The Holy Spirit in Francis Libermann
Francis X. Malinowski, C.S.Sp. (1921 - 2006) studied the writings of Venerable Francis Libermann and catalogued references to the Holy Spirit. Here follows an article published in Spiritan Horizons (Issue 10, Fall, 2015) by Fr. Malinowski as edited by Fr. James Okoye, C.S.Sp., entitled The Holy Spirit in Francis Libermann.
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 and in human
beings. Daily living becomes the extended chapel in which
prayer and daily life are intimately joined. His doctrine
of 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. Paul's celebrated dictum, "If we live by the Spirit, let us
also walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:25) provides the inspiration
and framework for Libermann's teaching. This article presents
Libermann's teaching in two parts.
Read the article: The Holy Spirit in Francis Libermann
Libermann's Respect for Persons
by Fr. Amadeu Martins, C.S.Sp.
In Spiritan Papers 2, January - April 1977, Pages 25-43.
Fr. Libermann cared more about the health of his fellow missionaries than his own
There was a practical aspect to this concern. He wrote, "To give up one's life for the salvation of one soul is a wonderful thing to do, no doubt about it; but to save one's life for the salvation of one hundred others is still better. Not to be afraid of sickness or of death, - that's the mark of a zealous missionary devoted to God alone; but, to take precautions to keep alive in order to save a greater number of souls, - that's the mark of a missionary who knows how to join perfect prudence to his perfect zeal and his perfect devotedness. . . ". His missionaries did not always follow his prudent advice. With some anxiety he wrote in 1848 to Fr. Arragon in Dakar, following the death of Mgr. Truffet,"I hope you have changed the food. If you haven't done it yet, you must do it at once: bread, meat and wine, within reason, and according to the demands of the climate."
The health of each individual missionary was of great concern to Libermann. Read about Fr. Blanpin .
That is, apart from his own! He was reckless when over-extending himself in attending to the mission God had entrusted to him. But the community at La Neuville put a regime of health care including a nutritious diet for him. Libermann sought to follow the ideal he set for the missionary. "He has a heart as strong as a rock, as far as his own pains are concerned; but the tender heart of a dove, when it's a matter of someone else's sickness. . ." .
Libermann and the Unfortunate
On a visit to Bordeaux in 1846 he saw the need to help the orphans and the unemployed of that city.  Martins summarizes: "Wherever there were sufferings to be relieved, wrongs to be righted, there was his heart." His strategy was to "uplift their moral state and improve their material conditions."  In 1849, as Superior General in Paris he writes for support for the charitable outreach of the community to those in need. Martins quotes from one of Libermann's ‘begging letters'. He reports to a benefactor, "Only a few days ago we opened the chapel to some poor laborers who are out of work, reduced to the depths of misery, without bread, without clothing, without consolation. Our men are giving them instruction and supplying them with vouchers to buy vegetables, and we hand out to them things that are given to us: shirts, trousers, stockings, etc. It would not be possible to engage in a finer work.. . ; but, to keep it going, we'll need some resources. Come to our aid. . . "
Whether in Bordeaux, or Paris, or Dakar, We can say that Libermann had a life-giving program of "restoring man, disfigured by sin and material misery, to his original dignity, called as he is to be a child of God." 
In a letter dated 1843, he wrote: "An unfortunate person must never be wrong in our estimation. because our kindness and compassion for them should soften our hard hearts and calm our impatience andunwillingness to help. . . Do you want to participate perfectly in the love of Jesus?"  As you would expect, his advice to confessors ran along similar lines: "take this as a general rule: severity loses souls; gentleness saves them. . .". He cautions against preaching a rigorous doctrine: rather we are to be gentle with ourselves and with others.
An Example of Libermann's Practical Help to One Person
Martins ends this first part of his fine article by describing a particular instance of Libermann's respect for persons demonstrated in his dealings with a Mr. Demeuré, who was down on his luck.  Martins examines Libermann's life story and concludes that this love for people had its beginnings in his early childhood and went on growing as an expression of his love for God.
