Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Prayer of Abandonment

Charles de Foucauld is a somewhat less well known figure in the Church. He has not been canonized a saint yet. I find him interesting because of his squandered youth. He is also informally considered a patron of failures, because he was a failure in everything during his lifetime. I stumbled upon his Prayer of Abandonment probably 20 years ago, and have been a devotee ever since.

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.

A quick excerpt of his biography:

  • Born Sept. 15, 1858 in Strasburg (France), into an aristocratic family, whose motto is "Never back". He receives baptism at the time of his birth.
  • Charles had one sister, Marie, 3 years younger than him.
  • His parents die, in close succession, in 1864. This remained a deep wound for Charles.
  • The orphans were put into the care of their maternal grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, who is a kind but weak man.
  • After the Franco-German war of 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine. The family moved from Strasburg to Nancy, and chose to remain French.
  • He attended secondary school in Nancy, then in Paris, with the Jesuits where he obtained his baccalaureate and began preparing for Saint-Cyr (a military school). He was dismissed before the end of the year on the grounds of laziness and unruly behaviour. By his own account, he lost his faith at age 16, on finishing high school.
  • 1876: He entered Saint-Cyr.
  • 1878: His grandfather died in February, leaving him heir to a considerable Fortune, which he squandered. He entered the Saumur Cavalry School in October, and finished as 87th out of a class of 87, in 1879.
  • At school, he led a riotous life, indulging in unruly and eccentric behaviour (leaving his post while on sentinel duty, dressing up as a beggar). He drew and read a lot to improve his education.
  • 1879: While stationed in Pont-à-Mousson, he continued to squander his wealth, led the high life, and was seen with a woman of ill-repute, Mimi.
  • 1880: His regiment was sent to Algeria. He took Mimi with him, passing her off as his wife. When the fraud was discovered, the army ordered him to send her back. Charles refuses, preferring to be suspended and removed from duty. He went home to France and settled in Evian.
  • 1881: Hearing that his regiment was involved in dangerous action in Tunisia, he abandoned Mimi, asked to be reinstated, and joined a new regiment in the south Oran area.
  • For the next 8 months, he proved to be an excellent officer, praised by his superiors as well as by the lower ranks.
  • 1882: Fascinated by Northern Africa, he resigned from the Army and settled in Algiers in order to prepare for an exploration of Morocco. He learned Arabic and Hebrew.
  • June 1883 - May 1884: He travelled across Morocco secretly, disguised as a Rabbi, under the guidance of Rabbi Mardochee. His life was in danger on several occasions. He was impressed by the faith and religious devotion of the Moslems.
  • 1884: Charles thought of marrying while in Algiers, but he broke off the relationship because his family disapproved of the marriage.
  • 1885: He was awarded the gold medal of the French Geographical Society for his reconnaissance of Morocco.
  • 1885-1886: He travelled to the oases of Southern Algeria and Tunisia.
  • 1886: He went home to France, and wrote "An exploration of Morocco".
  • He led an austere, ascetic life.
  • He questioned himself on the inner life and spirituality. He went into churches, without any faith, and repeated this strange prayer: "My God, if you exist, let me know you".
He experienced a conversion, and I'll copy from Wikipedia for the summary of his religious life and its conclusion.
1890 he joined the Trappist order, but left in 1897 to follow an as yet undefined religious vocation.He went to the Holy Land and became a gardener for a group of nuns. It was then suggested to him that he be ordained. He returned to Algeria and lived a virtually eremetical life. He first settled in Beni Abbes, near the Moroccan border, building a small hermitage for ‘adoration and hospitality’, which soon became the ‘Fraternity’. For Charles wished to be, and was seen to be, a “brother” to each and every visitor, whatever their religion, ethnic origin or social status. Later he moved to be with the Touareg people, in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains(the Hoggar) immediately west of there. Charles used the highest point, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. Living close to the Touareg, and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in 4 volumes and has become known among Berberologues for its rich and apt descriptions. He formulated the idea of founding a new religious order, which only became a reality after his death, under the name of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

He was shot to death by passing arab rebels December 1, 1916 outside his Tamanrasset compound against the general background of uprising against the French colonial power and the world war. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 13, and is considered a martyr of the Church.

One more link: More Biography


  1. Very interesting. Reminds me of St. Augustine.

  2. The bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, is also a devotee to the prayer of abandonment. The Catholic Sun, the bishop's diocesan newspaper, recently published a piece on our bishop — and it starts with Blessed Charles de Foucauld (I'd post a link to the story, but it's not up on the Web site yet, After reading the story, I started listening to Tom Booth's song "Prayer of Abandonment" — which takes the words from Blessed Charles de Foucauld's prayer. I'm trying to commit the prayer to memory. I was playing Booth's song/Blessed Charles' prayer on my ipod when I was doing dishes a few days back. Washing dishes has never been so rewarding. Thanks for the post.

  3. There are a number of lay groups connected to Foucauld. There is a lot more intereset in Br Charles than ever before. The lay groups are always looking for others to be started.