The Spiritual Letters of Venerable Francis Libermann
Fr. Francis Libermann (1802-1852) the convert Jew from Saverne, France, was an unlikely choice to guide others in the way of Christian living. As a failed seminarian and epileptic living off the charity of others, he sought only the consolation of God's love. His brokenness lived with gentle serenity inspired those who knew him at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, Paris. Many would seek him out for spiritual advice, consolation and encouragement. Read more
Fr. Walter van der Putte, C.S.Sp., edited and translated four hundred and forty-one of these letters for publication in five volumes of the Duquesne Studies, Spiritan Series (1962-1966). They constitute a correspondence to seventy-four lay people, clergy and religious. In some cases, there is only one letter; in others, there are many more.
Each correspondent is on his or her particular journey of discipleship and looks to Libermann to help them discern the Spirit of God at work in their lives. This he does with consummate skill and great devotion. As you read on you will draw closer to the spiritual treasure the letters contain and find in them a wisdom and consolation to accompany you in your way of Christian discipleship.
1. Louise des Loges: Trust in God and you will not be disappointed
Begin reading with Louise des Loges, one of five girls who heard God's call to serve in the new apostolate to the much-neglected peoples of the French colonies and along the West Coast of Africa. She consulted Fr. Tisserant, a member of Fr. Libermann's Holy Heart of Mary Congregation, about her missionary vocation. Following Fr. Libermann's advice Louise entered the Institute of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, a Society dedicated to the new mission outreach. She took the name of Sister Aurelia.
- Libermann encourages Louise to open her heart to the Lord in perfect freedom and peace. "He who feeds even the smallest animals will provide what is necessary for those who desire to serve Him.
- "She is not to rely on her own efforts, which lead nowhere. Rather, she is to "cling to Jesus," the "bridegroom of her soul" in the confidence that he provides "sweetness, love, and peace" for those who desire to serve him.
- Her weaknesses do not prevent her from sharing in God's love. Rather "true self-knowledge brings with it an increase of love for God."
- In the power of God's love Louise will "leap over" all the obstacles holding her back from following the "impulses of grace" and walk confidently in God's love.
Read the nine letters Fr. Libermann wrote to her between 1842 and 1844 offering her encouragement to follow the call she had experienced.
Letters to Louise des Loges
In The Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume One: Letters to Religious Sisters and Aspirants.
2. Rose Lapique (Sister Paule): Allowing God's grace to work in us
Rose, like Louise, also wanted to give herself totally to God in the service of those most in need through the new missionary outreach of the time of which Libermann was a leader. She sought direction from him. He outlined a daily timetable for her as she considered joining the Blue Nuns of Castres.
Rose should begin each day by consciously opening her heart in love to God. "Offer Him your day and prepare to serve Him faithfully . . . remain recollected and at peace. Avoid being tense and over-eager."
Sr. Paule needed to develop patience. This would come from a growing trust in God's love for her. "Remain in your lowliness before God and accept with gratitude, like a beggar, whatever He wishes to give you."
Libermann identifies self-love as the source of her anxiety. She is not to force herself to be holy. God will bestow this upon her, if she can only let go of being over-concerned with her progress in her spiritual life. "If he leaves you spiritually dry, accept this as His holy Will."
God is the primary agent in our quest for holiness. She is to allow the good Master to lead her. He will accomplish great things in her. "Do not make efforts of mind or heart to remain recollected or to produce affections for, or good sentiments towards Our Lord."
Read the six letters Fr. Libermann wrote to her between 1842 and 1847 both before she entered the convent and while in the convent preparing to go on mission to West Africa.
3. Letters to Missionary Sisters: Preparing for Mission
Libermann wrote three of these letters to Sr. Aloysia. The other is written jointly to the four sisters at Castres (Paule, Aurelia, Aloysia, and Cecile) preparing to go on mission to Guinea, West Africa where, Libermann warns them, they will encounter many trials and difficulties. They are not to be in a hurry, but rather, take care to prepare themselves well for the challenge ahead of them.
They are to be at peace in themselves and train themselves in all the religious virtues. They are not to force God to accept their services as they would wish, but rather, serve Him as he desires. "He is the Master, you are the servants . . . It belongs to Him to give the orders; it is your task to obey."
The best way they can prepare themselves for Africa is to grow in holiness. "The holier you are, the greater will be our capacity for serving God and saving souls." They open themselves to God's grace through practice of the virtues, particularly, "humility, mildness, charity, the spirit of prayer, and crowing all, obedience."
They will strengthen the spirit of their vocation by loving the Lord with all their heart and with generosity. "Sacrifice for Him all that is agreeable to you. When troubled by pain or temptation, bear them with love, peace and patience."
They are to remain calm and peaceful in God's loving embrace. Their hearts are to be attuned to the divine heart and only desire what God desires. Libermann warns, "When we allow our desires to drive us on forcibly, we rarely have peace of soul and our intention is rarely pure."
Read these four letters written between 1844 and 1847 while the recipients were preparing themselves for the West African mission of Guinea.
4. Mother Marie De Villeneuve: A Saint Rebuked
Mother Marie founded the diocesan congregation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the "Blue Nuns") at Castres in 1836 to "go where the voice of the poor calls us." Fr. Libermann's first communication with Mother Marie was in relation to the missionary vocation of Sisters Paule, Aurelia, Aloysia, and Cecile (see correspondence above) who were among the first sisters to open a convent in Africa, at Dakar, in 1849.
Mother Marie died two years after Libermann on October 2, 1854. Pope Francis canonized her in 2015 according to her baptismal name, St. Jeanne-Émilie de Villeneuve.
The Duquesne Collection provides the translation of 19 spiritual letters by Libermann to this saint written from 1842 to 1847.
Facing many trials in the establishment of her community St. Émilie sought encouragement that Fr. Libermann could provide. "As a rule God's works unfold and develop gradually, little by little. You have started the building. It does not belong to us, weak creatures, to finish it, but to Our Lord. He has placed you there as the first stone and it is possible that you may not know exactly what He has in store for you. This is God's way, usually..."
Fr. Libermann advises that the language of Jesus is acquired through silence. He advises against adopting too many devotions though they are holy in themselves. Silence is the preferred language of God. "If we want to speak the language of grace well, we must forget the language of our fallen nature."
Fr. Libermann speaks of Mother Marie's role as superior. "One all-embracing rule is that we did not come to be served but to serve. You are the first servant of your community. ... Mildness and humility should therefore be the characteristics of your rule. ... You are a domestic servant in the house of Jesus Christ, and are charged with seeing that the children carry out His will."
Fr. Libermann counsels patience with those who are weak and a willingness to admit to mistakes. "Do not be so unbending. ... We should humble ourselves and remain in our nothingness before God,... for the sake of serving the spiritual good of those whom we ought to love and treat more tenderly than others." He chastises himself for his harshness towards those struggling in the way of Christian holiness and warns, "When we devour sick sheep, because we are seeking our own advantage, we are truly wolves."