Libermann's Respect for Persons (continued)
by Fr. Amadeu Martins, C.S.Sp.
In Spiritan Papers 5, January - April 1978, Pages 20-42.
Respect for Persons in Spiritual Direction
Libermann believed that he possessed a charism for directing souls. He spoke of it as "a grace which is only for others and from which I get nothing for myself." He saw himself as an instrument in the hands of God. The Holy Spirit is the true director of souls whom he frequently called The Divine Leader. The Spiritual Director must guard against wanting to lead a soul. It is God who is to lead, and the director is to bring the person to the point of not placing any obstacles to that leadership. 
Libermann does not present a system for Spiritual Direction. On the contrary, he advocates for great freedom in the relationship between Director and Directee.  The Director is only the conduit of God's promptings, like the telephone the director is a simple instrument, which does not transmit its own messages, but those of others. The spiritual director too should transmit only God's messages.  Martins concludes that, for Libermann, a director who does not live in intimate union with God cannot be a true director because he will not have God's light for leading souls along the paths of holiness.
Directing Others in God's Way for Them
According to Libermann - always the friend of the poor, the unhappy and the weak - benevolence is one of the
necessary virtues for those in charge of others.  To one superior he urges, "let there be a great liberty of
spirit in your house. . ." When members are encountering difficulties, the superior must "support them with the charity and humility of Jesus Christ... . We are much more unbearable to Him than these poor souls are to us, and still He puts up with us! " We must act under the influence of the Holy Spirit within us. Libermann writes, "This divine Spirit is all charity. It does not criticize and does not have a tendency to criticize; (it inclines us to believe the good more easily than the evil; when it makes us see evil in our neighbor, ... we are moved ... by tender affection, and we tend to remedy our brothers' ills with gentleness and kindness. 
Gentleness in the Direction of Others
Particularly, in his role as Spiritual Director, Fr. Libermann exuded a spirit of gentleness that endeared him to those who sought his counsel. "You must know how to bend and be very supple in directing souls, spare them ..., in order to support them, to encourage them endlessly according to the different states they are in. This is what St. Paul called being all things to all men." His advice to Mother Marie of Castres in directing her sisters was, "Avoid contradicting people as much as you can. Trials are for perfect people. We lead the imperfect as best we can, and try, by gentleness, to have them do what they are able to do." 
One needs to apply this gentleness to oneself. Fr. Libermann's advice to one Spiritan who found it difficult to get on with another one was to recognize his own temperament as the enemy of the peace. He wrote, "Get used little by little to living at peace with your enemy. You have a temperament, which gives you a lot of trouble; don't get it into your head that you absolutely have to get rid of it; rather convince yourself that it is the divine will that you live with this enemy. Put up with it with patience and gentleness." 
Be Practical and Level-headed
Fr. Libermann had to contend with members of his community bursting with zeal and impatient for progress. They want everything to be perfect, and now! He warns, "You form a perfectionist's idea of things and you want that perfect conception to be realized in its entirety. That is not, and that never has been, the way Divine Providence works." 
Somewhat exasperated with the impetuous Fr. Le Vavasseur, who was with him from the beginning, he wrote on one occasion, "If I had taken the unyielding line you wanted me to adopt, there would not be a stone left upon a stone in our work."  Le Vavasseur, at one stage, wanted to join the Jesuits as he thought he would find the perfection he craved in their ranks. Fr. Libermann warned, "The Jesuit Fathers are certainly at least one of the most fervent religious societies in the Church; still, with the rigorous principles you propose, you would have to dismiss at least half of their number. Don't be making juvenile judgements in such grave matters" 
Martins goes on to report the extensive correspondence between these two men. It was clear to him that the patience of Fr. Libermann would win out. He was to Le Vavasseur what he was to others. Speaking of this Libermann wrote,and with these words the article ends: "I am only the servant of all, I cannot pretend to any rightsover myself, over my words, or my writings. I belong to everybody and everybody has the right to make use of me according to God's good pleasure ... the word of God belongs to all His children."
