today, october 24, 2020, marks the 150th year anniversary since the death and new life of st anthony claret. because of the covid pandemic, our celebrations worldwide as claretian missionaries are muted. but the Spirit still moves us in different ways to give thanks for the life and service of this marvelous man of God, man of action.
i thank God for st anthony’s prayers for me as a son of the heart of mary!
the nature of fire is that when it touches material that is flammable, it spreads. st anthony claret was a man on fire with love. fire is an image associated with the Holy Spirit and it’s appropriate for this holy man of God. st anthony wanted all people to know the love of God and be saved. his zeal was the foundation of his actions in so many different ways.
apostolic energy flowed from the Spirit to move st anthony ( https://frarthurcmf.wordpress.com/2020/10/22/the-spirit-of-st-anthony-claret/ ) to extraordinary action: captivating mission preaching, countless hours in the confessional, founding groups of lay people for special service, founding a new-styled printing press aimed at regular catholics plus so much more. i only want to comment on a few examples. namely, his effect on others and his prophetic ministry as bishop in santiago, cuba.
in 1849 in vic spain, anthony founded the congregation of missionaries– sons of the immaculate heart of the blessed virgin mary
the fire that burned in his heart attracted other priests, namely jaime clotet, jose xifre, dominic fabregas, manuel vilaro, stephen salas ( http://www.claret.org/en/founders/co-founders/ ). st anthony knew that if he was going to be an effective instrument for the Lord that he could not do it all by himself. each of these co-founders of the congregation was inspired by st anthony and had his own devotion to mary’s heart. led by the Spirit, each of them played a unique role to spread the Gospel under mary’s intercession.
the movement grew. others were inspired by st anthony and the co-founders. in turn, this spiritual energy could not be contained just to spain. the missionaries presence spread to northern africa and mexico. the trail of the claretian missionaries was a blaze. currently, we are about 3,000 men in about 70s countries. i am both honored and humbled to be part of these sons of mary’s heart. i am thankful to be able to call these men my brothers.
i also bow the various women’s religious and lay groups around the world founded in the spirit of st anthony! it is an international fire founded by his inspirational life. st anthony, pray that we may continue to follow the Spirit’s lead to do God’s will in your creative style of life and ministry.
for me personally, i take inspiration from st anthony’s apostolic example in his time in cuba. not only did he travel the whole region by foot to visit all the parishes, he administered the sacraments with a zeal that was unparalleled. but st anthony realized that the people in the region had unique challenges in their daily lives. his ministry needed unique responses. st anthony began social projects for the good of all the people: cooperative farms, parish credit unions, a boys’ and girls’ town for orphans. he also founded the first institute of “religious in their homes” or what are now known as secular institutes.
this missionary framework of service brought st. anthony into conflict with the wealthy of cuba. he saw firsthand how the slaves were being treated. they might have been baptised, but it was only in name: they were not treated with the dignity of being a son or daughter of God. st anthony fought the injustices of wealthy land owners, going as high as her majesty’s government in spain in his efforts to defend the rights of the working classes. he did what he could– administered the sacraments. st anthony expanded the sacrament of marriage to include those who worked and lived as slaves. he recognized their right to love and have families: he publicly acknowledged their humanity. these actions did not sit well with those who only saw these slaves as commodities to be exploited and abused. through his actions, st anthony affirmed that black lives matter because they are sons and daughters of God.
st anthony knew that there would be opposition in announcing the Good News to people on the margins. whereas most bishops were to play their role in advancing the good of the imperial state, he was a missionary with the fire of the Spirit accountable ultimately to God alone and the God’s divine will. the consequence of these actions for social justice was a conspired act: those in power had st anthony moved back to spain to be cordoned to the royal court as the queens confessor. st anthony later called this his “white martyrdom”, his bloodless suffering towards death. no longer would the wealthy have to worry about their investments in slave labor be threatened. st anthony was exiled from cuba.
we claretians are at our best when we remember and live out this courageous way of serving people at the margins today. we will also find opposition by those in power if we are truly doing God’s will in the Spirit, but this ought not deter us from doing what is good and right for those in need. pray for us, mary and st anthony!
may we be men for mission as st anthony describes:
“for a son of the immaculate heart of mary is a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes. he desires mightily and strives by all means possible to set the whole world on fire with God’s love. nothing daunts him; he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, and rejoices in suffering. his only concern is how he can best follow Jesus Christ and imitate Him in working, suffering, and striving constantly and single-mindedly for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
for a good description of his st anthony or for his autobiography see http://www.claret.org/en/founders/st-anthony-mary-claret/