Author: P. Jesús María Ballester
Life and work of a holy priest and apostle.
Antonio Claret y Clará was born in Sallent (Barcelona, Spain) on December 23rd, 1807. Due to his mother’s poor health, he was cared for by a nursemaid in Olot. That the nurse’s house collapsed and everyone died when Antonio was not there was considered a sign of providence over Antonio. At the age of five he was impressed by the “always, always, always”: “The idea of eternity was so engraved in me, which is what I have most in mind. It is what has made me more and still makes me work, and will make me work as long as I live, in the conversion of sinners”. The war against Napoleon seized the environment. Two loves stood out in the little Claret: the Eucharist and the Virgin. He attended mass attentively; he left the game to visit Jesus in the church; he prayed the rosary every day and he had a soft spot for books. He devoured them.
Few things contributed as much to his sanctification as his readings. Anthony had the hope of being a priest and an apostle.
BETWEEN THE LOOMS
He spent his adolescence in his father’s shop, becoming a teacher, which he perfected in Barcelona at the School of Arts and Crafts of the Lonja. During the day he worked, and at night he studied. To surpass in quality and beauty the samples that came from abroad. A group of businessmen proposed to him to found a textile company.
A friend stole his savings, played them and lost them and stole some valuable jewels, which he also lost and Antonio was accused of being an accomplice, creating in his heart a dislike for the world, friendships and wealth. On the beach, a gigantic wave swept him away, and he almost drowned. He shouted “Holy Virgin, save me”, and without knowing how, he saw himself on the shore. Visiting a friend, he found his wife alone, who said to him, “Antonio, how different you are from my husband, always sour and derogatory! I wish we were friends”. Claret fled from temptation. “Madam, your husband is late and I have a lot to do…” She wanted to stop him, but Antonio left. The words of the Gospel: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”, had deeply impressed him. Different and various experiences with which Providence knocks on the door of that soul so sensitive to divine insinuations.
He wanted to be a Carthusian. When the bishop of Vic learned of his decision to become a priest, he wanted to know him. He left Barcelona on his way to Sallent and Vic, at the age of 21, decided to become a priest. He studied como externo/externally and stood out for his piety and his application. He was led by Pedro Bac, an oratorian. A year later, when he was on his way to the Carthusian monastery of Montealegre, a storm broke out that put an end to his plans. God did not want him to be a Carthusian. God did not want him to be a Carthusian. He returned to Vic. In a temptation the Virgin appeared to him and said: “Antonio, this crown will be yours if you win”. Suddenly, all the obsessive images disappeared. The atmosphere of the Seminary was excellent. He was a friend of Jaime Balmes and he was ordained Deacon in the same ceremony in which he was ordained Subdeacon. He studied deeply the Bible, which impelled him to an insatiable apostolic and missionary spirit. At the age of 27, on June 13th, 1835, the bishop of Solsona, Bro Juan José de Tejada, former general of the Mercedarians, conferred on him the Priesthood. He celebrated his first mass in Sallent with the joy of his family and was assigned to Sallent, his hometown.
THE CARLIST WAR
When Ferdinand VII died, the constitutionals usurped power as did the French Revolution. The Courts of 1835 approved the suppression of religious Institutes. The goods of the Church were seized and auctioned and the people were encouraged to burn convents and kill friars. Navarre, Catalonia and the Basque Country rose up against this disorder, the origin of the war between Carlists and Elizabethans. Claret was not a politician. He was an apostle. And he gave himself to his ministry in spite of the difficulties of the hostile environment.
His charity had no limits. Therefore, the horizons of a parish did not satisfy his apostolic eagerness. With a bundle and without money, on foot, he crossed the Pyrenees, arrived in Marseilles and embarked for Rome, to join “Propaganda Fide”, to preach the Gospel to the infidels. He did spiritual exercises with a Jesuit and felt called to be a Jesuit; but God did not want him to be a missionary or a Jesuit. A strong pain in his right leg made him understand that his mission was in Spain. After three months he left the novitiate advised by Father Roothaan. In Spain, he was assigned to Viladrau, in the province of Gerona, where he had to act as a doctor using herbs and ointments.
APOSTOLIC MISSIONARY IN CATALONIA
Pero su temple de acero todo lo resistía y triunfaba en todas las emboscadas. Daba Ejercicios Espirituales al clero y a las religiosas. En 1844 los dio a las Carmelitas de la Caridad de Vic, con la asistencia de Santa Joaquina Vedruna.
He has the charism of reading consciences. And enemies who slandered him and impeded his missionary work and the archbishop of Tarragona had to defend him. But his iron nerve resisted everything and triumphed in all the ambushes. He gave Spiritual Exercises to the clergy and religious. In 1844 he gave them to the Carmelites of the Charity of Vic, with the assistance of Santa Joaquina Vedruna.