What a man of God, a man for others!
Led by the Spirit
- The Life and Work of Claude Poullart Des Places
A book by Seán Farragher, C.S.Sp.
Irish Spiritan historian Fr. Seán Farragher, CSSp, chose Led by the Spirit as the title for his book on the life and work of Claude Poullart des Places.
This title was applied not only to Claude but to the movement which began with him and continued long after him. Farragher found the source for Claude's devotion to the Holy Spirit in his growing up in Brittany at a time of religious renewal. That renewal was influenced by the spiritual doctrine of Jesuit Fr. Louis Lallemant (1588-1635) who taught the importance of purity of heart and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the first enabling the second. One quotation from Lallemant demonstrates that influence (Farragher 126).
When a soul has given itself up to the leading of the Holy Spirit, he raises it little by little, and directs it. At the first it knows not whither it is going, but gradually the interior light illuminates it, and enables it to behold all its own actions, and the governance of God therein, so that it has scarcely aught else to do than to let God work in it and by it whatever he pleases; thus, it makes wonderful progress.
Other formative influences on Claude's early life was his education at Collège Saint-Thomas, a Jesuit school where Lallement's doctrine was well-known. Claude's friendship there with St. Louis Grignon de Montfort brought him into contact with Fr. Julien Bellier, a young priest working at Rennes cathedral animating youth to visit and care for the poor.
Farragher connected this early spiritual development to Claude's choice of Pentecost Sunday (27 May 1703) for the beginning of his community of poor scholars. The first words of Claude's rule for his community confirmed this. The students "will have a great devotion to the Holy Spirit, to whom they are consecrated in a special way." This starting point comes from deep within his own experience of God's personal love for him. God could not be outdone in generosity. "In exchange for a small act of love of God, I experienced interiorly God's reciprocal gifts which words cannot fittingly describe." And again, in his Reflections on the Past he wrote, "Whenever I made some effort to approach the Lord, that merciful Master immediately carried me for many leagues on his shoulders. Finally, I was able to do without effort what formerly I considered impossible for a man like me."
Farragher considered it "a remarkable coincidence" that des Places's home town of Rennes was also the location of the Eudist Novitiate (Antrain, north of Rennes) where Libermann was novice director. He wrote (Farragher 272) that led by the Spirit,
both Claude Francis Poullart des Places and Francis Mary Paul Libermann had set out from almost the same spot in Rennes, though at an interval of one hundred and thirty years, leaving a life of security behind them and putting their trust only in God as they went in search of their vocation. Claude, instead of opting for the diocesan priesthood and entering the major seminary conducted by the Eudists, had, all unknown to himself at the time, sown the seeds of his real vocation through involve¬ment with Fr. Bellier in training poor students for the priest¬hood. In 1839 Libermann was to walk away from the material security of the Eudist novitiate in Rennes to throw in his lot with a group of students fired with zeal for the pastoral care of the black slaves being liberated at the time.
It was not difficult for Farragher to attribute the coming together of the two congregations to divine providence. Libermann saw it that way. "The union of our two societies has always appeared to me to be in accord with the de¬signs and the will of God; they undertake the same work and are travelling along the same path. Now it is not according to the designs of providence to raise up two societies to do one special work if one can do the work alone."(Notes et Documents X 339).
Led by the Spirit of God
by Alphonse Gilbert, C.S.Sp.
Chapter 8 of A Gentle Way to God
Chapter 4, ‘Led by the Spirit', from A Gentle Way to God, (pages 66 to 88) by Alphonse Gilbert, C.S.Sp., translated from the original French by Myles Fay, C.S.Sp. (Dublin: Paraclete Press: 1990).
Fr. Gilbert offers many insights from Fr. Libermann about the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These insights coincide with the call to holiness in today's world made by Pope Francis in his letter of March 19, 2018. He wrote, "Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today's world" Gaudete et Exsultate, 23.
