BLESSED CHARLES DE FOUCAULD
5. Vocation to Religious Life
A DISCREET CONVERSION.
FOR Charles de Foucauld a new life begins. With the exception of Marie de Bondy, his conversion is at first unknown to any of his close acquaintances. His style of life does not change and he even lets it be thought that he is planning further expeditions, even though he lacks the money. They all imagine that he is destined for a scientific career, although the success of his book “Reconnaissance au Maroc”, to appear in January 1888, leaves him totally indifferent.
He wants to prove the sincerity of his conversion through perseverance. He lives in solitude, devoting himself to prayer and study, and having only rare friends in this great city of Paris. He can count them on the fingers of one hand: Duveyrier, Mac Carthy, Maunoir, Émile Maupas. They are not worldly, nor are they aristocrats, nor even officers.
He will do another period with the Army, during which he is highly rated. But his exploration of Morocco left such a mark on him that he is only at ease with the geographers: Duveyrier, together with another explorer, Grandidier, whom he met at Maunoir’s, one of their friends from the Geographical Society. Duveyrier notices a change in Foucauld, without understanding, for he himself does not have the faith. One day during Lent, Charles refused to touch the tea and the little cakes he was offered. Duveyrier then wrote to Maunoir warning him that he was about to meet an ascetic:
«I feel a sincere affection towards Monsieur de Foucauld; he is an elite character and, I fear, a man who has either been attacked by a fatal illness or profoundly wounded in his affection.» (Castillon, p. 173)
With his family, he maintained very close ties of affection. In the winter he was in Paris and went almost daily to 42, rue d’Anjou. He loved to talk with Marie de Bondy, who gave him his religious instruction.
In the summer, he divided his time between Le Tuquet, his aunt Moitessier’s residence, and Dijon where his sister Marie de Blic lived. On the 8th September 1887, he was present at the baptism of Charles, where he was godfather to his sister’s second child. All those present were edified by his recollection.
Marie de Bondy’s son, François has sketched the portrait of Foucauld in 1887:
«At the time when his book Reconnaissance au Maroc was being prepared and published, I saw him regularly at my Grandfather’s home, where my parents lived. Charles, the son of my Grandmother’s brother and orphaned at a very early age, had been brought up by her. Thus, I witnessed the development of the crisis which transformed him from an officer explorer into a religious ascetic, without of course realising anything at all. But I have a very clear picture in my memory of this excellent cousin, very gentle, always smiling, already a little withdrawn because of his taste for humility, which made my brother and I think that he had been put in this world just to be teased and to give us presents. He gave us his military equipment, which allowed us to put on an act with the other children: we had his shako from Saint-Cyr, his battle head gear from Saumur. Then gradually, all the objects brought back from Morocco were passed to us: pistols, rifles, daggers, silk tassled harnesses, especially djellabahs and Arab clothing. Not for a moment did we realise that a man who parts so easily with his travel souvenirs, and what travels! can no longer be holding on to much in this world.» (J.-F. Six, Itinéraire spirituel de Charles de Foucauld, Seuil. 1958, p. 77)
HIS SPIRITUAL FATHER.
Every day, Charles went to Mass and received Holy Communion. He went to confession frequently. Nearly every morning, he had a talk with Father Huvelin. Being ill, Father Huvelin could not give his classes, so he devoted himself particularly to this soul thirsting for light. The memory of their talks will always move Foucauld to gratitude:
«Mon bien-aimé Père.
«This date of 8th February brings me back close to you... I was with you at Mass this morning, and I prayed with you [...]. How I bless you, dear Father, you to whom I owe this great good, after the good God, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph!... It is you who supported me, brought me back here in the face of all opposition, and against myself ! [...] How I bless you, dear Father, how much I thank you at the feet of the good God, how grateful I am to you!... Pray for your poor child, so lukewarm (I am horribly lukewarm: if only you knew how cowardly and half-hearted I am!) and so wretched, that, one day, after the many graces received here below, he may be reunited with you in Heaven, and may thank you for all eternity! [...]
«I place myself at your feet, my dearest Father; bless your little child who loves you and venerates you with all his heart in the Sacred Heart of our beloved Lord Jesus.
