Saint Anthony Mary Claret

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245. "But do we really believe that God is better served because the world regards us as wise or discreet? Indeed this would seem to be the case, if judged by the current fashion in discretion. For it seems to us that there is little edification unless people, each according to his state, go about with an air of great composure and assurance. It seems to us, nowadays, though we be a friar, clerk, or nun, that to wear an old or mended habit would be a novelty and a scandal to the weak. And what would we say of being recollected and given to prayer? So goes the world, and so forgotten the quest for perfection and the great vehemence of the saints, that I think much harm is added to the misfortunes of our times by the fact that religious do not commit the scandal of putting into act, as they put into words, the truth that the world is of little account. From such a scandal the Lord could draw great advantage: for if it would falsely scandalize some, it would truly bring others to remorse. Would it hurt us to have a living picture of Christ and his Apostles in our midst? We need one more than ever before.''549

246. "One day while I was praying I felt myself suddenly--who knows how?--plunged into hell. I knew that the Lord wanted me to see the place that the devils had been preparing for me, a place which I had merited by my sins. It all took place quite quickly, yet I doubt that I shall ever forget it however long I live. The entrance seemed to be a long, narrow alley, like some very low, dark, and confining furnace. The ground appeared to be covered with muddy, foul-smelling water, swimming with vermin. At the end of it there was a niche like a closet in which I saw myself closely confined. All that I saw was delightful in comparison with the awful things I felt: what I have said about it can hardly do it justice."

247. "It seems to me that what I felt could not begin to be explained or understood; but I felt a fire in my soul, the nature of which I cannot describe. My bodily pains were so unbearable that, though I have experienced the gravest pains and, as the doctors have said, the greatest pains in this world, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed-- not to mention others, some of them caused, as I have said, by the devil--all of these were as nothing in comparison to what I felt then, especially in view of the fact that I saw that they would never end. But even this was as nothing in comparison with the soul's agony: a crushing sense of suffocation, an affliction so painful, together with such a sense of hopeless and cruel discontent that I cannot describe it. To say that the soul is constantly being torn away is not enough, for that would seem to imply that someone else is taking one's life; but here the soul itself is tearing itself asunder. The fact is that I simply cannot find words to describe the inner fire and despair I felt at such dreadful pains and torments. I could not see who was inflicting this torture on me, but I felt myself burning and being torn to pieces, so to speak, and I can only say that this inner fire and despair are the worst pain of all."

248. "While I was in that pestilent place, devoid of all comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down. I was lodged in a sort of hole in the wall; yet there was no room because those walls, so horrible to look at, pressed in upon me, stifling me. There was no light; all was thickest darkness. I cannot understand how, but everything that is painful to see could be seen. At that time the Lord did not wish me to see any more of hell. Since then I have had another vision of the dreadful punishments with which certain vices are chastised. They were dreadful to look at, but as I did not feel the pain, they did not frighten me as much as those in the other vision, in which the Lord wanted me truly to feel the torments and spiritual affliction, as if I were suffering them in my own body. I have no idea how the experience happened, but I know that it happened through the goodness of God, who wanted me to see with my own eyes the place from which he had freed me out of mercy. For just to hear about hell is nothing. Neither were any of my occasional thoughts about it (although these were few, since fear has always had small influence on my soul); nor even what I had read, such as stories of demons tormenting souls with pincers. No, all of this was mere nothing in comparison with that pain. In short, a picture is one thing, reality another. And all the burning in the world is but a trifle in comparison with the fire in that place."

249. "I was terrified then and I still am as I write, although it all happened some six years ago. Fear seems to make my blood run cold even now, and of all the labors and sorrows that have come my way I can remember none that does not fade into nothingness in comparison, and I think that our complaints are largely without foundation. Again I say that this was one of God's greatest mercies toward me. I have benefited greatly from it, both by losing the fear of this life's trials and contradictions, and by gaining the strength to bear them and thank the Lord who freed me, as I now see it, from such endless and terrible evils."

250. "Since then, as I have said, everything here seems easy in comparison with just a moment of suffering there. I am shocked to think how many books I read on the pains of hell and did not fear them or grasp what they meant. Where was I? How could I have taken delight in things that were leading me to such an evil place? May you be blessed forever, my God, for now I see that you loved me more than I loved myself. How often, Lord, you have freed me from that fearful prison, and how often I have turned back to enter it against your will!”

