Nazareth is the village where Jesus grew up and lived with Mary and Joseph. For the Little Sisters, Nazareth represents an ideal for their spiritual lives.
In the Gospel of John, Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)
Yes, there is much good to be found in Nazareth. The ordinary life of the Holy Family can teach us things of great value.
Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, and he beautifully described the lessons of Nazareth. Here is an excerpt:
“Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus: the school of the Gospel. Here we learn to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning, so deep and mysterious, this very simple, very humble and lovely manifestation of the Son of God. And gradually we may even learn to imitate Him… having obtained some brief lessons on Nazareth.
“The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this admirable and indispensable state of mind, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.
“O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of silent prayer known by God alone.
“The lesson of domestic life: may Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, a communion of love, composed of simplicity and genuine beauty, its character sacred and unassailable; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its guidance, how fundamental and incomparable its role in society.
“The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of ‘the carpenter’s son,’ we want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming value of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it.”
Charles de Foucauld, the French priest of the Sahara Desert, spent his last day within the walls of his fortified hermitage in Tamanrasset, 4,600 feet above sea level in the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria.
Toward evening he heard three knocks on the door. Charles opened it expecting a delivery of mail, but instead bandits roughly dragged him outside. They tied his hands behind his back and forced him to kneel. His home, his sanctuary of prayer, was ransacked.
The approach of two Arab soldiers on camelback interrupted the thievery. The young man who was guarding Charles panicked. He pulled the trigger of his rifle and shot Charles in the head. Charles made no sound. He slowly crumpled to the sandy earth and died. The date was December 1, 1916.
Although he is not widely known, the life of Charles de Foucauld has influenced people around the world, including Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, the founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
Preparations to mark the 100th anniversary of his death have already begun. A series of events are planned for the coming year, the first of which, the official opening of the centenary year, already took place on October 31 in Nazareth. Organizers picked this day because Charles’ conversion occurred in late October of 1886.
Journalist Giorgio Bernadelli, who writes about Church affairs for the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, explains the significance of Nazareth:
The choice of Nazareth as the hub for the centenary celebrations is obviously not coincidental: it was here that de Foucauld experienced a fundamental turning point in his spiritual journey, living as a hermit in the Poor Clares convent from 1897 to 1900. He developed his ideal of following Jesus in his ‘hidden life’ too, fraternally sharing the life of those who lived in what today we would call the peripheries of the world, as the little village of Galilee – which became the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation – must have been two thousand years ago.
And so, in Nazareth this evening, there will be music and a series of readings from the diary of Charles de Foucauld, with accounts of the three years he spent in the city of the Annunciation. The Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Mgr. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo will be present at this evening’s event being held in the Holy Family School operated by the Don Guanella religious institute. (1)
Msgr. Marcuzzo offered his reflections on the spiritual activities that opened the centenary year:
This evening we prayed for peace, reconciliation and brotherhood in Nazareth. We prayed in our villages and in our cities; and we asked God to help us practice more the teachings from the Bible as well as the writings of Charles de Foucauld: we want to experience universal brotherhood for a better life, because we are all brothers, sons of God.
Let’s then pray and ask for his intercession in order to obtain healing, especially healing from indifference to men or indifference to miracles. We are weak in the practice of our faith and of the Gospel. We must take the Gospel more seriously, just as the Blessed Charles de Foucauld used to say, and we have to live the word of God in the most profound way. (2)
This year of the commemoration of the death of Charles de Foucauld presents an opportunity to study his life and devise ways to bring its fruitfulness into the world today. “It encourages us to make a renewed effort to change our life in order to follow Jesus more faithfully in living the Gospel and to ‘turn religion into love’ in very concrete ways, each in our own Nazareth and according to our circumstances.” (3)
Charles abandoned his life into the hands of God. He sought the lowest place, and gave humble, loving service to the poor and marginalized. His home in the desert became known as a place of brotherhood, a “fraternity,” where everyone – whether rich or poor, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist – was welcome.
