‘In this Together’

For the past eight years I have taught Criminal Law to first year law students, and throughout the unit we explore the complex reasons for the over-representations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples in the Australian criminal justice system.  At the commencement of the university semester students respond with typical stereotypical beliefs about the causes of this overrepresentation, these include: a perception that ATSI communities are inherently dysfunctional; ATSI people are prone to drinking and substance abuse; and ATSI communities are welfare dependent and unwilling to get out of the cycle of poverty.  
Over the course of the fourteen weeks we challenge these stereotypes by exploring the criminogenic effects of colonisation and past brutal discriminatory policies; in particular, the stolen generation.  We question whether the dismantling of colonisation and past discriminatory policy has eradicated deeply entrenched institutional racism, and how this continues to adversely impact on the material conditions and life chances of ATSI peoples.  We examine in detail the findings of the 1990 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RIADIC) and follow the tragic life trajectory of Malcom Smith a child of the stolen generation, and one of the ninety-nine deaths in custody investigated by the RCIADIC. We read numerous cases of subsequent deaths in custody, which still continue to frequently occur even 30 years after RCIADIC handed down its findings, and discover a continued failure by authorities to follow the recommendations. We explore the ubiquity of discretion throughout the criminal justice process, from policing to judicial sentencing, which has time and time again resulted in the over policing of certain offences in ATSI communities and the frequent handing down of maximum penalties at sentencing.  The incident captured on video a few days ago showing excessive use of force by a police officer against a young ATSI teenager in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, is an example of the how frequently ATSI people are charged and prosecuted for public order offences. At the completion of the semester there is satisfaction in knowing that many of the students, who when they complete their studies will become legal practitioners, policy advisors and possibly judicial officers, have developed a greater empathy and understanding for the plight of ATSI peoples.  It is the dismantling of these stereotypes and prejudices that I believe leads to the most profound change.
 
The death in custody of Rebecca Maher disturbingly shows how stereotyping that we may think is harmless, can have unintended and fatal consequences. Rebecca, aged 36 and a proud Wiradjuri woman, was detained by police at Maitland Police Station in NSW on 19 July 2016.  She was brought into the police station as an intoxicated person, and from CCTV footage she is seen in the police charge room to be stumbling, incoherent and having difficulties breathing.  There was no indication that her intoxication was caused by alcohol consumption.  Rebecca died about five hours later in a police cell as result of a drug toxicity, with fatal levels of the of drugs prescribed for her anxiety, as well as methadone which she had been using to deal with a heroin addiction.  The Coronial Inquest heard evidence that the police officers involved did not search Rebecca because they feared she was carrying an infectious disease, a fear which was unfounded. The Acting Coroner held that if the police officers had conducted a simple pat down search, it was likely they would have found the pill bottles in her leg pockets and this would have alerted them to the cause of her intoxication and the need to call an ambulance. The inquest also heard evidence that prior to being put into the police cell, officers rejected her request for food, another breach under the legislation which requires intoxicated persons in custody be provided with sustenance.  Evidence was also submitted showing one of the officers in the charge room mimicking Rebecca’s stumbling as the behaviour of a chimpanzee.  At 1.34 a.m, CCTV footage in the cell shows Rebecca leaned on the mattress, lay down on her right side with her back to the CCTV camera.  Her right arm was above her head and her knees were tucked up slightly.  She remained in this position until she was found dead at 5.51a.m in the morning.  The Acting Coroner found that police officers failed to follow procedure by conducting appropriate checks of the cell and incorrectly detained Rebecca under the legislation which required an incoherent person be given a reasonable opportunity to contact a responsible person.  No recommendation was made to lay criminal charges against the police officers involved.  Her tragic death could have easily been prevented had she been treated with dignity.
 
In conversations with friends and parishioners I often come across this kind of stereotyping and a perception that ATSI offenders should be harshly prosecuted for their offending These are people who have lovingly dedicated their lives to their families and serving the Church, and as migrants have often overcome prejudice to prove themselves as valued members of the Australian community; however, they cannot see how misguided and detrimental their attitudes can be. Unlike the students I teach over course of the semester, there is not the benefit of exploring these complex and difficult issues, and I am not sure even then, their views can be dissuaded.  However, Scripture is our best teacher. We read Jesus conversing with those who others consider unclean, sinners and marginalised.  He challenges the legalism and hypocrisy of religious leaders and the disciples who believe that the people Jesus interacts with are not worthy of God’s love and care.  He tells them that their lives matter, and in doing so, we witness new possibilities and the transformation that such love can bring. So, as Reconciliation Week comes to a close, may St Maria of Paris’ reflection on the Last Judgement fill us with awe:

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

Monica Ibrahim

Sorry Day

We feel deep gratitude and blessings that our young sisters and neighbours are proud Australian Indigenous women of the Wiradjuri Nation. They also share with us as sisters in the Maronite Church and are part of our Maronite Parish community. Today in Australia is Sorry Day and they share this lovely reflection with us. 

‘I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;

    I will guide them and restore comfort’ Isaiah 57:18

National Sorry Day has been held every 26 May since 1998. This day acknowledges the many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families due to the policies of past governments and the step towards reconciliation for our First Nations’ people. 

These children, who are known as the Stolen Generations, have suffered untold hardship. The past still impacts us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians due to the permanent scarring of these policies. Although we can’t change the past, we can address the past by listening as a community with open minds, to commemorate those affected and listen to their stories in order to reconcile.

As Catholics and as Maronite’s we are called to share in the process of Reconciliation in accordance with the values and mission of the Church. In the Social Justice Statement for 2006 “The Heart of our Country: Dignity and Justice for our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters”, the Australian Bishops identified the areas where Australian Catholics are called to reach out to the Indigenous community. They call us to ensure the preservation of Indigenous cultures and to keep working for an inclusive multicultural Australia. To accept the rich Indigenous culture, traditions and values that align with those of Jesus and all his people. To learn to restore and care for the environment through the Indigenous knowledge.

Today on 26 May we ask you join with us to pray as a Maronite and Catholic community in Australia for the continued path of Reconciliation and for all indigenous communities throughout the world :

Holy Father, God of Love 

We thank you for the survival of Indigenous cultures. 

Our hope is in you because your son Jesus Christ came to reconcile the world to you. 

Teach us to respect all cultures. 

Help us to bring about spiritual and social change.

Amen


Written by Kristen and Paige

Responding to Institutional Abuse

Certain allegations have emerged about abuse within Mission De Vie which is under the auspice of the Maronite Church in Lebanon. We are in no position to know the truth of any of those allegations and can’t comment on them.  However, experiences from around the world have demonstrated how sinister abuse in institutions can be.  In many parts of the world the Catholic Church is still dealing with the devastation amongst many of the religious orders and institutions in which these crimes have been committed. There have been a number of important lessons that have been learnt from situations in other countries which have uncovered institutional abuse against children and others forms of abuse around the world that we think are useful to be reminded about now.

  1. As a Church we must demand the highest standards of ourselves, especially when it comes to child protection. We must take complaints seriously and ensure the highest regulations of ourselves. We must also submit to the independent regulations which have been put in place for the protection of children in the civil societies we live in. Abuse does happen in the Church and it is unacceptable
  2. Voices calling out abuse must be supported, and we must demand they be heard. Natural justice, investigation and transparency are essential to uncovering the truth. Political interference in the judicial process and trial by media must be avoided. The media in particular must be careful in reporting witness testimony before it has been given in court and before investigations are concluded so as not to taint evidence or cause the victim further pain. We must remember that everyone deserves the right to due process and natural justice, including those accused. That is fundamental to uncovering the truth and protecting victims, and potential victims. Due process also requires that the judiciary is free from political and other influences and corruption. We accept that things become difficult when the allegations involve people of high profile and when the media and others are ready to decide cases even before the law has. Legislators must refrain from interfering with any process before investigations are concluded.
  1. What matters is the truth and it matters beyond reputations, including the reputation of the Church. Investigations of institutionalised abuse have revealed that so often the abuse continued because victims, especially children were not heard, because those that knew about the abuse remained silent, because those who reported it were not believed or because complaints were never investigated. Even more often, it was because people in power were more concerned about their own reputation and the reputation of the institution or the Church, than concerned with doing what was right and protecting children or victims.
  1. Abuse, especially at the hands of those in positions in power is nothing new and is not confined to the walls of the Church. Institutions are susceptible to it for all sorts of reasons which we are now learning about. It is made even worse in those developing countries that lack regulations or where there is lack of enforcement or where institutions are closely aligned to the political or judicial system and can influence it. It is also shocking, for some beyond belief and it challenges everything they have ever trusted. For the faithful, it is a huge betrayal and it takes time to process. Education is key.
  1. We must avoid defensiveness and the rhetoric of defensiveness. To the amazement of many, sometimes even ourselves, we stay in our Church, even when we are surrounded by the stench that is overwhelming us. We believe the Church and our spiritual lives transcend beyond the stench and beyond the actions of individuals. The collateral damage is the people who leave the Church because of the deep sense of disgust and betrayal they feel and we don’t judge them for that. But for those of us that remain in the Church, this is no time to remain silent. Avoid seeing things as an attack or a persecution of the Church. Rather anything that reveals the truth in fairness and in process must be welcomed. We must demand it before anyone, because that is what Christ demands of us – to protect those who cannot protect themselves and be a voice for those who are not heard and are hurt or marginalised.
  1. Today we pray for all those who have experienced sexual abuse, especially by those in positions of power in our own Church. We pray for all those who have to endure the consequences of it in fear and we pray, in this season of the Birth of Our Lord, we pray that the infant babe will protect all children.

Amen


Warning:

We understand that some readers may themselves have experienced sexual assault.
Be careful about disclosing your experience on social media. Others may not understand the issue causing you further distress. If this article causes you distress seek help from a rape or abuse service provider in your area.

Suffering and Sanctification

While in South Africa I visited many of the tourist hot spots and landmarks, but in the midst of the incredible wilderness and beauty, there was no ignoring the poverty and suffering.  We went on a safari and saw elephants, cheetahs, lions, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests and Springboks. It was remarkable to see these animals in their natural
habitat, but also sad to learn that animals such as rhinos were being poached at higher rates every year. We may be one of the last generations to see the white rhino. Not only people are suffering, but the creatures that God created for us are also suffering at the hands of humanity and for material gain. 

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The White Rhino. Copyright LivingMaronite

However, for all the suffering, we also witnessed sanctification. We witnessed brave people on patrols, who were earning less than the minimum wage, driving around the national park to watch out and protect the rhinos. They themselves did not have a safe vehicle to protect them from the predators and they were putting their own lives on the line.

We visited townships, which were home to people of colour and which were severely underdeveloped. These were the original shanty towns of the apartheid era. We visited Soweto in Johannesburg and it was the most humbling trip of my life by far. About 40% of Joburg residents live in Soweto, and a total of about 1.2 million people live there. We visited the developed side then a street down, within a couple of meters were located tin houses. My eyes were glued to the scene. The road was full of potholes, there was
rubbish and rubble everywhere and men with large carts in the middle of the road collecting plastic to earn a couple of cents. There were goats roaming around and children playing with an overused soccer ball in a dirt field. Many people were standing behind the bars of the small grocery store so that the shop keeper would hand the shopper their items through a small hole. There were signs for abortions valued at 100 Rand ($10). 

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Soweto. Copyright LivingMaronite

Our guide showed us the cooling towers set in Soweto which were not used to provide the power for the poor of the township, but rather the main city. The poor received no power, but they received the pollution. The day we visited the cooling towers had been shut down and people were bungee jumping from them. They looked awesome as the people have painted over them. 

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Soweto Towers. Copyright LivingMaronite

We were deeply moved when we walked amongst the people who lived in the tin houses. It was dusty, there was an unpleasant smell, the tin houses were rusty and old. At first glance a lot of people would sprint back to their cars and drive off, but these people emerged from their houses and they greeted us with happiness.  Soon the women
returned to their laundries where they hand washed the clothes and they collected water from the one tap which they all shared. The kids remained with us and were a cheeky bunch, they ran their hands through our hair (they’re only exposed to thick, curly, short hair), they held our hands and saw how their dark skin was against ours.  They took our sunglasses and tried them on, dancing around in happiness. They were covered in dirt, tattered clothes and needed to bath, but they don’t have that luxury. They had to steal electricity just to have light at night. At night, the mozzies eat at them and they don’t have screens to protect them. They swelter in summer and share 1 bathroom between many families. Sewerage ran exposed in the main dirt road and some people did not have shoes. It was absolute poverty. 

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Poverty. Copyright LivingMaronite

I went back to my hotel that night looking at my dinner with tears. How did we deserve the luxury when other people were suffering? They barely scraped by. They didn’t even have the basic necessities that we have.

Yet these people showed me that with suffering, there is holiness. We met people working tirelessly to lift these people out of their suffering and advocating to give them better living conditions. As our guide was walking us through, the people would greet him with respect and happiness. He was well regarded because he was so generous and compassionate, and he had made it his life to help these people. The tour I took gave a percentage of the payment to the township and there were other tours inside of Soweto that also donated to the townships like Nelson Mandela’s house. Many tour guides only accepted donations. Qantas flight staff used their 50kg weight limit to pack clothes for donation. There were a lot of people trying to help and these were the fruits of suffering. 

Suffering in the world give us the opportunity become holy. The people who give their lives for the welfare of others are truly sanctified. We witnessed that people could have moved out of the township and given themselves a better life, but they stayed out of love. 

– Emily Dib

Hearing the voice of God

We open the liturgical year with two Sundays during which we prepare ourselves for a great celebration. The first Sunday of the liturgical year is the consecration of the church which took place last week. In the second Sunday of the liturgical year (this week), we focus on the renewal of the church.

The renewal of the church is a celebration of a new covenant, that is Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity.

(“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.) Luke 22:19-20

The old covenant was with Abraham, who heard the voice of God telling him that he should sacrifice his only son. When God saw Abraham’s commitment to the faith, as Abraham had followed God’s command, he was told to sacrifice an animal instead of his son. This covenant was renewed with Jesus, who came to save us through his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Through the birth and death of our Lord, the church is renewed.

“The cup and bread. Great and awesome Sacrifice! Sinners, come receive the flesh and blood of Christ for the pardon of your sins.” – Entrance Hymn for the Consecration and Renewal of the Church.

How is the renewal of the church relevant to our lives today?

Much like how Abraham heard the voice of God and committed himself to the faith, we too must reflect, pray and meditate, to hear God speaking to us. We are called to reflect on our individual lives this week, renewing our faith and contemplating the parts of our lives that we would like to change and make better. For example, taking up daily prayer, helping with the community or examining your conscience in preparation for confession. These are a few of many suggestions for you to renew your spiritual life.

Just as the old covenant is renewed and a new covenant is formed, we as Maronite’s must strive to renew our faith and spiritual lives. Our goal is to be better Christians, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and teachers. We do this by examining the current state of our lives, whether it be at our homes, in the workplace, or out in public, and seeking the voice of God to guide us, as individuals and as a collective of Christians into a new and positive liturgical year.

Mikhael Maksisi

What the Lebanese Revolution can teach us on this Renewal Sunday

This Sunday in the Maronite Church we commemorate Renewal Sunday in preparation for the start of the liturgical year.

Over the past 24 days we have been witnessing a revolution in Lebanon. As a child of the diaspora, I know well that the problems in Lebanon stretch back further than 30 years. I was born in Australia and my story is a familiar one. My father, like many of his generation, came to Australia nearly 50 years ago, even before the civil war, for a better life and greater opportunities.

One of the triggers of the Lebanese revolution were bushfires. Anger raged among the people as it was revealed that the Lebanese government had failed to maintain the air equipment that was needed to fight the fires. In the last month fires have also raged in the Amazon and California. This week in already drought-stricken parts of Australia we have also witnessed bushfires. In NSW over 150 homes have been lost, three people killed and almost an entire native koala population has been wiped out.

Creation is God’s revelation to us and right now Creation is crying out in pain for the damage we are causing to it. In the developed world, we continue to live in denial of the damage we are causing.

Something has awoken in the Lebanon. It is no secret that developing countries will be the first to feel the effects of climate change, pollution and degradation. Already Lebanon is experiencing an increased rate of environment related cancers and is drowning in its own waste.

Over the past two weeks, the world has witnessed as this small nation rises and demands better of its politicians. Collective voices are demanding change which will bring an end to the corruption and the exploitation of people and the environment. We have watched as people take their own initiatives to clean waste and recycle. Lebanon has become a message to all of us around the world. The entire world needs change and renewal, because all around the fires of destruction are raging.

Indigenous Australian’s long managed the environments using fire. They controlled fire rather than letting it control them. They used fire as a means to renew the bush rather than destroy it. We are all looking to Lebanon and are watching and willing, that in peace control the fires of rage and transform it into genuine change. The revolution is giving us all hope to demand the changes that all the world needs.

On this Renewal Sunday, let us pray and seek renewal from the burning fire of the Holy Spirit. Guided by the Spirit’s wisdom, let us seek renewal for ourselves, our families, our Church, our nations and most importantly Creation.

Women in the Pentecost Gospels

A Maronite lesson in the Church we are called to be

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and throughout the season we hear Gospels and Epistles with messages to the Church. As Pentecost comes to an end, we hear a series of Gospel’s whose central characters are women. While the Gospel’s can speak to each of us individually about the kind of person we should be, these Gospel’s are chosen to speak to us collectively about the Church we are called to be, a Church that is called to decrease in order to increase.

In the Syriac Rabbula Gospel icon for Pentecost, we see the inclusion of Mary in a prominent position.  Mary is not specifically mentioned in the scene in Acts 2, however she is mentioned as being with the Apostles earlier in Acts 1:14. In Syriac thought, Mary herself is a type of  Church. As the Pentecost Gospel’s unfold, we see other women in the Gospels are also types of Church.

On the twelfth Sunday of Pentecost we are introduced to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The Gospel begins with Jesus leaving “that place” and going to the region of Tyre and Sidon. The place he was leaving was where he had been challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about the breaking of the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:1). The leaders and experts of the Church are burdened and preoccupied with the laws and  it is against this exchange, that we are introduced to the Canaanite woman, a foreigner. The Canaanite woman’s call to Jesus demonstrates immediately that she knew who he was. She recognised he is Lord, the Son of David and that he is the one that can heal her demon possessed daughter who is suffering terribly. The disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away and Jesus, in what can only be regarded a humiliating rebuke, tells the woman that he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.

When our faith is challenged and we are

humiliated our instinct is to react and demand justice for ourselves. Instead, even when the Canaanite women was compared to a dog and humiliated and marginalised, her concern remained for her daughter’s healing. She knew that Christ was the path to that healing and she continued to beg him for it.

In the season of Pentecost,  the Canaanite woman becomes an example to us all about the Church we are called to be. The Canaanite woman is not preoccupied with the law, rather she understands the law and with that understanding approaches Christ in love, faith and humility.

With so much happening in our world today, it is easy for us to consider ourselves persecuted and react with anger and demand justice for ourselves, forgetting those who are suffering terribly. It is easier to speak of the “rules” like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and demand that they not be broken. The Canaanite woman does not react this way, instead she unravels her beauty in humility and meekness and becomes an example of faith. She kneels before Christ and begs him, not for herself, but for her daughter who needs healing. To be the Canaanite woman is counter intuitive to how we think the Church should conduct herself in society. Why shouldn’t the Church stand up and defend itself? Against our intuition, we as a Church do not need to demand justice for ourselves, rather we need to have faith that our love and humility can lead others to be healed by Christ.

On the thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost, in the Gospel of Luke 8:1-15 we hear about the women who were accompanying Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna ‘and many others who provided for them out of their resources.’

These were women who were healed by Christ are now devoting their resources to accompany Christ, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

The mission of the Church is a central theme in Pentecost. The Church is called to devote its resources to preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The women in this Gospel are testimony to the fact that Christ came for all of our healing and salvation. This is the very mission of the Church, to proclaim that good news.  In the season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of redemption to the world. As a Church, the message is simple, Christ came for our healing and our salvation and like the women who were healed, we as a Church also stand witness to that and are called to proclaim that. These women have left everything to be with Christ and join him on his mission.

Similarly, on the fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost we hear the story of Mary and Martha. Mary leaves everything to be with Christ. Like the other Gospels, Luke 10:38-42 opens with Christ, accompanied by others, continuing a journey.

Martha like the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel is burdened, “anxious and worried about many things” even though Christ came to lift that burden and fulfil the law.

The message to us as a Church, is we need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. The Church is more than an ideology. When as a Church, we become disciples of the ideology and are consumed by anxiety, we forget the very essence of who we are. Christ is at our centre and as a Church, like Mary, all we need is to be with him.

This year, the liturgical cycle did not proceed to the fifteenth week of Pentecost, yet in that week we would hear the Gospel of the sinful woman who found repentance through Christ. (Luke 7:36-50)

The Maronite  Pentecost lectionary gives as a typology of women to inspire us to the Church we are called to be, a Church of faith, love and humility. A Church on a missionary journey who is accompanied and healed by Christ himself.

In the words of the Liturgy at Pentecost let us remember:

Jesus is the faithful Groom
and we are the Church, his Bride.
He loves us and keeps us in the palm of his hand.
Our betrothal prophets blessed,
and our vows apostles wrote,
and when martyrs shed their blood
the promise was sealed.

Amen

Saint Charbel – An Inspiration to Holiness

If the world was to ask us what St Charbel famous for what would we answer? He did not come from a noble family and was not a renowned theologian or philosopher. No dignitaries were present at his funeral.

What is it that makes St Charbel so special? Holiness! Plain and simple holiness. This holy man who is the very blood of our blood and bones of our bones, achieved sainthood by living the simplest life in prayer, humility and work. His eyes were always gazing at the floor but his heart, mind and soul were always lifted to the Lord. He did not concern himself with what the world would think of him, rather he concerned himself only with the Lord.

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St Charbel Statue in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel’s life may seem to the world unremarkable. He was born on 8 May 1828 in the village of Bekaafra, high in the mountains of Lebanon.  His Maronite parents Antoun Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac named him Youssef Antoun Makhlouf. His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving Brigitta a widow with five children. She later remarried a man who joined the priesthood and became the parish priest of the village.

In 1851 at age of 23, Youssef left his family and entered the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. It is at that monastery that the famous Maronite icon of  Our Lady of Elige is located. One could imagine Youssef spending many nights praying before an icon, seeking the intercession of Our Lady.  Later, Youssef transferred to the Monastery of St Maroun in Annaya, where he took the name Charbel, after the Christian martyr, Saint Charbel of Edessa.

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St Charbel church in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

Charbel then began studies at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kiffan. One of his professors at the seminary was Father Nehmtallah Kassab, who later became the Maronite saint, Nehmtallah Hardinie.

Charbel was ordained a priest in 1859 at 31 years of age. He was sent back to the Saint Maroun Monastery, where he lived a life of asceticism. In 1875, Charbel was given permission to live as a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. He lived for the next 23 years as a solitary hermit.

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St Charbel’s Room in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

On Christmas eve, 1898, while serving the liturgy, Charbel collapsed at the altar and died from a stroke at the age of 70. His death was a quiet affair and his funeral was attended by only four monks. It was only long after his death, when many miracles were attributed to him, that St Charbel became known. He was canonized as the first Maronite Saint on 9 October 1977, by Pope Paul VI.

For those not familiar with the area, Baakafra, where St Charbel grew up, is located above the Qadisha valley in North Lebanon.  Nearby, in Becharre, are located the Cedars of God. Over time, this entire secluded area has become a refuge and sanctuary for many Maronites and the perfect place to search for God. It is no surprise that St Charbel, who was born high in Baakafra, developed a love of silence. St Charbel did not rely on words to attain sainthood. He would have come to know silence well in his 23 years in solitude at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. It is that great simple, contemplative silence which has marked Maronite asceticism for generations and it is that silence which the world needs now more than ever.

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Ba’kafra, Lebanon where St Charbel grew up. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

The desire to want nothing (not even words), but to be with our Lord, has been the way of the Syriac monastics from the beginning. No doubt, if St Charbel was here with us now, he would inspire us to turn off social media and phones and all the many distractions of our time and grasp just a moment to build up our souls in contemplation of God.

Contemplation is not only for monks, like St Charbel we can look to detach from the things in this world, the things keeping us away from God. We can all regularly abstain and fast and moderate the things of the flesh. We can be inspired by St Charbel to have a preparedness to pilgrim to a place of holiness deep within ourselves where in solitude we can just be with God and be ‘wakeful and pray’. (Matt. 26:41). We all need to carve out our own space and our own time and find silence in the noise of each day.

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St Charbel’s robe. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel died while serving the liturgy and there can be no doubt that the liturgy would have been the centre of St Charbel’s life.  God uses the physical to make known the intelligible. God the Son clothed himself in humanity so we may come to know him. In the same way, the liturgy raises our mind to the spiritual realities. Like the incarnation in which the invisible Word of God became visible, our liturgy inspires us to deepen the spiritual dimensions of our lives. Be inspired by St Charbel to visit the liturgy regularly. The liturgy is our ladder to salvation and at its summit is the life-giving Eucharist.

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Burial place of St Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

So as the Maronite Church celebrates this great feast and the bells in the mountains of Baakafra ring out in joy to the rest of the world, we look to St Charbel to inspire the world by his example of simplicity and humility to strive for holiness.

Amen


Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon

The Earth, our Mother and our Child

“Lord, you have made so many things!
How wisely you made them all!
The earth is filled with your creatures.
There is the ocean, large and wide,
Where countless creatures live.”
Psalms 104: 24-25

When God made the humble butterfly, I wonder whether it was while painting its wings in bursting watercolours, or if it was while teaching it to fly, that God decided to give butterflies the ability to stop time itself. I wonder if butterflies know their power. Such a small creature can transform a mind filled with a chaotic storm of thoughts and emotions to a calm river. Never has there ever been a person that has not caught themself stopping whatever task it was that was occupying them only to watch this graceful insect dance in the air before them.

And I wonder if it was while God was planting the Lebanese cedars that God decided to loan it wisdom. Or was it while shaking the snow off its branches that God decided to give it age and grace beyond human capacities. I often ponder what the cedars would show us if they could. I wonder if they remember all the wars, the invasions and independances. Did God give us the cedars as a sign of solidarity? That no matter snow or shine, regardless of if there is war or peace, like the cedars, God would remain?

And the soil beneath our feet; why did God decide it necessary to give the earth a foundation to grow on? Why must we bury seeds in the dirt to grow a rose? Why can we not grow a garden on a rock or in a pond? I wonder if God was trying to tell us that things can only grow from a place that has been nourished with the right things. I wonder if that is a metaphor for our very souls; that we as people can only grow if we prepare ourselves for growth – if we place ourselves in an environment that will allow us to grow.

Finally, do you not think it funny that God, a fountain of boundless knowledge – who knew we would destroy such a perfectly crafted world – would still decide to place it in our hands? It is like spending hours burning and moulding sand into a crystal glass, and then placing it in the hands of a toddler and expecting it not to break. But God trusted us. Even though God knew the world could very well break within our hands, God also knew the world could be made to grow in those same hands. We are a people of growing knowledge; and we have been gifted with the ability to learn and create.

So may someone tell me why in the process of leading the human race to the future, we have left the earth that we call home, behind? The earth loved us before we were civilised, so why have we disrespected it in return? If not for ourselves and for the future generations, we should at least respect our God enough to look after the world that God loved into existence.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Jennifer Khoury