Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Saint Charbel, The Movie

If you liked Into Great Silence, you will probably like a movie on the life of the Maronite monk, hermit, and mystic, Saint Sharbel Makhlouf.

His name is technically spelled, Charbel, and I will use the two interchangeably.  

I stumbled upon this movie on YouTube on his feast day, July 24th.  I finished watching it tonight and wanted to draw attention to the fact that it is available, with English subtitles. I highly recommend watching this when you can do so in a prayerful way.  It is now among my favorite movies on the saints.  I wasn't surprised to read this in a report by Catholic News Agency last week on his feast day:

Charbel's superiors observed God's “supernatural power” at work in his life, and he became known as a wonder-worker even among some Muslims. In 1875, he was granted permission to live as a solitary monk in a nearby hermitage dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.

Saint Charbel he canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 9, 1977. Pope Paul VI, in his homily that day, said (slightly edited google translation, emphasis mine in bold):

"Yes, the kind of holiness practiced by Charbel Makhlouf is a great weight, not only for the glory of God, but for the vitality of the Church. Certainly, in the one Mystical Body of Christ, as St. Paul says (cf. Rom 12, 4-8.), Charisms are many and varied; they correspond to different functions, each with its indispensable place. We need Pastors who gather the people of God and president wisely on behalf of Christ. We need theologians who investigate the doctrine and the Magisterium…  We need evangelizers and missionaries who carry the word of God over all the world's roads. We need catechists who are teachers and educators informed of faith... We need people who are dedicated directly to the support of their brothers. . . But we also need people who are available to be victims for the salvation of the world, freely accepting penance, in an incessant prayer of intercession, like Moses on the mountain, in a passionate search for the Absolute, God testifying worth to be worshiped and loved for himself. The lifestyle of these religious, monks, hermits of these is not available to all as an imitable charisma; but in its pure state, in a radical way, they embody a spirit which no faithful of Christ is taught, they have a function that the Church…"

I've encountered so many Catholics over the years who tend to think one charism over another is better, when in reality they are all needed.   Some people are even dismissive of monastic, cloistered, and eremitical life.  Yet, those who follow the call into these ways of life - all do work that is largely hidden to the world. Others are graced to understand the value these souls provide to the Church. In the movie we see Saint Charbel take on the penance of someone who has confessed their sins.  When we do penance and prayers of intercession for others, we imitate Christ who offered Himself for our sins (Colossians 1:24).  We don't need to be monastics to do this.

Why would a lay person - whether they are single or married, take interest in the life of a holy man who lived much of his life in silence and solitude?  While it is not practical for father or mother to practice silence when they should be paying attention to children, there are times during the day, that anyone can choose to turn off various forms of noise - from TV and radio, to text messaging and social media.  The question is, do we make use of opportunities to be in silence, and to explicitly offer that silent period up to God for the conversion of sinners or for those in purgatory?  These things are hardly taught any more and they are far from passé. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."  From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. 
If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

We are also reminded, learning about someone like Saint Sharbel, about other forms of penances, but also about charity. How many times this saint had a reason to complain about someone or something.  When confronted with someone who was offending him, he didn't stand there and defend himself because his feelings were hurt. He let it roll off his sleeve.  He was secure in his relationship with God to not be concerned with what was said or done to him.  When confronted with something troubling or evil, he turned to prayer, silence, and more penance.  Making acts of reparation for someone else's sins is something foreign to those of us who were raised to value our self esteem more than our souls, or the souls of others.  We need our priests and bishops to talk more about this aspect of our faith.

Some things in the movie may seem harsh or difficult for us to relate. Many of us have grown up in a culture and time when we can choose to overindulge in everything from food to things.  Comfort is what the world teaches us to pursue; but is that what we learn from the Crucifixion?

We need more saints like Sharbel among us, not just to pray for us and for the Church in some distant, hidden place, but for what they can teach those close to them, and the rest of us long after they are dead and their stories become public.

Something that really endeared me to this movie, besides the great acting of each of the boys and men who played the role  of Charbel from infancy to death, was looking through a different movie lens. I'm accustomed to seeing films made in the US or Italy on the lives of saints.  Given that he lived in Lebanon, I was glad to see things as close to "home" as they could be in this movie.  I was taken back to time and place.  This wasn't about something that took place during the time of Saint Francis of Assisi, yet it seemed so.   Even watching how the brothers made wine was interesting or how Saint Charbel pressed a host to be used at Mass.  The movie gets into some of the interesting little miracles that happened during his life.  They continued after his death, which came following a stroke he suffered during Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve.

I also found the cinematography aesthetically pleasing.  The meditation this movie pulled me into lasted long after I got done watching segments of it. I found it working on my thoughts during the day.  There is a desire to be in solitude, and to go into Adoration, or to a daily Mass.  The Holy Spirit can work through films like this, just as He can work through books, to move us, if we allow ourselves to be moved.

The video is embedded below, or you can go right to YouTube and watch it there.  It is not high quality so the smaller the screen you watch it on the better it will look.  Tablet viewing was pretty good, as was my iPhone.

The movie is at Amazon, but it does not have English subtitles. In fact, it says nothing about what language it is in, so I would not recommend getting it unless you contact the seller and ask.  The version with subtitles appears to be a work on YouTube.  It would be nice to see this movie formally sub-titled and marketed by sites entities like Ignatius and EWTN on DVD.  The quality of the story, the scenery, and the acting, makes it a pity it is limited to YouTube, but I'm grateful it is available there.

Further Reading:

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