T H E F O R G E
Fr. Gonzalo Fernandez cmf.
1. In a Church communion that is tending daily to articulate its ministries and charisms more symphonically in the midst of an extraordinarily complex world, the question of its own identity has become indispensable. We, the Claretian Missionaries, are also asking ourselves what our own charismatic identity consists of and how we can express it today. In doing this, we are not anxiously searching for a formula to define us, because we know that “the day is past for simply hoping for formulas that define us or by which we may be identified” (MCT 131). Claretian identity is above all a gift of the Spirit granted to St. Anthony Mary Claret, as founder, and to each one of us, as continuers of his work.
2. Following the guidelines of Vatican II (PC 2), our Congregation has been endeavouring for the past three decades “to return to its origins.” To do so it has made a concerted effort to get closer historically, theologically and experientially to its own charism, transmitted by the Spirit through St. Anthony Mary Claret. Privileged moments in this deepening process have been the General Chapters and the revision of the text of the Constitutions, the last draft of which (1986) has already received the official approval of the Church.
3. Now a charism is not something fixed and given once and for all time; rather, it is a grace that develops historically. Claret himself lived through a process of discovery and consolidation, a history of fidelity to the voice of the Spirit, perceived with different nuances in differing situations. This process is described in several of his writings, but in a most singular way in his Autobiography, which he wrote with a deliberately pedagogical intent; that is, as a mirror in which everyone who has received his same gift must look at himself. In this sense, recourse to the Autobiography is not just one more means among many that might be used in Claretian formation; rather, it is a privileged channel for acquiring a rigorous knowledge of the historical unfolding of our charism in the man who was its first and most authentic bearer.
4. The allegorical description of the formative process that Claret himself went through until he became an apostolic missionary is found precisely in the Autobiography:
At the beginning of my stay in Vich I was undergoing an experience not unlike what goes on in a blacksmith’s shop. The smith thrusts an iron bar into the forge, and when it is white‑hot he draws it our, places it on the anvil, and begins to hammer it. His assistant joins in, and the two of them keep alternating hammer‑blows in a sort of rhythmic dance until the iron takes the shape that the smith had planned (Aut 342).
5. This allegory is not just one more among the many that Claret used. The proof of this is seen from the fact that ,in the prayer he used to recite at the beginning of missions, he used to remind Mary: “You are well aware that I am your son and minister, formed in the forge of your mercy and love” (Aut 270). Fr. José María Viñas did a study on this allegory in which he concludes that, for Claret, the forge is the very core of formation and is, at the same time, a typically missionary formative method. The Claretian origin of this allegory is, then, quite clear.
6. As in every allegory, so in the allegory of the forge each one of the symbolic elements corresponds to one or several elements in reality. Thus, the smith’s workshop is the formative milieu of Vic; the smith is the Father, Christ, Mary and others in charge of formation; the iron bar is Claret himself as a passive subject, a disciple who allows himself to be shaped; the forge is above all the Holy Spirit, but also the Heart of Mary and the different ascetical means such as prayer and spiritual exercises; the anvil stands for the situations and trials of life; the assistant is again Claret, but this time as an active subject; the hammer‑blows are equivalent to the various formative actions; the form or shape planned by the smith is none other than Christ himself or the arrow to be launched against the enemies of the gospel.
7. For us, this allegory holds a special formative relevance when we interpret it in the overall context of our Founder’s life and when we draw from it the basic experiences it alludes to and the pedagogical process it describes. In this way we can achieve a brief and symbolic expression that can be most helpful in our present formation. The forge, understood in this perspective, becomes for us a symbol of the “workshop” in which we are being forged as missionaries throughout our life. Through our experiences in the forge we keep on acquiring the “form” of Jesus Christ, in keeping with the traits of our missionary charism.
8. Different formators in the Congregation, under the mentorship of Fr. Viñas, have deepened and developed this insight in meetings held in Rome (1989 and 1990). The main result of their work was the characterization of four core elements or basic experiences that are contained in the allegory. In developing it they always proceeded on the basis of the earliest Claretian sources, of the best existing studies and of the mentorship of various specialists.
9. The term nucleus or core element is used to denote a basic charismatic experience that has the virtual power to generate and throw light on all dimensions of existence and all elements of the charism. There are four of these core elements: one introductory nucleus (which acts as a preparation for the rest and as a hinge that links their successive developments together) and three central nuclei (which are closely related with the three verbs of the “reminder” which describes the vocation of a Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary). These four nuclei can be characterized by some words taken from the biblical texts that played a decisive role in the vocational process of our Founder. We have kept them in Latin, in order to unify their designation in different languages:
‑‑ Nucleus 0, called QUID PRODEST, is based on Mt 16:26 (Aut 68). It is the experience that prepares us for entry into the forge, but remains with us throughout our life and becomes more visible in those critical moments when we must break away from a given situation and open ourselves in total availability to the will of God.
‑‑ Nucleus 1, called PATRIS MEI, is based on Lk 2:49 (EA 418 = SAW 15). It is the experience of Claret’s love for God the Father, whom he strove to please throughout his life. It is, so to speak, the foundation of the missionary life, the experience without which there can be no process of being conformed or shaped.
‑‑ Nucleus 2, called CARITAS CHRISTI, is based on 2 Cor 5:14 (EA 534, note 67 = SAW 164, note 5; CCTT 581). It is Claret’s experience of imitating, following and becoming conformed with the Son, sent by Father, anointed by the Spirit and born of Mary.
‑‑ Nucleus 3, called SPIRITUS DOMINI, is based on Lk 4:14 ff. (Aut 118). It is Claret’s experience of the anointing of the Spirit which equips him for mission in the bosom of the Church.