On July 16th, 1849, in a cell in the seminary of Vic, he founded the Congregation of Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He was 41 years old, with Esteban Sala, José Xifré, Manuel Vilaró, Domingo Fábregas and Jaime Clotet. “Today begins a great work,” said Father Claret. He knew that he was impelled by God; and God revealed to him: That the Congregation would spread throughout the world. That it would last until the end of time. That all those who died in the Congregation would be saved.
Y las “Religiosas en sus Casas o las Hijas del Inmaculado Corazón de María, actual Filiación Cordimariana.”
In the flowering of new religious institutes of the nineteenth century, he was a determined collaborator who accompanied almost all the founders and foundresses of his time. With Mother Paris he had founded in Cuba in 1855 the Institute of Religious of Mary Immaculate, Claretian Sisters, for the education of girls. Directed by him were Santa Micaela of the Holy Sacrament, foundress of the Adorers, Santa Joaquina de Vedruna, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. He was connected with Joaquím Masmitjà, founder of the Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary, with Don Marcos and Doña Gertrudis Castanyer, founders of the Philippians, with Mary of the Sacred Heart founder of the Servants of Jesus, with Ana Mogas founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Shepherdess, with Francisco Coll founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, with the foundress of the Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Mother Esperanza Gonzalez, and influenced the Company of Saint Teresa, and the Religious of Christ the King. And the “Religious in their Houses or the the Daughters of the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary, present-day Cordimarian Filiation”.
ARCHBISHOP OF SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Appointed Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, after all the attempts of resignation, he was consecrated on October 6th, 1850 in the cathedral of Vic, at 42 years of age. Before embarking for Cuba he made three visits: to the Virgin of Pilar, in Zaragoza, to the Virgin of Montserrat and to the Virgin of Fusimaña, in Sallent. On the trip to Havana he gave a mission on board for all the passengers, officers and crew. He spent six years in Santiago de Cuba, working tirelessly, missioning, sowing on that island where racial discrimination and social injustice reigned. He was an evangelizing Archbishop. He renewed all aspects of church life: priests, seminary, education of children, abolition of slavery. He made four pastoral visits to the diocese.
He was a practical man. He founded in all parishes religious and social institutions for children and the elderly; he created technical and agricultural schools, established and propagated Savings Banks, founded asylums, visited all the cities, towns and ranches of his huge diocese, always on foot or on horseback. But not even in Cuba did his enemies leave him alone. He suffered attacks when he arrived, especially in Holguín, where he was wounded by a hitman, whom he had taken out shortly before of jail. Almost dying, he forgave the criminal.
CONFESSOR OF QUEEN ELIZABETH II
After six years in Cuba, one day he received an urgent dispatch from the captain general of Havana by which Queen Isabel II called him to Madrid, appointed confessor of the Queen. Upset, he accepted, but setting conditions not to live in a palace, not to get involved in politics, no guardar antesalas y libertad de acción apostólica. Claret was not born to be a courtier. His apostolic activity at the Court was intense. Few were the churches and convents where his voice was not heard.
He restored El Escorial and created an ecclesiastical University, with studies of humanities and classical languages, modern languages, natural sciences, archaeology, choir and band music. Studies of Philosophy and Theology, with Patristics, Moral Liturgy and Biblical sciences, Caldaic languages, Hebrew and Arabic. He made this monastery one of the best centres in Spain. The eighth wonder of the world regained its splendor.
THE ZEAL CONSUMES HIM
“In court I felt like a caged bird… like a dog tied up… I have such a great desire to leave Madrid to go preach all over the world, that I can’t explain it… Only God knows what I suffer… Every day I have to do acts of resignation conforming to God’s will…” “I have no rest, nor does my soul find comfort except by running and preaching”.
While accompanying the Queen on her tours of Spain, she took advantage of the occasion to exercise an intense apostolate.
The royal caravan rolled along the plains of La Mancha, Alicante, Albacete, Valencia… and Castilla, León, Asturias and Galicia. In the south, among an extraordinary enthusiasm, he preached 14 sermons in a single day. The Kingdom of God was announced and the people responded with generosity. “In these journeys, the Queen gathers the people and I preach to them.
