The fruitful announcement borne of renouncing

Among the TuaregAmong the TuaregWhen I was requested to write a book about Charles de Foucauld, the editor made the point of asking me to avoid any mention of penance and sacrifice. "Nobody wants to hear about that." I followed her recommendation but took note, because there's often something interesting hidden in those things we "don't want to hear about." Penance and sacrifice are not a secondary aspect of Brother Charles' life. Three years after his big conversion he entered the Trappists. A few days later Father Eu­gene, novice master, wrote to his sister, Mother Clemence: Our little Viscount has been in community for two days. He gets up at 2am, takes only one meal a day. He asked me to be dispensed from eating anything else (...) The valiant young man has entirely renounced everything. I have never witnessed such a degree of detachment, and all that with an excessive modesty. He can boast of having made me cry and of causing me to experience my mediocrity. His fasts and vigils made a big impression on those around him, but he attached little im­portance to them. At the beginning he even said that he found fasting, "handy." According to him, his real sacrifice was leaving his family. 1909 Charles' Family1909 Charles' Family

Leaving the clan in order to become a universal little brother

"It's the sacrifice, it's my true, my only sacrifice." Having lost both his parents at 4 and a half, Charles was raised by a maternal grandfather who spoilt him. After his death he received his inheritance at 21, but the speed with which he was frittering it away caused the paternal side of the family to go to court and have him placed under a legal guardian. Angry and humiliat­ed, he spent long years without seeing them. After his daring exploration in Morocco, he set­tled in Paris to publish his findings. It caused relations with his family to warm up. He later equated his return to his family with a return to life. "I nestled more and more in the midst of this beloved family...in the twinkling of an idea, life seeped in. It was like spring which enliv­ens the earth after winter." It's in this family setting that his big conversion took place in 1886. He was born again. The decision three years later to leave his family to joined the Trappists incurred pain which was well in excess of what a 31-year-old man should experi­ence. Undoubtedly, the separation reawakened the grief he had known in his early childhood.
He said that he left them out of a spirit of sacrifice. "I had a tender love for the remaining family God had left me. And so, I resolved to make a sacrifice so as to imitate the one who had made so many, and I left for a Trappist monastery in Armenia." To his mind, he would never see them again. "A sacrifice which cost me all my tears, it would seem, for since that I day, I have never cried again. It would seem that I have no more tears." What marked his sacrifice was its totality. "That day I left everything that was dear to me, everything that I love" (note the pre­sent tense). Behind the word "sacrifice," did he not intimate that he needed to respond to Jesus' invitation to the rich young man: "You lack only one thing: go, sell all you possess and give it to the poor." He lacked something lacking him. Ironically, what had brought about his conversion' was the very thing that could impede his journey to God. It's precisely because his family was everything to him that he needed to leave them. Beni AbbesBeni Abbes
In narrating the origins of the world, the Bible recalls the extent to which "absence" was a crea­tive factor. It's precisely because God put a limit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (the two opposites signify a totality) that human be­ings were in a safe space, knowing that they were creatures and not creators. It was essential to their welfare. The serpent suggested that the limit impeded their fulfilment, which would be to have everything. But when limits are denied, hu­man beings are only left with an overly-full-void. Young people are burdened with the illusion that the sky's the limit. They should expect every­thing: career, marriage, children, money, holi­days... But happiness doesn't function like that and so they are left sad and frustrated. In choos­ing to lack something, Charles opens a breach for a breeze of which, "he knows not whence it comes nor whither it goes." He sets out in the footsteps of Abram, going to "the land I will show you", more attached to a Voice than a destination.

Little brother of the Sacred Heart

The Gospel reveals a new way of being family, based on grace, not begetting. Brother Charles declared himself a "Prodigal son, received not only with kisses, the best robe and the household ring, but sought out by the Blessed Father and brought back from his faraway land."The childhood wound of an absent father surely amplified the discovery. He was a beloved son, and from that flowed the vocation to be a loving brother. It wasn't the result of a moral effort, but a joyful re­sponse to the discovery of the gracious mystery of his being. A Sacred heart had begotten him and it was with that same heart that he would set out in search of his brothers and sisters. The call to brotherhood resonates throughout his life, from his monastic beginnings when he wanted to be a little brother in the house of Nazareth, to the time in Beni Abbes where he want­ed to be known as a universal brother, until his final years in Tamanrasset when he struggled to get the Union of Brothers and Sisters of Jesus off the ground writing, "Each Christian must be an apostle. It isn't a counsel, it's a commandment, the commandment of charity. How can one be an apostle? [...J Above all, by seeing a brother in each human being." Charles said that no word of the gospel impacted his life more deeply than Mt 25. He wrote to his nephew, "When someone poor or sick knocks at the door, it's to Him that I run to open up be­cause, 'whatever you do to one of the least of my brothers you do to me'." In the presence of other people, Charles was never alone. Jesus was always present, giving his relationships the shape and flavour of brotherhood. The fruitful announcement flowed from the renunciation he had made many years earlier.

Announcing with your whole life

If Charles' message was that of a fraternity sprung from a divine Heart, it's not with words that he announced it. In Nazareth he contemplated Jesus crying the Gospel with his life and that's what he wanted to imitate. It was also the only form of evangelisation allowed by the Muslim setting in which he always lived. Isaiah reminds us of the sterility of an announce­ment that consists in words alone and isn't borne by the flesh. It's just ideology As a pregnant woman near her time of delivery writhes and cries out in her pangs, so have we been, LORD, in your eyes: we have been pregnant, we have writhed, but we have given birth on­ly to wind: we have not given salvation to the earth, no inhabitants for the world have been brought to birth. Is 26:17-18 We know with what patience and passion Charles submitted to the yoke of the Word so that it would become incarnate in his whole manner of being. But somehow that wasn't enough. He needed to also speak the language of his milieu so that that word might be comprehensible. It was a matter of imitating Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus consecrated 30 years of his life to receiving that title. Like Francis ofAssisi or Anthony of Padua, Charles needed to become of Tamanrasset. He wrote to his Bishop, "Residing alone in the place is something good. You achieve some­thing even without doing a lot, because you start to belong." Coming from him, this sentence always remains a bit surprising because it wasn't his usual way of expressing himself. It was a discovery. In order to cry the gospel, the Word needed to become flesh in Charles. But that flesh needed to speak the local language in order to be understood. To be a universal brother isn't to float above all divisions, but it means rooting yourself. It's only when you belong that you can start to be universal, open to others. [img_assist|nid=2359|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=191]Between the Word of God and the Tuareg language, Charles found himself in a Trinitarian space, a fruitful breach opened in our world by the words of our beloved brother and Lord Je­sus. It's up to us to follow him.