The Mystery of Nazareth: Charles De Foucauld

"The mystery of Nazareth" by Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp (

By Albert Backer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sr. Margaret continues her series on desert spirituality, sharing snippets of her book awaiting publication.

“Tho’ the darkness seem to hide him, faith and love can understand.”  Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty

Blessed Charles De Foucauld

The desert influenced the professed agnostic Charles Eugène de Foucauld. When Charles was only six-years-old both of of his parents died. He grew up living on the edge, testing the boundaries of morality. “I was in the dark. I no longer saw either God or men …” he testified. [1] His family sent him to serve in the army, hoping he would find some discipline. After a few years of serving with his regiment in the desert, Charles was discharged for “ignominious conduct.” At the age of twenty-five he was fascinated by the prospect of exploring Morocco.  The desert he was introduced to by the army now tested his courage and determination. He traveled almost two thousand miles through an unknown country.

In the desert he also encountered people deeply religious. After three years of exploration he returned to Paris to publish a book on his adventures and findings. His warm welcome back by his believing family inspired Charles to take another look at his faith, “Even though I wasn’t a believer I started going to Church. It was the only place where I felt at ease and I would spend long hours there repeating this strange prayer: “My God, if you exist, allow me to know you!” Once he believed he found his vocation, “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live only for Him.”

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

"The mystery of Nazareth" by Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp (

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Charles is a witness to the way Sacraments expose us to the fire of Christ and give us the grace for conversion.[2] Wandering mindlessly after his return to France he walked into a church and into a confessional. After this confession he felt reborn. “My religious vocation was born at the same moment as my faith,” he wrote. He began to thirst for the life that he experienced while walking the streets of Nazareth, “streets which had been trod by the feet of Our Lord, an unknown poor workman lost in abjection….” [3] Since Charles was influenced by “souls living always in God’s presence” who helped him to understand that there is “something greater and more real than the pleasures of the world,”[4] he knew his call was to witness the gospel through his life. He heard Jesus tell him, “Sanctify souls by silently carrying me among them . . . . Walk in the world as my mother did, wordlessly, silently. … 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 … as Mary carried me to John.” For a while de Foucauld served the Poor Clares in Jerusalem as gardener and handman. They encouraged him to study in Rome to become a priest. Ordained in 1901, he headed to Africa, settling in Algeria.

"The mystery of Nazareth" by Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp (

By Garrondo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Desert Seeds

Father Charles would go deeper and deeper into the desert, not to avoid people but to get closer to Christ and to witness to those who did not know Christ. He planted seeds of silence and witness that sprang up as a spiritual Family centering on Jesus, his “beloved Brother.” Today his spiritual family, the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, focus on three aspects of our Lord’s life: his hidden life in Nazareth, his stay in the wilderness, and his three-year ministry. Father Voillaume, an early follower of de Foucauld, wrote his biography, The Seeds of the Desert. In this book he highlights the vocation of every Christian to a life of friendship with God, and the path to take in order to lead a contemplative life “at the heart of the world.”

Pope Francis tells us that Charles de Foucauld entered into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, “into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.”[5]  For Charles the “ordinariness” of Jesus’ hidden life was a divine sign of the way we are to live our lives, “To lead in the Sahara the hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth, not in order to preach, but to live in solitude, the poverty and the humble work of Jesus.” This life of simplicity is his message to us, doing our daily work for love for God and loving others. “My apostolate must be the apostolate of goodness,” wrote Charles.

"The mystery of Nazareth" by Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp (

By Jean-Louis Zimmermann [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The feast day of Blessed Charles de Foucauld is December 1st. It was on the 1st of December in 1916 that de Foucauld was dragged from his fortress by a gang of armed bandits. They intended to kidnap him but where disturbed by two guardsmen. One startled fifteen year old bandit shot him through the head, killing him instantly. His murder was witnessed by his sacristan an African Arab former slave liberated and instructed by de Foucauld. Charles was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November  2005. He is recognized as a martyr. Père Charles is a modern desert father, an explorer of the soul who became a martyr for love.


[2] CF Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

[3] De Foucauld, Spiritual Biography, pg. 9

[4] Charles de Foucauld, The Silent Witness, 21.

[5] Prayer vigil for the Synod on the Family, 2015.


The hymn “Spirit Seeking Light & Beauty” was written by English Roman Catholic convert, Sacred Heart sister and educator Janet Erskine Stuart, Mother Janet Stuart RSCJ (1857 – 1914).

Copyright 2017 Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp


About Author

A Daughter of St. Paul for 40 years Sr. Margaret continues to pursue new ways to proclaim the Gospel: sharing the Pauline Charism with the laity, writing books (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross; Prayers for the New Evangelization), & through direct evangelization. She is available for workshops on the Vocation & Mission of the Laity, Media Literacy, and The New Evangelization.

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