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            In his important book on Claude Francis Poullart des Places, Fr Joseph Michel has a chapter about the origins of the consecration, that Poullart and his first 12 disciples took on, on the day of Pentecost, 1703 (June, 27).

            The direct origin of our consecration comes from the re-evangelisation of the western province of France, Brittany, the homeland of Poullart. Jesuit missionaries had undertaken this work from the first decades of the sixteen-century; the method they used was both - preaching parish missions, that they lead together during some weeks, so as to permeate the parishioners with a renewal of Christian faith,

                                   - and giving them retreats in special centres they had opened for the purpose: the retreats aimed at deepening what was preached during the parish missions.

            These Jesuit missionaries soon gathered around them Breton secular priests, to perform together that pastoral work; they had that conviction, that the work of re-evangelisation had no prospect, if these Breton priests couldn’t be renewed in their faith and pastoral practice. This way the Jesuit spirituality spread out in Brittany.

            More, all these Jesuit missionaries had got a strong formation, especially during their second novitiate, from a Jesuit Priest, Fr Louis Lallemant, Instructor of the second novitiate for a few years, but enough as to initiate a new school of spirituality, which stressed on living intimately united with the Holy Spirit, entirely available to his promptings, and for that reason, having renounced to sin and attachment to self. Docility to Holy Spirit and purity of heart, like Mary.

            This is the spirituality that the missionaries transmitted to the Breton diocesan priests and their parishes. They gathered these priests in an association called ‘Holy Spirit Priests’, with a handbook that contained the principles of that spirituality. Claude Poullart was not still born, as his Brittany Province was on the way of a Christian deep renewal. In Rennes, where he was born on February 27th, 1679, there was a college, St Thomas, run by the Jesuits, and the rector, Fr Jégou, was a faithful disciple of Lallemant; he founded too a retreat house: Claude had been a student of St Thomas’, and a regular user of the retreat house. During his stay in Nantes as a student in Law, he knew too the retreat house of that city, run by another disciple of Lallemant, Fr Champion, author of a book about the doctrine of Fr. Lallemant: “La vie et la Doctrine Spirituelle du P. Lallemant”, that had been edited as Claude was still a student in Rennes.       

            Claude has got his devotion to the Holy Spirit through the Jesuit missionaries of his Breton Province and their collaborators and through them from Fr Louis Lallemant. Now where the later did he take the convictions that made him the founder of a current of spirituality based on this special dedication to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity? Had he not been raised up in the Ignatian spirituality?

            Lallemant was born in the French Province called ‘Champagne’ in 1587. He had all the course of his studies in the Jesuit college of Bourges, where he was known as very talented in human and spiritual gifts: he had particularly a great attractiveness towards silence and attention to the Spirit of Jesus. He was a member of the College’s Congregation of our Lady, with a great devotion to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, model of purity[1]. He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at 18 of age. Then after he taught in diverse colleges of the Company, before being appointed a Novice Director in the Normandy City of Rouen: after four years in that duty, he became the ‘Instructor’ of the second Novitiate that the Company establishes for all its Religious, circa 15 years after the end of their initial formation. It’s as an ‘Instructor’ of  younger confreres, but already experienced in St Ignatius spirituality, that Lallemant developed his ‘Doctrine Spirituelle’, which exerted a strong influence on his ‘Tertiaires’ (Third Novitiate’s Year) and afterwards on their disciples. He died 48 years old.

The main emphasis of his ‘Doctrine Spirituelle’

The goal that we should desire, after we had been practising the purity of heart for a long time, is to be so much owned and governed by the Holy Spirit, that He alone direct all our faculties and feelings, that he regulates all our inner and exterior movements, and that we abandon ourselves entirely, thanks to a spiritual renunciation of our will and proper satisfaction; this way we will live no longer on our own, but in Jesus-Christ, through a strict availability to the motions of his divine Spirit.