Mother Marie sought Fr. Libermann's advice in directing her sisters. He urges her to distrust her own opinion in some measure. If he were guiding one particular sister, "I would try to forget what you have told me and I should distrust everybody no matter how wise, for I feel certain that prejudices greatly influence us either for or against a person ... It is so easy and comfortable to reach to other and to urge them to do what we ourselves fail to do."
Fr. Libermann and Mother Marie were in regular correspondence, with the last recorded letter written to her on November 19, 1851. Libermann died the following February. Mother Marie mourned his passing in a letter to his successor, Fr. Schwindenhammer, "I have not been less sensitive to the news of the death of him whom we also regard as our father. He was so good for our congregation! It is to him that we owe our dear missions; the lights that God has given us; and the spirit he asks of us. Also, I feel, as one of you, the sacrifice that God has just asked of you."
Read the 19 Letters to Mother Marie, St. Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve
5. Jenny Guilllarme: Discernment of Spirits
Jenny Guilllarme who had left the convent, became a seamstress and was resolved to live a saintly life. Well known as a holy person in Paris she was associated with the recovering and restoring of the medieval relic of Christ's Holy Tunic of Argenteuil. She was member of a Saint Sulpice prayer group and sought direction from many priests. She corresponded with Fr. Louis Marie Caverot who later became bishop of Saint-Dié in 1849, and Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon in 1876.
The introduction to the letters tells us "her imprudence and indiscretion had frightened off several priests who had tried to direct her soul." Libermann's 19 letters written over two years (1843 - 1845) offered Jenny sure guidance. In his direction, he focuses on discerning the working of God's Spirit in her life. Sensitive to the interior movements of Jenny's soul - thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions - he helped her to reflect on them, understand where they came from and where they were leading her.
Jenny worried that she has sinned. Fr. Libermann assures her that in all that she shared with him "there was no mortal sin in anything you told me, nor was there even a serious venial fault. Your conduct, my dear child, was a little imperfect, and that is all." He encourages her, "You will not lose your soul. Jesus is your guardian and who can then steal it?" He urges vigilance. "Vigilance that is mild, holy, peaceful and loving in the presence of Jesus and Mary."
Jenny felt let down by others. Would Libermann similarly abandon her? He replies, "I hope, through the Mercy of our good Master, that I will not abandon you no matter what others might say or do. I am the servant of all who belong or wish to belong to Jesus, my Lord. I will not commit the injustice of abandoning or refusing to help anyone in order to seek some personal advantage, or through fear of others."
Jenny wonders how many crosses she is to bear and how long she is to suffer. Fr. Libermann advises her. "Do not set limits to the crosses you are willing to bear. Accept all that come as so many precious gems and be afraid to let any escape from your grasp. ... Have courage and be filled with divine love. Jesus must triumph in you. He can do so only through the Cross. He has to take you and break and crush you."
A Jansenist spirituality (emphasizing original sin, human depravity, and predestination) confuses Jenny. Libermann warns her: "They are truly ravenous wolves, wearing the mask and using the language of piety, but there is not even a shadow of devotion in their hearts. ... They maintain that they are the elect few and that the entire Church of Jesus Christ is lost. ... Cling with all your heart to Jesus and His Church."
Jenny approaches many priests for advice and gives many reasons for being attached to them. Libermann admonishes her that she is to "stop being a slave" to others and "be a spouse of Jesus instead." The Lord does not want her devotions or mortifications. "He wants your hear, your whole heart without reserve, and you will not find rest nor have a truly interior life, until you have sacrificed all your affection for creatures, all your desire to live for others and to find your joy in them."
Jenny is not to "assume an air of humility before others, but be humble in the depths of your soul ... always accept, with peace and love, whatever divine Providence sends you. All that God does is done well. He knows better than anyone else what you need and He will give it to you."
6. Pauline Libermann (1824-1891): from Honey to Pepper
Thirteen letters between a beloved uncle and a devoted niece comprise this correspondence between Fr. Libermann and his niece, Pauline, eldest daughter of Libermann's brother, Samson. The correspondence begins with an indulgent uncle's encouragement when Pauline was 12 years of age and extending to three months before Libermann's death in 1852 with a letter challenging Pauline to be grateful to God for the blessings she has received in living her religious vocation and never to doubt God's abiding love for her.
At eighteen years of age, Pauline was considering a religious vocation. Fr. Libermann stressed the importance of Pauline connecting with her desire and understanding that desire. This is true desire "When the thought of entering religion inspires us to live more perfectly, more piously, when it impels us to overcome our faults and make sacrifices for God, when it gives us peace of soul and devotion to God."
While figuring out if her vocation is genuine or not Pauline is to cultivate those virtues that are necessary for the fulfilment of her desire. "Prepare yourself so that, when the time comes, you may follow the voice of the Bridegroom who is calling you. In the meantime make ready for the religious life by trying to acquire the virtues that are necessary for so holy a life - recollection, humility, meekness, obedience, modesty, contempt for the world and indifference to its foolish pleasures."
Pauline was troubled by self-doubt. What are her true motives? Where does her real desire lie? She turned to her uncle for guidance. He replied, "Do not mistake an idea that comes uninvited into your mind for one to which your will adheres. The human motives of which you spoke are fictions of your imagination. You would never, with full deliberation, have said that it was for such motives that you desired to become a religious. The imagination at times conjures up such things but your will has no part in them. Your will sincerely seeks God."
Pauline took vows and, as Sister Leopold, was surprised with failings in herself. Uncle Francis again was on hand to offer firm advice. "You should not be surprised nor anxious when, from time to time, your heart plays tricks on you. The gardener is not surprised that the weeds return after he has raked and cleared the soil. He knows beforehand that some will return and that he will have to repeat the weeding over and over again."
In his final letter to his beloved niece, Fr. Libermann gently scolds her as one "always on the look-out for something that can cause you anxiety." He continued, "When the good Lord gives you honey, you very quickly take a pinch of pepper after it. You have scarcely finished telling me that you have drawn much benefit from your retreat when you add, I believe that the good Lord will demand a more severe account from me because of the graces He has given me. This is what I call taking a pinch of pepper directly after the honey."
Rather than trouble herself, she should "Be pleased and feel happy about God's infinite love for you, and do not insult His goodness and His great love for you by yielding to fears. It is not to make you fear Him that He gives you graces. Therefore, be filled with gratitude to Him for His goodness, and profit from those graces by pleasing Him more and more."
Read the 13 Letters to Pauline Libermann (Sr. Leopold) pages 199 - 232.
7. Dr. and Mrs. Samson Libermann: Brother writing to Brother
Fr. Van de Putte, C.S.Sp. introduced this selection of 45 letters written from 1828 to 1847: "Venerable Francis Libermann practiced and preached great detachment from creatures, but he also knew how to love them in God. He thus preserved always a strong attachment to his eldest brother, Samson, and his sister-in-law."
