Venerable Charbel Makhlouf

Memorial Day: December 24

Venerable Charbel Makhlouf


    Son of a mule driver. Raised by an uncle who opposed the boy's youthful piety. The boy's favorite book was Thomas Kempis's The Imitation of Christ. At age 23 he snuck away to join the Baladite monastery of Saint Maron at Annaya where he took the name Charbel in memory of a 2nd century martyr. Professed his solemn vows in 1853. Ordained in 1859, becoming a heiromonk. He lived as a model monk, but dreamed of living like the ancient desert fathers. Hermit from 1875 until his death 23 years later, living on the bare minimums of everything. Gained a reputation for holiness, and was much sought for counsel and blessing. He had a great personal devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and was known to levitate during his prayers. Briefly paralyzed for unknown reasons just before his death. Several  miracles attributed him, including periods in 1927 and 1950 when a bloody "sweat" flowed from his corpse. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for Lebanese and non-Lebanese, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Prayer to Saint Charbel

O God of Silence, in stillness Your adorable and mysterious Trinity lives, loves and acts. In the silence of time, Your great Mysteries have been accomplished. Blessed is the one who quiets everything within himself and listens to the impelling voice which leads to You. Charbel heard this voice and closed himself in solitude. He separated himself from a self-seeking world and spoke with You. You taught him to deny himself and to die, like the grain of wheat. You asked him to bind himself to You in a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Freed from himself, he discovered You, 0 Lord, embraced the way of the Cross and filled his spirit with the memory of Your Sonís passion and death. The holy Mysteries became his life, the Eucharist his real food and the Mother of God his consolation. Day and night he sought You in the Scriptures and in the lives of the saints. Through unending prayer his whole life became a living hymn of praise to You and ended in a sacrifice of love that continues to proclaim Your glory. We beseech You, through his intercession, to inspire us to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Help us to live lives of quiet dedication to the service of Your Church, forever.


St. Charles Borromeo

Feast Day: November 4th

Saint Charles Borromeo

    St. Charles Borromeo may be said to have incarnated the spirit and ideals of the Counter-Reformation. Sprung from a noble Lombard family, he was born at Arona on October 2nd, 1538, and as a second son was early destined for the church, to which also his youthful piety inclined him. He took a doctorate in Canon Law at Pavia in 1559, but in the following January was summoned to Rome by his maternal uncle who had just become pope as Pius IV. There he was forthwith created a cardinal, heaped with valuable ecclesiastical preferment including the archbishopric of Milan, and despite his youth entrusted with the responsible post of Papal Secretary of State. In this capacity he controlled all the official papal correspondence, including the difficult negotiations concerned with the completion of the council of Trent between 1560 and 1564.

    St. Charles' ability amply justified his uncle's trust; but he was content with a subordinate role and except perhaps on a few special occasions probably did not exercise any decisive influence on Pius IV's policy. The council ended, St Charles remained in Rome occupied with the heavy business left over, and was not allowed by the pope to take up residence in his diocese until September, 1565. But hardly had he made his triumphal entry into Milan than he was summoned back to attend his uncle on his deathbed and take part in the election of his successor, St Pius V. He returned to Milan in April, 1566.

    From that time up to his death on November 3rd, 1584, St Charles's life was devoted entirely to his duties as archbishop. The much needed restoration of the pastoral episcopate was central in the scheme of reform of the council of Trent and St Charles set out to become the 'new-model' Tridentine bishop. So fully did he succeed that his example became a pattern and an inspiration for the whole church, and he probably did more than any other single man to get the decrees of the council into action throughout the Catholic world. In both the diocese and the province of Milan he effected a renewal and a reorganization of clerical and spiritual life, signalized by the great mass of detailed legislation promulgated in six provincial and eleven diocesan synods.

    Constantly traveling on visitation throughout his vast diocese, preaching and administering the sacraments, he exercised a direct personal ministry even in the remotest villages and Alpine valleys. The revival of Catholicism in Switzerland, parts of which lay within his jurisdiction, was decisively influenced by him. He founded a number of colleges and seminaries. He was a friend to the Jesuits, the Barnabites and other new pastoral orders of the age, and he founded a company of special helpers of his own, the Oblates of St Ambrose (now of St Charles). He was also actively concerned with the reform of the older orders. It was a group of discontented members of the order of the Umiliati, which he tried to reform, and which was soon afterwards suppressed, that made the dramatic attempt at his assassination during evening prayers in his Palace in 1569. He encouraged all sorts of pious associations, reorganizing the valuable Company of the Christian Schools to which he attributed the greatest importance. He preserved for Milan the Ambrosian Rite when this was threatened, and in all ways sought to model himself on St Ambrose. But the firmness and uncompromising logic with which St Charles sought to vindicate to the uttermost what he conceived to be the duties and rights of his office, and the severity of his moral principles, inevitably provoked opposition. This came not only from some clerical quarters but also from the lay power represented by the Spanish governors of Milan and by the city's Senate. A running conflict concerning the archbishop's rights of coercive jurisdiction over the laity and the validity of his decrees against dancing, the theatre, tournaments, and public spectacles of all kinds, as well as other controverted matters, marked the course of his episcopate, during which accusations of clerical tyranny on the one hand were met by excommunications and threats of excommunications on the other.

