24 July 2020 / Saint Sharbel Makhlūf
Ave Maria Parish / Romanus Cessario, O.P.
The saint whom we honor today comes from Lebanon and so stands out as an exemplar of the Maronite expression of Catholic holiness. Sharbel lived during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He was drawn progressively to live an eremitical life. The Christian hermit withdraws into solitude to spend all of his time before the Lord. It is said that during the period of his enclosure in a small chapel by a Maronite monastery, no one ever saw the saint’s face.
Most saints of the Western church gain recognition from their apostolic activities, even when they live enclosed lives. Teresa of Jesus provides one example among many. On the other hand, Popes have recognized Saint Sharbel as an “admirable flower of sanctity blooming on the stem of the ancient monastic traditions of the East.” Sharbel leaves no record of his activities.
What lessons does Saint Sharbel offer to us (mainly) Western Christians? First, the importance of solitude. No Christian can exhaust every minute of life with activity. Sanctity requires time alone with God. Second, the Eucharist. Sharbel was a priest and the focus of his eremitical life centered on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As far as I know, the saint celebrated the Liturgy alone, that is, without a congregation present. [Of course, the whole Church is present at each Mass, including the choirs of angels.] Paul VI beatified Sharbel in 1965, just as the emphasis on liturgical celebration in the Latin Church began to emphasize community participation. Third, Sharbel teaches us the importance of following recognized spiritual authorities. For him, they were the holy monks of the desert. For us who are not monastics, authentic instruction comes from the spiritual guides that the Church approves.
 Pope Paul VI as quoted in MAGNIFICAT (July 2020), p. 332.