Saint Anthony Mary Claret’s Heart on Fire

On this Tuesday 24 October 2023, we are celebrating a very intriguing person who gave his all for Christ, the Spanish saint St Anthony Mary Claret.

The more I allow the Holy Spirit make me delve deeper into his life, the more I realize that perfect dynamism of the Spirit with which his life was certainly imbued. He is commonly regarded as the “spiritual father of Cuba”, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop, refugee and an astounding missionary. He scrupulously followed Christ’s summons to the apostles: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt 28:18-20). His love for Christ took him to the the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris, and to the First Vatican Council.

Anthony had other plans. Initially he wanted to become a Carthusian or a Jesuit. However, when he was finally ordained as a priest at the age of 28 he soon became one of Spain’s most popular preachers. God designed for his a perfect plan of love and much fruitful pastoral success. Already before becoming a priest the young Anthony had learned Latin and printing, two important instruments which would help him disseminate the saving message of the Gospel.

While on a preaching tour around Spain, Anthony emphasized the Eucharist as well as devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, always having his rosary around his hand. At the age of 42, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, with five young priests. Today we know them as the Claretians.

Missionary activity took him to Cuba and put him at the helm of the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. It was here that he was ordained as a bishop. He wanted to reform this archdiocese by preaching and the generous administration of confessions. Due to his stance for the sacramentality of marriage, he endured fierce opposition because he was against concubinage. Anthony also taught black slaves. A hired assassin tried to kill him by wounding his face and wrist. He managed to have the assassin’s death sentence changed to a prison term.

Deeply entrenched in the vital connection between the Gospel and everyday life, Anthony tried his best to better the miserable situation of Cubans by encouraging family-owned farms that would produce an array of foods both for the family’s own needs as well as for those of the market. His initiative was bitterly met by exploiters who wanted people to work on a single cash crop, namely sugar. Among his religious books two of them were written in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights.

Anthony was called back to Spain for a job he did not like to carry out, namely being the queen’s chaplain. Finally he agreed on three conditions: first, he would live away from the palace; second, he would come to hear the queen’s confession and to instruct the children; and third, he would be free from attending court functions. When in 1868 there was the revolution, Anthony fled to Paris with the queen’s party. Here he preached to the Spanish colony.

Anthony’s had a wholehearted interest in the Catholic press, founding the Religious Publishing House, a great Catholic publishing endeavour in Spain. In all he wrote or published some 200 works between books and  pamphlets. At the First Vatican Council, Anthon was a fervent defender of the doctrine of infallibility. Thanks to his unwavering stance, he won the admiration of his brother bishops. On that occasion, Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore had this to say about him, There goes a true saint. He passed away in exile at the age of 63, near the border of Spain.

We have so much to learn from the writings of St Anthony Mary Claret. From his own autobiography we certainly notice his heart was so restless until it gives God’s mercy to every one who really needs it. Let us prayerfully consider these powerful words from this holy priest, missionary, mystic, miracle worker, bishop, writer, confessor, and founder, coming straight to our hearts from his heart and soul moving biography: Whenever I see sinners, I grow restless, I cannot quiet down, I cannot be consoled, my heart goes out to them.

While addressing some 120 members of the Institute of Theology of Religious Life in Rome when they celebratey its 50th anniversary, on Monday 7 November 2022, Pope Francis praised their precious academic work for consecrated life and encouraged the Claretian missionaries not to stop going to the frontiers and being courageous in their mission.

I encourage you to continue to serve consecrated life in the Claretian spirit, that is, by being missionaries. Consecrated life cannot be lacking in the Church and in the world. Fr. Claret also used to repeat those words of Saint Teresa that Saint John Paul II recalls in the Exhortation Vita Consecrata: “What would become of the world if there were no Religious?” (no. 105). You help to consecrated men and women, before being intellectual, is witness, it is confession that Jesus is Lord. The first service of your Theological Institutes must be to offer themselves as houses of welcome, praise and thanksgiving; as places where charisms are shared and the desire to live the spirit of the Beatitudes and the eschatological discourse grows. In them, communion must be manifested and the option for the poor and solidarity, fraternity without frontiers and constantly outgoing mission must be encouraged. With this disposition, the gift of consecrated life and its mission in the Church and in the world will become more appreciated.

Let us pray for St Anthony Mary Claret’s intercession:

Saint Anthony Mary Claret, God set your heart on fire with a love for Him so deep that it overflowed into the hearts of every sinner you encountered. Please pray for me, that I will grow deeper in my love of God, and from that love will love others whom I encounter every day. Saint Anthony, pray for me.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.