The French original, Le feu sur la terre. Un chemin de sainteté avec François Libermann is available in the Spiritan Collection, Gumberg Library, Duquesne Universty.
When the Spirit of God inspires a Work
By Amadeu Martins, C.S.Sp
Spiritan Papers 1978, No. 7 Pages 3 - 25.
The Spiritan General Chapter of 1974 calling for renewal in the Congregation stated, "We have been gathered together by Christ into a FRATERNAL COMMUNITY to live out and bring to realization our common project" (Guidelines for Animation, 24). For this to be better achieved the Chapter called for a reawakening of faith in the Spirit "who wishes to give life to our community and who enriches this community and each of its members with a diversity of gifts" (Guidelines for Animation, 32).
Martins connects the congregation's common project of "today" with its founding purpose and offers in this article insight into "the spirit of our Founders, our history and the spiritual inheritance we have received from those who have gone before us" (Guidelines for Animation, 48). He begins with a retreat given by Poullart des Places to the group of twelve he had chosen to form community with him at Gros Chapelet in Rue des Cordiers in 1703. The retreat was entitled "He Has Sent Me to Preach the Gospel to the Poor." That, for Martins, is the inspiration that continued to sustain the congregation through its long history.
Martins discovered a similar text also inspired by Luke 4:18, at the Seminary at Rue Lhomond. It read, "Pauperes evangelizantur ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis suae," ("The poor are being evangelized, the nations enlightened, and the people give him glory"). He concluded that the words give good expression to the purpose and spirit of the congregation and summarize its activity during the almost three hundred years of its existence. This motto was borne out by the students formed in the seminary. Martins quoted from letters written by Fr. Louis Bouic, des Places's successor, to confirm this.
Thanks to God's mercy, we have already trained a good number (of priests) who are working zealously and giving a good ex¬ample. Every day we receive good reports about most of them to the effect that they are very edifying and are doing fruitful work for the salvation of souls. Several of them, in less than three years, have re-established many parishes, restoring faith and piety and the frequentation of the sacraments. They learned here the importance of these things; now they are communicat¬ing it to others. (Martins 20).
The des Places formula, "to train the poor to evangelize the poor," continued in his followers.
The Holy Ghost Seminary survived the French Revolution; chang¬ing political fortunes; continuous attacks from a Gallican hierarchy and a Jansenist clergy; a skeleton staff and, at times, low morale both in the seminary and in the colonies. But time and adverse conditions had taken their toll. A report in 1847, quoted by Martins spoke disparagingly of the colonial clergy at that time, many of which had been trained at the Holy Ghost Seminary.
There is no way to defend the present-day colonial clergy. With few exceptions, they are an ignorant lot of priests, insolent and sometimes dissolute. There are several reasons for this: . . . They look upon themselves as the clergy of the white people exclu¬sively. . . . - For some time now, a different outlook is beginning to appear: some attempts are being made, but they are weak, irregular, and without much fruit... (Martins 23).
The same correspondent saw where the problem was and suggested a solution. "The Congregation of the Holy Ghost needs new blood and new life; but such an undertaking is beyond human power." (Martins 23). Martins sees divine intervention at work in Propaganda Fide's strategy of bringing together the descendants of des Places and the followers of Libermann.
True enough, the "undertaking" was beyond human power, but God did not want to let perish that admirable work which for a century and a half had done so much good. To give it that new blood it needed, God raised up Libermann and his Work for the Blacks. Since 1841, some of his disciples were already at work among the black slaves in the colonies and were drawing the same kind of praise as the missionaries trained at Holy Ghost Seminary for more than a century. (Martins 23-24)
Martins concludes this stimulating article by recognizing that neither one of the two congregations changed. All that was implicit in Poullart des Places becomes explicit in Libermann. All was the work of God's Spirit, the primary agent of mission.
