What comes to mind when you hear the term 'roughing it'? Do you envision a camping trip without electricity? Perhaps you think of a hotel room without room service or wireless Internet? Maybe your idea of roughing it means that there's no charge left on your cell phone or, worse yet, you forgot your cell at home and had to go the entire day without the eternal blessing of text messaging. Whatever the case, odds are that your life looks very little like that of an obscure Lebanese monk now known as Saint Charbel.
Youseff was born in 1828 in a small, mountain village in Lebanon. Orphaned at two years old, Youseff was raised by his uncle and entered the monastery at the age of twenty-three. He was drawn to the monastic life, meaning that he lived alone and according to a rule that included taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Youseff also took the new name 'Charbel' after a great second-century martyr.
He was instructed by Father Nimatullah (who later became Saint Hardini), was eventually ordained a priest in 1859, and spent the next sixteen years of his life living humbly, working hard, and praying with great discipline. During this time, however, Charbel longed to live in even stricter silence and in total abandonment to God. It was at this point that Charbel took 'roughing it' to a whole new level.
Charbel lived as a hermit for the next twenty-three years, until his death. He kept a strict fast. He spent most of his day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He slept on a slab of stone with a half stump of wood for his pillow. The hermitage in which he lived was almost a mile above sea level, nestled in the snow-covered mountains … and Charbel's cell had neither a heater or blankets. (How's that for roughing it?) Through his personal daily prayer and penance, he offered himself as a sacrifice for all, praying that the world would return to God. He endured frequent hunger, poverty, physical fatigue, and unbearable cold with the unflinching courage of a martyr.
This meek monk wielded great power in his humility and holiness. He once rescued fellow monks from a deadly snake simply by asking the snake to go away. When a swarm of locusts was destroying local crops, promising widespread local famine, Charbel was asked to bless the fields. No sooner had the monk broken out the holy water than the locusts fled and every single remaining crop was saved. It's said, too, that when Charbel, with the Sacrament of the Sick, anointed a young boy dying of typhus he immediately returned to perfect health. One mentally ill man even regained his lucidity and sanity by kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament while Charbel read to him from the Gospel.
When Charbel finally died, following a stroke on Christmas Eve in 1898, the monks rushed to his bedside, hoping to be blessed by him one last time. What followed after his death left even the monks (who'd taken a vow of silence) speechless.
After he was buried, great light of dazzling beauty and extraordinary brightness becan emanating from Charbel’s modest grave. It but through the darkness of night and could be seen from a great distance. The holy “night light” continued for forty-five days after his death.
When Charbel's body was exhumed and examined in detail, it was noticed that his corpse was secreting both sweat and blood yet showed no signs of deterioration. Each of the four times his grave has been opened by official committees, his body has demonstrated the same miraculous traits and is as flexible today as when he was still alive. Countless pilgrims have been blessed enough to pray near Charbel and to ask for his intercession. His canonization process began in 1925 by Pope Pius XI and in 1977, little Youseff was canonized Saint Charbel (of Lebanon) by Pope Paul VI.
A humble and holy man of God, Saint Charbel stands as living proof that all we need is God. If your prayer life needs a boost, if your life has become too noisy, or if you feel tethered by your cell phone, laptop, or flat screen . . . why not ask Saint Charbel to pray with you and for you. His intercession will not only help you simplify your life, but even provide that 'night light' in the midst of modern cultural darkness.
St. Charbel’s feast day is July 24th.