            Now, contrary to the theology in the Oriental Church, the Occidental one was not so insistent, at that time, on the importance of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual life.

Where Lallemant did he take from his doctrine that we, Spiritans, have received from his disciples?

            First of all, he got it from the very traditional teaching on discernment of the spirits: St Paul writes to the Ephesians: It is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in the world, the spirits of evils in the heavens… (Eph. 6,12). All along the history of the Church, many had been the Christian writers to insist on the necessity of discerning between the motions of the good spirit and the motions of the bad ones. The most famous of them is St Ignatius of Loyola. His own spiritual experience brought him to elaborate the very known “Spiritual Exercises”, particularly the 2nd et the 3rd week, with his teaching on consolation, desolation, signs of the action of the good spirit, and of the bad angel, hence the spiritual fighting. Lallemant had to transmit this doctrine to his novices first, then to his “Tertiaires”; therefore, the very important action of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual life.

            Secondly, the importance he gave to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit come from a personal charism he got as he was still a young student. He developed this Ignatian teaching of discernment, meditating on the person of the Holy Spirit and on his gifts, in the same line as Greek Fathers, like Basil, Gregory of Nysse, Gregory of Nazianze, Cyril, and many others, whom he knew from his readings. Hence the conviction he was founding a new school of spirituality. In fact, Lallemant was very faithful to his Ignatian spirituality, but he had been able to join through it a deep and essential current of Christian spirituality, specially developed by many Greek Fathers. 

            Thirdly, the development of the teaching of St Ignatius come from the task Lallemant had to carry out: he was the “Instructor” of a small group of young Jesuits, already experienced in the Ignatian way. So he had to help them going further than what they already knew. Hence his effort to root the spirituality they knew in the best tradition of Christian spirituality (Jerome, Ambrose, Agustin, Bernard, Bonaventure, Thomas, Theresa, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, etc.). And first of all, in the regular and attentive reading of the Scriptures. Lallemant tried not to enclose his confreres into a system, be it an Ignatian one.

Here are the motives that bring us to that docility: purification of heart and direction of the Holy Spirit are the two elements of any spiritual life. These are the poles of any spirituality. Spiritual life ‘summary consists in noticing the ways and motions of the spirit of God in our soul. It’s of the major perfection to follow the inner attraction of the Holy Spirit and to behave according to his motion.[2] 

            In fact, although the true principles of spiritual life are simple and clear, Lallemant was complaining about the few number of his own confreres to embody them. He had an expression to diagnose their regrettable lack of spiritual strength: faire le pas, taking the plunge. For that reason, most of them vegetate into a poor and mediocre holiness. “The number of madmen is infinite”, he used to say…


            Now, the Jesuit missionaries we spoke of above were convinced disciples of Lallemant who had some of them as “Tertiaires”. The Breton secular Holy Ghost priests shared with them this vision of ‘living in the Spirit’. The family of Claude Poullart -the father, François Claude, was an administrator of the Holy Spirit Hospital in Rennes -  used to invite at home one of them,  Fr Julien Bellier, whom Claude knew very well, besides the fact the later had been raised in St Thomas College. He had a crucial retreat in Rennes’ Manresa House, where he  started a new life, to deepen it in the Jesuit Seminary called ‘Louis le Grand’, and actively participated in a spiritual life’ association, called AA, “Assemblée des Amis”, animated by Jesuits.

            All that convergence explains how Claude led his small group of poor students to dedicate themselves to the Holy Spirit on May 27, 1703, feast of Pentecost, like a small group of pious young ladies dedicated themselves at the same time and not far from Rennes (Saint-Brieuc), to the Holy Spirit, under the name of Holy Spirit Daughters.

            It seems strange enough that in the writings of Claude, which are not so many, there are just a few mentions of the Holy Spirit. In the “Fragments of a Personal Regulations” (1701?), we read that he will recite the Sancta Maria, etc., to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the protection of the Blessed Virgin… Further on: My morning prayer will consist of a Veni Sancte, etc.

