Charles de Foucauld

Being human

“It is not necessary to teach others, to cure them or to improve them; it is only necessary to live among them, sharing the human condition and being present to them in love.” –Charles de Foucauld

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God’s fool

More Blessed Charles de Foucauld. I love this man. I imagine Our Holy Mother smiling upon his deeds, wondering daily what in the world will he be up to today, and what will he get himself into.

The bizarre plans he would hatch the following year: he would buy the Mount of Beatitudes for the Franciscans and build there a sanctuary in which he and possibly one other priest would spend their lives and worship. ‘There on the mountain’, he explained, ‘lonely, isolated, among hostile Arabs I shall need every instant a firm faith; here at the monastery, at Nazareth, on the contrary, I lack nothing. Therefore it is there that my faith will get more exercise…Here, face to face with myself, I am superior to my condition; there as a priest, ignorant and incapable, I shall be profoundly below it.’ The idea that the Mount of Beatitudes might be bought and sold like any other piece of property may seem extraordinary today. But there it was, on the market like any other piece of land, and it was being offered at 13,000 francs. Foucauld immediately wrote to his family for the money. His plan had flaws even if he bought the land and built the sanctuary, the Franciscans could not afford to maintain it; nor could they guarantee to supply him with a spare priest; and there was no certainty that the site he wanted to buy was indeed the Mount of Beatitudes. Foucauld was undeterred. ‘Offering myself in a strange habit, asking to live a particular kind of life, to establish a tabernacle in a holy place whose authenticity is doubtful, I shall be, from the first day, the object of every mockery, rebuff and contradiction. Alone in a desert, with a native Christian, who will be absolutely essential, in the midst of savage and hostile populations, I shall find more opportunity to exercise my courage. As an afterthought, he mentioned that Mount might be a good place to start his new order.

‘I am horrified by your projects.’ Huvelin (Foucauld’s spiritual director) replied. –Fergus Fleming ‘The Sword and the Cross: Two Men and an Empire of Sand’

Words of Foucauld describing how he desired others to witness him as a contemplative: “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

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One of God’s blessed hilarious children

Once again the delightfully charming antics and events in the life of Charles de Foucauld brought a spiritual smile to my heart.  This French man could definitely be the hilarious younger brother of the Blessed Henry Suso.  I cannot say how much he reminds me of a quirky wonderful holy Catholic Lebanese  man from Toledo, Jim Saad.  I roared with laughter when reading the following:

Foucauld’s idea had been that he would ‘live there (Poor Clare community in Nazareth) without anyone knowing who I was, as the workman living by his daily labours’.  Unfortunately, this was not how things turned out.  His labours’ costume, which consisted of turban sandals and blue cotton pajamas wrapped around with a wide leather belt from which hung an outsize rosary, made him an object of instant curiosity.  Gratifyingly, he was able to horrify a young European woman: ‘I am so scared of vermin’, she said to her husband as Foucauld drew near.  The Poor Clares soon discovered who this curiously dressed man really was.  And it became rapidly apparent that his laboring skills were minimal: having witnessed his attempts at wall-building, carpentry, and gardening, the Poor Clares assigned him to sweeping and fetching the mail.  His own description of life in Nazareth hardly conformed to any recognizable image of labor: ‘very often I draw little pictures for the sisters.  If there are any small jobs I do them, but this is rare; generally I spend the whole day doing little things in my room.’  Nevertheless, he believed he had broken successfully into a working man’s existence.  He wrote triumphantly of how he had arrived ‘without any papers but my passport, and on the sixth day I found that only a means of earning my living but also earning it under just the conditions I had been dreaming of for so many years; it seemed as though this place was waiting for me, and indeed it was waiting for me, for nothing happens by chance, and everything that happens has been prepared by God; I am a servant, the domestic, the valet, of a poor religious community.’

The Poor Clares treated him with a benevolent respect.  They did not demur when he turned down their offer of accommodations, opting instead to sleep in a small tool shed overlooking a paddock.  Nor did they insist, beyond a delicate suggestion that a bowl of soup might be fortifying, that he except any more than the dried bread, twice a day, which he asked as his wage.  They maintained his own pretense that he was a simple nobody and did not mind when he seemed unable to do anything beyond the most trivial chores.  There were occasions, however, when outsiders were surprised by Foucauld’s behavior.  A visiting bishop became intolerant at his continual fawning and demanded he be sent back to work; another was amazed at his attempts to cut his own hair and assumed he had ringworm; a third was bewildered when, on asking why he looked so happy, he received the answer that children had thrown stones at him in the street.  His confessor, the only person who saw him on a regular basis other than the Poor Clares, remarked that ‘He is a very good boy, but not one of the most intelligent.’

