O God, who called the Priest Saint Sharbel to the solitary combat of the desert and instilled in him all manner of devotion, grant us, we pray, that being made imitators of the Lord's Passion, we may merit to be co-heirs of his Kingdom. Who lives and reigns with you.
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Although this saint never traveled far from the Lebanese village of Beka-Kafra, where he was born, his influence has spread widely.
Joseph Zaroun Mahkluf 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.
Pope John Paul II has often said that the Church has two lungs (East and West) and it must learn to breathe using both of them. Remembering saints like Sharbel helps the Church to appreciate both the diversity and unity present in the Catholic Church.
Like all the saints, Sharbel points us to God and invites us to cooperate generously with God's grace, no matter what our situation in life may be. As our prayer life becomes deeper and more honest, we become more ready to make that generous response.
When Sharbel was canonized in 1977, Bishop Francis Zayek, head the U.S. Diocese of St. Maron, wrote a pamphlet entitled “A New Star of the East.” Bishop Zayek wrote: “St. Sharbel is called the second St. Anthony of the Desert, the Perfume of Lebanon, the first Confessor of the East to be raised to the Altars according to the actual procedure of the Catholic Church, the honor of our Aramaic Antiochian Church, and the model of spiritual values and renewal. Sharbel is like a Cedar of Lebanon standing in eternal prayer, on top of a mountain.”
The bishop noted that Sharbel's canonization plus other beatification cases prove “that the Aramaic Maronite Antiochian Church is indeed a living branch of the Catholic Church and is intimately connected with the trunk, who is Christ, our Savior, the beginning and the end of all things” (www.americancatholic.org, Saint of the Day).
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PILGRIMAGE TO ST. JOSEPH'S ORATORY
A good friend from the Missouri Jesuit Province, Fr. James Knapp is visiting with me these days during which I am also spending time with family in Montreal.
Yesterday, in company with Fr. Joseph Mroz, who serves at Loyola High School and at the Jesuit Novitiate, we went to St. Joseph's Oratory to honour Our Lord's foster-father and his great promoter, Blessed (soon to be Saint) Brother Andre.
We asked at the sacristy of the Crypt Church about the hours of Masses and learned the next one would be at 11:30 in French but that there was a pilgrim group from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Mississauga who would be celebrating in a smaller chapel at 11:15 in English. Some of the parishioners remembered me from my time as Toronto Auxiliary Bishop there (1995-1998) and, on their arrival, we discovered that they were being led in their five-day pilgrimage by Fr. Michael Coutts, S.J. of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Toronto.
Later in the day we joined Montreal's Loyola Jesuit Community at supper time: Herewith some photos:
With Fathers James Knapp and Michael Coutts
[Left to right]: Montreal Jesuits Fathers Michael Rosinski and Joseph Mroz