            In the “General and Particular Regulations, the first two articles: All students will adore in a special way the Holy Spirit to whom they have been particularly consecrated. To this they will add a personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin, trough whose protection they have been offered to the Holy Spirit. As their two principal feasts they will choose Pentecost and the Immaculate Conception. The first they will celebrate to obtain from the Holy Spirit the fire of divine love, the second to obtain from the Blessed Virgin an angelic purity. They piety will be grounded in those two virtues.

            Then number 30: Before every period of study or revision all will invoke the light of the  Holy Spirit to enable them to work profitably.  They will recite the Veni Sancte, adding an Ave Maria in honour of the Blessed Virgin to obtain this light from her Spouse.  The same prayer will be said before the spiritual reading, and the Sub tuum praesidium at the conclusion.

            And  31: All will recite the Office of the Holy Spirit every day. This is probably the best text to show that the dedication to the Holy Spirit was not a mere formality.

            Our Congregation had been  suppressed by the French Revolution on August 18, 1792, then definitively re-established by King Louis XVIII, in February 03, 1816. Some 25 years after, Fr Nicolas Warnet, lecturer and soon Superior General for a few months, was a witness of this devotion carried on from the time of Claude Poullart des Places:

They consecrated themselves to the Holy Spirit under the invocation of Mary conceived without sin, and they offered us to them as well. We could not have a better master than the Holy Spirit, nor a safer protector than Mary. So let us all consecrate ourselves to them as our fathers would have us do.

            Although Libermann did not mention the Holy Spirit in his Provisional Rule of the Holy Heart of Mary (1841-1845), he wrote his confreres at the time of the merger of his Congregation with the Holy Spirit’s, that this devotion matched quite well with the Holy Heart of Mary, and in the 1849 Regulations, he perfectly met the mind of Claude Poullart des Places.  

(546)   The Congregation consecrates its members especially to the Holy Spirit, author and source of all holiness and inspiration in the apostolic spirit, and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary is filled superabundantly by the divine Spirit with the holiness required for the apostolate. She shares in the most perfect way in the life and sacrifice of Christ her Son for the redemption of the world. This consecration should lead our members to that fundamental devotion and obtain for them great graces as they carry out the duties of their private, common and apostolic life. This twofold devotion is the special and distinctive form of piety in the Congregation.

(547) They will find in the Holy Spirit who lives in their souls a source of the interior and religious life and an all powerful principle of that perfect charity which is the soul of all apostolic virtue.

  They will consider the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a perfect model of fidelity to the inspirations of the divine Spirit and of the interior practice of the virtues of religious and apostolic life. They will find there a refuge to which they will have recourse in their work and in their troubles. They will open their hearts to Mary with childlike confidence in their weaknesses and temptations.





1.      Sent by the Father and consecrated by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ came to save all people.  He continues in the world of today this mission of salvation of which the Church is the sacrament. In the midst of God's people, among the numerous and varied vocations which the Holy Spirit inspires, we Spiritans are called by the Father and  "set apart" (Acts 13:2) to follow Jesus  and to announce the Good News of the Kingdom. 2. We respond to this call in a religious missionary institute, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 5. We live out our mission in willing obedience to the Holy Spirit, taking Mary as our model.


            We belong to the Holy Spirit in a special way, as we have got the grace to be members of a family that bears His own name. We adore Him with a filial heart. Now the Holy Spirit is present in all the peoples everywhere through the world, He permeates all their wisdom. For us, Spiritans, that means we are missionaries everywhere and in any situation of life, active or retired life. We are intimately united with Him who dwells in the whole creation. I like remembering that the Holy Spirit who called us, is intimately present and acting in all that is. United with Him, we participate at any time in His universal mission, anywhere our confreres are engaged with their people, and united with the huge number of people Christ has in His heart as He is shedding His blood for all so that sin may be forgiven. United with the Holy Spirit, we are quite near to our parents and family, living or already entered the Kingdom of God. We never are isolated. I remember a Spiritan confrere, P. Mourgues, who had been a very brave missionary in Madagascar, and was obliged to leave his mission still full of strength, because of an eye disease; he told us, retired in Chevilly, and always with the rosary in hand, that he had never been more missionary than in that last stage of his life, always intimately united with his Malagasy people.

