December 1: Charles de Foucauld, Hermit and Martyr in the Sahara, 1916

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this commemoration:

Charles de Foucauld, sometimes referred to as Brother Charles of Jesus, was the inspiration behind the founding of new religious communities for both men and women and is often credited with the revival of desert spirituality in the early twentieth century.

Born in France in 1858, Charles was orphaned at age six and raised by his grandparents. As a young man he lost his faith, and in spite of the discipline of his grandfather, whom he deeply respected, Charles lived a life that was a curious mix of laxity and stubbornness. Against advice, he took a risk-laden journey to Morocco in the early 1880’s. There he encountered devout Muslims whose practice of their faith inspired Charles to begin a search for the faith that was his own.

Upon returning to France, he continued his quest, and in 1886, at age 28, re-discovered God and made a new commitment that would guide the rest of his life. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land deepened his commitment still further. Charles entered the Cisterian Order of Strict Observance, the Trappists, first in France and then in Syria, a commitment of seven years. He then returned to the Holy Land and lived as a servant to the convent of the Poor Clares in Nazareth. It was there that he began to develop a life of solitude, prayer, and adoration. The Poor Clares saw in him a vocation to the priesthood, encouraged him in spite of his reluctance, and Charles was ordained a priest in 1901. Charles then moved to the Sahara where his desire was to live a “ministry of presence” among “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He believed his call was to live among those whose faith and culture differed from his own. To witness to Christ among them was not to be eloquent preaching or missionary demands, but “to shout the Gospel with his life.” Charles sought to live so that those who saw his life would ask, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

Collects

i Loving God, who didst restore the Christian faith of
Charles de Foucauld through an encounter with Islam in
North Africa and didst sustain him in the desert where he
converted many with his witness of presence: Help us to
know thee wherever we find thee, that with him, we may
be faithful unto death; through Jesus Christ, who liveth
and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now
and for ever. Amen.
ii Loving God, who restored the Christian faith of Charles
de Foucauld through an encounter with Islam in North
Africa and sustained him in the desert where he converted
many with his witness of presence: Help us to know you
wherever we find you, that with him, we may be faithful
unto death; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Lessons
Wisdom 13:1–5
James 1:2–4,12
John 16:25–33

Psalm

73:24–28

Preface of a Saint (3)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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7 Responses to December 1: Charles de Foucauld, Hermit and Martyr in the Sahara, 1916

  1. William H. Petersen says:

    Hooray. He is a splendid addition to the sanctorale. Cheers.

  2. Marjorie Menaul says:

    de Foucauld is listed as “Hermit and Martyr,” but his entry says nothing about a martyrdom. This omission seems a bit strange, don’t you think?

  3. Michael Hartney says:

    Does this hermit and martyr have a particular following in The Episcopal Church or our ecumenical partners?

    Hebrew reading: This is pretty triumphant, don’t you think?

    Psalm: Poor verse 29 – ‘I will speak of all your works * in the gates of the city of Zion.’ Why not include it?

    Bio. He needs a ‘He died in 1916.’ statement.
    Paragraph 3: Is the word ‘for’ missing in the phrase: ‘… first in France and then in Syria, for a commitment of seven years.’?

  4. John LaVoe says:

    Charles de Foucauld, Hermit and Martyr in the Sahara, 1916
    .
    “re-discovered God” — Non-literaI word choice. However, the sentence conveys its intended sense perfectly well without these words, with very little pruning. I would omit them.
    .
    “Cisterian” — spelling. Cistercian. (Misspelled in printed volume, too.)
    .
    “Charles entered the Cisterian Order of Strict Observance, the Trappists, first in France and then in Syria,…” — Did he really “enter” it first in France, and then enter it again in Syria? Once he entered the Cistercian Order, he wouldn’t re-enter it a second time – unless he left the order between the two “enterings.” I’d guess he “entered” in France, and at some point continued his life as a Trappist in Syria for a while. The easiest “fix” might be to add a single word before “first” – such as “serving first in France (etc.).”
    .
    “It was there that he began to develop a life of solitude, prayer, and adoration.” — As a Cistercian, prayer and adoration would have been part of his previous discipline, so in the Holy Land, as a servant of the Poor Clares, he might have begun developing a life of solitude, but I doubt that his life of prayer and adoration BEGAN at that point.
    .
    Contemporary Collect: “faithful unto death” — “unto” seems like a word reserved for Traditional wordings. “Even to” might be its equivalent in contemporary wordings.
    .
    Apart from these points of an editorial nature, this was a new and impressive commemoration for me. Desert spirituality is very different from my experience of American parish life, and realizing the depth of faith expressed in de Foucauld’s life impresses the ultimate seriousness of Christian belief in a way (albeit, not the only way) that it deserves. This is a good commemoration, and I thank those who presented it.
    .
    Finally, I need a pronunciation guide for this name. I’d probably say “FOE-CO” — but I have no idea that I’d be right.

  5. Suzanne Sauter says:

    The biography does not make clear why Father Charles de Foucauld is proposed for the Episcopal Church liturgical calendar.

    As has been mentioned previously, he is referred to as a martyr in the title but no reference is made in the text to his manner of death. During the last years of his life he lived among the Tuareg people. He was shot to death by on December 1, 1916 by “bandits.”

    Apparently, his major contribution to the secular world was a dictionary of the Berber language(s).

  6. Nigel Renton says:

    Because IMO the subject does not meet our rigorous standard as a martyr (essentially a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion), I propose limiting the matter to an additional paragraph–see below. The subtitle should be some such as “Hermit, Priest, and Christian Witness in the Sahara”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: begin “Born at Strasbourg in France on September 15, 1858”.

    I find the comment (without supporting evidence) that he “lived a life that was a curious mix of laxity and stubbornness” egregious. What was he “lax” about? What was he “stubborn” about? I suggest that this be deleted, and replaced by further details of his life.

    Line 4, second paragraph: after “stubbornness” (but see above), add a new sentence: “After training as a career Army officer, Charles served in Algeria and Tunisia, until he resigned his commission in 1882. He then became an explorer in Morocco.”

    Line 5, second paragraph: substitute “1883” for “the early 1880’s”.

    Line1, third paragraph: correct spelling of “Cistercian”.

    Add a final paragraph: “Charles was shot to death outside his refuge among the Tuareg people, on December 1, 1916. He is considered a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church.”

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