Model for Youth to Be Canonized

Brother Rafael Found Sanctity in Everyday Life

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, JULY 22, 2009 ( A Cistercian monk proposed by Pope John Paul II as a model for youth is set to be canonized this October.

Blessed María Rafael Arnaiz Baron, known as Brother Rafael, will be recognized as a saint along with four others who will be canonized Oct. 11. He is the youngest of the group, having died at age 27 in 1938.

The postulator of his cause, Cistercian Sister Augusta Tescari, spoke with ZENIT about his life, affirming that he found sanctity in the midst of renunciation and sacrifice, as well as the joy of contemplative life, “with the style and the simplicity of a youth.”

“A pictorial style because he describes his experience as if he were painting,” she explained. “His spirituality is very simple, centered on the Eucharist, the greatness and goodness of God — in the dominion of God over his life.”

Rafael Arnaiz was born in Spain in 1911 and studied at a Jesuit school. From a very young age, he showed remarkable sensitivity to spiritual themes, as well as interest in painting and art.

His studies, however, were soon interrupted by illness. When he recovered in 1922, his father consecrated him to Our Lady. At age 19, he began a degree in architecture in Madrid. “It was a very turbulent era in which anti-clericalism was ablaze,” Sister Tescari noted.

In 1932, Arnaiz left aside his studies for a few days to do the spiritual exercises. During that retreat, he felt called to become a Cistercian monk. At age 23, he was accepted in the monastery of St. Isidro de Dueñas.

“I am not moved to make this life change by sadness, nor suffering, nor disappointment, nor disillusion with the world,” he said when he entered the order. “What the [world] can give me I have. God in his infinite goodness has given me in life much more than I deserve.”

Gazes from heaven

Surrounded by Gregorian chant and the murals of the Trappist monastery, Brother Rafael felt that the vocation responded to his deepest longings.

“Singing as they sing, with this fervor, it is not possible that Our Lady would not be pleased by them,” he wrote. “I believe that in these moments, the Queen of Heaven must gaze upon her sons with tenderness.”

He spent hours writing his mother — she would collect his letters in a book after his death — and his uncles, the dukes of Maqueda.

Sister Tescari recounted that reading his letters “above all those to his uncles, he seems to be their spiritual director. He was not a disciple of his uncles; rather, they were disciples of his.”

“Days pass in the monastery,” Brother Rafael would write. “What does it matter? I do not see great things, I don’t see miseries, I don’t see snow, I don’t distinguish the sun. The world is reduced to a point, to the point of the monastery and in the monastery, only God and myself.”

Despite his contentment in the monastery, diabetes would force him to leave three times.

“This seemed to him almost a betrayal by God, but little by little he accepted the will of the Lord and stayed in his house a year and a half to recover,” Sister Tescari explained. “He again asked to enter the monastery, [now] as an oblate because he couldn’t follow the entire rule. […] He was accepted as a guest. He felt so strongly that he had the vocation that that is why he was accepted.”

Inside and out

The simplicity and humor of Brother Rafael’s letters do not diminish their theological depth and the telling of his experiences in the monastery, as well as his love for the Lord and Our Lady.

In 1934, he received the white habit, something he told his mother with great joy: “I am very happy. […] I am all dressed in white, at least on the outside. Now I am going to try to be the same on the inside, which is what really matters.”

His reflections are interspersed with commentaries to make his readers laugh: “The cowl makes me very hot,” he wrote, “When summer comes I’m going to melt little by little and one day they are going to look for Brother María Rafael and only find his habit.”

Diabetes finally took his life April 26, 1938. His cell in the monastery is preserved as a place of prayer and recollection for the monks of the community.

John Paul II offered Brother Rafael as a model during the ’89 World Youth Day in Spain. He would proclaim him blessed in 1992.

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