Saint Anthony Mary Claret

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The “Apostolic Mission”

of Saint Anthony Mary Claret

I. An extraordinary “mission”

As the 19th century acquires historic perspective, the figure of Saint Anthony Mary Claret is also finding its proper place. Claret’s personality, made of contrasts, created an even more contrasting “circumstance:” slandered and celebrated in his time, discussed and praised in the beatification process with the obstructions of the “devil’s advocate” and the arguments of the defense lawyers. These contrasts of light and shadow have helped little to reach an objective vision of his mission and his real influence in the Church. Nevertheless, when it came to the moment of truth, on the occasion of his beatification and the canonization, what the Supreme Pontiffs Pius XI and Pius XII, said respectively, and which could have sounded like extravagant praise due to the circumstances, is now repeated by historians from the viewpoint of rigorous scientific objectivity.

Pius XI said that, among the providential men that God sends to His Church in extraordinary circumstances, “among the greatest men of the 19th century arose Anthony Mary Claret.”2 Pius XII proclaimed that Claret had served the Church up to the end of his life “more than anyone.”3 Now, the historians express that “Father Claret centers the Spanish 19th century with his saintly and apostolic life.”4 “There is none more distinguished than Saint Anthony Mary Claret among those who were dedicated to the rough task of improving the customs and religiously instructing the people.”5 The movement of evangelization to re-catholicize the Spanish society “is linked to Father Claret, apostle of Spain.”6

Father Claret, at first sight called to be a popular missionary, had an extraordinary mission in the Church because of his extraordinary gifts of the Spirit and because of his multiform and submissive action in the same Spirit. From his self-identity as a missionary–consecrated and configured with Christ, the evangelizer–he had a prophetic vision of the world, of the Church and of the urgent needs of his time. As a missionary, he endeavored to give an appropriate response using the most effective methods and he stirred-up this same vision and this same response in others: secular, religious and priests, inspired by this same apostolic spirit.

II. Claret, “apostolic missionary”

In the first biography of Anthony Mary Claret, written a year after his death, Fr. Francisco de Asis Aguilar, well-informed about the Saint as a friend and collaborator, gave him his first title on the book’s cover and with highlighted typography, that of the apostolic missionary, leaving in second place, and in smaller type, that of Archbishop of Santiago of Cuba and Trajanópolis.7 This fact is very significant, because “apostolic missionary” describes the most authentic and profound personality of Anthony Mary Claret.

Apostolic missionary, in its original and legal sense, means a priest sent by the Apostolic See to raise-up the Church where it is not established; it also means a priest recommended by the Apostolic See as Ordinary of an established Church with the canonical mission of animating or re-evangelizing it.8 Claret obtained the title of apostolic missionary ad honorem in 1841; but for him it was not an honorific title, but a definition of his being, a recognition of his charisma and a commitment with the Church.9

For Claret, to be an apostolic missionary means to be one who continues in the mission of Jesus Christ, the Son sent by the Father, and of the Apostles, sent by Jesus Christ to the whole world to make God known as Father and to raise-up his Kingdom through the announcement of the Gospel. First, he was sent to the universal mission of the Church. Because of this, he found the boundaries of a parish to be too narrow,10 likewise, those of a diocese, no matter how vast it would have been, such as that of Santiago of Cuba,11 and also those of a country, when exercising the role as confessor to Isabel II.12 Universal mission is in the widest geographic sense: “the salvation of all the inhabitants of the world,”13 and in sense of classes: hierarchy and faithful, saints and sinners, evangelized and evangelizers, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, kings and vassals.

