Collect of the Day:
Lord God, you kept Saint Charbel Makhlouf faithful to Christ’s pattern of poverty and humility. May his prayers help us to live in fidelity to our calling and bring us to the perfection you have shown us in your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
About the Saint:
Joseph Zaroun Makhlouf was the son of a Catholic Lebanese mule driver, who died when Joseph was in early childhood. He was raised by his uncle, who was displeased by the boy’s early devotion to prayer and solitude. At the age of 23, Joseph went secretly to the monastery of Our Lady of Mayfug, a house of the Maronite Baladite order. When he was admitted to the order in 1851 he took the religious name Charbel–a 2nd century Antiochean martyr. In due course, Charbel made his solemn vows in 1853 and, in 1859, he was ordained to the priesthood, thus becoming what is known as a ‘hieromonk.’ This practice is more common in Roman rather than Eastern traditions.
Father Charbel traversed the divide between East and West in other ways as well. For example, one of his favorite books was the Imitation of Christ.
He lived the life of a model monk in the monastery of St. Maro at Annaya (Gibail) for 15 years–singing office in choir and working in the monastic vineyards and olive orchards with strict obedience and personal self-denial. He wished, however, to more closely imitate the Desert Fathers. To do this, in 1875, he took a hermitage near St. Peter and St. Paul.
For the next 23 years he lived an ascetic life. His home consisted of four tiny rooms and a chapel, which were shared with three others. For all these years Charbel spoke to another monk only when it was absolutely necessary. He ate but one meal of vegetables daily. He tasted no meat. He drank no wine, save a drop at the Eucharist. He ate no fruit. He also undertook four annually periods of fasting. He refused to touch money.
Instead of a bed Charbel Makhlouf had used a duvet filled with dead leaves, on top of which he used a goatskin for cover. His pillow was a piece of wood. When anyone came to inhabit the three other rooms, Charbel placed himself under obedience to them. He recited his office at midnight. During these 23 years, more and more people came to ask his counsel, prayers, and blessing.
Thus in the 19th century Father Charbel Makhlouf-along with a few other saintly men-had tried to live again the austere life of the desert fathers of the early church. He belonged to the Christian body known as Maronites, a group which traces its name back to Saint Maro, a friend of Saint John Chrysostom. This group of Christians, most of whom still live in Lebanon, have been united to the Western Church since the 12th century, thus bringing into Western Christendom traditions of great value that might readily have been forgotten. These traditions are ones of enormous self- discipline, and few have exemplified them better than Charbel Makhlouf.
After 23 years of this ascetic life, Charbel had a paralyzing stroke just before the consecration while celebrating the Eucharist in his chapel, and died eight days later on Christmas Eve. After his death many favors and miracles were claimed through his intercession in heaven. Today his tomb is visited by large numbers of people, not only Lebanese Maronites and not only Christians
It was also necessary for the Roman authorities to investigate the phenomenon of a kind of “bloody sweat” that flowed from his body during the period up to 1927 and again in 1950. Some months after his burial, the body was fresh and incorrupt and was placed in a new coffin, where a reddish perspiration flowed and caused the monks to change his clothes twice weekly. In 1927, the patriarch initiated an enquiry and the body was reburied. In 1950, after liquid was observed on the wall of the tomb, the body was found fresh and incorrupt again. Instantaneous cures and miraculous healings were claimed, some of whose beneficiaries are non- Christian.
In todays Gospel Jesus tells us:
‘Happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’
This is a passage that contains a really important truth that is often overlooked in our modern Christian lives, and this that we are so lucky to have Christ with us at all times. In fact I feel that modern Christians can take this for granted sometimes. We have Christ present on the Altars of His church everyday, we have Him waiting for us in the Tabernacle, He is present in all the other sacraments as well, and we have Him daily speaking to us through the Gospel which faithfully records His Ministry and Teachings. Who could ask for any more?