Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Ecumenical Matter : Charles de Foucauld

Seeing a person who was raised Muslim, grew up in an Islamic country and hence practises Islam with fervour in their adulthood should not be a source of surprise.

 And yet. How offensive and perplexing the average modern Catholic finds the site of a fellow Catholic who does the same. Many do undoubtedly apply the same logic to those of Islam, Judaism and even Amish people. However, this is always tamed by the modern propensity to lean toward political correctness in all matters of seriousness and possible offence to others.

The liberals have succeeded, in nominally Catholic countries, in making one ashamed to be publicly Catholic. This has been a successful strategy to which many of the One True Faith have bowed their heads towards before the dictatorial relativist prevailing culture. How shameful both Catholics who hide their faith and people of no faith must find it when they see Muslims walking around Western streets in their burqas, with their large families and with their overgrown beards. And ashamed we should be.

When a young, hedonistic French man travelled to Algeria in the late Nineteenth Century, he travelled with a seeming inevitability that he was disappearing into a life of mediocre indulgence. Having inherited much from his late grandfather's estate, Charles de Foucauld had spent much of his previous years indulging himself. An indulgence that began, logically speaking, with his adolescent descent into atheism and irreligious apathy. He was a young man of reading, of study. He found it easy in post-revolution France to abandon himself to the whims of an ideology that replaced God with man.

But this vanity, of which so many young men in our time subscribe to, was not fulfilling. And when Foucauld saw Algeria, the African mystique confronted this decadent officer with the sheer emptiness of his own life. The life gifted to him by God, as all of our lives are, was devoid of meaning and of love for anything but his own pleasures. But the Islamic people, in their devotion to their rituals and practices were above whatever it was that he held dear.

Note that sorrowful expression in a young Charles de Foucauld

Worldly men and women trust only themselves, if even that. They trust their possessions and feel an affinity towards those things that do not last.

After returning to his family, who offered him nothing but affection and sympathy despite his past discretions, Charles was tortured by recollections of the Muslim calls to prayer. Of prostration and humble submission by the pilgrims of the desert. It was this simplicity which had caused his apostasy as a teenager, for him there was a simplicity in the Islamic pursuit of obedience that seemed to hide some small smidgeon of what he wanted to feel connected to. God is self-denial. God is taking up your cross. God is love and love only.

After seeing the faith of the Algerians, he longed for God. Reminiscent of St. Augustine, that most famous of Algerian Christians, he asked God to reveal Himself to him. 'My God, if you exist, let me come to know you'. Repeatedly, he implored this merciful encounter with the Almighty. It was thus that he rejected Islam. He instead decided to embrace an all consuming, all abandoning version of Catholicism. He became a Trappist, in France and Syria. Eventually he went to the Sahara as Priest.

For the rest of his days, he served as an example to the people whom encountered of the humble love of Christ. He wanted people to say within themselves, if this is the slave, imagine how wonderful must be the master. A servant of all, as Our Lord instructed us to be.

In the Sahara Desert, the temperature drops below freezing at night-time during the height of winter. It was at such an hour that Blessed Charles, the one who gave his mortal and eternal self to the majesty of nothingness, faced his end. On December 1, 1916, he was killed in cold blood by Muslims who had initially intended to kidnap him. The Senussi , a proto-Islamist group who claimed lineage from Muhammad, had obviously felt threatened by Foucauld's faith as he once was by their fellow Muslims. Only, his discontent led him to humility, to he service of all regardless of their creed, ultimately, to Catholicism and hence Christ. The discontent of these Muslims brought them hatred, violence and aggression, as it does many in our world.

When speaking about Blessed Charles de Foucauld in 2008, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI stated that, 'we cannot be silent about what we know'. That was the challenge of Islam to Charles de Foucauld. And that was the challenge that he threw back to them ten fold, with his love and devotion to the poor and to goodness. He may have died aged 58, a young age by anyone's means, but for many the resounding image that will stick is the one of a bearded and solemn figure, with a startling face like Robert De Niro's character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Young and radical, on fire with the love of Christ.

At the Second Vatican Council, the writings of Louis Massignon influenced the Declaration of the Church in Relation of the Church with non-Christian religions. Although Massignon played a role in the extenuation of Foucauld's memory after death, it is likely that Foucauld would have agreed to the wording of that document. He knew that Muslims did not want to sit down and talk about Christ. He would have known that Muslims had no incentive to regard the Council documents as binding, thus were only likely to see the weakness of will in the misguided efforts of the decree.

Foucauld became a martyr, as any person can only become a martyr. By affirming God's love and being killed for it. Christ helps sick children, Christ feeds the hungry, Christ reaches out to the desolate. This is the only kind of ecumenism. If we are intimidated by the physicality or the brutality of others, let us then intimidate them with our meekness and our gentleness.

In times of fear, doubt and suffering, may we all recall the prayer of the man who was , as Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen observed, the Playboy who became a Saint. The young men who think that becoming Jihadis to be an expression of masculine rejection of Western materialism, should look at Blessed Charles de Foucauld and with overdue humility, for the first time in their lives, weep.

Those of us born Catholic, raised Catholic and who claim to be Catholic, should be as this selfless man was, an affront to non-believers everywhere. 

''Father, I commit myself into your hands; Father, I trust in you; Father, I abandon myself to you; Father, do with me what you will; whatever you may do, I thank you;
 thank you for everything; I am ready for all, I accept all; I thank you for all. 
Let only your will be done in me, Lord, let only your will be done in all your creatures, in all your children, in all those whom your heart loves, I wish no more than this,
 O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you, Lord, with all the love of my heart, for I love you, and so need to give myself in love, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”

Prayer of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. 

The tomb of Blessed Charles de Foucauld

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info. Found De Foucalt's name in a book titled, Compassion, by McNeil et. al. Check it out! Peace...SDB