If Foucauld seemed unintelligent it was probably because his confessor judged him by conventional standards.  Foucauld was perfectly rational, he could make incisive political comments when he felt like it, and he retained enough military expertise for the Poor Clares to give him a shot gun to defend their hen-run.  But he was not interested in rationality, politics or guns.  His self-declared aim was ‘a deeper dispossession and a greater lowliness so that I might be still more like Jesus.’  –Fergus Fleming ‘The Sword and the Cross: Two Men and an Empire of Sand’

Charles de Foucauld

Charles de Foucauld

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The emergence of Christ

I was thinking about the idea of power within powerlessness, strength within surrendering.  A training idea brought forth by the Hospice of Western Reserve made an impression upon me, relatable through my experience with my father in his passing and incapacitating multi-year struggle with invalidity.  A patient suffers from a loss of control.  The words of Shakespeare pronounce with veracity: “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Medical authorities impose upon the patient: regimenting schedule, activities, and even the most private of moments is intruded upon.  For many, familial support causes complications and a further loss of control, a complete intrusion of privacy.  Within the overwhelming reality of dying, the patient experiences a total lack of control.  Nothing they think or desire matters.  In spirit, they are rendered destitute and alone.  A basic necessity in establishing and maintaining mental vigor for the patient is to know they have control.  Some aspect of their life belongs solely to their thoughts and voice.  It was stressed this is where a volunteer can prove crucial.  If I walk into a room and the television is blaring, I should not assume control, even politely asking the patient if he could turn the TV down.  It just may be the patient feels so helpless, alone, and lacking control that the television being loud is their rebellion to everything happening to them.  It is spiritual.  Within the loneliness and overwhelming struggles of life we are rendered powerless, yet to the highest degree we possess the ultimate power of determining eternity.  It was a marvelous revelation as I sat being instructed in order to bring the Rosary to the Hospice of the Western Reserve.  A great gift I can offer the patient is a sense of empowerment; putting aside my intentions, judgments, and assumptions, while being fully present to their thoughts and needs.  Truly presenting Christ to them, not my interpretations, nor my perceived clever thoughts needing to define Christ.  Allow the patient to bring Christ into his heart, soul and mind himself.  Allow the patient to reveal his own faith, hope, and charity; to expand the virtues through his own efforts and spiritual exercises.  Simply and fully, be there in mind, body, and spirit, absolutely open and inviting, asking nothing from the patient.

It is most important that, when you choose to sacrifice yourself, you see the positive side of renunciation, rather than the negative.  Instead of speaking of annihilation of self, speak of the coming of Christ in you, the growing of Christ in you.  It is more uplifting and results in a devotion which is less tense and less vulnerable to pride, a devotion which is sunnier, more gracious and more understanding of others.  –Father Albert Peyriguere ‘Voice from the Desert’

Disciple of Charles de Foucauld

Disciple of Charles de Foucauld

 

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Passing beyond one’s efforts

I have noticed my reading has centered upon a French spirituality. Father Thomas Philippe amazes, stunning in relevancy, broadening and deepening contemplative ideas. I am also completing a St Paschal Baylon Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament priest’s biography on St Peter Julian Eymard. Then there is the comical desert tramp Charles de Foucald, always ripe for the pleasing. Another Frenchman, another Sahara desert dweller, I also discovered while in North Dakota, Father Albert Peyriguere, a devotee of Foucauld. Father Peyriguere’s writing is in the tradition of two French religious, St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal, that is spiritual direction through the exchanging of letters. The poignancy of Father Peyriguere’s writing is his ability, similar to Father Philippe, in advancing contemplative ideals beyond the idealistic. He pulverizes concepts while actively pursuing his individual path through the directing of another. Demonstrating the contemplative life is not a matter of knowledge, nor a silly self-consumed game of superior and inferior, a need to surround one’s self with weakness in order to feel comfortable in spiritual preeminence. The contemplative life is not a game, an intellectual pursuit, nor a social activity. The only way properly done, it is not of our doing. A deeper introspective spiritual life is more than learning concepts espoused by saints. It is more than articulating phenomenal spiritual acumen. I will quote my own writing, words from a young man: Damn this random effort and too many books. It is time to throw away your books, and all your puerile words you thrust at others as if they were daggers, sharpened for stabbing, victory for attaining. Quit vomiting all over yourself, and leave others alone. And what about the writing you do manage to accomplish, you treat every word with such a reverence…it’s disgusting…and the truths you do manage to conclude through reasoning…well, I never. I do not understand this behavior, as a matter of fact I find it despicable. You are an intellectual old man while not advancing and that is a stagnating state. Let go, unlearn, release and unwind, slowdown in order to be like a child. I’ll tell you what to do, interiorly evolve to the point you are able to smash your conclusions, affirm a reality, a truth if you need to call it that, and then be done with it and throw it aside. Avoid dwelling upon your conclusions for you will only warp reality into your personal perversion. Through the centuries, the world has been polluted enough. Ideas like the dark night of the soul, detachment, abandonment, contemplation, meditation become absurd in spiritual fantasy, minds scheming and dreaming attain an absurd status within imaginary perfection. Father Peyriguere, advising a seasoned nun, is acute in penetrating through a dedicated spiritual life failing in regards to advancement exceeding decades of practice.

