On November 13, 2005, the Church proposed three new blessed to the example of the faithful, including Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), the apostle to the nomadic peoples of the Sahara. The three were beatified at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, presided over in the Pope's name by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes. Here are excerpts from the cardinal's homily:
"Today is the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year. A year that comes to a close reminds us to think about the end of life. About this, the Word of God, this Sunday, asks us this concrete question:'How should we live waiting for the return of Jesus?'The answer is proposed to us by Jesus in person, through the Parable of the talents, that we have just heard. The first consequences that ensues from this parable is that we must put all that we are and all that we possess at the service of the Lord and our neighbour, in a word, to transform it into charity!
"Along these lines, the following assertion is extraordinary true: in front of God, we will bring with us only what we have given during our lives, and not what we have accumulated, because what we give is put in the bank of love. It is for this reason that Jesus praises the two men of the parable who were able to make their talents they had received bear fruit. This is precisely what the saints did, in the divine logic of love and total self-dedication.
"Charles de Foucauld, meditating, in the presence of the Child Jesus during Christmas 1897, on the passage of the Gospel of St. Matthew which has been proclaimed this Sunday, keeps in mind the obligation for he who has received talents to make them bear fruit: 'We will be held accountable for all that we have received... and since I have received so much — conversion, religious vocation, the life of a hermit, much will be asked of me!'
"The beatification of Charles de Foucauld confirms this: truly led by God's Spirit, he managed to use the many talents he had received and make them bear fruit and, happily corresponding with divine inspirations, he followed a way that is truly evangelical, to which he attracted thousands of disciples.
"Pope Benedict XVI recently said that our faith could be summarized in these words: `Iesus Caritas, Jesus Love', which are the very words Charles de Foucauld had chosen as motto that expressed his spirituality.
"Charles himself revealed to a friend from high school who had remained an agnostic, what he called `the secret of my life':'Imitation can't be separated from love... I have lost my heart for this Jesus of Nazaret, crucified 1,900 years ago, and I spend my life to strive to imitate Him as far as my weakness allows.'
"In his correspondence, he wrote:'Love of God and of neighbour... Here lies the essential of religion... How can we achieve it? Not only in one day, since it is perfection itself, but this is the goal that we must always aim at, that we must always get closer to, and that we will reach only in Heaven.'
"In 1882, we find the famous passage of Matthew, that he quotes so often, and that accompanies him until the final meditation of 1916, when he draws a parallel between the Eucharistic Presence and the presence of God in the least ones: `I think there is no passage of the Gospel that has made a deeper impression on me, and transformed my life so much that this one:'As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'25:40). If one thinks that these words come from He who is the uncreated Truth, from the mouth of He who said'this is My Body... this is My Blood', then how anxious we are to seek and love Jesus in the least of these ones, these sinners, these poor people.'
"Charles de Foucauld exercised an important influence on the spirituality of the 20th century, and at the beginning of this third millennium, he continues to be a fruitful point of reference and an invitation to a radically evangelical form of life."
Charles de Foucauld (Brother Charles of Jesus) was born in Strasbourg, France on September 15, 1858. Orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career.
He lost his faith as an adolescent, through the influence of atheist teachers at school. His taste for easy living was well known to all and yet he showed that he could be strong willed and constant in difficult situations. He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith questioned him and he began repeating, "My God, if you exist, let me come to know you."
On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family made him continue his search. Under the guidance of Fr. Huvelin he rediscovered God in October 1886. He was then 28 years old. "As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone."
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him: to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth.He spent 7 years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.
Ordained a priest at 43 (1901) he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, "the furthest removed, the most abandoned." He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, "a universal brother." In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to "shout the Gospel 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?'"
On the evening of December 1st 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his house.
He had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others: after having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that this "life of Nazareth" could be led by all. Today the "spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld" encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for both lay people and priests.