If you’re libertine and obstinate, here is your Saint

By Fr. David Muscat

In an age of vocational drought, I call young Maltese men to look at the life of this French saint named Charles de Foucauld  … and go to the desert. 

The late Dominican Cardinal, Yves Congar, aptly stated that “the beacons which the hand of God has set aflame on the threshold of the atomic century are called Thérèse of Lisieux (Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus) and Charles de Foucauld.” 

Born on 15 September 1858 and raised by his maternal grandmother after having been orphaned at the age of six, Charles completely lost faith despite attending a Jesuit college something very commonplace both then and now.  He lived such a dissolute and intemperate life, inevitably leading to his expulsion from every academy he studied in, frequently described by his superiors as lazy and insubordinate.  Having inherited a considerable sum of money, he threw himself into a life of debauchery, frequently landing himself in trouble.  At the age of twenty-three, he enlisted in the French army but soon got bored with military life.  Consequently, he left in 1883 to explore Morocco scientifically, drawing several maps of that country, which were deemed useful by the French military authorities.

This notwithstanding, the flicker of the faith had not been extinguished within him.  Impressed by the religious devotion he witnessed in Islamic countries, on his return to France, a holy priest, Fr. Huvelin helped him rekindle his Catholic faith.  He continued along the path of his re-discovered faith and joined the Trappist Order, known for its praying and penitential practices.  However, he did not feel wholly comfortable in this order, having witnessed the severe poverty outside the walls of the monasteries where he lived in the Middle East.  As a result, his quest for an even more radical ideal of poverty and penitence led him to leave the Trappists to become a hermit in 1897.  He was then living in Palestine as a porter at convents of the Poor Clares in Nazareth and in Jerusalem, writing his meditations that became the cornerstone of his spirituality.

Charles de Foucauld was advised to train for the priesthood, being ordained in Viviers in 1901, aged 43.  His one desire was to live among the poorest of the poor and travelled to the Algerian Sahara Desert to live with the Berber Tuareg tribes.  His ambition was to form a new congregation, but nobody joined him.  He died, murdered by Arab brigands at his hermitage on 1 December 1916.

The greatness of Saint Charles de Foucauld does not lie just in his fuga mundi.  Like the Christian hermit saints of all ages, he did not escape into the desert because he did not like people’s company.  Indeed, he chose a hermitage located deep within an Islamic country, being the only Christian, like a drop in the ocean.  He was not afraid to take the Eucharist with him in an isolated and indefensible location.  That is to say, it was not an interreligious dialogue that he sought in order to create a pan-religious unity among religions that would neutralise the central truths of the Catholic faith. 

None of this!  At a time when the present interreligious dialogue tends to minimise all that sets us apart, de Foucauld made Eucharistic adoration the main point around which his life revolved.  One must bear in mind that in Islam, the Divine Incarnation is blasphemy, and more so is the Holy Eucharist and its adoration.

Charles was not even accompanied by soldiers, thereby rendering himself defenceless.  We have to remember that France was a colonial superpower, but he did not dare rely on the power of cannons and rifles to spread the gospel as has occurred on occasion.  Nor did he go to build schools and hospitals.  As good as these missionary acts are, Charles did none of them.  All he had were his prayers and the defenceless Blessed Sacrament.

Charles serves as a beacon for us.  He is an uncomfortable saint because the temptation of attuning to bourgeois religiosity is supremely dangerous.  We love to take issue with the medieval and baroque church epochs.  Yet, it’s in this age of modernity that many of our clerics and bishops are accommodating the dominant secularist and hedonistic culture so as not to lose social status.  We do this in every sphere of our lives, beginning with family morality to providing weak opposition to same-sex marriage and its cultural cousin the culture of death from abortion to euthanasia.

As the sexual revolution worked its way through elite culture, bishops and priests were eager to sustain their place as chaplains of the establishment consensus.  Eager to remain the happy chaplains of the good and respectable bourgeois establishment they take their inspiration from the consensus of the academics and woke newspapers.  These are the good and responsible people which want to reduce Christianity to a political religion organised to buttress the status quo. 

We can see such sad tendencies in the Maltese church today.  In recent years, we have had an absolute record in the award of ecclesiastical titles of basilicas, collegiates, and archpriest churches.  This is what Pope Francis calls mundane spirituality par excellence.  Is it a coincidence that simultaneously, we have never experienced such an aggressive process of secularisation imposed by such a viscerally anti-Christian government applauded by woke elites? No, these are the two faces of one coin.

Saint Charles de Foucauld would have none of this.  He who had a debauched youth would have none of this One Love rubbish promoted by politicians and blessed by bishops.  He called sin, sin and escaped into the desert … taking with him the Eucharist.

Charles had tried everything – wild sex parties, adultery, and drunkenness.  Like a prophet he appeared to see a century earlier what the established Church would become, that is, spineless in front of contemporary Herods.  This explains why he chose the radicalism of the gospel.  He teaches to focus on the Eucharist for it is from here that all Catholic militancy must start – from Pro-Life militancy to opposition to same-sex marriage and gender ideology.  We need real pastors that speak about sin, heaven and hell, and universal judgment and not lawyers on cathedral pulpits. These eerily look like Anglican-mitred freemasons firing paper bullets to save skin but calculatingly offering a weak opposition to appease the godless Socialists and woke liberals. 

O Saint Charles de Foucauld, we do need your intercession.  Pray for us and intercede for us with God for His divine mercy on us and on the whole world.

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