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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Charles De Foucauld

November 28, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN
A priest once said, “Great sinners make great saints.” This we know to be true when we reflect on the lives of saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Augustine of Hippo. Such is also true of Blessed Charles De Foucauld who lived in the 19th century.
Charles, who was born on September 15, 1858 in Strasbourg, France, had a younger sister named Marie. The boy remembered his mother whom he deeply loved and recalled how she taught him his morning and evening prayers: “My God, bless my father, mother, Grandfather and Grandmother Foucauld, and my little sister….”
In 1864, Charles and Marie lost both their parents and Grandmother Foucauld, leaving Charles with his father’s extensive fortune. His newly widowed Grandfather Foucauld took the children in and raised them.
In later years, Charles described his grandfather as gentle and intelligent and a man with a successful military career. “I always admired the great intelligence of my grandfather whose infinite tenderness enveloped my childhood and youth with an atmosphere of love, whose warmth I still can feel.” His grandfather ensured that Charles received his First Holy Communion and was confirmed on April 28, 1872.
In school, Charles excelled in his studies and eagerly read whatever he could obtain. His indiscriminate reading, however, led him away from the faith. He developed an attachment to easy living and sensual pleasures. He found himself in challenging situations more than once, but his perseverance and fortitude carried him through.
Yet, from 1874-1876 he lived in a Godless world where he began to drift away from the faith. Although he still respected Catholicism, he no longer believed in God.
“I remained twelve years without denying or believing anything, despairing of the truth and not even believing in God. At 17 I was totally selfish, full of vanity and irreverence, engulfed by a desire for what is evil.”
Charles then entered the Military College and, two years later, in 1878, his grandfather died, leaving even more wealth to the young man. His reputation for pleasurable indulgences and festivities earned him the nickname “Fats Foucauld.” He kept a mistress and insisted on bringing her to social functions.
In 1880 the military sent him to Algeria, where he discovered a culture and a people he greatly admired. His licentious ways brought him shame as he became involved with a local woman, necessitating his return to France.
Then, much to his relief, his company was sent to Tunisia. “I was part of a column which maneuvered on the high plateau, to the south of Saida. It was a lot of fun.”
In January 1882, the columns were disbanded and Charles found himself in the barracks which he detested so much that he resigned from the army on January 28, 1882.
Once free of the military and possessed of the wealth left to him by both his father and grandfather, Charles planned an extended journey. As a voracious reader, he spent much time researching and planning his trip. After 15 months of preparation, he hired Mordechai, who was Jewish, to be his guide.
Being from France, he needed to travel in disguise, taking copious notes of his observations as he traveled through Algiers and Tisint. Some of the citizens suspected he was Christian, but they held no animosity for him and did not report him to the authorities. Nevertheless, he did suffer from many insults and stoning, leaving him near death.
For eleven months he thus led the life of an adventurer: “It was hard, but very interesting, and I succeeded!” With his journeys through Morocco and other Muslim countries, Charles was impressed by the devout times of prayer and fasting that the Muslims practiced. He began questioning his own faith and began to repeat the mantra, “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”
When he returned to France in 1884, he was received as a true explorer, having traveled 3,000 kilometers in unknown countries. Such adulation from society for his great adventure meant nothing to him.
Charles then returned to his family and received such a warm and cordial welcome that he began to reconsider his apathy toward Catholicism. After living with his family for six months, he started going to church again.
As he said, God led him, protected him, and loved him despite his waywardness. “How you covered me with your wings. . . . At the same time you led me back to my family where I was received like the prodigal son.”
During this time, Charles wrote, “Circumstances obliged me to be chaste. It was necessary so as to prepare my soul to receive the truth; the demon too easily masters a soul that is not chaste.”
In October 1886, God began to enlighten Charles through the work of Fr. Henri Huveling. The first thing the priest did was tell Charles to go to Confession — which he did, then and there, after many years. Then Charles went to Holy Communion.
Fr. Huveling began guiding him, and Charles — at the age of 28 — once again embraced his faith. He wrote: “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than live for Him alone.”
With a heart now enflamed, Charles undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After spending much time visiting the places our Lord visited, and tracing the paths our Lord walked, he meditated and prayed. Charles concluded he was being called to follow Christ’s life at Nazareth.
Thus, on January 14, 1890, Charles entered the monastery of the Trappists. For seven years he lived as a monk with them. First, he lived in France and then he returned to the Middle East where he stayed at Akbès in Syria. From there he went to the Poor Clares in Nazareth, where he lived in isolation, leading a life of prayer and adoration.
In 1890, Charles was ordained a priest. Then at the age of 43, he left for the Sahara desert. Because he sought to live in the furthest regions, he settled in Beni Abbes and later lived among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar in Tamanrasset.
Charles hoped that, by example, all those who drew near to him would find a “universal brother,” and thus they would understand the love of God for all men, including them. He patiently studied their culture, language, and beliefs in order to learn the most effective way to reach them.
He lived piously and virtuously so that his actions would “shout the Gospel with his life.” He further wrote, “I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, ‘If such is the servant, what must be the master be like?’”
During his time in the desert, he began writing rules of life because of his zeal to share this religious life, the “life of Nazareth,” that any and all could lead. He conceived the idea of a religious order called the Little Brothers of Jesus.
On December 1, 1916, Charles was kidnapped from a fortress by the Bedouin bandits and then, as two soldiers approached and a skirmish broke out, he was shot by the panicked 15-year-old bandit guarding him.
Pope Benedict XVI beatified Charles De Foucauld on November 13, 2005. His feast day is celebrated on December 1.

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