Born as Joseph Makhlouf in 1828, he lived in the small town of Bekaa Kafra in North Lebanon. He had two brothers and two sisters but lost his father when he was hardly old enough to know him. His mother remarried to a man who would later become the priest of their parish. His two hermit uncles undoubtedly played a crucial role in Joseph’s spiritual life as well.
A family that was full of constant devotion and vigorous faith was the perfect garden for his soul to flourish. He had a fascination for prayer that grew stronger every year. He studied Arabic and Syriac in the village school but his main job was to herd the family’s sheep or goats. It became a daily ritual for him to take the flock with him to visit the nearby grotto where an icon of the Virgin Mary was displayed.
Joseph was 23 years old when his fervent yearning to serve God with his whole being caused him to leave home and join the monastery. He chose the name Sharbel in honor of a 2nd century martyr. For 16 years he lived a life of complete asceticism with his brother monks at St. Maron’s Monastery-Annaya. As the order demanded, he dutifully observed extended periods of silence, community prayer and manual labor at the monastery. His ordination took place after 8 years of preparation and he served that office faithfully in St. Maron’s for 16 years.
Yet God clearly was telling Sharbel that He required him somewhere even more austere. It was not a vocation to be taken lightly since the lifestyle was so much stricter and the demands so much greater, and naturally the superior refused. But Sharbel’s request could not be completely dismissed from his thoughts.
Months or perhaps years after he first expressed this longing, Sharbel was to write a report but the lamp he was using had no oil. One of the monastery’s lay servants went to fill it but, thinking to play a joke on the good father, used water instead. Suspecting nothing, Sharbel took and lit it to the shock of his prankster. The superior was told and went to see this strange lamp that burned without oil. He assured himself that it was truly water, then took this miracle as a sign that God did indeed desire His servant to enter Saint Peter & Paul’s Hermitage.
At last he was fulfilling the calling assigned to him by God and despite the mountains of hardships it brought upon him, Father Sharbel welcomed them since they united him to Christ. He imitated Saint Maron to the best of his abilities: ministering to all those who sought him, carrying their burdens, making God the focus of every moment, and knowing a peace unlike anything the world could offer.
At the end of 23 years at Saint Peter & Paul’s the severe practice of a hermit overwhelmed him. During Liturgy he suffered a stroke that left him helpless for 8 days and his one desire all that time was to finish the blessed celebration he had started. At last he had given all he was capable and fell asleep on Christmas Eve, 1898.
Because an unaccountable light shone from his tomb at the monastery, he was exhumed four months after his burial. His body had experienced no decay and in fact sweated oil that gave off a sweet aroma like incense—a miracle that continues to this day. Due to this, his garments are regularly changed by the monks who live there. Numberless healings are attributed to his intercession and he was canonized by the Holy Father on October 9, 1977.
Saint Sharbel, pray for us
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