150 years ago, our beloved father and Founder of our charismatic family, St. Anthony Mary Claret, was called to the bosom of the Father after completing his mission on earth. I believe, Claret would be happy that we are austere in this time of global pandemic in our external celebrations and he would certainly want us to be present to the people in their suffering as he himself did as a missionary Bishop in Cuba in his time. We shall make use of this occasion to grow deeper in our charismatic spirit which would enable us to be fully present as missionaries with our fellow humans in this difficult time. We know this pandemic also will pass just as every night gives way to the light of the day.
Since April 2020, the outbreak of the Pandemic brought the mystery of death remarkably close to everyone causing panic and uncertainty at a global level, even though suffering and distress are not new to most of us. In fact, many of us have lived through devastating moments at personal and family levels when a dear person suffered terminal illness, drug abuse, financial breakdown, etc. Some have lived hard times due to political conflicts and ethnic tensions in their regions or in their nations. It is worth turning towards our founder to know how he lived the mystery of suffering. Following the example of Jesus, Claret tried everything to alleviate the suffering of others wherever he served. Claret and his priests risked their lives to serve the people during the earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic of 1852 in Santiago de Cuba (Cf. Aut 529-537).
When suffering visited Claret, he embraced it with the mind of Christ. During the assassination attempt in Holguin, Cuba (1 February 1856), the assassin’s razor sliced into the bone of his upper and lower jaw and left him with a permanent facial defect and certain difficulty in articulation for the rest of his life. His response to the attempt on his life was one of joy and delight for having reached, as he wrote, “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 (Cf. Aut. 577). His stay in Madrid as the confessor of the queen Isabella II was another kind of martyrdom for him.
Two years before his death, he was suffering from an ulcer in his mouth which in those days could lead to death. In a letter to Fr. José Xifré on 4 March 1868, Claret wrote:
“Oh, how I would like to die if the Lord would allow me!… Last week I thought that divine permission had already come, I was incredibly happy… I had an ulcer in my mouth, my lower jawbone was visible and it was growing day by day: I have seen some die from this…. Seeing my ulcer and the growth it was taking and that it would finally end with me I did not want to tell anyone, in order to be able to die, so much is the desire that I have to go with Christ; but I thought that it would be better and more pleasing to God to tell them and to subject myself to the discomfort and pains of the operations and medications and so I did”.
Claret showed the ulcer to a doctor who came the next day with all his apparatus and pulled out two teeth and applied an ointment on the ulcer which got healed eventually. He concluded, “My hopes of a near-death have been shattered. Praise be to God” (Cf. EC II, p.1249).
In suffering, a missionary easily identifies with St. Paul who wrote “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:8).
When the news of Claret’s death reached Mother Antonia Paris (Foundress of Claretian sisters-RMI) who believed that God chose Claret to be an instrument of renewal of the Church, she wondered how this mission of him was going to be accomplished. She wrote in her diary what the Lord revealed to her, “Perchance, is my Word abbreviated? Trust, daughter, wait a little while and you will see what I do…” (Diary no.109). Could it be that the Lord has been answering through the life and mission of all those who were to share the charism of St. Anthony Mary Claret. Our collaboration too is required to make it true.
Dear Claretians, the apt homage to our Founder on the 150th anniversary of his death is our pledge to selflessly love God and His Church and commit ourselves to be witnesses and messengers of the joy of the Gospel as he did in his days.
When Claret discovered Jesus in his life, he also got the Mother of Jesus to form and accompany him in his life and mission. This is our fortune too. Indeed, a life spent like Claret at the service of the Gospel is worth living with all its consequences. I wish you all a meaningful celebration of the feast of our Founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF
24 October 2020