«Brother Charles de Jesus.»
(Correspondance avec l’abbé Huvelin, 8th Feb. 1900, p. 118-120)
We are anticipating, so let us come back to Paris.
At this same time, the young Charles Maurras, an unbeliever, was sent to Father Huvelin by Bishop Penon, but to no avail.
When dealing with the faith, our Father explains to us that it is like giving birth to a child. The Catholic is a child of the Church; he must, therefore, have a Father. Foucauld found him in Father Huvelin. And so he vowed him an entire and loving obedience. In return, the Abbé was able to speak to the heart of his “ child” and lead him in moments of doubt, admitted in the letter to de Castries quoted above.
As the Abbé Six puts it so well: «At the basis of the whole of Charles de Foucauld’s spiritual itinerary there is Jesus Whom he must imitate since he wants to love Him without measure. From now on, it is to Jesus that he turns his eyes, Jesus Whom he loves and Whose friendship he wants to win; so he passionately scrutinizes the Gospels for His words and deeds, in order to conform to them as concretely, as simply and as exactly as possible. And the whole of his life until his death will now be, despite every unexpected path, apparent contradictions, obstacles, failures and setbacks, one simple constant and continual search: JESUS.» (Intinéraire spirituel, p. 76)
From the day of his conversion, «the desire for the religious life grew stronger» (Retraite à Nazareth, Nov. 1897) and he already understood what he was to write later during his retreat at Nazareth, where we find the whole of our Father’s doctrine on “positive purity”.
« For anyone who truly loves me, who loves me passionately, my love is a sacred bond, a marriage, and every thought, every word, every action contrary to chastity is an infidelity to the Spouse... Virginity, chastity are not the state of an unmarried soul; on the contrary, they are the state of a soul that is married to a well loved Spouse, to a Spouse who is perfect, perfectly beautiful, perfectly holy, perfectly lovable... and this state is the normal, proper, true state for man, for the truth and justice is that He looks at me as I am, that He be enamoured of my beauty, that He love me passionately, that He give me His Heart to such a degree that any other union would be impossible and odious to Him; it would be an infidelity to the passionate love He owes me. “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” Certainly, every moment we have is not too much to adore Him, to tell Him that we love Him, to prostrate ourselves at the foot of His Tabernacle; there remains no place in our life or in our heart for an earthly spouse... “Come and see how gracious is the Lord; how can one do otherwise than desire to spend one’s life passionately contemplating and adoring Him in the practice of all that He wills, far from the vanities of this world.» (La dernière place, 11 Nov. 1897, p. 169)
Thus he is enamoured of virginity, and this chastity is now a constant joy that likens him to Jesus. He sees in Our Lord the Spouse of his soul. He enters into the religious vocation from the highest reasons, not to avoid Hell nor even to go to Heaven but because he is ablaze with the supreme love of the Heart to heart with Jesus. It is admirable!
At the beginning, Father Huvelin did not see things in this way. He even looked for someone with whom this young man could soon be married. One of his friends, Monsieur de Richemont, had two very pious daughters, one of whom was dedicated to a sort of religious life in the world and did not think of marriage; the other, however, would have made a good match for the pious neophyte (cf. Bulletin des amis de Charles de Foucauld, January 1990). But Charles did not want to hear about marriage. He felt himself to be taken by Someone who wanted him all for Himself, and he wanted to live only for Him. He was thinking, therefore, of the religious life, and Father Huvelin was to lead him towards this vocation with great prudence, wisdom and even slowness. Seeing the ardour and the radicalism of the young man he was directing, he realised that nothing should be done hastily.
PILGRIMAGE TO THE HOLY LAND (November 1888 - January 1889).
The Father Huvelin then suggested that he should travel to Palestine in the footsteps of Jesus, since he loved Our Lord so much: «Go to the Holy Land.»
«I went despite myself, out of pure obedience to Monsieur l’Abbé» he was to write thirteen years later to Marie de Bondy. He obeyed, as he will do all his life, and it is there that he received the revelation of Jesus, it is there that he will experience the remarkable grace of understanding the life that Jesus led with His holy Parents for thirty years, then with His disciples for three years. It was an overwhelming discovery, which will be the light of his whole life and will inspire his entire conduct.
