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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. . . "[28]. 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 [30].

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. . ." [31].


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. [32] 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." [33] 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. . . "[34]
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." [35]

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?" [37] As you would expect, his advice to confessors ran along similar lines: "take this as a general rule: severity loses souls; gentleness saves them. . ."[39]. 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. [40] 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.

Read Libermann's Respect for Persons (Part One)

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. [21]

Libermann does not present a system for Spiritual Direction. On the contrary, he advocates for great freedom in the relationship between Director and Directee. [22] 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. [23] 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.[24]

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. [25] 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! "[26] 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. [27]

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." [29]
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." [30]

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." [32]
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." [33] 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" [34]
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!

Read Libermann's Respect for Persons (Concluded)

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).

Read the book, "Led by the Spirit"


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.

Read Amadeu Martins, "When the Spirit of God ..."