Today is the feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret -- a favorite saint that my husband introduced me to several years ago when he gave a teaching on this amazing man of God. I don't think I have heard of any saint who was filled with so much zeal for his apostolate. He was a monk and a mystic who exerted an unusual amount of influence over the laity by obeying the call of God.
Born on Christmas eve, 1807, in the village of Sallent, in Catalonia, Spain, Anthony was a very pious child. When he was eleven years old, the bishop visited his school and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without the least bit of hesitation, he replied: "A priest."
As a young adult, Anthony Claret excelled as a maker of cloth as a weaver in his father's textile factory. He then studied for the priesthood, desiring to be a Jesuit. Ill health prevented him from entering the Order, so he served as a diocesan priest. He was ordained at age 27 and busied himself preaching in rural areas, organizing conferences for clergy, and writing. Zeal for the salvation of souls spurred him on to preach an estimated 25,000 sermons, write 144 books, and preach countless missions.
During his mission work, he accepted no money and walked everywhere -- from town to town through rugged terrain. He had only one pair of shoes, one set of clothes and a few books. He neither ate meat nor drank wine, and slept only 3 - 5 hours per night.
After one remarkable mission, Father Claret's bishop wrote: "this town has never seen the likes of this. Enemies are at peace. Scandals have been ended. Broken marriages are repaired. Restitutions have been made. No one can withstand the fire of his preaching, the kindness of his manner. Everyone, even the proudest, fall at his feet."
The secret of his success was LOVE. He summed it up this way: "Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity- the fire of love of God and neighbor- it will work wonders." (Autobiography #438-439).
In 1848, he established a publishing house at Barcelona and in the following year, founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or the "Claretians". Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Archbishop of Santiago in Cuba, where he worked for six years to organize and evangelize his diocese. During that time, he visited every parish in his diocese four times (Some of these had not seen a bishop in 60 years) and conducted missions in each one, plus confirmed those who had not been (300,000), and rectified the invalid marriages (9,000). He also founded another new congregation, the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, dedicated to the instruction of the young.
Miracles surrounded his work, and he possessed the gift of prophecy and the reading of hearts. He often saw Our Lord and Our Lady (to whom he was especially devoted), receiving from them instruction, encouragement, and prophecies. At the request of our Blessed Mother, he spread devotion to the Holy Rosary and was considered to be a latter day St. Dominic.
During a single day's visit to the city, he would preach to the local clergy, to several convents of nuns, and (in the evening) to the laity, besides hearing confessions much of the day. For his miracles and preaching, the Spaniards called him another St. Vincent Ferrer.
Though he avoided politics, both political parties considered him to be Spain's most influential man. He was so hated by the revolutionaries that they tried to kill him no less than 14 times and were still searching for him as he lay dying, an old man in exile.
St. Anthony Mary Claret died in the Cistercian monastery at Fontfroide in southern France on October 24, 1870 and was canonized in 1950.
Into his 35 years as a priest he packed 100 years of work.
“A son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man who is consumed with love and who sets on fire everything in his path. He is a man who unceasingly expends himself to light the fire of divine love in the world. Nothing stops him; he places his joy in privations, he undertakes all works for the glory of God; he embraces willingly every sacrifice, he is happy in the midst of calumnies; he exults in torments. He can think of but one thing — working, suffering, and seeking at all times the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls, to imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret, TAN BOOKS And Publishers, INC. Rockford, IL, 1985.
The Life of St. Mary Anthony Claret, Fanchon Royer, TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS INC., Rockford, IL, 1985.
Miracles of St. Anthony Mary Claret, Fr. Juan Echevarria, TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC., Rockford, IL