The Virtues of the Claretian Missionary

 Chapter 14

 The Virtues of the Claretian Missionary

Besides the virtues expressly required by the novices so that they can respond to their own vocation, which were presented in the preceding chapter, the life project of Claretians, gleaned mainly from the text of the Constitutions, also proposes a series of virtues[1] into which the novice should be initiated and should practice so that they might one day embrace that project through religious profession and thus live their own vocation more fully.

In this chapter we are going to look at the virtues proper to all Claretians. We will develop this in two parts:




            The Father Founder says that “the apostolic missionary should be a model of all the virtues; he should, in fact, be virtue personified.”[2] And he explains in separate chapters of his Autobiography the virtues that are linked in some way or other to vocation and mission: humility, poverty,[3] meekness, modesty, mortification (to which he dedicates two chapters) and love of God and neighbor.[4]

The Claretian Missionary must be clothed in a set of virtues, in imitation of the first missionary, Jesus Christ. He achieves his identification with, or configuration to, Christ not only by means of the evangelical counsels—the vows—but also by means of other virtues.[5]

We will successively explain these virtues according to the text of the Constitutions.

1. Apostolic Charity

It is significant that St. Anthony Mary Claret would take as the motto on his archiepiscopal coat of arms the Pauline phrase The love of Christ impels us. This love or charity impelled him in the form of apostolic zeal. He identified himself with the evangelizer filled with that zeal and he portrayed himself when he defined the missionary as “a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes.”[6] This fire of love is born from the prophetic anointing of the Spirit.[7] And he preserved and increased it through meditation and contemplation and with the activity of preaching itself.

For us, apostolic charity is the first and most necessary virtue.[8]

1. 1. The Primacy of Love for the Missionary

Speaking to his missionaries, the Founder says:

“Love is the most necessary of all the virtues. Yes, I say it, and will say it a thousand times: the virtue an apostolic missionary needs most is love. He must love God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his neighbors. If he lacks this love, all his talents, however fine in themselves, are for nothing. But if, with his natural endowments, he has much love, he has everything.”[9]

The Constitutions, inspired by the Founder’s thought, does not hesitate to state that “apostolic charity is the virtue a missionary needs more than any other. In fact, if he lacks this virtue, he will be like a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal,”[10] following St. Paul’s well-known comparison (1 Co 13:1).

1.2. Means for Acquiring Apostolic Charity

The Father Founder indicates several means for acquiring apostolic love.[11] Among them, the following merit highlighting:

a. Meditation: meditation, done with faith, stimulates charity, makes it more ardent and burning, and converts it into the call of apostolic zeal.[12]

b. Eucharist: if meditation is a way to enkindle apostolic zeal, the Eucharist is the blazing furnace. The greatest missionary impulse springs from the Eucharist, like wildfire. Claret noticed that power when, at the onset of his grace of preserving the sacramental species, he experienced a great apostolic dynamism.[13]

c. The Intercession of Mary, Mother of Charity: The Acts of the Apostles present Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to us as praying with the Twelve to receive the baptism of fire in order to evangelize the whole world. As missionaries, we can ask for Mary’s intercession in order to attain the gift of the true love of charity and of apostolic zeal, as our Founder did[14]. Convinced of her presence in our lives as an experience of our particular charism,[15] we can and should rely on her—Heart and forge burning with love—in order to succeed in becoming men of apostolic fire, who burn with love and spread its flames wherever they go…, in conformity with the definition of the missionary,[16]

2. Apostolic Humility

We have talked about humility in the preceding chapter. We said that, according to our Founder,[17] this is the foundation for all the virtues. We asked what it consisted in, what were its motivations and what means were used to attain it. We mention it again in this chapter because it is one of the virtues also recommended to all Claretian Missionaries.[18] We also add the interesting fact that our Father Founder had such great esteem for this virtue that he did his particular examen on it for 15 years, examining himself on it twice a day.[19]

The Constitutions propose to us some ways of practicing humility:

• recognizing God’s gifts and making sure they bear fruit;

• recalling our sins and defects;

• inwardly acknowledging our own dependence on God;

• expressing this awareness by how we act and in our relationships with others;

• admitting our own errors and shortcomings, asking pardon from our brothers and performing acts of kindness for them.[20]

The General Plan of Formation[21], inspired by these same Constitutions, proposes an updated pedagogy for acquiring and practicing this virtue:

• giving all glory to God;

• making the gifts received from God bear fruit;

• honestly recognizing one’s own sins and defects;

• accepting and practicing fraternal correction;

• acting with simplicity, asking forgiveness, serving the brothers, having an open and sincere relationships with them.

