The Trappist vocation and life is not a “one-size-fits-all” calling, and today’s saint is a perfect example of that. St Rafael managed to be born on April 9, 1911, which was Palm Sunday that year, and after persevering in our Cistercian life, he died at the age of just 27 on April 26, 1938, which was Easter Sunday that year. In
a sense, his life and its span were a complete living out of Christ’s Holy Week and journey from triumphant entry, to the complete acceptance of suffering, and on to resurrection.
His fellow Spaniards remembered Rafael as a man of extraordinary intelligence and talent, always cheerful in spite of his illness, and yet at the same time a man of great simplicity, and wholly centered on following Jesus Christ. His entire approach to his life, from an early age, can be summed up by a phrase which he made very much his own: “God alone!”
While he was studying architecture in Madrid, he visited the Cistercian monastery of San Isidro de Dueñas, and made up his mind to enter there, which he did on January 15, 1934. Little did he know that, within a few months, the joy of his novitiate would be transformed into another type of conformity to Christ.
Br Rafael’s health collapsed very suddenly in May 1934 with the onset of diabetes. Because of the seriousness of the illness and its effect on him, Rafael had to leave the monastery and return to his parents to recover somewhat. He was able to return to the community at last in January, 1936, but now as an oblate – a monk who would not make public vows. His diabetes meant that he could not follow the strict discipline of the Rule, but he could live the life to some extent. The Cistercian life seems able to make room for those who truly want to live it, and so the Rule tries to embrace those who wish to embrace the life.
The word “oblate” means “offering”, and this was how Rafael saw himself. He wrote: “My vocation is exactly that: to want to forget the world and its creatures, … so that I might offer myself to the Lord in the silence and the humility of the oblate’s habit”. So his great desire was to be an offering to God, but without the world knowing it, and a light shadow that passes through life, loving God completely, and as quietly as possible.
His diabetes continued to play havoc with the life which he had claimed, and he left the monastery again twice more to recuperate at his parents’ home. But he cast all cares away from him, entrusting himself to God. Br Rafael died in his monastery on April 26, 1938, praying: “Take me and give Yourself to the world”. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009. May St Rafael intercede for us and lead many young people to seek God alone in the Cistercian life. [Reader: cf. This passage from his writings] https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/st-rafael-arnaiz-baron-among-the-vegetables