Today is the optional memorial of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, “Little Brother Charles of Jesus.” Born a Christian, Charles abandoned his faith for many years, and his time included some riotious, reckless years in Paris. His experience with Jews and Muslims he met during his time living in Algeria and Morocco paved the way for his return to Catholicism. Having returned myself to Christianity after many years as a Buddhist, I understand well his feelings about his conversion, about which he said, “The moment I realized that God existed, I knew I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.” After his return to Catholicism, he spent time as a Trappist monk and then as a gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns before being ordained a priest.
Charles de Foucauld’s theology was simple: “The love of God, the love of one’s neighbor…All religion is found there.” Like one of my favorite saints, Vincent de Paul, de Foucauld understood that loving one’s neighbor included taking serious our responsbility for those in need. He wrote,
There is, I believe, [no] word from the Gospel that has a more profound impression on me nor has transformed my life more than this: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.’ If we reflect that these words are those from the uncreated Truth, those from the mouth of He who said, ‘This is my body…this is my blood,’ what force drives us to seek and to love Jesus in these ‘least ones, these sinners, these poor ones.’
Charles de Foucauld centered his life on God and understood that love of God and love for one another – for all others – cannot be separated. He is a worthy model for us, during this time of Advent and always.