            And this is all the more true if you think of the Holy Spirit as the Creator. As we speak of Creation, we usually think of God the Father, drawing all being out of nothingness through His powerful Word. Now, the hymn to the Holy Spirit -Veni Creator Spiritus- which we got from the Monk Raban Maur[3], we have a new title given to the Holy Spirit: He is the creator of our world. Through the history of the Christian dogma, the title ‘Creator’ has been given for the first time to Jesus-Christ at the Council of Nicee (325) to correct the heresy of Arius: Jesus is true God from true God, begotten not made. Like the Father, he is maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

            The next Council (Constantinople, 381) asserted very clearly too, that the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, proceeds from the Father and the Son; but He does not received neither the title of God, nor this one of Creator. They were St Ambrose and St Agustin to give the Holy Spirit both these names. With the progress of the theological reflection, it became usual to say and write that He participates in every divine action ad extra. St Thomas has this: the Holy Spirit is the very principle of the creation of things.

            Let us hear what the Scripture says about:

 Now the earth was formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters, says the Genesis. As ruah means together wind and spirit, many scholars translate this way: the Spirit of God was sweeping over the waters. Remember the Salm 33, praising the Lord for his Providence :

            By his word the heavens were made,

            By the breath of his mouth all the stars (6)

            As we pray with the salm 104, we say:

            Turn away your face and the panic;

take back their breath and they die and revert to dust.

Send out your breath and life begins;

You renew the face of the earth (29-30).

Finally, the Old Testament’ last books have a clear confession of the Holy Spirit as Creator:

Wisdom is a spirit friendly to humanity, though He will not let a blasphemer’s words go unpunished; since God observes the very soul, listening to every word. For the spirit of the Lord fills the world and that which holds everything together knows every word said (Wisdom 1,7).

 This revelation of the Holy Spirit as Creator, dynamically present in everything, means that His action extends quite beyond the Church and beyond every religion and wisdom: the Holy Spirit appears to be the universal ‘milieu’, atmosphere, energy, which permeates every being, this ‘divine milieu’ which Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was speaking of. The Holy Spirit is the common ground that maintains everything into being, so that everything everywhere is in communion through Him, as says Maxime the Confessor :

The Holy Spirit is absent from no being. He is simply present in everything, as He keeps them united and enlivens them; He is particularly present in those who are under His law (St Maxime, bishop of Jerusalem, † 350 exiled).

As we sing the Salm 138, we adore the Holy Spirit at work in His creation and sending me on, to be a missionary joining brothers and sisters spread out in the immensity of His creation:

O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face?

If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end;

Even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast.

As the creation is the common work of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, what then would be the proper action of the Spirit? Saint Basil says that our Father is the fundamental principle of the Creation; the Son carries out the will of the Father, like a craftsman and the Holy Spirit put order and harmony in the initial chaos. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, the world pass from chaos to cosmos. Saint Ambrose, in his treaty related to the H.Sp., says this:

When the Holy Spirit started blowing on it, the Creation had no yet any beauty. In exchange, when it got the work of the Holy Spirit, it obtained all this splendour that made it shining as a world.

            This marvellous work of the Holy Spirit, we sing in the season of Pentecost:

                                   Spirit of God, on the waste and the darkness

hov’ring in power as creation began,

drawing forth beauty from clay and from chaos,

breathing God’s life in the nostrils of man,

Come and sow life in the waste of our being,

pray in us, form us as sons in the Son.