The Founders of the Spiritans: Spirituality and Missionary Intuition
In preparation for the General Chapter that agreed the Spiritan Rule of Life (GC XVI, 1986) four confreres were invited by the Research and Animation Center at the Generalate, Rome, to research the spirituality of the Spiritan Founders, their life-experience and missionary intuition. In his preface to these articles, Fr. Frans Timmermans, C.S.Sp., wrote that our founders "were so open to the Holy Spirit, so empty of themselves, so full of the spirit of sacrifice that they were able to read and interpret the signs of their own times and in consequence to answer them too."
You can read the four articles in Spiritans Today, no. 4 (1985).
The Sources of Claude-Francois Poullart des Places' Spirituality and the Origins of his Work
(pages 9 - 28)
- Fr. Joseph Michel, C.S.Sp.
Fr. Michel prefaces his work on Claude Poullart des Places by noting that "This was not the working-out of a preconceived plan but the fruit of an intensely lived spirituality of both listening to the Holy Spirit and observing the greatest problem of the Church at that time, namely, clerical reform, the condition for evangelizing the poor." In the following seventeen pages, Michel provides an incisive biographical sketch of the young Claude giving particular attention to his vocation, seminary life, spirituality and founding of Holy Ghost Seminary. Michel delves more deeply into the original features of this new foundation: its mystique of poverty, the focus on learning and virtue, the early Jesuit influence and collaboration with the apostolic endeavors of two saints, Grignion de Montfort and Jean Baptiste de la Salle.
Michel highlights the twofold devotion of Claude: adoration of the Holy Spirit, the fire of divine love, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He designated Pentecost and the Immaculate Conception as the principal feasts of his community. Michel quotes from a reflection given by Nicolas Warnet, seventh successor to Poullart des Places, at a renewal ceremony at Pentecost, 1839: "The Holy Spirit's love is our treasure ... We undertake to seek the honor of the Holy Spirit first of all within ourselves, by a spirit of perfect docility. We must be led by the Holy Spirit, follow his impressions alone... Then we will be in a position to fulfil another duty: as children of Mary and the Holy Spirit, we will exert ourselves by word and example to have them loved and served... This is how we will walk in the footsteps of our fathers, certain that it is the surest way of doing what pleases the Holy Spirit."
Claude Francis Poullart des Places: A Life-Experience under the Breath of the Spirit
(pages 29 - 48)
- Fr. Maurice Gobeil, C.S.Sp.
Fr. Gobeil writes a beautiful and brief account of Poullart des Places as one whose life was finely tuned to the promptings of God's Holy Spirit. Gobeil highlights both Claude's first in depth experience of the Holy Spirit which he terms his ‘first conversion' in 1697 and a more profound and determinative experience of the Holy Spirit, his ‘second conversion' in 1701. Fortunately, Poullart's retreat notes from 1701 survive. There we read, "O my God, you who lead people to the new Jerusalem when they genuinely trust you, I have recourse to your providence, I surrender myself completely to it."
Another text from Poullart, Reflections on the Past (1704), provide insight into his efforts at understanding what God wanted from him. The twin burdens of providing for his community of poor scholars and his own studies preparing for ordination weighed heavily upon him. They seemed to be in conflict. His enthusiasm for life had waned and self-doubt took hold of him. He wrote, "I left the world in order to seek God, renounce vanity and save my soul. Is it possible that I merely changed my ambition and that I preserved that ambition all the while in my heart? If so, of what use was it to undertake that work?"
This was a time of purification when he had to work his way through such doubts and fears. In this, he succeeded through giving himself time for retreat and sharing his trials with a wise spiritual director.
Gobeil traces Poullart's journey into God from his writing of 1701 and 1704 and gives interpretation to the progress of this holy soul from consolation to desolation through the spiritual scaffolding offered by Francis Libermann. He demonstrates the connection by placing in parallel columns text from Poullart and relevant quotations from Libermann's spiritual writings.
