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THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXTRACT FROM THE 1996 EDITION OF
THE RULE AND CONSTITUTIONS BOOKLET

WHAT IS RELIGIOUS LIFE?

When people think of Religious life they often have in mind the actual Religious themselves - the Priests, the Brothers and Sisters. However, we are all Religious; all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. But being this does not mean that we are bound to pray for many hours each day or commit ourselves to an unrealistic number of charitable works, and so on. That is not what Religious Life is all about. It is something fundamentally more basic, something much, much, more comprehensive.

What is Religious Life? The Programme of Religious Life is attaining perfection, as described in the Gospel. What does perfection mean? Our Lord Jesus Christ told us to be "perfect, just as His Heavenly Father is Perfect." (Matt. 5:48) However, this is not possible - except by the Grace of God. Then all is possible. The goal of Religious Life is to be able to live - to the best of one's ability - a way of life which is under the heavenly, inspired guidance of the Church.

Religious Life is not only a way of life, but, more, it is based on an attitude in imitation of the Life of Christ, a Life of Perseverance. It generally takes a lifetime to finally achieve this goal.

Religious Life does not mean living a life withdrawn from the world. It is a Religious State within the Church, within the world. It is to this state that Our Lord's Words - "You are the Light for the World" (Matt.5:14)- can most readily be applied. In Religious Life one does not stand aside from the problems of the world. The Salvation of the World is the deepest concern of Religious. They cannot adopt the attitude that they are free from the world's harshness. They cannot be indifferent. Indeed, they are the answer, living and tangible - to the cries of human perplexity and distress.

WHY A RELIGIOUS LIFE?

The Religious Life which exists today is organised in accordance with the Laws of the Church. These Laws are derived, primarily, from the Gospel - adopting Jesus' Way of Life and making it a norm by which to live. But why should one follow this Way? Why have so many done so in the past? It was and is the desire to imitate Christ through a personal attachment to Him. It is the answer to the invitation: "Follow Me." (Matt.19:21)

The source of a happy Religious Life is a personal love for Jesus and Mary which, in turn, urges Catholics to embrace a voluntary way of life of which He is the example; which He has revealed as the best means of following Him closely and of always being with Him. In any formation of Religious Life we must learn to live together as the Apostles did with Jesus; to leave all in order to follow Him; to love one another for His Sake. Thus we must live the "Evangelical Life" which is the fundamental duty of all Religious. 

GENERAL CONDITIONS

FOR A PERFECT EVANGELICAL LIFE

1. We must mould our whole existence, our life and attitude to life, so that it is in accordance to the example set us by Christ, as portrayed through the Gospels.

2. To live the Evangelical Life well demands that one has the virtues of a child of God:-

(a) an unlimited love of the Father.
(b) unlimited trust.
(c) unconditional surrender.
3. Tied in with this is the requirement of a completely fraternal life with the desire to love all men as Jesus loves them and, following His Example, to give ourselves unceasingly for them.

4. Evangelical Life requires a conversion, a radical change of heart in thought, affections and actions.

It would be impractical to lay down a specified time in which to achieve this, as it is usually a lifelong endeavour. However, the time has come for mankind to realise that values and attitudes are changing - mostly for the worse. How many Catholics reading this could say that they are striving to follow Christ, or are they not rather motivated by the changing trends of the world? Does mankind in general heed the call, "Come follow me", or do those hearing the call reply: "No", or, "Yes I will come, but not yet"?

WHY A NEW ORDER?

There are many Orders which already exist within the Church today, each with their own special characteristics which seem to cover virtually every possible situation. With this in mind, we may well ask why is there a need for a new Order - a new means of living the Consecrated Life? Surely there is one already in existence which would be sufficient even for today's needs?

The Church has gone through many rough periods in its 2000 year existence but, no matter what troubles existed in the past, it has always come through with flying colours. In most cases it was through the guidance of a particular person that the Church was shown the way. St. Anthony, St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of the Child Jesus, are just a few of the great souls who, through their lives, showed in what way the Mystical Body had to adapt itself. Yet again the time has come when the Mystical Body of Christ is in dire need of assistance. She needs a light - a beacon - to lead Her through the confusion that exists within Her as well as the world, today.

So, what is the Way? It is the comprehensive Religious Life of the new Orders and Congregations being established within the Church during these times - notably the Order of Saint Charbel. This Order, and these Congregations, are preparing to re-evangelise the Mystical Body of Christ. They are guiding lights, not just for Religious Priests, Brothers and Sisters, but through their Third Branches for the whole world. They provide the way by which the laity can achieve deep perfection.