No, there is nothing unstable about Charles de Foucauld! We shall see how faithful he was, even unto martyrdom, to this grace received in the Holy Land in the course of this pilgrimage, which was the event of his life. After he had been ordained priest for only a few weeks, he will write recalling those past years:
«You know the incomparable and infinite good that that pilgrimage to the Holy Land did for me twelve years ago, and what a blessed influence it had on my life.» (Letter to Marie de Bondy, 5 July 1901, Six. p. 82)
«Firstly, it is the Infant Jesus of Bethlehem, the poor Babe of the Crib that is presented to him. Charles de Foucauld arrived in Jerusalem on the 15th December, and there he visited Bethphage, Bethany, the Cenacle, Gethsemane. He arrived in Bethlehem for Christmas and experienced an extraordinary joy: he prayed in the cave of the Nativity and found himself of one heart with Mary and Joseph in adoration of the Infant-God.
«But the joy of Christmas soon gave place to suffering: the pilgrim, who had already been round Jerusalem, was suddenly hit by the mystery of the Cross on his return from Bethlehem:
«“After having spent Christmas 1888 at Bethlehem, and having heard Midnight Mass and received Holy Communion in the cave, I returned to Jerusalem at the end of two or three days. The sweetness I had experienced when praying in that cave which had resonated with the voices of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and where I was so close to them, had been indescribable... But, alas, after an hour’s walk, the dome of the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, the Mount of Olives came into view and, like it or not, I had to change my thoughts and come back to the foot of the Cross.”
«Continuing this understanding of the Cross, Charles de Foucauld became aware some days later, on the 10th January, of the hidden life of Jesus. He was in the town of Nazareth, when he understood how monotonous, humdrum and wretched the hidden life of Jesus had been. The humiliation of Jesus, which had so struck him at Calvary, is forcefully announced in the condition of Nazareth, and Charles de Foucauld then sees the hidden life as an “abject” life:
«“I have a great thirst to lead at last the life I have been seeking for seven years, he will write in 1896, the life of which I caught a glimpse and guessed whilst walking in the streets of Nazareth, trod by the feet of Our Lord, a poor workman, lost in abjection and obscurity.” » (Six, p. 83-84)
Charles returned dazzled from this pilgrimage, which was truly the turning point of his life. From January 1889, he knew how he had to imitate Jesus: in the poverty and humility of a purely simple life, the life of Nazareth. It was then that he was given to meet Jesus.
«Jesus said (and they were His first words toHis Apostles, His first words to all those who yearn to know Him) : “Venite et videte”; start by “coming”, by following Me, by imitating Me, by practising My teaching; and then you will “see”, you will enjoy the light to the extent that you have practised it... “Venite et videte”; I have so much seen, through my experience, the truth of these words, that I am writing you this letter to tell you of them.» (Letter to Henry de Castries, 14 August 1909, Six, p. 84)
DEVOTION TO THE SACRED HEART.
We touch here a very profound point of true Catholic religion, as our Father never ceases to teach. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not learned through books, for our religion is not an intellectual discovery for each one to make on his own. It is like a stream of life which passes from one to the other, after the example of the life of the body which passes from man to woman, impregnating her, and from the woman to her children. We emerge fully alive from a heart that has loved us, just as we emerge fully alive from a body, from two bodies that have united to procreate. Thus Marie de Bondy, in revealing to Charles how much her own heart burned with love for Jesus and with devotion for His Divine Heart, explained to him how Jesus had become her consolation in the many difficulties of her own life. In her trials, Jesus was the Spouse of her soul, teaching her to rise above her troubles and still love her husband with all her heart. In listening to her speak in this way, Charles penetrated, through the very soul of his cousin, this mystery of the love of the Heart of Jesus, and there he found the happiness of his whole life. He never ceased expressing his gratitude to his cousin:
«Yes, let us hope in the infinite mercy of Him whose Sacred Heart you made me know.» (7 April 1890)
«Others succeeded in helping me, Father Huvelin especially, to do good in various things, but devotion to the Sacred Heart is something that I owe to you alone, absolutely alone, through the grace of God.» (Six, p. 91)
Marie de Bondy got this devotion from Bishop Perraud who was her spiritual director for a time. When he was made Bishop of Autun, he organised grand pilgrimages to Paray-le-Monial.
