ANTHONY MARY CLARET

CLARETIANS

 

Lifetime: Born in 1807, died in 1870 at the age of 63.

Order: Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians)

Founded: Vich, Spain, 1848, at the age of 42.

Mission: Preaching by means of retreats, missions, and the printed press

Impact: By the time of Anthony Claret’s canonization, there were 4000 Claretians living in 240 religious houses in 24 countries.

Quote: "I can see what they say of me. I can only comment that it is a reminder of the patrimony left us by Christ. This is the pay the world accords us. We do well to recall the words of Isaiah, ‘Your strength is in silence and hope.’ Blessed be you, my God. Give your holy blessing to all who persecute and calumniate me. Give them, Lord, prosperity—spiritual, corporal, temporal, eternal. And to me give humility, gentleness, patience, and conformity to your holy Will, that I may suffer in silence and love the pain, persecution, and calumny that you permit to descend upon me."

 

The courier made his way up the center aisle of the packed church in Santiago, Cuba. He approached the pulpit, where Anthony Mary Claret was giving one of his customary impassioned sermons. The archbishop paused for a moment and peered down at the unexpected visitor, who handed up a large sealed envelope and departed in silence.

The archbishop had not brought his reading glasses, so he did not open the envelope until he returned to his residence. As he walked in the door, he asked one of his canons to read him the message. It was surprising news from the commandant of Santiago: "It is the queen’s pleasure that you leave immediately for Madrid. Tomorrow I shall forward the formal order and place a ship at your disposal."

Upon his arrival in Spain, he received the news that he was to be the queen’s confessor, a highly influential position at the Spanish court. The never-ending conflict between the pressures of office and the dictates of her conscience had exhausted her, and she was convinced that no one in Spain could fill the post of court confessor better than Anthony Claret.

As far as Claret was concerned, nothing could have repelled him more: he not only hated having to abandon all his work, but he also loathed politics. Furthermore, he could not help wondering if he was not becoming a pawn in the desperate game the enemies of the Church were waging for political control of Spain.

All Anthony Claret really wanted was to return to the congregation he had founded several years before. The Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, later known as the Claretians, were dedicated to preaching and catechizing. They also operated a small publishing company which he had begun and for which he wrote many of the first pieces. The discipline and spirit of the congregation focused on poverty, avoiding honors, and accepting calumnies, and loving one’s enemy. At the heart of their spirituality was the search for perfection through prayer and meditation.

Once he had established the publishing company, Claret’s next step was to devote himself entirely to expanding the congregation. But less than a month after foundation, he was appointed Archbishop of Santiago. He was thunderstruck. All his plans would have to be dropped. Reluctantly, he left behind his small, struggling community.

Now, after six years of tireless work to rebuild the Church in Cuba, he was again asked to take yet another step further away from his desire to consolidate his order. He told the queen he was not ready to make a decision, and he consulted the papal nuncio about taking the position of court confessor. "For the good of Spain," was the answer, "it is better for you to accept." He accepted the post and named Fr Jose Xifre the superior general of the congregation.

Claret wrote to a friend, "You have no idea of the grief such a nomination occasions in my heart. It ruins my apostolic plans. Seeing the scarcity of preachers in the Spanish territory, the great desire of the people to hear the Divine Word, and the many requests I receive to go preach the gospel throughout Spain, I wanted to gather and train a number of companions, to accomplish with others what I could not do alone."

 

The Storm Breaks

Storm clouds were gathering on the political horizon. The queen’s enemies plotted to overthrow the government, but they realized that a direct attack would be futile. They first had to topple the queen’s strongest moral support, one of the most revered men in Spain: Anthony Claret stood in their way.

On October 15, 1859, a man entered the church where Claret was preaching, intent on murdering the queen’s confessor. The secret society to which the man belonged had given him forty days to "eliminate" Claret, and the assassin’s time was running out. If he failed, he would be killed, just as he himself had killed other unsuccessful assassins.