10. The selection, designation and characterization of these nuclei are not the result of arbitrary choices; rather, they are a sketch of Claret’s original charismatic experience. Their Trinitarian articulation follows a theological‑charismatic criterion and a reading of the historical process that Claret lived. What our Founder lived was nothing else than a singular experience of God (Father, Son and Spirit) which drove him to devote himself fully to announcing the gospel. Hence, these nuclei are centered in God, and all the other elements that make up the ensemble of the charism are contemplated from this God‑centered viewpoint. Proceeding in this manner does not mean that we omit the indispensable reference to humankind, the world and history, but rather that we contemplate them in the light that flows from an experience of grace; in other words, from the noblest and most charismatic perspective.
11. Related to the nuclei are the axes. By “axis” we mean a relevant element of the charism that is shaped by the nuclei and crosses them with different stresses. The interrelation of nuclei and axes constitutes the basic tissue of our Founder’s experience. The axes we have chosen are four:
- Axis A is the WORD. It is an inspiration and constant guide in Claret’s life. He is dedicated to it as its minister.
- Axis B is MARY. She, too, is at the origin of his vocation and accompanies him in its fulfillment, to the point that Claret sees himself as a son of her Immaculate Heart, formed in the forge of her love.
- Axis C is COMMUNITY. Claret feels that he is in communion with those who have received the same spirit that he has received.
- Axis D is MISSION. This is the key that runs throughout his life, polarizing it in a search for the glory of God and the salvation of humankind.
12. Unlike the nuclei, the axes can be broadened to other relevant elements of the charism, but they need not be overly multiplied. Besides, the most significantly Claretian elements (Church, Eucharist, apostolic virtues, etc.) are included in the development of the nuclei.
13. We should stress that our Founder did not live these nuclei and axes in separation from one another, as if it were possible to parcel out the experience of God; rather, he stressed one or another of them (and even different aspects within each of them) according to the different stages of his life. It was more like a spiral process that developed, on ever deeper and more harmonious levels, the seed of the vocation he had received. Much the same happens in us who have received the same gift. Thus understood, the nuclei and axes can be lived by way of an itinerary (that is, and experiential pathway). This is not limited to initial formation; rather it is a way of ongoing formation that keeps unfolding, deepening and harmonizing with different nuances the basic experiences of the charism, as our Founder expressed them in his Autobiography (the pedagogical presentation of his way) and as the Congregation has received, developed and updated them in the Constitutions (the normative presentation of the charismatic experience).
14. In the light of these preliminary notes, the sections that follow can be better understood. Each of these sections develops a nucleus. The outline is always the same:
- Name of the nucleus, based on the Claretian text that is most significant, charismatically speaking.
- Characterization of it based on the experience of the Forge.
- Relating it with one of the verbs that our Founder uses in the “Reminder of the Missionary,” in order to sum up and synthesize the essential traits of a Son of the Heart of Mary.
- Presentation of the essential traits in the way they are lived by our Founder and by the Congregation.Translation in terms of our present situation.
15. The parenthesized numbers that appear in the text without further qualification always refer to the numbers of the Autobiography. For other citations the following customary abbreviations are used:
‑ EA: San Antonio María Claret, Escritos Autobiográficos, (Ed. Viñas‑Bemejo), Madrid 1981. SAW: Works of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Vol. II, Autobiographical Writings, (Engl. tr. J. C. Daries), Claretian Publications, Quezon City 1995. (Followed by page numbers in these editions).
‑ EE: San Antonio María Claret, Escritos Espirituales (Ed. Jesús Bermejo), Madrid 1985. SSW: Works of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Vol. III, Selected Spiritual Writings, (Engl. tr. J. C. Daries), Claretian Publications, Quezon City 1991. (Followed by page numbers in these editions).
‑‑ CC: CMF. Constitutions.
‑‑ EC: Epistolario Claretiano, (Ed. José María Gil), Madrid 1970. Vols. I‑II.
‑‑ CCTT: San Antonio María Claret, Constituciones y textos sobre la Congregación de Misioneros, (Ed., intr., notas, índices J. M. Lozano), Ed Claret, Barcelona 1972.
Preparing for Entry into the Forge
16. The name of this nucleus is taken from the first words of Mt 16:26, which played a decisive role in Claret’s life (68). By it we mean any experience that makes us question our own life and sets before us a need to make a choice and, by the same token, to give something up. It always involves a risk, because it obliges us to get out of our rut and face the unknown. Although it is a constant, it becomes acute at certain moments and puts our vocational fidelity to the test. It is, then, an anthropological experience lived in a key of faith. In Claret it was particularly relevant both in its meaningfulness and in its frequency.
17. This experience was manifested in a significant way in the following situations in Claret’s life:
‑‑ At the crossroads between time and eternity, which he felt in a special way during his childhood and youth. As a very young boy “I thought a great deal about eternity” (701, 8), and specifically on the eternity of hell (11). “This idea…is the mainspring and goad of my zeal” (15, 9‑14). Later on, after the disillusionment he suffered in Barcelona, he recalled the words of the gospel, “What does it profit a man…?” which he remembered reading as a boy, and which deeply impressed him (68). This led him to give a new direction to his life (69‑75). It was, then, a peak moment of conversion.
‑‑ At the crossroads between family security and the priesthood. In the year 1820 he offered himself, out of love, to become a priest: “Humanly speaking, I see no hope, but you have the power to make it happen, if you will” (40).
‑‑ At the crossroads between the prestige and security of the world and the anonymity and security of the Carthusians: “My father…told me of all the fond hopes he had for me… When I mentioned that I wanted to become a Carthusian, his sorrow reached its peak” (77). These were desires that “God used to uproot me from worldiness” (113).
‑‑ At the crossroads between the security of parish life and the foreign missions: “I felt a deep desire to leave it [parish life] and go to the missions… even if it meant undergoing…death” (112). By means of the Word and prayer, the Lord was calling him to preach (120): “I told him of my voyage and purpose…The good father…encouraged me to continue in my purpose. I listened to him as if he were an oracle and presently resumed my travels” (121).
‑‑ At the crossroads between the security of parish life and popular missions: “I finally left it….to preach wherever he [my Prelate] might send me, without any fixed residence” (193). “In acting thus I was assured of doing God’s will and of being sent by Him, not by my whim” (194).
