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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)