Sunrise over city

Sunrise over city

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Blessed Charles was Converted


The other day while doing the ministry I was reading the old Bazin biography of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  It's my book of choice while walking the streets, while waiting "for something to happen".   I came upon the part of the book where Blessed Charles first met the priest who was to play a decisive role in bringing him back to the Church.  He met Father Huvelin at a fashionable salon or evening party when he was fresh off his great success as an explorer and geographical writer.  Charles was a sought-after personage at the time, yet his soul was restless.  Unbeknownst to himself, his soul was ripe for conversion as his objects of desire had faded in disillusion.  First he had tasted of life as a young viscount, as a man of exquisite luxury and as a man with an amiable mistress.  Then he had excelled in perilous situations as few men do: first as a cavalry officer in combat and then as an undercover explorer in the hard, hostile land of North Africa.  While he had finally come into his manhood and sense of himself, there was still an unease that dogged him.  He was aware that he lacked the peace and ease of spirit that marked his devout relations, and their Christian example was not lost on him.

But what Charles needed was a catalyst, to meet just the right person or more accurately, just the right friend.  He found that in Father Huvelin.  It seemed like  a "chance" encounter at the salon, though we know that with God there is no element of chance.  Father Huvelin had gone to the best of schools, though he was not at ease with the luxury and the privilege of high society.  The Bazin biography tells us that he "did not try to be smart" in Charles's presence, but was just himself: an unassuming blend of simplicity, profundity and earnestness.  Somehow, perhaps by an instinct in the soul, the two men recognized in each other a common bond and joined destiny.  Bazin beautifully tells us that "“they recognized and waited for one another in their hearts", and later considered their meeting "a great event”.

I was amazed at reading these passages because they capture the central purpose of the apostolate.  Blessed Charles's own conversion is a model of how the apostolate approaches the spiritually famished in order to forge a genuine connection.  While life-changing friendships are rare, we walk the streets in the hope that God will put us in just the right place to meet just the right person.  A conversion to Christ usually comes through human relationships, and this makes sense when you consider that the committed faithful are members of Christ's own mystical body.  Thus, if we share in Christ's divine life, then in meeting us they are meeting Christ in us.  God has given all of us a great privilege and responsibility to go out and bring Christ to others, and the surest way of bearing Christ is through the Eucharist.

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