The first thing that we look for in an autobiography is always the revelation of intimacy, the secret of a man’s life; which forms the basis for which an autobiographical story is primarily evaluated.
In the most obvious view of the external description that the author gave us, the question that is initially proposed is whether the life that the author himself narrates corresponds entirely to the real facts just as history has shown them or whether there is some unconscious distortion or invention. The difficulties presented to historians have not been small, as there have been, at times, invented or real contradictions in some autobiographies with information transmitted in other ways. We remember the case of Saint Augustine regarding the insincerity and historical distortion that rationalists have attributed to his Confessions. More frequent are cases of difficulties in setting a chronology or the accurate sequence of facts.
With regard to Saint Anthony Mary Claret there are no special difficulties. His Autobiography is very close to our history.
Regarding the external information, there are some explainable mistakes, especially regarding dates. So that the justification of a certain date does not present particular difficulty, we will explain each case in footnotes to the text, which can also prove very useful in preventing the reader from being presented with facts in such a way that leads him to a false interpretation of the reality.
What could represent a triumph for the expansion of the Kingdom of Christ is told with certain optimism; for example: all were converted. On the other hand, with humility he exaggerates his own defects. The years of his youth during his stay in Barcelona are presented as a time of decreasing piety and inattention to Godly things, when it is know through not a few of the witnesses of the processes, that he heroically confronted the continuous provocations towards sin on the part of his factory companions or the temptation to find mere human triumph, which for him came easy because of his technical skills. It is not unusual that this time for him in Barcelona is made to coincide with the night of the senses, interpreting the characters that are present during this time in the Saint’s life with the notes or criteria that Saint John of the Cross establishes as distinctive of the night of the senses.139
Other times, his strict standards of conduct can create a misconception about his personal qualities. His character and temperament – for instance, in the Autobiography – can appear reserved and melancholy, mainly in his childhood and youth, because of his fondness for solitude and prayer. The witnesses of that time, on the other hand, recall his cheerfulness, having been the delight of his companions during working hours or in moments of recreation. On occasions, a sweet and soft temperament appears because of the compassion and sentiment that he displays, although the magnitude of the works that he describes and the same enthusiasm of style tell us of the energy and liveliness of his nature, as all who knew him affirm.
These and other considerations can offer a great deal in terms of partial criteria. However, it is worthwhile to include a more extensive consideration. Soon after knowing the life of the Saint, it is immediately seen that his life and works can only be comprehended in a very small way. What, then, is the overall value of this document to know the Saint?
For one who knows the external life of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, in the magnitude of his works and his activities, it is clear that in the Autobiography, he will find a very different image far removed from these. The “silences” in the Autobiography can be explained by the author’s aim to help in the formation of the Missionaries; thus he doesn’t mention certain historically important events and lavishes a great deal of attention on others apparently insignificant, which for him had significant value in the context of his mission and spirit. For this reason, anyone who wishes to have a more global view of the Saint must frame the Autobiography within his own life.
It could be that humility is the reason for these silences: “He who knows the servant of God as I know him – testified his confessor Don Carmelo Sala –, easily understands, upon reading the mentioned annotations, that he says as little as possible, wishing in this way, without a doubt, to comply with the imposed order of obedience, without waning from his deep humility.”140
Nor is the Autobiography a document sufficient enough for gaining a perfect knowledge of the spiritual life of the Saint. Much of it is revealed to us; however, much is also lacking. The Notebook of resolutions and notes, Lights and Graces can help to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, one must not expect to find in his writings a very introspective analysis of his states of mind. In his way of being and apostolic devotion he did not have the temperament or stillness for this.
Ultimately, there is another important aspect for which the Autobiography is also not a decisive and complete source. We are referring to the personal characteristics of the Saint. Saint Anthony Mary Claret did not attempt to address them directly, and his humility led him to sometimes conceal many revealing details. Knowledge of many of these has been only understood with the passage of time. We recall his strange prediction of the future, which is brought forth in many of his works, or his unusual power of personal attraction. In the Canary Islands missions, for example, it is very difficult to explain how, in such a short time – in little more than a year – he was able to develop, without intending to, an incredible charism among the islanders; so much so, that over the course of more than one hundred and fifty years, they have passed-down by word of mouth, a vivid remembrance and affection for “el Padrito” even in towns and places totally inaccessible to subsequent news, none of which could explain the reason for the survival of his memory.
