Brother Charles De Foucauld

North American Jesus Caritas Communities

Mission of the Laity

3.1 Unedited Correspondence between Charles de Foucauld and  Monsignor Joseph Hours:

3.1.1  May 3,  1912, Assekrem (Ahaggar)  , Algeria

 

Monsignor,

 

I  received your letter telling me of the need, both in France and mission countries, to reinforce some important truths on the work of the laity which I myself have been thinking about for some time.   As you say,  the ecclesiastical and lay worlds know each other so very little that one cannot communicate easily with the other. 

 

Certainly there has to be Priscillas and Aquilas on the side of a priest, to meet those whom he cannot meet, to enter into places where he cannot go, to reach out to those who have moved away from him,  and to evangelize through friendly contact by becoming an overflowing goodness to all,  a love always ready to give of itself,  an appealing good example  for all who have turned their backs on the priest, or maybe, through prejudice, are  hostile to him.

 

It seems that the evils of society go very deep indeed.  Fundamental virtues are lacking, or are very feeble such as the fundamental Christian virtues themselves:  charity, humility, gentleness.  They are weak and little understood.

 

Charity, which is the heart of religion, obliges every Christian to love his or her neighbor. (The first duty is to love God, the second like the first, is to love one’s neighbor as oneself). That is to say that one should make the salvation of one´s neighbor like one´s own,  the important business of life.  Every Christian, then, must become an apostle.  This is not just advice, it is a commandment, the commandment of love.

 

To be an apostle but by what means?  By those very means that God puts at our disposition.  Priests have superiors who tell them what they must do.  The laity should become apostles to all  they  can reach: at first their family, close relations and friends, but not only them,  love cannot be restrictive, it embraces all those who are embraced by the Heart of Jesus. 

 

By what means?  By giving the very best of themselves to those  whom they meet, and to all, without exception, with whom they have any rapport whatsoever, by means of goodness, tenderness, filial affection, the example of virtue, humility and gentleness – attitudes which are always appealing and so Christian.  Some may not even say a word about God or religion but being patient as God is patient, good as God is good, they become a dear sister or brother.  And when praying with others they speak of God in the measure that  others are able to understand them.  When they come to that  point when the other is of a mind to seek truth and study religion, they will introduce him or her to a well-chosen priest capable of doing them good. 

 

Above all, one must learn to see in every other human being a brother or a sister. “You are all brothers and sisters as you have one Father who is in heaven”. And we must learn to see in every human being a child of God, a soul redeemed by the blood of Jesus, a soul loved by Jesus, a soul we must love as much as we love ourselves, and for whose salvation we must work.  We must banish far from us the militant spirit.  “I send you as lambs  into a pack of wolves,” says Jesus.  What a great distance between Jesus’ way of doing and speaking and the militant spirit of those who are not Christians or bad Christians!  The latter see enemies they must fight, instead of ill brothers and sisters they must care for, as for a wounded traveler lying on the roadside, to whom they must be as good Samaritans.

 

It seems that what is most needed is that parents in their homes, priests in catechism and religious instruction, and all those whose mission is to raise children and youth, that they inculcate these truths in children from their earliest age by returning endlessly to them.

 

Every Christian must become an apostle.  That is a strict obligation of love.  Every Christian should regard every other human being as a beloved brother or sister.  If he or she be a sinner, an enemy of God, he or she then is very ill indeed.  One should  show such profound compassion and care as for a deranged brother or sister.  Non-Christians can be enemies of a Christian but a Christian is always a tender friend of every other human being.  He or she must have for every human being the sentiments of the Heart of Jesus.  We have to learn to be loving, gentle, and humble with all people and not militant with them.  Jesus taught us to go  ‘as lambs among wolves’.

 

“To do all for all, so as to give all to Jesus”:  Having goodness and affection for all, rendering all possible help, making friendly contacts, becoming a tender sister or brother to everyone so that , by practicing the gentleness of Jesus, one leads souls,  little by little, to Jesus.

 

To read and endlessly reread the Holy Gospel in order to always to have in mind the acts, the words and the thoughts of Jesus so as to think, speak and act like Jesus, to follow the examples and teachings of Jesus, and not the ways and examples of the world into which we fall so easily  as soon as we take our eyes away from the Divine Model.

 

In my opinion this is the remedy.  However its implementation is difficult because  it deals with fundamental things, with interior matters of the soul.  And that spiritual need is universal.  The difficulty is that we are not able to stop.  However, as the need becomes greater, the quicker one must get to the task and work at it with all one’s efforts.  God always helps those who serve.  God is never lacking to anyone:  It is we who are so often lacking to God!  Should one not succeed, one should not have  any less enthusiasm.  Because in so working one does no other than accomplish the Divine Will, as best  one can,  in obedience to God.  ……….

 

Please present my humble respects to Father Crozier as soon as you have the chance to see him.  And kindly  believe the deep, spiritual devotion of your humble servant in the Heart of Jesus.

Br. Charles de Jesus

 

 

3.1.2  Echoes of Brother Charles:

In an excellent article in The Spiritual Life   (June, 1949) by  Dominican Father T.R.P. Sertillanges, we can read this extract:

 

“Strive to act upon others  always with gentleness and patience.  If  you try to destroy a prejudice with too much haste, you may wound eyes that otherwise would have been able to be slowly opened to your light;  You may  rumple the depths of a soul to correct a fault.  And to break the bonds of sin, instead of gently disentangling them, you may throw despairing  hearts back into the void of total death. Error and evil, waiting in ambush in the depths of a soul,  can sometimes wound less than the imprudent sword thrust  into the soul with which one intended to defend it.”

