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St Charbel Makhlouf
(entered heaven on this day, 1898)
I always miss you the most this time of year. Here in my cubicle I do my best to recall the spirit of the season, but I have no decorations except those that adorn my heart. I find it comforting to picture you and your family going to Midnight Mass, all twelve of you walking down the snow-covered street to the corner parish, taking your places in the pews, and kneeling reverently as you turn your eyes to Our Lord. I pray the Mass in my heart, and unite myself to the celebrations that are happening through the world. Then I walk with all of you back to your house and smile and sing with you as you drink your hot eggnog and sit around the fire until the sun comes up… Those were some of my favorite Christmases, and I know that even though I am far away from you, I can still be with you in spirit. This is one of the beauties of our Church: we are all linked, connected, and guided by one Mother, Holy Mother Church. That reminds me of today’s saint.
He was the simplest of men. He grew up in a mountain village in Lebanon. When he told his family that he wished to become a monk, they ignored him – they had already been arranging a nice marriage for him. But he insisted. And they kept ignoring him. Finally, he simply left. He was 23 and he departed for the monastery of Our Lady of Myfoug of the Lebanese Marionite order. He was a model novice and student, noted for his delicate and serene obedience. He longed for the pinnacle of monastic life: he wanted to be a hermit. But the hermitage attached to his monastery only had room for three hermits at a time, and it was full. He kept asking permission nevertheless, and only when his lamp was seen to remain lit for several hours even though it had no oil in it did his superiors grant his request (they figured God was inspiring him).
For the next 23 years he lived in peace and austerity in the hermitage. He structured his day around Mass, which he celebrated at noon, spending the morning in preparation and the afternoon in thanksgiving. He prayed, did penance, and lived in obscure normality. Eight days before he died, he was celebrating Mass when, right at the moment of the Elevation of the Host and the Chalice, he was struck with a paralytic stroke. He survived until Christmas Eve, when our Lord called him home.
Then things got interesting. For the 45 days after his death, a bright, supernatural glow radiated from his tomb. It attracted a lot of attention. So the abbot asked permission to exhume his body, which was found to be totally incorrupt, soft and flexible (as if he were sleeping), and exuding a kind of perspiration mixed with blood, even though, as was tradition in the monastery, he was buried with no coffin. After the exhumation, his body was cleaned, reclothed and relocated to a wooden coffin in the chapel of the monastery. It let off a lovely aroma.
For the next 67 years, the body stayed in that miraculous state, and countless miracles were attributed to his intercession. Only after his beatification in 1965 did the body begin to decompose, and by 1976 only his skeleton remained. It’s as if God used dramatic miracles to draw attention to the holiness of this saint until the Church gave its official recognition of his sanctity; then, from that point on, the Church’s recognition sufficed, and the supernatural phenomena diminished.
It’s just one more indication that our Church is God’s Church, it’s his voice and his hands and his love extended through time. If we want to stay close to God, all we have to do is stay close to the Church. So remember me when you go to midnight Mass, and I’ll remember you.
Your devoted Uncle,