Charles de Foucauld and the value of the Holy Family

Bl. Charles de FoucauldOver a century had passed since the death of Viscount Charles Eugène de Foucauld a former cavalry officer in the French Army, then an explorer and geographer, and finally a Catholic priest and hermit on 1 December, 1916; Better known to us catholics as Blessed Charles de Foucauld OCSO, of the Little Brothers of Jesus. At the end of October he is remembered after 130 years since that day in which Charles de Foucauld met Abbé Henri Huvelin (1830-†1910) in Paris who, through confession and communion, made him find the Christ that he had known in his childhood, forgotten in his adolescence and substituted in his youth by pleasure and debauchery.

As a young man.Life without God: Little by little Charles distanced himself from his faith. He continued to respect the Catholic religion but he no longer believed in God, in his journal he wrote: “I remained twelve years without denying or believing anything, despairing of the truth and not even believing in God. There was no convincing proof.” he further wrote: “At 17 I was totally selfish, full of vanity and irreverence, engulfed by a desire for what is evil. I was running wild. … I was in the dark. I no longer saw either God or men: There was only me.”

Searching for God: Such glory meant nothing to Charles. He left Algeria and settled in Paris, close to his family. He was 28 years old when he wrote”“I who had doubted so much did not believe everything in a day; sometimes the miracles in the Gospel seemed hard to beleive; sometimes I wanted to mix passages from the Koran in with my prayers. But divine grace and the advice of my confessor dissipated the clouds…” Later in his journal he wrote “I wanted to be a religious and live only for God. My confessor made me wait three years.”

TrappistTrappist Monk: Charles was very attached to his family and friends, but he felt called to leave everything so as to follow Jesus. On January 15 1890, he entered the Trappists. “The Gospel showed me that the first commandment is to love God with all one’s heart and that we should enfold everything in love; everyone knows that the first effect of love is imitation. It seemed to me that nothing presented this life better than the Trappists.” Charles was happy as a Trappist. He learned a lot. He received a lot. But something more was missing. “We are poor in material goods, but not as poor as was our Lord, not as poor as I was in Morocco, not as poor as St. Francis… I love our Lord Jesus Christ and I cannot bear to lead a life other than his. I do not want to travel through life first class when the One that I love went in the lowest class… I wondered if seeking out a few souls with whom one could form the beginning of a little congregation wasn’t called for… The aim would be to lead a life as exactly like the life of our Lord as possible: living only by the work of one’s hands, following to the letter his counsels… On top of this kind of work there would be a lot of prayers, the formation of small groups alone and the extension to mostly non-Christian countries which are so abandoned and where it would be so good to increase the love of Our Lord Jesus and the number of his servants.”

Hermit: On January 23 1897, the Superior General of the Trappists announced to Charles that he could leave the Trappe so as to follow Jesus, the poor workman of Nazareth. Charles left for the Holy Land. He arrived in Nazareth where the Poor Clares took him in as a servant. He stated “God enabled me to find what I was looking for: the imitation of what was the life of Our Lord Jesus in the very same Nazareth… In my wooden plank hut and at the foot of the Poor Clares’ Tabernacle, through my days of work and my nights of prayer, I had all that I had been looking for, so that it was clear that God had prepared this place for me.”

Bl. Charles with JesusBut God did not stop them and Charles was violently killed December 1 1916. “450 km from here, the French fort of Djanet has been invaded by more than a thousand Senoussists armed with a canon and rifles. After their success the Senoussists have an open road to come here. Nothing can stop them except God.” But God did not stop them and Charles was violently murdered December 1, 1916. “Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.”

To read Bl. Charles the Foucauld’s Biography in Pdf. format click here. from the Spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld.

For the opening of the Synod on the family, Charles de Foucauld was again brought to the forefront as the one who embodied the meaning of the Nazareth family: Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, sensed the significance of the spirituality that emanates from Nazareth. This great explorer suddenly abandoned his military career, fascinated by the mystery of the Holy Family, the daily relationship of Jesus with his parents and relatives, his silent work and his humble prayer. 

Looking at the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles understood the sterility of the desire for wealth and power; everything was done to everyone through the apostolate of goodness; attracted by the hermit life, he understood that one does not grow in the love of God by avoiding the demands of human relationships.

It is in fact by loving others that we learn to love God; therefore we rise up to God by putting ourselves at the service of our neighbour. Through fraternal and solidarity with the poorest and most abandoned, he understood that, after all, it is they who evangelise us by helping us to grow in ‘humanity’.

The Holy Family
The Holy Family Photographer: Kristyn Brown of The Saints Project – A Modern Portrayal of Catholic Saints. Ⓒ Kristyn Brown

“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.”.

In his ‘Tamanrasset Diaries’ he writes about the family of Nazareth: “My God, you brought me to this family, the object of the passionate attachment of my childhood… You inspired them to receive me as the prodigal son to whom you do not he doesn’t even want to make him think he has left his paternal home. You gave them the same love for me as if I had never made a mistake … I was getting more and more attached to this beloved family … I lived in that environment so virtuous that my life was starting to catch sight; it was like spring that restored life to the earth after winter”.

And in 1894 in the letter to Raymond de Blic he writes that it is necessary to entrust one’s life to God: When life is deeply founded on God, it is also founded on happiness, in fact he is the Supreme Good, and when all the members of the family are united by a living faith, moments of peace and deep consolation are always experienced …

The family is the place of evangelical holiness, lived in the most ordinary conditions. There you can breathe the memory of generations, roots that allow us to go far. It is the place of discernment, where one is educated to recognise God’s plan for one’s life and to embrace it with confidence. It is a place of gratitude, of discreet, fraternal and supportive presence, a place where you learn to come out of yourself to welcome the other, to forgive and to receive forgiveness.

Even the Algerian bishops recalled with a letter to their faithful the centenary of the ‘little brother’, as a witness of mercy: “Charles de Foucauld remains an exemplary figure for our world and for the testimony of the Gospel. Its existence was marked by prayer, by adoration, by the profound meaning of the Eucharist but also by the presence of Jesus in the poorest. He has overcome the barriers of religious affiliation, he has made himself a man for everyone.”

In greeting to the little brothers for his beatification, which took place on November 13, 2015, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the primacy of the contemplative life: “We give thanks for the testimony given by Charles de Foucauld. Through his contemplative and hidden life in Nazareth, he met the truth of the humanity of Jesus, inviting us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation; in this place, he learned a lot from imitating the Lord, who wanted to follow with humility and poverty.

He discovered that Jesus, united with us in our humanity, invites us to universal brotherhood, lived later in the Sahara, for the love that Christ gave us the example. “As a priest he placed the Eucharist and the Gospel at the centre of his existence, the two tables of the Word and the Bread, the source of Christian life and mission”.

Bl. Charle’s Prayer of Abandon

Into Your Hands Father...Father, 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, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.


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