21 December 2015

St. Sharbel

I was blessed with a very special privilege earlier this month. The relics of St. Sharbel came to Portland.

Relics are pieces of the saint themselves, or something they've touched. It sounds a bit morbid, it's true. However, the veneration (honoring the saint as the servant of God that they were and continue to be in Heaven) through the reminders of their relics is an ancient, and Biblical practice. In the Old Testament, the bones of Elisha were brought out to a dead man, who upon being touched by the prophet's bones, came back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). We also see the use of relics int he New Testament, as in the woman who was bleeding who touched the hem of Jesus's cloak and was healed (one of my favorite Bible stories that is found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 9), and in the early Church, when people were healed by St. Peter's shadow touching them (Acts 5:14-16), and in Acts chapter 19 when St. Paul's handkerchiefs were taken to people, and they were cured of diseases. Catholics don't believe that it is the saint themselves working this miracle- all power and miracles from God, working through the saint. To think that the saints have power of their own is misguided thinking.

St. Sharbel Makhluf was a Lebanese monk and member of an Eastern Rite Catholic Church, the Maronite Rite, who lived in the second half of the 1800s. Sharbel grew up in a "pious" household with his mother and stepfather (after his father died); his stepfather later pursued holy orders and became the village priest. Sharbel, whose baptismal name was "Josef" was drawn to the monastic life from an early age, and in 1851 became a monk, and eventually a hermit. He died on December 24, 1898, and his body remained incorrupt throughout most of the 20th century, until 1955 when his tomb was opened a fourth time and only his skeleton remained.

Sharbel was beatified at the end of the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI, and later canonized as the first Eastern Rite saint canonized for the universal Church in Rome. Canonized simply means that the Universal Church recognizes the person is indeed in Heaven and that their life was one of devoutness and is raised as an example for all Christians. St. Sharbel has a large following in Mexico, although I am unsure why. The first time I had heard of this holy man was there- they sell candles with his picture and there are numerous churches throughout Tijuana with statues of this saint.

St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church, Portland, Oregon
I first saw the announcement that the Saint's relics were coming to Portland in November in an official announcement from the Archdiocese. I didn't even know there was an Eastern Rite Church in the Portland-area, and I knew even less that it was less than 15 minutes away. I had never attended a Rite other than the Extraordinary form of the Latin Rite (Latin Mass), and I didn't know what to expect. I looked around and found the parish's website, which did offer a great deal of information.

The Maronite Rite, first and foremost, is said in English, Arabic, and Syriac (Aramaic). There were booklets to follow along with the reading, and I neglected to find one. The church was rather full, but it was full of the families that regularly attend this parish. Isaias and I were able to squeeze in next to a wonderful family. I loved seeing many families, with young children in the parish. However, the incense, the priests, the Sign of Peace- it was a magnificent celebration of the Eucharist. I loved seeing other women in veils. I loved the close-knit community of the parish. Arabic, when not filled with the trash on TV, is actually a very beautiful language, and after Mass, was spoken quite openly and fluently. I confess my own ignorance of the presence of Middle Eastern Christians in my own community. It was wonderful to meet them, and to pray for the persecuted Church of their homeland with them.

After the celebration of the Eucharist (or as they call it, Holy Mysteries), there was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and veneration of the relics. The saint's relics, when not in his tomb in Lebanon, are transferred from parish to parish in a small wooden box, more than enough, I am sure for this holy man. I was able to touch my rosary and Isaias's rosary to the relics and pray before them. It was trulyl an honor to be in such a place with so many other faithful and devout Catholics.
Benediction and placing the Body of Christ in the Monstrance for Adoration.

Veneration of the relics

Adoration of the Body of Christ. The rosary was being said at the same time.
 It was an amazing experience to meet other member of the universal church. A lot of the time, people think of the Catholic church as ONLY the Roman Rite, but there are 23 other rites that are also members of the Church, celebrating the same Mass, with few cultural differences, for centuries. It was magnificent, and I hope that I may get the chance to meet these people again.

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