Meditation by Bishop Aveline given during the prayer vigil for the canonization of Charles de Foucauld – Catholic Church in France

“Let us look at the saints but do not dwell on them. Let us take advantage of their examples but without dwelling on them for long. Let us not seek to imitate them but, with them, to imitate Christ, who is the unique model”, wrote Charles de Foucauld. So let’s follow his advice. And let’s find out how Charles helps us to contemplate Jesus Christ and how he encourages us to imitate him.

I choose to do this by taking up three biblical places that made Charles’ heart vibrate and help us to contemplate the heart of Christ, this Sacred Heart that so loved the world.

The first place is Nazareth.

From Nazareth, however, what good can come out of it? asked Nathanael at the beginning of John’s Gospel (Jn. 1:46). But Charles immediately understood that, for the Christian faith, the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth, for thirty years, was also the place of our salvation. Charles understood that these thirty years of Jesus’ life in Nazareth were as much a part of the work of salvation as the three years of public ministry, until the three days of the paschal mystery. To someone who asked him how to obtain eternal life, Jesus replied: When you’re invited, go put yourself in the last place (Luke 14:10). And this advice Jesus Himself had lived by living humbly in Nazareth, that city of ill repute, and by sharing the most ordinary human condition, in all things except sin. To follow Christ is to approach the last place, in all things, because it is there that one is closest to Him. There is a call for our Church today. It is by passing through the door of the service of the poor that we have the best chance of finding the way to the following of Christ. Young people today know this well! And I keep encouraging them to do so.

The second place is Bethany.

When he set up as a servant with the Poor Clares in Jerusalem (he was to stay there for some time, after Nazareth), Charles wrote to his cousin that from his cabin at the bottom of the garden he saw Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and ” our dear Bethany “. It’s because Charles really likes to contemplate Jesus at Bethany. Bethany, for Jesus, is the place of friendship, of fraternity. It’s Lazare, Marthe and Marie… and the tenderness of a friendly family. Foucauld, an orphan very young, knew the importance of this tenderness. And, when he settled in Beni-Abbès and then in Tamanrasset, he never stopped creating around him a climate of friendship, service, family, fraternity. Bethany is also the place where Jesus, before Himself washing the feet of His disciples, had accepted that Mary Magdalene should wash His feet and dry them with her hair. All Son of God that He was, He received from a sinful woman this gesture of love which He Himself will make the gesture of a communion with his own love, with this love with which God loves the world: “ Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (Jn. 13, 1). It was while contemplating Jesus at Bethany that Charles understood the importance of brotherhood. A fraternity capable of receiving from others something of the gift of God. Like Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And as Charles will learn to receive from Dassine the goat’s milk which saved his life in Tamanrasset when he almost died there. As he had received from the Moroccan Muslims, whose prayers had impressed him, something of the gift of God which brought him back to faith. There is a call here for our Church: to learn to receive and live the mission in a spirit of dialogue, of trust, without fear of bearing witness to Christ but without neglecting the gift of God which, through his Spirit, is “ present and active not only in people but also in societies, in cultures, in history and in religions (John Paul II, redemptoris missio28).

And the last place is Gethsemane.

This is the place of the fight. It is the place which, seen from the outside, is that of failure. The feeling of failure has always inhabited Charles, especially towards the end of his life. Morocco remained closed. No Muslim has become a Christian. No brother joined him to share his life. His mission yielded nothing, at least in his eyes. All his strategies failed. ” I have everything I need to do immense good, except myself! he will say. But Gethsemane is also, for Christ, the place of abandonment. Charles, as usual, had meditated on the Gospel slipping into prayer and the thought of Jesus. He thus sought to express the prayer which Jesus made in Gethsemane, this prayer so well known today: My Father, I surrender myself to You. Do with me what You will. (…) I’m ready for everything. I accept everything. Because I love You and I need love to give myself, with infinite trust, for You are my Father “. There again, there is a call for our Church. The mission is not our work. It is first of all the action of the Holy Spirit who ” continues his work in the world and completes all sanctification (Eucharistic Prayer IV). To inhabit the Word, to love with all one’s heart by imitating the Sacred Heart, to adore the Lord, to celebrate the Eucharist as the first and most fundamental of missionary gestures: this is the path of the disciples that Charles points out to us. And this path is not evaluated in terms of efficiency, growth curve or number of conversions, like on a hunting board. For the fruitfulness of the mission has the paschal mystery as its matrix. It is the work of God in which we are asked, by grace and not because of our merits, to cooperate.

Nothing is universal that is not concrete: such is the lesson of Nazareth.

Nothing is really transmitted that is not fraternally entrusted: such is the lesson of Bethany.

Nothing is fruitful that does not consent to be buried, like the grain of wheat fallen into the ground: such is the lesson of Gethsemane.

If it is true that catholicity is not for the Church a status or a privilege but rather a vocation and a task to accomplish, then Charles de Foucauld will have offered our Church to better understand this vocation to catholicity: as in Nazareth, a catholicity of the last place, with the poor and for the poor; as in Bethany, a catholicity of fraternity, which knows how to give and receive, to announce and to dialogue, to hope for all and to pray to God unceasingly so that ” all humans go to heaven » ; as in Gethsemane, a catholicity of abandonment, of renouncing our ambitions for efficiency in order to welcome, wherever it comes from, the gift of God, to welcome, purify, assume and learn to cooperate with the Spirit so that one day, the Father will be able to recapitulate everything under one head, Christ, the things of heaven and those of earth.

We often work for something other than we believe wrote Charles one day to his friend Henri Duveyrier. After many failures, Charles had come to believe that his vocation was only to clear the land. But he thought it was so that others, later, could go and convert Morocco and the Sahara. He did not know that it was really for something else: to offer our Church today the gift of a new, deeper and more demanding understanding of its mission. May Charles be thanked and God be praised! Amen!

We want to give thanks to the writer of this write-up for this outstanding material

Meditation by Bishop Aveline given during the prayer vigil for the canonization of Charles de Foucauld – Catholic Church in France

You can find our social media accounts as well as the other related pages