FIRST PHASE (1812-1825)
APOSTOLIC – PRIESTLY VOCATION : ‘Apostle before being a man’
In this first phase everything is found in a germinal form; It is a dimension which comprises the whole existence of Claret; this is the heart of his identity: that of the Apostolic Missionary.
1.Gifts of Nature
‘I was a boy of happy disposition. I had received a good nature or disposition from God, out of his sheer goodness. ‘(Aut 18) Temperament: emotional, active, passionate
2. Initial Grace
The thought of eternity (Aut 8); that ‘forever, forever’ which took away his sleep and produced a deep concern for the lot of the condemned forever. The precocious ness and intensity of this phenomenon result rather surprising given the fact that it is such a rare phenomenon in the history of spirituality.
In certain sense the grace anticipated the nature in Anthony, the zeal was advancing the reason. For this reason his first biographer Francisco de Asís Aguilar wrote: ‘In some way it could be stated that he was first and foremost an apostle before being a man’ (.. .fue apóstol antes de ser hombre).
3. Apostolic Impact
It is produced according to his temperament.
The emotionality: “It gave me pain because I am naturally very compassionate”(Aut9,10,20). This sentiment confers on him delicacy and sensibility, compassion and zeal (ardent charity, or in Claret’s words, love in an eminent grade which is translated into efficacious benevolence:
• to God, procuring that he be more known, loved and served in this life and in the next.
• to neighbour desiring and procuring that all be content in this world and happy ¡n the next; that all be saved, that no one is lost forever (Selfishness overcome)
The activity: The activity places all his natural and supernatural energies in a constant movement. It is converted in Claret into an unbreakable missionary impulse acknowledged unanimously by all who knew him closely. ‘This same idea made me work in the past most and makes me still work’ (Aut 9); It is the source and goad of my zeal’ (Aut 15). Such a precocious experience has in a certain way impact on his character: the indelible and perennial character of the missionary which fits well into his natural character and it integrates well with him. In Claret the zeal advanced the age of reason. That is the reason why his first biographer could tell about him that he had been first and foremost an apostle before becoming a man.
Equilibrium, prudence and heroic resistance are also characteristics of his character. His compassion for the lot of the sinners can be explained because of his strong emotionality which is projected as tenderness in contemplating the disgrace in others: ‘This troubled me deeply, for I am by nature very compassionate. ‘(Aut 9). I am so soft-hearted and compassionate that I can’t bear seeing misfortune or misery without doing something to help'(Aut 10).
But in reality this experience of the eternity is not normal for the age of five and it is to be attributed to a special intervention of the Holy Spirit who had destined him form the maternal womb itself to a special mission within the Church. It deals with an idea which actualises in the most profound part of the conscience.
Fervour of the offering: ‘I remember telling Him: humanly speaking, I see no hope, but you have the power to make it happen, if you will’ (Aut 40). This prayer manifests in a clear form the immense filial trust the young boy had in the divine Providence. Now the attitude is one of total surrender into the hands of the Lord: ‘I remember that with total confidence I would leave it all in God’s hands, trusting Him to do whatever had to be done which he did..(Aut 40).
SECOND PHASE (1825-1829)
” On the day he was tested he was found faithful” (Sir.44:20)
1. Initial Grace : Contact with the World
God willed Anthony to pass through an apparently dangerous experience, but it resulted positively in two ways:
1. experience in his own body the impetus of the concupiscence.
2. getting to know the world he is to evangelize later.
