Successful at being unsuccessful

Today, 26 April 2012, is the feast day of St Rafael Arnaiz Baron, a young Spaniard who sought God in the silence of a Trappist monastery. Of particular interest to many is the struggle he had with a particularly nasty form of diabetes. Due to this, many people seek his intercession for the grace to cope with diabetes. Others find his calm trust in the Will of God despite many perplexing situations to be truly inspiring.

St Rafael Arnaiz Baron was born on the 9th of April 1911 in the city of Bourgos, Spain. Being the first child of very devout parents, he was welcomed with joy and seen as a most special gift from God. Rafael grew up in a financially secure environment filled with faith and culture. His education was dogged by periods of illness. After recovering from a bout of illness his father took him to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Pilar at Zaragoza in thanksgiving for having been returned to health.

When the family moved to Oviedo, Rafael continued his studies at another Jesuit college. At the same time he was growing in artistic talent, which was showing itself in drawing, painting, music and increasingly in writing. During a summer holiday, taken after finishing high school, his uncle and aunt took him to visit the Trappist monastery of San Isidoro de Duenas. Experiencing the beauty, the silence and the sung liturgy of the monastery awakened a vocation in Rafael’s heart.

With the vocation growing inside him, Rafael began to study architecture at university. When he was called up for military service he was deemed unfit for duty. Reports vary, but it seems that he returned to study and almost completed his degree. God’s urgent call to his soul intensified and he had to respond. Thankfully his parents generously and joyously gave their permission. At last he was on his way to seek and be found by the One who had called him so vehemently. 

Only four months in, Rafael came down with an acute attack of diabetes. To get medical attention he had to return home. Thus began the final four years of his life. To attempt to live a life of monastic regularity while having a medical condition that produced irregular blood sugar levels- which in turn required immediate action – was a challenge indeed. Hunger, thirst and various forms of illness-induced depression became part of his life. It took a while for him to embrace the vocation within a vocation of being sick, but embrace it he did. Each time he got better Rafael returned to the monastery, and each time be had a severe bout of illness he was returned home. Being a human ‘yo-yo’ like this taught him to trust God’s perplexing ways and to embrace the Cross more deeply.

Longing to be with his brother monks in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, he often found himself in solitude. To each new challenge God arranged, Rafael responded with gratitude for that which would draw him closer to God. Increasingly Rafaels longing was to belong to God solely and forever. Death was something he looked forward to welcoming because it would totally unite him with Jesus and with Mary. Rafael also desired to take monastic vows, but he was never well enough or at the monastery long enough for that to happen. Humiliating though it was, Rafael had to settle for being an oblate instead, someone permitted to live part of the life to which he was called, but not all of it.

To take him to greater heights of holiness, God permitted Rafael to be gradually stripped of all of his dreams.  Learning this divine lesson well, he was able to say, “Real mortification consists in doing what you neither like nor desire, even if your desires seem to you to be holy and good.” Rafael grew in this holy detachment, living fully by the maxims, “Expect nothing from the world and from people… only God.” and “God alone is fully satsfying.”

A final attack of diabetes occurred on 26 April 1938, when he slipped from this life through a coma into the next life. He was only 27, yet even though his life had been dogged by illness, contradictions, humiliations and failures to achive so many things, he succeeded where it really counted – attaining true sanctity. 

Should you get a chance to read ‘God Alone : A Spiritual Biography of Blessed Rafael Arniaz Baron’ by Gonzalo Maria Fernandez and Patricio Peman, make sure you take it. 

The sufferings of this life God transmuted for Rafael into the power to obtain extraordinary graces for those who seek his intercession. The miracles approved for his beatification in 1992 and canonization in 2009 confirm this.

St Rafael Arnaiz Baron, pray for us and especially for all young people seeking God and all WYD pilgrims.

One thought on “Successful at being unsuccessful

  1. I have lived with diabetes since 1985, I will be 65 years old in June 2012. I will start my devotion to Blessed Rafael Arniaz Baron as soon as I do further research.

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