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I was in the eighth grade (53 years ago) when I first read about Charles de Foucauld in Henri Daniel-Rops book, “The Heroes of God.” The book giao dịch with 10 men & one woman whom he calls “Adventurers of God,” who “lived … suffered … died khổng lồ hasten the fulfillment — as much as it is possible for it khổng lồ be fulfilled on earth — of the wish that every Christian addresses lớn the Father: “Thy Kingdom Come.”

Daniel-Rops had what they gọi in Spanish “buena puntería” (“good aim”). Three of the five non-saint heroes who were not canonized (nor beatified) at the time he wrote the book have since been raised khổng lồ the altars: St. Junípero Serra, St. Damian of Molokai, & now, Bl. Charles de Foucauld, whose canonization date has yet lớn be announced.

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Perhaps of all the heroes in the book, Viscount Charles de Foucauld had the strangest life story. He was born in Strasbourg, France, into a family that had historic ties to lớn St. Joan of Arc và St. Louis, as well as some relatives who died for the faith in the French Revolution.

And yet, his path to heaven had many twists và turns. His mother was a devout Catholic, but she died when de Foucauld was 8 years old, a few months before the death of his father. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, who was very indulgent lớn the boy & his sister.


Bl. Charles de Foucauld in an undated photo. (AFP via Getty)

That indulgence became a weakness because the boy became a man who was extremely self-willed, even within the French Army, where he became a very wealthy and, as Daniel-Rops writes, a “boastful, lazy and dissipated second lieutenant.” He lost his faith when he was a teenager và lost his grandfather soon after — but not before he had been given an ample inheritance.

They say in Alcoholics Anonymous that your strengths are your weaknesses — and vice versa. I think de Foucauld was a good example of that. He was self-indulgent khổng lồ an extreme, famous for ordering catered foie gras & the finest wines when he was in cavalry school và earning the name “le porc” (“the pig”) from his fellow students. One of his cousins remembered that chubby Charles was the terror of the dessert table at family parties. 

But this young man, extremely intelligent but so lazy he got poor grades, was converted by the strangest of the Lord’s devices. Posted to the Sahara, and getting in trouble constantly for scandalous behavior, de Foucauld fell in love with Northern Africa when fighting a rebellion in the French colony of Algeria. 

He explored Morocco incognito, disguised as a Jewish rabbi, & wrote và published a report that won him prizes và made him well known among geographers in France. Contact with Judaism and Islam in his travels marked him for life, however.

After a time in Paris, he went back lớn serve in Africa. Then came disillusion with the army because of political issues. God had him where he wanted him. He later marveled how God used “unexpected solitude, emotion, illnesses of dear ones, deep and intense feelings, and a return to lớn Paris in the wake of a surprising event.” 


An undated photo of Bl. De Foucauld. (CNS)

Through the prayers, example & prodding of a beloved cousin, Marie de Bondy, de Foucauld was converted back to the faith. His cousin arranged an encounter with Father Henri Huvelin in St. Augustine Church in Paris. De Foucauld went for a “discussion” of his lack of belief & Father Huvelin said lớn him, “Kneel down and confess your sins.”

“But I have no faith,” the “penitent” responded.

The priest only responded: “Confess!” and he did.

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Then Father Huvelin said, “Have you eaten breakfast?” He had not. “Then go into church immediately, Mass is starting, & take communion.” That is how de Foucauld made what he called his “second first communion.”

His exotic pilgrimage continued. The heraldic motto of his aristocratic family was “jamais arrière” (“never retreat”), and so it was with de Foucauld’s search for what God wanted from him. The same lack of satisfaction that had driven his expensive & often immoral lifestyle was evident in the extreme choices of his religious vocation. 


Bl. De Foucauld"s hermitage in the Assekrem Hills in southern Algeria is still inhabited by a small number of monks. (Sofianne Mohammed Amri/Wikimedia)

He was never satisfied with the sacrifices he made for Christ. The ex-soldier entered a Trappist monastery of Notre Dame des Neiges. Seeking still greater asceticism, he transferred to another monastery, this one in Syria at Akbes.

His soul was not at rest in Syria. He wanted to lớn live the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth. He found work at a Poor Clare convent in Nazareth itself, becoming the gardener for the nuns và spending hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Still, he was not at peace. He returned lớn France, studied for the priesthood, & was ordained. Then he decided to return lớn Africa as a chaplain to lớn the French soldiers.

I say “as a chaplain,” but it was not that simple. He desired khổng lồ be a hermit lượt thích the Egyptian Fathers of the Desert. By a life of prayer and fraternity in a hermitage in Beni-Abbes, he would give witness to lớn the Muslims & evangelize silently, preaching only with his presence & his charity. He had dreams of founding a religious order, “The Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart.” 

But Beni-Abbes was not enough. A friend suggested an even more remote & poor site, Tamanrasset, where he could get to know the Tuareg tribesmen. He built a hermitage there & began his study of the Tuareg language, his translation of the Gospels in that language và the scholarly work of compiling a bilingual dictionary và a grammar book, then a collection of indigenous poetry that would later be published. 

His gift of tongues was formidable, but also his charism lớn inspire even the Muslims with respect for his vocation. They began to gọi him their “marabout” (“holy man”). He believed that the prayer of adoration would be the groundwork for evangelization in the desert.

When World War I broke out, some tribes declared a jihad against the French. Father de Foucauld was convinced by the military lớn move from his hermitage khổng lồ a small fort, where he lived alone but could give shelter to lớn the other villagers in the case of an attack. There he was killed by a tiệc nhỏ sent lớn kidnap him on Dec. 1, 1916.

He never got anyone khổng lồ join his proposed religious community. Nor did he ever convert anyone in the village lớn Christianity. Although he is well known now as a writer of meditations & reflections, he never saw any of his religious writings published in his lifetime. His “project” had failed.


Pope Benedict XVI greets Tuareg nomads at the beatification of Father Charles de Foucauld at the Vatican in 2005. (L"Osservatore Romano)

Thankfully, holy failures are often the seeds of success. After his death, Father de Foucauld found disciples. A biography by René Bazin in 1921 brought attention lớn the desert hermit’s life and vast writings, and eventually many of these were published. 

A seminarian by the name of René Voillaume read the biography & was inspired. He eventually founded the community of the Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart và then the Little Brothers of the Gospel. Women disciples founded the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Little Sisters of the Gospel, a group I got khổng lồ know in El Salvador.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that God does not gọi us to be successful, but to be faithful. I would địa chỉ cửa hàng that faithfulness brings spiritual success. The Church needs more failures like Bl. Charles de Foucauld so that maybe we can all be more faithful.

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