Recently, Pope Francis canonized 10 men and women, including a priest that I have long admired and talked about in my preaching and teaching, now St. Charles de Foucauld.
He was a French man, born into a noble, extremely wealthy family in the late 19th century. He lost his faith early and his story reads like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable.
His parents died when he was very young, and Charles squandered all of his inheritance in a lifestyle that was filled with excesses.
But then Charles found God. Or better, God found him. He had prayed: “O God, if you exist, let me know of your existence.”
Charles came to feel God’s presence in the beauty of nature, in the beauty of creation. He joined a geographical expedition to the deserts of Morocco in Africa. When he saw the stars in the sky at night, millions of stars extending as far as his eyes could see, he said he realized that this world must have a Creator.
Back in France, his awareness of God continued to deepen. Charles joined the Trappist religious order. “I love our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “though it be with a heart that wishes to love more and more perfectly.”
His desire to love Jesus more perfectly led him to leave the Trappists to live as a hermit in Nazareth. There he sought to imitate the “hidden life” of Jesus, living as Jesus did in the 30 years when he worked as a carpenter before beginning his public ministry.
In his journal he wrote the words of Jesus that he heard: “Your vocation: Preach the Gospel silently as I did in my hidden life, and as also did Mary and Joseph. Your rule: Follow me. Do what I did. In every situation ask yourself: What would our Lord have done? Then do that.”
He lived from his daily contact with Jesus in the Eucharist and in the pages of the Gospel, and he spent his days in both prayer and in manual labor, working tirelessly to serve his brothers and sisters, especially the poor.
In June 1901, Charles was ordained as a priest, and he asked permission to minister among the Muslims in the Saharan Desert. He served there for 15 years among the native people, learning their language, performing works of mercy, and defending them against the injustices of European colonial rule.
In one of his last diary entries, he wrote: “Loving others as Jesus has loved us means making the salvation of all souls our life’s work, if need be giving our blood for them, as Jesus did.”
He would die a martyr’s death later in that same year, in 1916.
I am so grateful to the Holy Father for this canonization because I believe St. Charles’ story and his beautiful writings should be widely known, especially by every new priest.
I have been reflecting on this as we approach our priestly ordinations on June 4 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. This year I will be ordaining eight fine men to be spiritual fathers to the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
It is a beautiful time to be alive, and a beautiful time to be a priest!
This class of new priests has been training for many years, and these final years of their formation were under the conditions of a pandemic, a time of fear, uncertainty, and death, and also during a period when there has been widespread social unrest in our country and in the world.
Now, God has called them, each one personally, by name, and he is sending them out, just as he called and sent out St. Charles, to do what Jesus did, to live with the simplicity of the Gospel, and to proclaim his kingdom, a culture of life and civilization of love.
In all times, the priesthood is a great adventure of following and living with Jesus. In our times, the priesthood is an especially beautiful calling to walk in an intimate way with Jesus and to share in his mission, to carry our cross and offer our lives for those he loved and came to save.
Pray for me and I will pray for you. And let us pray for our new priests.
St. Charles used to pray: “Let me love him, obey him and imitate him as much as I can at every instant of my life.”
Let us make that our prayer. And let us ask Blessed Mother Mary to walk with our new priests and help them to open their hearts to follow and love her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.