Gobeil's intention in writing this article some thirty-five years ago was to encourage his fellow Spiritans. He recognized then that Poullart's journey from trust in God, to doubting God's plan for him, and then to a deeper trust in God's providence is a journey those who follow him in the congregation also take. Gobeil's concern then for the well-being of his confreres is no less real in 2019. "Today, when work and the apostolate draw us out of ourselves so much, sometimes devouring us to the point of ‘burnout', this discipline an ascesis of Claude Poullart's might encourage us to include in our personal and community life these necessary moments of closeness to our confreres and to God."
Fr. Libermann's Spirituality
(pages 49 - 76)
- Fr. Bernard Tenailleau, C.S.Sp.
These twenty-seven pages bring us into the orbit of Fr. Libermann's life "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). They are divided into two sections: (1) Libermannian Spirituality and its Origins; and, (2) Key Concepts of Libermannian Spirituality. For the author Libermann's spirituality "constitutes a formidable path of holiness for us missionaries."
Section One is in two parts: (a) The origins of Libermann's spirituality, and (b) Libermann, the founder. Tenailleau begins with a key quotation from Libermann: "One should not say, this system of spirituality is to my liking; it seems to correspond with my turn of mind and therefore it is true. To know such things, we need to live an interior life; we need the grace of the Holy Spirit and experience; we need an experimental, not a speculative knowledge of things."
Tenailleau reflects on three significant experiences in Libermann's life: his conversion in 1826 and years at St. Sulpice; his time at Issy and struggle with illness (1829-1836); his time at Rennes and call to mission (1837-1839). In these three moments of his life Libermann was "seized by God" who became everything for him. Tenailleau interprets Libermann's understanding of God shaped by these experiences as the One who acts through events. "Confronted with this mysterious sanctifying action of God, the only possible attitude is total abandonment of self in the greatest peace. Likewise, we find his insistence on interior availability, with the only activity within our power, self-denial." Libermann understood that the first obstacle to a relationship with God was ourselves. If we are to open ourselves to God's love that fulfills we need to turn from self-love that diminishes. Tenailleau puts it this way,"Libermann sees grace for receiving, not for grasping; holiness is not a conquest but a gift; the point is to give in to God's action, or to leave oneself available and manageable, so that the transforming union that God wants to lead his disciple to can start and be accomplished."
Libermann had the charism of a founder. 1840 saw him in Rome seeking official church approval for the inner call he received from God. In the following twelve years of his life, the interior life already developed in Libermann comes to maturity in an apostolic holiness with Jesus at its center. "Jesus sends us as he was sent. Our mission is his; it is Jesus who lives in those he sends, who suffers in them, who draws souls to God his Father and gives them graces through them."
In Section Two Tenailleau develops some key concepts of Libermann's spirituality at once deeply personal and profoundly apostolic. First, he reflects on Libermann's famous final words, ‘God is all, man is nothing'. He then examines the recurring theme that it is God who calls and directs, as "a living partner, who intervenes in our history." God is not to be found in books or in any system of spirituality. Rather the Christian vocation is lived through "a continuous Yes to God's activity in us."
Tenailleau continues by examining the primacy of Christ in Libermann, "Jesus must be the soul of your soul." Libermann's spirituality is truly Trinitarian. "Assent to an active God and openness to the apostolic holiness of Christ can only be lived in docility to the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son." Finally, love for God overflows into practical love for others, especially those most in need. For Libermann the "principal and important thing is not knowing and thinking, but doing."
Fr. Libermann's Missionary Intuition
(pages 77 - 94)
- Fr. J.M.R. Tillard, O.P.
Roger Tillard (1927-2000) attended Spiritan schools first at St. Pierre et Miquelon, Collège Saint-Christophe and subsequently Collège Saint-Alexandre, Ottawa. An attraction to Fr. Francis Libermann was ignited in the mind of this young man at that time who, following his secondary school education in 1950 joined the Dominican Order taking the name Jean-Marie. He was a noted ecumenical theologian being a member of the International theological Commission (1974-1980) and member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and writer on religious life. He wrote Fr. Libermann's Missionary Intuition in 1985.
