Today, October 6, memorial of St Bruno, we commemorated the Anniversary of the Episcopal Consecration of St Anthony Mary Claret. This took place in the Cathedral of Vic in 1850, a little more than a year after having received the appointment to the Diocese in Santiago, Cuba. Claret was 42 years old.
This reflects the way our Founder lived his Episcopal mission. It was not easy to accept the recommendation of the Pope. Once the decision was made, he tried to live it in the style of the Apostles. In the seven years in which he was Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, he delivered body and soul to the revitalization of the Diocese through pastoral visits, the attention to the clergy, renovating the seminary, the promotion of social work and the evangelization of Christian life in general. His spirit as an apostolic missionary breathed an Episcopate of dynamism that was not normal for the bishops of his time.
This model of Episcopate is what he practiced, especially during the time in which he was Pastor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Cuba.
Unlike many other Bishops of his time, competent persons were entrusted for the regular operation of the Archdiocesan Curia. He devoted himself fully to the evangelization through pastoral visits in the Diocese, the continuous exercise of the ministry of the Word and the concern of meeting the needs of the poorest, especially for the field workers care and education. He implemented this work for his people by shedding his own blood in the attack at Holguin, on February 1, 1856.
In the later periods of Madrid, Paris and Rome, even though he was not the Ordinary, he knew how to find other channels as preacher, giving conferences, Spiritual Exercises, the apostolate of the press, spiritual direction, a Council member, and to continue serving the Church. The charity of Christ, the motto of his coat of arms, was always the focus of his life and apostolate.
On a day like today, we can have a special moment for all Claretians who have been called to serve the Church as bishops. Let us pray for them and their particular Dioceses so that, following the example of St Anthony Mary Claret, they know how to bring the Gospel with a life-giving ministry and with attention to the signs of the times.
On August 11, 1849, when leaving the pulpit, after the last meditation of the Exercises which he was directing for the clergy in the Cathedral of Vic, Fr Claret received word to present himself immediately to Bishop Luciano Casadevall. It was here that he received the official letter informing him that he had been appointed Archbishop of Cuba. Claret was somewhat confused: “I felt unworthy” (Aut 495). The next day he had submitted his resignation to the Nuncio Msgr. Brunelli. The reasons were clear. He felt unworthy and without adequate preparation. Moreover, he felt that he could not abandon the newly founded works: the Religious Bookstore and the Congregation. Above all, he believed that the Episcopate could mean the death of his missionary charism: “So to be assigned to a single archdiocese, when my spirit is for the whole world” (3, p. 314).
Before this insistence, a process of discernment began. He prayed with intensity. He asked for the advice of his friends Jaime Soler, Jaime Passarell, Pedro Bac and Esteban Sala. According to the reasons that were given to him, he accepted the appointment with the words of Mary: “Ecce servus tuus, Fiat in me secundum verbum tuum (here is your servant; may it be done in me according to your word)” (3, pp. 321-324).
A year after his Episcopal consecration took place He narrates in his Autobiography: “On October 6, 1850, the feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order I had once wished to join – was also the first Sunday in October and the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, which has always been one of my favorite devotions. On this day I was consecrated Archbishop, together with Don Jaime Soler, Bishop of Teruel, in the Cathedral of Vic. The local ordinary, Don Luciano Casadevall, was the consecrating bishop, assisted by their Excellencies, Bishops Dominic Costa y Borrás and Fulgencio Lorente, of Barcelona and Gerona, respectively” (Aut 499).
The way Claret understood and lived his Episcopal ministry was synthesized in the shield that he himself drew. He explained in a letter to a nun from Manresa, Sister Dolores Sánchez: “The bridge, river and waterfall indicate Sallent, my homeland; my father is from this side of the river and my mother from the other; the sun symbolize Claret, and the moon, Clará; the name of Mary my spiritual source, she is my mother, since Mary is the patron saint of the parish where I was baptized… The host in the womb means that she is the Mother of God and by devotion that I wish to have the Blessed Sacrament. The palm alludes to St. Stephen, patron saint of the parish and mine; The lily alludes to St. Anthony, St. Luis Gonzaga and St. Catherine of Siena, my patrons” (3, p. 413). Knowing the life of Claret, each one of these references has meaning.
All symbols are complete with St. Paul’s motto Caritas Christi urget nos (the charity of Christ urges us) that is written in the edge. Its interpretation was this: “The motto means that it is not the love of gold and silver etc. which impels me to run from one part of the world to another, but the love of Christ, as St Paul said” (3, p. 414).
After his Episcopal consecration, Fr. Claret was forced to translate his charism as an apostolic missionary in the exercise of the episcopate. In his time it was considered, above all, an honor and dignity. The Bishop was, moreover an official bureaucrat. He regained his sense as genuinely apostolic. In his notes of a plan to restore the beauty of the Church (1857) he summed his thought on the episcopate. To be bishop meant for Fr. Claret to be fully transformed in Christ, participating in his sanctifying function as Shepherd and Bishop of souls and his fatherly care in respect of each one of the faithful. The bishop should also participate in the spousal love of Christ for his Church, which implied to love her, that he might sanctify her and give his life for the Church.
This model of the episcopate is what he practiced, especially during the seven years in which he was pastor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Cuba. As soon as he arrived on the island he made it clear to the Governor General Don Jose Gutierrez de la Concha: ” The day that I see you putting the smallest stumbling block on my mission… on that day I will leave and I will lose nothing in regard to my person, because the character of a missionary is enough for me to be poor, to love God and to love my neighbor and win their souls at the same time my own” (3, p. 485).
During his time in Madrid, and visits to Paris and Rome, they signified an expansion of the exercise of his episcopate as a concern for the universal Church. In addition to his continuous preaching, he increased his apostolic writings, intervened in the appointment of bishops, participated in the First Vatican Council and consummated the Episcopal consecration by giving up his life as an oblation for the whole Church in solitude at Fontfroide.
- AGUILAR, M., The admirable life of Fr. Claret, 2 tt., Madrid 1894.
- ÁLVAREZ GÓMEZ, J., Claretian Missionaries. Return to the origins, Madrid 1993.
- CLARET. EC, t. I, Madrid 1970.
- Fernandez, C., The Blessed Fr. Anthony Mary Claret, t. I, Madrid 1941.
- LOZANO, J. M.ª, A life at the service of the Gospel, Barcelona 1985.