Being of half Lebanese descent on my mother's side, I often wondered as a child why, if we were Lebanese, we weren't Muslim. I remember asking my Mom this one day when my very young curiosity could rest no longer, and it was then that I learned of Lebanon's rich Christian population and history.
It would not be until my return to my faith all these years later that I would learn of
St Charbel Makhlouf whose feast we celebrate today, and it is only very recently that I have done any reading on him. Unfortunately any books on him seem to be all out of print, but I managed to find quite a bit on line about him. Since St Charbel was of the Maronite Rite, I have also done some reading on this very rich and beautiful eastern Catholic rite. At times I feel quite drawn to the eastern rites, but have not as yet mustered up the courage to attend one of their Liturgies. Sorry for the digression...
Pope Paul VI was the pope to canonize Charbel in 1977, and had this to say about him:
"...a hermit of the Lebanese mountain is inscribed in the number of the blessed, a new eminent member of monastic sanctity is enriching, by his example and his intercession, 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..."Many miracles are attributed to this saint and the story of the days leading up to his death on Christmas Eve 1898 is just amazing. Here is an excerpt from Fr. Mansour Awad's Three Lights From the East:
Father Charbel spent the night before Christmas, 1898 in church, following his usual custom of twenty-three years, ever since he became a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul on the mountain of Annays. He did not waver from this praiseworthy custom. But that last night, he was lying down, neither awake, nor praying, nor meditating; he was asleep, sleeping the sleep of death. His soul, however, was with God, quite awake, in the eternal awakening. This was the last night Father Charbel would spend in the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Contrary to his custom and for the first time, Father Charbel was lying on the floor, over the mat of hair, with his face exposed.Just from doing the little bit of research for this post, I know I will be reading more about this saint of my heritage as well as adding him to my circle of heavenly helpers.
Please note that people never saw his face when he was alive. He always kept his head down in church, at work or when walking, always looking to the ground. He would lift his eyes only to heaven. When in church, he always faced the altar with his eyes fixed on the tabernacle. However, when he died and was Lying face upward, his eyes were closed, still not looking at anyone, exactly as in his lifetime. Holding vigil at the body of the Servant of God in church, were his companions of the hermitage, Father Macarius Mishmshany, and Brother Francis of Artaba, along with a group of monks from the monastery of St. Maron. As soon as they learned of the passing of Father Charbel they rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body while bidding him farewell. Many spent most of the night kneeling near him, praying. You can read the rest here.
Lebanon also produced two other saints: St Rafka, a Maronite sister, and
St Nimatullah Al~Hardini, a Maronite priest and religious who lived a monastic life in solitude. Both of these saints were canonized by Bl. Pope John Paul II.
I always love reading about the lesser known saints. I am even happier to find three from my Lebanese heritage.