The conversion of Samson and his wife to Catholicism in 1824 made a deep impression on Francis. Samson wrote, "He suffered intensely from it and made bitter reproaches to me for what he called my apostasy . . . . It sees, however, that my answers made an impression on him." Two years later in a letter to Samson, we see the beginnings of Francis's own journey through questioning to Christian faith. "God gave us the power to think not for the sake of letting it lie dormant but that we might exercise it. If a man had to allow his mind to grow dull, if he had to surrender blindly to the chains of religion, how then would he differ from the brute religion would make him what a brute is by force of nature. Why did I receive that heavenly gift if not that I might make use of it?"
These letters, brother to brother, give us valuable insight into how Francis understood his own trials and difficulties. They help us trace his growing trust in God's providence at work in his life. He wrote of his epilepsy. "My beloved sickness is for me a great treasure, preferable to all the goods that the world offers . . . I hope that, if our Lord Jesus Christ continues to bestow upon me the graces which He has given me until this moment, however undeserving I have been of them, I shall lead a life of perfect poverty and entirely devoted to His service. ... Whatever I am and whatever I have, belongs to God, and belongs to no one else but Him."
Francis, as a seminarian, took on the role of Spiritual Guide in his family, not least, in writing to Samson and his wife, whom he addressed as ‘Dear Brother and Sister'. The perfect love of God, in response to God's unending love for us, was his preoccupation. He wanted his family members to immerse themselves, as he had, in the circle of divine love. "You know what Jesus Christ asks of all Christians: You shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart. This means that there should be no desire or affection in our heart, which is not for God alone, to the exclusion of all creatures."
Francis encourages the practice of meditation as a sure way to be present to God and obedient to God's will. "I should especially like to teach you how to meditate. I am very anxious for you to do so, because I am convinced that, if you applied yourself seriously to this holy exercise for even half an hour every day, you would make rapid progress in the perfection of the Christian religion."
Francis understood this perfection as union with Christ. This union is nurtured through meditation on the passion and suffering of Jesus for our sakes. By entering deeply into this mystery, we can behold the incomprehensible love God has for us. "If Our Lord finds our hearts well disposed, and free of the world and of worldly desires, He fills them with His love, and this love is so beautiful, so amiable, so delightful, it gives us strength to become masters of the world and of ourselves. It forms the greatest happiness of our lives here below, as well as our blessedness for the eternal hereafter."
Francis wants his brother and sister to be free of all resentment, regret, self-love, so that they can be worthy teachers of the Christian way for their children. They are not to speak ill of others, lest the children imitate what they do. "You must also have meekness and peace in your heart; be mild and peaceful toward everybody, even those who wish you harm. Still, you must not believe too readily that anybody is against you. On the contrary, forget all the injuries that you have received at the hands of others."
Francis does not want his brother and sister to be worried about him or about their own affairs. "Do not yield to anxiety or sorrow because it pleases Our Lord to make you wait so long for help in your affairs; there is a set time for everything! ... Let the Lord arrange things for you, my dear friends. Divine Providence might direct your affairs more slowly than you would wish. I am fully convinced that, if the whole family were solidly established in the perfection of divine love and renunciation of worldly things, your affairs would progress more quickly. Moreover, you see very well that God's goodness gives you reminders so that you will not distrust God."
Read the Forty-five letters from Francis to his Brother and Sister in Law.
In The Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume Two: Letters to People in the World. Pages 1 - 176.
8. Marie Libermann: Don't Worry, Be Happy!
Twenty-one letters between Fr. Libermann and his niece and goddaughter, Marie, began in December 1838 when she was nine years of age and continued up to November 1851. Marie considered a religious vocation but never joined a convent. Rather, she lived an intentionally Christian life "in the world." This was difficult for her, in her adolescence and early adult years as her vivid imagination distracted her from this focus. Fr. Libermann counselled Marie in different letters to deal with this by (1) having a strong desire to belong to God; (2) surrendering herself to God; (3) living joyfully without being overconcerned about herself - "laugh when you feel like laughing"; (4) trusting in the Lord - "who is hidden among us on earth for the sole purpose of filling us with himself"; (5) patience - "abandon yourself completely into God's hands." Marie died (from typhoid fever) seven years after her uncle in Paris in 1859.
Fr. Libermann's spirituality begins by experiencing God's love and responding to that love with great trust and abandonment to God's will. In the early letters to Marie his focus is on her relationship with Mary, the Mother of the Lord, who "loves you so much that she has wanted to bear her name, so that everyone will know to whom you belong." Marie has three mothers - her mother, godmother (with whom she lives) and Mary, the Lord's mother, who is so great and so lovable. She "will take care of you, as she has taken care of her dear Child Jesus, for you also are her dear child!"
Marie is to bring all that is troubling her to this sweetest of mothers. "Tell her all your troubles in all simplicity, show her the wounds of your heart, with tears reveal to her that you are suffering, and ask her to cure you. When a small child falls and hurts herself, she runs to her mother crying she shows her the place where it hurts; she does not even have to ask her mother to cure her; she knows beforehand that her good mother will do all she can to console her. If she is covered with mud, mother washes and cleans her. Act in the same way with Mary and she will give you great help and consolation."
Marie, at the age of thirteen, was making her first Holy Communion and had a lot of anxiety and fearful of offending God and doing wrong. As she was advised to trust in Mary as an understanding and loving mother, so now, her godfather advises her to "Go to Jesus with confidence; you love Him and He loves you. What risks are you taking and what have you to fear? Don't entertain such unreasonable thoughts that inspire fear. Do you want to fear Him who loves you to excess, even with a sort of folly? Yes, with the folly of the Cross! He died for you. He desires so ardently to unite your soul to Himself that He wants to become the food of your poor soul."
Marie, at the age of fifteen has set her sights on being a saint. But she is troubled by her faults and weakness. The joy and peace of the saints eludes her. Her godfather encourages her: "You have a right to such joy and peace, for you are a child of God, beloved by Jesus and Mary; it is not proper for you to be sad and to grieve. If you find that you are poor in virtues in comparison with the saints, do your best to reach their level. Your aims must be as high as that; and you will be successful, my dear child, if you are faithful. A newborn baby does not grow immediately to adulthood. A soul that enters the road of holiness, likewise, does not reach the highest level at once. First, be a child of God, then become an adolescent, and finally reach maturity. Be faithful and Jesus will grant you this grace."
Marie, aged eighteen, was troubled by many temptations. She turned to her godfather for insight and advice. He replied, "You must not be surprised if your heart has emotions that are opposed to the virtue which you want to possess. The senses and the imagination are easily taken by surprise by the things that surround them ... Trouble and unruly activity take place in the imagination." Fr. Libermann proposed four rules to help:
• Avoid giving in to anxiety and do not plague your mind at the approach of temptation
• Seek to distract your mind, avoid sadness, discouragement
• Do not entertain excessive fears of being attacked by temptation
• Have a profound, filial and constant confidence in Jesus.