His witness has only become more relevant as time goes on.
Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is celebrated on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ), which is the second Sunday after Pentecost. Both of these feast days are solemnities (celebrations of the highest degree).
Article 478 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the meaning of the Sacred Heart in this way:
Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony, and His Passion and gave Himself up for each one of us: “The Son of God… loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, (Cf. Jn 19:34) “is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that… love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings” without exception. (Pius XII, Haurietis aquas, 1956)
Brother Charles had great devotion for the Sacred Heart. After arriving in Béni Abbès, Algeria in 1901, he built a hermitage and chapel. Behind the altar he placed an image of the Sacred Heart, an image he painted himself. It is pictured above.
A few years prior to this, while living in Nazareth, Brother Charles wrote several spiritual meditations in his journal. He composed this act of confidence in the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
When I think of the infinite graces You have heaped on me and the unworthiness of my present life, You forbid me to say to myself, “I have gone too far in misusing my graces; I ought to be a saint, but I am a sinner; I cannot correct myself, it is too difficult; I am nothing but wretchedness and pride; after everything God has done, there is still no good in me; I shall never go to heaven.”
In spite of everything, You want me to hope, to hope always that I shall receive enough grace to be converted and attain glory.
What is there in common between heaven and me — between its perfection and my wretchedness? There is Your Heart, O Lord Jesus. It forms a link between these two so dissimilar things.
There is the love of the Father who so loved the world He gave His only Son. I must always hope, because You have commanded me to, and because I must always believe both in Your love, the love You have so firmly promised, and in Your power.
Yes indeed, remembering what You have done for me, I must always have such confidence in Your love that, however ungrateful and unworthy I may seem to myself to be, I can still have hope in it, still count on it, still remain convinced that You are ready to accept me as the father accepted the prodigal son — and even more ready — and still remain convinced too that You will not stop calling me to Your feet, inviting me to come to them and giving me the means to do so.
Br. Charles desired to imitate the hidden life of Jesus, the life of Jesus at Nazareth. In a journal entry dated May 17, 1906, he listed 14 resolutions that reveal his understanding of this life:
1. I must remember to what kind of life it is I have been called: the imitation of Jesus at Nazareth; the adoration of the sacred Host exposed; the silent sanctification of unbelieving peoples by carrying Jesus among them; adoring Him and imitating His hidden life.
2. I must remember always to imitate Jesus in His life at Nazareth.
3. I must remember penance, the narrow way, Jesus’ cross at Nazareth.
4. I must remember Jesus’ poverty at Nazareth.
5. I must remember the lowliness and humble manual labor of Jesus at Nazareth.
6. I must remember the withdrawal, the silence of Jesus at Nazareth.
7. I must remember Jesus’ distance from the world and the things of the world at Nazareth.
8. I must remember Jesus’ life of spiritual communion, adoration, interior prayer, petition and vigils at Nazareth.
9. I must remember to have a zeal for souls, seeking to bring them together around the Sacred Victim in these lands of unbelievers, to build up a small family in imitation of Jesus’ life at Nazareth.
10. I must remember to show zeal for souls in charity, goodness and well-doing towards all human beings, like Jesus at Nazareth.
11. I must remember to show zeal for souls by gentleness, humility and forgiveness of injuries, the quiet acceptance of ill-treatment, like Jesus at Nazareth.
12. I must remember to show zeal for souls by giving a good example, like Jesus at Nazareth.
13. I must remember to show zeal for souls by prayer, penance and personal sanctification, like Jesus at Nazareth.
14. I must remember to let the Heart of Jesus live in my heart, so that it may be no longer I who live, but the Heart of Jesus living in me, as it lived in Nazareth.
The image is from a bas-relief located in a chapel in honor of Br. Charles at the Abbey Notre Dame des Neiges (Our Lady of the Snows). In 1890, Br. Charles entered this Cistercian monastery in France and was a monk for several years. The chapel was built in 2006 and houses his relics.