“Antonio, write,” Christ and the Virgin told him. He continually scrutinized the signs of the times: “One of the means that experience has taught me to be more powerful for good is the printing press,” he said. At the age of 35 he published numerous pamphlets and books, such as “The Right Way”, which would be the most read book of piety of the 19th century. With his friend José Caixal, future bishop of Seu D´ Urgel and Antonio Palau he founded the “Religious Bookstore”, the Brotherhood of the Heart of Mary and wrote the statutes of The Brotherhood of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Lovers of Humanity, composed of priests and laymen, men and women. He wrote some 96 works of his own (15 books and 81 pamphlets) and 27 others edited, annotated and sometimes translated by him. Only if one takes into account his extreme industriousness and the strength that God gave him can one understand the fact that he wrote so much with such intense dedication to the apostolic ministry. He was not only a writer. He was a propagandist. He spread books and loose-leaf books profusely. He invested large sums of money in the publication of books. “Not everyone can hear sermons… but everyone can read…” “The preacher gets tired… the book is always ready… Books are the food of the soul…” Among the hundred or so works of all sizes that he wrote, the following stand out: “Notices” to all kinds of people. “The Right Way” “The catechism explained” “The schoolboy instructed” “The books are the best alms”. He founded the “Spiritual Brotherhood of Good Books”, which during the years was under his direction until his departure to Cuba printed a great number of books, booklets and flyers, with an annual average of more than half a million printed sheets whose foundation received the personal congratulations of Pope Pius IX. He founded the Brotherhood of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the diffusion of the books and constituted one of the first essays of active lay apostolate because it is composed of priests and lay people of both sexes.
SAN MIGUEL ACADEMY
It is one of his most brilliant works in which he sought to bring together the living forces of the plastic arts, journalism and Catholic organizations; artists, writers and propagandists from all over Spain. Its prestige managed to gather in it the most representative figures of the Spanish Catholic field. In nine years numerous books were distributed free of charge, many others were lent and an incalculable number of loose leaves were distributed. And he founded popular libraries in Cuba and Spain. More than a hundred came to function in Spain in the last years of his life. He deserves the title of press apostle.
Courtly sumptuousness did not prevent Father Claret from living austerely. He devoted much time to prayer. Admirable sobriety in food and drink. He slept six hours. Three hours of prayer and reading the Bible, celebrating the Eucharist and hearing another in thanksgiving. He confessed and wrote. He preached, visited hospitals, prisons, schools and convents. He pawned his breastplate to help a poor man. He was a true mystic. He was seen in a state of deep self-absorption in front of the tabernacle. One Christmas day, in the church of the Adorers of Madrid, he said that he had received the Child Jesus in his arms. The love of the Eucharist, which devoured his heart all his life, transformed him into Christ, into a patient and sacrificed Christ. That was the secret of his entire spirituality.
HIS IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST
“I felt how the Lord called me and granted me the ability to identify with Him. I asked Him to always do His will. The experience of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, in the celebration of Mass or in Eucharistic adoration was so profound that I could not explain it. I felt and feel his presence so alive and so close that it is violent for me to separate myself from the Lord in order to continue my ordinary tasks”. He enjoyed the privilege of preserving the sacramental species from one communion to another for nine years, as he wrote in his Autobiography: ” On August 26, 1861, finding myself at prayer in the church of the Holy Rosary, at La Granja, at seven o’clock in the evening, the Lord granted me the great grace of conserving the Sacramental Species, and to have, day and night, the Blessed Sacrament within my heart. Since then I had to be with much more devotion and interior recollection.” That is why he said: “Nowhere am I so recollected as in the midst of the crowds”.
DEVOTION TO THE VIRGIN MARY
Devotion and love for the Blessed Virgin have marked his life since he was a child. The Virgin was for him the star that guided him. He imagined that his prayers were going up to heaven through “mysterious threads”. As a child, he prayed part of the Holy Rosary every day and the fifteen mysteries when he grew up. Our Lady had told him: “You will be the Sunday of these times. Promote the Holy Rosary”. He loved Mary, but Mary loved him more, because she always granted him what he asked for, even things he never asked for. Our Lady freed him from sickness, dangers and even death, freed him from temptations and occasions to sin. The Saint said: “You see how important it is to be devoted to Mary. She will deliver you from evils and misfortunes of body and soul. She will obtain for you earthly and eternal goods. …Pray the Holy Rosary to her every day and you will see how Mary will be your Mother, your advocate, your mediatrix, your teacher, your all after Jesus”. “Neither in my personal life nor in my missionary wanderings could I forget the maternal figure of Mary. She is all heart and all love. I have always seen her as the Mother of the beloved Son and this makes her my Mother, Mother of the Church, Mother of all. My relationship with Mary has always been very intimate and at the same time close and familiar, of great trust. I feel formed and modeled in the forge of her Motherly love, of her Heart full of tenderness and love. That is why I feel like an instrument of her divine maternity. She is always present in my life and in my missionary preaching. For me, Mary, her Immaculate Heart, has always been and is my strength, my guide, my comfort, my model, my Teacher, my everything after Jesus”.
