Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014 Thursday: St. Charbel Makhluf

Although this saint never traveled far from the Lebanese village of Beka-Kafra, where he was born, his influence has spread widely. Joseph Zaroun Makluf was raised by an uncle because his father, a mule driver, died when Joseph was only three. At the age of 23, Joseph joined the Monastery of St. Maron at Annaya, Lebanon, and took the name Sharbel in honor of a second-century martyr. He professed his final vows in 1853 and was ordained six years later.

Following the example of the fifth-century St. Maron, Sharbel lived as a hermit from 1875 until his death. His reputation for holiness prompted people to seek him to receive a blessing and to be remembered in his prayers. He followed a strict fast and was very devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. When his superiors occasionally asked him to administer the sacraments to nearby villages, Sharbel did so gladly.

He died in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Christians and non-Christians soon made his tomb a place of pilgrimage and of cures. Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1965 and canonized him 12 years later.

The Call to Silence and Solitude
By Bishop Francis M. Zayek, S.T.D., J.C.D., Diocese of St. Maron, U.S.A, June 1977
St. Maron Annaya monastery

The "call of the desert" is a call to silence and solitude. The "desert" for most of us is not the wilderness of the Sahara, but the call to be quiet and to reflect upon our own salvation: a time to be alone with God. "We all have the desert in our everyday lives. The sand and the sun and heat and lack of water and loneliness may take different forms, but we all experience them: problems, deprivations, physical inconveniences, discomforts and loneliness." (F. Le Clerc)

This call is made particularly to those who live in the midst of incessant chatter and noise. If God is to speak, man must be silent. An ancient Egyptian prayer says, "O Thoth, thou sweet well for a man thirsting in the desert. It is sealed up to him who has discovered his mouth, but it is open to the silent. When the silent comes, he finds the well." In the Old Testament, Israel first met Yahweh in the desert, and the story of the desert wandering remained the type of the encounter of man with God. The Church in her wisdom has always encouraged the faithful to take time for silence and solitude, to have a "desert experience". Father Clifford Stevens writes, "There is much talk these days about a 'desert experience', a kind of religious retreat where we truly go into the 'desert', into a silence and aloneness broken only by the most necessary of outside activities... Each one of us needs our personal 'desert experience' and the Church has provided it". Take, for example, retreat houses, days of recollection and various periods of meditation that are all a part of the Church's life.

Although this call to a "desert experience" is meant for every Christian, there are today those who want to seclude themselves for their entire life, dedicating themselves to work and prayer in almost absolute silence. These men and women stand in absolute opposition to the materialistic world in which we live. "Again, as in other turbulent ages, hermits are seeking God in the radical simplicity of the wilderness. They are not doing this in large numbers. The desert charism, a call to contemplative witness in solitude, was never for many. But they are doing it, whether in actual forests or in the spiritual desert of a 'poustinia'* where privacy and silence are assured."

Speaking of solitude, Merton states that, "The habitual argument of those who protest against exterior solitude is that it is dangerous besides being totally unnecessary. Unnecessary because all that really matters is interior solitude; or so they say. And this can be obtained without physical isolation. There is, in this statement, a truth more terrible than can be imagined by those who so glibly make it, as a justification for their lives without solitude, silence and prayer".

Through the centuries, the hermits have continued to enrich the Church by their lives of prayer, work in the fields, meditation, silence and penance. "They are the witnesses of another kingdom. They withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness or of poverty, or of obscurity, to heal in themselves the wounds of the entire world. Carlo Carretto writes, "Man on the way to the roots of his being towards his end, his Creator, after having been purified by the suffering dryness of human pleasure and selfishness, finds himself at the doorway of eternity. His own strength can do nothing, meditation itself becomes impossible and words, once so effortless, can only repeat some mono syllables of love and lament".
Inside the Church of the tomb of Saint Charbel at the
Monastery of Saint Maron Annaya

The hermit attests to the primacy of the spiritual life in the message of Christ and in the Church, and continues to recall to us the presence and greatness of the Invisible One with whom they continually try to live and conform.

"The genuine hermit is driven by a passion which seeks its outlet in a steep, straight way to God. The calling is sublime but the path is not simple... He who enters the hermitage must live a different life from men of his time. The hermit is valuable to the world precisely insofar as he is not part of it. His life should be a prophetic witness and the effectiveness of that witness depends not on what he might say, but on what he is".

The hermits serve and enrich the Mystical Body of Christ as well as the world, which they left, by their prayers, penance, and silence in order that the message of Christ be better heard. They renounce the world, sin and themselves m sinplicity and humility, to meditate on the Mysteries of God immanent to their being and whose transcendency they try to attain by this means. In the dark night of the spirit they live in the hope and light of that vision which will never end.

The spiritual life of the hermit has always involved to a great extent 1) a profound liturgical life; 2) meditation upon Holy Scriptures (the Word of God - The Tablets); 3) adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (The Manna); 4) devotion to the Mother of God (Ark of Covenant).