‑‑ At the crossroads between continuing his vocation as an apostolic missionary and/or becoming the Archbishop of Cuba. On receiving the nomination for the Archbishopric of Cuba, “I was struck dead by the news” (491). “Overwhelmed by the nomination, I had no desire to accept it” (495). After a serious discernment, he finally accepted it, despite his repugnance (496; cf. 491, 495‑498; EC I, 304‑306).
‑‑ At the crossroads between renouncing his office because of obstacles and staying on in it. In 1853 he decided to ask to resign, but he remained indifferent; however, in case he could chose, he would choose “the poorest, most shameful and painful” (EA 538 = SAW 170). A year later he would not even think about resigning (EA 540‑543 = SAW 173‑176).
‑‑ At the crossroads between the security of life and the acceptance of death. After the attempt on his life in Holguín, he wrote to the Pope, who answered him that he should stay on despite the danger (Retreat Resolutions of 1856: EA 546‑547 = SAW 180‑181).
‑‑ At the crossroads between being the Queen’s confessor and facing an uncertain future. In this juncture he lived in a tension between his universal spirit and his forced confinement to Court; between fidelity to his apostolic vocation and estrangement from politics; between his apostolate and his interior life (614, note 120).
‑‑ At the crossroads between fidelity to the Queen and fidelity to the Pope. Jesus told Claret: “Anthony, leave” (832), and through prayer, reflection and consultation, he carried out a very well thought out discernment (833‑852; above all see EA 447‑449 = SAW 55‑57).
‑‑ At the crossroads of the near approach of death: “The earth will be an exile for me. My thoughts, affections and sighs will be directed to heaven” (Retreat Resolutions of 1870: EA 588 = SAW 235). See “Learning the Art of Dying Well” (EA 624‑628 = SAW 286‑288).
‑‑ At the crossroads between the insecurity of Fontfroide and the security of Rome. Already in Fontfroide, he felt that he was “a mysterious being…like a fugitive” and decided to go off to Rome for the good of all (EC II, 1484‑1485).
18. This personal process is non‑transferable, but it contains some in‑depth pedagogical lines that we need to discover, probe more deeply, and assume.
‑‑ Claret’s life underwent many changes in course. Each of them involved a breaking away, but always within one great overarching continuity: fidelity to the will of God.
‑‑ This gave rise to Claret’s itinerancy, which had nothing to do with inconstancy or improvisation, but had a great deal to do with perseverance and discernment. This attitude led him to live in an ongoing, permanent state of revision and renewal.
‑‑ In order to discover God’s will for him, Claret had recourse to prayer (cf. above), allowed himself to be illumined by the lives of saints (241‑259) and, above all in more significant moments, he attached the highest importance to seeking counsel and spiritual direction (81, 488, 496).
‑‑ At the same time he became increasingly aware that everything is the work of grace: God gave him desires that helped him to make difficult decisions (113, 112), made him feel a repugnance that prevented him from becoming attached to worldly greatness (622) and freed him evils so that he could be concerned for God’s greater glory and the salvation of souls (751).
‑‑ His response to grace disclosed new demands to him and led him to make increasingly radical options: detachment from material goods (359‑360), acceptance of labors, trials and tribulations (EA 540, 576 = SAW 173, 220; Introduction to Retreat Resolutions of 1867), a longing for martyrdom (577, 620; EA 563 = SAW 203) and for centering his life on the “one thing necessary” (366).
Translation into the Here and Now
19. The message of QUID PRODEST has some special resonances for people who are set in their ways, yet at the same time feel dissatisfied and yearn to search for something further and better. These resonances should form part of our personal and community spirituality and of our ministry of the Word.
20. First of all, it assigns a privileged place to certain contents of the message that are highly relevant today.
‑‑ The world is a worthwhile reality loved by God. It is necessary to love it as such, to integrate all its dimensions and values. We cannot start out from an attitude of systematic rejection or suspicion, as if the corruption of sin were more decisive than the redemption of Jesus Christ. The Claretian does not demonize culture, nor does he contemplate the future of humanity and efforts to achieve a better world with fatalistic eyes.
‑‑ But the world is also a relative reality which does not fully consist in itself. More than that: the world can become an idol that hinders us from access to the Only Absolute, namely, God. In the midst of a culture of self‑satisfied unbelief, it is necessary to provoke a crisis by announcing the challenging word of the Quid Prodest, so as to unmask the idolatries of the present and the false securities that flow from an absolutized conception of politics, economics and sexuality that in fact turn against human beings and alienate them.
‑‑ Human beings, finally, are made to go beyond themselves and freely respond to the call that springs from their inner self, even though this may be buried under layers of manifold attachments. To step out of the last‑ditch securities in which we tend to settle down, and to step into the never‑confirmed security of all that comes from God, is a conversion. Contemporary human beings need to listen to the voice that cries out to them from the desert, inviting them to break out of their entrenchment and self‑sufficiency into a belief in the God who is ever ready to come to them. This voice, which proclaims the coming of the Kingdom and invites people to conversion, forms part of the ministry of the Word.
21. Moreover, it entails some concrete demands:
‑‑ We, too, who tend to settle down and rest in our achievements, in our accumulated securities, are challenged by the message of the Quid Prodest. It is a word that provokes crisis and breaking‑away, a word that impels us toward a spirituality of disentrenchment and detachment from ourselves. It constantly spurs us toward to a revision of positions, to itinerancy and to availability. It is in our capacity to begin all over again that we show, like Claret, our fidelity to the vocation we have received.
‑‑ The Quid Prodest also leads our communities not to become closed in on themselves, as if they were self‑sufficient. By the demands of their very nature and by their attunement with current culture, our communities must be open up to our other communities, to the Province, to the Congregation and to the whole Church. This openness should lead us, whenever it is helpful for our mission, to reorganize our organisms. No structure is unchangeable, and all structures are at the service of our missionary task.
