Saint of the Day – 24 July – St Charbel Makhluf O.L.M. Monk, Priest, Hermit, Miracle Worker – The holy monk whose dead body radiated white light – (8 May 1828 at Beka-Kafra, Lebanon as Joseph Zaroun Makhlouf – 24 December 1898 at Annaya of natural causes). St Charbel was Beatified in 1965, at the close of Vatican II and Canonised on 9 October 1977 by Pope Paul VI. Patron of Lebanon.
Youssef Antoun Makhlouf, the fifth child of a mule driver and his wife, he was born at Biqa-Kafra in the mountains of north Lebanon. Orphaned at an early age, he was brought up by an uncle who showed little sympathy for his charge’s devotion to prayer and solitude. Undeterred, in 1851, at the age of 23, Makhlouf entered the monastery of St Maroun at Annaya, taking the name in religion of Charbel, a second-century martyr at Antioch.
For 16 years, he worked hard in the monastery’s vineyards and sang the office at Mass. If Charbel was in any way distinguished from his fellow monks it was in his greater fervour for mortification, his rapt attention at Mass and his constant perusal of Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ. Although ordained a priest in 1859, Charbel increasingly felt the call to become a hermit. For some years his superiors resisted this ambition. In 1875, however, he removed to a hermitage attached to the monastery. At 4,600 feet above sea level his cell was often freezing; it was clear, however, that suffering and self-obliteration were precisely the graces which he sought. Following his death, the monks who trembled with cold during the night when they kept vigil at his coffin before his funeral, said: “See how we find ourselves unable to endure for a single night, the rude cold of this chapel! How could this priest live here for twenty-three years, on his knees, like a statue before the altar, every night from midnight until eleven in the morning, when he rose to say his Mass? Blessed is he, for he undoubtedly receives at present his reward with God!”
Saint Charbel also gained a reputation for holiness and despite his wish to live in isolation, was much sought for counsel and blessing. He had a great personal devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin and was known to levitate during his prayers. He reportedly never raised his eyes from the ground, his face shrouded by his cloak, unless his gaze was fixed on the tabernacle during the Eucharist.
The week before Christmas, while Saint Charbel was offering Mass, paralysis struck him suddenly as he elevated the Eucharist during the consecration. For one week, he suffered in agony, repeating the prayer he was unable to complete during the Mass: “O Father of truth, behold Your Son, victim to please You; condescend to approve [this offering], because for me He endured death, to give me life…”
When Charbel died, aged 70, he was interred in the monastery cemetery, without a coffin, as was customary. On the evening of his funeral, his superior wrote: “Because of what he will do after his death, I need not talk about his behavior.” Over the next 45 days, however, it seemed to many observers that the place where his body lay was irradiated by white light. After four months it was decided to open the grave. Charbel’s cadaver was found to be perfectly preserved notwithstanding floods which had turned the area into a sea of mud.
The corpse was re-clothed and installed in the monastery chapel. Now, a strange liquid was secreted from the pores of the dead man’s skin, making it necessary regularly to change his garments. An examination conducted in 1927 by doctors of the local French medical institute found that the body was still incorrupt. At this stage it was transferred to a new zinc-lined coffin, which was placed inside the wall of an oratory.
In 1950 a liquid was observed to be oozing from a corner of the tomb. Another examination discovered a viscous fluid in the bottom of the coffin. And while subsequent investigations have revealed a body no longer incorrupt, the bones have mysteriously turned red.
Hundreds of cures have been, and still are, reported by those who visited Charbel’s tomb. He was canonised in 1977.