It is in this context that Charles de Foucauld went to Montmartre on the 6th June 1889, and there consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The sublime love he had for Marie de Bondy, he “ transversed ” into the Heart of Jesus. And since for him, to love is to imitate, and to imitate is to serve, he wants to belong wholly to Jesus, to be with Him, close to Him and never to leave Him.
« DESCEND, DESCEND, DESCEND. »
Father Huvelin taught him what this love consisted in: it is «to descend», down to trouble and humiliation, to be always with Jesus.
«My God, I do not know whether it is possible for certain souls to see you poor and yet deliberately remain rich; at any rate, I cannot conceive of love without a need, an overriding need for conformity and resemblance.»
(Retreat at Nazareth, 11 Nov. 1897, La Dernière Place, p. 175)
In speaking of Our Lord in one of his meditations, he will write:
«Throughout his whole life, He just descended: he descended by becoming incarnate, he descended in becoming a little child; and he descended in becoming poor, abandoned, exiled, persecuted, tortured, putting Himself always in the last place.» (Meditation on Saint Luke, 20 June 1916; Six, p. 86)
Thereafter, Father Huvelin has no more doubts about Charles’s monastic vocation and his call to a hidden life. That year 1889 will be his last spent in the world. He uses the time for prayer, whilst his director takes things in hand to decide which religious order he should enter.
On the 19th August 1888, he visited the Trappist monastery of Fontgombault. In the garden, he saw a Cistercian monk in a dirty, patched habit picking vegetables. When Charles passed him by, the monk did not feel the need to raise his head to see who these visitors were. On seeing him, Charles said to himself: that’s what I am looking for.
In April 1889, Father Huvelin sent him to spend Easter at Solesmes. This Benedictine abbey, which had been restored fifty years earlier by Dom Guéranger, was the stronghold of traditionalism and ultramontanism.
Father Huvelin wrote to Dom Delatte, the Abbot of the monastery:
«Most Reverend Father,
«The Viscount de Foucauld who will hand you this letter is a former officer, an intrepid traveller in Morocco, a fervent pilgrim to the Holy Land, a perfect gentleman, a very good Christian, who makes a love of his religion. For a long time, I have seen that his tastes and his attraction lead him towards the monastic life. He has a need to live it; he has been practising it for some months... I have advised him, therefore, to live it for a few days at Solesmes, and I beg you, Reverend Father, to place him so that he is able to see it and to live it in your midst. I have known M. de Foucauld for some years: he is absolutely convinced and his vocation seems to me to be most serious, if not for Solesmes, at least for a monastic family. I would rather like it to be Solesmes.» (Six, p. 93-94)
But Charles did not find his path there, and the Benedictine Fathers directed him to the Trappists. In May, he spent the feast of Pentecost at Soligny: he admired the poverty and the manual work. But it seems that Marie de Bondy was opposed to his entering this monastery.
He spent a month during the summer at La Barre, with the Bondys. He accompanied them to church and Communion. They were days of grace, which he will recall later in his correspondence. It was Paradise for him, for his cousin and her children, for his aunt and the friends who passed by. They were happy. One afternoon, they took a boat out onto the ponds. Charles felt a great happiness, for they were in perfect harmony. And then, he found Marie very beautiful, and her children too! Later, he will explain what this beauty was that seized him, for it spoke to him of the beauty of God.
«The eyes I found most gentle, the smiles that most consoled me, the beings that most delighted me - all that was just a little of Your beauty which You were pleased to let me see, so that in seeing it I might say : this comes from God, every good thing comes from God; it is He who is smiling at me so sweetly, who is looking at me beneath those dear eyelids; how good He is to give me this grace! How tender to console me and to take my heart in this way; how beautiful He is, for this creature who appears to me so perfect and so charming is but a very pale and tiny reflection of Him... My God, how good You are to have shown me Your beauty in creatures! How culpable I would be if I ever stopped there for a moment and if, through this veil, I failed to see Your supreme beauty, allowing, out of love for me and other souls, a ray of its beauty to fall on this earth [...].
