He reminds us about the existence of God

St Sharbel is a great mystery for the world of science, and for all of us an evident sign pointing to the existence of God. 117 years have passed since the death of this Lebanese hermit, but his body is not decaying. Thanks to his intercession, spectacular healings and conversions continue to take place.

On 24 December 1898, the first night after the funeral of St Sharbel, a brilliant light of unknown origin appeared over his grave. Like lightning, it burned and disappeared, and its rays were visible dozens of kilometres away. The phenomenon of the light recurred every night for a month-and-a-half from the day of St Sharbel’s funeral. This extraordinary event was witnessed by monks and the residents of the nearby villages, both Christian and Muslim, who began a mass pilgrimage to the holy hermit’s grave. This event prompted a great movement throughout Lebanon. Thousands of Christians and Muslims began to visit the saint’s grave. Some of them managed to open the grave and take a shred of his clothing as a relic, or even whiskers from the hermit’s beard.

A sign of the victory over death

At that point, for safety’s sake, the Maronite patriarch ordered Fr Sharbel’s body to be transferred to the monastery. His grave was opened in the presence of doctors and other official witnesses. They found water and mud, but the holy hermit’s remains had not deteriorated.

A sense of faith compelled people to present all their problems and illnesses of soul and body to God through the intercession of St Sharbel before his relics. They travelled, even by foot, from all over Lebanon, often barefoot, in a spirit of self-denial and penitence.

What amazed the scientists was the fact, confirmed by numerous exhumations, that St Sharbel’s body was not undergoing post-mortal decay: it was supple, soft, and fresh. Medical examinations showed that no part of his body showed the slightest sign of tissue decay or deterioration. When a doctor lightly cut into the hip of the deceased with a surgical knife, it began to bleed profusely. The place where he had cut had to be bandaged in order to staunch the bleeding.

Another mysterious phenomenon that shocked researchers is the fact that for sixty-seven years blood and fluid constantly issued from St Sharbel’s body. Experts calculate that St Sharbel’s dead body emitted around twenty thousand litres of fluid. This mysterious fluid became a sign of Jesus’ power to heal people of a great variety of illnesses.

The monks thought that if they dried the body up, it would stop excreting fluid. So they left it exposed to the sun and desiccating wind for a period of four months, from the springtime to late summer. However, this didn’t stop the saint’s body from constantly “sweating”.

The monks tried every possible way to stem the flow of fluid, since it was very problematic for them. They removed all the internal organs from Fr Sharbel’s body. That didn’t help at all. Fr Sharbel’s body began to “sweat” even more. None of the procedures proved effective. No human intervention could restrain God’s power working in the body of the holy hermit. The well-known Lebanese professor of medicine Dr George Chukrallah examined St Sharbel’s body thirty-four times over a period of seventeen years. This is how this scientist summed up his multi-year examination: “However many times I examined the Saint’s body, I always concluded with amazement that it was incorrupt, as supple as it had been immediately after death. What particularly puzzled me was the fluid that was constantly issuing from the body. During many of my trips, I consulted medical professors in Beirut and in many cities of Europe, but none of them was able to explain this to me. It is really the only instance in the whole of history. If the body emitted only 3 grams of fluid per day – and in this instance it emitted dozens of times as much – over the course of 66 years its weight all together would amount to 72 kilograms, that is, substantially more than the weight of the whole body. From a scientific point of view, this is an inexplicable phenomenon, considering that there are around 5 litres of blood and other fluids in a human body. Relying on the examinations that had been done up to that time, I became convinced that it was thanks to the intervention of God Himself that St Sharbel’s body did not succumb to the process of post-mortal decay and emitted the mysterious fluid.” Preserving St Sharbel’s body from postmortal decay, Jesus Christ gave us a clear sign of His ultimate victory over death through his Resurrection.

“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (Matt. 10:8)

St Sharbel fulfilled this command of Jesus over the course of his life on earth and continues to do so since his death. Crowds of people from all over Lebanon began to flock to Fr Sharbel’s grave. Numerous miraculous healings of various untreatable illnesses occurred and continue to occur.

Also noted in the chronicles of the shrine of St Sharbel are occurrences of the resuscitation of the dead. On 16 April 2015, during a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Sharbel, we met a priest who showed us a book that documented the latest miraculous cures. He told us the incredible story of his heart disease, death and return to life. During the operation, the doctors confirmed his death. He returned to life eight hours after the moment of his death, thanks to the intercession of St Sharbel.

Fr Louis Matar also told us of the spectacular healing of a newborn child. He showed us photographs of the baby before the healing and after. The baby was born with its internal organs outside its body. Thanks to prayers to St Sharbel, it was miraculously healed. It is perfectly evident in the photos how amazing the miracle was.