Formation is likewise asked to revise its objectives and methods in light of the aim it pursues. How can we achieve a pedagogy of self‑esteem that will help our formandi to recognize their personal dignity as an indispensable basis for the process of breaking away and forming new allegiances that is entailed in the missionary vocation.
22. This nucleus expresses Claret’s relationship with God the Father. It condenses the experience of the love of God that heats the cold iron to incandescence and readies it to receive its new form. It is about being involved “in those things that regard my Father’s service,” like Jesus in Lk 2:49 (see EA 418, 429 = SAW 15, 30; also CC 3, 20).
23. For Claret, God the Father was the One who protected and accompanied him, the One whom he must serve and whose will for him was always the ultimate criterion of reference. At different moments and in different situations he felt called to work for God’s glory. He viewed his ministry as an effort to make God known by all and to lead sinners who had left the Father’s house to turn back to it and be saved. His affirmation of the Fatherhood of God is especially powerful in moments of persecution, of attempts on his life, or when he felt limited in his ability to bring his missionary word to many. This fundamental experience of Claret highlights certain dimensions of God:
–God’s providence. Even as a boy he had a remarkable trust in the providence of God, his “good Father” (21). In the background we can glimpse a very positive experience of his maternal grandfather (19) and above all of his own father (25, 78). He recognized the qualities that God had given him for manufacturing (58, 63), which would later serve him well in his apostolic ministry. In the disillusionments he went through in Barcelona, he would later discern providential means that God made use of to wean him from the world (73, 76). During his long stay in Madrid, he recognized the distaste he felt for palace affairs as a grace from God (622). Beyond a doubt, his permanent dependence on the love of God remained a constant throughout his life (EA 602 = SAW 254).
‑‑ God’s will. This is an experience similar to that of God’s providence. In Claret, however, it seems to have had a more active sense. It refers to his readiness to do or suffer whatever God wants in order to save souls. This was a central point in his missionary life. Thus, in Barcelona, he felt impelled to opt for the will of God that he enter priestly formation, instead of heeding his earthly father’s will that he enter the field of manufacturing (64). He discovered this will of God above all by means of the Word of God (114 ff.). Other important intermediaries of God’s will were his Prelate (194), other priests (85, 496) and events (76). On some occasions doing God’s will meant accepting difficult things (420), as when it placed him in the Palace as in his purgatory (621). All that he did ‑‑not just in outstanding things, but also in all the little actions of daily life‑‑ he did for God and in order to fulfill His will (743‑744). Toward the end of his life he felt that, having done his part in the First Vatican Council, “it can be said that the Lord’s designs for me have been completed” (EC II, 1141; cf. EA 452 = SAW 62). In the end, he simply handed over his whole life to the holy will of God (EA 627 = SAW 289; se also EA, Appendix II, p. 687).
‑‑ Working for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. This was the objective of his whole mission. He repeated this constantly. His aim was to order all things toward God’s glory and the salvation of human beings (16, 203‑213). As an apostolic missionary he felt that God had placed the salvation of many souls in his hands (237). He was burning with desire to save them. He felt that he was God’s instrument (324). He did all things for God’s glory (309, 436). He worked to make God known by all, so that they might love and serve Him (202, 641). He went so far as to write: “In this world, a person can say that he loves God, provided he is pleased that God is God and that He is loved and served by everyone, and is pained to know that God is offended and grieved” (EA 529 = SAW 157). The same idea is found in his well known prayer: “O my God and my Father, may I know you and make you known…” (233). He strove before all else to please God, even if it meant depriving himself of every pleasure (391). He wanted nothing else in this world but God’s grace (636).
‑‑ His feelings toward God express the kind of personal relationship that Claret felt for his Father. On various occasions he thanked Him for His gifts (299, 305), he offered himself to Him (EA 588 = SAW 235), he felt that he was His son (EA 608, 610, 611 = SAW 263, 266, 267), although he was a sinner (344‑345). So close was his intimacy with God that he regarded Him not only as his Father, but also as “my Brother, my Spouse, my Friend and my All” (755). He even asked God ‑‑in an impassioned and daring prayer‑‑ to transubstantiate him and consume him (756).
24. In our Constitutions, this Claretian experience of God the Father is also presented with some specific traits:
‑‑ The CC mention God 41 times, always in the sense of Father, aside from different ways in which this is expressed.
‑‑ The Father is the One who sends His Son into the world with a mission (CC 3), the God of charity (CC 94). He is the loving Father of Claret’s experience. It is He who chooses us (CC 51) and consecrates us (CC 5). We must always please Him (CC 49). In the CC there are many biblical references that speak to us about the God of Jesus. Because God has loved us, we should respond to His love by loving Him (CC 10). The Claretian should live this union with God so that it goes hand in hand with apostolic action (CC 68). Because God has consecrated us through His Spirit, we publicly consecrate ourselves to Him by means of the vows (CC 69). We, like Jesus, call God “Abba, Father” (CC 34).
‑‑ In different ways, the expression “to fulfill the will of the Father” appears 13 times in the CC. Our community is based on the will of God (CC 21). In a special way, superiors must seek God’s will (CC 30, 34). It is connected with the search for the Reign of God (CC 24) which we should proclaim throughout the world (CC 4). In this task, which demands of us fidelity and fortitude (CC 46), we are staunch helpers of the Shepherds of the Church (CC 6).
‑‑ We are to do all things for the glory of God. The Congregation should make God’s will its main objective (CC 2, 9). We glorify God if we are ready to give our life for Him (CC 81). We should strive to see to it that God be “known, loved and served by everyone” (CC 40). All of these are the same traits that we discover in Claret.
Translation into the Here and Now
25. The message of PATRIS MEI has special resonance for people who are often lost in superficiality, who lack a foundation on which to base their life, who are distrustful of “accounts of greatness,” yet who are at the same time driven by a need for something solid, for unconditional acceptance, and are constantly searching for transcendence.
26. This nucleus stresses certain essential contents of the Christian message that correspond to the challenges of the present.
