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What can we do to help our Christian brethren in the Middle East?

Praying for them, and the invocation of Saint Charbel, may be a good way to start

By on Thursday, 2 August 2012

Charbel

Over the next few Sundays the gospel readings are taken from the sixth chapter of St John, which is usually known as the Eucharistic Discourse. This means that for the next few weeks every priest in the land will have to preach about the Holy Eucharist and allied topics, and as I myself contemplated this task I thought of all the saints who, in various ways, have deepened our understanding of the Eucharistic miracle.

The first that came to mind was, paradoxically, for he is not very well known in England, Saint Charbel (sometimes spelled Sharbel) Makhluf. I first came across devotion to saint Charbel in Lebanon, his native land. Wherever you go in the Christian parts of Lebanon, there you see Saint Charbel’s picture. The iconography is unmistakeable: he is wearing his monk’s habit, and his eyes are cast down.

Charbel was a monk in a Maronite monastery in Jbeil, Lebanon; he was famous for his devotion to prayer, and for the last decades of his life he lived as a hermit, giving himself entirely over to contemplation. It is said of him that he never looked at his fellow human beings, but only looked at the tabernacle, so rapt was he in contemplating the miracle of the real presence.

This idea of never casting a glance at your fellow human beings does strike one as distinctly odd by today’s standards, but it is worth remembering that the saints are meant to be counter-cultural, they are meant to make us think and readjust our worldly perspectives. We look at so many different things these days, but one thing alone, surely, is necessary. When we reach eternity, we shall, we hope, gaze on God forever, and never look away from that beatific vision. Why not start to look at him now, under the form of the Eucharistic speicies?

Charbel died on Christmas Eve, 1898, and he was beatified during the closing days of the Vatican Council, in 1965; he was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1976. His cult is very strong wherever there are Lebanese communities, and remarkably strong in Mexico. Charbel is revered for his miracle-working reputation, but should chiefly be remembered as an example of prayer, I think. There is a picture of him in the church of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead . But nowhere else have I seen one in this country. His feast is on the 24th July, and has recently been made a universal, though optional, memorial.

Perhaps one reason that led Pope Paul to canonise Saint Charbel was the desire to remind Catholics of the long history of the Maronite Church, and of the continuing devotion of the Lebanese to Christ the Saviour. He may also have wished to correct the erroneous notion that Catholicism is somehow a purely Western phenomenon. Sadly, the Maronite community in Lebanon has been much reduced in numbers in recent years, and there are now more Maronites outside Lebanon than in it. A similar fate may be awaiting the Christians of nearby Syria. These communities, along with other Christian communities of the Middle East are the subject of an outstanding book by William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain, which if you have not read yet, you should get hold of at once.  We often wonder what we can do to help our Christian brethren in the Middle East. At the very least we can pray for them, and the invocation of Saint Charbel may be a good way to start.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Until you get off your chair (I’m being polite)….. and do something that needs to be done for the millions of needy children….you have no right to blame God. 

    You don’t even have to go to Africa….there are plenty of British organisations crying out for volunteers.  Get back to me when you’ve done that. No excuses. 

  • C_monsta

    You don’t know what I do or don’t do, and this is not really the issue – and unlike God I’m not aware of which children in my town are being abused, or who is going to be raped or murdered.
    Does God really have no power to intervene anymore? How do you know this?

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Well there are organisations that know exactly what needs to be done.  And since you are very worried about the welfare of children….they will be glad of your assistance.  So go….or are you only pretending to care?!!

  • C_monsta

    OK, sounds good, but why are you avoiding my questions?

  • awkwardcustomer

    Your point is fair enough, but have you been reading the vicious accusations against the Church that have been made in recent days on this and other Catholic Herald blogs, blaming all the ills of the world – murder, mayhem, wars, torture and all manner of oppression – on religion in general and Catholicism in particular?  

    Atheists are fond of taking the moral high ground, as if their belief system would spread sweetness and light over all the Earth, when in fact the history of the 20th century shows how murderous Atheists can be.  And I can’t agree with your claim that ‘Hitler’s abandonment of Catholicism is questionable’.  Anyone who embraces Paganism and the Occult has abandoned Catholicism.

    And much as I regret having to keep disagreeing with such a nice liberal as yourself, I don’t agree that religion is declining in the West.  The Atheists have simply created a new religion, that’s all, in which they worship the god that is themselves.    

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     THERE ARE NO GENUINE ATHEISTS; FOR ALL SENSIBLE WOMEN AND MEN BELIEVE IN TRUTH WHICH IS SAME AS GOD ON A LOWER PLANE.

    ONLY TRUE SEEKERS FIND GOD THAT TOO IN JESUS.

    OTHER .GODS ARE ALL LOWER PLANE REFERENCE POINTS OF BELIEVERS.

    IF OTHER PEOPLE ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE GOD, IN JESUS THE LORD, CHRISTIANS LIKE YOU AND ME ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     LESS OF RELIGION AND MORE OF GOD (VERIFIABLE IN ANY TRUE SEEKER’S LIFE), THE BETTER.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Not so. Ultimately a person will accept or reject Christ and will be held responsible for it themselves.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    PRAYER, (NOT MECHANICAL MOUTHING OF WHAT OTHERS HAVE TAUGHT US) TRUE PRAYER WHICH COMES FROM THE DEPTHS OF ONE’S HEART WORKS WONDERS.  PRAYER USING THE WORD OF CHRIST IS MOST POWERFUL. THIS IS MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

    DID NOT JESUS ASK US TO PRAY CEASELESSLY?

    DID HE NOT ASK US TO PRAY FOR OUR ENEMIES?

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     

    IT IS LIKE A DOTTING OLD MAN ASKING A CHILD’S QUESTION, SO VERY SAD.

    WHY NOT GET INTO THE COMPANY OF THOSE WHO ACTUALLY PRAY?

  • Juliaset

    Yes please Karlf. What do you mean by Spectoid?
    I’ve thought of you as a rational person. Am I wrong?

    It is just possible (I speculate, of course) that the individual self in some way survives. The self could possibly be something produced by our brains. But all this is MOST UNLIKELY and totally speculative.
    The difference with the religious believers is that they are certain that their totally outrageous ideas are true. This is madness, pure and simple. Its origins in the past are very evident.

  • Julia

     You are being most UNpolite, in a rather sneaky way.

    This forum has improved since some rather rude people have been shown the door – let’s not spoil it.

    There is a well-established Atheist aid foundation – See Richard’s website.

  • Julia

    Child abuse in the Catholic Church was and is SYSTEMIC.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    No it wasn’t.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    No I’m not.  One Atheist Aid foundation….oh my…am I supposed to be impressed or something?!

  • karlf

    sorry Julia, I was just poking fun at the Catholic idea of the ‘afterlife’, but I do think that ‘Spectoids’ would be great term for these post human beings. I wonder what they would look like – surely they can’t resemble our earthly bodies, as who would want to be ugly for eternity, for example?

  • karlf

    Because I don’t believe in that sort of thing.
    Why do you always type in capitals? It appears rather aggressive.