FRESH SNOW fell during the night.
This morning the sun causes all the drifts to sparkle like scattered diamonds. The neighbourhood resounds with the scrape of shovels against cement as walkways and sidewalks are cleared. People chat and laugh with each other through the exertion and exhilaration.
My heart is moved to open Sacred Scripture and pray Sirach chapters 43 and 44!
BY THE TIME I was walking, at summer’s first beginning, deep into the woods with that kind priest-hermit, my stomach ailment had become a constant source of pain and stress.
My contract with the financial institution was coming to an end. The company I worked for was sending me out on various jobs (accounting, working for a polling firm, in a print shop ) prior to a major assignment for an engineering firm as an office administrator. Given my lifelong anxiety attacks these constant job changes exacerbated my general nervous state and my spiritual struggles.
Interiorly I felt as if I were in some state of spiritual vacuum, as it seemed to me the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from me, allowing me to experience more intensely than ever before in my life a state of desolation, without any sense of direction. It seemed the idolatrous addictions, the dark ignorance and sinfulness of my whole life was pressing down upon me indeed, eating away at my very being.
Yet by grace, even though I was sorely stressed out, confused, filled with inner darkness, an emptiness which seemed to impede actual prayer, rather than experiencing all of this as some type of despair my entire being was paradoxically filled with a joyful yearning, an enormous hunger, for Christ!
It had been months since I had made a good confession or even attempted to lead a truly Catholic faith life.
True I was, and again the paradox of graced inspiration, starting to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament — not so much in prayer and adoration per se as in the supplication of simply being there in agony — and when I did rarely attend Holy Mass I did not go to Holy Communion because I had not truly confessed my mortal sins — yet this afternoon my being was suddenly seized with a deep hunger for absolution, for the reception of Divine Mercy.
All this I poured from my heart into the heart of the priest-hermit who listened silently until the stream of words, emotions, confession, had exhausted itself.
By now we were sitting in his simple little hermitage and he said, just before he gave me absolution, how his heart felt I needed a special gift from Our Blessed Mother.
He gave me my penance, absolved me of my sins and repeated the conviction in his heart that through Our Lady I needed an experience of the direct intervention of God in my life — not just through the sacraments but in an intimate experience I would never forget.
That was when he told me about Mar (St.) Sharbel.
Briefly, this holy man became a monk and a priest in a monastery in Lebanon in the nineteenth century and after years of living the common life as a priest-monk he was given permission to become a hermit. He spent the next near quarter century living the hermitical life, being renowned for his piety, compassion, devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, his confident love of Our Blessed Mother, his immersion in the Holy Gospels.
Many healing and other miracles were attributed to him during his life.
He died on Christmas Eve, which is now his feast day, as he was canonized by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council.
Once when they exhumed the body it was found to be incorrupt, the coffin filled with sweet- perfumed oil.
Countless miracles occur through his intercession to this day.
The priest-hermit gave me a holy card with a relic of the saint and asked me to trust God’s power in my life through the intercession of the holy priest-monk Sharbel.
I returned to the city with a heart filled with peace flowing from sacramental absolution and the compassion of the priest.
I began the new jobs with a sense of optimism and started to lead a chaste and sacramental life.
The greatest joy was going to Holy Mass and for the first time in months receiving my Lord and God, my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in Holy Communion – it was like my First Communion!
The doctors ordered a new series of tests and I was actually able to see on a monitor what they saw as the scope-camera viewed my innards and revealed fluid.
This, apparently, was serious.
I was to return in a few days for possible surgery.
Before that, one June night, the pain was so intense I thought surely I would crack under the combination of pain and anxiety.
Suddenly I remembered that holy card with the relic of the saint.
My companion was away on a business trip and so the sense of being alone aggravated my distress as I fumbled around in a drawer among my papers for the holy card.
Yes, to my shame, I had failed to make the connection between being told about St. Sharbel and actively asking for his help.
Now fear, and desperate pain, had driven me, finally, to admit I needed a miracle.
Finding the holy card I immediately placed it against my stomach and fell back into bed, begging St. Sharbel to intercede for me.
Instantly I felt a sweet warmth flow over my being, penetrating through the skin, deep into my stomach, coursing through my body, enveloping me in a warm embrace.
I fell into a deep sleep.
I awoke at dawn with an urgent desire to go to Holy Mass and Communion.
I went to the first Mass of the day at the Jesuit church.
It was during Holy Mass I first became aware I was pain free!
Later when the doctors retested me they were amazed at the absence of fluid.
To this day I remain pain free with no recurrence of the fluid in my stomach.
There is a temptation as I finish the notes from this chapter to digress into an apologetic on the mystery of the Communion of Saints and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition of invoking their intercession.
My heart, however, is moved to simply share this prayer:
O HEAVENLY GOD, OUR FATHER, glorified through the lives of all Your Saints, it was You who inspired St. Sharbel to lead the perfecting life of a solitary hermit. We thank-You dear Father for having graced him with the courage to detach himself from the vicissitudes of this world so that within his hermitage the gifts of the Holy Spirit, poverty, chastity, obedience, might triumph in his soul through fidelity to his monastic vocation. We beg of You Heavenly Father to grant us also the grace to truly love You and serve You following the example of our beloved St. Sharbel. Heavenly Father it pleases You readily to confirm the holiness of St. Sharbel by granting prayers offered to You through his intercession, thus we beg of You to grant us this grace which we urgently need and ardently desire through St. Sharbel’s intercession so that we too might live the Holy Gospel and follow Jesus, thus Heavenly Father we beg You to grant……………………Amen.