‑‑ God has created the world and each person in it for love. God is, as Jesus reveals Him, the Father whom we can call Abba (CC 34). Human beings are not just erratic beings produced by chance, slaves of genetic determinism or of cultural manipulation ‑‑ as they are often portrayed in a superficial vision of reality. Human beings are God’s beloved children and therefore brothers and sisters of one another. Love is their origin and end.
‑‑ God, as Claret experienced Him, is the provident Father who does not abandon us to our lot, but tends us with loving care. His will is that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He is a God who intervenes in history and makes it into a history of salvation. He is not at odds with the work of His hands, nor does he constitute a rival to human autonomy ‑‑ as He has been portrayed by the culture of recent centuries. God has made human nature in such a way that it is both bound to Him and, at the same time, creative.
‑‑ What does not emerge from our superficial calculations (for God is not empirically verifiable), is discovered as Mystery in the depth of our heart. God is not Someone who is outside, beyond all reality. Rather, He is the root or foundation of all that exists. Human beings, in order to reach fulfillment on solid grounds, cannot lose themselves in banal realities, but must rather be convinced that it is by “being about the things of the Father” that they will find themselves and their development. We enter into relationship with God because He first loved us, even when we were ignorant of Him or rejected Him. His love is unconditional, which is why He can encourage and bolster our ever‑threatened maturity.
27. This experience also entails certain demands:
‑‑ The missionary, like Claret, knows that he is a son of the Father, lives the experience of this sonship and desires to fulfill the Father’s will. He works for the Father’s glory, so that He may be known and loved (233) and that sinners may be converted to His love. This is manifested in a deep spirituality that does not aim at a “fuga mundi,” but seeks out God’s presence in the situations of human beings, especially those most in need of the Word. This is the source of his missionary prayer, the wellspring from which he achieves the unity of life he needs in order not to become lost in superficiality.
‑‑ The missionary community also feels called to foster ever deeper relationships. These imply the unconditional acceptance of our brothers, frank and open communications, and also the exercise of the ministry of the word in order to exhort, correct and help one another. All of this will be favored by an indispensable milieu of silence and by a reduction in the level of noises and stimuli that foster superficiality (excessive TV watching, etc.).
‑‑ The greatness of the ministry of the Word and the cultural level of our society demand that in formation we foster and abet serious, personalized and shared study. This study, in keeping with our specific charism, involves a deep knowledge of the message (biblical and theological disciplines), of humankind (anthropological disciplines) and of the channels of transmission (sciences of communication and of education)
An Arrow Forged
28. Claret’s life is an existence that can only be understood from the standpoint of Jesus Christ, whose very name, however, cannot be invoked without the help of God (345). He is the center of his life (EA 574 = SAW 217), around which everything turns. This centrality is reflected in the Pauline text he used as the motto on his episcopal shield, which is also the source of the name of this nucleus of our Itinerary: “The love of Christ compels us” (cf. 2 Cor 5:14). The choice is not an arbitrary one: “This motto is our seal, our device and our all” (EA 534, note 67 = SAW 164, note 5). The charismatic key ‑‑as noted here‑‑ is essentially missionary. This key would keep taking on diverse nuances, but it would run throughout Claret’s life.
29. Who is Jesus Christ for Claret? This is the first question that we ought to ask ourselves.
‑‑ He is Jesus, the friend, whom he discovered in his childhood in the mysteries of the Rosary (45), in the catechism and, in a very special way, in the Eucharist (38‑39). This Sacrament represents, in a certain sense, the beginning and end of his historical encounter with Jesus. The “great grace” of 1861 (694) mystically confirms this constant. Shortly before he died, Claret wrote: “I long to be united with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in heaven” (EA 588 = SAW 236). This is what led him to pray with his thoughts fixed on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (EA 581 = SAW 226), on Him who throughout his life had kept nourishing him with His Body and Blood (EA 559 = SAW 197).
‑‑ He is, in a very preponderant way, the historical Jesus, as he contemplated him (above all as a child and as a youth) in religious pictures and in the gospel (especially the Synoptic Gospels). A human Jesus who became a model for him (642, 782; EA 566 = SAW 207; EE 344 = SSW 415). He is the son of Mary (155), the master who teaches by words and deeds (342, 362, 782). He is, finally, Jesus, the sign of contradiction (222; EE 352 = SSW 424) who underwent his Passion and died on the Cross (798; EA 541 = SAW 173, EA 558 = SAW 197, EA 561 = SAW 201).
‑‑ He is, from a dogmatic perspective, the Christ sent by the Father (195; EE 344 = SSW 415), the Savior and Redeemer (155, 358, 371) who delivers us from sin (346), intercedes for us with the Father (265) and becomes the spouse of souls (379).
30. How did Claret live his relationship with Jesus Christ?
‑‑ The fundamental key, which was predominant in his stage as an apostolic missionary but was present throughout his life, was imitation, a key that was quite consonant with his historical vision of Jesus, yet was never reduced to a merely external copying, but entailed a radical following of Jesus. Imitating Jesus was his aim (340), the ideal of his life (494). This imitation extended to everything (387). He wanted to imitate Jesus in his attitude of living in the presence of God (648), in his hidden life (658), in his missionary itinerancy (221, 432, 817), in his parables and ways of expressing himself (222), in his dealing with children (267, 435), in his work on behalf of sinners (214), in his mortification (658), in his poverty (363, 370, 429‑433), in his modesty (389), in his meekness and gentleness (372, 374, 782; EA 566 = SAW 207; EE 350 = SSW 422), in his prayer (50, 434). Most definitely in working and suffering (130; EE 344 = SSW 415 f.). These two verbs, which he embodied, together with prayer, in his definition or reminder of the missionary, are a summary of his imitation of Jesus in a missionary key.
