I Wish to Preach the Gospel With My Life

Today in Rome the Pope will canonise 10 people. To canonise someone is to put them among those we believe are with God. Four of them are women, six of them are men, five of these are from Italy, three from France, one from India and one from Holland. The last time a canonisation ceremony was held in Rome was in 2019, when the Pope declared Cardinal John Henry Newman and Sr. Dulce of Brazil, saints, among others.

I want to focus on Charles de Foucauld, one of the Frenchmen. He was born in Strasbourg on 15th September 1858. He was brought up by his grandfather after the death of his parents and after his first communion at fourteen drifted away from his faith. He went to a military academy and just barely passed. As a soldier, he was posted to North Africa taking his mistress with him whom he passed off as his wife. This relationship didn’t flourish after he was dismissed from the army.

His contact with the Arab world encouraged him to learn Arabic and he returned to Morocco to map hitherto unknown areas of the country. He did this travelling disguised as a Jewish rabbi. While in Morocco he encountered men for whom God mattered more than all else. This changed him within and his cousin Marie was a great influence on him. She introduced him to a priest, Abbe Huvelin, who persuaded him to go to Confession. Charles wrote later: “As soon as I believed there was God I realised that I could do nothing else but live solely for him. My religious vocation dates from the same hour as my faith. God is
so great.”

He went to the Holy Land and the experience gave him the inspiration to live the simple life of Nazareth. He had this great desire to imitate Jesus in his simplicity and hiddenness of life. During these years he was searching to live a hidden and simple life which led him to be a Trappist monk first in France and then he moved to a more remote monastery in Syria where life was simpler and poorer.

At the age of 43 he was ordained a priest and he decided to go where the most forsaken people were. He returned to Algeria to build a religious house for a community of hermits who would live the life of Nazareth in the desert. No one joined him. He said “I wish to preach the gospel with my life.” This he would achieve by sheer goodness and kindness. He moved deeper into the desert and settled in a small centre called Tamanrasset. He lived among the Tuareg tribesmen and compiled a dictionary of their language.

On 1st December 1916 he was seized by some tribesmen as a prisoner. When some French soldiers appeared on the horizon, the young lad who was guarding him shot him dead. A few yards away, his monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was found buried in the sand.

“And thus he died the deeply holy, very eccentric, self-denying, compulsive letter writing, lover of Jesus, dreamer of great dreams, the unrepeatable and inimitable Charles de Foucauld, saint of the Sahara.” (Mgr Tony Philpot)

“Our entire existence, our whole being must shout the gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person must breathe Jesus, all our actions. Our whole life must cry out that we belong to Jesus, reflect a gospel way of living. Our whole being must be a living proclamation, a reflection of Jesus” ( St Charles de Foucauld.)

Canon Father Anthony Charlton
Canon Father Anthony CharltonParish Priest