on 26 April 2009
Antier's account of the life of Blessed Charles, whilst very informative, is not, in my view, the definitive biography. I suppose when I picked it up I was hoping for something along the lines of Von Baltahsar's "Two sisters of the Spirit" i.e. a learned and spiritual analysis of his life. Instead, we get something here, which, whilst moving at times, feels as if it has not quite penetrated the soul and mystery of Blessed Charles.
Nonetheless, it is valuable and it gives an insight into his life but there is no in-depth analysis. The best bits are often quotes from persons who met or knew Charles. What emerges though is a man of iron will who wished to follow his master in the manner descried by St Paul in his letter to the Philippians: "He emptied himself taking the form of a servant".
Reading his life is like reading the life of one of the desert fathers. Let me give a quote from someone who attended his mass in his hermitage in the desert:
"And before this altar, which was only a pine table, before these vestments of coarse fabric, before these tin candlesticks, before all this poverty, but also before this priest in ecstasy offering the sacrifice with a fervour that filled the place and faith, we all felt a religious emotion, a sense of magnificence we had never experienced to the degree when witnessing the pomp of solemn offices in the most sumptuous cathedrals. Past the humble earthen walls, beyond the few Muslims come spontaneously to join in his prayer, there was a vision of the Sahara vastness, of that Sahara whose sands came across like waves to beat at the chapel door, a Sahara where he truly rules through the strength of his prayer.
And, yet he managed to convert only two Muslims among his Muslim brothers and sisters whom he loved. He is the example of what the Lord wants for us, simply to love and not to ask the question: Am I a success.
His nephew, who lived a dissolute life described a meeting with him thus:
"He entered the room and peace entered with him. Having tasted the "pleasures of life", and able to entertain the hope of not having to leave the table for a good while, I, upon seeing that my whole sum of satisfactions, did not weigh more than a tiny feather in comparison with the complete happiness of the ascetic, found rising in me, a strange feeling not of envy, but of respect. For the duration of the visit I had seen Charles surrounded by a radiance, neither luminous, not visible, but perceivable to some sense that we have not yet come to identify. So much faith, hope and charity placed around him that nimbus which painters, who can appeal to the eye, depict as rays of gold. Silent music, beneficial waves, brining beatitude and dreams. Thus the minute with Charles is engraved in me, eternal. "
The book ends with one of his prayers, which, for me, is beautiful:
"My Father, I abandon myself to you, Make of me what you will.
Whatever you ask of me, I thank you, I am ready for everything, I accept everything. Provided that your will be done in me. In all your creatures, I desire nothing else, Lord.
I put my soul in your hands, I give it to you, Lord, With all the love in my heart, Because I love you. And because it is for me a need of love To give myself, to put myself in your hands unreservedly, With inifite trust. For you are my Father."