Marie had an active imagination that led her in many directions. Fr. Libermann's remedy, "Don't worry about all those thoughts that flit through your mind. God knows your heart. Give it entirely to Him and don't worry if your imagination wants to remain on earth. ... Be content with raising your heart to God and making some acts of love, humility, sacrifice, and submission in all things to His good pleasure. But make these acts rather with the heart than with the mind, and don't worry about the rest."
Read the Twenty-one letters from Godfather to Goddaughter
In The Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume Two: Letters to People in the World. Pages 180 - 246.
9. Madame Victor Rémond: The Unrecognized Director
Madame Rémond, a wife, mother and teacher from Lyons wrote to the seminarian Francis Libermann on the recommendation of her brother, Father de Goy who had Libermann as his spiritual director when he was at Issy. He introduced his sister to Libermann who responded, "Let the lady write to me, and if I see that it is the spirit of the Lord who is guiding her, I will reply."
Six letters, all written in 1838 - when Libermann was in Rennes - survive from that correspondence. In the final letter, Libermann agreed with Madame Rémond that it would be a great pleasure to meet with her in person. "it is truly my hope that even in this world God will give me this grace and I thank Him for it." The following year Libermann journeyed from Rennes to Rome on foot. Stopping in Lyons he arrived at Madame Rémond's door dressed as a poor cleric. The maid failed to give his name. Taking him as a poor cleric seeking alms she simply pressed some money in his hand and bade him a kind adieu. The directee met her director, but did not know it.
1st Letter, Interior Disposition: "Pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten you and tell me very simply the things as you see them, and then worry no more about them and think no more of them. It is to be hoped that the Lord will make known your interior disposition to me, as he usually does when it pleases Him to give me this grace."
2nd Letter, Sweet Confidence: "Preserve a sweet confidence in your soul, for you are the well-beloved daughter of the Lord. Your life should be hidden in Him, so that you may live His life. He desires to live in you as He lived in Mary. You are an empty vessel which the Lord desires to fill, and if it pleases Divine Goodness, you will later better understand the comparison."
3rd Letter, How to Meditate: "Begin by recollecting yourself and by placing yourself in a certain repose and peace before the Divine Majesty. Next, a profound sentiment of your lowliness in God's presence... Then raise your soul, gently turning away your thoughts from yourself. Consider the Divine Word in His immensity, which fills the whole universe and all time with His greatness and His infinite perfection. ... Consider Jesus acting in you with incomparable gentleness and peace, and desiring with a great love to establish His dwelling therein, and to make you live His own life."
4th Letter, How to Make Confession: "When you want to go to confession, open your soul before your Savior, in order that He may look at your wounds and heal them. This opening of the interior of your soul must be done with all confidence, humility, confusion and peace. Consider your little child when he has hurt himself; he shows you his little hand, knowing that you will apply a remedy and console him."
5th Letter, Receiving Holy Communion: "Prepare yourself for it with a great spirit of love and childlike confidence, aiming always at pacifying and calming yourself in order that the divine Savior may come and unite Himself to you in a more living and intimate manner than usual. When you have received, do not act too much yourself, but allow Him to act in you; remain in silence before Him, allowing Him to animate and vivify you with His own life and His love, with which He comes to unite you to Himself, so that you are, as it were, lost in Him."
6th Letter, Living Well: "Continue to make your meditation on the incarnation, and during the day remain in sweet and peaceful union with your well-beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Your exterior conduct should show the influence of this interior view and attitude, engendering great modesty; genuine modesty can spring from no other source. Speak and act with genuine moderation. ... Try to be mild and charitable in all your judgments."
Read the six letters to Madame Rémond
In The Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume Two: Letters to People in the World. Pages 273 - 285.
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume 3: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 1 to 75)
Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1963.
10. François Lieven: A Cry for Help
The Deacon François Lieven suffered a debilitating illness preventing him from ordination. He turned to the Acolyte, Francis Libermann for consolation and encouragement. They corresponded for three years until Francois' death in 1837.
The five letters given here offer the consolation of faith in a God of love who "looks upon you unceasingly with delighted and loving eyes." Rather than worrying about pleasing this loving God, François is to "let Him who is the source of all light lead you. ... The more you doubt yourself, the more you will be convinced of your entire dependence upon God."
He is simply to keep himself at peace before God. "He sees your trials, your sufferings, and your labors. He knows all the depths of your misery and weakness and He is always with you to sustain and strengthen you in your combat. ... You may rest assured that he will not abandon you in the present crisis."
11. Eugene Dupont: Discerning a Vocation
The Seminarian Eugene Dupont felt attracted to missionary work. He consulted Francis Libermann who was in Rome at the time seeking approval for his missionary congregation, the Holy Heart of Mary. Nineteen letters of Libermann's direction spanning from August 1840 to April 1844 demonstrate the importance of patience in discerning God's will. Dupont was ordained for the Archdiocese of Rouen.
Libermann advises Eugene, "Do not run farther than grace propels you." He is not to rely on his own strength but the strength of God at work in him. "... When our trust rests solely in our adorable Master, what difficulty need we fear? We will stop only when a wall blocks us. Then we wait with patience and confidence until there is a breach and resume our march as if nothing had happened."
Libermann provides an incisive commentary into the prayer O Jesu, Vivens in Maria (O Jesus, living in Mary). Like Mary, Eugene is to give himself "to our divine and most adorable Lord to die and live in Him." In this correspondence (letter 10) Libermann outlines three stages for Eugene to follow in his desire to open himself up to the life of God.
First, to free himself from a preoccupation with external activity, as "the work of becoming holy must take place in the interior of the self." Second, to cooperate with God's grace at work in him. Referring to St. Paul and the Gospels Libermann writes, "You will not find in them any praise of a good character as being the source of great holiness. On the contrary you will see on every page how grace does everything." Third, Eugene must overcome the fault of judging others unfavorably. "Examine things carefully and you will see that in matters of perfection the judgers are usually inferior to the judged."
12. Francis Xavier Libermann: Quieting a Troubled Mind
Fr. Libermann's nephew, Francis Xavier, looked to his uncle for advice on his missionary vocation. He joined his uncle's congregation and made his Consecration to the Apostolate a year after Libermann's death. He lived a further fifty-four years as a Spiritan.
Five letters (1845 - 1851) give encouragement to one who desires to serve God but is concerned that he is lacking in commitment. In the first letter, when Francis Xavier is fifteen years of age, his uncle wrote, "You are not tepid, dear boy; you are merely wanting in sensible devotion; and this means nothing. .. Always remember that true love for God does not consist of words or feelings but of a sincere will to please Him."
