Nazareth and Brother Charles

Cardinal Ratzinger in MunichCardinal Ratzinger in Munich


On the occasion of his 25th anniversary to the priesthood, in 1976, the future Pope Benedict, then Cardinal of Munich, wrote to his fellow priests about the importance of a renewed understanding of the ‘30 years’ that Jesus spent in Nazareth.

'Our worldwide Church can neither grow or prosper if we allow it to ignore that its very roots lie hidden in the atmosphere of Nazareth.'

Joseph Ratzinger speaks of the role of Br Charles who not through words but by his whole life lived this mystery and deepens our understanding.

It is very relevant to point out how it was precisely one of the first acts of his pontificate to ‘beatify’ Br Charles and so confirm his way of Nazareth for the whole Church.

The lowest place found in Nazareth

'Just when sentimentalism surrounding the mystery of Nazareth was at its height, the true mystery of Nazareth was being discovered in a new way. It's most profound content was being lived without the contemporary world being aware. Charles de Foucauld, in searching for "the lowest place" found Nazareth.

During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a place that marked him for life, he did not feel called :

"to walk following Jesus in his public life. He is overwhelmed by Nazareth."
He felt called to follow the silent,and poor Jesus, Jesus the worker. He wanted to live out to the letter The words of Jesus:
"When you are invited take the lowest place at the table." Luke 14,10
He knew that Jesus gave meaning to these words first of all by living them himself: he knew that even before he died on the cross, naked and possessing nothing, Jesus had chosen the lowest place already, in Nazareth.

Charles finds the truly historical Jesus the Worker

Charles de Foucauld found his Nazareth first of all in the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of the Snow (1890) and then only six months later, in Syria in an even poorer Monastery of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. From there he writes to his sister:

" We are doing the work of peasants, labour that is infinitely good for the soul and during which one can pray and meditate...One can understand so well the value of a piece of bread when you know by experience the hard work it takes to produce it."

Charles de Foucauld, had found the workman of Nazareth while walking in the footsteps of "the mysteries of the life of Jesus". He had met the truly historical Jesus. In 1892, just at the time that Charles was working at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart monastery, Martin Kahler's book was published in Europe: 'The said to be historical Jesus and the historical, biblical Christ.' This was the first high point in the debate concerning the historical Jesus.

Brother Charles in his Trappist monastery in Syria, knew nothing of this. However by entering into the experience of Nazareth, he learnt in depth what this learned reflection could bring to light. There, through putting into practice that which he meditated on, a new way was opened up by this very fact for the whole Church. Working with Jesus the worker and being immersed in "Nazareth", became the starting point not only for the idea but for the reality of "the worker priest." Nazareth has a permanent message for the Church.

The Church's answer to the power and wealth of the world

The New Testament did not begin in the Temple, nor on the Holy Mountain, but rather in the simple dwelling of the Virgin Mary, in the house of the worker, in one of those forgotten places of "pagan Galilee", from where nobody expected any good to come. It is only from there that the Church could make a new start and be healed. The Church could never present the true answer to the revolt of our century against wealth and power, unless from within its deepest self, Nazareth was indeed a lived reality.