In second place, the evangelizing mission. The Word is the first means, so to speak, of salvation. Among the elements of the apostolic ministry – magisterium or prophecy, sanctification and shepherding, – Claret felt called to favor, by vocation and in an integrated manner, the first: magisterium; but through evangelization and prophecy: the Word that converts and transforms. Because of this, when it was in his hands, he renounced being a parish priest and sacramental maintenance in favor of missionary, and for the same reasons, itinerant evangelization.14

In third place, he chose evangelical witness, according to the lifestyle of Jesus and the Twelve. Itinerancy brings with it poverty, and he felt the call to live it in a concrete manner, following exactly the letter of the Gospel: he traveled on foot and with no supplies, and, to be totally free to preach, he did not wish to be a burden, and did not accept money for the ministry.15 In Cuba, where distances demanded a means of transportation, he adopted the horse, but bought at a very low price and “which he sold at the end of the missions so as not to defraud the poor with its maintenance.”16 At the beginning, he lived this radical life as a lonely pioneer. Afterwards, the Lord gave him the possibility of living in community, in the likeness of the evangelizing community of Jesus and the disciples.17

This way of understanding the apostolic mission is not the fruit of study, but of an experience of the Spirit and of a charismatic reading of the Gospel, of a personal identity with Jesus Christ the evangelizer. It is the fruit of much soul-searching prayer, and likewise he was only able to accomplish it by responding with much prayer and meekness to the Spirit.

As a missionary, he felt possessed by the Spirit, which had consecrated him to evangelize the poor and heal those of a contrite heart.18 This possession was so full, that he felt like an instrument―arrow, horn―; from another came the strength and the drive, or the wind;19 at times, up to the roar of thunder. The spirit was the charity of Christ, which stirred in him the intimacy of the Father or pushed him in all directions in search of sinners who had gone astray.20

He knew through the Gospel, inherent in the Spirit and through the life he lived, that Christ the evangelizer is a sign of contradiction, and therefore, hardships, slanders, and persecutions, are the badge of the apostle.21 Claret experienced this in slander, forged writings, cartoons, songs, shows; in threats and intimidation, including a bloody attempt on his life.22

A Chapter book of the Tarragona Cathedral has left us this suggestive portrait of the apostolic missionary in his first years: “Anthony Claret, apostolic missionary, accomplishes his mission in the towns to where he is called and sent by the prelates. He is thirty-eight years old, a truly apostolic man, of great zeal and fervor, tireless and extraordinary. He is always on foot; does not accept money or gifts under any pretext. His work is imponderable, because from four o’clock in the morning up until the time he goes to bed, he hardly has time to pray and take necessary food, always going from the confessional to the pulpit and from the pulpit to the confessional.23

III. “Missionary” vision

An outstanding characteristic of Claret was his sensibility to understand the popular soul, his capacity to enter into communion and share the feelings of the people, the fruit of his gifts of human goodness and apostolic zeal.24 His evangelization did not spring from a laboratory of self-sufficiency, which drives his methods and programs, but from that which comes forward from a vision of reality. A vision that sprung from the eyes of the heart, ignited by apostolic zeal.

When Father Claret showed himself to the people, the first thing he saw and felt was the hatred between brothers, triggered by the question of succession to the throne, but which had deeper roots. The consequences, in addition to death, fires and pilferage, were fear, sadness and sorrows, and psychic diseases.25

He saw, in spite of all this, that the people kept their faith, though dimly lit, due to a general illiteracy and a lack of catechists and proper “catechisms.”26 These believing people were sinners because the “three concupiscences” had been triggered by the same passionate environment as the war.27 On the other hand, the ministers of pardon, influenced by a baroque pastoral style and even by Jansenism, terrorized, but did not convert.28 There were also social causes that had negative consequences upon popular piety, among them, industrialization, with all its problems of urban concentration, of injustices, of recriminations. He himself, who had experienced the enthusiasm of manufacturing as a specialist and the progress of being a worker in a large factory in Barcelona, had also seen how it breaks from Christianity when it serves greed, and, by the same token, is converted into oppression.29

