January 5 is the feast of the Passionist Father Charles Houben of Mount Argus in Ireland, who was known as a miracle-worker for the many miraculous cures attributed to him. He died in 1893. In 1892, one year earlier, Sherlock Holmes died, as fans of the master detective may know.
I mention Sherlock Holmes because he represents the English Enlightenment that believed everything can be explained by reason. On the case of Father Charles and his many miraculous cures, I’m sure Holmes would say to his colleague Dr. Watson “No such things as a miraculous cure. There’s a reason for it somewhere, and I’ll find it.”
Father Charles was born in Munstergeleen, Holland in 1821. During his time of compulsory military service he first heard about the Passionists. After completing military service and studies he was received into the community by Blessed Dominic Barberi. He made his novitiate in Belgium, ordained a priest and then sent to England. In 1856 he went to the newly established monastery of Mount Argus in Dublin, Ireland, where he ministered for most of his life till his death in 1893.
Charles was shy and timid, not learned or scholarly or a good preacher. He never spoke English well. At Mount Argus, he heard confessions and blessed people with a relic of the Passionist saints. Yet, people saw him as someone close to God and his blessing brought about cures. Increasing numbers of people came to him at Mount Argus seeking to be cured and he was called to homes and hospitals in Dublin to bless the sick.
His reputation grew. His funeral was attended by people from all of Ireland. A newspaper of the time said: “Never before has the memory of any man sparked an explosion of religious sentiment and profound veneration as that which we observed in the presence of the mortal remains of Father Charles,” the Superior of the monastery wrote to his family, “The people have already declared him a saint.”
In his lifetime, though, Charles met with criticism and humiliation, even from members of his own community. In 1866 because questions were raised about his curing ministry, particularly by the medical establishment, Charles was transferred to England, where he remained for a number of years before returning to Mount Argus.
In our enlightened age, we distrust cures.. Whether we’re aware of it or not, like the famous detective, we put our trust in science and reason to solve sickness and suffering. Someone will figure it out. Meantime take some pills.
We forget that cures were among the chief signs Jesus gave in his ministry. “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” ( Matthew 4, 23) I notice recently pastoral care of the sick is getting dismissed more and more by the medical establishment. I also wonder if, in an “enlightened age” like ours, God might not work more cures, just to show us.
Charles was canonized June 2, 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peters Basilica, Rome. He’s still performing cures.
If you want to make a pilgrimage to Fr. Charles’ tomb start here.