What is it that makes the Order of Saint Charbel different from the Orders and Congregations which currently exist within the Church? One of the major differences is that it takes something of the spirit of the respective Rules of St. Benedict and St. Francis - combining the deeper contemplative life of the Benedictines with the practical, active, lifestyle of the Franciscans, which, together, unite a life of Prayer with a life of active Spiritual and Corporal Works. That is, a life which is half contemplative; half active. Apart from this, the Order is quite similar to the traditional Orders in approach and method except, possibly, for the fact that the lifestyle is not as regimented as were the earlier ones. 

It is within the Third Branch that other significant differences become more apparent. There are many Third Branches, but never before in the history of the Church has anyone tried to implement a third branch which has the intent to make the laity live the Evangelical Counsels according to their state. Never before has anyone incorporated a Married Priesthood within a Religious Order.

COMMUNITY LIFE

A LIFE BASED UPON THE GOSPEL

People have been living in communities for many thousands of years. Man, by his very nature, is drawn to the community way of life in his pursuit of physical and/or spiritual security.

If this is the case, it seems only natural that the first Christians, surrounded by an overwhelming majority of more-established pagan religions, should join together in a bond of the same thoughts and desires - to live the same type of Life as that instructed by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only were these first Christians inspired by the Holy Ghost, but they had the Apostles to teach them - the Apostles being the very men who experienced the Gospel through their Master, Jesus Christ, at first hand, for three years. What better source could possibly exist?

So, with the Spirit and Instructions from the Apostles, the first Christians lived a common life - living with one mind - having all things in common - praying with one accord - as one in heart and soul. All things were common to them. True, they had to overcome difficulties, but they prayed, and were guided by the Holy Spirit. They lived and prayed together, thus becoming a model for all those in the future who might wish to live the Religious Life.

"The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles; to the brotherhood; to the breaking of bread; and to the prayers. The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone. The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves, according to what each one needed. They went as a body to the Temple every day, but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved." Acts 2:42-47 (Quotation of Holy Father - Communities - L'Osservatore Romano - Ref. APPENDIX H)

SAINT CHARBEL

Saint Charbel is from the Maronite Church, which takes its name from Saint Maron, an anchorite from the vicinity of Antioch, who, in the second half of the fourth century, withdrew from the world into a monastery not far from Apamea in Syria to live with and for God, as did those men of Eastern monasticism who were thirsty for God and who were called "the intoxicated of God".

Maron was famous for his holiness and through him the Lord granted many healing graces, both physical and spiritual, to the great number of people who went to him. Maron, at the price of both his life and that of his monks, fervently defended the Catholic doctrine as solemnly defined in the ecumenical Councils held in that region, and which was defended by the Supreme Pontiff.

Maronite history is marked by loyalty to the Pope; by martyrdom in its defence and by the almost visceral love for religious freedom and tolerance. The willingness to welcome religious minorities that have made Lebanon their refuge is an essential part of the Maronite traits which have made Lebanon the homeland of minorities. Both Christians and non-Christians recognise these characteristics of the Maronite Church and her leading role in Lebanon. An eminent position has always been reserved for the Maronite Patriarch, as a symbol of national unity and as guardian of the characteristics of Lebanon.

The Maronite Church has a patriarchal structure. The Patriarch bears the title of "Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East". Antioch was the See of Saint Peter before Rome. 

Saint Charbel was born Joseph Makhlouf on the 8th May, 1828, the fifth child of a rather ordinary peasant family which lived in the small village of Beqa' Kafra in the Lebanese mountains.

As a child Joseph was strongly drawn towards the Religious side of life. Often he would pray and contemplate the deeper meaning of life. This did not prevent him from growing up normally, but, rather, made him a model child. However, when a child, a goal was placed in his mind and heart - to serve God through the Priesthood. This became his prime ambition during his youthful years. Although a worthwhile ambition, his family did not agree with it, and thus he was forced to submit humbly to their will, even though inside he was drawn more and more towards a life of prayer; the life of a monk.

This urge increased more and more until, finally, he left his home and family and went to the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. Because of his true devotion he was admitted, changing his name to 'Charbel'. He was twenty-three years old.

This was the first step towards the goal destined for this young man. After finishing his first year of novitiate he asked to be transferred to the Monastery of St. Maron at Annaya. This was because he wished to detach himself from all worldly thoughts - working solely for God - and this Monastery offered better opportunities for seclusion. His request was granted.

