The feast of the conversion of Saint Paul commemorates Paul’s call as Apostle to the Gentiles. His encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus affected him throughout his life.
Claret’s life, vocation and mission exhibit decidedly Pauline traits. From the beginning, Claret identified with the Apostle’s calling and mission. Attending Sunday Mass in Barcelona, “with more machines in his head than saints at the altar,” he remembered the words of the Gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mt 16:26). “This impressed me deeply and like an arrow pierced my heart. I sought to know what to make of it but to no avail” (Aut 67-68). Claret saw himself like Saul on the road to Damascus. He went to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, where he met Brother Paul, who after speaking with him introduced him to Fr. Amigo, who would be Claret’s Ananias. He followed the priest’s advice (Aut. 69).
Claret also emulated and imitated enthusiastically Paul’s zeal, his style of preaching, and how he wrote and taught everywhere, always prepared to suffer beatings, persecutions and slander for the sake of Jesus. Paul so identified with the Lord that all that mattered to him was to glory in the cross of Christ (cf. Aut 224). Claret expected the same style of apostolic life of his missionaries. A Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes… embraces sacrifices and 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 (cf. Aut 494).
The vocation of Paul
Today, we celebrate the Apostle’s call to follow Jesus and to evangelize the Gentiles. As a result of his encounter with Christ, Paul considered himself as much an apostle as were the Twelve. The impact of his experience never diminished, impelling him to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world. Thus, Paul’s entire life was quintessentially a calling, and he died with a clear conscience as an Apostle. He says: “I would have you realize, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel I have preached is not a human gospel. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11-12).
The vocation of Claret
Clearly, Claret’s vocation exhibits a Pauline character. His Autobiography describes its development. The Spirit’s prompting is unmistakable and Claret’s response is prompt and generous.
When Claret was twelve years old, a distinguished visitor to his school asked him what he wanted to be (Aut 30). Without hesitation, Claret answered that he wanted to be a priest, indicating his generosity of spirit, his readiness to serve God and his detachment from earthly things. He was firmly determined to follow Christ, in spite of any difficulty.
Claret went on to implement his desire by undertaking studies in Latin (Aut 30). Unfortunately, circumstances kept him from continuing, though he remained resolved to follow through on his decision. “With total confidence, I would leave it all in God’s hands, trusting Him to do whatever had to be done: which He did, as I shall say later” (Aut 40).
When Claret was twenty-one years old, the calling and response were definitive. God illuminated him to the point of blinding him and leaving him disorientated as Paul had been. Claret’s only concern was to seek the truth.
Sometime later, while Claret attended Mass in Barcelona, he heard the words that had made a deep impression on him as a child: “What does it profit one to gain the whole world but to lose one’s soul?” (Mt 16: 26). He found himself in a very confused state, totally absorbed by the realities of the world, manufacturing in particular, and lacking spiritual fervor. His soul was slowly losing the sensitivity he had always had for the things of heaven. Still, he worked tirelessly to remain in fellowship with God.
These words from the Gospel once again affected Claret like “an arrow to my heart” (Aut 68). The generosity of Paul came to his mind. Seeing that a promising career in the textile industry offered him no genuine security, Claret resolved to move ahead.
- Claret resolved to tackle a conflict, not simply of ideas but one affecting his very soul.
• He experienced profound doubt about what he should do, though God’s will seemed unmistakably manifest in his hearing the Gospel text.
• Claret thought it prudent and urgent to seek out an Ananias, whom he found in Fr. Amigo, who told him what he had to do (Aut 68-69).
• Once the storm settled, Claret experienced a total change of perspective with respect to the purpose of human existence, past events of his life, and the role they played in his vocation (Aut 77). The spiritual fervor, which he had almost totally neglected, was rekindled.
• He resolved to leave everything and to pursue his priestly vocation, doing all that was necessary to attain his goal (Aut 79): the study of Latin, spiritual purification (Aut 85) and entering the seminary of Vic, on September 30, 1829 (Aut 79-82 ff.).
Excited by the missionary style of Paul
Claret wrote enthusiastically of the zeal of St. Paul: “The zeal of St. Paul has always awakened my deepest enthusiasm. He went from place to place, a chosen vessel, carrying the teaching of Jesus Christ. He preached, wrote, and taught in synagogues, prisons – everywhere. He worked and made others work, in season and out of season. He suffered scourging, stoning, persecutions of all sorts, as well as the fiercest calumnies, but he remained always dauntless. On the contrary, he rejoiced in tribulations and was able to say that he did not wish to glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ”(Aut 224).
“As soon as he was called by Jesus Christ on the road and then animated the Spirit he received in Damascus, not by flesh and blood but by the fire of charity, he ran from one place to another, a vessel bearing the name of Jesus, not looking for anything but the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls; not afraid of prison nor chains; unafraid of whippings or threats of death. One only need read the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters to what is expected of a priest, animated by an ecclesiastical spirit, the same spirit that animated Domingo de Guzman, the Vincents, the Javiers and many other priests”(2, pp. 285-286).
This is the kind or apostolate Claret sought to emulate and which he expected of every one of his missionaries: men who respond to the radical call of Christ, who are inflamed by the fire of divine love and seek to spread that fire wherever they go; men who proclaim Jesus’ name in every corner of the world and seek only the glory of God and the salvation of all humankind; Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who prophesy tirelessly yet tenderly; men who are dauntless and do not hesitate to embrace work; men who are stalwart in the face of adversity, confident, as were Paul and Claret, of the source of their strength (cf.. Aut 494).
- BROWN, R. E., The community of the Beloved Disciple, Salamanca 1983.
- CLARET., The priestly spirit, in Spiritual Writings (EE), Madrid 1985.
- LOZANO, J. Mª., Mystic and Man of Action, Madrid 1963.
4. PALACIOS, J. Mª., The vocational signs in St Anthony Mary Claret, Claretianum 11, Rome 1971, pp. 97-137.