‑‑ This imitation of Jesus keeps progressively changing in to a deep conformity with Jesus (EA 569 = SAW 210, EA 575 = SAW 218). In this sense the stages of his life in Cuba, in Madrid and in exile represent a strong development from the stage as an apostolic missionary in Catalonia and in the Canary Islands, although one should not speak of two completely differentiated stages. This growing conformity (with a strong thrust toward martyrdom) takes on the characteristics of union with the Paschal Christ and of offering himself as victim. Beset on all sides by persecution, Claret finally longs to die and be with Him (EA 588 = SAW 235), he yearns to offer himself in sacrifice and be united to Christ for the glory of the Trinity (EA 549 = SAW 185). In this final stage, the voice of Jesus becomes more near at hand in the various locutions that Claret receives (684, 690, 691, 831, 832, 839).
31. The experience of Claret is transmitted to us in a developed and updated way in the Constitutions. These constitute the other pole of reference for understanding the present nucleus.
‑‑ Who is Jesus Christ for us? Jesus is the Christ (33 times), the Lord (26 times), but he is, in a more specific sense, the envoy, the one sent by the Father (CC 3), who is always concerned for the things of the Father (cf. nucleus 1) and is obedient even until death. He became man of the Virgin Mary (CC 3), was anointed by the Spirit to preach glad tidings to the poor (CC 3; cf. nucleus 3), was crucified (CC 3, 43, 44, 45) and is risen (CC 46).
‑‑ What does Jesus tell us? The whole gospel is a word addressed to us. Nevertheless, the Constitutions highlight some of these words to us: the love command (CC 15), the beatitude of the meek (CC 42), the need for watchfulness lest we fall into temptation (CC 53), the invitation to a radical following of Jesus (CC 43, 44), the exhortation to pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest (CC 58).
‑‑ In what things should we imitate Jesus? In all things, but in the manner of the Twelve (CC 4). Like them, we follow Christ in community, in order to proclaim the Good News throughout the world (CC 4). Everything else is to be looked at from this key standpoint. We should imitate Jesus in chastity (CC 20), poverty (CC 23), obedience (CC 28), meekness (CC 42), assiduous prayer (CC 33), in his sharing of life with the apostles (CC 10) and in service (the deacons: CC 81).
‑‑ How can we become conformed with Him? The Constitutions devote a whole chapter to this conformity (CC 39‑45). We become conformed with Christ through the anointing of the Spirit (CC 39) and through our free response by means of the vows and certain virtues: zeal (CC 40), humility (CC 41), meekness (CC 42), mortification (CC 43), solidarity with those who suffer (CC 44), and through our own suffering and illness (CC 45).
‑‑ Which are the privileged times and places for encountering Jesus? The CC are explicit on this: moments of temptation (CC 53) or suffering (CC 45), the many changes that occur in this world (CC 73) and in the Eucharist (CC 35).
Translation into the Here and Now
32. The message of CARITAS CHRISTI constitutes our response to the problem of love. Human beings intuitively know that only love makes them happy, but they don’t know how to love and constantly find themselves threatened. Only when they accept love as a gift are they equipped to convert it into an art and task. Proclaiming Jesus Christ and his work of love involves some particular accents.
‑‑ Love, from a Christian point of view, is not an abstract value. In Christ, the salvific and personal love of God has been made visible in an unsurpassable way. Christ, in turn, urged on by this same love for the Father and for humankind, gave himself over even to death on a cross. In the offering he made of himself, Christ reveals the God who sent him and he heals all the distorted images of God that human beings have fabricated. In this, he became the way of access to the Father and the truest center of human life. We human beings, like Claret, should think of nothing else than how we can imitate and follow Christ. In doing so, we discover that, contrary to any sort of romantic reduction, love means giving our own life, to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. This is not just one more moral precept laid on our already burdened conscience: it is a gift that is offered to us. Anyone who is engrafted into Christ through faith and the sacraments is enabled to live oblatively, that is, in a constant attitude of self‑offering.
‑‑ At the present time, making Christian love visible necessarily entails making a preferential option for the poor, who constitute the suffering and discriminated majority of humankind. In First‑World countries, which are largely responsible for the impoverishment of the Third World, it is indispensable for us to highlight this dimension of love and to find channels through which to express it. The task of humanization, if it is to be truly such, must always begin with those who are most dehumanized. A culture that has lost God by way of reason is called to find Him again by way of a serious commitment to justice. This commitment, when it springs from deep motivations, helps us to correct the distortions of mere reason and reveals other hidden dimensions of reality.
33. These are some of the demands it makes on us:
‑‑ The missionary, who has experienced Christ as his center, should proclaim Him as the New Man, but in doing so he should strive to show, in his life and in his words, that this proclamation does not consist primarily of a system of thought, a simple ethical code or a sentimental adherence, but rather, of an experience of encounter that leads to a progressive conformity with Christ, an encounter which, as in the case of Claret, associates us with Christ’s suffering. As missionaries, ours is a spirituality that conforms us with Christ through the most typically Claretian virtues (poverty, humility, meekness, mortification, zeal, etc.) and spurs us on to bring the Word of salvation to all who are in need of it.
‑‑ The community that has been born by being called together by the Word is necessarily a community that shares faith, spiritual experience, apostolic sending, not only in the sphere of prayer, but also in the spheres of reflection and work. Since collaboration in the ministry of the Word belongs to the very origin of our missionary life, we must keep on favoring those means that will help us to overcome individualism (means such as the community meeting, project of life, teamwork, etc.). In this way, at the same time that we encourage one another, we constitute an alternative to the egocentric model of social organization.
‑‑ Formation for missionary oblativity focuses on caring for the formation community and on formation for mission. The nature, quality and dynamics of the formation community are given us in the General Plan of Formation, nn. 114, 230‑233.
An Arrow Launched
34. When Claret was trying to interpret his missionary vocation, he understood “in a very particular way” the words Spiritus Domini super me et evangelizare pauperibus misit me Dominus (118). In these words he sums up his experience of feeling anointed and sent by the Spirit to announce, like Jesus, the good news to the poor. Claret also applied these words to the vocation‑mission of each one of the Claretians (687).