Francis Xavier asks his uncle to help him to pray. First, he is to prepare himself by reading. The time of prayer begins with an act of adoration "paying honor to God or Our Lord or the Blessed Virgin according to the subject of your meditation." He is then to "quietly reflect on the principal motives that should convince your mind concerning the truth on which you are meditating." The time of prayer concludes by "making good resolutions."
Francis Xavier has many worries. He is not to listen to them. "They are merely a temptation." He is to follow the advice of his spiritual director and not to be over-concerned with his progress, or apparent lack of it. "God's grace adjusts itself to our nature and hence there is a general development and there are general rules that are applicable to what the various temperaments have in common. But in regard to details, we would go astray if we attempted to lay down very rigid and clear-cut rules, for it is not possible to find even ten souls that are perfectly alike."
13. Fr. Jean Bessieux: The Patience a Missionary Needs
Jean Remi Bessieux (1803-1876) was one of two survivors of the ill-fated group sent to West Africa by Libermann in 1843. In 1848, he became Vicar Apostolic of ‘The Two Guineas'. He died in Gabon in 1876. These four letters, written between May 1845 and September 1846. These letters render advice on how to live as a missionary.
Libermann advocates for flexibility and good relations with the local population. "Always be gentle and full of kind charity toward all; be polite, full of good will, and considerate. ... Adjust yourself to the customs and habits of all and do not try to make them adopt your tastes and habits. Those who labor for the salvation of others must know how to bow and bend to everything. Without this they will either be broken themselves or break others."
Libermann calls on missionaries to take care of themselves. "Do not ‘kill' your body. You are in an unhealthy country. You should avoid excessive privations. ... It is important to preserve your life for the good of those God desires to save through you. ... We should act to avoid unfortunate accidents that can jeopardize our ability to work for the good of others. ... Let us live by and for God, remaining calm and peaceful, kind, charitable and affable toward everyone."
14. Fr. Jacques Laval: Discerning and following God's Plan
Jacques Laval (1803-1864) was a doctor in France who then became a priest. He then joined Libermann's congregation to serve the former slaves of Mauritius in 1841. He remained there until his death in 1864. Venerated by Hindu, Muslim, and Christian alike, Fr. Jacques Laval was the first Spiritan to be beatified in 1979.
Libermann understood mission as the fulfillment of God's plan for the world revealed in Jesus Christ. "God's will should be the only motive of our desires and our actions. As long as we conform to that divine will, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be with us; if we follow our own wishes, that grace will leave us or be greatly diminished, and then what shall we be able to accomplish?"
Libermann was insistent that missionaries should observe the community rule. This is particularly the case for a new community. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, "a little error in the beginning leads to a great one in the end." Libermann warned against Laval committing what he termed a sort of "original sin." He wrote, "If the rules are not observed at present, they will observe even less at a later date, and all the reasons which seem to justify your non-observance of the less important rules will prompt those who come after you to justify failure to observe the rules that are most important."
15. Fr. Thiersé and Fr. Thévaux: Solidarity in Mission
Both François Thiersé and François Thévaux left Libermann's novitiate for Australia in 1845. Three years later, they took up assignments to Mauritius. The four letters in this collection (1846 - 1851) speak to their missionary experience in Australia and their transitioning to Mauritius.
Libermann urged these two missionaries "to have but one heart and one soul" in respect for and support of each other. Their love is to be genuine. "There is no more precious treasure for you than that love of Jesus in which you love each other. Let both of you realize that that mutual love is not something you have by nature." Rather they rely on God's grace. "The Spirit of Jesus is in your midst. He unites you in His divine charity and will unite you more and more in His holy love, which embraces all His own in his Heart. He will teach you to bear with each other, to yield to each other, to be flexible, mild, and humble of heart."
As with Laval, Libermann urges a clear observance of the community rule. "Our rule is the safeguard for our perseverance in fervor, and this fervor is necessary for us to be able to labor earnestly for the salvation of souls."
16. Antoine Durand: Courage and Perserverance
One letter written to a missionary "suffering all sorts of painful emotions at the moment of your departure" [for the African Mission].
17. Bishop Etienne Truffet: The Strength that Comes from Within
Etienne Truffet was ordained in 1835 and entered Fr. Libermann's novitiate in 1846. In December of that year, he became Vicar Apostolic of the Two Guineas and arrived at Dakar in May 1847. He died six months later. Libermann wrote to him on June 7 and November 22 (the day before he died).
Libermann understood the missionary's spirituality as one of struggle to establish the Kingdom of God. "Our life in this world should not and never will be one of joy and comfort. You will notice that, for you and me, joys will be almost non-existent, and when they come, we find them mingled with affliction. This is now and always will be our sort of happiness: to suffer for the love of Jesus and to have no other consolation to sustain us than His sole good pleasure."
The missionary relies on the life-giving Spirit of God for direction and strength. "Be profoundly aware of the fact that Jesus Christ is in you. Compare what it is that Jesus is constantly trying to do in you and what your own nature constantly strives for; compare the impressions that come from Jesus and those that spring from your own self; compare the action of Jesus and your own activity. You will then be able to discern what in your actions comes from Jesus and what comes from your own self."
18. Fr. Ernest Briot: The Missio Dei
Ernest Briot entered Libermann's novitiate in 1843. He worked for a short time in the vicariate of the Two Guineas. The first letter was written before he joined the novitiate; the second, as he prepared to depart on mission; the following two letters when he was in Dakar.
The missionary does God's work, cooperating in the great Missio Dei. "We are all wretched men, brought together by the will of the Master, who is our only hope. If we had powerful means at our disposal we would not accomplish much good; but now that we are nothing, have nothing, and are good for nothing, we are permitted to conceive great projects, because our hope does not rest on ourselves but on Him who is almighty."
Libermann gave advice on how to plan and make decisions. "When you have to undertake something that is important, weigh and discuss the matter in the presence of God. Begin with casting out all prejudices for or against the venture. Don't allow yourselves to be carried away by enthusiasm; never do things hastily; weigh well what you ought to do in a spirit of faith, but at the same time reason things out."
19. Fr. Pierre Le Berre: Respect for Others
Pierre Marie Le Berre was ordained a priest in 1844 and entered Libermann's novitiate the following year. He travelled to African in 1846 and remained in Gabon until 1891 when he died.
Libermann wanted his missionaries to be respectful of everybody. "We ought to love all people, regardless of their feeling about religious principles and about us. We must leave to them the liberty to think and do what they please. ... No one can force the consciences, wills and intellects of others. God has not desired to force them. Why then should we desire such a thing?"
Libermann understood the temptations that missionaries faced. "Don't be surprised that you experience troublesome emotions from time to time, for who does not suffer temptations? Such temptations and disturbances are profitable to us because they put us on our guard against our weaknesses, preserve us, and strengthen us more and more. Have courage and trust in God, and all will be well."
