Carlo Carretto (1910-1988), Italian writer, mystic, and member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, modeled himself upon desert contemplative Charles de Foucauld.
Born and raised in northern Italy, as a youth Carretto joined the lay movement Catholic Action. For twenty years he worked to spread the religious and social justice message of the Gospels in and around Fascist Italy.
In 1954, he felt the desert call and set out for the Sahara. In El Abiodh, a remote Algerian outpost, he entered the novitiate of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives based on the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi that had been founded by de Foucauld in the 1930s. Monastic austerity and silent adoration were to be combined with a life of humble labor, friendship, and solidarity with one's immediate neighbors.
A decisive moment — a "cut" — occurred when Carretto burned the address book containing the contact information for thousands of his friends back in Italy. He stayed for ten years as a hermit: translating the Bible into Bedouin, sitting for hours before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.
At last he left the Sahara, returned to his hometown, and went to visit his beloved mother, who, for more than thirty years, had been living an active life, crowded with family, social, and parish responsibilities. Perhaps the surest sign of Carretto's sanctity is this: he recognized that, for all his time in the desert, his mother was at least the contemplative that he was.
The letters he had sent back were published as Letters from the Desert, his first book, in 1964 in Italy. A bestseller, the book was translated and published in English in 1972. In it, he observed, "Jesus is the 'Holy One of God.' But the Holy One of God realized his sanctity not in extraordinary life, but one impregnated with ordinary things: work, family and social life, obscure human activities, simple things shared by all men. The perfection of God is cast in a material which men almost despise, which they don't consider worth searching for because of its simplicity, its lack of interest, because it is common to all men."
Soon after returning to Italy, Carretto was asked to oversee a group of hermitages the Little Brothers had established near Assisi. He stayed for the rest of his life, welcoming the flocks of pilgrims who came to learn about prayer and reflection, and writing a dozen or so more books.
In I, Francis, Carretto "takes on" the voice of his spiritual mentor.
On the subject of politics, he observed: "Try being governed by those who can still look at the stars at night, or spend an hour watching a beetle under a dry leaf in the forest, or dream over a glow-worm in a field of May wheat."
On poverty: "At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty…. Never forget, God is love. Poverty is but his garment."
Prayer is useless, Carretto realized, unless it helps us to grow in charity. He died in the hills of Umbria, after a long illness, at the age of seventy-eight.
Heather King. "Carlo Carretto." excerpt from Magnificat (October 2018): 86-87.
Reprinted with permission from Magnificat.
Heather King is a sober alcoholic, an ex-lawyer, a Catholic convert, and a full-time writer. She is the author of: Parched, Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Poor Baby, Stripped, Holy Days and Gospel Reflections, and Stumble: Virtue, Vice, and the Space Between. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her website here.Copyright © 2018 Magnificat
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