With these aforementioned exceptions, the road remains open for us to ender into what constitutes the original and positive contribution of the Autobiography; as this is the only way to get to know the Saint without the necessity that each and every detail of his life being complete.
An Interpretation of his own Life
from his Missionary Charism
The value that most originally characterizes Saint Anthony Mary Claret’s Autobiography – and that strikes a common note in all sincere autobiographical stories – is the revelation to us of the vision that he had of his own life and his interpretation of it from his charism as a founder.
A founder is not merely an organizer or legislator. He is a man who has lived a unique experience of the mystery of Christ, has had a particular vision of the signs of the times, and has given an appropriate response to them. It is a characteristic aspect of a founder’s charism to have arrived at enlightenment not only for himself, but also for his disciples. Furthermore, is the ability to transmit it, convincingly and intelligently, as a message to those who have also received it, but without the same intensity.
Saint Anthony Mary Claret does not communicate his experience of the Spirit to his disciples in slippery abstracts, but rather in the direct and existential form of an Autobiography. In it, he describes for us how the gift – the charism – awakened all of his gifts of nature and grace: baptism, priesthood, and even the episcopate. With great descriptive elegance, he opens up for us diverse moments of being consciousness of the possession and demand of the Spirit. In the most remote and smallest of details, the Saint encounters a resonance in this fundamental message. We will analyze the most noteworthy moments.
Maybe because of the charism particular to a founder, there is an anticipation of grace to nature in Claret’s childhood. In him, passion preceded reason. His first biographer says that Anthony was an apostle before he was a man.141
In early childhood, he had an experience of the absoluteness of God and of the fragility of man, of his unfaithfulness – and, thus, his unhappiness –, so profound, that it rendered him sleepless and stayed with him for the rest of his life.142
During his youth, he naturally opened up to life with an optimistic world view of creation and of the “creator.” He experienced the goodness of work, of friendship, of human values, but also their limitations and danger when in the service of evil. Facing this disillusion, he wanted to hide from the world – becoming dead to it in a monastery –, however the Lord, who by choosing him, separated him from the world, left within him an nascent evangelical spirit which would later place him little by little closer to apostolic life.143
All of this was a necessary prelude. The explicit calling to evangelization began at this very moment; but with such urgency that it was his reason for being; like the servant, like the Son, like the apostles, through the reading of the Word internalized as the voice of the Lord in his heart.144 Added to this was the example of the missionary saints through their works or through their zeal,145 as well as the extraordinary phenomenon of a vision.146
For him, the day of his ordination to the diaconate was a day of vocational revelation. The key was the figure of Saint Steven – the man of the Spirit and of the Word – and the words of Saint Paul in the Pontifical: “Your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spirits of evil.” From the perspective of struggle, the bishop delivered the Gospel to him as a weapon, and in the laying-on-of-hands called to descend upon him the power of the Spirit and from the same Spirit came the anointing for evangelization and mission.147
Everything was clear and everything would always be clear. What was yet obscure was the manner of carrying-out the mission; and that he lacked, as well, adequate training and preparation.
The experience as a parish priest confined him, so he went to Rome to be sent to the missions.148 But the Lord converted this trip into his most decisive formative phase. He granted him the gift and the experience of evangelical poverty.149 Moreover, after a few months of novitiate in the Company of Jesus he learned the various ways of evangelizing and the experience of consecrated life in service for the mission.150 This formative period ends with the first missionary forays that lasted until 1841, during which he leaves parochial stability for the never ending journey of the mission.151
At the beginning of his travels to Catalonia and the Canary Islands, the Holy See granted the title of apostolic missionary “ad honorem” to Mosén Claret. He saw in it an official recognition of his spirit, which he did not take as an honor, but rather as a definition of his being. Sent, like the apostles, to the four cardinal points to the ends of the earth, to place his entire life at the service of evangelization, to the prophetic service of the Word, renouncing, as soon as he was able, the other functions of ministerial priesthood: the regimen and stability of sacramental life. The apostolic title refers to the See that sends or recommends him; the Saint, however, applied it to himself as a way of life: “an apostolic one,” in the style of the apostles; in other words, in poverty, itinerancy and brotherhood, and always under the mission of the shepherds or the great shepherd.
