During Advent, our hearts and minds turn to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord. We reflect on His coming – the moment that Jesus was made incarnate in the womb of His Blessed Mother Mary – and we consider the place He wants to have in each of our lives. Even before Jesus’ birth, Mary had begun her mission of bearing Him into the world. Even before He could form His first words, Jesus had begun His work of sanctifying souls. How does He wish to sanctify us? How are we called to imitate Him?
Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) found his answer to these questions in the three years he worked as a servant at the convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth (between 1897 and 1900). There he found what he had been looking for: “poverty, solitude, abjection, very humble work, complete obscurity, as perfect an imitation as possible of the life of our Lord Jesus in this same Nazareth. Love imitates,” he explained, “love wants to conform with its beloved; it tends to unite everything, their souls in the same feelings, all the moments of existence in a kind of identity of life.”1
Blessed Charles made several retreats while living in Nazareth, and I would like to share with you three of his meditations that date from that time. The first focuses on the Visitation of Mary, the second on Jesus’ Incarnation and Birth, and the third on Jesus’ Nativity and Circumcision. As we reflect on these words, may we, like Charles, grow in our love for the Lord and our desire to imitate Him. Let us share the news of His joyous coming and strive to be a light of His presence in the world. Maranatha!
Sharon van der Sloot
[Jesus speaks:] “I had scarcely taken flesh when I asked my Mother to take me to the house where John was to be born, so that I might sanctify him before his birth. In the Incarnation, I gave myself to the world for its salvation. Even before my birth I was working at my task, the sanctification of mankind – and I moved my Mother to work at it with me. She is not the only one I have ever moved to work at the sanctification of souls from the first moment of being given to them: I do the same in every soul to which I give myself. On one occasion I said to my apostles, ‘Preach,’ and I gave them their mission and laid down rules for their fulfillment of it.
“Here and now I am saying to other souls – to all those who have been given me and now lead hidden lives, possessing me without having been given a mission to preach – I tell them to sanctify souls by silently carrying me among them. To souls in silence, leading the hidden life in solitude far from the world, I say, ‘All, all of you, work for the sanctification of the world; work in the world as my Mother did, wordlessly, silently; go and set up your devotional retreats in the midst of those who do not know me; carry me among them by setting up an altar among them, a tabernacle, carrying the Gospel to them not by word of mouth but by the persuasive force of example, not by speaking, but by living; sanctify the world, carry me into the world, all you pious souls living a hidden and silent life – as Mary carried me to John.’”2
- Eight Days in Ephraim, 1898, SA 79-80
Jesus in His Incarnation and Birth
“My God, all this happy day I shall meditate upon you. Yes, my God, you are constant and faithful. You still give me your Grace. Your Saints and Angels still are helping me, only I myself am helpless. You urge me on to good and load me with graces, and everything is helping me in heaven and on earth, and I alone make obstacles through my cowardice and weakness and stupidity.
“The Incarnation sprang from the goodness of God. The humility contained in this mystery is amazing, marvelous, astonishing. It shines with a dazzling brilliance. God, the Essence, the Infinite, Perfection, Creator, All-Powerful, the Great Sovereign Lord of All, becomes a man and takes on himself the body and soul of a man. He appears on earth as a man, and the humblest of men.
“What is man’s respect worth? Was it meant that God should seek to possess it? As he looks down upon the world from the height of his divinity all seem equal in his eyes, the great, the small, all like ants and worms to him. He disdained all false grandeur, which is in reality so very small, and had no wish to assume it himself. And as he came on earth to ransom us and teach us, he taught us from the very first, and all through his life, to despise human greatness and detach ourselves entirely from man’s esteem. He was born, lived, and died in deepest abjection, in the lowest humiliation, for he took once for all the lowest place so completely that no one has ever humbled himself lower than he did. It was to teach us that he put himself last so constantly, and to show us that men and their respect are worth nothing; that we must never despise those living in meanness and that the abject need never grieve for their humiliation. They are near to God, near to the King of Kings. He teaches us that since our conversation is not of this world we should make no matter of the forms of this world, but live only for that heavenly kingdom which the God-man saw forever here below by the Beatific Vision, and which we should see always with the eyes of Faith, walking in this world as though we were not of this world, without concern of outside things and busy with one thing only, with contemplating and loving our Heavenly Father and doing his Will.”3
- Retreat at Nazareth, November 1897, MH 43-44
The Nativity and Circumcision
[Jesus speaks:] “I was born, born for you, in a cave, in December, in the cold, homeless, in the middle of a winter’s night, in the unheard-of poverty of the extremely poor, in solitude, in an abandonment unique in this world. What, my children, do I want you to learn from my birth? To believe in my love, to believe that I have loved you until now. To hope in me, who have loved you so dearly. I want to teach you to despise the world, which was so unimportant to me. I want to teach you poverty, lowliness, solitude, humility, penance. I want to teach you to love me, for I was not content with giving myself to the world in the Incarnation, sanctifying it invisibly in the Visitation; no, that did not satisfy my love. From the moment of my birth onward, I showed myself to you, giving myself wholly to you, putting myself in your hands. From then on, you could touch me, hear me, possess me, serve me, console me. Love me now; I am so close to you.
“In my unimaginable goodness, I did not merely give myself to you at my birth for a few hours or years: I am still in your hands, and shall be henceforth until the end of the world. Think of the unending good fortune I brought you in my birth: the ability to serve me – to serve me by serving the Church, to serve me by serving your neighbor, to serve me myself, living there near you in the tabernacle. Not only can you serve me, you can also console me. I watched you at every moment of your life, at every moment of my own, and my human Heart, which loves you so fondly, has rejoiced or suffered at each of these moments, rejoicing if they were devoted to good, suffering if they were used to do evil.
“How happy you should be to be able to console me at every moment of your lives! By becoming so small, so gentle a child, I was crying out to you: Have trust! Come close to me! Do not be afraid of me, come to me, take me in your arms, adore me. But when you adore me, give me what children need; loving embraces. Do not be afraid, do not be so frightened in the presence of such a gentle baby, smiling at you and holding out his arms to you. He is your God, but he is all smiles and gentleness. Do not be afraid.”4
- Eight Days in Ephraim, 1898, SA 80-81
1 René Bazin, Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer (Great Britain: Benziger Brothers, 1923), trans. Peter Keelan, 131. Available from http://digitalforcemediagroup.com/charlesdefoucauld/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/CHARLES-DE-FOUCAULD-.pdf; Internet; accessed 22 November 2018.
2 Charles de Foucauld, “Essential Writings,” selected with an Introduction by Robert Ellsberg (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999), 43-44.
3 Ibid., 45-47.
4 Ibid., 44-45.
*Composite by Justin GBX using Photoshop to make it easier to visualize the two different depictions. He corrected the damage to the right eye from the deterioration of the piece. Public domain; available from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35884813.