3. Apostolic Meekness

For Claretians meekness is an eminently apostolic virtue.[22] It is not merely a matter of aesthetics or of marketing oneself to the public.

The Kingdom of God is not imposed by force but spreads through love and mercy. The Father Founder was convinced that evangelization had to be done with heartfelt kindness, as Jesus did it.[23] He meditated on example and the words of Jesus in Gospel concerning meekness and was convinced that this virtue always had to accompany apostolic zeal. Zeal and bad temperedness or bad manners could not go together in the exercise of apostolic ministry.[24]

Our Founder vouched for the results of meekness in the apostolic missionary and, on the contrary, knew by bitter experience the adverse consequences of an aggressive approach.[25] Thus one can understand the following affirmation of the importance of this criterion in discerning the vocation of one who wants to dedicate himself to the apostolate: “Meekness is one sign of a vocation to be an apostolic missionary.”[26]

For Claretians, the imitation of Jesus Christ, meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29), and the desire to win over as many people as possible for Him, should be the main motivations that move us to adopt the most appropriate forms of meekness, both in our community life and in our exercise of the sacred ministry.[27] The General Plan of Formation[28] suggests the following ways to live meekness:

• Avoiding any attempt to control as well as any attitude of aggressiveness.

• Being understanding in regard to each person’s rhythm, and knowing that one has to wait until God makes people ready; spending time with others and listening.

• Showing patience in regard to slowness with which the Kingdom grows.

• Expressing kindness and mercy in mission.

4. Modesty as a Demeanor of Simplicity

Modesty is “a moral virtue that regulates and moderates a person’s external actions.”[29]

The missionary serve the Word, not himself. He is a witness, not a boss or a bureaucrat. He is transparency, an image of Christ, and not one who shows off in front of others. Thus, he should be aware of his role and duly represent the Lord. As a consequence, he should work that way, imitating Him and in His name, but in some way taking His place.

The Father Founder was distinguished by his modest demeanor. He was very circumspect in words, action and behavior.[30] His simple way of behaving began with a painstaking education and was directed toward Christian edification.

For us nowadays, the virtue of modesty represents a complex of varied attitudes that might be given the following names: politeness, circumspection, a humble and simple demeanor, getting close to people, a candid and transparent style, a good education, discretion, refinement and elegance in manners, in speech, in behavior, in relationships, etc. In short, external behavior that reflects a fully lived interior life, in imitation of Jesus:

“As the Lord always showed outwardly the inner fullness of grace which the Father lavished upon Him, so should we, through our affability, spiritual joy and modesty, make God’s presence manifest in the world.”[31]

All of us missionaries must make every effort to conduct our lives with a note of simplicity, as something really characteristic.[32] The novices also must keep growing in their appreciation of this virtue for religious and apostolic life and thus take pains to attain it. They should specifically take into account the following orientations:

• Modesty must be born of the heart; it must not be phony or faked. Modesty must be flexible, natural, tranquil; it must not be affected, nor rigid or aggressive.[33]

• Modesty is more a spiritual attitude than merely an external form of behavior; but it involves adopting ways of acting that are in accord with Gospel values and which are, at any given time, suited to the sensitivities and healthy customs of the society in which one lives.

5. Mortification

 5.1. The Meaning of Mortification[34]

In our time asceticism continues to have value, i.e., one’s human effort in pursuit of one’s own sanctification or configuration to Christ—always relying on grace—and in the very exercise of the apostolate.

Forms of affliction or mortification, both those imposed by forces at work in one’s life, by circumstances, etc., and those one freely chooses, differ in value according to how one interprets them. Mortification can specifically have:

• an ascetical meaning: to discipline oneself, to be self-controlled or self-maintaining in order to be a spiritual person and to promptly and whole-heartedly assume the demands that our human and Christian condition impose on us.

• a deeper, sacrificial meaning: having a ready and ongoing attitude of dedication to God and neighbor.

• a Christological meaning: identification with the suffering Christ. It the conscious and voluntary effort to achieve greater configuration to the suffering Christ, who shoulders the cross and invites us to imitate Him and follow Him every day.

