Many of us have probably heard of hermit saints in the days of the early church. When we think of these early Church hermits, it might seem at first like a very radical way to live. But monasteries and formally organized religious orders didn’t exist in the way we know of them today. Monasticism literally means the act of “dwelling alone” in the Greek language.
After monasticism spread, we don’t hear of too many saints who lived as hermits after those first few centuries of Christianity. But Saint Charbel, who lived in the 1800s, was a priest and a monk who willingly chose to devote his life to God by living truly alone, as a hermit.
If you’re feeling lonely as a Catholic single, or find that you’re at a loss for how to make the most spiritual use of the times when you feel alone, take a look at the life of this interesting and somewhat modern saint who lived as a hermit. Consider asking St. Charbel to bring your intentions before God.
A holy early life
Charbel was born in 1828 as Youssef Antoun Makhlouf, in Lebanon. His family lived high in the mountains, and he was one of five children. Sadly, Charbel lost his father at age three. Though Charbel didn’t have the benefit of a strong fatherly presence in his life, his mother was very pious and worked hard to instill in him a sense of piety and virtue.
During his childhood, Charbel was interested in the lives of the saints. He was also keenly interested in two of his uncles, who were living as hermits. Charbel was often tasked with caring for his family’s sheep during his youth. While caring for these sheep, he liked to bring them to a grotto where he made a shrine to Mary. While the flock grazed, he spent many hours in prayer.
Discerning his religious and priestly vocation
When Charbel was twenty-three years old, he discerned that God was calling him to be a priest and to enter religious life. He left his home and went to Mayfouq, where he entered the Monastery of Our Lady. After spending a year at the Monastery of Our Lady living the monastic life, he moved to the St. Maron monastery in Annaya.
At the St. Maron Monastery, he entered the Maronite Order. He chose the name Charbel as his religious name, after a saint who had been martyred during the second century in Antioch. Then, he spent his first few years of religious life studying philosophy and theology, and prepared for the priesthood. He studied for some time under the tutelage of Saint Nimatullah Kassab.
Charbel was ordained to the priesthood in 1859. After being ordained, he began to live as a hermit in the Hermitage of Sts. Peter and Paul in Annaya. Charbel practiced asceticism and severe penances, living almost entirely alone for twenty-three years. He looked to the example of the many great hermit saints who had lived before his time, and he attempted to imitate them in his own life.
Charbel and his legacy of miracles
Charbel had a stroke when he was seventy years old, and died while he was celebrating Mass. He died in 1898, on Christmas Eve. It was not long after his death that many extraordinary phenomena began to be associated with him.
A few months after his death, lights of great brilliance were seen near his grave. Then, people discovered that his dead body had been secreting sweat and blood. In the years between his death and 1955, Charbel’s body was exhumed four times and was found to be incorrupt each time. The entire year of 1950, many miracles occurred around his grave.
The hermitage at which Charbel lived in Annaya became a popular place of pilgrimage for many. Numerous pilgrims received miraculous healings and spiritual graces, through his intercession. The many miracles worked through his intercession became so widely-known that they even contributed to a rekindling of faith in Lebanon.
One of the most extraordinary accounts of miraculous healings attributed to Charbel’s intercession was the case of a paralyzed fifty-five-year-old woman. She said that she had a dream in which she saw Charbel, and when she awoke she was completely healed. She also had two wounds on her neck. The following night, Charbel appeared to her again in a dream and told her that he performed surgery on her neck so that others’ faith might be rekindled.
Are you a Catholic single? Here’s a prayer to St. Charbel
Let’s turn to this powerful miracle-worker who willfully chose the difficult path of solitude in his life, and let’s ask him to bring our needs to God.
Here’s a prayer to St. Charbel, from a website devoted to this great saint:
O Lord Jesus, you inspired the Saint, Monk and Hermit Charbel to live and die in your path and you gave him the strength to detach himself from the world in order to make triumph, in his hermitage, the monastic virtues. We implore Thee to bestow upon us the grace to love Thee and serve Thee following his example.
God Almighty, who has manifested the power of St. Charbel’s intercession, by the numerous miracles and favors, grant us our petition(s) by his intercession. Amen