At the end of Saint Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News’. On first reading, we might think that this is about preaching the Gospel in the sense of standing up and talking about Jesus. But words are not the only way of proclaiming the Good News.
Saint Charles of Mount Argus knew about another kind of proclamation. Although no great preacher, he was able to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in a different way. His life was a life of service to those in need of God. He was always ready to respond to the sick and the suffering, the lonely, the poor and broken-hearted. Charles knew how to communicate the compassionate love of Christ and the healing blessing of the presence of God. While his hours in the monastery were spent in silent communion with God, he was prompt to answer the call of the distressed. The people who still come to Mount Argus to seek his intercession, more than a hundred years after his death, testify to the effectiveness of his proclamation of the Good News.
‘Preach the Gospel; use words when necessary’ said Saint Francis of Assisi.* It was not by words but by his way of living that Saint Charles preached his message. As a Passionist, he had vowed to keep alive in his own heart and in the hearts of others the memory of the life-giving Passion of Jesus. He carried that memory in his own heart through daily meditation. He brought the remembrance of Christ’s Passion to others by giving them hope in their sufferings. Not all the people he blessed were cured physically; the healing love which flows from the Cross can work on different levels. Although hundreds of people were cured in his lifetime, and others after his death, in many cases the healing which God gives through Charles’ intercession was and is of a quieter kind, though no less real: the grace to accept a terminal illness; the strength to keep going in the face of disability; the power to forgive one who has hurt us deeply; the courage to accept help in overcoming an addiction; the sense of God’s closeness in difficult times.
By a happy coincidence, the year of Charles’ canonisation — 2007 — is also the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his first arrival in Ireland. John Andrew Houben, the Dutchman, became Charles of Saint Andrew, the Passionist. He is known to us as Saint Charles of Mount Argus; the name of what was then the newly-founded Passionist monastery has become firmly linked to his. Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus was his home and the centre of his apostolate for more than thirty years. It was also to be his final resting place.
Like Saint Patrick, he learned to love the Irish as his own people; they in turn took him to their hearts. The old Irish tradition is that the stranger should be welcomed as we would welcome Christ. In Charles’ case, the presence of Christ was easy for people to recognise, as he, who lived always in the awareness of God’s loving presence, touched the lives of so many with the healing grace of a loving God.
May Charles’ silent preaching continue to be Good News for us all.*I am indebted to James Martin’s My Life with the Saints for this quotation.
© Paul Francis Spencer, C.P. 2007 - all rights reserved
This biography, paper-published in 1988 at the time of Father Charles’ beatification, was how I became acquainted with the life of Father Charles. Although you will find the entire text at this site, I encourage you to look for the new paper edition of the book, which will be available in bookshops in mid-2007.