2. Acute crisis: State of tepidity in Barcelona (Aut 66-68, 82)
Due to the experience as worker in the paternal house (combination of life of work and life of piety), the ways of God and of Anthony begin to get distant, at least apparently. The ‘Homo Faber’ intents to destroy the ‘Homo Religiosus’. The thorn chokes the good grain (cf. Mt.l3:7). Before, the work was full of piety, whereas now the piety is full of work. He admits himself thus: ‘There seemed to be more machines in my head than Saints on the altar. ‘( Aut 67)
A contradiction is taking place: God wants him to be a priest and not a businessman (Aut 64). Anthony, instead confides himself more to his natural inclination: the manufacturing, which was the delirium of this first industrial era ( with new discoveries, new machinery and new perspectives of wealth). In this situation Anthony takes a decision which could be risky and dangerous (although it is providential in fact): go to Barcelona, the great metropolis, golden dream of many ambitious young men to perfect themselves in their trade. ‘Because I wanted to improve my knowledge of manufacturing techniques, I asked my father to send me to Barcelona. He agreed and took me there’ (Aut 56)
3. Experience of the world (in Johannine sense)
Anthony experiences the vanity and vulnerability:
• of life (Aut 71 and the episode of Jan.20, 1828);
• of unfaithful human love (Aut 72);
• of money (Aut 73);
• of honour (Aut 75). He could think: A good name is better than many riches (Prov.22:l).
It is worth to be mentioned that like Abraham he did not give in to the temptations; he kept fidelity.
This period is crucial and decisive for his vocation: the contact with the world and the shock received from it. This vocational parenthesis converts itself to a vocational crisis which would be overcome through various negative experiences (‘blows’ called by him), by the contact with the Word of God. In this moment Claret has a positive and optimistic vision of the work, technique, which drives him so much in a passionate way, of the friendship and human triumph. The world permits what his heart is longing for: riches, honour and pleasures. Gifted with a great capacity for work, ambition and zeal for conquest, he immerses himself simultaneously in the study and in the work with the unlimited passion characteristic of him. He triumphs in his study (Aut 56-57), in the work(58-60), in the friendship(61) and becomes a leader(62) reaching the fame of technical ability (63) and the proximate possibility of a ‘fortune ‘(63). All this was at the point of changing definitively the direction and sense of his life. Just an affirmative answer to the alluring offer of the father would have been enough; but Anthony declined giving trivial reasons contrary to his natural, strong and dedicated inclination.
The reasons given were:
• it was not yet time;
• he was too young;
• he was short of stature,
• not of age.
‘Just now I didn’t feel inclined towards it (Aut 64). It is to be presupposed that he did not feel inclined to be in charge of a factory because he would say immediately that ‘ it was a delirium I had for the manufacturing’ (Aut 64). But the fundamental reason is not in his heart, but in the heart of God: God wanted him to be a priest and not a businessman (Aut 64). It is then that the crisis of manufacturing gets more acute. The steps of it are the following:
1. Before: ‘Everything for piety ‘(which constituted for him the greatest valué even before taking up the manufacturing due to the education received)
2. ‘Everything for the manufacturing’: greatest interest, obsession for acquiring perfection in it. ‘My only goal and anxieties were about manufacturing. I can’t overstate it – my obsession approached delirium. ‘(Aut 66)
3. Conflict: The life of manufacturing distracts him from the life of piety. The contact with the world of technique means dangerous for him because his natural vocation – the manufacturing – enters in which moved him most vividly (Aut 15), made him shudder (Aut 8), made a deep impression on him (Aut 9) and had so much impact and persistence during his whole life. ‘It is surely the thing that to this day I remember best, has stayed with me ever since and that, God willing, I will never forget..'(Aut 15).
It deals with a motivating idea: ‘It is the mainspring and goad of my zeal for the salvation of souls’ (Aut15). It makes him run and shout. This thought robs me of rest, and I feel like running and crying out, and makes him work always: ‘The power of this idea has made me work in the past, still makes me work, and will make me work as long as I live in converting sinners..'(Aut 9), by using all means: ‘¡n preaching, in hearing confessions, in writing books, in distributing holy cards and pamphlets and in having familiar conversations’ (Aut 9).
We find ourselves before a precociousness in the actuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit similar to what is found in St. Teresa of Avila. But whereas the reaction in her was the desire to retire to the hermitical life or face the martyrdom, in Claret the reaction was exclusively apostolic. The reaction provoked in him through the thought of the eternity is double according to his emotional-active temperament: an intense sentiment of compassion for the sinners and the resolution to work with all the strength to prevent them to be condemned. The theological impulse of the Father offended would come later as he himself states: ‘In time I felt a further stimulus for zeal, namely, the thought that sin not only condemns my neighbour but is an offence against God, my Father'(Aut 16).
Characteristics of this stage: piety, devotion, fear of offending God. ‘He had a deep experience of the absoluteness of God and the fragility of man, his infidelity in his first infancy and on account of that, his own unhappiness which robbed him sleep and marked him in his entire life..'(EA p.88-89)
4. Operative Decision: Become a Priest (aut 30): Fundamental Option
The immediate decision responding to this first call, born from the stimulus of the idea of eternity, is the offering which he makes for the 12th year, in 1820: ‘God called me, I heard him and offered myself to Him’ (Aut 701) ‘1820: Twelve years. God called me, I offered myself to his most holy will'(Resumen of his life EA p.427). ‘A thousand times over I would offer myself to his service'(Aut 40). And this offering is apostolic. He considers his sacerdotal vocation as means to collaborate in the salvation of his brethren. The priestly vocation is clear and his generous offering to it well thought and decided.
The priestly call goes back to his early infancy: ‘When I was still a small boy in elementary school, a distinguished visitor to the school asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered that I wanted to be a priest’ (Aut 30). It was a decision emerging from the persisting idea of eternity. Later, when he was 12 it is still more confirmed and he defines it with clearly apostolic features and entirely: ‘I wanted to become a priest so that I could dedicate myself to his service day and night’ (Aut 40). This vocation and priestly action will get slowly concentrated in the missionary priesthood with the characteristics of prophetic-evangelizing, not cultic, administrative. Thus he would grasp it in his ordination to deaconate as fight against the powers of evil with the sword of the Word of God, and he would clarify it with more precision in 1846 in the second edition of his booklet ‘Advice to a priest’ while commenting on the Gospel parable of the talents.
• Eucharistic devotion (Aut 36-50);
• Marian devotion;
• Study of Latin (Aut 30)
His parents did not object to the priestly vocation of Anthony. Indeed they saw it as the most natural of the world seeing his piety. They favoured it all the more and facilitated the means to lead it to a happy end. ‘When I had successfully completed my elementary school, 1 was enrolled in the Latin class taught by a very holy and learned priest, Dr. John Riera. From him I learned and memorized nouns, verbs, genders, and a bit more..(Aut 30).
Stopping the study of Latin as the tutor died who taught him only for one year. The circumstances get complicated for Anthony. The professor dies in 1819 when Anthony was only 11 years: ‘….as the class was discontinued I could no longer study and had to give it up'(Aut 30).
He could have asked his father at this juncture to take him to the seminary of Vic as he had the suitable age for this step. We don’t know the reason for not doing so. Perhaps John Claret saw in his son the inclination and exceptional aptitudes for the manufacturing. Then what he did was to enrol him in the work of the factory and Anthony obeys ‘without uttering a word’ (Aut 30).
7. Formative Parenthesis: work in the paternal factory(Aut 30)
We have here not at all a vocational crisis, but a parenthesis of growth and maturation. The idea and decision to become a priest was alive in his heart (perhaps kept alive more through the experience of eternity), but the circumstances begin to get complicated. The following short prayer is relevant in the the ‘homo religiosus’ and the ‘homo apostolicus’. And during some time the thorns managed to choke the good grain(Aut 65). ‘During those first three years in Barcelona, the fervour that I had had at home began to cool’ (Aut 66). Faithfulness to the precepts of the Church and other devotions of the infancy ‘were not so fervent as before’ (Aut 66). The manufacturing absorbed him completely. At the end of the third year of his stay ¡n Barcelona the crisis worsened more and got dramatical heights reaching the climax.
Aggravating factors: various human deceptions make him return from the divine to the world. The vanity and complacency in himself and in his triumphs, a certain luxury in dressing himself which favoured this vanity make him lose the main value until then: the piety. ” I had been so preoccupied in Barcelona with sketches, machines and other such foolishness that my head was quite swollen with vanity and my tainted heart was flattered at hearing all the praise and compliments I received”(Aut 341). ‘I liked to dress – I won’t say luxuriously – but with a certain elegance, perhaps too much’ (Aut 72).
8. Passing from ‘Homo Faber to ‘Quid Prodest’
With the purpose of getting him out of personal vanity, the Lord made him experiment the vanity of the world and gave various ‘blows’ in his Providence to detach him from the world and to make him rediscover his vocation. At the same time these experiences which were worldly (not in the sense of sinful) helped him to discover the enemies he had to confront in his future apostolate. Probably it was in his last year of stay in Barcelona when he experienced the vanity, limitations and dangerousness of the human goods when they were placed at the service of the ambition or of egotism. The sequence of the events was the following:
The evil woman: this was the first ‘blow’ because he says, ‘I was fairly young then’ and was before the incident at La Barceloneta as he affirms: ‘Mary also saved me from a worse danger..'(Aut 72) The episode of La Barceloneta: That last summer….” The swindling of the false friend: ‘But it took an even harder blow…’ Anthony discovers then in the first place the inconstancy and insecurity of human love which easily deceives or is deceived (Aut 72): the fragility and vulnerability, caducity of one’s own life and the danger, always imminent of losing it.
The misfortune of Sallent happened in the night of 1916 to 20th of January, 1828 where 27 persons perished while dancing as the house collapsed could have also influenced this. It was a tremendous lesson which he never forgot in his entire life and indicated as warning in many of his booklets: ‘Advice to young ladies’, Vic 1845; ‘Advice to the married’, Vic 1846. This event was known in Catalonia and some attribute even to this incident his entrance to the Seminary(HD, I, p.54).
Young Claret also experiences the insecurity of money and friendship when he was cheated by his unfaithful friend, thief and liar (Aut 73). This last incident wounds him very much in his personality and his values: the friendship, sincerity and above all, honour. At the same time he had occasion to discover the maliciousness of the human heart in his companions of the factory who were leading a worldly and superficial life and blaspheme like devils. In the three episodes we can see a direct reference, although negative to religious life which he will soon decide to embrace:
• Insecurity of life and freedom before death (obedience)
• Insecurity of wealth which can be lost with facility (poverty)
• Insecurity of human love which deceives and degrades (chastity)
This experience of the world (not sinful) was necessary or at least convenient and certainly providential to prepare the heart of the Apostle. It was providential in 3 senses:
1. as disillusion of the world;
2. as purification of the heart;
3. as realization of the reality to evangelize.
‘God dealt me all these blows to wake me up and help me escape from the dangers of the world’ (Aut 73) to uproot me from it ‘ (Aut 76). The world which seemed so marvellous and pure from the simple and innocent view point of a child presents itself to him under the dominion of concupiscence, as dangerous reality which puts the heart of man and his eternal salvation itself in danger. Thus Claret could see his mission with more clarity:
• liberate the world from the selfishness and the power of human passions,
• liberate the people from the dangers he himself has experimented and above all
• liberate the human being from the danger of his own condemnation.
9. The Impetus of the Word
It is in this moment that the ‘arrow’ of the Word of God strikes him down like St. Paul on the way to Damascus; Text of St. Mathew 16:26 which converted St. Francis Xavier takes Claret out from his state of tepidity and will induce him later to take a radical decision. Just now his mind and heart remain purified from so many foolishness and Anthony makes a Copernican turn.
9. Return of the Prodigal Son
Anthony has entered into himself, listening to that distant voice of the Father and decides to offer himself totally to God and the old fervour of Christian life (Aut 70) returns.
Characteristics of this stage: the force of the natural vocation (thorns choking the good grain), crisis of identity, providential blows, the decisive ‘quid prodest’ and the return to the former fervour. ‘Homo religiosus’ takes upper hand over ‘homo faber’, which had so much weight and priority in his psychological world.