35. These are the traits that appear in Claret’s experience:
‑‑ Anointed. Claret understood it to be a particular gift of God that the same Spirit who consecrated and anointed Jesus to evangelize the poor, was upon him. This was the same Spirit who had impelled the Prophets, Apostles (214) and the most zealous saints (226). For Claret, they were a mirror in which to look at his own fidelity (227).
‑‑ Sent. The whole Autobiography is shot through with phrases in which Claret offers himself to Jesus and Mary to be sent wherever they wished (156, 161, 113, 698, 753…). Anthony felt that he was an arrow in the hands of Mary, to be launched against evil in all its forms (270). His word is a lance meant to pierce the hearts of sinners and call them to conversion (EA 559 = SAW 198).
‑‑ Impelled to work. The Spirit who anointed and sent Claret gave him light and strength in his weakness and prepared him for the apostolic ministry. Taking the Apostles and Prophets as his models, he stated: “I do not wish to spare myself any work, trouble or tribulation that I may have to suffer for this work” (EA 618 = SAW 277), even to the point of “never losing a moment of time” (647, 764) in order to proclaim the gospel (200, 221). He felt driven “to get up and run from one place to another, preaching continually” (227). His life of poverty bore eloquent witness to the values he proclaimed (357‑358).
‑‑ Through the mediation of the Church. Claret’s mission was made visible by his being sent by the Bishop, who represented the whole Church (195). Claret wanted to obey this voice and not his “own whim” (194, 196). He felt in his own person the problems of the Church (734, 735) and offered himself in order to solve them, even if it meant paying the price of his own life (EA 537 = SAW 168). The reform of the Church and of the Religious Life will take place “when God sends a man of spirit” (EA 501 = SAW 123).
‑‑ Universal mission. Little by little, Claret discovered that the Spirit was calling him to a mission that embraced the whole world: “My spirit is for the whole world” (EC I, 305). Behind the opposition he encountered in Cuba, he saw the hand of God, who wanted him out of the island in order to begin “the great mission that He had for some time destined me to fulfill” (EC II, 257‑258). Claret described this mission in apocalyptic terms (685‑686). Even so, his apostolate kept being confined to small circles. This contrast made him suffer (692, 693, 762), but it also helped him to discover new means of apostolate. Everything that he did kept acquiring traits of a greater simplicity (784, 742) and of constant reference to martyrdom and offering up his own life (EA 619 = SAW 277).
‑‑ Apostolic community. Ever since his stage as an apostolic missionary, Claret kept looking for collaborators (EC I, 85) with whom to share his own spirit (EC I, 95). Gradually, he came to understand his mission in a community sense, forming not just a group of preachers, but a true missionary community, “living together in strict community” (491). The community was made up of those “to whom the Lord had given the same spirit that animated me” (489). In them Claret’s experience of the Spirit who sent him forth to evangelize was relived. Hence Claret applied the words Spiritus Domini to them (687). The Spirit of their Father ‑‑and of their Mother‑‑ would be speaking in them (687). Claret regarded the apostolic community as a beehive (house and mission united), in which the fruits of the Spirit reigned (608‑609). The missionaries prolonged and substituted for the mission of Claret (638; EC II, 352). They are not only arrows, but also the maternal arms and breasts of Mary (EA 665 = SAW 340‑341).
36. Our Constitutions offer us a condensed perspective of this:
‑‑ It is the Spirit who engenders Jesus (CC 3), who anoints and equips him for mission (CC 39), who makes us sons and cries out Abba within us (CC 34), who impelled the Apostles to bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus throughout the world (CC 40), who animated some persons to lead the same kind of life that Jesus led (CC 3), who raised up the Congregation as a gift for the Church (CC 86, 135) and who has endowed each one of us with the gift of following Christ in an apostolic community (CC 4).
‑‑ The effects of the Spirit in us are clear. He anoints us, like Jesus, to proclaim the good news and conforms us with Jesus (CC 39), giving us joy and missionary zeal (CC 40). He gathers us together in fraternal community (CC 10, 17) and conforms us in charismatically different ways for a common mission (CC 65, 72).
‑‑ On our part, the response to the Spirit implies obedience and docility (CC 48), disposing ourselves to discern the will of God (CC 65), harmoniously joining together different charisms within the community (CC 78) and cultivating among our formandi an openness of mind and heart to the inspirations of the Spirit (CC 72).
Translation into the Here and Now
37. The message of Spiritus Domini is a breath of fresh air that lets in the freedom and creativity that contemporary people are searching for in the midst of the burden, inertia and weariness that is accumulating in our culture. It implies some fundamental contents:
‑‑ The Spirit is an anointing that equips us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by enlightening our understanding, moving our will and above all by making it possible for us to have a personal encounter with the Christ whom we proclaim. In this task we are not abandoned to our own forces alone. The whole burden of advancing history, of building a more human world, of making the Kingdom of God visible, does not fall on our shoulders. The Spirit of God in us is a force that expands everything human and everything cosmic, an impulse that calls forth a continued creation, the Advocate and Comforter who gives us strength, perseverance and hope in the difficulties and trials that the ministry of the Word entails.
‑‑ This same Spirit acts in those who receive the message by opening their hearts to faith, to the Word, making them understand what they have received, bringing forth fruits of conversion. The Spirit acts in the world by encouraging the good, beautiful and noble trends that emerge through the signs of the times, by pushing history on towards its fullness, and by keeping the utopia of the Kingdom alive when everything else seems to be declining.
‑‑ The Spirit acts in the Church by raising up charisms and ministries to build it up, giving real body to the sacraments, building unity in diversity, pushing it out beyond its frontiers, making it missionary, catholic, universal.
38. And it also makes some demands:
‑‑ The missionary who knows that he is anointed by this Spirit to evangelize, should live a personalized spirituality, making use of the dynamisms proposed to us in the Constitutions, with the accents given by the CPR. This spirituality enables us to announce a message of hope, without which culture tends to become smothered in its own affairs, the Church grows stiff in its joints and human beings burn out.