It is not surprising that a man of the influence of Father Claret, who dragged the crowds, also attracted the wrath of the enemies of the Church. But the threats and the attacks were getting frustrated one by one, because Providence watched over him who rejoiced in the persecutions. He suffered many personal attacks in his lifetime. But it was worse the defamatory campaign that was organized on a large scale throughout Spain to discredit him before the simple people. He was accused of influencing politics, of belonging to the Queen’s famous “clique” with Sister Patrocinio, Marfori and others, of being unintelligent, of being obscene in his writings, of being ambitious and a thief. But Claret knew how to be silent, happy to suffer something for Christ.
BEFORE THE RECOGNITION OF THE KINGDOM OF ITALY
The recognition of the Kingdom of Italy was equivalent to the approval of the plundering of the pontifical States. Father Claret had warned the Queen that if she approved this outrage he would withdraw. On July 15th, 1865, the government met at La Granja to remove the Queen’s signature, but the Queen, deceived, signed.
Claret did not want to be an accomplice and heard these words: “Antonio, stand down”. Overcome with pain, he left for Rome, where Pope Pius IX consoled him and ordered him to return to court. The royal family rejoiced immensely at his return. But again it rained slander and attacks on him. He was one of the most persecuted public men of the 19th century.
On September 18th, 1868, the revolution was unstoppable. Twenty-one cannon shots from the frigate Zaragoza, in the Bay of Cadiz, announced the dethronement of Queen Isabel II. With the Elizabethan defeat in Alcolea, Madrid fell and the revolution spread throughout Spain. On the 30th, the royal family, with its confessor, left exiled to Pau and Paris. Father Claret was 60 years old. Then burning churches and murders and the fulfillment of Claret’s prophecy that the Congregation would have its first martyr in this revolution. In La Selva del Camp, Father Crusats was assassinated. On March 30th, 1869, Claret separated from the Queen and went to Rome.
FATHER OF THE VATICAN COUNCIL I
Vatican Council I began on December 8th, 1869. Father Claret was there. One of the most debated topics was pontifical infallibility in matters of faith and customs. Claret’s voice resounded in the Vatican basilica: “I carry in my body the signs of Christ’s passion,” he said, alluding to the wounds of Holguín; “I wish I could, confessing the infallibility of the Pope, shed all my blood at once”. He is the only Father of that Council who has reached the altars.
On July 23rd, 1870, accompanied by Father Xifré, General Superior of the Congregation, Archbishop Claret arrived in Prades, in the French Pyrenees. The community of missionaries in exile, almost all of them students, received with great joy the founder, who was already ill. But his enemies wanted to apprehend him and he had to flee to the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide, where he was welcomed with great joy. “It seems to me that I have fulfilled my mission. In Paris and In Rome I have preached God’s Law… In Paris, the capital of the world and Rome, the capital of Catholicism. I have done this both by word of mouth and by writing. I have observed holy poverty…” His health was undermined. On October 4th he had a stroke. On the 8th he received the last sacraments and made his religious profession as Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On October 24th with all the religious kneeling around his bed, between prayers Anthony Mary Claret gave up his spirit. He was 62 years old. His body was buried in the monastic cemetery with the inscription of Gregory VII: ” I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in exile”.
His remains were transferred to Vic, where they are venerated. On May 7th, 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him a Saint. “St. Anthony Mary Claret, said the Pope, was a great soul, born to join contrasts: he could be humble of origin and glorious in the eyes of the world. He had a small body, but a giant spirit. He was of modest appearance, but very capable of imposing respect even on the greats of the earth. He had a strong character, but with the soft tenderness of one who knows the brake of austerity and penance. Always was in the presence of God, even in the midst of his prodigious exterior activity.
Slandered and admired, celebrated and persecuted. And among so many wonders, like a soft light that illuminates everything, his devotion to the Mother of God shines forth”.
FORERUNNER OF THE CULT OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
As the Order of the Carmelites is the Order of the Brothers of the Virgin, the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an original foretaste of the Fatima Revelations, in which the Virgin, in 1917, commissioned Lucia to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What else did St. Anthony Mary Claret do when he founded his Congregation, rather than anticipating the Fatima Revelations by 68 years? It is no coincidence that in one of the quarters of the dome of the Basilica of Fatima there is an image of Saint Anthony Mary Claret and that the attention to the pilgrims of that Shrine has been entrusted to the Religious Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Written by Claret as a pedagogical and spiritual example of missionary life totally consecrated to the announcement of the Gospel, in availability to God’s will and communion with the Church.