On May 15, Blessed Charles de Foucauld will be canonized a saint of the Church by Pope Francis. A former Trappist monk and founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, one of his best known prayers is the Prayer of Abandonment.
First, a little about Charles himself.
Charles was born in Strasbourg in 1858 and was orphaned by the age of six. By his late teens, he drifted away from the faith and became agnostic. He attended a Jesuit school from which he was expelled for being lazy and troublesome. He then joined the military—a career which took him to Algeria and Morocco in North Africa. Despite his agnosticism, he felt dissatisfied and was known to pray the honest cry of the heart: “O God, if you exist, make yourself known to me.” Following the advice and direction of a spiritual mentor, Charles de Foucauld wrestled with his doubts and was led to faith in God as a loving Father. In a letter, he described it this way: “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could do nothing other than to live for him” (Letter to Henry de Castries, August 14, 1901).
After his conversion, Charles entered a Trappist monastery and from there went to Nazareth in the Holy Land, where he desired to imitate the hidden life of Jesus. In 1901, Charles was ordained a priest, and shortly afterwards, he returned to the border area of Morocco and Algeria where he tried to model a nomadic form of the contemplative life. In the desert, he lived in a spirit of simplicity and fraternity among the poor, including both Christians and Muslims. In fact, “Fraternity” was the name he gave to the hermitage that he established in the area, hoping that others would be attracted to this form of community living and join him. He once wrote, “I must be everything to everyone. I must laugh with those who laugh, cry with those who cry, to lead them all to Jesus.”
The irony is that his dream would not be realized in his lifetime but only after his death. Still, his writings never convey disappointment that he would not live to see the success of his vision but rather display a confidence that the seeds he sowed would one day bear fruit.
On December 1, 1916, Charles de Foucauld was killed by desert bandits. He was beatified on November 13, 2005, and will be canonized as a martyr-saint of the Church next month. His best-known prayer is his Prayer of Abandonment, which captures his spirit of simplicity and humble trust in God. It is important to note that it was not written at the end of his life but during his years as a Trappist monk. It is a prayer that is placed on the lips of Christ during his final moments on the cross. Yet it reveals something of Charles’ own intimate relationship with the Lord that pervaded his entire life. Charles introduces the meditation with these words: “It is the last prayer of our Master, of our Beloved . . . may it be ours. . . . May it not only be the prayer of our last moment but that of all our moments.”
Father, I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands, I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart;
For I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself:
To surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.’
As a loving Father, God is worthy of our complete trust. Jesus himself shows us how complete this trust in the Father can be, even when faced with torture and death. “I abandon myself into your hands” paraphrases the dying words of Jesus from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). “Do with me what you will” is the spirit of someone who subordinates their own will to the will of the Father, knowing that God’s will for them is always what is most loving. It isn’t that our own wills don’t matter or cease to exist. Such an act of faith comes from someone who has come to trust that what God wants is what is best, despite how difficult it might be for us to see this and accept it.
For this reason, Charles’ submission to God’s will is unconditional. Therefore he writes: “I am ready for all, I accept all.” Aligning ourselves to God’s will is a fundamental part of the Christian life, not just for Charles but for us too. Conformity to God’s will is a very counter-cultural message today at a time when we are encouraged to ‘do our own thing,’ ‘make up our own minds,’ and ‘choose for yourselves.’ Yet here is the distinctive feature of Christianity that responds to God’s claim on our lives.
Then follows Charles’ commendation to God of his soul. This gift of his innermost self is not given coldly but warmly, affectionately and without a hint of self-interest. It is given “with all the love of my heart.” Love is what constitutes the friendship of Charles with the Lord. This is what love does. It declares its love for the beloved and then gives itself away to the one who is loved. This is what the love of Charles does—it moves him to surrender himself to God and his love “without reserve and with boundless confidence.” Charles concludes the prayer with the reason he does this: “For you are my Father.” And so he ends the prayer as he began it with a reference to his loving Father. For this holy man about to be declared a saint, God is not a distant or impersonal deity but a loving parent whom he has come to know and trust.
As we welcome and acclaim the Church’s newest saint, his example of Gospel simplicity and fraternity take us back to the Church’s mission to foster loving communion within her own family and the wider human family to which we belong. This is the spirit of Blessed Charles invoked by Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, where he writes of Charles: “He expressed his desire to feel himself a brother to every human being, asking a friend to ‘pray to God that I truly be the brother of all.’ He wanted to be, in the end, ‘the universal brother.’ Yet only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all. May God inspire that dream in each one of us. Amen.”
May this Prayer of Abandonment nurture our trust in the Lord every day of our lives in preparation for our final act of abandonment into God’s loving hands.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld, pray for us!