In the book of Numbers, Moses sends twelve men to explore the Promised Land before the Israelites enter it. Ten men return discouraged, exaggerating the difficulties and stirring fear among the people. Only Joshua and Caleb encourage the Israelites, saying, "The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land." (Numbers 14:7).
In his commentary on this passage, the Italian priest Don Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970) explains that the two faithful explorers, Joshua and Caleb, represent the few who still trust in God.
Don Dolindo writes, "The Saints, especially those elevated to the highest stages of contemplation, are the explorers of divine magnificence." Like Joshua and Caleb, these holy explorers enter God's kingdom, gather its abundant fruits, and carry them back to encourage others in their faith journey. While some exaggerate the difficulties of the spiritual life, the Saints show by their lives that the path of holiness leads to unimaginable richness.
One such holy explorer is the Lebanese Catholic Maronite monk, St. Charbel Makhlouf (1828-1898). From an early age, Charbel felt called to contemplative life. While a child, he often prayed in a grotto dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a kind of first hermitage. After joining the Lebanese Maronite Order, he embraced the monastic vows and was ordained a priest. His single-minded pursuit was union with God.
After 16 years as a monk, Charbel obtained permission to become a hermit. He spent the last 23 years of his life in solitude, dedication to prayer and penance. People in the area called him a saint and sought his intercession. After his death, an extraordinary light emanated from his burial site that alerted the civil authorities and his tomb exuded a miraculous bloody sweat, and his body was found incorrupt. The extraordinary condition of his body, as well as reports of miracles, led to his beatification in 1965 and canonization in 1977.
The words of Don Dolindo can be applied to saints, like St. Charbel, as "explorers of divine magnificence." Through his heroic sanctity, St. Charbel showed the world the abundant fruits of contemplation and deep union with God. Like Joshua and Caleb, he encouraged others that the "land" of holiness was good and attainable. In this way, St. Charbel lived out Don Dolindo's vision of saintly explorers who gather the rich fruits of God's kingdom to inspire others in their spiritual journey. St. Charbel's long hours absorbed in Eucharistic adoration were a prime example of exploring the infinite riches of Christ's Real Presence.
Don Dolindo Ruotolo himself was an explorer of God's kingdom and a profound spiritual writer. Ordained in 1906, he dedicated his ministry to preaching, spiritual direction, and writing. Central to his spirituality was "abandonment to Jesus" through Mary. This meant renouncing one's own will and resting quietly in God's will.
In Don Dolindo's commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, he observes that people “have been taken by a feverish delusion, racing towards the abyss by any means, when in fact there is only one path that leads to life, and that is the Gospel!” Similarly, the hermit St. Charbel once said, "Why are people going downward, whereas the road to God is upward?" Both warn against worldly delusions and point to the straight path upwards to God.
At the core of both St. Charbel's and Don Dolindo's spirituality was a deep devotion to the Eucharist. As Blessed Gabriele Allegra notes in his introduction to Don Dolindo's autobiography "Fui Chiamato Dolindo che significa dolore", Don Dolindo would spend hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, keeping Jesus company throughout the night. His heart was transformed into a "living heaven" through intimate conversations with the Word made flesh.
Likewise, St. Charbel was known to spend long periods prostrated in silent adoration before the Eucharist. For both saintly priests, the Tabernacle was the furnace inflaming their self-sacrificing lives. Their examples remind us that intimacy with the Eucharistic Lord impels one to the heights of divine charity.
In their Eucharistic devotion, both St. Charbel and Don Dolindo lived out the truth that the source and summit of sanctity is union with Jesus's Real Presence. As Bl. Gabriele Allegra wrote, "The Tabernacle and the Altar are Bethlehem and Calvary, and who does not see in Bethlehem and on Golgotha the Immaculate Mother Mary?" For both saintly priests, spending hours before the Eucharist was like being present at those pivotal moments of redemption. This mystical Bethlehem and Calvary ignited their strength to pour themselves out for souls and the Church.
Flowing from their Eucharistic piety was also a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Don Dolindo described himself as "Mary's little man" and wrote extensively about her. St. Charbel advised people to have devotion to Mary to ensure their salvation. Their lives encourage us to draw near to the Eucharistic fire which alone can inflame our hearts to follow Christ upward.
The lives of St. Charbel and Don Dolindo stand out like Joshua and Caleb, encouraging us that immense spiritual riches await those willing to detach from worldly illusions and ascend the mountain of holiness. Their sublime examples as explorers of divine magnificence inspire us to scale the heights of contemplation and enter the fullness of life in God.
In a world racing heedlessly toward the abyss, the Church still possesses such saintly explorers who discover and display the treasures of God's kingdom. Their fruits nourish us on our pilgrimage and inflame our longing for the eternal homeland. With their lives as models and God as our guide, we too can reach the Promised Land.
O Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, like a child we quiet our souls before you (Psalm 131:2), abandoning all to your Son. Give us the trust to rely not on our own insight but to acknowledge Him in all our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6). Inflame our hearts with longing for the eternal homeland (Hebrews 13:14), and make our lives a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Lead us to seek Jesus above all else (John 12:21). By your intercession, may we keep vigil with Him in the Blessed Sacrament (Matthew 26:40-41). Inspire us by the lives of St. Charbel and Don Dolindo, holy explorers of divine magnificence. With you as our guide and model, may we too ascend the mountain of holiness to discover the infinite riches of your Son. Amen. You can read this article and other articles on my substack.