Thinking of the Missionaries, he pauses in the Autobiography to communicate his existential interpretation of being a missionary: vocation, mission, motivation, means, and virtues.152
In the rest of the Autobiography,he describes his devotion to his apostolic missionary vocation in situations of governance or of stability. Obliged, for a great service to the Church, to accept the episcopacy153 and later as royal confessor,154 he endured these situations as an apostolic missionary while living a poor and fraternal lifestyle. In Cuba, he withdrew himself, as soon as he could, from bureaucratic ties in order to be free for preaching.155 In Madrid, he converted royal travels into missions, and, upon taking charge of El Escorial, the resting place of kings, he immediately thought of converting it into a lively center of evangelization, such as an interdiocesan seminary, a university college, and mission-house for international outreach.156
Saint Anthony Mary Claret does not only describe the process of his assimilation and experience from the gift that made him a founder, but has also transmitted to us mystical theological content.
The experience of the creative Spirit was the intense lived experience of Christ the evangelizer.157 He considered it and lived it like the Son, sent to the world as Teacher and Savior; like the Son, concerned with the plans of the Father; servant of the saving will of the Father. The Son, anointed to evangelize the poor; the Son of man, who has no place to lay his head, who prays, evangelizes, always faithful to the truth and to love, and, thus, placed as a sign of contradiction, persecuted in his teachings, in his works, and in his person until his death on the cross.158
In this same mystery of Christ-evangelist, Claret lived the mystery of Mary. The Son of the Father is sent, born of woman by the Spirit. For Claret, this woman is the Woman of Genesis, of the Apocalypse, of Cana and of Calvary. Mother of Christ missionary, she is the Mother of the disciple, of the apostle, and of all missionaries in Christ. Claret felt formed in the heart by she who is Mother because of her charity, which becomes for him the maternal charity in the apostolate, a flame that burns and sets ablaze wherever it goes.159
The Founder is a gift of the Spirit to the Church and to the people of his time and of the future. Therefore, in Claret, the experience of the mystery of Christ did not end in intimate contemplation or in timeless memory. At the heart, his prophetic eyes were opened to interpret the signs of Christ resurrected in that time. In childhood, the eschatological vision of the world and of the sinners predominates.160 In his youth, he sees in the factory and in the great city a show of living humanity, with its aspirations of triumph, its passions, and its weaknesses.161As a popular missionary, he sees the sinners terrified by Jansenism.162 In Cuba, he discovers the social consequences of personal sins: man exploited by man.163 In Madrid, he perceives the princes of evil that walked in the dark; those ideologies that today we call “atheistic humanism”, and whose implications for the future could only be discovered in his time by prophetic eyes.164
To this prophetic vision – not merely sociological – he responded to the urgencies of his time with an opportune evangelization using the effective means of the media, being an innovator in many of them.165
A Spirituality for the Mission
Saint Anthony Mary Claret received the charism and the spirit in the same communication of grace: the objective competence to complete the mission and the subjective capacity to assimilate the gift and live it. The Spirit that consecrated and sent him is the same that cried-out ¡Abba, Father! In his heart; the same one that compelled him to follow Christ more closely, and the one that inflamed him and made him run, work, and suffer for the glory of the Father and salvation of people. Claret lived the mission as a continuation of the mission of Christ; for this reason, it is not something that emanated from or added to his spiritual life; but, on the contrary, that which teaches and molds him from his deepest roots. The manner of living-out supernatural grace and the effectiveness in which it is manifested in him, almost always carries this mark of apostolic dynamism: for him, it is sometimes a force that makes him run and shout and does allow him to settle for a moment; it is the brazier of his superhuman activity, which with him all is possible and all is made easy and tolerable. Other times he compares it with fire: “such burning within me that I couldn’t sit still. I had to get up and run from one place to another preaching continuously.”166 Finally, it is worth noting the comparison with the force of instinct that is so powerful in nature: “Grace is stronger and braver than nature. Well then, if the natural love a mother feels for her child can make her run to him, shout at him, take hold of him, and pull him back from the brink of ruin, that is just what grace does in me. Charity urges and impels me; it makes me run from town to town.”167
The supernatural life that is developed in the contemplative with a preeminence of passive gifts is seen primarily as active gifts in him. Saint Anthony Mary Claret has been called mystic of action,168 not only for the presence of God in his action, but also because he was moved by the spirit in an unusual way in his own apostolic activity.