There he portrayed a life which seems - to us, today - incredible. He prayed for hours at a time; gave himself penances which even the others thought harsh; obeyed all those around him; ate one meal a day - usually the left overs - and drank only water.

This was his life, and it was the life he lived until his death. It was the road he followed because it was the road God wanted him to follow.

Saint Charbel's life was based upon the life of Saint Anthony of Egypt, the Father of Monks. He mirrored his life upon that of Saint Anthony, abandoning family and goods - living a life in attentiveness to God. The more deeply he based his life upon Saint Anthony and the other Fathers, the more he buried himself in a life of Prayer.

Saint Charbel knew the necessity of prayer, for with true prayer one can overcome all the trials which the world can present. Hour after hour he knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, living according to the precept of the Lord: "Pray without ceasing." He venerated the Mother of God with so much love that his heart became like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Saint Charbel's humility and charity are something all can imitate if they wish. Not only did he, like a child, obey his superiors, but, because he saw Christ in those around him, he did his best to obey them completely also.

The Elders used to say that a monk must not judge others or revile them, be curious, jealous or backbiting, malign his neighbour in thought or word, nor look into his affairs. These are the ideals which St. Charbel followed. It was not easy, but with prayer he was able to overcome all temptations. By making these aims their own, with the help of prayer, all may follow in his footsteps.

In the Monastery at Annaya, at the end of his novitiate, he made his Monastic Profession and took the Solemn Vows of Obedience, Chastity and Poverty. This was in 1853, when he was 25 years old. From here he was sent to the Monastery of Saint Cyprian of Kfifane where he studied for six years. During his studies he was always among the first in his class, primarily because of his discipline and love for what he was doing.

After finishing his Philosophical and Theological studies, Brother Charbel was ordained a Priest on the 23rd July, 1858 at Bkerke. Afterwards he received instructions from his superiors to return to the Monastery of St. Maron, at Annaya.

It was here that he spent sixteen years of community life, where he became the "servant of the servants." He respected all, even the least significant in the community. He led a life of work and prayer, always choosing those tasks that were most toilsome and lowly. His continuous prayer, prolonged fasting, acts of mortification - and his union with God - made him an Angel in human form.

But this is not the end of Saint Charbel's life. The next level of achievement along his road to seeking his goal was that of solitude - the life of a hermit. He could not become a hermit immediately, however, because becoming a hermit is extremely difficult. First, a hermit must be like a piece of metal - tempered and strengthened to remove all impurities - and this is done through community life. At first Saint Charbel was refused permission to be a hermit - not because he wasn't ready, but because all Superiors discourage their members from leaving the community. It was another test along the way. However, with patience and humility, he prayed. Again he asked permission which was granted this time, but not without the help of a heavenly Miracle.

In 1875 he was authorised to enter the hermitage which was dependent upon the Monastery of Annaya. A hermit's life is most difficult, but, through prayer, Saint Charbel took all in his stride. Saint Charbel was a hermit for 23 years and he achieved his goal of living for Christ as perfectly as he could.

At 11.00 a.m. on the 16th December, 1898, while saying Mass, Saint Charbel was struck by paralysis during the Consecration. He was carried to his cell where, for eight days, still paralysed and in great pain, he kept repeating the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

On Christmas Eve, 24th December, 1898, he died, at the age of 70 years. He was buried, but the body was not embalmed - nor placed in a coffin - which was the custom of the area.

It was only after his death that the rest of the world began to know about him. Almost immediately miracles began to happen. For 45 days and nights after he was buried a strange light flickered around his grave. Three months after his death the Patriarch, due to reports of many miracles, ordered that Saint Charbel's body be exhumed.

When the body was exhumed it was found to be floating in a watery oil. It was incorrupt and the clothes were intact. The body was reburied, in a coffin, in the Monastery. The miracles continued. Twenty-nine years after his death the tomb was again opened and the body was found to be still incorrupt.

Many thousands of people have been cured through his relics, especially the oil which still flows, even today, from his body. And the cures continue to this day!

Saint Charbel was beatified on December 5th 1965 by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI. The ceremony took place at the closing of the Second Vatican Council. On October 9th, 1977, during the World Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI canonised Blessed Charbel among the ranks of the Saints.

WHY SAINT CHARBEL?

