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: May 2019

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

We were talking not that long ago about what it means to be in charge. We laughed because being the “head honcho” is not always glamorous. In our line of work, it usually means you’re the one pushing a broom, cleaning up after everyone has left.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, given what Jesus did at the Last Supper. It was His last chance to tell His disciples what it’s all about, and He opted for a visual sermon. Jesus did something that caught His disciples off guard and left an image they would never forget: He washed their feet, the most humble and lowliest job imaginable.

This needs to be burned into our minds, too.

As the founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling was always the one in charge. In many ways it came naturally to her. But her abilities never blinded her to the teachings of Jesus. She would tell us over and over again to avoid anything resembling a “professional” attitude. By that she meant being attached to power and the trappings and privileges of power. All the things that place someone over and above someone else.

She left no shortage of examples to get her point across. Sr. Connie fondly remembers when she first came to work at the Crisis Center and needed a desk. Sr. Mary Elizabeth promptly turned over a trash can and voila! — there was her desk.

Yes, those were the days!

But there was a reason for what she did. Sr. Mary Elizabeth knew the value of humility. It guards against sinful pride and it helps us become approachable and non-threatening. Sister wanted us to embrace our “littleness.” She wanted us to be present to those in need face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to listen. We should be willing to wash another’s feet without hesitation, and have that willingness apparent in our demeanor. We can’t hide behind job titles.

If she gave us a high standard to live up to, well, so did Jesus.

This spirit of loving service unites us with you, and together with your support we translate love for others into concrete action. Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “We are free to do for the poor what the poor need.” She had in mind a freedom from red tape and overbearing regulations, and also a freedom of the heart, a freedom to love without reserve. A freedom to do whatever is needed.

Eloise was surprisingly calm given her situation. Her strength and intelligence were serving her well. Eloise is married, but her husband was locked up awaiting trial on a DUI charge. She said he is a good and responsible person, except when he is drinking. Then, she said, he is terrible.

Eloise and her husband have six children. They live in a one-room apartment. After her husband was arrested, Eloise suddenly became the provider for the family. She found a job at a nursery, but it wasn’t going to start for a little while. Her badly needed paycheck was weeks away. Eloise came to the Crisis Center, where we listened to the sad tale of her struggle. Behind in the rent and electric, no food for her children, she didn’t know what to do. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, we were able to act immediately: $300 for the rent, $100 for the electric, and more groceries than she could carry.

Many senior folks come to our Crisis Center. Veronica is 86 and a widow. For the past year her home has been infested with bed bugs and others pests. Living on a very small income, she didn’t have the funds to do anything about it. She came to see us and we paid $350 to an exterminator… Floyd, 69, lives alone out in the country. He tries to find work cutting grass for extra money, but it’s often not enough. We paid $200 to stop an electric cut-off.

Another common occurrence is people unable to work because of health problems. For Patty, 56, cancer took away her house. Medical bills and loss of work forced her to let go of just about everything. She now rents a room but still needs help sometimes. We sent $225 to the electric company on her behalf… Laurel, 50, takes care of her adult son who is learning disabled. She suffered a series of strokes and is now trying to get by on a very limited income. We sent $160 to her landlord to stop an eviction… Jason, 58, cannot work because of a seizure disorder. He fell behind in paying his bills and was dropped from the payment plan with the electric company. He could only pay $63; our contribution of $170 helped to bring his account up to date and prevent a cut-off.

Thank you for your support. We can do what needs to be done because of you!

“There are as many ways to serve God as there are people.” That was another guiding principle from Sr. Mary Elizabeth, and it certainly applies to all the people who work “behind the scenes” at the Joseph House. We need to give recognition to one such individual, Ella Duma, who retired as our bookkeeper on May 1 after 23 years of service. Ella came to work in our convent office in 1995. So much has changed since then, but Ella has been a constant presence, putting up with us, keeping our records in order, and so much more. Quite simply, her work kept the lifeblood flowing that enabled our service to those in need. We will miss her, and wish her all the best as she spends more time with her delightful grandchildren. Niech cię Bóg błogosławi!

We didn’t have to look far for a new bookkeeper. Heidi Price, who was our secretary, moved over to Ella’s desk, and a new addition to our staff, Tina Schrider has taken over Heidi’s responsibilities. In other personnel news, Nicole Soder has joined our community as a Postulant. Nicole comes to us from Ohio, and she is here to discern more closely her vocation as a Little Sister of Jesus and Mary.

It’s been a season of change and transition. We pray that God will bless everyone who is beginning a new journey, and may God’s love for you be your constant strength.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


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