20. Fr. Claude Chevalier: Be a patient Educator
One letter written to a missionary who is to "avoid premature enthusiasm" and who is to "Study, penetrate deeply into the character, the mentality and the fundamental attitude" of the students he is to teach.
21. Fr. Prosper Lamber: God gives the increase
Missionaries "are sowers of the Divine Word but it is God who causes that sacred seed to bear fruit."
22. Fr. François Joseph Baud: God wounds my heart and I kiss his hand
A letter of sympathy on the death of a missionary who is "always ready to make any sacrifice, even the sacrifice of himself, out of love for anything that his Heavenly Father might desire."
23. The Community of cape Palmas (Liberia): Be patient with one another and rejoice together
Missionaries are to "Rest awhile when you face obstacles that you are unable to overcome. Wait for ‘God's own time' full of confidence, and be faithful when that moment arrives."
24. The Brothers of Réunion (Indian Ocean): The Congregation is a tree with many branches
Libermann rejoices that the congregation "has brought forth a small branch that promises to produce fruits of salvation and sanctification" with the opening of a Brothers' novitiate in Réunion.
25. Brother Pierre Mersy: Be Faithful to Our Lord
Advice for all missionaries, "Watch over yourself ... Be on your guard never to remain idle ... Make a rule for yourself for the whole day and be faithful to it."
26. Brother Auguste Pagnier: Prepare your soul
A word of consolation for one who is dying, "The moment of eternal bliss is coming closer. The nuptials with the Lamb without stain are approaching, but the preparations for the feast demand labor and pain."
27. Fr. Jean Baptiste François: Do not nurse regrets
The missionary belongs entirely to God and so, "Sacrifice yourself constantly, especially in your interior: sacrifice your desires, sentiments, your affections, your ideas, and your own will; in a word, all that is in you."
28. Fr. Henry Warlop: Do not cling too much to your own ideas
Strong emotions and imagination can wreck a missionary's perspective on things. The remedy is "to weigh things well before making decisions and before allowing yourself to be carried away."
29. Fr. Pierre Logier: God has chosen you
The missionary vocation is one of offering oneself entirely to God. "Keep yourself at peace, be happy because you have placed yourself at the disposal of the Divine Master to do with you whatever he wants."
30. Fr. Martin Duby: Think before you act
Missionaries make many mistakes but "avoid worrying about it and put all your confidence in God, in Jesus, and in Mary."
31. Fr. Charles Lairé: Walk humbly with your people
Missionary are to bear Christian witness through how they live. "The Africans do not need and will not be converted by the efforts of clever and capable missionaries. It is holiness and the sacrifice of their priests that will be the instrument of their salvation."
32. Fr. Jean Claude Duret: The Apostolate of Presence
The missionary's presence in a particular place is a preparation for listening to the Good News. "The people in this place [Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast] are not yet well-disposed for the reception of the seed of the Gospel, but your presence among them will soften them in cooperation with the grace and mercy of God."
33. Fr. René Jean Guilmin: God is watching over you
Blessings come into a missionary's life disguised as crosses. "The blessings the Lord ours out on your labors are the beginning of his gifts. The crosses are contradictions He mingles with them as salt on food; they keep us in a spirit of humility and abandonment to God."
34. Fr. Jerome Gravière: Authority is both firm and gentle
The superior of the community exercises care when he has difficulties with a particular member. "Take into account his weakness and imperfection; handle him so as not to hurt his pride; avoid, as muh as possible, any friction, disputes and even discussions."
35. Fr. Jean Vaugeois: Beware of being over-active
When the religious spirit is over run by activity, problems arise. "I'm afraid that your ministry has caused you to launch yourself too freely into the world. This activity make have been prompted by zeal but it is also possible that other motives might be mixed up with it."
36. Fr. Joseph Bourget: Take the beam out of your own eye first
Some criticism levelled against those in authority is the result of an "overheated imagination". "Let us pass judgment on ourselves instead of judging our superiors ... Avoid imitating those who see motes in the eyes of others and fail to see the beam in their own eye."
37. Bishop Aloyse Kobès: Religious life is the indispensable means for mission
Missionaries risk exaggerating the importance of what they do, rather than who they are. If they are not living religious lives, "they will accomplish nothing because God's blessing is attached to their holiness and their holiness depends solely on their fidelity to the practices of the religious life."
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume 4: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 76 to 184)
Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1964.
38. Eugene Viot: Do not become a prey to illusions
Libermann began his spiritual direction by letter in October 1828, only two years after his conversion. The recipient Eugene Viot was a seminarian at St. Sulpice and a friend to Libermann. He provided the seven letters (from 1828 to 1833) six years after Libermann's death describing them as "precious relics of my dear friend."
Schooled by great suffering from his father's rejection of him, his epilepsy and rejection to proceed towards ordination, Libermann wrote from tat heart that God's will is fulfilled in us by merely waiting "in all peace and calm until our heavenly Father condescends to employ us for His greater glory." Libermann challenges his friend to free himself of a worldly spirit. "Remove all the leaven of the world that still remains in you. Destroy its work thoroughly. Surrender wholly and unreservedly to God. Do not fear the world."
39. Mr. Delasorne: Do not waste your time on trifles
Delasorne, like Viot was a companion to Libermann at St. Sulpice. These four letters (from 1835 to 1838) stimulate the reader to be on guard against "that laziness an indifference into which we so easily fall when nothing stimulates and prompts us to serve God properly." The antidote to such waywardness is to live a truly interior life that Libermann describes as "an abyss that must swallow u all that exists in us."
His advice is, "Throw yourself blindly into the arms of the Well-Beloved of your soul. Let Him encompass and penetrate you, communicate to you His substance, which is all love and delight. Let Him fill you so that you no longer see or understand, or have any taste save through and in and with His holy love."
40. Guy Leray: Remain before God as a Beggar
These twelve letters written from 1834 to 1838 encourage the reader not to worry about natural desires. "Our wicked flesh is always with us; why should we desire not to feel its sting? Would our nature be better for that? So let us not fear the flesh, for the Lord will conquer it."
He urges calm in the face of self-doubt. "Calm your anxieties; moderate your activity; keep yourself in peace in the midst of the assaults and agitations to which your mind may be tempted to yield."
Libermann proposes the passive way of spirituality. "In this state we try to do nothing; we try to quiet all the movements of the soul and we gently correspond to the grace which is in us and prompts us in all our interior and exterior actions."
41. Mr. Boulanger: Rules for the interior life
Here are two letters written in the summer of 1835 to a seminarian of St. Sulpice following the death of his mother. Libermann proposes "certain rules that you ought to observe for your interior life."
First, one is to live for God alone. "God alone is our love and our all. Outside of Him we have nothing and must have nothing." Second, one is to stay in intimate communion with God. "Always remain united with our Divine Savior, so that you may never do anything except for His sake." Third, guard against distractions from this union of love. "Watch quietly over your interior, so that no natural affection may steal in, and that, not even for a single moment, you may cease to be intimately united to God, who dwells within you."