251. "But I also received the greatest pain of my life from that vision: the thought of the many souls that are being lost (especially the Lutherans, who were already members of the Church through Baptism), as well as a great longing for the salvation of souls. For it seems to me550 that I would surely undergo many deaths gladly, for a single soul. I have observed that in this world, if we see a person whom we particularly like in some trouble or sorrow, our very nature leads us to sympathize with him, and if the sorrow is great it touches us as if it were our own. Well then, at the sight of a soul forever in the greatest of all troubles, who would be able to bear it?

"No heart could bear the thought of it without great suffering. In this life, we know that pain will end at least in death, yet we are moved to compassion. In the next life, there is no end to pain, and so I cannot understand how we can be at peace, seeing the number of souls that the demon carries off every day."

252. "This makes me feel that in a matter of such great consequence we should content ourselves with nothing less than the utmost possible effort. May we spare no effort, and may it please the Lord to grant us the grace we need to this end.''551

253. "One day the Lord let her see many of the joys of heavenly glory and said: 'See, my daughter, what those who oppose me lose; do not fail to tell them of it.'''552

254. "Once, when I was in prayer, I felt so great a joy that, since I was so unworthy of such a good, I began thinking how much more I deserved to be in the place I had seen as my lot in hell (the manner of which, as I have said, I shall never forget). At this thought my soul began to burn all the more and such a rapture of the spirit fell upon me that I cannot describe it. It seemed to me that I was immersed in and filled with that Majesty that I have known on other occasions. Within this Majesty I was given to understand a truth that is the fulfillment of all truths: I cannot say how, for I saw nothing. I was told--I could not see by whom--although I knew that it was Truth itself: 'It is no small thing that I am doing for you; it is a thing for which you are in my debt. All the ills of this world befall it from not clearly understanding the truths of Scripture, and not a jot of it will pass away.' It seemed to me that I had always believed this, as the entire faithful do. 'Alas, daughter,' he told me, 'Few are they that truly love me, for if they did, I would reveal all my secrets to them. Do you know what truly loving me means? It means understanding that everything that displeases me is a lie. What you do not understand now, you shall see clearly, in the good it does your soul.'''553

255. "At this time I learned of the misfortunes in France and the havoc wrought by the Lutherans, as well as of the growth of this misguided sect. I was much aggrieved and, as though I could do anything or were a person of any consequence, I cried to the Lord and implored Him to remedy this great evil. It seemed to me that I would have laid down a thousand lives for the rescue of just one of the many souls that were being lost there. And seeing that I was but a puny woman, unable to serve God as I would (and all my care, then as now, has been to see to it that God, who has so many enemies and so few friends, should at least have good friends), I determined to do the little that was in my power, namely, to observe the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and see to it that the few nuns who live with me should do likewise, trusting in the great mercy of God, who unfailingly comes to the aid of all those who have determined to leave everything for his sake. I hoped that my sisters, since they were all that I might desire, would have virtue enough to resist the bad example of my faults and thus help me offer the Lord some solace, and that busying ourselves with prayers for the success of the preachers and scholars who defend the Church, we might do what we could to help this Lord of mine, who is so oppressed by those betrayers whom He has favored that it seems as if they wish to nail Him to the cross again and deprive Him of a place on which to rest his head."

256. "O my Redeemer, my heart cannot dwell on this without becoming deeply troubled. What is it with these Christians nowadays? Must those who owe you the most be the very ones to grieve you? Must it always be those for whom you have worked the greatest wonders, those whom you have chosen as your friends, those in whose midst you have walked and to whom you have given yourself in the sacraments? Are they not content with the torments you have already endured for them?"

257. "Surely, my Lord, those who abandon the world lose nothing. For if the world treated you so lawlessly, what should we expect? Are we, perhaps, better deserving of its esteem? Have we done it greater favors than you have to merit its friendship? What am I saying! How can we hope for more, since through the mercy of God we are not in that pesthole where the devil's minions already are? They have earned just punishment at his hands and have reaped eternal fire with their pleasures. There they must remain, although it breaks my heart to see the many souls that are lost. Were their evil not so immense, I could not stand to see more of them lost each day."

