Feast of St. Maron 2017
Every feast of St. Maron is centered around the passage of Sacred Scripture in the Gospel of St. John which quotes Jesus: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains but a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit”.
This quote from Jesus Himself has always left a deep and abiding impression on me. I wonder what it must mean personally? What does it say about St. Maron? What does it say about the Maronite Church? We know Jesus is referring to Himself and to His own sacrificial death on the cross, and we expect this kind of talk from the mouth of Jesus, but what about us? You and I don’t want to fall to the earth, we don’t want to die, and we do not want to be changed to produce more fruit! I don’t know about you, but I am fine just as I am! I don’t need to change!
Nonetheless, the way Jesus lived and died is normative for all his followers. In other words, what happened to Jesus, if we truly love him, has to happen to us. It did to St. Maron.
What was that hunger, that longing in St. Maron that impelled him to a life of greater sacrifice, greater asceticism, and greater fidelity to Christ? At the time of his death, 800 others came to live in a similar discipline to his. St. Maron’s biographer, Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr, said that the sanctity of St. Maron emanated everywhere, and that God gave him power to heal and counsel. The great St. John Chrysotom writes to St. Maron with the “affection of brothers”. The earliest followers of St. Maron took great pride in their affiliation with their Master, an open air hermit priest, who interestingly enough, never organized anyone to follow him, but rather inspired others to gather and to live for God.
During my brief two years in Rome I met a man similar to St. Maron, in the person of Father Joseph Hage. He was a Monk of the Baladite Order, he wanted to live as a hermit in Lebanon but instead his Order sent him to Rome to study. After class each day, he would kneel in the Chapel for hours. He ate one meal a day. His monastic hood was always on his bearded head. He died in Rome on Holy Thursday in 1985, he never made it to the hermitage, but nonetheless his authentic life inspired all of us to greater holiness. There were Maronite bishops and Vatican officials present in Rome at that time, but it was Fr Hage who would gather us, he reminded us of our religious obligations.
This is also true of St. Sharbel, St. Rafka, and St. Nematallah. St. Sharbel, who was a hermit priest like St. Maron, never left his hermitage, but he is perhaps one of the best known and trusted saints in the entire world!
To understand a little more about St. Maron, let’s reflect a little on his legacy:
The Maronite Church, (and by virtue of our belonging, you and I) is today a gift to the Universal Church and to the world, a bridge between East and West, between Christianity and Islam, between the ancient and ever new.
Maronites share a unique way of prayer, a sincere love for Lebanon, a glorious history, a devotion to Our Lady. All Christians share the universal “call to holiness”, yet from the fourth century to today Maronite men and women continue to give generously, to give and not count the cost, tomake real in their own person the invitation of Jesus, to die to themselves.
There are Maronites and there are Maronites! Some of us are Maronite in name only, unfortunately. Some of us are Maronites with a deep devotion to God, and a desire to die to our own egotism, selfishness, bad habits, bad attitudes, and long to be one with the one who said “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it becomes just a grain of wheat…but if it dies it produces much fruit”.
Are we willing to live such a life? Can we follow the example of Maron, not just in words but in truth? Are we willing to say with Christ, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies”… I am willing, O Lord, to be that grain of wheat. St. Maron pray for us!