Another conquest of technology – steam locomotion – was also going to have a strong impact on society. The railroad made possible the transportation of the masses previously anchored to their native soil with their customs and traditions as norms of life, but without deep principles.30 This illiterate people, with memorized catechism, felt disoriented in the midst a materially diverse world.31 Those who knew how to read would no longer have time for long reading sessions.32 Another literary style and a new way of writing had to come to life. The steam engine could also be a medium of evangelization and Claret would use it on his trips with the queen.33

But the people were not evangelized at this critical juncture, because the religious orders and the popular preachers had been suppressed. Or, if there were any, they were not evangelical, because the Gospel had been replaced by other themes or, by an oratory that sought to “show-off” rather than edify, or, that was discouraging due to baroque harangues, or that was too sentimental due to Romanticism.

The social sin

In Cuba, and also in the south of Spain,34 he saw the social consequences of personal sins. “In this land [Cuba]…there are some forces of destruction and corruption that provoke the Justice of God.”35 The first of these were “the learned and the teachers of the country, in whom not only is there no shadow of religion, but a disdain and hatred against it; who take any opportunity to print and imbue these same feelings in the people, who are extremely docile and humble, and easily seduced by the total ignorance that is present today.”36

Slavery, or the domination of man over the man, was the high point of all the oppressions. “The slave owners…are of course, enemies of Missions, religion and morality.”37

Finally, “because of the infamous conduct shown by the Europeans.”38 “All of them… worship no other god than greed.”39 As a consequence, the family is destroyed by divorce and by unmarried couples living-together, and social justice is violated by the greed to get rich.”40

The ideologies

In his last period in Cuba and in the years in Madrid, Claret realized that a new sign of destruction had appeared: the atheist ideologies. German idealism, with Hegel’s pantheism; English positivism, encyclopedism, Renan’s rationalism, Marxist materialism: these were truly the dark shadows that wandered in the winds, and which were going to influence the world more than liberalism.41 It was the definitive battle of man against God; the existence of faith itself that was now at stake. Saint Anthony Mary Claret was aware of this reality not only through reading and study, but through prayer and supernatural communication.42

On the other hand, Protestantism, because of the effective proselytism of some sects, kept throwing simple people into confusion, unprepared to defend themselves, and who resisted more by an interior instinct rather than by an enlightened doctrine.43

IV. Evangelization as a response

The vision of the troubles of the world, born from his good and sensible heart and from his apostolic zeal, provoked in him an active reaction in both his character as well as in his vocation as apostle, and it was strange that this did not produce in others – priests, religious or secular – the same effect.44

To face the ills of the world, Father Claret, missionary, did not find a more effective cure than that of evangelization: “The divine word made everything from nothing. The divine word of Jesus Christ restored all things. Jesus Christ said to the apostles: Go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”45 And he made his own a quote from Donoso Cortés: “Society does not perish from any another thing than that it has removed itself from the word of the Church, which is the word of life, the word of God.

Societies are getting weak and hungry since they do not receive the daily bread of God’s word. Every proposal of salvation will be in vain if the great Catholic word is not restored in all its fullness.46

The evangelization of the people

To evangelize the people, Father Claret, full of human feeling and evangelical love, delivered to them the saving word through traditional and known ways; above all, through “popular missions.”47 Born during the Reformation, they had their systematic development in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their influence was extraordinary all over Europe.48 But Claret tried to give these missions a new orientation. “The principal subject matter of the popular missions was the inheritance of baroque piety: innovative in plan but very frightening; the shortness of life, vanity of temporal things, sin and its consequences, a causality explanation of the commandments, preparation for confession and communion.”49 He, being a man of his times, had a new sensibility. Jaime Balmes noted the difference and writes: “In the pulpit, he never talks about theater shows. Or of heresies. Or of philosophers or the impious. He always supposes faith…using little terror, softness in all. Never examples that give rise to ridicule. The examples, in general, from the Scriptures. Secular historical facts. Never of antagonistic things. He speaks of hell, but is limited to what the Scripture says. The same about purgatory. He does not want to exasperate or turn people crazy. There is always a catechetical part.”50 A reporter from Havana also noticed this: “He speaks of hell and the price of unconceivable pain a sinner pays when he sees himself deprived forever from God’s presence; without using images of the horrors of screeching members in melted lead boilers or of poisoned harpoons that rip-up tissues with bloody slaughter. His words are of conciliation and consolation; he never abandons the auditorium in the tempest until the rainbow of peace appears on the horizon; he never descends from the sacred lectern without leaving the souls in the sweet expectation of hope, without having lavished on them the comfort of divine mercy.”51

