Following Jesus of Nazareth

Audience with Pius XII

By then she was also seeking an audience with Pope Pius XII to offer him the gift of her ‘little religious family’ and wrote to him expressing the desire to lay before him an indication of the spirit and intention of the proposed congregation consecrated in its prayer, immolation and apostolate to the world of Islam, a congregation which she wanted to call the Little Sisters of Jesus(of Father de Foucauld) under the patronage of the ‘great hermit of the desert’. In order to be in the midst of people of all milieux as the leaven lost in the dough to make it rise, the Little Sisters were to become Arabs amongst the Arabs, nomads amongst the nomads. They were to adopt the language, customs and even the mentality of the people amongst whom they would spend their lives. They were to give charity precedence over all other rules and they were to open wide the doors to vocations amongst the local people with the idea of placing themselves at their service, respecting their race and giving their own lives joyfully for the redemption of their Islamic brothers and sisters.

The proposed congregation should be above all, human and Christian, devoid of those barriers which might separate them from the world and at the same time rooted in a profound inner life. Without shocking anyone and without being reproached for their lack of dignity, the Little Sisters were to live, be lodged and travel as the least of their brothers and sisters … ‘like Jesus who lost none of his divine dignity by assuming the humanity of a poor craftsman’. The Little Sisters sought the right to be really like the poor, as Jesus had been, earning their living with their hands without the dowries and income from capital which constituted the more usual source of security for religious congregations. They did not want, Little Sister Magdeleine insisted, to leave to lay people the privilege of depriving themselves if they so wished in order to follow the poor Christ; nor did they wish to take a vow of poverty only to find themselves obliged to secure the future and ensure that they wanted for nothing. It was a plea for the privilege of following the example of the Christ born in poverty in a manger who went to work  as a humble carpenter  in Nazareth.

Yet this ideal of Christlike poverty provoked criticism, especially in ecclesiastical and religious circles where paradoxically it was rejected  as ‘unworthy of religious’. And little Sister Magdeleine suffered profoundly as a consequence of the Church’s slowness to confirm her intuition.