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Libermann and the Holy Spirit

Meeting the Holy Spirit
In the Writings of
Father Francis Libermann, C.S.Sp.

 

 Original Texts Collected and Translated by Fr. Francis X. Malinowski C.S.Sp.

Fr. Malinowski, C.S.Sp, introduces his collection of Fr. Libermann's writing by reminding us that "Libermann's genius anticipated the conviction emerging in the Church today that the Spirit breathes not just in chapels and churches, but in the streets, in human beings. Daily living becomes the extended chapel, in which prayer and daily life are intimately joined. His doctrine on the Holy Spirit as the architect and builder of the spiritual life is simple: in prayer and apostolic life we rely on the Holy Spirit in everything, always. The Spirit does the rest."

Malinowski presents Libermann's teaching on the Holy Spirit in two parts:
(1) Life of the Spirit and (2) Discerning the Action of the Holy Spirit.

All quotations are taken from Fr. Malinowski's  Meeting the Holy Spirit in the Writings of Father Francis Libermann, C.S.Sp. Center for Spiritan Studies (2015). The quotations are followed by Malinowski's reflection taken from his paper, The Holy Spirit in Francis Libermann (click on READ TEXT).

KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS: LS Lettres spirituels; ND Notes et Documents; CJ Commentary on St. John's Gospel; ES Ecrits spirituels;; ESS Ecrits spirituels Supplement; SN newly published Letters of Libermann.

 

1. LIFE OF THE SPIRIT


Faith in the mystery of the Holy Spirit at work in us is the starting point for Libermann's work as a spiritual director. He is simply "an echo, that all, but an echo of the voice of the divine Spirit who speaks in the interior of souls" [86]. He sees himself as a midwife bringing to life in the person a desire for God's majesty and beauty. For Libermann "it is the Spirit that gives life" (John 6:63).

+THE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS


The Holy Spirit is the author of holiness and "knocks at every instant at the door of our heart, we ardently desire that he enter and by this desire we open up the door to him" [7] and the Spirit enters. How awesome this mystery! In the words of Libermann, "How terrible is this Spirit of holiness! Oh! How he wishes us to be pure and only in order to be pleasing to the divine Spirit of holiness of Jesus, and in order that we preserve it in its plenitude in our souls" [16].

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+THE INDWELLING SPIRIT

Through baptism we are made temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit dwells in us as author and sustainer of God's life. The divine Spirit is the breath of God breathing in us and giving us life. "May Jesus be all things in you, may his Holy Spirit be the unique life of your soul. Always go your way or rather let yourself be led by your divine guide who resides in the center of your soul" [11]. St. Paul speaks of the Christian living in Christ with Christ living in the Christian, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). We are to desire this indwelling "in order that he be the life and the soul of your soul, that you have no action, feeling, desire, affection, will or view but that it is Jesus who animates you in all the interior and exterior operations of your soul" [16].

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+THE SPIRIT'S PURPOSE

The Spirit is to be our unique life, ‘the soul of our soul'. "It is up to us to render him absolute Master of this poor soul, in order that he might communicate to it his life and his action. Let us allow him to act in us as our body lets act our soul which stirs it as it believes suitable and how it wishes it" [27]. The Lord has a unique plan for each one of us. We need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit for this plan to come to fruition in us. Libermann wrote in 1837, "Be holy my friend because the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is holy, and because his Spirit who ought to live and act in you is holy. Enter fully into the designs of holiness that our great Master has for you" [10].

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2. LED BY THE SPIRIT

Libermann teaches that the Spirit leads us in the way of holiness according to our own particular life experience. Holiness does not happen without our cooperation, without our intention to be united with God. "As the mustard seed does not develop without the help of the ground in which it is buried, likewise divine grace, cast in our souls like a seed of life, does not develop without the aid of our fidelity and our cooperation" [88].