To evangelize the people, Claret used the culture of the people: simplicity, clarity, comparisons and similarities.52Another journalist from Madrid described as biblical his eloquence: “Not a single phrase comes from his lips that tends towards emphatic grand eloquence, so typical in our days; nor does he revel in the pretensions of an outstanding speaker, nor shows a tendency to show-off gifts or position that are so important among men.”53

The credibility of his preaching was endorsed by the anointing of the Spirit, the zeal of his charity and the coherence of his life with the message he proclaimed; in addition, by his total unselfishness and dedication, without rest or compensation. In the seven years of evangelization in Catalonia, he gave missions in 150 places, whether in the capitals of the provinces, or in the most distant mountain towns. Always on foot, always watched by the Government, because it scared them whenever a multitude of people came together and the universal prestige they feared they would lose in a general uprising.54 In the fifteen months he spent in the Canaries, he preached every day, either in missions, or in spiritual exercises. In Cuba, he crossed through the diocese four times on pastoral visits, which were truly missions. In Madrid, in addition to the royal trips, in which he preached continuously, he took advantage of the stays in the royal places to give missions in the neighboring towns. Exiled, he preached in Paris. And in Rome, a Father of Vatican Council I, he did not excuse himself from teaching catechism to children and soldiers and in giving conferences to seminarians and religious.

“I dare to state—said Cardinal Isidro Goma—that Father Claret’s preaching contributed more to the restoration of the faith and the piety of the people and the priestly virtues of the Lord’s ministers than all the ordinary means of illumination and sanctification of souls. Because there is nothing that revives the people more deeply than these divine bursts passed on to them by men truly possessed with the Spirit of God.”55

But in addition to the traditional means, such as the popular missions, Father Claret used new forms: spiritual exercises, publications and community or parish libraries. Especially because of his use of publications, Pius XI gave Claret the title of modern apostle: “We say modern because of the objectivity of the means and methods adopted, which antiquity neither had nor knew, and which in our days represent such an important and effective part of our life.”56

“Not everyone wishes to or is able to hear the Word of God—wrote Father Claret—, but everyone can read or listen to the reading of a good book.”57 This moved him to write flyers, short works, and books; robbing himself of sleep at night. To insure that the books would be really economical and at popular prices, he established, with canon Caixal, the Librería Religiosa, which in its first nineteen years of existence published 9,569.800 copies.58

In Cuba, he distributed at no cost 200,000 books.59 In Madrid, he established parochial libraries. Before dying, even in Rome and in Fontfroide, he continued the apostolate of the written word. He desired that every household would have The Catechism Explained,60 to illuminate the family’s faith; The Straight Sure Path61 to facilitate piety, and books of counsel62 to all, to promote the sanctification of each one according to his own state.

