THE GLORY OF MARTYRDOM
“It is good and worthy to suffer unfavourable things of this life, whatever they may be, in a way that no agitation of spirit manifests itself outwardly, nor those who suffer them be too overwhelmed, nor complain about others who make one suffer, nor seek to take revenge against the evildoer. But it is better to suffer the evils not only with exterior meekness, but also without complaint or murmur against the oppressor, without being outraged or inwardly upset. It is, finally, best to a high degree to suffer the evils not only without disturbance of spirit, but also with joy and a desire to suffer more, in order to be able to offer that suffering as a gift to the Lord and to be able to follow him more closely with the cross” (El amante de Jesucristo. Barcelona 1848, p.108).
The Lord said: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10.39; 16.25). Therefore, every disciple of Christ has to count on the possibility of martyrdom and value it highly. In fact, the community of Jesus, from its early days till now, has experienced the reality of martyrdom in many of its members. And it is expected that this will continue to be so in the future. Just think of the number of martyrs who gave their lives for Christ under Nazism and Communism in the last century, and the difficulties, and even martyrdom, in our own days, through the work of intolerant regimes or bands of fanatic persecutors.
Claret desired to end his days by shedding his blood for Christ. God did not grant it to him. At the end he died of illness in exile (which is yet a sort of martyrdom); but, throughout his life he suffered at least a dozen attacks, and in one of them, which took place in the city of Holguín, Cuba, where he was seriously injured and had indeed shed his blood for Christ; in his autobiography he describes in detail the joy this experience gave him. That is why Claret had holy envy for Fr. Francisco Crusats, who died in 1868 as a martyr in La Selva del Camp, Spain.
Throughout its history, the Claretian Congregation has had hundreds of martyrs. In the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) it was the religious institution with the greatest number of martyrs: 271; among them, the blessed martyrs of Barbastro (51), whose feast we celebrate today. Before that Blessed Fr. Andres Sola, in Mexico (1927), and then Fr. Rhoel Gallardo in the Philippines (2000), not counting those who suffered imprisonment, torture, exile. It is a great inspiration which should animate our fidelity and that of all Christian people.
“ … Therefore, we too, having around us so great a cloud of witnesses… let us run with perseverance the race that has been marked out before us, eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfect of our faith …” (Heb 12:1-4; cf. 11).
While Claret was in Madrid from 1859, a storm of persecution erupted against him. Shortly after, Claret began to concentrate his imitation of Christ in suffering for love and in union with what Jesus suffered for him: “everything that gives me pain I will suffer for the love of Jesus and in union with what he suffered for me” (Resolutions in 1861, AEC p. 695). That is the reason he wrote in the definition of the missionary: “he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, and rejoices in suffering.” (Aut 494). These are expressions that some do not understand but they are key for explaining the process of being conformed to the patient Christ that Claret was living precisely at this stage in Madrid as royal confessor. Few people know his booklet Comfort for a Slandered Soul (can be seen in EE pp. 219-236), where the key can be found for understanding that process.
He writes in his autobiography: I contemplated Jesus Christ and saw how far I still was from suffering what Jesus Christ suffered for me, and so I became calm. In the same year I wrote the booklet entitled “Comfort for a Slandered Soul” (Aut 798). It deals with the literary fiction that he sees reflected and to which he devotes two chapters to focus attention on the persecutions and slanders that Jesus suffered and the comforting words he had spoken.
We could also do this exercise of purification. Go and read the steps in which suffering is the protagonist in the life of Jesus and compare them with ours. Learning to suffer is one of the unfinished assignments of the Christian. Claret chose the way of looking at the suffering of Jesus. We could choose the same. Possibly, many of the bad moments of our life we can overcome, and those moments can become a great source of comfort