Near Christmas 1916, the first recorded Eucharistic procession in the Sahara wended its solemn way through the sands. A French officer on horseback, followed by his soldiers, carried a monstrance with the Sacred Host, reverently veiled in a cloth.
Three weeks earlier, on the first Friday of December, Charles de Foucauld, a hermit-missionary to the nomadic Touarag tribes, had been adoring Christ in this monstrance. In the morning’s early hours, marauders descended upon his hermitage, dragged him outside, demanded that he renounce Christ, and, when he calmly refused, shot him in the head. They ransacked his poor hut and drank the altar wine, but the monstrance with the Eucharist they left untouched in the sand. When a French patrol finally came to Tamanrasset, they found the simple grave the Touarag had made for their friend — and the monstrance holding Jesus, which they rescued.
It was exactly the way Charles would have wished to die — hidden from all eyes but those of his beloved Eucharistic Savior. Since his dramatic conversion 30 years before from a life of debauchery, his heart had burned with an all-consuming love for Christ and His Mother and a desire to find the lowliest place to serve God.
Settling in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, he spent his days learning the Touarag language and translating the Scriptures, befriending the Touarag people, and praying for long hours before the Blessed Sacrament. “Sacred HEART of JESUS,” he wrote upon arriving in Tamanrasset, “thank you for this first Tabernacle of the Touareg land! May it be the prelude to many others and the announcement of many souls’ salvation! Sacred HEART of JESUS, shine from the depth of this Tabernacle on the people who surround You without knowing You! Enlighten, direct, save these souls!”
Advent can be, if we choose to make it so, a time of hiddenness with our Infant Savior. Although it is not a season focused on penance, like Lent, it is still an appropriate time to make hidden sacrifices for love of Jesus. In particular, we can console Him in those who suffer silently during this season. Christmas and New Year’s, because of the tension of family gatherings or the absence of ailing or deceased loved ones, can be times of intense struggle and grief. We can ask Our Lord to make us attentive to others’ sorrows. Mother Mary Francis, PCC, speaks of this in her interpretation of the line of the traditional Anima Christi prayer: “Hide me in Your wounds.” This, she says, means not, “Hide me from suffering,” but, “Put me where the suffering is and strengthen me, hidden there, to be Your balm for others.”
The only thing more hidden than Charles de Foucauld was the God he adored under the appearances of bread — discarded as worthless by his killers but recognized and reverenced by the soldiers of the French patrol. In this time of the Eucharistic Revival, let us learn to adore and minister to the needs of our Savior who is hidden in each Tabernacle and also in each person around us, especially those who suffer.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.