42. Fr. Francis Telles: Abandon yourself to God's Will
These eight letters to Fr. Telles, written between August 1836 and May 1839 while he was bursar of the Sulpician Seminary of Issy, focus on the need for patience with oneself in God's service. "We must undoubtedly do the best we can, but without torturing ourselves or being continually on the watch."
We are to rely on the Lord who guides us in our journey of life. "A blind man entrusts himself to a small dog which leads him wherever the animal wishes to go, and the man follows without knowing where he is going. But we ... although we have such a clear-sighted and tender-hearted leader, do not permit Him to guide us."
Our own weaknesses and failings are not to defeat us. "It is better to be a beggar in the House of God than a man of wealth in the world ... bear gently your misery and infidelity."
43. Fr. Mangot: God takes care of those who sincerely seek Him
Nine letters written between 1836 and 1845 span Fr. Mangot's seminary days and his first years as a priest. Writing in 1878, he expressed how these letters were a treasure trove to him. "They are a relic which I prefer to any other ... I have merely to read them and I find refreshment amidst life's tribulations."
Libermann proposes the way of the gospel as the path to follow. "We have the Gospel, that is our rule ... We have, within us, a great Teacher who explains it to us in private and teaches us what we should do. Let us listen to Him."
Meditating on the mystery of the incarnation on Christmas Day 1836 Libermann wrote, "The Word made flesh has become our brother. The dear Infant is our beloved little brother; and consequently, we are the children of His Father."
Growing into the likeness of our little brother is not the achievement of a single day. "Time and labor are necessary, and prayer and confidence; and we shall arrive only after having risen repeatedly and taken courage to begin over and over again a good many times."
44. Antoine Beluet: Beware of self-love
Four letters written from August 1835 to August 1836, while Antoine was a seminarian, were part of a cherished spiritual friendship. Writing some seventeen years after Libermann's death Beluet remembered that when Libermann "explained the Gospel for which he had a very particular liking, we said to one another what was once said by the disciples of Emmaus, ‘Was not our heart burning within us while he spoke?'"
The challenge to be holy as God is holy cannot happen with "little devotional practices." Rather, "follow the road traced out for us by Christ's words and example, and which the Blessed Virgin and the saints have faithfully followed. We should pray unceasingly in order to obtain this grace, deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow Our Lord."
We are to be on our guard against self-love which "always condemns others; it is distrustful, easily suspects evil, and neve judges itself." Our failures should not deter us. "Do not allow your unmindfulness of God to discourage you. All discouragement proceeds from the devil, from self- love, or from both."
45. Mr. Fréret: Be united with God in everything
One letter written in September 1831 to this seminarian at St. Sulpice called for strong resolutions. "What a treasure this interior life is! What happiness, not only in its possession, but also in working at its acquisition! But we must act earnestly, and not go at it in a half-hearted way."
46. Paul Carron: Be not pre-occupied with yourself
Thirty-four letters, written between 1836 and 1842 to Paul Carron, a seminarian at St. Sulpice. Shortly after his ordination, he became secretary to the Archbishop of Paris. A recurring theme is the attitude of humility necessary for a mature spiritual life. "Let us be and remain nothing before Him, so that He may operate with this ‘nothing' according to His incomparable good pleasure."
Our attention is not to be on anything we can do but rather, we are to be quiet and let the Lord act in us. "Forget everything in order to live only in Jesus and with Jesus." There is a danger in speaking about perfection as it fuels pride. Instead, "cast off all that remains for the old creature, which is forever incapable of being sacrificed and consecrated to the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Our minds should not be focused on ourselves but "The eyes of our soul should be constantly turned toward this dear Master, and our soul should tend toward Him alone."
47. Fr. Jules Cahier: Finding value in suffering
Fr. Cahier suffered a number of debilitating illnesses and Libermann's seventeen letters written between 1837 and 1845 provided him with much needed encouragement and Christian insight into human suffering.
Libermann urged Cahier to see a divine purpose in his suffering. "We lost sight of ourselves entirely for the purpose of fixing our mind on Jesus alone, of directing all our intentions toward Him, the well-beloved and only treasure of our soul. We then enjoy great repose in the midst of all the troubles, sufferings, afflictions, and contradictions that we experience."
Libermann applies salvific value to human suffering for "When the soul is not subject to any suffering, humiliation or contradiction, it is scarcely able to leave its own self. Instead of seeking God alone, it is always seeking Him in itself, or rather, it is in reality seeking itself while apparently seeking God."
It is God we ought to seek, and not ourselves. "Our divine Jesus categorically desires that you seek nothing but Him alone, and that you seek Him in Himself and for Himself."
48. Fr. Grillard: Living continually in God's presence
Fr. Grillard, a Sulpician priest, was a seminarian at St. Sulpice along with Libermann. Remembering him he wrote, "He did not lose sight of the presence of God, for he was always recollected and modest."
These four letters written between 1837 and 1839 guide the reader towards a disciplined life by following a fixed daily rule with appointed times for meditation and particular examination of conscience. Through habitual recollection, he "will soon be master of his soul and of all its movements, and will be able to abandon them into the hands of the great Master, so that he may no longer live but by the life and in the life of the Lord." In relating to others, he is to consider himself "as the last in regard to everyone."
49. Mr. de Conny, Seminarian: Keep it simple!
Seven letters written in a little over a year (from February 1838 to May 1839) to encourage the reader to overcome his faults and progress on the path to holiness.
"Accustom yourself, dear friend, to offer God all your actions and to perform them solely out of love for Him. In all this, do not seek to feel the effects of that love, but simply to reserve this habitual will, frequently repeating and renewing that intention, but gently and peacefully."
50. Mr. Hacquin, Seminarian: Leave the past in the past
One letter written in May 1838 to encourage the reader not to dwell on his failings in the past. "Don't worry about the past. Instead, put your whole confidence, your joy and love in Him who calls you to such great things and bestows upon you such great favors."
51. Mr. Richaud, Seminarian: Keep calm and trust in the Lord
One letter written in February 1839 encouraging patience. "Be content and remain in great joy, because it pleases the divine Spirit to breathe in your soul and to vivify it in this way ... Wait for God's own good time, and do not seek to anticipate it ... Be content with what God is pleased to grant you."
Spiritual Letters of the Venerable Francis Libermann.
Volume 5: Letters to Clergy and Religious (Nos. 185 to 274)
Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press: 1966.
52. Frederic Le Vavasseur: Discern God's designs for you
These fifteen letters written between 1838 and 1847 document a spiritual journey of one of Libermann's closest collaborators in establishing his congregation. These letters tell of a fiery temperament and one who is prone to being discouraged at weakness in himself and failure in others.
