October 23, 2016

Optional Memorial of St. Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24th, is the optional memorial of Saint Anthony Claret, (1807-1870) the 19th century Spanish bishop, missionary and social reformer, who founded the Order of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the Claretians. His consequential ministry saw him spread the Good News of Christ throughout the world from Europe to Cuba, the Canary Islands and the First Vatican Council, where he was a stanch defender of papal infallibility.

He was born Antonio Maria Claret, in Salent in the Diocese of Vich in Catalonia, Spain, the fifth of eleven children to Juan and Josefa Claret. As a youth, he learned his father’s trade of weaving as well as printing and Latin. Although he seemed destined to a life of manual labor, Anthony answered the Lord’s call. He dreamed of becoming a Carthusian monk, but poor health prevented him. In 1829, on the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, he entered the diocesan seminary at Vich. In 1835, he was ordained to the priesthood and named pastor of his home parish. Next, he would travel to Rome where he worked briefly for the Propagation of the Faith. There, Father Claret also entered the Jesuit novitiate in hopes of becoming a missionary, but withdrew due to sickness. Returning to Spain, he resumed pastoral ministry.

Claret was recalled by his superiors to act as an Apostolic Missionary in war ravaged Catalonia. Over the next decade, he won popular renown as an eloquent preacher and powerful homilist; attracting audiences from far and wide. His sermons placed great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During missions, he spent hours hearing confessions. (The gift of reading consciences was attributed to him.) Threatened by anti-clerical elements within Catalonia, he was sent to the Canary Islands where, for fifteen months, he continued preaching. Despite his success, Claret resolved to go back to Spain and establish an order of missionaries that would share in advancing his work.

On July 16, 1849, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, together with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known today as the Claretians, along with the religious library in Barcelona (Libreria Claret). Six years later, the Congregation would be officially approved by Pope Pius IX.

At the behest of Queen Isabella II of Spain, he was installed the Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba. He presided as archbishop for seven years, during which, he made pastoral visitations and preached stridently against both slavery and sins against marriage. His preaching drew the ire of enemies who threatened to kill him. On one occasion, a would-be assassin stabbed his neck and wrist. Claret survived the attack, the most serious of fifteen plots he faced during his lifetime. Of this he wrote: "I can´t describe the pleasure, delight, and joy I felt in my soul on realizing that I had reached the long desired goal of shedding my blood for the love of Jesus and Mary and of sealing the truths of the gospel with the very blood of my veins" (Autobiography #577).

In 1857, he was recalled to Spain by Queen Isabella to be her confessor. He did so, on the condition that he not participate in the palace court, save attending to spiritual needs. Upon the granting of this condition, he was appointed to the titular see of Trajanopolis. He would spend this time ministering to the indigent and propagating learning. He directed ecclesiastical studies at the Escorial and helped with the recognition of religious orders in Spain. In 1869, he participated in the First Vatican Council in Rome. While he was away, the Spanish monarchy was overthrown. Upon his return, Claret joined the royal family exiled in France.

When Spanish authorities placed Claret under house arrest, he was living in the Cistercian monastery at Fontfroide, where he died at the age of 63. Perhaps his most enduring contribution was establishing a religious publishing house. Aware of the power of the pen, in 1847, he established it to make the message of God accessible to all. (Claret authored some 144 books.) He was canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 7, 1950. Almighty God, who for the evangelization of peoples strengthened the Bishop Saint Anthony Mary Claret with admirable charity and long-suffering, grant, through his intercession, that, in seeking your will, we may greatly devote ourselves to winning our brothers and sisters for Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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