Tillard presents his reflections on Libermann's missionary intuition in these seventeen pages under five headings: the Judeo-Christian thread running through Libermann's writings; Libermann's "heart of poverty"; the importance of holiness for mission; and the future of mission.
Tillard recognized the foundation of Jewish faith in Libermann's writings, particularly his identification with the poor of Yahweh, the anawim, through his suffering epilepsy, disappointment, humiliation and failure. In this spiritual desert the waters of God's mercy brought forth in Libermann "the mercy, tenderness and understanding of the human heart that emerges particularly in his correspondence with his missionaries." Key to Libermann's conversion to Christianity was the Jewish understanding of salvation limited to the few. How could a God so rich in mercy and compassion restrict his love to only some of humanity and not extend that love to all? He understood that salvation would come from Israel, a sinful people to all the peoples on the earth. As Tillard put it, Libermann "breathed the old spirit of the People of Abraham into the renewal of missionary zeal" of the nineteenth century.
Libermann "was a merciful person wishing to found a community of mercy on that same mercy transfigured in Christ." Tillard quotes at length from Libermann's writings - particularly his commentary on John's gospel, his Provisional Rule of 1840, Règlements of 1849, and Instruction to Missionaries (1851) - noting, "In my researches into missionary religious life I have never found better. The osmosis of humanness and gospel reveals Libermann's charm, the spirit he wanted to inspire in his congregation."
Libermann's dream of the apostolate in Africa was born from an evangelical desire to bring God's love "to those who are numbered among the most forgotten." He was not about "kingdom building" but rather proclaiming God's kingdom of love and mercy for all. He urged his missionaries to have an apostolic zeal tempered by a gentle charity and great kindness. "The missionary's bid is not proselytism but conformity to the ways of Jesus, Servant of Yahweh."
Tillard concluded his section on poverty with a declaration. "Libermann, remaining in line with the biblical mystique of the anawim, does not balk at suffering. He knows it is born of a world, of a human situation, for which the gospel is a source of contradiction, refusal, attack. His emphasis is not as negative as has been said, it considers the situation in the light of the gospel. It says: I do not fear the situation, I immerse it in the gospel, and then it will become power in God."
Libermann saw a causal relationship between love for God and love for others expressed in founding his missionary congregation. "For him the unreservedness of our self-giving to people translates the unreservedness of our attachment to Jesus Christ." Missionary enthusiasm begins in an "ardent seeking of Jesus Christ." He saw religious life as the foundation for the missionary vocation. "To be a good missionary, let us be religious." Spiritans follow Libermann "on a path where holiness and mission coalesce." For Tillard, "the charism of the congregation is the charism of a spiritual experience, and in no sense a utilitarian charism."
Tillard concludes his essay with the suggestions that in the experience of Libermann "there is a perception absolutely in harmony with the drama of mission today." Evangelization is primarily achieved through holiness and witness to God's love. For Tillard, "The future of mission is in the direction of communities that are in themselves witnesses of the gospel, vibrant communities ... Libermann proclaimed in his century what will probably be the law of the future: God seems to want us to save this country rather by our sanctification than by our zeal."
You can read the four articles in Spiritans Today, no. 4 (1985).
Fr. Bernard Tenailleau, C.S.Sp.
Spiritan Papers. 11. 3-22. January-April, 1980
Fr. Tenailleau demonstrates that Fr. Libermann's missionary commitment was grounded in spiritual experience beginning with his conversion and baptism in 1826. It was deepened in sickness and failure with the onset of epilepsy and subsequent removal from the seminary in 1829. Ten years later, he was in Rome seeking approval for the foundation of an apostolic group to bring the gospel message to Africa. This transformation was only possible through his profound reliance on God. In an 1846 letter he wrote, "How happy we are when we are under the sway of the Holy Spirit, completely under the influence of the Spirit of love of Jesus!"