From the chronicle of miracles found in the shrine, I chose the case of the resuscitation of a dead child. Maryam Shamoun was bringing her sick son to St Sharbel, but the child died in her arms on the way. The distraught woman made it to the grave of the holy hermit and laid her dead son next to his casket. In tears, she begged for rescue. Seeing this situation, Fr Elias was deeply moved. He opened the coffin of St Sharbel, washed his hands with water and, using the incense spoon, poured this water into the mouth of the dead child. After a short time, the child started breathing normally. The witnesses were overcome with amazement. Fr Elias picked the child up and gave him back to his mother, who, seeing that he was hungry, began breastfeeding him. The revived boy grew up to be a fine, healthy and strong man, as well as being an enthusiastic Catholic.

From among tens of thousands of different healings

After the birth of her eldest daughter, Maryam Zuwain fell ill with a mysterious illness, which left her completely paralysed and in great pain. For three months, she couldn’t eat anything and drank only milk and other fluids. One day, a Muslim woman came to her house begging for alms. She told Maryam about the grave of Fr Sharbel in the monastery of St Maron and that thanks to the intercessions of the deceased hermit, great miracles were occurring there. Maryam resolved to visit the grave. Maryam’s husband hired a mule-drawn carriage. After an allday trip, the couple finally arrived at the monastery and immediately made their way to Fr Sharbel’s grave. With all her strength, the patient begged for such healing that she would be able to return home on foot. Seeing the woman’s great suffering, one of the priests was moved with pity and told her: “trust and maintain strong faith. Today you will be healed.” He brought some of the fluid that flowed from St Sharbel’s body, as well as the saint’s monastic habit. Her body was wiped with the fluid and the habit. Maryam immediately felt better. The pain began to depart, and the paralysis diminished. Finally, the woman stood up on her own legs and began to walk. She was completely healed.

Is Fr Sharbel stupid?

Tannous Shade, a worker at the monastery farm, became seriously ill. For seven years, he constantly had pain in his throat, hips and shoulders. The doctors were helpless. One day, in front of the monastery, he met pilgrims who were coming to St Sharbel’s grave to pray for their return to health. Tannous began to mock them: “You’re dim-witted! When did Fr Sharbel become a saint?” One of the travellers said: “Pray to Fr Sharbel, and he will heal you”. Tannous became agitated and replied: “Do I need to ask this stupid monk for healing? I don’t believe in his holiness. I’d rather ask a donkey for healing than him”. Then he went off to work in the fields. When he returned home, he saw a monk passing by dressed in a habit with a cane and a stole over his shoulders. After a moment, he recognised that it was the deceased Fr Sharbel, who smiled and asked him a question: “What did you say about me today?” Tannous answered in a trembling voice: “I was only joking, but please, Father, heal me.” He bowed to Fr Sharbel, imploring: “My father, I beg you!” At this moment, he was struck painfully with the cane and heard the words: “Fr Sharbel is stupid, is he?” But from that moment, Tannous was completely healed, and St Sharbel disappeared.

The road to holiness

St Sharbel was born Joseph Anthony Makhlouf, on 8 May 1828, in the town of Bekaa Kafra in Lebanon, the youngest child in a family of poor farmers. He had two brothers and two sisters. On 8 August 1851, Joseph entered the novitiate of the monastery in Mayfouk and took the monastic name Sharbel. His mother Brigitte and his two brothers tried unsuccessfully to convince Joseph to give up the monk’s life. At the beginning of the second year of his novitiate, he was sent to the monastery in the town of Annaya, where, on 1 November 1853, he made his first profession of religious vows. He prepared himself for ordination, studying philosophy and theology at St Cyprian’s Theological Institute in Kfifane. He received the sacrament of ordination on 23 July 1859.

In 1860, as a young priest, he witnessed the horrific massacre of more than 20,000 Christians, perpetrated by Muslims and Druzes. The Muslim warriors mercilessly murdered entire Christian families, plundering, sacking, and burning churches, monasteries, farms and houses. Hundreds of refugees – hungry, injured and terrified of what had happened and what might still await them – sought shelter in the monastery in Annaya. Fr Sharbel aided the refugees with all his heart and prayed, fasted and undertook severe penances, offering himself to God in the spirit of expiation for the atrocity committed and begging God for mercy for the oppressed and their oppressors.

When a person is completely united to Christ through prayer and the sacraments and lives out the Gospel on a daily basis, he manifests God’s omnipotent love for the world. Then God Himself works through him, overcoming evil with good, deceit with truth, and hatred with love. This is the only fully effective way to fight the evil that is present in the world, and it is exactly how Fr Sharbel confronted evil. He knew that the most effective way to change the world for the better is to change oneself first, maturing in love, that is, seeking sanctification by fulfilling the will of God. Only people who sincerely aspire to holiness can make the world a better place.