258. "O my sisters in Christ, help me to pray to the Lord for this, because this is why we have come together in this place. This is your calling and these must be your occupations, your desires, your tears, and your prayers (Way of Perfection, Chapter 1, no. 5).''554
Chapter XV
On the Same Subject
259. From the Life of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi.555 "It would be hard to find any apostolic man with a more burning zeal for the salvation of souls. She had a lively and most tender concern for their welfare, and it seemed to her that she had no love at all for the Lord unless everyone else loved Him, too. On learning of the great strides that the faith was making in the Indies in her day, she would say that if her vocation allowed, she would travel throughout the world to save souls and would envy the birds their wings that she might fly about everywhere to accomplish the task. 'If only it were possible for someone to take me to the Indies,' she used to say, 'so that I could take those little Indian children and instruct them in our holy faith, so that Jesus might be the Master of their souls and that they might possess Jesus!556

260. Then, speaking of infidels in general, she would say, "If I could, I would gather them all together and bring them to the bosom of the Church, that She might purify them of all their infidelities and regenerate them as her children, drawing them to her loving heart and nourishing them with the milk of the holy sacraments. How well she would feed and nurse them at her breasts! Ah, if I could bring them to her, how gladly would I do it!

261. Considering the harm done to souls by widespread heresies, she used to say, "It is important that our souls be like weeping turtledoves, always lamenting the blindness of heretics." And on learning that the faith of Catholics had grown so lukewarm, she would exclaim, "Pour forth, O Word of God, pour forth a living, burning faith in the hearts of your faithful. Re-warmed and enkindled in the bonfire your heart with infinite charity, may their faith be matched by their works and their works by their faith." On other occasions, when praying for the conversion of sinners, she would say in accents of fire that the Lord should not listen to her, but to the sighing of his own precious Blood.”557

262. “She wanted to instill this ardent zeal for the salvation of souls in everyone. Thus she continually told the nuns entrusted to her care to pray to God for souls. "Let us ask for as many souls as the steps we take around the convent, and as many as the words we say in singing the Divine Office." She brought all the warmth of her feelings to bear on the works permitted her as a nun, so that her biographer was able to fill 14 chapters with examples in proof of her zeal for saving souls. Of all the things that she could do--disciplines, fasts, vigils, prolonged prayer, exhortations, corrections, etc.--she omitted not the slightest act. She would give herself to whole months of the strictest penance for the reparation of any sin commended to her prayers.”558

263. We know that many souls were saved through the prayers of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, and that many are now being saved through the prayers of good and fervent nuns. For this reason I have always been ready to preach retreats and sermons to nuns although my time has been too restricted to allow me to be their confessor, namely, that they might commend me to God in their prayers.559 Sometimes I would tell nuns that they must play the part of Moses on the mountain, while I played Joshua's in the field of battle560--they praying and I wielding the sword of God's Word. Thus, just as Joshua claimed victory through the prayers of Moses, so I would expect to claim it through the prayers of the nuns. And to urge them on to greater heights of prayer, I would tell them that we would share the merits of the victory.561

Chapter XVI

Means I used to Achieve Success

First Means. Prayer562

264. Because, as I have already said, I was driven to work for God's greater glory and the salvation of souls, I shall now say something of the means that the Lord showed me were the best and most fitting to attain that goal.

The first means I have always employed and still do is prayer. In my opinion, this is the greatest means that can be used for the conversion of sinners, the perseverance of the just and the relief of the souls in purgatory.563 Hence in my meditations, Masses, recitation of the breviary (prayers) and other devotions, as well as in my aspirations, I always asked God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for these three intentions.564

265. I not only prayed myself but asked others to pray--nuns, Sisters of Charity, Tertiaries,565 and all virtuous and zealous folk.566 I would ask them to attend Holy Mass, receive Holy Communion and, both during Mass and after receiving Holy Communion, to offer to the Eternal Father his most holy Son; and in his holy Name and through his merits, to ask for the three graces I have mentioned, namely, the conversion of sinners, the perseverance of the just, and the relief of the poor souls in purgatory. I also asked them to make visits to the Blessed Sacrament and to make the Way of the Cross.567

266. I also exhorted them to commend themselves earnestly to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to pray to her for the same three requests, availing themselves of the devotion to the Holy Rosary, on which I preached to them, explaining a practical method of reciting it. Before beginning my sermon, I would recite the rosary with all the people, both to teach them how to pray it and, by saying it together, to obtain the three aforesaid graces.568 I likewise taught them the devotion to the Sorrows of Mary and saw to it that on each day of the week they meditated on one Sorrow, so that by the end of the week they would have meditated on all seven.569

267. I also prayed and had people pray to the saints in heaven that they might intercede with Jesus and Mary to obtain these same graces. I especially prayed to those saints who during their earthly lives had shown the greatest zeal for God's glory and the salvation of souls.