+DISCERNING THE ACTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT


We are to cooperate with the promptings of the Spirit. Libermann encourages us to "try, as much as it is in us, to follow in our actions only the unique movement of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, in the manner, as our profound weakness permits it to us, as the Holy Spirit acts in our actions" [7]. But how are we to discern the movement of the Spirit? Libermann warns again following our imagination and our latest ideas. Rather we need to attend more deeply to what our heart tells us. "Stay tranquil and peaceful near the Holy Spirit who wishes to become in you the movement of your interior and exterior action and all your breathing. Do not act by your own mind which is always in movement; make it keep quiet before the One who dwells in you and who wishes to be all things there" [64].

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+THE SPIRIT AND PRAYER


Prayer for Libermann is about being present to God in the awareness that God is present to us. "Try to maintain calm in your soul. Be indifferent to everything. Pay attention only to the Spirit of our Lord living in you" [9]. The Spirit prays in us generating a bond of love that radiates sweetness and joy. The experience of God's encompassing love through prayer opens the mind and heart to the needs of the world and empowers Christian action for others. "Love God fervently, but with a fervor inspired by the divine Spirit of Jesus. Serve him with force, with guts and generosity, and not by your own activity. Above all, may divine grace make you act strongly for the glory and love of your God" [19].

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+PRAYER AND SWEETNESS


"Sweetness", with synonyms ‘goodness', ‘mildness' ‘tenderness' and ‘affection' translates the French word used by Libermann, ‘douceur'. The Spirt breathes life into us in a noiseless, invisible and creative way. The Spirit is the creator of the life of Jesus in us. "His Holy Spirit is the life of our soul; it is he alone who is to apply it, move it and communicate to it all action and life" [13]. We are to dispose ourselves to be fashioned into the likeness of Christ. "In this manner, and little by little, one no longer acts on one's own. It is the Holy Spirit of our Lord who then does everything in us, and gradually we acquire a supernatural force in all our conduct" [12].

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+SWEETNESS AND SELF-DENIAL


The experience of God's love in prayer prompts us to tackle all the obstacles to its growth. This involves a continuing struggle with flaws in our character that limit our capacity for that love. "The Holy Spirit knocks at every instant at the door of our heart, we ardently desire that he enter and by this desire we open up the door to him. Bu how can he enter if he does not find any room there, if he finds the heart which ought to belong so much to him filled with enemy affections?" [7]. The Holy Spirit can work within us when we acknowledge our weakness and that we are unequal to the challenge to be holy. "For that, always abandon yourself to the divine Spirit of our Lord with the dispositions of a poor man, full of knowledge and experience of his own misery and of the humiliating state of incapacity of opposition and continual detours, by which one withdraws oneself ceaselessly from the divine and unique life of our souls..." [16].

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+SELF-DENIAL AND DIVINE PROVIDENCE


The "sweet soul" opens itself to the Holy Spirit in prayer and renounces its self-determination in favor of divine providence. "Think only of one thing: let the Spirit of Jesus act in you according to all his different wills. If you experience variations in your interior don't get anxious. Take all that comes from the divine Master and let him act" [23]. We cannot make ourselves holy. Holiness is God's gift and work in us. Libermann's logic for growth in holiness lies in the denial of self and trust in the Holy Spirit at work within us. "Therefore in the exercise of the holy presence of God, avoid effort and your own action in order to push your soul towards God and to unite it with him" [27].

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+PRACTICAL UNION: THE GOAL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT'S ACTION


Jesus sought always to do what pleased the Father (John 8:29) and models the apostolic life on the integration of prayer and action. For Libermann the apostolic life is an active union with God and with neighbor. It is practical because it is an exercise of faith, hope and love in all aspects of daily living. The soul is attentive at all times to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. "Interior union with God ought to be such that all our actions, be they interior, be they exterior, but especially interior, proceed as much as possible only from the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ who is in us and they be made in him and with him" [92]. Mary is the singular model of practical union. She who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit lived her life to perfection through obedient to the will of God. "May the Holy Spirit superabound in your soul, as he superabounded in Mary, our good Mother" [14].

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