Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Man Named Mary: The Clear Witness of St. Anthony (Mary) Claret

At about seven o'clock this morning, I secretly wished the other Saint Anthony was today's patron, as I looked vainly (and a bit blindly) for my dropped contact lens. And yet for my son Gary Anthony O'Toole, who is currently struggling through Navy boot camp, this Anthony is a real godsend, for there is nothing like a priest who chooses the name Mary to show "the boys" what it means to become a man.

Ordained in 1835 at the age of 28 as a secular priest, Anthony then tried to join the Carthusians but was turned down for health reasons. He next chose the Jesuits, but when health again prevented him from foreign missionary work, Anthony was sent back to his native Spain to evangelize his own country instead.

Undaunted, Anthony went to work giving retreats and missions in Catalonia, but due to his zeal for Our Lady, this proved not enough. With the help of St. Joachima de Mas, he started the Carmelites of Charity (who taught and worked with the sick), helped found the famous Religious Library (which between 1848 and 1866 published five million books and four million leaflets, all of which were then state of the art), and finally, in 1849, his crowning achievement, founding the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more commonly known as the Claretians.

"That man is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who is aflame with charity and who spreads the flame wherever he goes ..." wrote Anthony, and God gave Anthony his heart's desire by allowing him to be a missionary, first to the Canary Islands and later to Cuba.

Anthony's seven years in Cuba could accurately be described as "the best of times and the worst of times." On the positive side, he took an island that had been without a religious leader and reformed the diocese, restored the seminary and set up 53 new parishes. On the negative, he was named Bishop of Santiago (Anthony, who took the surname Mary at this time, was against this nomination, for as excellent as he was at evangelization, he was equally inept at organization) and immediately wrote the pope to take this role away. Anthony only got his wish when the strong anti-Christian forces, lead by a hit man whose former mistress had been converted to Catholicism by Claret himself, shot Anthony and nearly killed him in this assassination attempt.

To aid in his recovery, Anthony was sent back to Spain and was allowed to resign his bishopship. But it was also a case of "be careful of what you wish for" because Anthony was then assigned to be the personal confessor to Queen Isabella II and live in her palace. On the surface, it seemed like the absolute wrong place for a missionary like Anthony, just as the Navy seems like the wrong place for a pacifist like my son Gary ... but although being couped up in court was "a constant martyrdom" for him, he made this time work. Claret spent the first two hours of the day before the Blessed Sacrament reading the Bible, and then another hour praying the Rosary. He fasted three times a week and visited hospitals and schools when he got free time from court and wrote sermons when he had to stay. Anthony did do a "little" preaching when the queen and court went on vacation; during their month in Andalusia, he managed to "squeeze in" 265 mission talks.

But it was undoubtedly this dreadful period with the royal family that turned Anthony from a great preacher into a great saint. In fact, Anthony was already universally regarded as such when he was exiled to France by the liberal revolution (ironically to live quite near another saintly "Marian" man named St. John Marie Vianney) before being called to Rome (to help define papal infallibility at Vatican I) and then home to God in 1870. So if ever you need a saint to pray to when you find yourself "lost" in undesirable circumstances, this is the St. Anthony you want.

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