• an apostolic and witnessing meaning, that proves the authenticity of our mission.

5.2. Our Founder’s Example

Claret’s entire life was marked by configuration to the suffering Christ: he experienced every type of adversity, tribulation and even persecution. He led a life characterized by a heroic asceticism, motivated by an unending search for God’s glory and nourished by the desire to convert and edify his neighbors through the witness of his own life. In the Autobiography he dedicates two entire chapters to discussing mortification.[35] In them he describes his effort to achieve configuration to Christ through mortification in every sense of the word by accepting both his internal and external tribulations. His asceticism always inescapably bore the seal of an ardent apostolic zeal. And his apostolate was marked, in turn, by the presence of the cross. Thus he could say: “I know and fully realize that suffering, sorrow and work are the insignia of the apostolate.”[36]

The Father Founder invites us also to accept as our own the cross and the difficulties the apostle faces in his ministry. Thus, when he defines the ideal missionary, he says: “Nothing daunts him: he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, rejoices in all the torments and sorrows he suffers, and glories in the cross of Jesus Christ. His only concern is how he may follow Jesus Christ and imitate him in praying, working, enduring and striving constantly and solely for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind.”[37]

5.3. Configuration to the Suffering Christ

The Constitutions talk about mortification after laying the groundwork: they recall the basic theological motivation of configuration to Christ in the mystery of the cross and make some practical recommendation on mortification in all its meanings.

• They talk about the meaning or basis of mortification, i.e., we are “associates in the work of Redemption.”[38] We are disciples of Jesus. We follow Him by renouncing ourselves and taking up His cross (cf. Mt. 16:24). Starting from this viewpoint we see the significance of the recommendations made in the text of the Constitutions about abstaining from carnal desires, diligently and carefully keeping watch over our senses,[39] and the allusion to temperance in eating and drinking,[40] etc.

• The invitation to identification with the suffering Christ becomes a summons:[41] to reach the point of rejoicing in every adversity, including persecution, and in every tribulation. In our Congregation this ideal has been realized. We have an outstanding example—publicly recognized by the Church—in the heroic sacrifice of our Martyrs of Barbastro during the Spanish Civil War of 1936.

• Another important form of mortification that is indicated, from the perspective of solidarity and the struggle for justice in the world, is recognizing the suffering Christ in those who are suffering and commitment on behalf of their cause so that also may attain salvation.

• And the situation of being crucified with Christ is recalled that sooner or later comes to all of us: illness, with which we fill up what is lacking in the passion of Christ (cf. Col 1, 24).[42]

5.4. Practicing Mortification

The General Plan of Formation makes several ascetical proposals, such as the following:[43]

• mortification of the desires and tendencies of one’s own body.

• joyfully accepting certain adversities like hunger, thirst, lack of clothing, work and other hardships that life or the apostolate presents.

• patience and resignation in one’s illnesses and sorrows.

  • solidarity and dedication to others

• giving up conveniences, comfort and carious attachments.

• calmly accepting one’s mistakes, failures and frustrations.

• realistically accepting people, situations, daily rhythm, etc.

• ongoing revision of personal and community attitudes, as well as those related to the apostolate.


            In order to more effectively communicate the grace of the Gospel to others, we make every effort to attain full maturity in Christ (cf. Ep. 4:13).[44] But we are not alone in this endeavor to progress in our missionary life, nor do we achieve through our unaided efforts. We rely on God’s efficacious and unfailing help:

“Since God has called us not because of any merit of our own but according to His own gracious design (cf. 2 Tm. 1:9), and has justified us in Jesus Christ (cf. Rm. 3:24), we therefore trust that He who has begun this good work in us will carry it to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus (cf. Ph. 1: 6).”[45]

1. Called to Progress in the Spiritual Life

Our Father Founder was very aware that in this matter of progressing in the spiritual life—and also in the apostolate—everything is grace and, at the same time, everything demands a response:

“I always bore in mind the old saying Pray to God and row for shore. Thus I took great care and worked energetically, as if everything depended on my work, at the same time, I put all my trust in God because everything really does depend on Him, above all, the conversion of sinners, which is a work of grace and the greatest work of God.”[46]

The work of our sanctification cannot stop halfway through or end up being a spiritual lukewarmness. Therefore, progress in the missionary life, as growing to maturity in Christ, can be understood and expressed in terms of itinerancy (journey): as missionaries we always imagine ourselves as being on the road. So then the missionary journey means an inner journeying toward sonship. Jesus knew He came from the Father, who had sent Him; but he also know he returned to the Father, for whom He lived. This return was not simply going back. It was attaining full growth in wisdom and grace. It was to fulfill or carry out the work the Father had entrusted to Him.

The same thing happens in us: the Father will be glorified if we return to Him in fullness of life by maturing into being sons in the Son, thus bearing the desired fruit. The Son has called us to bear much fruit: fruit that will last. The Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, wants us to have missionary life in abundance—the life of the Son who is sent—so that the world may have life.

Mary, Mother of the Master, will not be truly felt to be Mother until the beloved disciple is truly configured to the Son; until we beloved disciples have attained configuration to her Son, Jesus Christ.

Our Founder is an outstanding example for us in this. Over course of the years he was faithful to a life plan and to resolutions—periodically revised and adapted to the particular time—with which he expressed his willingness to respond to grace and the call to holiness. It is worth noting that at the end of his life, exiled in France, even when he knew that everything was finished, he still drew up a plan to persevere and advance along the road to perfection. He kept pursing this path tirelessly until the end of his life on earth, and confidently exclaimed: “My God, you are all-powerful; make me holy.”[47] He knew that only God could bring to perfection the work God started.

2. Dynamisms and Means for Attaining maturity in Christ

Growth requires—in addition to the Lord’s grace—our personal effort. The Constitutions describe the dynamism and means for attaining it:[48]

• renewing each day the resolution to advance on the path of the Lord.

• diligently setting aside a day each month for recollection and each year making a retreat in a special way and with due care.

• remembering that, just as Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, we, His disciples, will also be tempted many times. During these temptations we must loyally stand by Christ and ask the heavenly Father not to put us to the test.

• desiring earnestly to be helped by our brothers, either by way of spiritual direction, or by community discernment or some other means.

• really being concerned for one another, helping others through fraternal correction, with love filled with meekness and humility.

• growing equally in virtue and knowledge to be able to meet the needs of the times and to be fitting ministers of the Gospel.

• organizing our community life in accord with the demands of mission and also taking care of other elements that contribute to safeguarding the spiritual life and apostolic witness.

We are only going to briefly comment on the first means in the list.

3. “Daily Renewing Our Resolution to Advance in the Way of the Lord[49]

Our itinerancy or journey toward the Father goes on every day, i.e., in the course of each day. Given our condition as travelers or journeyers toward eternal life, we have to renew frequently our decision to journey toward a new life by directing our heart toward God. This means that our entire life will be marked by concrete actions that express and foster directing our life toward God.[50]

It has been traditional to direct everything to God throughout the day with the from the first ejaculation—Thanks be to God and Mary—when one awakens,[51] until the examination of conscience and intercessions at day’s end, preparing for the next day;[52] in addition, a brief examination was made at each hour of the day and the Mother of God was greeted and a spiritual communion made;[53] etc.

These practices helped Claretians to capture the full meaning of daily life. The novices of the Congregation should focus on these examples, not to literally do what was done in times past, but to be stimulated to awaken today, in a creative way, their own faithfulness to the way of holiness on which God has launched them.

4. Progressing Through “Continuing Formation”

The missionaries, in order to duly respond to the gift of their vocation, have to cultivate it constantly, caring for all aspects of their formation in an ongoing way.[54] “Continuing formation is a comprehensive process of renewal that embraces all aspects of the person of the Claretian and of the Congregation as a whole.”[55] Maintaining an attitude of continuous growth is required to be faithful to the vocation one has received and to be able to respond to the challenges that mission presents in every time and place[56]. In order to accomplish this and thus attain full maturity in Christine must make use of all possible means for continuing formation that the community offers, realizing that the formation process never ends.

Novices find themselves at the beginning of the course of formation. They have to develop the mindset from now on concerning the need to consider themselves as always in the process of formation, so that they can acquire work and study habits for the future.[57] They must be persuaded that tomorrow they will have to continue being formed in order to attain full maturity in Christ.

[1] The Constitutions specifically talk about apostolic charity, humility, meekness, mortification and patience, in identification with Christ crucified (cf. CC 40-45).

[2] Aut 340.

[3] The virtue of poverty is treated in chapter 8 of this manual on “The Evangelical Counsels”.

[4] Cf. Aut 340-453 (ch. 23-30).

[5] Cf. CC 39.

[6] Aut 494; cf. also CC 9.

[7] He experienced the anointing of the Spirit, like the Servant and Like Jesus, vividly feeling the Lord’s sending him to evangelize the poor and to heal the contrite of heart: cf. Aut 118.

[8] Cf. OPML II, pp. 579ff. and GPF 78-80.

[9] Aut 438.

[10] CC 40.

[11] Cf. Aut 442-444. The Founder did his examen on the love of God, probably beginning in 1863 (cf. EA, p. 568, note 175).

[12] The Founder thus expresses his own personal experience starting with the meditation he practiced: “In the course of meditating… I used to feel such a burning within me that I couldn’t sit still. I had to get up and run from one place to another, preaching continually” (Aut 227).

[13] “I mnust pray and confront all the evils of Spain” (Aut 694).

[14] Cf. Aut 447.

[15] GPF 99; cf. 98-101.

[16] Cf. CC 9.

[17] Cf. Aut 341.

[18] Cf. OPML II, pp. 592ff.; GPF 81-83.

[19] From 1847 to 1862 (cf. Aut 351).

[20] Cf. CC 41. In the Congregation’s traditions there were various characteristic acts of humility, which the Constitutions advised: cf. CC 1924 II, 13.

[21] Cf. GPF 83.

[22] Cf. OPML II, pp. 613ff. and GPF 84-86.

[23]Our Founder made his particular examination of conscience on meekness from 1862 to 1864 (cf. Aut 372).

[24] “Since bad temper and anger—lack of meekness—often masquerade as zeal, I made a prolonged study of the distinction between the two so as not to make mistakes in a matter that can make such a crucial difference” (Aut 378).

“God sends the missionary to do battle against vice and sin but charges him most clearly to pardon the sinner, to bring this rebel son home alive so that he may be converted, live in grace, and come to enjoy eternal glory” (Aut 382).

[25] Cf. Aut 376-377.

[26] Aut 374; cf. CC 42.

[27] Cf. CC ibid.

[28] Cf. GPF 86.

[29] NI, p. 357.

[30] Cf. Aut 389 and 384.

[31] Dir 95.

[32] In the past one was exhorted to practice modesty in the following way: “Everyone should see (Ph. 4:5) the modesty of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary” (CC 1924 II, 6).

[33] Cf. NI, pp. 358-359.

[34] Cf. OPML II, pp. 628ff., 639ff., 646ff.; GPF 87-89.

[35] Cf. Aut 414-437.

[36] Aut 427. He suffered unspeakably in the exercise of his ministry: cf. EC II, pp. 746-747.

[37] Aut 494; cf. CC 9.

[38] CC 43.

[39] No. 95 of the Directory adds: “We should exercise moderation in the use of our senses, so that we may not only avoid occasions of sin, but also offer an agreeable sacrifice to God and give apostolic witness to our neighbor”.

[40] The allusion to moderation in food and drink perhaps comes from the need for the Missionaries to give witness, during popular Missions, when they ate in the parishes or in particular homes and were people were watching.

[41] Cf. CC 44.

[42] Cf. CC 45.

[43] Cf. GPF 88-89.

[44] Cf. CC 51; also OPML II, pp. 741ff. and Dir 138ff.

[45] CC ibid.

[46] Aut 274.

[47] EA, p. 582.

[48] Cf. CC 52-57; also OPML II, pp. 750ff., 764ff., 772ff., 778ff., 782ff. and 790ff.

[49] CC 52. Cf. OPML II, pp. 750ff.

[50] The General Chapter of 1997 spoke of the prophetic meaning of daily life (cf. IPM 24).

[51] Cf. CC 1924 II, 28, 29 and 30.

[52] Cf. CC 1924 II, 34.

[53] Cf. CC 1924 II, 32. Cf. Appendix 2 of this manual.

[54] Cf. GPF, ch. 12 (“The Missionary in a Continuing Process of Formation”), pp. 267-289; also CVD, ch. 8 (“Cultivating One’s Own Vocation”), pp. 193-211.

[55] GPF 460.

57 Cf. CC 56; IPM 34-35.

58Cf. IPM 34.3.