May 18, 2008.
On Sunday May 18, 2008 from 3:30pm to 5:00pm at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, members of the Badaliya and the Lay Commitee on Contemporary Spiritual-&-Public Concerns will co-sponsor an event commemorating the centenary anniversary of the conversion experience of Louis Massignon that took place in Baghdad in1908. Our event is entitled, "The Influence of Islam on the Conversion of Three Great Christians: Louis Massignon, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, and St. Francis of Assisi." Our lecturers will include the Rev. Leonard Tighe, facilitator for the local chapter of Jesus Caritas lay fraternity of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Rev. Romano S. Almagno, OFM, a Franciscan for fifty-one years and a close friend of the Franciscan Islamologist Father Giulio Basetti-Sani. While a student of Louis Massignon in Paris, Father Giulio Basetti-Sani was introduced to Massignon's understanding of the prophetic mission of St. Francis for witness and dialogue with the Muslim world. For the rest of his life, Father Basetti-Sani would seek to spread and develop Massignon's ideas. Father Almagno will discuss Islam and Saint Francis of Assisi via the insights of Louis Massignon and Giulio Basetti-Sani.
Please pray with us in person or in spirit as we honor Louis Massignon and his unique story of Christian conversion in the heart of the Muslim world.
Louis Massignon was influenced by Brother Charles in many ways, both in his public life of research and teaching the Sociology of Islam and in his own spiritual life. He felt guided throughout his life by the example of the hermit priest, whose devotion in prayer, and unquestionable loyalty and respect for his Muslim hosts in Tamanrasset, nurtured Massignon's own understanding of his faith. He spoke of Brother Charles as an older brother. In 1931 Massignon became a tertiary Franciscan when he realized the significance of Islam in the life of Saint Francis. As Christians were being called by Rome to join the Crusading armies to eradicate Islam, Francis told his companions that the Muslims were his brothers.
In 1908, while on an archeological mission in Baghdad, the twenty-five year old Massignon had an experience that he spoke of as "God breaking into his life" that changed him forever. Although he referred to this experience throughout his life as pivotal he did not describe the experience until 1955. He called this experience "the Visitation of the Stranger" and personified the human soul as a woman:
"The Stranger who took me as I was, on the day of His wrath, inert in His hand like the gecko of the sands, little by little overturned all my acquired reflexes, my precautions and deference to public opinion. By a reversal of values He transformed my relative ease as a propertied man into the misery of a pauper....Before the Lord who struck the blow, the soul becomes a woman ....She starts only to commemorate in secret the Annuciation, viaticum of hope, that she has conceived in order to give birth to the immortal. This frail guest that she carries in her womb determines thereafter all of her conduct. It is not a made up idea that she develops as she pleases according to her nature, but a mysterious Stranger whom she adores and who guides her. She devotes herself to Him." (Massignon, Daniel 1988. Le Voyage en Mesopotamie et La Conversion de Louis Massignon. Roma:Islamochristiana vol. 14. p. 190)
Massignon's experience of God in his life led him to write essays that began like this one written in 1949: "No human word, even the most deliberate breech of faith, or the most biting, can, in the end, legitamately testify against the Word, since His transcendance spontaneously incarnates Himself, living in our mortal corruption, for the salvation of everyone. And every word, even the feeble cry of a bird, can raise, all the way to heaven, the soul which keeps herself fresh and virginal, in order to conceive God, who calls her, in ecstasy". (Massingon.1949. Soyons des Semites Spirituel in Opera Minora. vol III 1963. Dar Al-Maaref. Liban. p. 823).
In his spiritual writings, Charles de Foucauld gave thanks to God for his own conversion experience: " Independent of my will, exterior events forced me to detach from material things that had a lot of appeal for me, and that held back my soul and attached it to the earth. You violently broke these ties like many others! How good You are, my God, to have shattered everything around me, to have so annihilated everything that prevented me from belonging to You alone..." (Six, Jean François. 1958. Itinéraire Spirituel de Charles de Foucauld. Paris Éditions du Seuil. p. 83).
May these Great Christians, inspired by their encounter with God and Islam, help our own on-going conversion of hearts that we too may witness to God's healing Word in the world.
Peace to you.