Libermann provides the antidote. "We have to make foolish mistakes sometimes in order to gain experience ... there is no one who is immune from error ... Distrust your sensitiveness and your natural impetuosity ... Helped by God's grace you will acquire gentleness, vigor, constancy in His service, true humility, confidence and abandonment to Jesus and Mary, patience with your neighbor, sincere charity toward others."
Le Vavasseur was often at loggerheads with Libermann who advises a true discernment of God's will. "We need perfect, full, complete union so that God may use us both as if we were but one person and thus fashion His work. We should be one heart and one mind; otherwise I shall have to come to the conclusion that God's moment has not yet arrived."
53. Eugene Tisserant: Be humble in all that you do
Ten letters written between 1837 and 1842 from Libermann to Tisserant, who, with Le Vavasseur, was instrumental in founding "the mission to the blacks". Libermann counsels against self-confidence. "Be docile and humble in God's sight; in your own small way and in all humility fill yourself with the desire of pleasing Him. Don't presumptuously aim at high things, but be satisfied with dragging yourself before the divine Master in all your poverty with the intention of being agreeable to Him in all things."
The missionary life requires self-sacrifice but "it is not precisely a life of mortification but a life of love." It requires those who are "truly devoted to God's glory, those who earnestly wish to leave all things for the Lord, who have already conquered their faults or have at least made great progress in that way. ... It is preferable to have but a few members, and these well united and fervent, than to have many among who there is no order or unity."
54. Ignatius Schwindenhammer: Patience in God's unfolding plan
Six letters written between 1842 and 1851 to the one Libermann would designate to succeed him as congregation leader. The Holy Spirit and not our personal activity is the source of holiness. "We ought always to follow the promptings of the divine Spirit who dwells in us ... The divine Spirit wants to be the soul of our soul, and we should let Him be absolute master over it, enabling Him to communicate to it His life and action. We should allow Him to act in us just as our body allows itself to be activated by the soul."
The disciple needs patience for progress in the spiritual life. "Please, dear friend, do not seek to hasten things that concern God. You should remain in the Lord's presence like clay before the potter. ... The clay offers no resistance; it leaves the potter perfect liberty to do with it what he pleases."
55. Jerome Schwindenhammer: I want to tell you something about myself
Four letters written between 1846 and 1851 cautions Libermann's young protégé "Do not put your confidence in my words, in my direction of your soul, but seek to obey God alone and to follow His guidance."
This correspondence provides rare insight into Libermann's interior life. One letter in particular, that of August 3, 1846, "God has given me everything. He attracted me without asking my leave and He did so with a violence that I have never noticed in any other soul. At the beginning, I was very lax, indifferent, worthless, for everything that pertains to the supernatural life. Our Lord gave me the grace to resist my father who desire to tear me away from the Faith. I chose to renounce him rather than to abandon my faith ... For the space of about five years He held my faculties absorbed and captive, and throughout that time I never had any thought of ‘working' to acquire any particular virtue. My whole occupation consisted in being with Him, and this was very easy."
56. Louis Marie Lannurien: How to discern a vocation
Seven letters written between October 1841 and March 1843 gives advice on the discernment of a missionary vocation. "I believe that we should give your inclination to our holy work a chance to mature. When a farmer casts a seed in the ground, the one who will do the harvesting does not quickly pull out the young shoot that appears above the ground; he waits until there are flowers and fruit."
Progress in the discernment of vocation will not be achieved through constant self-scrutiny but by love of God. "You must remain before God ready at all times to have God's will fulfilled in you, even at the cost of all that you are and possess ... The service of God requires great peace and great mildness of us."
Louis Marie is not to be worried about how to do things well. His simple resolution can be "I must do it out of love of my Jesus and with the desire to please Him, and then that work will be very useful."
57. Etienne Clair: Beware of self-love
Thirteen letters written between 1839 and 1847 warn against self-love and acting "like a child who wants categorically and absolutely to get the things he happens to see." Libermann writes strong words to re-align the reader to God's will. "See God in everything and see Him alone, forgetting yourself more and more. Never desire praise nor have any esteem for yourself. Avoid also self-pity and self-complacency."
Libermann is distrustful of Etienne's desires. "A desire that is not patient and submissive to the will of God does not come from God. It will destroy things instead of building up." With great firmness Libermann warns, "You have loved God only to the extent that it didn't cost you anything and that He gave you satisfactions, to the extent that your love for God gratified your natural cravings."
58. Fr. Marcellin Collin: Don't worry too much about yourself
Ten letters written between 1843 and 1851 gently guide the reader from being pre-occupied with himself to abandoning himself to God's will. The best way to deal with personal faults is "to drag ourselves before the feet of our good Master and put our entire confidence in Him." Excessive introspection weighs down the soul. Libermann advises, "Continue to march toward the goal to which the Master guides your step. March on and don't pay too much attention to sorrows and tribulations."
Marcellin is not to fear punishment for doing wrong. "Always consider Jesus merciful rather than severe ... Avoid rigidity, try to be gentle in your interior at all times. Do not be harsh; always lean to the side of mercy and gentleness. This is what you should attend to, for you have a strong inclination to the opposite and herein lies your great fault."
59. Fr. Stanislas Arragon: Be always gentle and calm
Four letters written between 1845 and 1847 urges his reader to be self-controlled and to have patience with others. "You plunge into activities with excessive eagerness and excitement. Realize that the Spirit of God is not in such behavior. Stop and ask yourself whether the radical way in which you judge things is in harmony with the mind of God."
Fr. Arragon is often impetuous and abrupt with others. "Learn to become moderate in adopting an opinion, to defend it peacefully, to relinquish it with humility, and thus to conform your judgment to that of others."
60. Fr. Charles Blanpin: Suffer with love and confidence in Jesus
Eleven letters written between 1843 and 1851 seek to console one who is suffering many setbacks including the loss of his voice. "We have to pass through a state of wretchedness to make us realize profoundly that we are nothing. We are entering the way of holiness. I assure you, dear friend that I don't know anyone who arrived at solid and stable perfection without passing first through the crises you have experienced."
The disciples of Jesus "who through the designs of His love are associated in that holy and great work [of salvation], must have a share in His suffering and His humiliation in order that they may have a true share in His work."
61. Joseph Lossedat: There are no half-measures in serving God
Ten letters written between 1843 and 1847 show that there are no half measures in following the divine Master. "When we bargain with Him, we must expect Him to do likewise and we shall gain nothing by it. If, on the contrary, we act with generosity and surrender completely to Him, Jesus accepts our offering with the fullness of His divine love and complacency and He gives Himself also completely to us."
Confidence in God empowers generous self-giving in God's service. "Our Lord is with us. With His help, we will overcome all obstacles. Let us go on and do what our weakness permits. It belongs to Him to bless our works. And He will bless them. It belongs to Him to straighten out our foolish mistakes and He will do it."