    A saint, however, as well as a reformer, St Charles asked nothing of others that he did not perform himself. His private charity was immense and he stripped himself and his household for the needy. He attained to sainthood only gradually, and by the exercise of sheer will-power and progress in prayer. In 1562 the death of his elder brother, so far from causing him to resign his Cardinalate and take up the headship of his family, as was generally expected, only moved him to seek immediate ordination, and to adopt an ascetic mode of life unusual at that time in Rome. In Milan his life of prayer and self-denial was intensified side by side with his pastoral labors. His heroic behavior during the great plague of 1576-8 was another turning point, leading him to the extremes of detachment and mortification which marked his later years. Though he ate practically nothing at all and slept only for a very few hours on the hardest pallet, his energy seemed boundless. Endless visitations, audiences and pilgrimages, a vast correspondence, regular reading, careful preparation for constant preaching-an art that did not come naturally to him, but for which he schooled himself relentlessly-all still left him time to pass many hours wrapped in continuous prayer. He literally wore himself away; yet he outlived his four sisters whose affairs he attended to with such careful prudence. He left no revelations of his own spiritual life nor, apparently, was he a contemplative in the exact theological sense, yet he cultivated the spirit of Camaldoli and other remote places of recollection. He also greatly valued the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and took a Jesuit for his confessor. He had a special devotion to the Holy Shroud of Turin, to Loretto, and to the early saints of the Milanese church, whose relics he delighted to honor and translate.

    In St Charles Borromeo, with his well-known ascetic but deeply reflective features, the energy and efficiency of the true Lombard were turned with overwhelming- indeed frightening-will-power to the service of God, and to the interests of the people of Milan, of the papacy and of the full canonical rights of the church. Yet this selfless life of devotion was not achieved without effort, nor without the sacrifice of personal interests which he had cultivated in earlier life, when he had hunted freely, played the cello, and taken part in philosophic discussions in Rome. He remained a man of culture and taste. His requirements in church architecture and music were always exact, and the contents of his private library impressive. He was canonized by Paul V on November 1st, 1610.

St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop and Cardinal
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

The great and holy Charles Borromeo is justly accounted one of the most celebrated Saints that lived in the sixteenth century, and who, by their virtues and the miracles they performed, made the Catholic Church glorious in the very face of her enemies. Charles was born of very illustrious parents, in 1538, at the castle of Arona, fourteen miles from Milan. A bright light which shone above the castle at the time of Charles' birth, and which, sending its rays afar off, continued for over two hours, was doubtless a sign of the great virtue and holiness with which this new-born child would ornament and illuminate the Church of Christ.

Charles, even in childhood, evinced great inclination for the religious state, as he imitated at home everything he saw the priests do at Church. In later years, when he began his studies, he served as a model of virtue to every one. His purity he kept inviolate amidst the greatest dangers; no one ever heard him speak an unchaste word, and if others said anything that in the least offended his ear, he immediately withdrew, and carefully avoided all frivolous, idle or disobedient youths.

As soon as he had arrived at the proper age, pope Pius IV. called him to Rome, and bestowed upon him the Cardinal's hat, with the Archbishopric of Milan. When afterwards his brother died without issue, the friends of the family urged Charles to abandon the clerical state in order to perpetuate his lineage; but he remained constant in his resolution to serve the Lord in celibacy. He had assisted at the Council of Trent; and was the first who endeavored to reform his See in perfect accordance with its decrees. He made the beginning at his own court, which he composed of priests to whom he prescribed certain regulations, by the observance of which, they might become perfect laborers for the vineyard of the Lord.

His resolve, on becoming a prelate of the Church, had been: "I will either be no Cardinal and Archbishop, or I will endeavor to gain such virtues as are in accordance with my dignity." And it may be truly said that the Saint possessed, in an eminent degree, all those virtues which a prelate of such high standing ought to possess. He held many councils, and made the most wholesome regulations to exterminate abuses and to restore Christian morals. Of his revenues as bishop nothing went to his relatives, but all to promote the honor of God and to assist the poor.

The number of churches he built and restored, as well in his own diocese as elsewhere, is almost incredible. All these he most liberally endowed. Above the door of each church, he placed an image of the Blessed Virgin, not only to admonish all to honor her, but also to teach them to seek through her, admittance to Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. He erected many religious houses for both sexes, that God Almighty might be praised by their inmates, and His blessing drawn down by their prayers. He also built many hospitals for the sick, and several for houseless strangers, for orphans, and for women who desired to lead a better life. He also instituted schools for children, and seminaries for students of theology, so that his parishes might be filled with pious, learned and zealous priests.