268. I never forgot to invoke St. Michael and the guardian angels--especially my own, and those of the kingdom, the province, the city in which I was preaching, and of each individual present.570

269. I have had visible knowledge of the protection of the holy guardian angels.571 I want to list here some of the aspirations I say every day. I have counseled others to say them, and they have told me that doing so has been of much benefit to them.572

Who is like God?

Who is like Jesus Christ?

Who is like Mary, Virgin and Mother of God?

Who is like the angels of heaven?

Who is like the saints in glory?

Who is like the just upon earth?

Long live Jesus! Long live Mary Most Holy!

Long live the holy law of God!

Long live the holy evangelical counsels!

Long live the holy sacraments of the Church!

Long live the holy Sacrifice of the Mass!

Long live the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar!

Long live the Holy Rosary of Mary!

Long live the grace of God!

Long live the Christian virtues!

Long live the works of mercy!

Death to vices, faults, and sins!573

270. The Prayer I Said at the Beginning of Every Mission.574

O Virgin Mother of God, mother and advocate of poor and unhappy sinners, you are well aware that I am your son and minister, formed in the forge of your mercy and love. I am like an arrow poised in your mighty hand.575 Release me, my Mother, with the full force of your arm, against the impious, sacrilegious, and cruel Ahab, wed to the base Jezebel.576 I mean to say: release me against Satan, the prince of this world,577 who has made an alliance with the flesh.

271. May the victory be yours, my Mother; you shall overcome. Yes, you have the power to end all heresies, errors, and vices. And so, trusting in your most powerful protection, I begin to do battle not only against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of darkness, as the Apostle says,578 taking up the shield of the Holy Rosary579 and armed with the two-edged sword of the God's Word.580

272. You are Queen of the angels: command them, my Mother, to come to my aid. Surely you know how weak I am and how strong my enemies are.

You are Queen of the saints: command them to pray for me and tell them that the victory and triumph to be won will be for God's greater glory and the salvation of their brothers.

Lady, through your humility, crush the pride of Lucifer and his followers who have the audacity to claim the souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus, the Son of your virginal womb.581

273. I also Pronounced the Following Exorcism.582

Satan, with all your followers; I, a minister--however unworthy--of Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, command you to depart from here and go to the place where you belong. I command you to do so in the name of the Father (+), who created us; in the name of the Son (+), who has redeemed us from your tyranny; in the name of the Holy Spirit (+), who has consoled and sanctified us. Amen.

I command you also in the name of Mary Most Holy, Virgin and Mother of the living God (+), who has crushed your head.583

Go away, Satan! Go away, you proud and envious one! May you never do anything to hinder the conversion and salvation of souls.

Chapter XVII
Other Means I Made use of to do Good
Second Means. Instructing Children584
274. I bore in mind the old saying: "Pray to God and row for shore." Thus I took great care and worked energetically, as if everything depended on my work and, at the same time, I put all my trust in God585 because everything really does depend on Him, above all, the conversion of sinners, which is a work of grace and the greatest work of God.586

275. Catechizing children. The first thing I saw to was the instruction of children in Christian doctrine--not only because I have always felt a strong inclination toward this kind of education but also because I have come to realize its prime importance. Knowledge of the catechism is the foundation for the whole edifice of religious and moral instruction.587 Moreover, children learn readily and are deeply impressed. Catechism preserves them from error, vice, and ignorance and more easily grounds them in virtue because they are more docile than adults. In the case of children, the only work required is that of planting, whereas adults require both weeding and planting.588 There is yet another advantage: grownups are often won over by the little ones, and parents are won over by their children because children are like so many pieces of their parents' hearts. When the children receive a little holy card as a prize for their attendance and diligence, their parents and other adults read them at home out of curiosity, and this often results in their conversion, as I know from experience.

276. One of the things that has moved me most to teach children is the example of Jesus Christ and the saints. Jesus said, Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs" (Mark 10:14). Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.589 There is no doubt that a child whose innocence has been preserved through good instruction is a treasure more precious in God's eyes than all the kingdoms of this world.

277. The Apostles, who had been indoctrinated by Christ catechized the small and the great alike, and so their sermon became so many basic statements of the mysteries of faith.

St. Denis, St. Clement of Alexandria--a most erudite man, the teacher of Origen--as well as Origen himself, were catechists, as were St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine,590 and St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Jerome, at the very time when he was being consulted from far and near as the oracle of the universe, was not ashamed to teach catechism to children. He spent his last days, which had otherwise been used so well in the service of the Church, in this humble occupation. He once told a widow, Send me your children and I'll babble with them; I'll have less glory in men's eyes, but I'll be glorious in God's.591

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