Five Insights on Dying and Death from Bl. Charles de Foucauld

Bl. Charles de Foucauld, whose feast day (1 December) this is, grew up the son of an aristocratic family, but left the Church as a young man. He lived an adventurous life outside the Church, then returned to the Faith after a year traveling across North Africa in disguise. The faith of the Jews and Muslims he saw inspired him. After trying his vocation in several monasteries, in 1901 he settled in a rural village in Morocco, hoping to start a religious order serving all peoples and faiths. In 1905, he moved to a rural village in Algeria, with the same goal. In neither place was he successful, in the worldly sense. He was murdered — martyred — by Muslim tribesmen in 1916.

At his beatification in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said, “In his contemplative and hidden life in Nazareth, he . . . discovered that Jesus, who came to join us in our humanity, invites us to universal brotherhood, which he subsequently lived in the Sahara, and to love, of which Christ gave us the example. As a priest, he placed the Eucharist and the Gospel at the heart of his life, the two tables of the Word and of the Bread, source of Christian life and mission.”

The quotes are taken from Rene Bazin’s Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer, published in 1923.


When Loved Ones Die

His letter to the Apostolic Prefect of the Sahara on the death of his mother:

My Mass was for that soul so very dear to you, much dearer to the Heart of Jesus. We love with the poor hearts of sinners, He loves with His divine Heart. She is in good hands in a good place, the place where you so much desire to be, where one day you will be with her and with Him whom she taught you to love. She is at rest. Yet she has no need of rest. She has entered into the abundance of peace, where there is no longer either wind or winter, because these things have passed away.

When shall we be there? For myself I hardly dare think of that resting-place of which I am so unworthy. Should we dare have hope if God did not make it our duty ? Hope is faith in His Heart. Our conversation will be more and more in heaven. There you will find not only the only adored One, but also your dear mother. Henceforth for her no more distance, no more absence: night and day she will hear you, watch over you, reply to your questions, your demands, by her prayers: for her the barrier is passed, the wall broken down, the night over. How happy she is!

For the few years which perhaps remain to you of life, the separation is a cross — a cross you accepted with all the rest, when you told Jesus that you loved Him. An apparent cross, for joy at the happiness of that much loved soul, daily more intimate and continual conversation with her, increasing aspiration for total union with Jesus, and growing weariness of the life of earth, will soon leave you only the joy of feeling her near Jesus and the desire of rejoining her there. Let us kiss the cross that Jesus sends. One can, in this life, only embrace Jesus by embracing His Cross. And let us praise Him for the happiness of her beloved soul.

Preparing for Death

From notes written for his Muslim friend Musa ag Amastane, the Tuareg chief in the area:

Abase yourself inwardly: God alone is great; all men are little : the man who is puffed up is mad, for he knows not whether he is going to heaven or hell.

God sees all your thoughts, words, and deeds; remember and do them all as in His sight.

Do each act as you would have it done at the hour of death.

The hour of death is unknown: let your soul be as you would have it at the hour of death.

Each evening reflect on the thoughts, words, and deeds of the day; ask pardon of God for those that are bad and for all the sins of your life, as if you were going to die in the night, and say to God from the bottom of your heart: “O God, I love Thee with my whole heart, above all things. O God, Thy will in all things is mine. My God, all that Thou wiliest me to do, I will do.”

The Death of a Child

Charles wrote his sister and brother-in-law after the death of their small child. He consoles them, his biographer writes, “as his custom was, by setting heaven’s gates ajar.”

How great he is compared with you and with all of us! how high he is over us! None of your children love you as much as he does, because he drinks deeply of the torrent of divine love. I have already familiarly invoked my little nephew-saint. Pray to him constantly, dear Marie, and thank God well for making you the mother of a saint. A mother lives in her children : you are partly in heaven already! More than ever henceforth you will have “your conversation in heaven.”

This Life and the Next

Do not let us attach importance to the events of this life, nor to material things. They are but as dreams after a night’s carousal. What is left us at the hour of death, save our merits and our sins?

Live today as if you were to die a martyr tonight.

Bl. Charles’ Own Death

From a military report on his death: 

Father de Foucauld, since his conversion, never for one day stopped thinking of that hour after which there are no others, and which is the supreme opportunity offered for our repentance and acquisition of merit. He died on the first Friday of December, the day consecrated to the Sacred Heart, and in the manner that he wished, having always desired a violent death dealt in hatred of the Christian name, accepted with love for the salvation of the infidels of his land of election — Africa. Betrayed and bound, he refused to reply to the insults as well as to the questions of those who surrounded him, and said not a word again, imitating in that his divine model: Jesus autem tacebat.

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