Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'

Reflecting on his experiences in Morocco, as the writing of his book Reconnaissance au Maroc obliged him to do, and in the context of renewed contact with the family of his discreet but deeply believing cousins in Paris, Charles almost 'naturally' put to himself the question of the 'truth' of that 'something greater' to which the Muslims had alerted him and attracted him.

'I began to pray this strange prayer, "My God, if You exist, make me know You."...'
While reticent to the point of silence on the nature of his sudden conversion in the confessional of the Abbe Huvelin, Charles will constantly recommend this prayer to those of his family and friends who found themselves in his position of doubt. For his prayer is answered, and he discovers the reality of God, a reality so strong that
'immediately I knew there was a God, I realized that I could live only for God'.14
The story is well known, but the key point, hidden by Charles' discretion, is usually missed. Charles discovers the living God not in the silent immensity and solitude of the desert, but in the living presence of the man Jesus, who enlightens his doubts, heals his past and feeds him with the living Bread of Life. For Charles' conversion occurs through his participation in the sacraments of confession and communion, offered, even pressed upon him, to his own surprise (he had only come to ask for information!) and that by an old and sick minister of the Church, in a dark and stuffy church building! His friend Henry de Castries, from a similar starting point, the 'seduction' of Islam, never, it seems, discovered this living 'presence' of Jesus, which became the bedrock foundation of Charles' spirituality.

Did, we may ask, Charles compromise the absolute 'transcendence' of God that he had glimpsed in Islam, and which, as he increasingly discovered, was the one foundation, the one uncompromising and uncompromisable foundation, of Islam? On the contrary, Charles feels called, we can say, to accentuate in his words and life, the 'All' of the 'One' God, that Absolute in face of whom the whole creation is as 'nothing'. Nor does he diminish the real humanity of Jesus; on the contrary he sees Jesus as primarily the 'workman of Nazareth': the 'divine workman', yes, but one who is fully human, 'like us', 'one of us'.15

Charles, therefore, is, as it were, 'caught'. He will never deny the truth and grandeur of the basic Muslim affirmation, 'God is great', and the corresponding natural obligation of all humans to 'adore'. On the contrary, he will declare that the Muslims fail to go far enough:

'Islam has not enough contempt for creatures to be capable of teaching a love of God worthy of God: without chastity and poverty, love and adoration remain very imperfect'.16
But he is internally obliged, by the inner logic of the faith of his conversion experience, to affirm by his life that this transcendent God is the 'God-with-us', who is in person this man Jesus of Nazareth.