The Confession of Br. Charles

A canonized saint by definition is someone who practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace. Coming from all walks of life, they show us how any situation can be transformed by the light of the Gospel.

To honor the saints, we place them on a pedestal or enshrine them in stained glass, complete with a halo. We look up to them, and without realizing it, we often assume they must have been angels when they walked the earth. Did St. Francis of Assisi ever complain about dinner? Did Mother Teresa ever get irritated by having to wait for someone? It’s hard to think that they did.

In contrast, each one of us is aware of our daily struggles and faults. So often, it seems, we fall short of the mark so easily. The saints must have been different.

Or maybe not.

They were human beings like us, and if we look closely at their lives there is ample evidence to prove that.

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) hasn’t been canonized yet, but he was beatified in 2005 (a step along the way). His life and spirituality are important to us at the Joseph House (you can read more about him here on our website).

On January 16, 1898, he wrote a long letter to his spiritual director, Father Huvelin. At the time, Charles was in the Holy Land, living as a simple laborer for a convent of nuns. His life had the appearance of contented peace.

Charles begins his letter by describing how he occupies his time. Everything seems ideal:

“My life goes on with great calm; in the daytime I work as long as there is light; in the morning and in the evening and during part of the night, I read and pray.”

But then Charles starts to get honest. He takes a hard look at his life, and he tells Fr. Huvelin how the outside – what people see – is not the whole story. His list of failings is precise (emphasis his).

“The essence of my confessions is this:

  • tepidity (badly made prayers, badly said Office, miserably poor attendance at Mass, presence of God badly kept during the day, etc);
  • slackness (laziness in rising…sometimes I lie down again instead of getting up at the first awakening);
  • greediness, gluttony (eating too much);
  • lack of charity (not praying enough and with sufficient fervor for my neighbor…not having sufficiently the habit of seeing Our Lord, of seeing the Christ-Child in everyone…thoughts contrary to charity, memories accompanied by severe judgments on certain persons I used to know);
  • pride, not a sufficiently low opinion of myself, not enough mistrust of myself; thoughts, budding aspirations of betterment;
  • not enough repentance for my past and present sins.

Not enough gratitude to God nor to men, these are the main points, but above all tepidity and slackness.”

Hmmm…maybe his letter is more like a mirror for the reader today. Very relatable indeed. Br. Charles was just as human as all of us.

The lesson of his confession, and of all the saints, is to put our trust in God, the One who can do everything we cannot.

And another definition of a saint is someone who never gave up.

Statue of Br. Charles in Strasbourg, France, the city where he was born.

The source of the letter is Soldier of the Spirit by Michel Carrouges (published in English in 1956, it is out of print). The illustration in the header is by René Follet and is from The Wonderful Life of Charles de Foucauld (1963), also out of print. Bottom photo by Rabanus Flavus / public domain.

Newsletter: April 2018

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Across the land, we see a transformation taking place: buds forming on tree branches, birds chirping in the early morning light, delicate sprouts poking through the earth. After a long winter of nor’easters and arctic cold, Spring is on the way.

Our fussing and self-importance do nothing to bring this about. A little more sunlight each day, a little warmer air in the breeze, and the magic begins. Subtle changes occur — we usually miss them and don’t realize they are happening — but what is the end result? The creation and continuation of life on our planet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this advice: Adopt the pace of Nature — her secret is patience.

How patient is Nature? Look at the Grand Canyon. Some things take time and they’re never really finished. We can see this in the natural wonders of the world. Can we see it in other people? In ourselves?

In our ministry with the poor, as in any helping profession, we learn that people move according to their own timetable. We can’t hurry them along. We learn to be patient, to give them the same allowances we give ourselves. There are men and women who have been coming to our Hospitality Room for the Homeless for years. They seem resistant to any kind of intervention, no matter how well-meaning. What can we do except be the love of God for them, a love they likely experience nowhere else?

For the homeless, and everyone who seeks help from the Joseph House, our presence changes the course of their journey. Maybe the change is slow and subtle. Maybe it’s going to be a long time until someone’s winter is over. So be it. What we give to the poor is a commitment to be there for them. Fidelity gives people hope.

Week after week, we welcome people to the Joseph House Crisis Center. Our waiting room is often full. Sometimes when the cheery glow of Christmas fades away, so too does the desire to give to the needy. But the poor are still here, they still need help. It is our joy to keep our door open for them.

People like Mary Beth depend on it. She has five children, including an infant. Their home for the past several years has been a trailer. Mary Beth is married, although her husband left shortly after their youngest child was born. He is not providing support of any kind. The sudden change in finances has been extremely detrimental to this family’s security and well-being.

When Mary Beth came to see us she was on the verge of being evicted from her home. Her landlord was trying to be sympathetic, but she had reached the point where she needed to initiate legal action against Mary Beth and her family.

A grant from the Department of Social Services only paid some of the rent. Mary Beth was feeling desperate. She was scheduled to begin a new job as a nursing assistant at $9.25 per hour. Her first paycheck was weeks away, however, and she needed to pay something to her landlord immediately. The landlord was called and we guaranteed $200. That was accepted to keep Mary Beth and her children from being evicted.

For her own safety, Elena was removed from her home by Adult Protective Services following reports of domestic violence. She was placed in a motel while a social worker looked for a permanent place for her to live. Elena is 47 and in a disturbing state of declining health. She has bipolar disorder, PTSD, chronic lung disease, arthritis, and cancer.

To come face-to-face with the mystery of suffering leaves one speechless. If there is no answer for suffering, there is a response: compassion. When her motel time was up with housing yet to be found, we paid $275 for another week. Elena would be more comfortable there than in the more spartan accommodations of a shelter.

Jenny, 55, had two infected teeth that needed to be extracted. The pain, not to mention the possibility of sepsis, meant that dental care had to be soon. Jenny pays 78% of her income on rent. That leaves precious little money for other expenditures, even necessary ones. We paid $175 for Jenny’s visit to the dentist. Jenny is going to apply for subsidized housing, but the wait is usually several years.

Horace, 77, lives by himself in a small house surrounded by farmland. Early in the winter, a burst pipe kept the motor from his well running continuously. Horace got the pipe fixed, but then his electric bill was three times higher than normal. He fell behind in paying the bill and was afraid his power was going to be cut off. We sent $160 to the electric company to get Horace’s account up to date.

Tim, a 49-year-old farm worker, has been sidelined because of back and leg injuries. His teen-age son helps to pay the bills, but he is also temporarily without a job. The cold weather drove up the electric bill in Tim’s home. We paid $225 toward the overdue amount.

Derek is a successful graduate of the Joseph House Workshop. The support and training he received has renewed his self confidence, and for that he is grateful. This inner strength was put to the test a few months ago when his son was born with a heart defect. His little boy has required three surgeries at a hospital in another state. Derek missed a lot of work during these challenging months and fell behind in the rent. For the sake of his family, he came to us seeking assistance.

Being able to help Derek with $300 was gratifying. You can share in that feeling because you made it possible. Your generosity gives a helping hand to people when they need it the most. You make the world a more loving and hospitable place. If you wish to help us with a donation, you can do so here: Donate Online.

Hope is the sister of patience. While both involve waiting, hope adds a sense of expectation. Hope waits for a fulfillment not found in the present moment, and ultimately not in the present life. Sooner or later, when we trust in our own abilities we reach the end of the road. Hope tells us that is not the end of the journey.

The Resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of all our hopes. Please use this Easter season as a time to celebrate the many beautiful ways we can experience the gift of life. And thank you for supporting our ministry — we promise to do our best to be worthy of your faith in us.

With our prayers,

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary