Sharbel Makhluf

From Maronite History

St Charbel Makhlouf lived and promoted the spirituality of the Maronite Church which is considered a monastic Church. The Maronite monastic tradition, which finds its origins in the spirituality of St Anthony of Egypt, was reflected in the different monastic orders and congregations in the Maronite Church. St Charbel, a son of the Lebanese Maronite Order, a religious order born of this Eastern tradition and spirituality was the first Maronite Saint canonised by a Pope. One of the great figures of modern Catholic history, St Charbel’s holiness grew in the secluded life of a hermit, but has reached people throughout the world. St Charbel was born on 8th May 1828 and baptised Youssef. At the age of twentythree, he entered the monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. Two years later, he took the name Charbel, after the martyr St Charbel who died in 107AD. He was ordained a priest on 23rd July 1858, and spent the next sixteen years in community life as Father Charbel. In 1874, he began the stage of his spiritual life for which he would become most famous: he withdrew into a hermitage, and spent the next twenty-three years as a hermit. During this time, his reputation for sanctity increased. On Christmas Eve, 1898, Fr Charbel died after an apoplexy which had struck him on December 16th as he celebrated Mass. Immediately, his reputation for holiness spread; he was associated with mysterious phenomena, and the number of cures attributed to his intercession escalated. His body remained incorrupt until 1965, the year of his beatification. Finally, St Charbel was canonised on 9th October, 1977, by Pope Paul VI. St Charbel is renowned for two things: the intensity of his spiritual life as a hermit, and the extraordinary diversity and number of his miracles. Charbel’s beatification followed two cases of healing. First was the healing of a nun, Sister Maria Abdel Kamari. She suffered serious intestinal problems, could not eat, had been bed-ridden for fourteen years and had received the Last Rites three times. In 1950 she was taken to Charbel’s grave where, upon praying, she felt a powerful surge of energy and was able to stand unaided. After that, Sr Maria Abel was completely free of her previous ailments. The second case was that of Mr Alexander Obeid, who had been blinded by an accident in 1937. All treatment had failed him, but he was cured in 1950 after praying at the tomb of the then Fr Charbel.

In 1967, a woman named Miriam Aouad of Hammana was healed of throat cancer, which doctors had declared incurable. It was after this third miracle that Blessed Charbel was finally numbered amongst the Saints. These are only three of thousands of miracles attributed to St Charbel. They reveal the power of St Charbel’s deep faith during his life, and his willingness to respond to prayers made with faith after his death. This wonder-working reputation of the Saint means that his intercession is frequently sought, especially by the young, with whom he is a favourite. This intercession brings not only physical healing, but, more importantly, spiritual healing and growth. This is why, at the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI said: “A HERMIT OFMOUNT LEBANON IS ENROLLED IN THE NUMBER OF THE BLESSED… A NEW EMINENT MEMBER OF MONASTIC SANCTITY HAS BY HIS EXAMPLE AND HIS INTERCESSION ENRICHED THE ENTIRE CHRISTIAN PEOPLE … MAY HE MAKE US UNDERSTAND, IN A WORLD LARGELY FASCINATED BY WEALTH AND COMFORT, THE PARAMOUNT VALUE OF POVERTY, PENANCE AND ASCETICISM, TO LIBERATE THE SOUL IN ITS ASCENT TO GOD.” It is worth noting, too, that the love of St Charbel enriches spirituality across cultures. St Charbel’s Church in Sydney has a special mission to Lebanese Maronite Catholics and to non-Catholics, and ensures that devotion to St Charbel remains part of the Maronite heritage. All of these faithful followers of St Charbel eagerly anticipate the visit to Sydney in October of the relics of St Charbel, St Rafqa, and St Nemetallah. The visit of the relics offers the faithful the opportunity to grow in the same holiness shared by the Saints they honour. As a member of the Lebanese Maronite Order and as a Saint of the Maronite rite, St Charbel is an exemplar of the Maronite expression of Catholic holiness and values. As a Saint of the Universal Church, St Charbel Makhlouf’s example of virtue and intercessory power is available to Catholics of all backgrounds. Faithful to his Maronite spirituality, St Charbel became a Saint for the Universal Church.

Sources

Marounia, The Maronite Heritage.

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