Charles de Foucauld and his Chaplet of Love
– Fr Nevsky Everett, Chaplain, Keble College, Oxford
It is often remarked that from the outside, Charles de Foucauld’s life looks like a failure. He was born in Strasbourg in 1858, and following the death of his parents in 1864, he was raised by his grandparents. There were strong religious influences in his childhood, but Charles drifted away from the Church and pursued a career as a soldier. He lived a somewhat dissolute life, and left the army after bringing his mistress along with his regiment to Algiers in 1880. When his regiment was called up for battle, he was reinstated and campaigned with them in the Sahara. The landscape made a deep impression on him, and he resigned from the army with the intention of exploring Morocco. Charles spent eleven months there, living a rugged existence, and wrote a significant travel journal that was well-received back home in France. His experiences in Morocco had a profound impact on him, and his life became more focussed and austere.
In October 1886, Charles decided to pay a visit to Fr Huvelin of St Augustin, Paris in order to ask him for some ‘scientific information’ about Christianity. Fr Huvelin was a well-known preacher, and he told Charles that if he wanted to know about the truth of Christianity, all he needed to do was to kneel, make his confession and receive the Eucharist. This was a profound moment of conversion for Charles. He subsequently wrote,
‘As soon as I believed there was a God, I realised that I could do nothing else but live solely for Him. My religious vocation dates from the same hour as my faith.’
Charles spent the following years searching for the best way to pursue his vocation, to imitate Christ. He spent time with the Trappists in France and Syria, and he then left in order to live a peasant’s life in Nazareth, where he worked as a handyman for the Poor Clare’s. He was eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, ordained priest, and from 1901 he returned to Algiers.
Charles founded a hermitage at Beni-Abbès where he worked tirelessly for the local people – particularly in combatting the evils of slavery. In 1905, he went to Tamanrasset with a detachment of French soldiers, but stayed among the Tuareg people after the army had left. He built a simple house, and prayed earnestly for companions to join him as ‘Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart.’ Nobody joined his community. For a period, including Christmas, in 1907 he was unable to say the mass without someone to serve for him, until permission came from Rome to say the mass alone. He continued his poor and solitary life among the Tuareg, even once war had broken out in Europe in 1914. He gave food and refuge in his hermitage to the local people, but on 1st December, 1916 he was shot by militia from a local tribe.
From this brief sketch of Charles’ life, we see the dramatic effect of his conversion and his desire to imitate Christ – to live among the poor and rejected. His brand of asceticism was harsh, and those who did visit his hermitage did not stay long. It was only after his death that communities inspired by the rule he wrote began to emerge – the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. There are key aspects of his spirituality which have a lasting appeal: his emphasis on living the hidden life of Nazareth – a life of love, unnoticed by the world; his strong devotion to the Eucharist – he slept in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; his desire to live fully his vocation – to give himself entirely to Christ. The unifying theme in his spirituality is love – the love of Jesus, and the love of his brothers and sisters for Jesus’ sake. He wrote in a letter to a friend in April 1880,
‘Why did I join the Trappists? … It was out of love, out of sheer love. I love our Lord Jesus Christ, though with a heart that longs to love more and better, yet I still love Him and cannot bear to lead a life different from His… I don’t want to travel through life in the first class when the One I love travelled in the last class.’
In his diary for 4th April, 1909, Charles wrote a brief note instituting a new ‘chaplet of love.’ Charles envisaged a series of meditations, each to be said fifty times. He gives little detail, but it is a beautiful devotion and one that can be easily adapted to be said with a five-decade rosary. The Chaplet echoes some of the most profound themes in Charles’ spirituality: love of God, love of neighbour, and abandonment to the will of God.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis announced Charles’ canonisation, and I hope that his Chaplet of Love might be prayed in preparation for this celebration. By it, and by Charles’ prayers, may we learn to love more and more, as little brothers and sisters of Jesus.
‘Let us imitate, imitate Jesus! Imitation is the daughter, the sister and the mother of love. Imitate Jesus so as to love Him more… To imitate Jesus contains all perfection; to imitate Jesus contains divine love itself… Imitation and contemplation are a necessary and natural part of loving, for love leads to union, to the transformation of the one who loves in to the beloved and his unification with the beloved.’
From Meditations on the Gospel, written at Nazareth between 1897-1899.
The most thorough biography available in English is:
J-J. Antier, Charles de Foucauld (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1999)
For a collection of Charles’ own writings, see:
R. Ellsberg, ed., Charles de Foucauld, Modern Spiritual Masters Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999
For two introductions to Charles’ life and spirituality, written by members of communities inspired by him, see
Cry the Gospel with Your Life (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1981)
Silent Pilgrimage to God: The Spirituality of Charles de Foucauld (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974)
The Chaplet of Love
Bl. Charles de Foucauld
This Chaplet is based on an entry in the diary of Bl. Charles de Foucauld for 4th April, 1909: ‘Institué un chapelet à 7 degrés, dit chapelet de l’amour.’ The seven degrees refer to particular meditations, each to be said fifty times. To pray the first degree was to recite the meditation fifty times. Those committed to the second degree would pray the first and second set of meditations, and so on. Those who wished to pray the seventh degree would pray all seven meditations each day.
Those who wish to use this Chaplet may do so as de Foucauld intended, or they may find it fruitful to take one invocation for each day of the week.
De Foucauld did not write a complete set of instructions for the use of the Chaplet. The guidelines below assume the Chaplet will be said using a five-decade rosary. The introductory and concluding prayers are taken from de Foucauld’s writings, and the Our Father is suggested between each decade.
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
On the first bead
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
(The Prayer of Abandonment)
On the three beads following
O God, I beseech you in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: give me faith and love.
(From a Retreat at Nazareth, Nov. 1897)
On the medal or bead
Each invocation is to be said fifty times, using the decades of the rosary. The Glory be and the Our Father is to be said between each decade.
The seven degrees:
- My God, I love You with all my heart.
- My God, I love You above all.
- My God, all that You want, I want.
- My God, I love my neighbour as myself for love of You.
- My God, hallowed be Your name.
- My God, Your kingdom come.
- My God, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Think in me, Lord, and let me not think. Speak in me and let me not be the one who speaks. Let it be rather You, my God… I give myself to You, do with me what You will, I give You my life.
(From a Meditation on Holy Week, written at Nazareth)
N. J. Everett,
Keble College, Oxford.
 C. de Foucauld, Carnets de Tamanrasset 1905-1916 (Paris: Nouvelle Cité, 1986), 106-107.
 Cited in R. Ellsberg, ed., Charles de Foucauld, Modern Spiritual Masters Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 100.
 Cited in Cry the Gospel with Your Life (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1981), 84-85.