Open our harts to yourself, mighty Spirit,

bear us to life in the Three who are one.

(Benedictine Hymn – Stanbrook)


            The Holy Spirit qualifies us as missionaries sent to the whole humanity, particularly to those people closer to us, and to the whole creation, at any time, as He is at the core of everything.  

Happy is the one who really hears this divine voice and who follows it. O very holy and very adorable Spirit of my Jesus, make me hear your soft and adorable voice. Refresh me with your delicious breath. O divine Spirit, I want to be before you like a light feather so that your breath carries me wherever it wants and that I may never give it the least resistance. (Commentary of St John’s Gospel, 03:08 : The wind blows …)



Celestial King, Consolatory, Spirit of truth

Everywhere present and filling the world

Treasures of graces that gives us life

Come and dwell in us

Cleanse us from all meanness

And save our souls, God of Goodness

(Pentecostal, Orthodox Hymn) 


 - The charism of our Founders


         Our founders left us a great heritage that our recent General Chapters, particularly the last one in Torre d’Aguilha, tried to rediscover: how to identify a Spiritan spirituality? The new General Council had as a priority task from the Chapter to deal with that fundamental question, taking in account the large sharing among the Chapter’s members. A large sharing of experiences about the real Spiritan life, more than about theological views on the matter!  

            According to this reflection, “the spiritan spirituality and charism are encapsulated for us in the opening words of our Spiritan Rule of Life, from Luke’s Gospel. (Lk 4. 8) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me, to bring the Good News to the afflicted…”

            Instead of elaborating a new definition of the spiritan charism, the Chapter and its interpreter, the General Council, thought better to approach it from the experience of life of many Spiritans all over the Congregation, and what appeared in the documents of our General Councils. This is a new way to present a Spirituality as lived and implemented today, not only as a pure historical approach of the founders. But to assert that what they are living is truly “spiritan”, means that what they’re living with their experience refers to the founder’s texts.  

There are four steps in that presentation, according to the quotation of Luke.        


¤The Spirit of the Lord is upon me:

The Spiritan is one who finds his strength in God

Spiritan Life is a Life of prayer and apostolic service

Spiritan spirituality is about contemplation and action

The Spiritan is one who lives in community                               

¤He has sent me:                                                                                                             

To be Spiritan is to be available

                                   To be Spiritan is to be sent

                                   Spiritan Spirituality is about pilgrimage

                                   Spiritan Spirituality is about dialogue

¤To Bring the Good News to the poor:            

- Spiritan Spirituality is about service                         

To be Spiritan is to be a servant of the poor and those who suffer

                                   Justice, peace and the integrity of Creation

Spiritan Spirituality is about solidarity

- The Spiritans “of one heart with Mary, Mother of Jesus”:

First step:

The Spiritan is one who finds his strength in God; Spiritan Life is a Life of prayer and apostolic service; Spiritan spirituality is about contemplation and action.


         All along our formation and apostolic life, we have found a strong inspiration in the witness of many Spiritans, who where firmly rooted into prayer and communion with the Lord, as an essential element of their apostolic life. They gave, many Christians a strong habit of prayer. Many among you did the same. The spiritual impulse they got from their formation has been decisive, but also this one they got from their own difficult apostolic activities. They have met how relevant was the stress of their founders!     

         Indeed our founders did stress on the necessity to have the Holy Spirit as the foundation of our commitment to mission. Without maintaining this priority, we are at risk to drown ourselves into a stream of diverse activities, although undertaken for the glory of God. And we join their experience.