What pleasure you gave me when you wrote that your life is “simplified”, calmed and illumined.” It was so complicated, so involved, so tense and tormented, so befogged with book learning. But we cannot stop struggling when deep within us there remains a bit of ourselves; or, to put it another way, since we must never look at ourselves even to deny ourselves, as long as we are not solely Christ. But you may still be looking for Christ outside of yourself, far from you, as for someone you want to draw towards you.

You are still trying to go to Christ in two stages: 1) You leave yourself, displeased with self, disapproving of and denying self. 2) You try to bring Christ in.

Proper means of unification: 1) You empty yourself. 2) You let Christ fill the void.

This is still too complicated. The trouble with this system is that in the long run, by being continually confronted with our faults and failings, we may grow tired and depressed and, at the same time we may minimize the part played by Christ in us, it is our doing, when really we had nothing to do with it.

Christ is not captured, is not conquered. We allow Him to come in and expose ourselves to Him. We do not take possession of Him, He he takes possession of us. –Father Albert Peyriguere ‘Voice from the Desert’

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Final note. Speaking of not doing things myself, I am recognizing it as a good thing, yet my new employment does not allow internet access while working, plus we stay constantly busy. I love being challenged at work, continually on the go or learning. Labor makes for a prosperous spiritual life, humbling and demanding accountability. My telephone service is minimal while in the building, internet accessibility nulled. I will only be making post first thing in the morning during work days. Tomorrow, a slow time in coming—to me a sign of the workings of God, I will finally attend training for the Hospice of Western Reserve, eight hours in commencing. Something within the happening soothes interiorly.

 

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Reading time

My reading time is increasing, mounting to a point of purpose within direction and yet allowing a wandering in curious attention.  Tonight I spend the night reading, comfortable in relaxing.  Father Thomas Philippe is emerging as a profound influencing thinker, presenting a unique man in living.  I am impressed how he finely knits together the Eucharist, the source and summit of Catholic faith, with the contemplative life.  I spent the day with my Filipino friend Mary, becoming a fixture, profound in conversation, a spirituality and prayer life able to match in dedication and maturity.  We paid a visit to my friend Jan Marie and her lovely Catholic bookstore, coming across prizes in her used book section, her Holy bartering offering.  I picked up ‘Spiritual Direction and Spiritual Directors’ a book focusing upon St Francis de Sales, St Teresa of Avila, Thomas Kempis, and St John of the Cross, authored by Joseph Paul Kozlowski, focusing upon the saints guidance rendered for others.  Also a neat paperback published in 1962, St John of the Cross’ ‘Living Flame of Love’, one of his last poems—many feel his most developed writing, the finest of a veritable smorgasbord of fruit from his mature spirituality.  Thirdly, a brand new book from Sophia press, a spiritual meditation contribution from St Francis de Sales ‘Roses Among Thorns’.  And finally a book chosen upon instinct: ‘The Desert and the Rose: the Spirituality of Jeanne Jugan’.  St Jeanna Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, a community specialized in elderly care.  I choose the book based upon the cover and the title, relating maters to Charles de Foucauld’s desert excursions, while learning in reality it has nothing to do with desert wanderings, the title utilizing the idea of a desert aesthetically.  Speaking of Foucauld, I must post a detailing of his younger years.  I am convinced an obsessive personality is an admirable personality trait for an individual striving beyond mediocrity in the spiritual life.  The willingness and courage to be different is a useful trait for one possessing a higher calling.  I do love to laugh, and the stories of Charles de Foucauld in his youth I find hilarious.  Photographs of Foucauld bring such joy to my heart, as he reminds me precisely of a Lebanese gentleman friend from Toledo, one Mr. Jim Saad.  They could be brothers.  One it comes to being a quirky holy character few can reach the heights of Mr Saad.  I am convinced Charles de Foucauld was of the same nature.

