Saint Sharbel and asceticism

Saint Sharbel Makhluf, whose feast day is celebrated on July 24, was a Maronite monk from Lebanon. He was born with the name Joseph, but “he took the monastic name of Sharbel. The first Sharbel was a disciple to Saint Paul,” explains Msgr. Don Sawyer, pastor of Our Lady’s Maronite Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.

Saint Sharbel lived in a monastery that was high in the mountains in Lebanon. “And there he lived all of his life, but in 1876 he was able to go just up the hill to the higher part of the mountain where he lived in his little cell and became a hermit,” says Msgr. Sawyer. “He celebrated liturgy on December 24, 1898, and after that he suffered a stroke and died.” He was beatified in 1965 and in 1977, formally canonized in Rome.

“People always ask me, ‘what did he do?’ Well, he worked and he prayed. And that maybe sounds boring to people. He didn’t write any theological treatises,” says Msgr. Sawyer. “And this brings a real asceticism, especially in the Eastern churches, that it’s not so much what you do—in the West we’re always thinking of what we do.”

Saint Sharbel lived a simple life as a monk and as a hermit. “He listened. He worked in the fields every day—he referred to himself as God’s mule. He never complained, he prayed, he fasted … He was partial to the Eucharist and Divine Liturgy, the Mass. That was central for him. And then always venerated and honored the Blessed Mother.”

He is a great model of asceticism—a lifestyle of practicing self-denial and giving up worldly pleasures so as to grow in Faith and grow closer to God. Though we are not all called to a life of hermitage, we are all called to some level of asceticism. “We are called to be a prayerful people,” said Msgr. Sawyer.

Saint Sharbel’s “harsh life” consisted of “hours of prayer and physical labor,” which helped him to be physically and spiritually strong. From that life of devoted prayer “came his sacrificing. The more you pray, the more you want to fast and the more you’re getting closer to God. Something we need in this day very much is to get away—off the radio, phones, TV, noise, distractions, away from people—and just experience God in the nature,” says Msgr. Sawyer.

Saint Sharbel Makhluf, help us to be people of prayer and penance, working always to know God and grow in relationship with our Creator. Pray for us. Amen.