he dedicates to the soldiers, who go to see him for advice, to be blessed or simply to listen to that man who inspired peace and holiness. He welcomed them into the “terrain of fraternity” —as he had defined it—, listened to them and then accompanied them to the boundary which, marked by the stones, represented the space of the enclosure.
The “Christian marabout” who loved the North Africans
The inhabitants of Beni-Abbès began to look at the “Christian marabout” —in the al-Maghrib al-Arabi (المغربالعربي) Maghrebi Arabic lexicon it means ‘holy man‘ and hermit— both with a mixture of fear and admiration. But, little by little, they came closer and closer to the hermitage, and he willingly sacrificed something of that contemplation, the breath of his soul, to receive them fraternally and help them where he could. He opened his home to unpredictable nomads, to reprobate slaves and to those who needed shelter. He did this in order to accustom “Christians, Muslims, Jews and idolaters, to consider me their brother, their universal brother. Everyone is beginning to call this house “fraternity,” and this gives me great pleasure” (p. 238). And for that purpose to come true, he used up all that he had in order to free some young slave.
The life he led in the desert was made up of little sleep, a lot of work, of consolation for the afflicted, of very little food, but above all of contemplation and prayer before the source of his love for him, the humble tabernacle. Through the witness of charity, humility, fraternity and forgiveness, Charles de Foucauld tries to follow the Gospel and to bring Jesus among those Muslims, whose conversion seemed to Charles, to be something that was beyond the bounds of possibility. The undertaking was difficult, but a sign came when a young Tuareg woman, during the massacre of the Paul Flatters mission (1880–81), not only treated the wounded, but opposed their killing. Wasn’t this Christian charity? The one that makes all human beings love, without exception? Now Charles no longer had any doubts: he would go among the Tuareg, the nomadic “blue men” of the desert, to bring them the message of universal brotherhood and Christian love. With the help of commander Laperinne, he began a visit to the Ahnet, Adrar and Hoggar regions, to get to know the six great components of the Tuareg people and to get closer to their language.
In the spring of 1905 he moved to the heart of the Hoggar, precisely to Tamanrasset, a village far from the main centres, in the middle of the mountains, inhabited by the gag-rali. From that period there remains a photo, now universally known, with Charles at the door of the hut, dressed in a white tunic that on the chest has a red heart sewn on it which is surmounted by a cross . He studies Tamacheq, the Tuareg language, enabling him to translate the Bible into their language, and then attempts to make the first approaches with his nomadic neighbours by entering the gardens where they work, talking to them, distributing medicines and small gifts, such as needles, which the women had so desperately needed. In the spring of 1907 he was offered to join Captain Dinaux’s mission of peace and civilisation, and Charles, who saw this trip as an opportunity to deepen his knowledge of the Tuareg language, accepts. In every village or encampment he promised a penny for each verse, for the songs of love or war, for the ancient or recent poems of the Tuareg peoples.
In a personal note extract we read: “We left Father de Foucauld on an ‘expeditionary‘ tour in the Hoggar, in company with Captain Dinaux. This officer, was keen to continue the work of Laperrine, met Moussa Ag Amastane, chief of the Tuaregs in the Hoggar and sixteen of his notables. On the June 23, 1905, the grand aménokal of the Hoggar made amends for his attitude over the last two years and, as a sign of submission to France, agreed to pay the tax. In addition, he offered to accompany the captain on his expedition, which resumed on the following 10th of July.”
To understand these moments he had tried to grasp every word lost in the desert and had made a small piece of his heart out of it, feeling part of that country. He was convinced that God’s will was being fulfilled through his stay in the Hoggar and through the drafting of a glossary,  to which he was dedicating time and energy as an essential element of communication and mutual understanding. He had made himself small and poor, annihilating himself in a hidden life, in order to bring the evangelical witness to those peoples whom the desert had long hidden. He knew that he would not win them over with preaching, but only with the presence of the Eucharist, with example, penance, universal fraternal charity. He was not mistaken, and when suddenly the “Christian marabout” fell seriously ill, the Tuareg took care of him by bringing him the little goat’s milk they had, in order to make him heal. He managed to recover and continued to move from one hermitage to another, made trips to France, at the insistence of his sister who wanted to see him again, suffered the pain of two serious losses: those of Father Guérin, his spiritual director, and of the Abbé Huvelin, who both died in 1910.
Meanwhile, the Tuareg, hit by drought, had migrated to Asekrem, a mountain town in the Hoggar, where Charles followed them, building a new small hermitage in order not to leave them. “This is a beautiful place to worship the Creator. May his kingdom settle here! I have the advantage of having many souls around me and being truly lonely on the summit. The soul is not made for noise, but for recollection, and life must be a preparation for heaven, not only through meritorious works, but also through peace and recollection in God “(p. 422). These were his thoughts as he received the Tuareg families in a cabin that looked more like a corridor, and shared with them what little food he had. His greatest concern than he was to make himself useful and relieve that people, whom he loved so much, from the inferior condition in which he had lived for years. For this reason, in May 1913 he embarks on a trip to France together with Ouksem, a young Tuareg of noble origins. He did not know that Providence was allowing him go home for one last time only.
Returning to the beloved desert, he too was overwhelmed by the serious repercussions that the First World War also had in the colonial territories. He then decided, despite the danger represented by the (السِّنُوسِيَّةُ) Sanousiyya —is a Tuareg tariqa (Sufi brotherhood) considered to be rebels who attacked the French army— not to abandon Tamanrasset, but simply to take refuge with some of his proteges in a more fortified place, where he continued to live in prayer and solitude, before the Eucharist, completing the translation of the Tuareg poems. “We live in days when the soul feels the need to pray. In the storm that blows over Europe one perceives the nothingness of the creature and one turns to the Creator. We stretch our arms towards the sky, like Moses during the battle of his gods, and, where man is powerless, we pray to Him who can do everything”(p. 477), he wrote a few days before being killed by some rebellious Tuareg.
It was December 1, 1916, when Charles’s earthly life was brutally cut short. But his universal brotherhood, born at the foot of the Eucharist and concretised in words, gestures and loving service to the least, was carried away by the wind, together with the sand of the desert, and reached growing men and women who, fascinated, they tried to follow him in that exceptional adventure.  They are those petits frères and those petites sœurs  and the many lay associations which, in various forms and denominations, are inspired by that charism and live in silence among the least in the world, trying to be, like their founder, witnesses of the Gospel with a presence made of loving and warm solidarity.
May Our Lord God through the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s great devotion, make us worthy of the heritage ! Amen. recite 3 x Ave Maria!
Continue reading “Bl. Charles de Foucauld OCSO: Christ’s Witness in the Desert”
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