The Holy Spirit drew Libermann towards the missionary and apostolic life. In this article, Fr. Tenailleau strives to penetrate the deep spiritual experience that inspired Libermann and to outline his teaching to those who follow him in the missionary life.
Four main points summarize his advice to missionaries that came from his experience as a spiritual guide:
• to live in community at all times
• develop an interior life
• be self-disciplined
• maintain inner peace.
There was much resistance to this integration of what can be termed today as the contemplative, the ascetic and the prophetic. However, Libermann warned against confusing the "impetuous attraction of nature" with missionary zeal. Knowing that his life was drawing to a close Libermann began to write Instruction for Missionaries, which marks a transition from advice given for individuals to a systematic set of guidelines for Spiritan missionaries.
Fr. Bernard Tenailleau, C.S.Sp.
Spiritan Papers. 12. 39-52. May-August, 1980.
Fr. Tenailleau invites us, the readers "to slake our thirst with the living water of the Spirit of Jesus" by "meet[ing] Jesus for an intimate conversation." He does this by narrating the story of God's Spirit at work during two particular moments in Libermann's life: first from 1822 to 1826, when he was transitioning from devout Judaism, through deism, to conversion to the Catholic faith. Second, in 1840, when as a cleric in minor orders, he was in Rome petitioning Propaganda Fide to found a new religious society.
The First Moment
In 1822, at twenty years of age, he travelled from his home town of Saverne to the city of Metz for rabbinical studies. The religious indifference, narrowness of mind, and divisions within the Jewish community there, quickly disillusioned him. He wrote of that time, as quoted by Tenailleau, "Disappointed by everything I saw, I fell into a state of deep melancholy... Till then, I had lived as a Jew of good faith. But then, I fell into a sort of religious indifference which in a few months was replaced by a complete lack of faith." In spite of this, he persevered in his preparation to become a rabbi, and followed his father's desire for him.
Yet indifference to religion and a growing dislike for a warlike god as revealed in Hebrew Scriptures deeply disturbed him. His older brother's conversion to Catholicism in 1825 was a turning point. In 1826, he travelled to Paris, with his father's blessing, to complete his studies. There he met with Dr. David Drach who introduced him to the truth of salvation for all in Jesus Christ and provided accommodation for him in the Collège St. Stanislas, where the Christian faith, as he put it, "penetrated his mind and heart" and led to his baptism on Christmas Eve, 1826.
The Second Moment
The article fast-forwards to 1840 and Rome, where Libermann, awaiting word on his proposal to Propaganda Fide, begins writing a commentary on St. John's gospel. Tenailleau interprets it as an opportunity for Libermann to "satisfy his thirst for contemplation." Here Libermann, reflecting on his own spiritual experience, writes of faith as a "letting go" of trusting himself alone and experiencing deep within himself a thirst and desire for the "living water" which he came to identify with the person of Jesus Christ.
Libermann recognized two different ways to conversion. The first beginning in a graced experience that prompts reflection and knowledge that then leads to truth. The other begins in reason and knowledge that leads to truth with the help of grace. In either case, the spiritual life is a journey, a way of life, in which Jesus takes the initiative as the great artisan of our souls. Jesus is the one who models us interiorly, and we have only to remain open and docile to his Spirit. As Tenailleau puts it, "For Father Libermann, the true spiritual life is a response, a co-operation, a dialogue with God in which God is the principal partner."
Francis Libermann: Led by the Spirit of God
by Alphonse Gilbert, C.S.Sp.
Fr. Gilbert offers many insights from Fr. Libermann about the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These insights coincide with the call to holiness in today's world made by Pope Francis in his letter, Gaudete et Exsultate (2018) where he wrote, "Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today's world" (23).
- An abridged version of Chapter 4, ‘Led by the Spirit' from A Gentle Way to God, (pages 66 to 88) by Alphonse Gilbert, C.S.Sp., translated from the original French by Myles Fay, C.S.Sp. (Dublin: Paraclete Press: 1990).
- Read Chapter 4, ‘Led by the Spirit', from A Gentle Way to God.