‑‑ The missionary community, in order to overcome its passivity, must carry out a serious discernment of its style of life, because in the lawful openness to the world that has arisen in the postconciliar period, it may have uncritically assimilated some unsuitable forms and behaviors at work in our milieu. The adoption of a middle‑class lifestyle can truly hamper our creativity. Over and above the genuine achievements we have made, we must keep on maturing and improving in the attitudes and technical aspects involved in the community project, so that it may become an increasingly valid tool for creativity and dynamism.
‑‑ In order to offer a creative word to present challenges, we need to be apt ministers of the Word. Initial formation should conclude with specialization in keeping with personal abilities and with the needs of the Province and of the Congregation.
39. After presenting the four charismatic nuclei contained in the allegory of the Forge, we now offer, by way of conclusion, a concrete pedagogical application.
40. We start, as we did in the introduction, from the Council’s call to renewal. If we want to achieve a resolve that will be truly fruitful (both for the renewal of Claretians and for the relevancy of our evangelizing task), we must first establish the closest possible relationship between the different elements that are involved in the task of evangelizing (transmitter, receiver and message). If the transmitter communicates something that he does not deep‑down accept, or which does not jibe with the key issues of the person who receives his message, then there can be no true communication. This is a risk that always besets the missionary. Without doubt, he should believe in the sovereign, and sometimes paradoxical, efficacy of the Word, but this should in no way justify his neglect of the ordinary means of proceeding.
41. Both the transmitter and the receiver find themselves in a situation that challenges them and has an impact on the communication that is established between them. The analysis of challenges is complex, because a mere description of reality (as it might appear to a sociologist or and analyst of culture) is not enough. Rather, it is necessary to examine reality in a missionary key and to spell out its impact both on the transmitter and on the addressees of the message. We, as Claretian Missionaries, approach reality in the light of the vocation we have received. Hence, our analysis is neither neutral or purely scientific. We highlight whatever helps or hampers the announcement and reception of the Word.
42. In an effort to concentrate on the different indicators, we discover three fundamental (and thus, cross‑cultural) roots that relate to the main dimensions (intellectual, affective and practical) of human beings and to the theological virtues that constitute our structure of grace aimed at living the Word (faith, hope and charity). These three roots, preceded by another that serves to question and dynamize them, contain in themselves elements of both regress and progress, of life and death: a crossroads where human and Christian growth are at play. Hence we call them critical points.
43. These three critical points ‑‑preceded by point zero which acts as a point that questions them‑‑ are:
0) Being set in our ways and setting out in search, which constitute as it were the infrastructure of personal and collective salvation.
1) Superficiality and Depth, which affect our perception of what is real, our need for some real foundation that gives meaning to human life.
2) Self‑centeredness and Self‑oblation, which mark the affective tension in human beings and determine their true fulfillment as beings who are essentially open.
3) Passivity and Creativity, which relate to the dynamics of change and growth, of progressive or regressive humanization.
44. These critical points, in our present situation, concretely affect all transmitters and receivers of the Word. They have traits that we must detect, without falling into the danger of making a simple list of positive and negative repercussions. If the response of the message succeeds in connecting with these roots, then it will also have the strength to heal the symptoms.
45. The response that we believe in is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the good news of salvation for all human beings of every time and place. Now this good news is modulated or “encoded” in different ways, depending on the persons who deliver it, the hearers who receive it and the situations in which it is proclaimed and lived. The stresses that we discover in our Founder ‑‑which we also recognize in ourselves, who have received the same spirit‑‑ constitute the response that we, as missionaries, can offer to the people of our time. There is a correlation between these stresses and the critical points we have just mentioned.
46. Our contribution to the new evangelization consists of an effort to connect as closely as possible the charismatic accents (response) and the critical points (question). What this pastoral project aims at is, in effect, announcing the gospel to the new culture by means of an in‑depth dialogue with it. In summary form, this correlation is as follows:
0) At the critical point of being set in our ways vs. setting out in search, we offer our own experience of QUID PRODEST as an experience that unblocks and prepares the way for a process of conversion, that leads to an affirmation and relativization of the goodness of the world and of every success or achievement that leads us to seek in Jesus Christ the answer to the question about salvation.
1) At the critical point of Superficiality vs. Depth, we present our experience of PATRIS MEI as an experience of unconditional love that undergirds human existence and redeems it from its indecision and ambiguity.
2) At the critical point of Self‑centeredness vs. Self‑oblation, we present our experience of CARITAS CHRISTI as an experience of humanization through conformity with Christ, who offers Himself and frees human beings from all their manifold slaveries.
3) At the critical point of Passivity vs. Creativity, we present our experience of SPIRITUS DOMINI as an anointing by the Spirit to announce and spread the Kingdom, to Christify all reality.
47. As such, these responses constitute moments of the Word, whose servants we are. They are not just an announcement external to ourselves, but rather experiences granted to us as a gift for upbuilding the Church and serving the world. Hence, as we have noted, they represent our specific contribution to the new evangelization. In the measure that we revitalize them, we also equip ourselves to respond better to what the Church expects of us. Rather than a program of action, they are an experience of God, mediated through His Word offered and received.
48. What is really urgent, then, is that we enable every Claretian to relive the charismatic experience that constitutes the beginning of our response to the challenges of our historical situation and equips us to be fitting ministers of the Word. Or, to put in the symbolic terms of our allegory: to do our best to assure that every Claretian, each in his different way, is enabled to relive his experience of the Forge, that is, that he be enabled:
- To break away from any situation of being set in his ways, of middle‑classness, of spiritual mediocrity, of lack of drive or enthusiasm or self‑sufficiency.
- To enable him to be heated (like an iron bar in the forge) by the love of the Father that gives depth to life, softens the accumulation of rigid attitudes and unblocks the best defenses that he may have built up with the passage of time.
- To enable him to be forged (like white‑hot iron lying on the anvil) in the image of Christ, until He becomes truly the center of his life, and thus learns how to love oblatively.
- To enable him to be launched by the Spirit as a missionary arrow, to creatively announce the gospel, overcoming all passivity, aimlessness, routine, etc.