In the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, this is the 5th Sunday of the fifty days in the Easter Season. Today we are gathering together in solidarity with the many lay and religious communities around the world who are living the spiritual legacy of the hermit priest, fondly known as Brother Charles de Foucauld because we are celebrating the canonization of this new saint by Pope Francis in Rome.
From the very beginning of Louis Massignon’s own spiritual journey, Foucauld was a mentor and a friend who he called, “an older brother”. It was Louis Massignon, an early 20th century Catholic Islamic scholar, who assured that Foucauld’s spiritual legacy lived on after he was killed on December 1, 1916, in the Sahara during World War I.
When Massingnon established the Christian/Muslim Badaliya prayermovementin 1934 he recommended that members reflect on Foucauld’s writings and spiritual wisdom either individually or at their gatherings, and spend a portion of their prayer, as Foucauld did, in silent adoration.
Foucauld’s spirituality was influenced by his image of Jesus as an ordinary carpenter in Nazareth who he called “the Poor Man of Nazareth”. He spent 3 years there living in a small hermitage outside the walls of the Clarisse monastery, the Sisters of Saint Clare, before becoming a priest. He ended up devoting his life to those he considered the most abandoned of people, serving a tribal community in a remote part of the Saharan desert in Algeria. Because Louis Massignon ‘s relationship with Foucauld convinced him that this man truly was a saint and one worthy of the Church’s recognition, and even though I have quoted his writings in these letters many times, today it seems fitting to repeat a part of one of Massignon’s own reflections here:
” I feel obliged to explain to you how, through this living experience of the sacred in others, Foucauld was given to me like an older brother, and how he helped me to find brothers in all other human beings, starting with the most abandoned ones. I needed him to communicate to me through spiritual contact, in very simple words, by interviews and letters, his experiential initiation into the real understanding of the human condition, his experiential knowledge of the compassion that drew him to the most abandoned of human beings.”
Massignon’s belief in Foucauld’s spiritual legacy is being honored today and our liturgical reading expresses the joy that he would surely feel:
“Then I, John saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. — He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’ The one who sat on the throne said,” Behold I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:1-5)
A word about saints in Islam. Sufi Saints, known as Wali, helped to spread Islam throughout the world. A saint is someone who is given special gifts by God, considered holy, and even has the ability to effect miracles. For about 1000 years in the ancient Islamic world, (from ca. 800-1800CE), saints were revered in the Sunni Muslim tradition. Which saints were venerated depended on the culture and region of the Islamic world where they preached and attracted a following. They included both holy men and women. Their tombs were often visited by those seeking blessings.
From the Indian subcontinent to North Africa, to the Balkans, Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, the tombs of revered saints have attracted pilgrims. The House of the Virgin Mary and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers in Ephesus, Turkey, which we have explored in our previous gatherings, continues to do so today. There are many types of saints in Islam just as there are in Christianity, from martyrs for the faith to the great famous Islamic scholars and those known as love mystics, such as the Persian 10th century, al-
Hallaj, beloved, revered and extensively researched by Louis Massignon. Since the 18th century, with the advent of the more austere form of Islam in present-day Saudi Arabia, called Wahhabism, reverence for the saints in many Sunni Muslim communities has been discouraged. Shia Muslims, like those in Iran today, tend to put more emphasis on visiting the shrines of famous Imams in Iraq and Iran beyond the recommended annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam.
In Christianity, the process is officially declaring a person a saint is long and complex and sometimes requires even hundreds of years. Their life experience and their words are carefully scrutinized and the effect on the lives of others during and after their lifetime is crucial. Let us, therefore, reflect together on a word from our new saint today, Saint Charles de Foucauld:
“You know that to love is to forget oneself for another who we love a thousand times more than ourselves. To love is not to be concerned nor desire to be happy, but only to desire with all one’s heart that the ‘other’ be loved.”
At this moment, let us pray and work toward an end to the war in Ukraine, safety for all those displaced and seeking asylum, and peace with justice in the Holy Land and throughout our world. May we join Saint Charles de Foucauld in “desiring with our whole heart that the ‘other’ be loved.”
Peace to you,
For further reference to the life of Saint Charles de Foucauld, see my Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter Two: “The Call of the Divine: Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld.” KNP Publications, London, NY 2002. Quotations: p. 83.
See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute