Tag Archives: monasticism

Anthony Mary Claret, Founder of the Claretians

Today (October 24th) marks the feast day of St. Anthony Mary Claret who founded the congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more commonly known as the Claretians. He was also a Spanish Catholic archbishop, missionary, and confessor to Isabella II of Spain.

He was born in Sallent, in the county of Bages in the Province of Barcelona, Spain on December 23, 1807, the fifth of eleven children. His father was a woolen manufacturer. As a child, he enjoyed pilgrimages to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya.

He received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. At age eighteen, he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade and remained there till he was 20. Meanwhile, he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving.

Recognizing a call to religious life, he left Barcelona and wished to become a Carthusian monk. He finally entered the diocesan seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained on June 13, 1835, on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. He received a benefice in his native parish where he continued to study theology until 1839. Missionary work strongly appealed to him and so he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave due to ill health. He returned to Spain and exercised his pastoral ministry in Viladrau and Girona. His efforts on behalf of the poor attracted attention. In an area despoiled by civil war, he added the practice of rustic medicine to his other efforts.

Recalled by his superiors to Vic, Claret was sent as Apostolic Missionary throughout Catalonia which had suffered from French invasions. He traveled from one mission to the next on foot. Claret, an eloquent preacher fluent in the Catalan language, attracted crowds from miles around who came to hear him. After a lengthy time in the pulpit, he would spend long hours in the confessional and was said to have had the gift of discernment of consciences. In 1848, his life was threatened by anti-clerics and was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. His services were so well attended that he often preached from an improvised pulpit in the plaza before the church.

Upon his return home to Spain, he founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 16, 1849 (Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) and founded the great religious library at Barcelona. Pope Pius IX gave approval to the congregation on December 22, 1865.

Pope Pius IX, at the request of the Spanish crown (Isabella II), appointed him archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1849. He was consecrated at Vic in October 1850. The Santiago seminary was reorganized, clerical discipline strengthened and over 9,000 marriages validated within the first two years of his arrival. He built a hospital and numerous schools. Three times he made a visitation of the entire diocese. Among his great initiatives were trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he first tested himself. In August 1855, he founded the Religious of Mary Immaculate, the first female religious institute in Cuba. He also visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. His work stirred up opposition and was stabbed by a would-be assassin.

In February 1857, Claret was recalled to Spain by Queen Isabella II, who made him her confessor. He obtained permission to resign his Cuban see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanpolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning. He lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years, he was rector of the Escorial monastic school, where he established a scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, library, college and schools of music and languages. In 1868, a new revolution dethroned the queen and sent her with her family into exile. His life was also in danger and he accompanied her to France which gave him the opportunity to preach in Paris. He stayed with them for a while and then went to Rome where he was received by the pope.

He continued his popular missions and distribution of books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish court. In 1869, he went to Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council. Owing to failing health, he withdrew to the French Pyrenees, where he was still harassed by his Spanish enemies. Shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide, Narbonne, southern France, where he died on October 24, 1870, aged 62. His remains were buried in the Catalan city of Vic.

Anthony Mary Claret wrote 144 books. By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language, although most of his books were published in Spanish, especially during his time in Cuba and Madrid.

In addition to the Claretians, which now has over 450 houses and 3100 members, with missions in five continents, Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities or religious sisters.

He was declared venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, beatified by Pius XI on February 24, 1934 and canonized by Pius XII on May 7, 1950. He is the patron saint of textile merchants, weavers, savings, Catholic press, the Canary Islands, technical and vocational educators and Claretian students and educators.

St. Martin of Tours (316-397)

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He was the son of a pagan Roman officer and born in 316 in what is now Hungary. Educated in Pavia in northern Italy. From the age of ten, he knew he intended to become a Christian but was enrolled in the Imperial calvary five years later against his will and before he could be baptized. One bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half of his cloak to a freezing naked beggar and soon afterwards saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment and has been depicted by numerous artist including El Greco (seen above). As a result of this event, he was finally baptized.

He asked for a discharge because he believed that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight and was accused of cowardice. His answer to that was to stand unarmed in battle holding only a cross-at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. He was given his discharge in 339 and became a disciple of St. Hillary of Potiers; he ended up converting his mother to Christianity. Martin later travelled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary who encouraged him to found a community of monk-hermits at Liguge, the first monastery in what is now France.

In 372, Martin, now 56, accepted the episcopate in Tours. He was reluctant to accept the position and continued to live as a monk, first in a cell near his church and later at Marmoutier where he established another great monastic center. He continued to live in a strict monastic way until his death. He was zealous in the discharge of his duties. As bishop of Tours, he was a dedicated missionary to the Franks and other northern tribes who had invaded the region. As a former soldier, he used military methods in missionary work. He travelled to the remotest parts of the diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat. From Tours, he led an army of monks through France destroying idols, pagan temples and graves and preaching. Martin was also a wonder worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the dead.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of the day, but condemned the practice of putting heretics to death. He actually interceded with the emperor Maximus in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy, declaring that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

The first great pioneer of Western monasticism, Martin died at Candes, near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks attended his body on its return to Tours. He is the patron saint of France. His feast day is November 11. The saint has given his name to a spell of good weather around his feast day (Nov. 11) known as St. Martin’s summer; the English equivalent of the American Indian summer. His biography, written by Sulpicius Severus, was extremely popular in the Middle Ages and his cult was widespread. In France, over 4000 churches are dedicated to him. And the Benedictine monastery near me where I am going to be an oblate is named after St. Martin of Tours. A popular saint indeed, he is the patron saint of not only France, but also soldiers, horses, riders, geese and wine growers. His emblems are a globe of fire and a goose.

The Man Behind the Rule: St. Benedict of Nursia

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The magnitude of Benedict’s significance in church history is not matched, unfortunately, 

by the knowledge of his life. About forty years after his death (and the year of his death is not known), Pope Gregory I wrote a series of dialogues on noteworthy Christians of previous times; his account of Benedict contains almost all the solid biographical information we have.

 

He was born in about the year 480 in Nursia in north Umbria in Italy, along with his twin sister St. Scholastica. Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia. He was educated at Rome, where he was repelled by the vices of the city and in about the year 500, he abandoned the city and fled to the mountainous town of Subiaco, some forty miles away. He seems to have been about nineteen to twenty years of age. 

 

On his way there, he met a monk named Romanus, whose monastery was on a mountain overhanging a cave. The wise monk discussed with Benedict the purpose which had brought him to Subiaco and gave him the monk’s habit. By his advice, Benedict became a hermit and lived for three years, unknown to men, in this cave above a lake. Romanus served Benedict in every way he could. The monk apparently visited him frequently and on fixed days brought him food. 

 

During these years of solitude, Benedict matured in mind and character and in his knowledge of himself and his fellow man. Despite his desire for solitude, his holiness, austerities and spiritual insight became well-known. He secured the respect of those in the area, so much so that upon the death of the abbot of a monastery in the neighborhood, the community at Vicovaro came to him and begged him to be their abbot. Benedict consented. 

 

But the monks came to resent Benedict’s attempts to reform the monastery along with his strict rule of life and the monks tried to poison him and he returned to his cave at Subiaco. The legend goes that they first tried to poison his drink. He prayed a blessing over the cup and the cup shattered. They then tried to poison his bread. When he prayed a blessing over the bread, a raven swept in and snatched the bread away. This is why Benedict is sometimes portrayed with a raven. From this time forward, the miracles seem to have become quite frequent and many people, attracted by his sanctity and character, came to Subiaco to be under his guidance and Subiaco became a center of spirituality and learning. For them, he built in the valley twelve monasteries, in each of them he placed a superior with twelve monks. 

 

In 525, he moved south to Monte Cassino where he destroyed a pagan temple to Apollo on its crest, brought the neighboring people back to Christianity and in about 530 he started to build the monastery that was to be the birthplace of Western monasticism. The monastery exists to this day, sitting on a hilltop between Rome and Naples. He remained the father or abbot of all the monasteries he founded. Soon disciples again flocked to him as his reputation for holiness, wisdom and miracles spread far and wide. Benedict organized the monks at Monte Cassino into a single monastic community. It was most likely after the arrival at Monte Cassino and as part of the effort to reform the general practice of monasticism that Benedict composed his regula  or Rule prescribing common sense, a life of moderate asceticism, prayer, study and work, and community life under one superior known as an abbot or father. It stressed obedience, stability, zeal and had the Divine Office as the center of monastic life. It was to influence spiritual and monastic life in the West for centuries to come. 

 

This famous Rule soon won nearly universal approval as providing shape for monasticism in the West. Benedict’s Rule was also read with appreciation in the East. It became the norm for tens of thousands of new monastic communities in Europe and it served as an inspiration for the slightly altered ideals that created the Mendicant Orders (or “friars”) in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. “Never in the recorded history of Christianity has a person whose own life remains so obscure,’ writes historian Mark Noll, ‘done a deed with greater public consequences.”  While ruling his monks, most of whom including Benedict, were not ordained, he counseled rulers and popes and ministered to the poor and destitute around him. 

 

Benedict died of a high fever at Monte Cassino at its magnificent abbey, while standing in prayer to God. According to tradition, this occurred on March 21, 543 or 547. But due to the observance of Lent, he is commemorated on July 11, including in the Anglican Church.  He was buried with his sister in the same grave. 

 

He is the patron saint of Europe, students, monks, against poison, farmers, cave explorers and many more. It is quite an impressive list and it shows how influential St. Benedict is. In fact, the early Middle Ages have been called “the Benedictine centuries.” Benedict lived at the end of the classical age when Roman civilization had been overrun by barbarian hordes. It was the Benedictines who, in the words of Pope Paul VI, “brought Christian culture to the peoples scattered from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Ireland to Poland.” During the Dark Ages, Benedictines taught people how to read and write, to cultivate the soil, to develop crafts and the arts, and to pray. In short, Benedict helped bring about stability during a very unstable time period.

 

In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the influence St. Benedict had on Western Europe. The pope emeritus said that “with his life and work St. Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture” and helped Europe to emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Benedict of named the patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964. In 1980, Pope John Paul II declared him co-patron of Europe, together with Saints Cyril and Methodius. To this day, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common and influential Rule used by monasteries and monks, more than 1400 years after its writing. 

A Wonderful Pope: Gregory the Great (540-604)

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He was one of the greatest popes who ever lived. Born into an old senatorial family in Rome and educated for government service and held the highest civil office in Rome, prefect of the city at age 30. A year later he decided to devote himself to God. When he inherited his father’s wealth, he converted his father’s home into a monastery under the patronage of St. Andrew in 575 and became a monk. He would go on to build six other monasteries in Sicily. He lived in such strict abstinence and austerity that he undermined his health. He would be chosen as one of the seven cardinal deacons of Rome. It was not too long before the pope appointed him the ambassador to the imperial court at Constantinople where he served from 578 to 585. When he returned to Rome he was made abbot of a monastery he had founded earlier; he also served as ambassador to Pope Pelagius who he would succeed in 590. He was unanimously elected by the senate, clergy and the people to become the next bishop of Rome. This marked the first time monasticism ascended to the papal throne.

Gregory was a great organizer and administrator who faced a host of problems. Rome was suffering from famine exacerbated by plague. He restructured the administration of the papal estates and used the money from their income to counteract the effects of poverty and pestilence. The Lombards invaded Italy in 568 and were ravaging the countryside; Gregory negotiated a peace in 592. He did much to make the Western church strong. There was no emperor in the West and Gregory became the strong man there.

He also did much to promote missions. He sent missionaries to convert the Visigoths in Spain, the Franks in Gaul (France) and the Anglo-Saxons in England. It has been said that he had seen some English boys for sale in a slave market in Rome and was impressed by their beauty. He inquired as to where they came from. When he was informed they were Anglos, Gregory replied they were not Anglos but angels. He sent St. Augustine, a monk at St. Andrew’s monastery, as leader of the missions team to England in 596. The conversion of England was one of the greatest achievements of his pontificate.

The Pastoral Care, written in 591, which explained the office and duties of bishop, became a key text for the medieval church. He also wrote many noted homilies and commentaries. These made him one of the Doctors of the Church.

Gregory’s role as the patron saint of singers arises from his work with the liturgy. Gregorian chant is named after him. He concerned himself with creating a Latin liturgy and founded a school for singers in Rome. Gregory also composed a number of prayers.

Gregory suffered from poor health for most of his life and in his last years was inflicted with gout and gastritis. He died in 604 when Rome was once again in the grips of famine and plague. Gregory’s description of himself as the “servant of the servants of God” illustrated his great humility. The use of this motto by all popes since then reflects his key position in the history of the church and the papacy. Even John Calvin referred to him as the “last good pope.” Coming from a Protestant reformer, that is high praise.