Saint Charbel is the model of this Order. He was a model of Christian unity - a man of peace - of contemplation - and of corporal works. He was the perfect example of piety, love and faith; renouncing all the riches of the world; a perfect example of chastity and obedience; a living marvel of God. He showed the world where prayer and physical works become one and the same; where prayer and contemplation were the work of God; and the work of God "to help his fellow man" become a prayer. This is the basis of the Order, amalgamating the two together - the way Christ wished us to live.

The Church in Lebanon is coming out of isolation and rediscovering the authentic expression of her apostolic faith enriched and formulated by the Eastern Fathers in the ecclesial communion which goes beyond the frontiers of Lebanon and the structure of the Churches of various rites. 

THE PURPOSE OF THE ORDER

Put simply, the purpose of the Order of Saint Charbel is to live the Life of the Gospel - in its fullness. This aim is identical to that of many other Orders, and it is, or should be, the objective of each and every Catholic. It means following the instruction of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, when He said: "Come follow Me." We intend to embrace the life set down by the Order; to strive for perfection; to learn, and then show to others, Christ, so that they, also, may learn of His Love for them, and the Love of His Most Blessed Mother, Mary the Immaculate.

The Order is an example of the Light of Christ, He Who is the Light of the World. And the way to live the life of the Gospel is by living the way Christ intended - through the lifestyle of a Religious Community.

THE GENERAL AIM OF THE ORDER

Generally speaking, the Order aims to bring about the Re-evangelisation of the Church, to re-live the Traditions of Holy Mother Church, ensure the unification of the between Eastern and Western Catholic Rites, to tie in the old, the true, the traditional, with a new form of consecrated life. 

A prime aim of the Order of Saint Charbel is to achieve the unification of the Mystical Body of Christ. This will be realised through various degrees of implementation. The need for unification is in response to a desire described in the Holy Scriptures when Our Lord prayed to His Father that all would be as one, as He and His Father were, and are, one; that there be one flock under one shepherd. (John 17:21)

THE CHARISM OF THE ORDER

What then is the real Charism of the Order of Saint Charbel, that it will be distinguished between other Orders? The main difference is that the Mission of Atonement is the major factor in this Order. This part of re-evangelising the Church speaks for itself. Why re-evangelise, as the Church has been evangelised already? It is because the Mystical Body of Christ needs to be renewed in a strong, determined faith - like a vow that needs to be renewed in a Profession of Faith - which is done periodically by the Religious faithful, But this must be enhanced by strong Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in a more profound and heroic manner, especially in these times when the faith in Holy Mother Church has become lethargic, for this can be seen in the great decline in vocations.

So, part of the charism of the Order is atoning for the abuse of Grace and bringing forth new and vigorous aspirations to new heights of devotion to Jesus and Mary - constantly requested by the true Magisterium, and mostly by the Vicar of Christ.

This special charism is seen in the devotions and traditions of the Church - both East and West - thus fostering the desired unity in a more active and prominent way. For example: through the devotions to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Most Pure Heart of Saint Joseph. Furthermore, the great devotion to Saint Charbel, who originates from Lebanon paves the way for a stronger bond and unity between East and West. 

It is also to foster and integrate the various traditions that are wholesome for our strong faith, handed down to us through various Fathers of the Church, from the East and West, bringing forth unity that has been sought after for many centuries.

It is to be noted that the most prominent part of the charism of this new form of Consecrated Life is the lifting of the family into the realm of a special Religious expressed vocation by taking Minor Vows; this being a strong factor of bringing forth unity in the Mystical Body of Christ for the three major forms of Consecrated Life, namely: Priests, Brothers, Sisters, Married, and Single.

People living a vowed life bring forth the fruit of a Mystical Union and Spiritual Foundation in the Mystical Body of Christ. Furthermore, the Married state of life is a Community of its very own, and by joining this special love between husband and wife into the bosom of the Community Religious life, it too brings forth fruit that is desired and expressed in the Mystical Body. (see the teaching of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, given about the family on the 22nd November, 1981; Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio

Further, by incorporating a Married Priesthood within the Order, the Sacramental life of the family is enhanced, and the potential for vocations to the Priesthood, greatly expanded.

The charism of the Order of Saint Charbel can stand on two main foundations: true unity and true devotion, made up with the traditions of our faith in a spirit of atonement and reparation to God. The Order documents are self-explanatory on this factor.

THE FOUNDER OF THE ORDER

Throughout the history of the Church, specially chosen people have been divinely inspired to assist humanity in their pursuit of Christ through living the Life of the Gospel.

The Founder of the Order of Saint Charbel is William Kamm, known world-wide as "The Little Pebble".


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