Foucauld had by now become so corpulent that he was nicknamed ‘Piggy’….Legends grew up around Foucauld’s extravagance and disregard for authority…There was the time when, confined to quarters for various dismeanours, Foucauld escaped in disguise to attend a party but on stopping at a restaurant for a snack was arrested as a spy when his false beard came unglued over the soup.  He was placed under arrest for fifteen days.  While serving his sentence, he absconded yet again, this time wandering the countryside as a tramp, begging food from nearby farms.  He was caught several days later when he jumped from a bridge onto a passing train.  His gluttony was prodigious.  He was fond of saying, ‘he who discovers a new dish does more for humanity than he who discovers a new star.’  In pursuit of this philosophy, he became fatter and fatter.  He had his coaches lowered so that he did not have to climb their steps, and on visits home he impressed his relatives with his appetite.  One cousin remembered that ‘I was terrified if I saw Charles moving towards the children’s table, for in a few seconds he invariably gobbled up all the cakes which had been set aside for us.’  –Fergus Fleming ‘The Sword and the Cross’.

Charles de Foucauld

Charles de Foucauld

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Enlightened through love

A thought-provoking day and evening to the end of a week.  I attempted to cross downtown to attend early evening mass with the Mercedarains only to be thwarted by downtown traffic.  I gave myself over an hour, needing to cut through downtown in order to access the drive thru window at the main library, picking up Father Thomas Philippe’s ‘The Fire of Contemplation’ and ‘The Sword and the Cross’, a secular historical book on the life of Charles de Foucauld and Henri Laperrine, an adventure in French colonialism in the Sahara desert brutally dominated by the Tuareg nomads.  I picked up the books, however mass had to be canceled as traffic locked down all movement through downtown.  The intense blockage to passage thoroughly challenged sensibilities regarding city life.  Events amassed to poignancy when I determined to forget mass, opting for early arrival at St Andrews Abbey.  I drove right into another traffic jam on Fifty-Fifth Street, discovering the source of the backup to be three Cleveland police cruisers, colored lights blaring, awkwardly encircling an SUV, matters turned dramatic.  The SUV appeared to have made a frantic U-turn, only to be hemmed in by pursuing officers.  There was an ambiance of excitement wafting about.  When I pulled up to the intersection to make my lefthand turn, a young African-American man bolted from the policemen, only to be roughly tackled and forced harshly facedown upon the concrete by several officers.  I watched, thinking this is crazy.  Finally seated at St Andrews Abbey, I felt exhausted, surprised by the intensity of my depletion.  It was a good week and I was well rested entering adoration.  The choir stall, the private prayer seat amongst the Benedictine community soothed immensely.  The sense of God and a calling overwhelmed.  Interiorly, something is happening.  It cannot be denied.  The first week with my new employer was incredible.  There is no doubt, I am blessed with a quality employer: permanency, respectability, and potentialities presented.  It is evident this is a company one retires from.  Structure, organization, ways-and-means that make sense, a culture of maturity and excellence now enters my life.  There is an older woman, Bonnie, in human resources who astonishes me.  She is a talker, making it her mission to get to know new employees.  I am startled by the number of employees who react negatively toward her.  She is a tough old woman, penetrating with her insight.  She is kind, yet determined to get to know new employees, antagonizing and complimenting, she tests, probes and observes individuals.  She is a people person, loving and desiring to know people, good natured, yet demanding honesty.  There is no bullshitting her.  She has seen it all from employees.  I find I cannot pull myself away from her.  She talks to me about the necessity of people feeling like family at work, telling me about her grandson who is six foot eight and over three hundred and fifty pounds.  Her grandson played football and graduated with a chemical engineering degree, yet is having a difficult time finding work, struggling a bit with depression, and awkwardness because of his size.  She worries a lot about him.  I told her about my son.  During our lengthy talks, her intimacy and gushing nature made the hairs on the back of my neck stand.  I felt immense warmth and comfort.  I am one to keep my distance from fellow employees, however I must admit the cordiality extended by Bonnie caressed with coziness and welcome.  Yet within all the perceived goodness of my new employer, I have to realize the intense weariness I felt sitting in prayer before the Eucharist.  Overwhelmed, I could do nothing except sit in silence.

The powerful force of love makes me turn to the object itself of my love (God/Eucharist) and not to its image; even more, I penetrate into its heart.  This is why, in the case of God, love of Him here below is always superior to knowledge.  Although in faith, God is made known to me through human concepts, by love I can outreach all these concepts and enter in to the very reality of God.  By my act of love, I am adapted, proportioned to the divine object and I model myself on and espouse all his perfections and let him imprint in my heart his secret seal.  I consent freely to His attraction, I am receptive and passive toward Him so that He may fashion and transform me in every way.  Saint Thomas (Aquinas) uses many different terms to express the act of love; he calls it an inclination, an assimilation, an imprint, an adaption.  –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Fire of Contemplation’

Jean Vanier and his spiritual director Père Thomas Philippe. France 1964.

Jean Vanier and his spiritual director Père Thomas Philippe (glasses). France 1964.

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