Most Reverend Excellencies,
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
Dearest Little Sisters and Little Brothers of Charles de Foucauld,
May the Lord give you peace!
Once again, we gather here in Nazareth as Catholic churches of the Holy Land to celebrate and give thanks. This time it is the occasion of the canonization of Charles de Foucauld (CdF) that once again brings us all together to have this beautiful experience as the Church of the Holy Land.
It was necessary, indeed, that here in our Church and especially here in Nazareth, we remember and celebrate this saint. Here he spent important moments of his life, perhaps decisive for his conversion, to the point that a part of the spirituality attributed to him is precisely called the “spirituality of Nazareth” or simply “Nazareth”
We cannot at this time go too deeply into the spiritual life of this saint, but I will only take some insights, aided by the Word of the Gospel we heard today.
In today’s gospel passage, glory and love are mentioned several times, terms that refer to each other, and in this case are almost synonymous. Glory here is the revelation of God’s love, culminating in the humble gesture of the washing of feet and soon later in the cross. Jesus’ true glory lies in following the path of humble service that culminates in the cross.
Even for the disciples – and for us who have believed their word – true glory lies in the path of humble service, in the cross, which, before being a symbol of suffering and sacrifice, is the place where God’s boundless love is made known. One does not build unity, on which today’s passage insists so much, by making oneself great but, on the contrary, in making room for the other, loving him or her more than oneself. Only such a love, which knows how to give itself and knows how to make itself small to make room for the other, can build unity and thus become an image of God’s love, of the unity between the Father and Jesus.
It seems to me that this was also one of the characteristic aspects of CdF’s path. A military official, coming from the French bourgeoisie, he is far from the Church, its language and everything about it. He is far from Christ. He ventures, therefore, first as a soldier, and then as an explorer in North Africa, and there, in contact with those Islamic, poor, and religious people, he begins his journey of rethinking his spiritual life, which will then lead him little by little to an encounter with Christ, with whom he will fall in love and whom he will not leave anymore. These poor tribes of North Africa, who did not know Christ, led him to encounter Christ. Already in these early stages of his conversion we then find the characteristics of his entire life: his newfound love for Jesus permanently reversed his life orientations and led him to make himself to seek hiddenness, to be poor and close to the poor, to a positive and constructive relationship with Islam. Love for Christ was enough for him. Or better, it was never enough for him. It was never complete, it never filled his heart as he wanted.
The "spirituality of Nazareth,” which harkens back to the period of Jesus’ hiding, is nothing but this: to descend into the simple life of the poor, to become poor with them, to hide among them. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, after all! He has made his own, what St. Paul says: “For the love of Christ urges us on, … he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5,14–15). From the moment of his encounter with Jesus, CdF no longer lived for himself.
Another characteristic of CdF is “seeking” to be always on search. The beloved one is never known once and for all. It is necessary, every day, in every moment of life, to nurture and grow in that relationship. That is the experience of CdF, and it is also the experience of all of us. Following Christ means continuing every day to seek him, to desire to see his face, to be able to recognize him in the lives of the little ones, to experience him. It is a journey made of consolations, but also of many dark moments, of questions that go unheard, of inner emptiness, of long waits, of purification, of silences. But, nevertheless, he never stopped looking for Him, longing for Him, faithful to the last to the love that had overwhelmed him but never totally filled his heart. It is also somewhat our experience: how much we would like Christ to really fill our existence, but how far, often, we are from this experience!
The other characteristic of the saint is related to the previous one: “relationship”. To love Christ means to love man. One cannot separate these two aspects; they are two sides of the same coin. One seeks the face of Christ in the encounter with man. For those times, his was a new way of evangelization: at a time when Western missionaries were going all over the world to bring the Gospel in their own way, CdF wanted to go among the people, to be evangelized by them, getting close to them, trying to learn their values, their ways of doing things, their culture, language, traditions. He felt that he was a brother to everyone, anticipating what today is a central theme in the life of the Church. But his idea of fraternity did not rest on vague or generic sentiments. It was grounded in and flowed from a direct relationship with Jesus.
What is striking about this saint is that he seems to have done nothing. He converted no one, founded nothing, and, reading the archives of our convents in the Holy Land and the Patriarchate, he failed in any of his projects, did not shock anyone with his witness. Indeed, perhaps, knowing our ecclesiastical contexts a bit, he must have been perhaps seen as one of the somewhat strange characters who often frequent our Holy Land churches. In short, he is a saint who brings home no results. None. And he dies murdered, trivially, as many do today.
The only criterion by which we can somewhat measure his experience is love. Love for Christ led him to imitate him in everything, even to death. He wanted to identify himself in everything with the object of his love, Jesus, and only at the end, with death, was he able to fill that void that always accompanied him, because at that moment, he was able to embrace completely and definitively the love that had conquered him.
True love is always generative, always opening to life and new horizons.
And so it was for CdF as well. After his death, precisely around him who concluded nothing in his life, several congregations, movements, spiritual paths were born, inspired by his experience. Some of them are present here among us, in our Jerusalem Church. And this reminds us that when existence is really filled with true love, it always leaves behind a sign.
What does the witness of this saint leave for us Church of the Holy Land? What does it remind our Church of the Holy Land?
First, he reminds us not to operate in the life of the Church in search of a result. He invites us to free ourselves from the search for outcome at any cost, for success in our endeavors. He reminds us that to be Church it is not necessary to build great enterprises. The life of the Church is life-giving when it springs from encountering and loving Christ. This is the first witness to which we are called. Without love to Christ, all that remains of us are expensive structures, whether they be physical or human.
And, as we have seen, to love Christ means to love man, where he is, as he is, without pretending anything, but by being close to him: in his work, in his family, in his questions, in his suffering, in his pain. Without pretending to bring solutions, which are often not there, but bringing in those situations the love of Christ. And here in the Holy Land it means standing beside each person in his desire for life, in his thirst for justice, in his demand for dignity. It means asking for the strength of forgiveness, building relationships of friendship with everyone, rejecting from hour hearts the idea of an enemy, but desiring to become brothers with each one. It means making the love for all credible and concrete.
CdF leaves to us the search for a peaceful relationship with those who do not know Christ, and in particular with Islam, which so deeply marked his life, and which is such a timely and necessary issue in this period. Not to convert, of course, but to bear witness to the love of Christ, which makes us all brothers and sisters.
May the Virgin Mary, She who here in this Holy Place guarded the hidden life of Jesus, intercede for all of us, so that, following the example of CdF, we too may learn, each day more and more, to guard the love that sustains our Church of the Holy Land. Amen.