Helen Copeland reviews Charles de Foucauld – in the Footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth by Little Sister Annie.
[New City magazine – ?]
Long journeys are often about more man just reaching your destination. In an age of cut-price flights and a ‘last-minute’ culture, we can forget that the experience of travelling can be as important as the arrival. The same could be said for spiritual journeys.
In Charles de Foucauld: in the Footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, Little Sister Annie of Jesus tells the story of this remarkable figure through his own writings. His meditations and letters trace his quest to discover the will of God for his life. This quest was to take him from high European society, through the Holy Land and on to the isolation of the North African desert. Yet despite de Foucauld’s conversion being over a century ago, his story has a striking contemporary resonance.
Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg in 1858, a combination of personal tragedy and world events led to Charles being left an orphan, and exiled from his homeland at the age of twelve. Science and philosophy dominated Western society, and as a voracious student, Charles soon lost the Catholic faith he had grown up with. He joined the army and lived the life of a wild young officer, unhindered by any lack of money. His taste for adventure took him to Algeria, where Africa made its mark on his soul.
De Foucauld left the army, and choosing to live in close contact with Jews and Muslims, he was overwhelmed by their witness of prayer and hospitality. Paradoxically, he was set on the path towards re-embracing Christianity, but in a form he had never known before. His notes are full of respect for those of faith around him, but gradually his own path towards God became clearer. We are given glimpses of Charles’ frustration that his desire for a simple life of poverty, following the Jesus of Nazareth he has come to know, seems to be obstructed at times. However, we are let in on the realisation that he was not meant to go to God alone, and his simple Gospel life begins to draw many behind him. Through his dialogue with his superiors, his accounts of his friendship with the desert people, and his meditations, we see that ultimately his eyes are always fixed on his Master.
Little Sister Annie unravels the story of Charles de Foucauld with simplicity and humour, offering his spirituality to the reader in an accessible and quite gripping form. She shows that even though we may be in a hurry to reach our spiritual destination, it may be worth taking notice of the passing scenery, as it has much to give us. This book is truly an adventure story – of land, history and the soul. Like most such tales, it will surely improve on every telling.