There’s a lot you could read today on any number of subjects, but the life of St Anthony Mary Claret is probably one of the best things you could spend time with, especially if you are engaged in ministry of any sort.
Seemingly indefatigable. What interests me, as always with the saints, is the shape of their response to God. In hindsight, we often think of the lives of the saints and other holy people as a given, as if they knew their path from the beginning and were just following a script.
Such is not the case, of course, and their lives are as full of questions and u-turns as anyone else’s – the difference between them and most of the rest of us is God’s central place in their discernment, rather than their own desires or those of the world’s.
We usually, and quite normally, look to the saints for wisdom in how to act. I tend to be most interested in the wisdom they offer me in how to discern.
So it is with Anthony Claret. He began working in textiles, like his father and pursued business, then felt the pull to religious life, which at first he thought would be Carthusian – his vigorous missionary life tells us that this didn’t happen. All along the way, he listened and responded and moved forward. From his autobiography, reflecting on these matters in general, and specifically in relation to his time at the Spanish court – probably the place he least wanted to be in the world:
I can see that what the Lord is doing in me is like what I observe going on in the motion of the planets: they are pulled by two forces, one centrifugal, the other centripetal. Centrifugal force pulls them to escape their orbits; centripetal force draws them toward their center. The balance of these two forces holds them in their orbits. That’s just how I see myself. I feel one force within me, which I’ll call centrifugal, telling me to get out of Madrid and the court; but I also feel a counterforce, the will of God, telling me to stay in court for the time being, until I am free to leave. This will of God is the centripetal force that keeps me chained here like a dog on his leash. The mixture of these two forces, namely, the desire to leave and my love for doing God’s will, keeps me running around in my circle.
624. Every day at prayer I have to make acts of resignation to God’s will. Day and night I have to offer up the sacrifice of staying in Madrid, but I thank God for the repugnance I feel. I know that it is a great favor. How awful it would be if the court or the world pleased me! The only thing that pleases me is that nothing pleases me. May you be blessed, God my Father, for taking such good care of me. Lord, just as you make the ocean salty and bitter to keep it pure, so have you given me the salt of dislike and the bitterness of boredom for the court, to keep me clean of this world. Lord, I give you thanks, many thanks, for doing so.
We wonder a lot about evangelization these days and fret about how to do it in new ways because, of course, we have our New Evangelization.
Read the life of St. Anthony Claret – here. And if you have even just an hour sometime, you have time to at least skim is autobiography, a version of which is here.
There is no fussing, meandering, focus groups or market research. There is just responding vigorously to Matthew 28. He preaches, preaches, preaches. He teaches, hears confessions, provides the corporeal works of mercy on a massive scale, he forms clergy, he builds fellowship, he forgives:
The would-be assassin was caught in the act and sent to jail. He was tried and sentenced to death by the judge, not-withstanding the deposition I had made, stating that I forgave him as a Christian, a priest, and an archbishop. When this was brought to the attention of the Captain General of Havana, Don Jose de la Concha, he made a trip expressly to see me on this matter. I begged him to grant the man a pardon and remove him from the island because I feared that the people would try to lynch him for his attack on me, which had been the occasion both of general sorrow and indignation as well as of public humiliation at the thought that one of the country’s prelates had actually been wounded.
584. I offered to pay the expenses of my assailant’s deportation to his birthplace, the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. His name was Antonio Perez,382 the very man whom a year earlier, unknown to me, I had caused to be freed from prison. His parents had appealed to me on his behalf, and, solely on the strength of their request, I had petitioned the authorities for their son’s release. They complied with my request and freed him, and the very next year he did me the favor of wounding me. I say “favor” because I regard it as a great favor from heaven, which has brought me the greatest joy and for which I thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary continually
Back in a parish of Catalonia, Claret began preaching popular missions all over. He traveled on foot, attracting large crowds with his sermons. Some days he preached up to seven sermons in a day and spent 10 hours listening to mi
The secret of his missionary success was LOVE. In his words: “Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity- the fire of love of God and neighbor- it will work wonders.” (Autobiography #438-439).
His popularity spread; people sought him for spiritual and physical healing. By the end of 1842, the Pope gave him the title of “apostolic missionary.” Aware of the power of the press, in 1847, he organized with other priests a Religious Press. Claret began writing books and pamphlets, making the message of God accessible to all social groups. The increasing political restlessness in Spain continued to endanger his life and curtail his apostolic activities. So, he accepted an offer to preach in the Canary Islands, where he spent 14 months. In spite of his great success there too, he decided to return to Spain to carry out one of his dreams: the organization of an order of missionaries to share in his work.
On July 16, 1849, he gathered a group of priests who shared his dream. This is the beginning of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, today also known as Claretian Fathers and Brothers. Days later, he received a new assignment: he was named Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. He was forced to leave the newly founded community to respond to the call of God in the New World. After two months of travel, he reached the Island of Cuba and began his episcopal ministry by dedicating it to Mary. He visited the church where the image of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba was venerated. Soon he realized the urgent need for human and Christian formation, specially among the poor. He called Antonia Paris to begin there the religious community they had agreed to found back in Spain. He was concerned for all aspects of human development and applied his great creativity to improve the conditions of the people under his pastoral care.
Among his great initiatives were: trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he himself tested first. He visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. The expected reaction came soon. He began to experience persecution, and finally when preaching in the city of Holguín, a man stabbed him on the cheek in an attempt to kill him. For Claret this was a great cause of joy. He writes in his Autobiography: “I can´t describe the pleasure, delight, and joy I felt in my soul on realizing that I had reached the long desired goal of shedding my blood for the love of Jesus and Mary and of sealing the truths of the gospel with the very blood of my veins.” (Aut. # 577). During his 6 years in Cuba he visited the extensive Archdiocese three times…town by town. In the first years, records show, he confirmed 100,000 people and performed 9,000 sacramental marriages.