But once inside the church, an unaccountable change of heart overcame him, and he found himself weeping at the very feet of the man he was going to kill. Claret embraced and forgave his would-be assassin, and the man set off to hide from the society.

Not long after this, a well-dressed man appeared at Montserrat, urgently requesting to see Claret. He was informed that His Excellency would doubtless see him at the close of the sermon he was delivering in the hospital church. The stranger grew tired of waiting and decided that he might as well go in to hear the last sermon Claret would ever preach.

As he slipped into the back of the church, he heard the conclusion of the sermon: "If the enthusiasm with which I speak of the glories of my most holy Mother Mary surprises you, know it could hardly be less, inasmuch as all my life long she has been my Protectress, and even at this instant she is freeing me from a greater danger that threatens me."

After mass, the man approached Claret penitently, holding out the dagger with which he had intended to end the priest’s life. This man, too, had to flee the secret society's wrath, and Claret supplied him with a disguise, some money, and a passport.

 

Attacks from the Press

Failing to eliminate Claret through violence, the queen’s enemies adopted alternative measures. They planned to discredit and humiliate Claret before the eyes of his tremendous following. The press launched the first accusations, alleging that Claret was involved in an improper relationship with the queen. Moreover, they claimed that he attracted vast audiences of listeners with graphic descriptions in his sermons of the most abominable sins.

Then an unauthorized edition of his latest book, "The Golden Key," was published with pornographic illustrations. Simultaneously, two slanderous new biographies of Claret appeared on the market. The clergy of Madrid was shocked.

Although the political climate was rapidly decaying, the queen remained unaware of the looming disaster. "The Lord is angry with this nation," Claret kept warning. "He has told me a great revolution will fall upon Spain. The queen will be dethroned, a republic declared, and many innocent people will suffer."

When the revolution came in the form of a military coup, the queen was exiled from Spain. In the purges that followed, the upstart government murdered a number of Claretians. Claret escaped with the royal family to the relative safety of Paris, while his congregation established themselves at Prades, just across the border from Spain.

Later, some jewels were found missing from the Escorial near Madrid, and Claret was "discovered" to have stolen them. Spanish newspaper editorials demanded his extradition from France, and he was depicted in cartoons fleeing from Spain burdened with an expensive monstrance.

 

The Final Journeys

Claret’s one consolation in the course of his exile was his active participation in the First Vatican Council. As the debates raged over the doctrine of papal infallibility, Claret held his tongue. But as he listened to one particularly misleading and deceptive argument, he became so outraged that he suffered a stroke. Despite the urgings of friends, he remained at the council, delivering a passionate confession of faith in the infallibility of the pope. The council voted in his favor.

Though his heart was consoled, his body was quickly deteriorating. News of his physical state soon reached the superior general, Fr Xifre, who immediately left for Rome. Upon his arrival, he was overwhelmed by how much his founder’s health had declined. Yet, he feared bringing Claret back home to Prades, so close to Spain and so far from the protecting influence of the royal family in Paris. But there was no other option. "I am taking you back to Prades, no matter what the French authorities say," he resolutely told his founder.

Back in Padres, it no longer seemed necessary to conceal Claret’s presence at Prades. So when he was invited to speak at the neighboring seminary of Fontfroide, he did so in his native Catalan, a language very similar to French. It was a mistake.

Some time later, Fr Xifre received a letter containing the worst possible news. The Spanish consul at Perpignan had received word that Claret had been located at Prades and had solicited authorization for his arrest. On August 5, it became known that a warrant authorizing his arrest had been signed. It was a final act of malice on the part of his persecutors. To avoid this, he would have to go into hiding at once.

The superior of the seminary at Fontfroide suggested to Fr Xifre, "Bring him here to the monastery; we have prepared a room for him." The local bishop approved the plan, and at daybreak, Anthony Claret was carried to the monastery by his Claretians. It proved to be his last journey. Upon his arrival, Anthony told the monks, "All my life I have looked forward to ending my days in a monastery." There he died on the morning of October 24, 1870.

 

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