There was a priest whose name was Brother Charles de Foucauld. He was born in France in 1858. I would like to use his story to describe how somebody can love God with all of their heart, mind, and soul, and then follow the second commandment as well, to love your neighbor as yourself. When he was only six years old, both of his parents died, and he was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather wanted to raise him in the faith. Unfortunately, Brother Charles did not really want to do that, and he constantly rebelled against his grandfather. When his grandfather died, he sent him to the Jesuit school for high school, and he left him with all the inheritance money and his sister.
He went to the high school, and this is what he said in his journal. “I lived how it is possible to live once that last spark of faith has been extinguished. I am bored to death.” Does anybody ever feel like that in high school? So, from that moment on, he was bored to death with faith, he was bored to death with religion, and from then on, he called himself a free thinker. He was a proud free thinker. And he said, “I was so free so young, and there remained no trace of faith in my soul.” He was so proud that there remained no trace of faith in his soul. To parents and grandparents, this is to give you some hope here. After his grandfather passed away, he received this big allotment of money, a large inheritance, and even while he was in school, he began to live lavishly, like the prodigal son. He enjoyed food, parties, women, expensive cigars, alcohol, and then he went to the army. He made friends, and that lavish lifestyle continued because now he got to travel the world in the army.
He said about himself during that time, “I was all egoism, all vanity, all impiety, all desire for evil. It was as if someone had gone a little mad.” He realized later in life, when he looked back that it was all ego, it was all insanity and vanity, and that he was actually to the point of madness. This is what happens when we completely turn away from God. He said being young and enthusiastic, he was underdeveloped in character. The military would write about him and say that they had found someone so unable to perform his duties he should be released from the army. That didn’t stop him, though, he stayed in the army, and it wasn’t until he brought a mistress to service that he was finally thrown out of the army. He describes this time as well. He says, “This was a time of profound malaise and existential emptiness.” That complete removal and extinguishing of the faith left him with an existential emptiness. His sister, Marie, steps in at this point, and she tells him to see the priest, Father Huvelin, and to go to Confession, and for some reason, Charles listens to her.
This could be a good thing for all of you; if you know somebody away from the church, tell them to go to Confession. He listened, and he went to Confession, and he went in there to tell the priest why he didn’t want to be in the confessional. The priest told him, “I want you to kneel down right now and confess all your sins.” For some reason, Brother Charles did it. He knelt down, and he confessed all of his sins. When he got done confessing his sins, Father asked him, he said, “Have you eaten yet today,” and he said, “No, why?” He said, “Because I want you to go to mass right now and receive Communion.” Charles expressed later that at that moment, when he received Communion, he experienced, for the first time in his life, an encounter with Christ. He said it was like a man brought back from the dead. He said, “The moment I realized that God existed, I knew that I could not do otherwise than to live for Him alone.” At that moment, when he felt God’s presence in him at the reception of Communion, he knew that from then on out, he couldn’t do anything but live for God alone. He said, “I should carry on in myself the life of Jesus, think his thoughts, repeat his words, his actions. May it be that He lives in me.”
Think of this, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Charles had experienced this. He fell in love completely with God, and he wanted to love Him with all of his mind, all of his soul, and all of his strength. He would be ordained a priest, and guess who was at his first mass? His sister. After that, he founded a religious community, and he desired to call them The Union of Brothers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart, with the triple goal to produce a return to the gospel in the lives of persons of all conditions, to produce growth of love for the Holy Eucharist, and to give an impetus towards the evangelization of non-Christians. He wanted people to have that same encounter that he had; that was his first goal.
Secondly, he wanted people to grow in love for the Eucharist, and third, he wanted to reach out, especially to those not of the Christian faith. So, that’s the first part, “To love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.” The second is like it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole law and prophets depend on these two commandments. Charles would go on to live as a hermit, and actually, towards the end of his life, he lived in a hermitage in the Holy Land. There were all these different people of all these different faiths, and he wanted to be there and evangelize to them. There’s still a little hermitage there in the Holy Land. I’ve been there where he lives. He dedicated himself from that point forward to not only love the poor but also evangelize to all faiths.