Besides this, he instituted a society of priests, whom he named Oblates, to be employed in preaching and other spiritual functions. To secure to his Episcopal city the benefits of a truly Christian education of the highest order, he introduced the priests of the Society of Jesus at Milan, and gave them a college and a magnificent church. Those who knew all the rich foundations he made, deemed it impossible that one Cardinal could collect so much money as he spent, especially as he had resigned all other benefices which he had received from the Pope, desiring to live only upon the income of his Archbishopric. Still more wonderful and miraculous was the fact, that, besides supporting the above-mentioned foundations, he had yet so much left him to comfort the poor.

His palace was always open to all the poor and to strangers, especially to religious; and all received not only food, but also alms, devout books, rosaries, etc. He had two servants whose only duty was to distribute alms. One of them had the care of the poor who came to the palace; the other carried the alms to the houses of the indigent. After the death of his brother, Saint Charles had been declared, by Philip II., of Spain, heir to the principality of Oria, the annual income of which was nearly 10,000 ducats. Of this he used not one farthing for himself or his relatives, but gave one part of it to the poor, the other to churches and hospitals. From the great care he took of the temporal welfare of the poor, we can easily conclude how great must have been his solicitude for the souls of those under him.

He was a perfect model of a watchful shepherd. Inexpressibly great were the pains he took to drive away' from his flock the heretics who, at that period, wandered about like ravenous wolves; and to keep his own in the fold of Christ, the true Church. He preached in several churches, not only on Sundays and Feast-days, but also during the week. He admonished and instructed the people in their own houses, visited the sick and comforted the dying. He strove to uproot the bad customs which prevailed at the carnival. He visited his entire diocese, accompanied by several priests. There was not a town or village to which he did not go. Everywhere he renewed the churches, preached, gave instructions, administered the holy Sacraments, and exhorted all to lead a Christian life.

None could understand how the holy Cardinal, whose health was delicate, could bear so much fatigue in traveling, without permitting heat or cold, snow or rain to prevent him. His apostolic zeal and untiring care for his beloved flock made all labor and hardship easy to him. The most splendid proof of this solicitude he gave in 1575, when the pestilence ravaged Milan for several months. To save his life from the terrible disease, he was begged to leave the city; but he could not be persuaded. " A good shepherd," said he, " gives his life for his sheep." Hence he remained, and he assigned priests for every street, that no one might die without the holy Sacraments. He himself went into the houses of those stricken down, especially into those of the poor, heard their confession, administered the holy Sacraments to them and attended to their bodily comfort.

The number of poor, who came to him from other places for aid, was so great, that for want of money, he divided among them the provisions which had been stored away for his own use. He also sold his plate and the furniture of his house, and gave the money to the needy. The hangings of the walls, the curtains of the windows, and even his own clothes were not spared : everything was given away to assist the poor. His own bed was carried into the hospital, and he took his short rest on some hard boards. These were surely proofs of his great love for his neighbor.

Further, the holy Cardinal ordered several penitential processions to avert the anger of God. He himself appeared in them, barefoot, with a rope around his neck and a heavy cross on his shoulders. He offered to the Almighty his own life, ready and willing to die for his sheep. After the pestilence had disappeared, he gave due thanks to the Almighty, and enjoined upon all to do the same. When some one justly praised his zeal, he said: " I have only fulfilled the duties of a true shepherd towards his sheep." We should fill many pages were we to attempt to describe the devotion and virtues of this holy man.

 He possessed in an eminent degree the spirit of prayer, and employed several hours of the day and of the night in contemplation. At the time of the " Forty hours' devotion," he more than once remained in church from early morning until evening. He fasted almost daily, and in the last years of his life, on water and bread. During the 40 days' fast, he even abstained from bread, and ate only a few figs. He always wore a rough hair-shirt, and scourged himself mercilessly. He never warmed himself at the fire during the winter, and allowed himself very little time to sleep, constantly mortifying his body. But above all, how admirable were his heroic patience and fortitude under vicissitudes, his winning gentleness, his deep humility, and his perfection in other virtues! He, however, closed early a life so fruitful in good and great deeds.

Although the Cardinal was still in his best years, he resigned himself to the will of the Almighty, when an inner voice told him that his death was near. He made a pilgrimage to Mount Varallo, where he spent 15 days in the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, under the direction of a priest of the Society of Jesus, whom he had chosen as his confessor. He cleansed his soul, which had never been stained by a mortal sin, by a general confession. Feeling that he was attacked by the disease which he knew would release him from earth, he returned to Milan where he arrived on the second day of November. On the third, he received the holy Sacraments with great devotion, and desiring to die like a penitent, he had himself laid upon haircloth strewed with ashes. Continually praying, he remained in this penitential position until the third hour after sundown, when, raising his eyes to the image of the Savior, he gave his soul to his Maker, in the 47th year of his life.