In these counsels by the author of The Catechism of Unbelievers , full of wisdom and humanity,   does one not hear an echo of the most intimate thoughts of Charles de Foucauld?

 

3.2 Leaven in the Bread

 

All Christians are called by baptism to proclaim the Gospel, or  what they have understood from the Gospel, by their lives.  The special task and challenge of  lay people is  to make the Gospel present in places where the Church  or priests cannot enter. We are present in offices, shops, schools, hospitals, markets, buses, trains, etc., in fact, in any place that can be named.  Hence our presence in all these places gives us a big responsibility – A mission is entrusted to us by Jesus himself.   Our calling to be leaven in the dough.  It is a call to be the leaven in society, in the Church and in the world.

 

Our Little Brother Charles de Foucauld was ahead of the majority of his contemporaries in the belief that the laity have a vital role to play in spreading the Gospel. As far back as 1912, over fifty years before Vatican II, Brother Charles wrote to J. Hours of the need of the laity to spread God’s Kingdom, since lay folk unlike the hierarchy or the clergy, are present in every nook and corner of society.  In  this connection Brother Charles spells out the role performed by Aquila and Priscilla during the time of St. Paul at Corinth (Acts 18,18-19).  Faith, hope and love becomes visible for other people in our broken world in Christians like Aquila and Priscilla. In the measure that  God’s love becomes the source of our life and we accept ourselves as God’s beloved daughters or sons, we will become able to love other people and to regard them as our sisters or brothers.

 

The following key words, taken from  the New Testament, show us the areas for our mission. Yet they describe a vision that is not yet reality.  In our Fraternity groups we help each other to find our orientation towards  achieving that vision. In the “Way of Unity” and in the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld we will find some other  key-words to further explain that vision.

 

3.2.1  FRIENDSHIP (Koinonia)

 

Friendship and fraternal living is primarily lived in our families. Fraternity members are invited to extend their friendship by caring and sharing. They should be apostles of goodness, warmth, affection and gentleness. The leaven is very little and unobtrusive. It cannot be identified when mixed with the flour but it has a value of its own. Through this insertion into the lives of others transformation takes place. Even if we are small in numbers, we can truly become a sign of God’s friendship and love by a gratuitous presence not looking  for success. “Success” is not among the names of God!  The whole dough is raised from within and this tiny insignificant little pinch of  leaven becomes a life force.

 


3.2.2  SERVICE (Diakonia)

 

Jesus has shown us by his life that we should be of service to others. Our service should not be self-centered and dominating. Brother Charles in his life witnessed to availability, by keeping his doors open to all travelers, extending his hospitality and friendship to all, irrespective of class, caste or creed. As he served with such an attentive love that he became more and more a “universal brother”.

 

Humility and gentleness are qualities needed to win the hearts of others. Jesus has amply shown us these qualities in his life. He was also upright and straight forward on the issues of justice. In today’s society, if one is to be the leaven in the dough, our option for and with the poor must be very clear.  Imitating the life and ministry of Jesus Christ we cannot support unjust evil structures. As Brother Charles said: “We should not be as mute watchdogs who do not bark.”

 

3.2.3  PROCLAMATION (Martyria)

 

Brother Charles speaks of evangelization by the laity. He had already written in April 1908 some basic ideas for his planned association of the laity: “The ecclesiastical and the lay world do not realize what they can give  to each other. Certainly working along side the priest, there need to be Priscillas and Aquilas who can see what the priest does not see and go where the priest cannot go.”

 

However, proclamation cannot be confined only to the ministry of the Word and  words need to be translated into deeds as Jesus himself showed us. In order to proclaim  the “Good News”, all Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus. For this we have to intensify our relation with him, to experientially know and to love him more intimately. Therefore fraternity members are invited to read and re-read the Gospel and live by it. This should become a daily practice in the life of a fraternity member because it gives her or him the capacity and joy of living a meaningful life, that is,  the capacity “to cry out the Gospel by her/his life”.

 

3.2.4  THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE (Liturgies)

 

The Eucharist is the sacrament that has to be lived out in the world  and not only celebrated in church. Celebration cannot end at the church portal nor should we limit ourselves by  confining  it to a ritual  but proclaim the Eucharist in our lives. Our whole life has to be sacramental, because we are created in God’s image. Our whole life should be a life of praise and thanksgiving to God that is lived in a commitment for unity, in sharing “bread” with the “hungry”, and  being “broken” for others  by a commitment for justice.

 

It is important to realize that lay people are not (and must not be!) a copy of the priest or the missionary, because every human being is unique as God’s image! That is  both a gift and a challenge at the same time. It is a gift, because everybody has her/his special talents, that only she/he can offer to the world.  And it is a challenge, because realizing that oneself  is  unique helps others to discover that they are unique as well

 

Questions:

 

–          What is  my contribution to  receiving and proclaiming God’s Kingdom to our broken world?

–          How can I live as a witness of hope and of confidence in God?

–          What can I do so that my spirituality becomes more and more rooted in the life of Jesus?