            Our father Claude Poullart des Places, in the first years of his new Holy Spirit Community, experienced this situation, being overwhelmed, and alone, by the daily care of his 12 companions. Exhausted in his body, feelings and heart, he bitterly tasted a deep distress:

To sum up, I must confess before God that at the present moment I am someone who is believed to be alive but who is certainly dead, at least when I compare the present with the past. Alas! I am merely a mask of devotion and the shadow of my former self. Blessed am I in my extreme misfortune if I do not fall away more but stop where I am and use the grace God offers me to reflect more seriously than ever on my pitiable state, so as to prevent my falling into greater disorders. It is in this very way that some many people, who were eminent in virtue, began to slide downwards and ended by perishing miserably.  Who ought to fear a similar fall more than I who throughout life have so frequently shown my incon­stancy by returning to God and then later on falling into such prolonged disorders? This sad experience of mine surely gives me a solid reason for distrusting my own strength. Being full of vanity and presumption and so unfaithful to grace, should I not fear that God may abandon me entirely? [4]

                As Claude says, it has been the great love of the Lord to call him for a retreat, and to show him the right path to go on in his mission: trusting into his presence and providence -whose he acknowledged many signs of-, to walk hand in hand with him in intimate confidence, and to call collaborators and share his many duties with them, passing from “I’m in charge of the work”, to “we run it together”.

 Filled wit this holy confidence, thanks once more to the grace of God, I am going to examine, without taking into consideration what is more agreeable to nature, which is the shortest road to lead me back to the One without Whom, whatever I do, I cannot live in peace a single moment… I left the world to seek God, renounce vanity and save my soul. Is it possible that I merely changed my object in life while remaining at heart exactly the same? What then was the use of undertaking this work? [5]

The Spiritan is one who finds his strength in God. We too have walked this way, or we tried to do so!


In the last years of his life, Francis Libermann was the saddened witness of the apostolic behaviour of some missionaries; in spite of the many warnings he gave them during their novitiate and in the many letters that he used sending them. These missionaries were falling down into a stream of apostolic activities, at the expense of the apostolic life, as constantly recommended by him. And what is the true apostolic life? It is "the life of love and of holiness lived on earth by the Son of God in order to save and sanctify people. By it, He continually sacrificed Himself, thereby glorifying the Father and saving the world". /[6]/ Jesus lived his mission in constant and profound union with his Father who sent him and with the Holy Spirit who was accompanying him at any moment. The next letter is based on an experience we may have too.

We have got to protect us against an imminent danger, which is inherent in every work in Mission. This danger consists in the fact that each community, each missionary taking on heart, with that ardour of zeal that God gives him, the work he is busy with, sacrifices to it the Rule, the obedience to the orders of the superiors and the spirit of community.

The missionary, the Superior and the head of Mission, each one in his own field, sees only what he is in charge of, only the good that is ahead of him, and rushes up on the battle field, with the whole ardour of his zeal, he is completely engrossed in his work, he forgets he is belonging to a body that owe to walk together and he set free too easily from the ties that God attached him to it with. From that, it arises that there are as many missionaries than lonely men; and what has been earned for a moment, they loose it a hundred times over afterwards. They see that living saintly, according to the spirit of the community and observing the Rule, they won’t be able to do that much good, they wouldn’t save as many souls, than if they were free to act according to what they feel right, and they break the community life in order to immerse themselves in the ardour of their feeling.

As a result, no more regularity, no more sense of spiritual life, obedience to the superior as far as they don’t feel they are bothered, at least no more perfect obedience. They console each other of having lost their spiritual life and community life, thinking of the good done to the souls that they endeavoured to save and they don’t think of the great evil that they do to themselves and to others. They do a little good and a lot of evil, letting go of the ties of the Congregation, destroying every hope of its perseverant fervour in future, and depriving it of that powerful means of action that gives the common working and the strong discipline. A dislocated body cannot move any more, it live only for suffering. [7]     


            During the last months of his short life, Francis elaborated a kind of will, as a reminder of his last advises to his confreres: these are the “Instructions for Missionaries”, a work he didn’t finish. But at any page, Francis stressed on holiness as the essential means to build up a solid apostolic work: holiness and apostolic life that stem from their union with the Holy Spirit: 

