St Anthony Mary Claret: Something Big from Something Small

· Founder,Bishop,Religious Saint,Spanish Saint
Saint Anthony Mary Claret: Something Big from Something Small from Letters from the Saints Blog with an image of Saint Anthony Mary Claret

In a story told by St. Anthony Mary Claret (1807 - 1870) from his own life, we learn that something big can come from something very small.

Through the words of more modern saints, we have been reminded of the importance of small actions and words.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, wrote, "Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love."

And, St. Teresa of Calcutta, who took her religious name from the Little Flower, said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."

Most of our days, even our lives, are made up of small actions or small words. We call them "small", but these saints remind that there is nothing actually small in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.

It is a bit like when mothers and fathers observe the "small" actions of their very young children. A kind gesture by a young child to his brother or sister is not small in the eyes of the parent who has the joy of observing it. In many cases, these actions by young children can actually be very "large". And, as the saints remind us, they are special because they are done from love.

St. Anthony Mary Claret in his autobiography, written at the direction of his spiritual director, recalled a very small action that had a very large impact. It is a reminder to us that we should always be ready to perform small actions and to let the Lord take care of the rest. First, let's meet the holy bishop St. Anthony Mary Claret.

St. Anthony Mary Claret, Patron Saint of Weavers

Anthony was the fifth of eleven children born to Juan and Josefa Claret who lived in Sallent in the Province of Barcelona, Spain. His father worked in the wool trade, and when Anthony became old enough he learned the trade of a weaver. At the age of eighteen, he left his home to go to Barcelona where he became very proficient in the programming of looms for very complicated weaving patterns. (This is how he later became the patron saint of weavers.)

During his four years in Barcelona, the strength of his devotion to the faith that had been given to him by his parents waned somewhat as he became almost obsessed with the manufacturing business. Through a series of events, he decided that it would be best for him to be more concerned about his soul and less focused on secular work.

A wise priest advised him to learn Latin to which he applied himself with the same rigor as he had previously applied to his work life. Then during, what we be the last summer he spent in Barcelona as a weaver, he had his life spared by the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom he cried out when he would have otherwise drowned off the coast of Barcelona.

The final push to change his life came when a friend of his, who had a major gambling problem, stole some of Anthony's money in an attempt to pay off his debts. In addition, the companion was arrested and sentenced for stealing a woman's jewels to also attempt to pay off his gambling debts. This last act was too much for Anthony because he wondered what kind of life he was living to be so closely associated with a criminal act of this kind.

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Not a Monk and Not a Jesuit

Initially, in his attempt to leave the secular world completely, Anthony tried to become a Carthusian monk. He began his studies in preparation for monastery life at the diocesan seminary. However, through sound spiritual direction, it became clear he was not called to be a monk, but he was called to become a diocesan priest.

After his ordination on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua in 1835, he was assigned as an assistant priest in a parish in his hometown. Fr. Anthony settled into the life of a priest and developed what would be a habit of celebrating Mass early in the morning followed by confession for as long as people continued to come. Fr. Anthony also became a competent preacher as he gained experience by sharing the preaching duties with the pastor.

Throughout his formation and early years of his priesthood, Fr. Anthony had sensed through his reading of Scripture that the Lord was calling him to the work of spreading the Gospel far and wide. He decided to test this calling, and he was granted permission to go to Rome to present himself to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Instead of being sent as a missionary to some far-flung location, Fr. Anthony ended up in the novitiate for the Jesuits of Rome. After spending some time growing in the spiritual disciplines of the Society of Jesus, the Lord made it clear that it was time to return to Spain. A mysterious pain prompted Fr. Anthony to meet with the Superior General of the Jesuits who interpreted the strange malady as a clear sign that Fr. Anthony was to quit the Jesuits and to return to Spain.

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The Evangelist and Patron Saint of the Catholic Press

Fr. Anthony returned and soon was commissioned to travel throughout his diocese and all of the region of Catalonia to give parish missions. And, so he began his very effective missionary work in his own home country. Over time, he developed a plan for his parish missions that helped stir up conversions through preaching and confession and then provided ongoing formation to help parishioners remain faithful long after the mission had ended. It is estimated that over the course of his life, he gave at least ten thousand sermons.

From his yearning to save souls, Fr. Anthony would start a publishing house that eventually would print and distribute millions of copies of religious books and pamphlets, many written by him, that helped the faithful to embrace, know, and live the faith. (That is why he would later be declared patron saint of the Catholic press.)

In addition, he founded a religious order of priests who were dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel through word and print. The Claretins, as they have become known, shared the same zeal as Fr. Anthony and assisted him in his parish missions and publishing efforts.

Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba

In 1850, at the request of the Spanish Crown, Fr. Anthony would be ordained bishop and made archbishop of Santiago, Cuba by Pope Bl. Pius IX. The diocese had not had a bishop in over fourteen years. The archbishop spent months every year on the road going to every part of his diocese to meet his flock, administer the sacrament of confirmation, validate marriages, and strengthen his priests. To continue to provide faithful and prepared shepherds for the block, Abp. Anthony reorganized the diocesan seminary.

True to his missionary spirit, he continued to publish books and pamphlets and to support parish missions throughout his diocese. Over the course of his seven years as archbishop, he would visit every part of his diocese at least three times.

During one of his parish visits, a Freemason attempted to kill Abp. Anthony. The man who was trying to slit the bishop's throat with a razor blade instead deeply wounded his cheek. The archbishop lost quite a bit of blood, but remained calm and lucid after his attack. In fact, while others were panicked, he calmly gave directions for his own care. Later, the archbishop would forgive his attacker, and he was able to have the man's punishment of a death sentenced lessened to life imprisonment outside of Cuba.

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Return to Spain as the Queen's Confessor

The queen who had become very fond of Abp. Anthony because of his missionary work in his home country requested that the archbishop be assigned to the royal court as her confessor. The Holy See approved, and Abp. Anthony returned to Spain.

Although he felt less at home in the royal court and the capital of Madrid than his native Catalonia, he set aside his discomfort and continued his missionary efforts through preaching and publishing as well as founding educational institutions. Abp. Anthony also continued to guide his religious order as it began to grow beyond the borders of Spain.

In 1869, Abp. Anthony left for Rome in order to prepare for his participation in the First Vatican Council. However, he would need to retire to the French Pyrenees due to failing health. He remained in France because of political unrest in Spain, and at the age of 62, he died in a Cistercian Abbey in southern France.

It is the Little Things

In his autobiography, Abp. Anthony recalls a time when he was living in one of the larger cities of Spain. One day as he was walking through the streets, a young boy came up to him and greeted him. The young boy asked Fr. Anthony (he was not yet ordained a bishop) if he would give him a holy card. Fr. Anthony gladly handed the child a holy card and continued on his way.

The next day, Fr. Anthony was in the same area of the city in order to celebrate Mass and to hear confessions at a local church as was his practice. After Mass, he was making his thanksgiving when he was surprisingly interrupted by a man.

The man had a striking appearance. He had a full beard and large mustache, and he was somewhat overweight. He had covered himself so completely with a cape that, with the bushy beard and mustache, Fr. Anthony could only see him from his nose to his forehead.

In a voice that trembled and was near hoarse, the man asked Fr. Anthony if he would hear his confession.

Normally, Fr. Anthony would have told the man to join the line that was forming outside the confessional. However, something told him that this situation needed a different approach.

He asked the man to go to the sacristy where he would join him in a few minutes after he completed his thanksgiving.

When Fr. Anthony entered the sacristy, he asked the man to join him in the farthest corner of the room in order to maintain privacy. Immediately, the man, who had now uncovered his face, got on his knees before the priest and began to wail. Although the good priest tried to comfort the man and understand the cause of his profuse tears, it was to no avail. It would be some time before the man was able to speak to the priest and tell his story.

Between his sobs, he told Fr. Anthony that he had seen him yesterday when he had given the holy card to the young boy. The young boy had looked at the card and left in a place for safe keeping while he went off to play. The curiosity was so great in the man that he made his way over to where the card lay and picked it up to look at it.

As he read the card, he was cut to the quick. In his heart, he knew that he must go to confession as soon as possible. And, the thought occurred to him that since Fr. Anthony was the good priest who had provided the card, he must go to him to make his confession.

The man then explained that he had spent the night weeping and examining his conscience. He was fifty years old and had not been to confession since he was probably about the same age as the young boy. Instead, he had fallen into bad habits and had led a sinful life. His life had been marked with crime as had become the head of a very bad gang.

At this point, he looked directly at Fr. Anthony and asked if there was any possibility of pardon for one like him.

The holy priest assured him that there was hope and that the man needed to trust in the mercy and goodness of God. He told him that it was clear that the Lord wanted to save Him, and his contrition showed that his heart was not hardened. He also told him that he had done well to follow up on his resolution to make his confession.

And, then, right then and there, the man proceeded to make a holy confession and to receive absolution for his sins. Fr. Anthony reported that after receiving absolution, the man was so happy, he could not speak.

In his autobiography, Abp. Anthony then reflected on the holy card and noted that if even just one soul had been saved by all his efforts at printing and publishing it would have been more than worth all of the work he had expended.

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