Charles de Foucauld
A man of the Eucharist
Fr Mieczyslaw Nowak
It is not a coincidence that the beatification of the Servant of God Charles de Foucauld (Little Brother Charles of Jesus) will be in the Year of the Eucharist: it is exactly this Apostle of the Sahara who is the best example that the Eucharist can become the centre of human life, radiating through love on everything what man does.
It was not his first Communion, although he recollected it as a deep experience, but the Communion after the life-changing confession, heard by Fr Huvelin (who later became his spiritual director), which was the event he was experiencing all his life. The temperature of this Eucharistic encounter was so high that it did not only melt the ice of his religious doubts but 'the litter' of his former riotous and sensual life. We seldom think about this but the Christian Passover, which is every Mass, is a real passover of God through human life. And it always means liberation from all addictions if only man co-operates through faith. Brother Charles had this experience. He underwent a real conversion and Jesus could lead him into a new, holy life. Jesus became 'the Lord of the impossible'.
I think that this beatification will bring out of the darkness of oblivion into light this witness of the 20th century, the man who lived in the spirit of Nazareth in a very serious way. Brother Charles cried out the Good News with all his life, as the inscription on his tomb says. And he followed the principle that being among those who did not know Christ, one should not use words. He knew the power of hidden witness. He knew that no barrier could stop this light and that this light of faith and good would shine. He teaches us to trust poor means: prayer, suffering, meditation of the Gospel, adoration before the Eucharistic Jesus and meeting people's needs. He did not perform any miracle but almost everything in his life was miraculous: his radical search for God's will, strict mortifications, care for souls, friendly contacts with Tuaregs, his translation of the Gospel in the desert, founding hermitages, which were several thousand kilometres away from other Christian centres and finally his martyr's death at the side of Jesus hidden in the Host.
At first he did not think of priesthood. He wanted to take the last place as Jesus had done. But then he reached the conclusion that priesthood was not some honour but a service and that as a priest he could carry Christ to people in the clay vessel of his life. This led him to the end of the world, to the people who lived in dire need.
He received the Holy Orders and immediately he thought: 'One should not invite relatives nor rich neighbours for this feast of God, where I am the host, but one should invite the lame, the blind and the poor - which means those who lack priests. In my youth I travelled through Algeria and Morocco. There was no priest in Morocco, which is as big as France and has ten million people. In the Sahara - seven or eight times bigger than France and much more populated than it was presumed - there were twelve missionaries! No nation seemed so much more abandoned than them'.
So the Holy Spirit led him and his priestly heart there. He would serve those people and make Jesus present among them. He would serve Jesus by serving people. Brother Charles de Foucauld is an example of the Eucharistic attitude and piety, which John Paul II speaks of while proclaiming the Year of the Eucharist. Charles did not only spend all night adoring the Blessed Sacrament but with Jesus he offered himself for people's salvation. He regarded the Holy Communion as Christ under the form of bread but also in the form of all those poor and suffering people, the slaves, the soldiers and wanderers, who came to his hermitage. He shared with them everything he had. He believed in the truth of the Lord's words 'in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40). The Eucharist is injured when it is torn off mutual care for oneself, torn off authentic brotherhood and friendship, torn off love. Christ's work is a sacrifice of the greatest love. The greatness and truth of the Eucharist demands this to be prolonged in our lives.
It is good that we will have a Patron who lived the Eucharist so much. Eyewitnesses said about the experiences they had had during the Holy Mass, which Brother Charles celebrated. Let us mention one testimony - all believers, but especially we, priests, can learn a lot from it: 'On Sunday at 7 a.m. I with other officers participated in Mass in his hermitage. This hermitage is ruin! The little chapel is a small room supported with trunks and covered with bulrush! A plank is the altar! A cretonne cloth with a picture of Christ is an ornament, the candlestick is of metal! Our legs have got bogged down in the sand. This is all true but I have never participated in such an Eucharist in my life and it was celebrated by Brother de Foucauld. It has been one of the most moving experiences in my life" (Rene Bazin).
In his apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum the Pope writes, 'Stay with us, Lord'. And he continues that the Eucharist is 'the very Mystery which nourishes the spiritual life of the faithful'. Contemplating this Mystery we should look at 'the experience of so many mystics, old and new'. Charles de Foucauld was one of them. Let him not only teach little brothers and sisters but all of us the love for the Eucharistic Jesus.