Reflect that our vocation is the greatest good that God grants to any creature, that it calls for holiness consistent with the purpose of the mercy of God Who calls and with the vocation to which He calls. If we fail, we are not worthy of God’s loving preference, we frustrate the designs of His compassion, we dishonour a glorious call by which He would raise us above all creatures. A man called the apostolate, and invested for this purpose with the character of Jesus Christ, who repudiates the holiness of his Master in order to live as a man of the world, who keeps the faults and vices of his nature is like a king who, with a crown upon his head, covers himself with filthy rags and spends his time in dens of vice. [8]


Spiritan spirituality is about contemplation and action. In the service of this conviction, Libermann worked out, at the end of his life, the concept of “practical union”, meaning union with the Holy Spirit in performing our many apostolic activities. So many Spiritans try to live this practical union!

Union with God can be found in two ways, in practical union in reference to our common acts and habits, and in the contemplative union of mental prayer. Practical union… is a state in which we have renounced all natural activities and reactions, so that the grace of the Holy Spirit is able to quicken and govern all our activities. Once nature has ceased entirely to rule our life, and has been supplanted by the supernatural life of grace, we enter into a habitual state of union with God. Sanctifying grace will then grow considerably and increases its control over our inclinations, which are turned more and more towards God, bringing us ever closer to Him. The degree of union with God is determined by the extent and intensity of grace in ruling over our activities. [9]

            Libermann uses to speak of ‘natural life, natural activities’, as a distinction between what is not submitted to the grace of God, that is to the Holy Spirit, and what is lived as dependent on Him. In real life, the difference comes from our intentions that submit in concrete terms our life and our activities to Him.

Practical union is the major quality in a missionary, as our apostolic life comes from Jesus, the One who is sent. And Jesus did put in practice every day an intense practical union: he acted at any time according to what he was seeing and hearing from his Father. He spent so many nights praying him! No practical union without prayer!

Although ‘contemplative union’ is not as perfect as ‘practical union’, however we need to take the former into account, because  without it, it’s not easy to do well in practical union; and practical union is good as far contemplative union is connected with it. [10]



The missionary’s prayer should be very simple. In the last retreat that Libermann gave his students in the house of studies of Notre-Dame du Gard, he told them that there are different degrees in our presence to God (meaning in our contemplation), and the third one is very simple: it meets the usual experience of many missionaries:

There are three degrees in the contemplation. First degree: our soul is completely taken up, free from all surroundings: it is only busy with God alone, gently and without violence, like a baby on his mother’s breast. Second degree: one is not taken up in God, but one comes back to Him constantly, without any difficulty and as instinctively during his occupations, so that one cannot stop from thinking frequently of God, as a friend frequently thinks of the one he likes. Third degree: one does not come back instinctively to God, one needs to act, but this act is easy and pleasant. This third degree is in favour or the apostolic life; one is busy, and not absent minded (from God). It happens that one has no explicit feelings before God: one is here before him, nearly passive, no suffering to say the truth, but also not enjoying nor doing anything. In that condition, one feels some difficulty in staying praying one hour; a slight exterior activity may favour the prayer, like walking… [11]

            For that reason, the monasteries have a cloister where monks may have a silent walking when praying. Many priests used to pray their breviary walking, and so on. Several missionaries regret the time when no car was available to reach most of their villages: long walking allowed long time of silent prayer.

            Now, in conformity with advice on simple prayer, Libermann has a nice letter written to a missionary who was swamped with many apostolic activities in Bourbon Island (La Réunion): this man was sorry that he had lost his way of praying he had as a novice:

Mental prayer is an important affair and yet quite simple. You must make your method of mental prayer as simple as possible. You need not make numerous considerations. Do not seek to execute every detail of the method of Saint-Sulpice; you would not succeed. What, then, ought your mental prayer to be? It should consist in a simple, calm and fully confident repose in our Lord's presence; this is all. Don't seek to make many reflections or to produce numerous affections. Absolutely nothing you do during mental prayer should be 'forced'. Remain before Jesus like a poor child before his father; nothing more. Don't seek to utter to Him the sentiments you have or would like to have; don't make efforts to express your needs to Him. Remain before Him in all your poverty and weakness. Put yourself at His disposal in order that He may do with you whatever He pleases.

