Friday, December 1, 2017

Fire in the Desert

Blessed Charles de Foucauld was a man of tremendous passion and energy. 

As a wealthy youth in France at the end of the 19th century, he poured his energy into a playboy lifestyle. He tried to saturate himself with the pleasures of life, but they left him empty.

When he tired of dissipation, he turned to more serious worldly pursuits: he joined the French foreign legion in Morocco, then returned on his own to explore the region extensively, draw up detailed maps, and publish an acclaimed book. 

None of this adventurous activity satisfied Charles. But then he returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood.

He met Jesus Christ, who set his life on fire.

Charles tried joining a monastery in France, but this did not prove to be his vocation. So he went to the Holy Land, and worked for a while as a gardener to a community of nuns. Then—drawn by the Holy Spirit and helped in his discernment by others in the Churchhe returned to Morocco as a new kind of "missionary," living a monastic life of prayer, presence, and service deep in the Islamic world, among those who knew nothing of Christ.

But even this was not enough. For the love of Jesus, Charles sought to live among the poorest and most forgotten people, and he made his hermitage deep in the Sahara desert among the Tuareg, a Muslim nomadic people who called him "marabout" (holy man). He did not preach. He spent his days in contemplation and caring for the people.

The French abandoned this "colonial frontier" to fight the Great War, but Charles remained. Finally, he found fulfillment on December 1, 1916 when he was shot and killed by a local militia group.

After his death, others were moved to follow his path. His inspiration led to the founding of the institute of the Little Brothers of Jesus (and soon after that, the Little Sisters of Jesus) who live today not only in the Sahara desert, but in many environments as "contemplatives on the roads of the world."

In simplicity and poverty, their life is devoted to worshipping God and loving the people around them, because in the heart of Jesus Christ they have discovered that every human person is worthy of love.

"We are all children of the Most High. All of us: the poorest, the most outcast, a newborn child, a decrepit old person, the least intelligent human being, the most abject, an idiot, a fool, a sometimes sinner, the greatest sinner, the most ignorant, the last of the last, the one most physically and morally repugnant - all children of God and sons and daughters of the Most High. We should hold all human beings in high esteem. We should love all humankind, for they are all children of God."
-- Blessed Charles de Foucauld