Little sister Magdeleine in the footsteps of Brother Charles

 

Ever since her youth, little sister Magdeleine had the deep desire to give her life to the Lord, despite the illnesses and deaths in her family that seemed to prevent her from doing so.  Her father had passed on to her his great love for Africa and in particular for the Arab populations.  He introduced her to Charles de Foucauld and as soon as the first biography was published in 1921, they read it together with enthusiasm.  She said afterwards:

"Reading the book ‘Charles de Foucauld, explorer of Morocco, hermit in the Sahara’ (by René Bazin) was a small light that brightened up this dark period.  In it I found the whole ideal I dreamed of: the gospel lived out, total poverty, a life buried in the midst of abandoned populations... and, above all, love in all its fullness: Jesus-Caritas, Jesus-Love."

Yes, she found in little brother Charles of Jesus, as she liked to call him, the "transparency of Jesus himself to whom he was no barrier."  She studied his writings and was nourished by them.  In the first text of the Constitutions of her congregation, written during her novitiate in 1939, each chapter is introduced by a sentence from the Gospel and a sentence from Brother Charles, which she then put in her own words as "apostolate of friendship", "to be clearers of the way," "taming" (in the sense of approaching persons in a way that will not make them afraid); and she makes her own the expression "Jesus caritas - Jesus Love"....

However, she did not adopt the rule he had written as he had not followed it himself.  On the one hand, lsr Magdeleine wanted to "transmit his thought much more than his rule," and on the other hand, she also enriched it with her own spiritual and human experience.  She was a pragmatic woman who listened to the intuitions that the Spirit breathed into her, trusting Jesus "Master of the impossible" whom she was following, abandoned like an instrument in His hands.  She felt the need to ask Father Voillaume, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, to elaborate and express the message "of our common father Charles of Jesus" in order to make it known because he could be "a beacon for our times."

Brother Charles wanted to be a brother for everyone.  It was in daily life, in an unknown place in the Sahara, that he became "the universal brother": a brother to the officers and to the ordinary soldiers, a brother to the slaves and to the Tuaregs, a brother to the Muslims, to the Jews and to the Christians.  In order to be close to the people, he lived among them.  In his footsteps and from her own experience in Touggourt, lsr Magdeleine concretized this universality, reaching out to the most geographically and socially distant populations and establishing communities among them in order to say to every man and woman, "The Lord Jesus is your brother and he has lifted you up to himself... and I come to you so that you will accept to be my brother or sister and my friend."

For lsr Magdeleine, Jesus was "the one and only Model," as he was for Brother Charles. Hers was a living relationship with her "Beloved Brother and Lord Jesus" in every situation, on the roads as well as during work, when welcoming "one of these little ones" as well as in the silence of the chapel.  For her, the word contemplation expressed "the simple, trusting, loving attitude of the soul in intimate conversation with Jesus, the tenderness of a little child for his father, the outpourings of friend to friend," which can be lived out all day long.  Strongly marked by the intimate presence of the Little Jesus of Bethlehem, who gave a note of littleness and tenderness to everything she was living and doing, she made explicit something Br. Charles had experienced in his own journey but had not expressed much.

For lsr Magdeleine, December 1st, the date of the death of Br. Charles, was always a day to celebrate and highlight his message.  As we await with joy the date of his canonization, may December 1st also be the occasion for us to find in him a guide to becoming more and more "fratelli tutti," discovering in every man and woman we meet the Face of the Child of Bethlehem coming to us!

 
 
 

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