October 24th is the feast of Anthony Mary Claret, and, although this is a Sunday this year, we may spend a few moments pondering this great Spanish saint.
Anthony was born in Salient in Catalonia, Spain, in 1807. His father was a weaver. Initially Anthony took up the same trade, following in his father’s footsteps. However, God had a very different path for him. As time progressed the young Anthony started to study for the priesthood. His wish was to join the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. But ill health drifted him away from entering this order and served, instead, as a secular priest.
It was in 1849 when Fr Anthony founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, today widely known as the Claretians, together with the Apostolic Training Institute of the Immaculate Conception, the Claretian nuns. Anthony was consecrated bishop and served as archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, in Cuba, from 1850 till 1857. After this fruitful pastoral experience he returned to Queen Isabella II’s court as confessor. Nevertheless, he accompanied her in exile in 1868. From 1869 till 1870 he participated in the First Vatican Council. Anthony died in the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide in southern France on 24 October 1870. As his life story unveils Anthony was endowed from God by the gift of prophecy and worked many miracles. He was opposed by the liberal forces of Spain and Cuba and had to endure many harsh trials.
Anthony’s Claret teaching is of magnificent help for the progress of our spiritual life. For instance, he teaches us to be kind especially to those who persecute us: I will be kind to everybody, particularly to those whom I find troublesome. Furthermore, Anthony reminds us that it is by preaching the Word of God with charity that real change occurs. He observes: 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.
Anthony also affirms that hell exists on its own accord, irrespective if the sinner believes or not in it. He says: Although the sinner does not believe in Hell, he shall nevertheless go there if he has the misfortune to die in mortal sin. This passionate archbishop for Christ tells us that the Blessed Sacrament is a magnet of love. Speaking about his own experience before Jesus in the tabernacle Anthony confessed: The faith I have when I am in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is so strong that I find it impossible to express what I feel… When the time comes to leave I must force myself to overcome the inclination to prolong my stay with Jesus.
He defines the authentic member of his Congregation as one who lights Christ’s light in our world wherever he goes: A son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary…is a man who unceasingly expends himself to light the fire of divine love in the world. Nothing stops him. Anthony Claret states that one’s death depends on the way one has lived his life prior to his death. He tells us: A multitude of souls fall into the depths of Hell, and it is of the faith that all who die in mortal sin are condemned for ever and ever. According to statistics, approximately 80,000 persons die every day. How many of these will die in mortal sin, and how many will be condemned! For, as their lives have been, so also will be their end.
As to real holiness Anthony Claret said that holy life is always characterised by the heroism shown in prayer, working and suffering. He said: Christian perfection consists in three things: praying heroically, working heroically, and suffering heroically. In addition to this, holiness is achieved by fulfilling the obligation of one’s state in life: Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in all of them we see people who who achieved sanctity by fulfilling their obligations well.
On the Rosary, at this present month of October, Anthony Claret says: When people love and recite the Rosary they find it makes them better. According to Anthony, charity is at the basis of true and fruitful evangelisation. He notes: An apostolic missionary must have both heart and tongue ablaze with charity. The authentic Christian is the one who imitates Christ in carrying his cross. The Christian who desires to follow Jesus carrying his cross must bear in mind that the name “Christian” means “learner or imitator of Christ” and that if he wishes to bear that noble title worthily he must above all do as Christ charges us in the Gospel: We must oppose or deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him.
St Anthony Mary Claret, you outdid all your peers in dedication to Christ, Mary and the Church. We pray that you intercede in heaven to give all bishops the graces and the skills to lead their flocks in prayer, education and devotion as you did.
St Anthony Mary Claret, a great spiritual master, pray for us!