On 15 February 1875, after seventeen years in the community of the monastery in Annaya, St Sharbel received permission to move to the hermitage of SS Peter and Paul, in order to unite himself with Christ completely, through total silence, prayer, work and ever greater selfdenial. The hermitage was located 1350 metres (4430 ft) above sea level, and there were three other monks living there. St Sharbel’s cell measured only six square metres (65 sq. ft). Under his habit, the Lebanese hermit always wore a hair shirt, and he ate very meagre meals with no meat, and only once a day. He surrendered himself completely to God as His exclusive property. He said: “My God, my heart belongs to You”; “God is my love and I need nothing more”; “The flesh is like a donkey: if you satisfy its desires, it becomes ungrateful, but if you starve it, it will be contrite”.

He was burning with the fire of God’s love

St Sharbel followed Christ and practised His virtues: obedience, selfdenial, humility and love. His daily life in the hermitage was filled with prayer and heavy physical labour in the fields. He spent ten hours a day performing the most difficult work: he collected and carried away stones, ploughed the hard, rocky ground without the help of an animal and tended the vineyard.

The Holy Mass and the time which he spent before the Holy Sacrament brought him the greatest joy. For the love of God, he sacrificed everything. Only his love for Jesus can explain his asceticism and austere way of life. For St Sharbel, Jesus Christ was the only master and teacher, the priceless treasure, for which he surrendered and sacrificed everything so that he could belong only to Christ.

The most important event of every day for St Sharbel was the Mass and adoration of the Holy Sacrament. He celebrated Mass with great absorption. One could see in his behaviour that in the species of the Eucharist he saw the person of Christ. He pronounced the words slowly, with the greatest respect, with the awareness that during the Mass he was participating in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. After the words of consecration, he would look at Christ present in the Eucharist with wonder and love.

On holy days and Sundays, he celebrated Mass at 10 o’clock in the morning, and on weekdays earlier in the morning. There was always a congregation at his Masses. After Mass, he would kneel to pray a long thanksgiving.

St Sharbel hated sin and everything that led to it. Every evening, he would conduct a specific examination of his conscience. He went to confession weekly. However, he heard confessions only with his superior’s permission. He loved sinners and prayed for their conversion. In the confessional, he dispensed powerful teachings, warning against surrendering to Satan’s temptations and imposing severe penances. If necessary, St Sharbel would hear the confessions of priests, monks and laity in his hermitage. Occasionally, his superior would also send him out to minister to the sick. Through the holy hermit’s priestly ministry, the Lord Jesus healed not just peoples’ spirits, but also the bodies of people who were incurably ill and dying. St Sharbel displayed a childlike trust in God, full of complete faith. When the relatives of the sick came to him with a request that he pray for their healing, on some occasions St Sharbel would say: “The sick one is already healthy. Pray for him.” He called for constant prayer: “Pray for the sick and offer supplications”. He prayed with them, encouraging them to maintain complete trust in God and acceptance of His will: “Be patient and submit to the holy will of God”; “The Lord God gives us everything we need for salvation. Let us rely on Him.”

What is preventing you from being a saint?

St Sharbel attracted large congregations to his Masses on Sundays and holy days. Those who took part in them were deeply moved, and at the end of the Eucharist they did not want to leave the church.

Once, when a woman wanted to meet Fr Sharbel before Mass to kiss his hand, he refused strenuously and from behind the closed door said: “Take communion at Mass and you will have the very Son of God in your mouth and in your heart. He is sufficient for you. When the Son of God is in your heart, you will have no need of kissing my hand.”

To those who asked him for prayer and blessing, he said: “Ask the Lord that He may give according to your faith.” Whenever anyone told him that he was a saint, he would answer: “I am a great sinner.”

St Sharbel never complained; he was always serene, satisfied and joyful. He trusted God in every situation and thanked Him for everything. He said: “God will take care of it. That is God’s will. May His will be done.”

He did everything with spontaneous joy. He considered himself to be everyone’s servant, and that is why he selflessly served everyone who asked him for anything.

St Sharbel advised: “Worry not about the things of this world, but about eternal life and judgement. That is because God, who is the one who will judge us, knows everything and doesn’t need anyone to tell Him.”

He prayed for the conversion of hardened sinners, for the souls suffering in Purgatory, and especially for those for whom no one was praying.

For those who asked him for prayer, he said: “I am just a sinful person. May the prayers of the saints solicit the graces you need”; “I am the least of all, a sinful person”; “You also must pray. What is the difference between me and you? The Lord God hears you the same as me.”

Whenever anyone said that he was a saint, his whole body began to tremble. He would shake his head, frown and say: “We are the same. What prevents you from being a saint?”; “The prayers of the saints are with you. Always trust in God and He will take care of you.”

St Sharbel is a sign for all of us, calling us to repentance. He helps us to understand that the only thing necessary for the complete happiness of each person is the Love whose name is Jesus Christ. The holy hermit calls out to us to strive every day for eternal happiness in heaven bravely and without compromise. There is only one way to get there, and it is the Lord Jesus who shows us that way: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). Contemplating the example of St Sharbel, let us joyfully take the road of self-sacrifice, self-denial and death to sin, in order to unite ourselves completely with Christ – the Source of Love – through constant prayer, the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, and sacrificial love for our neighbour.