To confront the new atheistic humanism at a popular level, he published Summer Evenings63 and The Railway,64 spreading, by means of short stories, devotions that were most opposed to these ideologies: the Trisagion, against pantheism; the Mass, against the negation of the divinity of Jesus Christ; the Rosary, incorporating the difficulties of life in the mysteries of Christ and Mary, against the materialistic conception of existence.65

Evangelization and human development

Saint Anthony Mary Claret evangelized always in direct contact with the people: “Because I always went on foot, I would fall in with mule-drivers and ordinary folk.”66 Neither in Cuba nor in Madrid, did he allow himself to be isolated by Episcopal dignity. Because of this, his evangelization answered the real needs using effective means. As we have said, in Cuba, he perceived more clearly the social consequences of personal sins, and, because of this, a conversion to a Christian life carried within positive social consequences. Pope Paul VI has said that between evangelization and human advancement – development, liberation – there are very strong anthropological, theological and evangelical links.67 Claret saw the union between evangelization and advancement mainly from the point of view of apostolic charity. In his time, the difference between rich and poor was considered to an act of providence against which one could not fight; one had to be content in living with the contrasts.68 To the rich, it was necessary to preach that they had to be fair and charitable with the poor, and to the poor, that they should be austere and hard working. The evangelizers of 19th century did not have the support of a social doctrine, nor of scientific criticism, nor of a social justice sensibility like those which we have today.

Claret was not satisfied with denouncing, from the pulpit and in his writings, the sins of the rich and the poor, but he put into practice measures that were modern for his time. He wrote a couple of books on agriculture69 for the promotion of field workers in the technical and human-Christian aspect. He organized a model farm and created savings banks to facilitate the means of work, “for I saw that when the poor have proper direction and are given a decent means to earn a living, they are upright citizens; it is only otherwise that they become debased.”70 In his Rules, he shows the connection between the savings banks and what he had taught, in word and writing, to preserve good manners, to elevate public morality and to promote agriculture and the mechanical arts.71 The liquid profits had to be invested in dowries for poor girls and aid for widows. He also started an arts and trade school that would function in the prison, “for experience had shown us that many men turn to crime because they have no trade and don’t know how to make an honest living.”72

In Cuba, he also fought a great battle in favor of the family, disrupted by the abusive interpretation of the Laws of the Indies, which contributed to the rise of divorce and unmarried couples living together.73

Evangelization and slavery

The evangelization of the slaves was more difficult, because of the opposition from the hacienda owners and the slave traders.74 Claret was bent on an action on a human level. Due to its complexity an effective social action for emancipation transcended even the possibilities of an archbishop. England was in favor of the emancipation, but not even with its strength as a great power could it make it happen in Cuba due to the interference of the United States. The States of the South wanted to annex Cuba and give it a place in the Confederacy, in which they could “strengthen the power of slavery as an element of political control.”75 On their part, the Cuban slave traders favored the annexation as a means to save their interests. Nevertheless, the Marquis of Pezuela issued a very forceful decree on December 26, 1853 against the slave trade. To prepare for the acceptance of this decree by public opinion, the governor inspired a series of articles in the newspaper Diario de la Marina in which he praised Archbishop Claret for his opposition to the slave trade.76 Because of this opposition, the slave owners-annexationists tried to poison the Saint.77

Evangelization and politics

Father Claret, the missionary, affirmed a thousand-and-one times that he did not want to meddle into politics. Nevertheless, his evangelization had political consequences, and the parties would have liked to use it in their favor in one way or another. Referring to the preaching in Catalonia, the anarchist Jaime Brossa declared: “Before the appearance of Father Claret, Catalonia was mature for indifferentism…If Father Claret had not existed, Catalonia would have understood the message of the revolution.”78 During his time in Cuba, the slave owners-annexationists “said that the Archbishop of Santiago did them more harm than the whole army.”79 Historian Raymond Carr affirmed that the intensification of Spanish Catholicism, due in great part to the preaching of Father Claret, “was useful because it was an element of social cohesion, which shamed and divided liberalism.”80 Pius IX summarized Claret’s conduct this way: “I saw Monsignor Claret, and recognized in him a dignified ecclesiastic, a man totally of God, and even though distant from politics, as with everything, he experienced much of the intemperances of the same politics and the malice of the men who are Catholic in name only.”81 “As source and head of Catholic politics, Father Claret became the favorite target of attacks from radicals and liberals.”82

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