«God only gives these beauties to creatures and only leads my soul to take delight in them so as to allow Himself to be glimpsed by me, to arouse my gratitude for His goodness, my love for His beauty and to make me rise to His throne, there to establish the life of my soul in adoration, awestruck contemplation, gratitude... to have all my conversation in Heaven since the sight of the earth only allows me to guess at Your goodness and Your tenderness [...].
«Oh, how sweet it is not only to be united but to be together for a few hours, a few moments with a loving creature, who has only a very little of Your grace, of Your beauty, of Your intelligence, of Your goodness, of Your love...» (Retreat at Nazareth, 5 Nov. 1897, La Dernière Place, p. 38-40)
Thus, he does not stop at creatures and does not reflect on himself in order to captivate the affection of those whom he loves. It is a wonderful illustration of all that our Father teaches on spiritual love and “positive purity”
And when this sweet family day together is over, Charles de Foucauld is so happy that he vows to God that which for him is the greatest sacrifice possible: to leave her with the promise of never seeing her again on this earth... And he will do it!
On his return to Paris in September, he writes to Marie de Bondy:
«Once again, with Father Huvelin, we have sought to answer why I wanted to enter the religious life: to keep Our Lord company as much as possible in His pains. It is to be buried in Our Lord with Saint Paul, that is to say elegi abjectus esse, because Our Lord was; it is to follow the example of those solitaries who carved out caves in the mountain where Our Lord fasted, so as to fast at His feet all their life.» (Letter of 20 September 1889, quoted by Castillon du Perron, p. 185)
Between the 20th and 30th October, he went to Notre-Dame des Neiges whose founder, Dom Chautard, was a personal friend of Father Huvelin. This monastery particularly attracted Charles because it was extremely poor and had just founded at Cheiklé, in Syria, the monastery of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur, near Akbès. Immediately, he thinks of joining this foundation implanted in the heart of a pagan country, in extreme poverty and the greatest of danger, everything he has been looking for since the grace received in the Holy Land, in order to find the greatest conformity with Jesus.
He came back from Notre-Dame des Neiges with his mind made up. He will make his “election” between the 22nd and the 30th November whilst following the exercises of Saint Ignatius with the Jesuits of Clamart under the direction of Father Loyer. His resolution is taken: he will go to Notre-Dame des Neiges with the intention of asking to be sent to Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur at Akbès. He immediately informs his sister Mimi, adding:
«When I leave, I shall announce my departure on some journey, without in any way saying that I am entering, nor that I have the slightest idea of entering the religious life.» (Letter of 22nd November 1889, Castillon, p. 188)
On the 11th December, he goes to Dijon to spend a few days with the Blics and their children. He leaves all his belongings to Mimi.
«Let’s be sad, but let’s thank God for this sadness.» (ibid.)
On the 18th, after a brief stay at Nancy where he puts his affairs in order, he returns to Paris and arranges his apartment as though he were going to die. On the 14th January 1890, he writes a letter to Mimi in which his heart of gold again shines through:
«I am leaving Paris tomorrow; at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon I shall be at Notre-Dame des Neiges. Pray for me, I shall pray for you and your family! We do not forget one another in drawing close to God... I shall write to you on the day of my arrival at Notre-Dame des Neiges. But after this first letter, you know that my silence will always mean that there is nothing new for me. I shall interpret your silence likewise... so close to God and the heart full of Him, it is difficult to find little things with which to fill a letter; it is better to pray for those one loves and to offer in common with them the sacrifice of separation.» (ibid., p. 188-189)
THE GREAT SACRIFICE.
On the 15th January 1890, Charles left her whom he loved most in the world. They regulated this wrench in advance, like a liturgy.
In the morning, they went to Saint Augustine’s and received Communion at Our Lady’s altar, where he had received Jesus for the first time, the day of his conversion. They came back to her place. In the afternoon, he left her to go and see Father Huvelin, who was ill, and to receive his blessing, the last: he took the resolution never to return again. He called in at Saint Augustine’s on the way back and joined his cousin at 5 o’clock in the evening for their last talk together, the final moments. It is five to seven. Later, he will relate the scene:
«I was seated near you in your drawing room, sometimes looking at you, sometimes at the clock... How vivid that day is for me.» (Letter to Marie de Bondy, 15 January 1900)
At ten past seven, Marie de Bondy blessed him, as parents used to bless their children in the Ancien Régime. He went away, in tears.
