Using Joy to Reach Sanctity

Model for Youth Raised to the Altar

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, OCT. 12, 2009 ( The youngest of the saints canonized by Benedict XVI on Sunday reached heaven along the path of joy.

Blessed María Rafael Arnáiz Barón (1911-1938), known as Brother Rafael, was one of five canonized at St. Peter’s Basilica last weekend.

Pope John Paul II proposed him as model of sanctity during World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 1989. And several Spanish bishops have requested that he be proclaimed a «co-patron» of the upcoming WYD, which will be held in Madrid in August of 2011.
His youth was at once joyful and pure, as was his monastic life despite sacrifices and abnegation. In the monastery, he said, every day had its own enchantment.

Rafael Arnáiz 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.  In 1932, Arnáiz 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.
His commentaries and writings are rich in spirituality and at the same time simple and full of a sense of humor.
He spent hours writing letters, to his mother, to his uncles and to several friends. In them, he shared his interior experiences: «For me this life which seems monotonous has so many enticements that I’m not tired for one moment. Every hour is different because, though exteriorly they continue the same, interiorly they are not, just as all Masses are not the same.»
The simple life he lived in the monastery was also the reason for a profound joy that spread both to his brothers of the community and to his relatives. «Lentils will always be lentils while my life in the monastery lasts but despite everything, I eat them with great pleasure, because I season them with two things: with hunger and with the love of God, so there is no food that I won’t take,» he wrote.
Sister Agustina Tescari, postulator of Brother Rafael’s cause, described the way the young monk expressed his love of God and his vocation as a pictorial style, saying he describes his experience as if it were painted. His spirituality is very simple, focused on the Eucharist, the grandeur and goodness of God, on God’s dominion over his life. He called God, «Master,» and the Virgin Mary, «Lady,» she explained to ZENIT.
Brother Rafael accepted God’s mysterious designs with docility. His health failed in the happiest moment of his life. Due to ill health, he left and returned to the monastery three times until he was reincorporated in 1937, a year before his death. That was the last time he saw his family.
He died on April 26, 1938, from a diabetic coma. In his last days he reflected on the mystery of pain as a point of union with eternity. «My center is God and God crucified,» he wrote. «My center is Jesus on the cross. Clutching my crucifix I would like to die. The end is the eternal possession of the day, of heaven, but that will be in heaven.»
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