By Fr. Richard Kunst
When Pope John Paul the Great was criticized for canonizing so many saints, he acknowledged that he did, indeed, deliberately raise more saints to the altar than any of his predecessors, because he believed we are living in a time that needs saints as witnesses more than ever. There have been books written about the people he canonized and beatified, and it is quite refreshing to read about many of them, because we can identify with people from our own era who lived a heroic faith life.
As much as I like hagiography, the study of the saints, I have to admit that many of them, living in a different era, seem to be a bit untouchable, or even unreal. In many cases they became “kitsch,” entering so much into the piety of worldwide Catholicism that they became little more than statues. I am reminded of St. Therese of Lisieux who has rightly been called the greatest saint of modern times. Her statue seems to be in a majority of churches, but I’d like to know how many people in the pews actually know anything about her life.
Reflecting on the life of St. Charbel calls to mind a common frustration among my brother priests and me. On a regular basis, many people come into Mass late. Often they are so late they miss one or two of the readings. It is even more common for whole portions of the church to be empty after communion. While we are happy that these people at least come to Mass, think of the contrast between our experience and that of St. Charbel, who would spend hours in prayer both before and after receiving communion.
We would never go to a movie late, or leave before the story was over. Why in the world, then, would we do that with the Divine Liturgy where heaven and earth meet?
St. Alphonsus de’ Liguori (1696-1787), born 130 years before St. Charbel, believed that if we didn’t receive our first communion until we turned 100, we would still not have sufficient time to prepare. At another time, he said that once we receive communion, twelve angels surround us, worshiping what we just consumed. Obviously, that is not dogma, but it is food for thought if we are tempted to leave Mass early.
The saints are always icons of having lived the Gospels, including those who seem to be so different from us. St. Charbel is a great example of this. I pray to him that through his intercession more people will grow in awe and reverence for Christ’s Eucharistic presence. —Father Rich
St. Charbel, pray for us!
Blessed Pope Paul VI canonized Charbel Makhluf on October 9, 1977.
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