«A sacrifice that cost me all my tears, it seems, for since that time, since that day, I have not wept again, except occasionally when thinking about it. The wound of the 15th January is still the same; that day’s sacrifice remains the sacrifice of every hour.» (Six, p. 99)
Every year, until the end of his life, he will be faithful to the celebration of that day, experiencing the same suffering, ever more vivid, with the desire for Heaven where we shall all be together. How often he comes back to that! This pain on earth makes him desire their reunion in Heaven. And that is what is admirable about him: renunciation is never accompanied by a withering of the heart; on the contrary, it procures an increase of love. But of a love that is wholly spiritualised and which is going to become an inexhaustible source of grace for all those who surround him and who love him. He takes the night train for Notre-Dame des Neiges: he has left all that he loved: his family and the army.
All will be given back, but he does not know that. Charles will not see Marie again until nineteen years later, on the order of his director of conscience, for he had decided never to see her again in this world. It is he who had decided that. It is he who commanded and who directed. It cannot be said that he was overruled. But he himself was ruled by someone much more powerful, more attractive and even more appealing: by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day following that of his departure, he wrote to Marie:
«My dear cousin, I have come from the Salve. As I don’t enter the community until tomorrow morning, I am writing to you. Where was I at this hour yesterday? I was still with you, saying adieu: it was hard, but it was still sweet, for I could see you. Twenty four hours is so little. I can’t take in the idea that it is for always that I bade you adieu! We are separated by so little in the past: how can we be so completely separated in the future? And yet that is the truth: I know it and I wish it, yet I cannot believe it. At 9 o’clock in the morning, at four o’clock, now and always, I feel myself so close to you, and my eyes will never again see yours.
«Excuse me for what I say, but at this hour when only yesterday I said adieu for ever, how can I not be full of the sorrow of it all ? But I have to draw strength from my weakness, to use this very weakness for God; to thank Him for this sorrow, to offer Him this sacrifice to console Him Who accepts the sacrifice of a humble and contrite heart, so that this sacrifice may be for the good of all His children, you in particular. I ask Him with all my heart to increase my sorrow, if I am able to bear a still greater weight, so that He may be a little more consoled thereby, and that His children and especially you, may have a little more benefit as a result. May He diminish the sorrow if it is not for His glory and according to His Will, but I am sure that He wants it, He who wept for Lazarus, a simple friend of only a few years, and whom He was going to raise from the dead and see again in a few moments. Saint Bernard wept for his brother even though he had the consolation of knowing that he was in Heaven and that he himself was in his declining years. I have lost infinitely more than Saint Bernard did; I have lost as much as it is possible to lose.
«So, may the good God not take away my grief; it would be more painful for me to lose it than to feel it. May He keep it and increase it for me, and may it be turned to His greater glory. May He thereby receive the offering I have wholeheartedly made of it, for His consolation, for all His children, and for you in the first place. A sweet order whereby He has again shown me His infinite tenderness, the divine sweetness, the infinite sweetness of His Heart- which is this lifelong order He has given me, always to place you first in my prayers and everywhere...
«But I am only speaking of myself, and I have so much to say about you ! It is true that I do not live without you: you who were so good! Oh, far from me the desire to thank you for all your goodness: I am incapable and unworthy of that. Far be it from me, any such idea. But as you made this last day and those last hours so sweet, thank you for yesterday, thank you for everything, thank you for its beginning, thank you for its end.
«May we find ourselves together one day at the feet of Our Lord, possessing Him as we possessed Him yesterday morning! May He bless us as you blessed me yesterday evening, a sweet blessing, thank you! Salutary and good! It was sweet for me to leave in that way! You have given me every sweetness, and you have done every good for me. Thank you! May the good God bless you, each evening and especially on your last evening, as you blessed me this last evening, which seems as though it will never arrive, but it will arrive; that of yesterday evening did indeed arrive for me!