In the first reading, “Thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien, you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.’ ”
I want to shift now into loving your neighbor. My mother’s mother, Grandma Markusic, was one of the holiest people I’ve ever met. That’s probably where my mother gets it, and that’s probably where I get it. She truly lived a life of holiness. Towards the end of her life, she developed Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and at that point, she lived in an apartment after my grandfather died, and then she came to live with us. My mother and her two sisters, who are both deceased and the three of them, Grandma, would live with each one of us for four months. While she lived with us, she had a stroke and lost her sight in one eye. Sometime later, she had another stroke and lost sight in the other eye. So, I would learn to walk my grandmother around the house. I would hold her by the hand and walk behind her. I really loved it because there were six of us kids, so I started doing laundry in like the sixth grade and my grandmother would do my laundry for me. I’d go downstairs to bring up the laundry and put it in front of her, and she would take the laundry and fold it for me. I loved that.
After she went blind in both eyes, it got to be too difficult and confusing to move between the houses, so she lived at a nursing home. We would see her very frequently, and because she had Alzheimer’s and Dementia and was blind, she didn’t really know she was in a nursing home. It was, actually, kind of a beautiful gift. It was interesting because when new residents would be brought to the nursing home, and my grandmother would hear about it, she would say, “Oh, that must be another boarder; bring them to me.” I didn’t know what that meant, but whenever somebody came, she would say, “That’s another boarder,” I’ll take care of him. Don’t worry about it. He doesn’t have to pay anything. He can stay with me.”
I was talking to my mom about that. I said, “Why did she call them boarders?” She said, “Well, back in the day, when they grew up (my grandfather grew up in Pennsylvania, and she was in West Virginia, Morgantown, right on the boarder), after they met and got married, they lived with my Uncle Frank, who had a deli store right at the corner, and they were boarders. They didn’t have a place to live yet. They didn’t have jobs yet, but when they got married, they moved in with Uncle Frank. He got them jobs. Half the kids worked at the deli, some at the coal mine, and after my parents got their own house, they became boarders. Anytime people came from Italy or Croatia, they would board them at the house.” My grandmother would do room and board, cook for them, clean for them, and find them jobs. My mother said it was the strangest childhood because there was always a stranger in one of the bedrooms. She never knew who was going to be there. I think about that, love your neighbor as yourself. I think it’s so profound that, at the end of her life, when she had Dementia and Alzheimer’s and was blind, that’s what she remembered, being a boarder, that you would bring people in and help them.
All of us are called to love God with all of our minds, all of our souls, and all of our strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. What do we do if we don’t find that in ourselves? What do we do if we really say, “I don’t know if I love God with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul?” What do we do? I think we do as Brother Charles McCall did. We encounter him in Confession and then receive him in the Eucharist. There’s no more powerful way to do that than to be completely forgiven of sins and receive him here at the altar. Then maybe we can say, as Brother Charles said, “My heart is so full with love that everything I do from now on, I want to live for Christ.” I believe that that love transfers over into service. Remember the definition of the purpose of life from the Baltimore catechism? “What’s the purpose of life? To know, love, and serve God in this life and to be with Him in the next.” I believe there’s a flow of that. We come to know God, fall in love with Him, and then we want to give ourselves in service.
I want to end with this prayer of Charles de Foucauld, which is the most known prayer that he has. I think it covers this knowing, loving God, falling in love with him with our heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. I’d like you to pray this with me silently. If you want to close your eyes. I’m going to say this prayer and give you a little silence between each one to really ask God for this grace.
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you do, I thank you. I am ready for all. I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and all your creatures. I wish no more than this, oh Lord. Into your hands, I commend my soul. I offer it to you with all my heart, for I love you, Lord, and need to give myself. To surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”