He could not have lived in Christ without a personal encounter with Him in faith. Claret tells us how he found Christ living, first in the Eucharist,169 and later in the Word;170 also in his neighbor and in the events of life; and finally, in his heart, as a center from which his effectiveness in the apostolate came, like a source and oven of passion, like a dwelling: the house of Martha and Mary, of the disciple and of the apostle.171
We can also track his transformation process, in his following and imitating the very letter of the Gospel to his complete inner formation with the sentiments of Christ.172
Claret dedicates eight long chapters in the Autobiography to describing the virtues of the missionary, as a demand of his ministry and as a means of the apostolate in their own right. He credits much importance to the virtues of relationships, since the evangelizer is found with the Father who sent him and the men to whom he is sent: for humility,173 he will be grateful to God, and for meekness,174 to his neighbor. These two virtues, were a particular test for him; first, as a student until 1861, and secondly, from 1861 to 1864. During the last seven years of his life, he did it for the love of God. He recognizes that the most necessary virtue for a missionary is love, and he endeavors to obtain it by any means.175
From the point of view of testimony, particular attention is placed on poverty176 and modesty,177 and, as a condition for all of the virtues, mortification. Christ redeemed us mostly with joyous passion; for this reason, a formation with the patient Christ is necessary for the missionary as a culmination of his mission. In this sense, mortification is more that a virtue; it is love of friendship; it is martyr-testimony; it is pain that engenders life so that all of the chosen attain salvation.178
Claret does not present us with a theory on apostolic prayer; he places his experience before the missionaries. Claret the evangelizer prays because Christ the evangelizer does it.179 Furthermore, his prayer is in the Son, and through his Spirit, which shouts: Father. In dialogue with the Father, he finds love and strength to share the obedience of He who accepted the will of salvation in the greatest test of love. Apostolic prayer is the prayer of a disciple, in which Claret, at the feet of the Teacher, heard his voice in Scripture;180 it is prophetic prayer that interprets the plans of the Father in different situations.181 For Claret, prayer was, to a great extent, a battle with God on behalf of the people to obtain the conversion of all to the Gospel.182 In prayer, ultimately, his charity is converted into a flame of passion.183 Temperamentally, his oral prayer is developed better than methodical, discursive prayer; in it he felt freer in mind and heart. Likewise, his innate dynamism as a weaver felt more appeased.184 It calls to mind the great deal of time that he dedicated to prayer, robbing him of sleep so as not to curtail him from apostolic action.185
The Congregation of Missionaries
It seems as though in the Autobiography more should be spoken of the Congregation of Missionaries. While it is true that there is a chapter dedicated to describing the foundation186 and another suggesting an initiative for having vocations,187 it’s not spoken of in his life. The response could fall along these lines: the Autobiography speaks to the Congregation; she is the listener; to her is revealed the most profound things about his being, which will remain alive. The concrete “how” of this life is pointed out by the Founder in the Constitutions; here, they speak about the main inspirer, reporter, and surmounter of obstacles. Nevertheless, enough is told of his communitarian nature and of the principles of the equilibrium of his life within the diverse elements of his charism, each one of which could give meaning to life in and of itself.
In the Autobiography, it appears clear that the Congregation of Missionaries, despite having been born because of an emergency due to a lack of preachers, is not a team of preachers, but rather a group in communion: “Thus we had begun and thus we continued, living together strictly in community.”188 This common life was not conventual; it was completely apostolic: “All of us were going out regularly to work in the sacred ministry.”189 Although the Founder could not live in a “classic” community of Missionaries – Vic, Gracia or Segovia –, he tried, nonetheless, to make his own bishop’s house a real community of Missionaries and always asked to have Missionaries with him. In this sense, the Cuba community was no different, and the Founder describes it to us as a mission-community: “Our house was like a beehive, with everyone coming and going,”190 according to the demands of the ministry. It was also a brotherly community: “Everyone showed an equal liking for everyone else,”191 and this love was sustained by the community of life. It was an evangelical community by lifestyle, and was conformed as much as possible to the life of the Lord with the apostles and disciples together in evangelization. The members of this community were “of good dispositions and solid virtue, and they were so detached from worldly cares that they never once spoke or thought of self-interest or honors. Their only concern was for God’s greater glory and the conversion of souls.”192 “They gladly set themselves to do whatever I asked.”193 The reason for such peace, joy, and harmony “to reign for so long a time” was the presence of the Spirit: “This is a singular grace God has given us through his infinite mercy and kindness.”194 Nevertheless, this community had the adequate means to respond to this gift. For the mission: availability and permanent formation; for fraternity: a certain security that fostered intimacy; and for the evangelical life: an order of prayer and work and intense times of conversation.