«I only wanted to write a word and finish it tomorrow morning, before entering the community - this letter which will be the last sealed one to be sent. I shall finish it tomorrow morning because the hour I had fixed for myself to go to bed has come. One must obey oneself, this evening, but after having begun your letter, I would like to write to my aunt, to Mimi, to Cath., to Monsieur l’Abbé, but I have only written to you.» (16 January 1890, Lettres à Madame de Bondy, 1966 Desclée, p. 25-28)
This letter shows a very keen suffering, with the feeling of his weakness, which Charles felt at the moment when he tore himself from the little entourage that was his whole life and which he had renounced. The wrench made him weep. But one admires all the more the love of God that governs him in everything. It is truly the basis of supernatural charity, which consists in immolating everything, in sacrificing all to God, really and for ever, with no thought of return, no self-regarding calculation, and to find everything again “in God”, purified by God in this world through grace, and in eternity through the infinite happiness of Heaven.
For her part, Marie de Bondy will write on the 23rd January, to Father Eugene, the Novice Master of the Trappist monastery:
« The good God has asked a painful sacrifice of us in taking Charles from us: for me, he was like a young brother who, for many years, shared all our trials with an absolute devotion and a most faithful affection; he leaves a great void. The more you know him, the more you will understand my sadness, which is not, however, a complaint.» (Charles de Foucauld, Lettre à mes frères de la Trappe, Le Cerf, 1969, p. 25)
CCR n° 292, January 1997
CHARLES DE FOUCAULD AND MARIE DE BONDY
Whilst preaching on Father de Foucauld to our Canadian friends, our Father watched, during recreation, a production of Henry Ghéon’s play “Le pauvre sous l’escalier”, acted by our theatre group and representing the life and death of Saint Alexis. At the end of the production, our Father complimented the young actors and exhorted them as follows:
«The very things of the flesh give us an image of the reality of spiritual love. Between Father de Foucauld and Marie de Bondy, there was, as between Alexis and his Emilie, a love that was absolutely pure and spiritual but also absolutely ardent, for which the things of the senses were, if you like, the support and the vehicle. I’ll give you just one example.
«When Charles de Foucauld came back from Morocco, when he was about to leave for the monastery, he knew that it was one of the last times he would meet his dear, beloved cousin, surrounded by her children. They were together in one of her great properties. It was summer. Together they took a boat out on the pond and he rowed and rowed and he looked at them... Eventually, when he is a hermit at Nazareth, he will remember those absolutely happy moments! And so, her sees his cousin, and for him, she is delightful, and they exchange looks that are full of love, of a love that is not desperate, but is a suffering love, since they are going to part for life. They are going to make the sacrifice of never seeing each other again, in order to please Our Lord.
«And so they look at each other, and they cherish the present moment. Madame Castillon du Perron in relating this cannot stop herself from saying that there must have been a certain quivering in their sensual being, and that it was not an absolutely pure love. For her, spiritual love is not possible. When one takes a boat out on a pond with a woman who is beautiful and who looks at you with love, how do you expect there not to be bad thoughts! That is what this woman writes! Well, it is most certainly false.
«Marie’s beauty, the beauty of her body and of her face were for Charles something of an appeal to angelic beauty, to spiritual beauty, to heavenly beauty. And far from desiring to commit any sin, they were happy with this last day when God gave them photographs, if one may call them such, souvenirs, which they will keep all their life whilst awaiting Heaven.
«And when they tell me that I am obsessed with human love, I answer: of course I am, because that is our whole life! Philosophy is not much “fun”, nor are mathematics, and as for electronics... I am sorry, but that is really the worst of the lot! The same with business, industry, and anything you like... But love, that is the whole of human life.
«Even so, it has to be a love that does not damn us or corrupt us, but a love that uplifts us. Today, the misfortune is that crowds of people are thrown into appalling loves where souls are drowned, lost, and finally end in suicide. Whereas we actually know the remedy: it is spiritual love in a community like that of the CRC, where you draw the courage to repel unwholesome imaginings and temptations, to go forward in an ever more spiritual love, where each increasingly gives of themself to the other in fidelity. That is magnificent!»