It would require a whole volume to relate all the miracles which the Almighty wrought to honor this untiring servant, as well during his life as after his death. The splendid example of his virtues is sufficient to merit our highest esteem. I will only add that the holy Cardinal, after his death, appeared to one of his friends, radiant with heavenly glory, and said : "I am happy."


I. "I am happy," said St. Charles after his death. How can it be otherwise with one who kept his innocence unimpaired among so many dangers; who evinced such constant zeal in prayer, fasting and almsgiving; who labored so faithfully for the honor of God and the salvation of souls; who was so severe towards himself, and so kind to the poor, the sick, and the forsaken? It is the promise of God that the just shall be happy. " Say to the just man that it is well" (Isai. hi.). Will it, however, be well with you after your death? This depends, by the grace of God, on yourself alone. Follow St. Charles in avoiding sin, in practicing good works, in mortifying your body, in kindness towards the poor, and, as much as is in your power, in zeal to work for the honor of God and the salvation of souls : and I assure you that you will be happy after your death. But should you persist in the contrary, if you voluntarily commit sin, if you are indolent in the practice of good works, if you live only for your own pleasure and comfort, and are not charitable to the poor; I can only, according to the Gospel, foretell that you will not be able to say with St. Charles : " I am happy : " but you will cry with the rich man : " I am tormented in this flame " (Luke, xvi.).

II. St. Charles employed all his income for the honor of God and the comfort of the poor. The building and renewing of many churches, the founding of many convents and hospitals, the rich alms given to the poor, are proofs of it. Even today this speaks much more in favor of the holy Cardinal, than if he had given his possessions to his relatives and friends, or had employed them to build magnificent palaces, or to maintain useless animals, to purchase luxurious garments, to indulge in splendid banquets and vain amusements, as too many of his rank have done both before and after him, whose very names are forgotten. But this is the least portion of his merit.

Think of the praise and honor which the holy Cardinal received from God; the joy and glory that became his in heaven. What would it benefit him at this moment, if he had dissipated his wealth, as many others have done? He would not have gained the love either of God or of men; nor would he have been received into the glories of heaven; but on the contrary, he might have earned eternal shame and damnation. And what benefit will those one day have, who use their temporal possessions quite differently from St. Charles? What comfort, what advantage will it bring to them? Certainly, neither advantage nor comfort, but great responsibility, heavy punishment, because they have not used what God had given them, for the end and aim for which they received it. The conclusion from this you may draw yourself. "Not only the spiritual possessions come from God, but also the temporal," says St. Leo; "hence, God will justly require us to account for them; as He gives them to us not so much to possess, as to distribute them. We must consequently endeavor to make a right use or the gifts of the Almighty, so that the occasion of good works may not become the occasion for doing evil."

Novena in honor of Saint Charles Borromeo

O Glorious St. Charles! the father of the clergy, and the perfect model of holy prelates! thou art that good pastor, who, like thy divine Master, didst give up thy life for thy flock, if not by death, at least by the numerous sacrifices of thy painful mission. Thy sanctified life on earth was a spur to the most fervent, thy exemplary penance was a reproach to the slothful, and thy indefatigable zeal was the support of the Church. O great Prelate! since the glory of God and the salvation of souls are the only objects of solicitude to the blessed in heaven, vouchsafe to intercede for me now, and to offer up for the intention of this Novena, those fervent prayers which were so successful while thou wert on earth. (Here specify your requests.)

Thou art, O great St. Charles! among all the Saints of God, one in whose intercession I should most confide, because thou wert chosen by God to promote the interests of religion, by promoting the Christian education of youth. Thou wert, like Jesus Christ Himself, always accessible to little ones; for whom thou didst thyself break the bread of the word of God, and procure for them also the blessings of a Christian Education. To thee, then, I have recourse with confidence, beseeching thee to obtain for me the grace to profit of the advantages I enjoy, and for which I am so considerably indebted to thy zeal. Preserve me by thy prayers from the dangers of the World; obtain that my heart may be impressed with a lively horror of sin; a deep sense of my duty as a Christian; a sincere contempt for the opinion and false maxims of the world; an ardent love for God, and that holy fear which is the beginning of wisdom. Amen.


Quotes of St. Charles Borromeo


If we wish to make any progress in the service of God we must begin every day of our life with new eagerness. We must keep ourselves in the presence of God as much as possible and have no other view or end in all our actions but the divine honor.

- Saint Charles Borromeo

I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God's love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.

If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.

We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: "I will pray, and then I will understand."

This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.

- Saint Charles Borromeo