Look upon yourself, in His presence, as a thing that belongs to Him, as a thing of which He can dispose to the whole extent of His wishes. And you should do this without effort and without many words, whether interior or exterior. It should be a habitual attitude of the soul, which remains constantly in His presence and which, during meditation, is isolated from everything else for the purpose of showing the divine Saviour what it is to Him. This manifestation must be done without labour and strain. Remain before Him with the will of being at is disposal. Content yourself with casting a glance toward Him from time to time for that intention. When distractions assail you, try from time to time to dismiss them gently and without anxiety, by casting a peaceful glance toward Him to whom you belong.

In the course of the day act likewise. From time to time cast a glance without effort but with the intention of belonging to Him, and accompany it by the awareness of your poverty and wretchedness. But all this must be done tranquilly with the peaceful desire of belonging to Him in spite of your wretchedness. Don't seek more than that.

In seeking contact with our good Master act similarly, allowing Him to direct you; do not prescribe anything to Him; do not formulate plans, imagining that things ought to be this way or that. Be content with being in His presence, at His disposal, and abandon yourself to His guidance like a blind man, without seeking too much to talk to Him or to hear Him speak to you. Be at His disposal, abandoned to His direction, placing all your trust in Him alone. [12]

            Simple prayer, simple practical union; living in simplicity our belonging to the Holy Spirit; here is surely our Spiritan way. 

 - The Spiritan is one who lives in community


            There is an insistence at diverse levels in the Administration of our Congregation for community life; sign that there is a want for a better achievement of it! To say the truth, it happens that one confrere live and work alone as his colleague had to go for healthcare, or for holiday, or because there is no other confrere who could be with him in the mission he got from the bishop; and therefore some Spiritans could be very isolated, or at least left alone for months. It happens too that some confreres are used living alone and happy with that. It happens still that confreres living in the same house, be in fact definitively independent in organizing their life and work. In the former times of our mission in Africa, the strategy in the matter was setting up big communities with confreres leaving for a while, and back again to the central Mission.


            Life abided by the Holy Spirit - apostolic life - tends to fraternal love and to fraternal community. And the fraternal community is again source of friendship and love among people in the middle of which it is living. This is too my own experience. People feel that a friendly community does not only offer personal relationship that supports them, but also an approach of the Gospel, so helpful to struggle against divisions, jealousy and greed for personal power…

            The experience of Claude has been passing from a kind of life of a gentleman with a fine culture, rather individualistic /(At present you are so fickle and so attached to your freedom[13])/ to a quite new situation: living among a growing number of young men, with rough education for most of them, small room for each one and nearly all to be done to provide them a suitable formation, human, intellectual and spiritual. This new orientation of Claude was the fruit of his conversion to Christ (his retreat of 1701). The small group of Claude and his few companions consecrated themselves to the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Virgin, on June, 27, 1703: the consecration changed it into a community, with Claude as a superior, and some rules, to be gradually settled up after experience.

All was ok at the beginning, even enthusiastic. But the growing number of the young people, entailing a lot of worries about accompaniment, up keeping, fund raising, accommodations, etc., brought Claude, alone in front of these many cares, to a physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion, to the point of doubting of the raison d’être of his community. He describes very well his suffering in the notes he wrote during a retreat done in 1704 in order to assess the present situation of his community.

            Claude understood in front of the Lord that He was giving him many signs of His loving presence, that he had been trusting too much in himself and not enough in Him, that Providence was looking after his community, and that time has come to call some collaborators in order to take care of it with him, thanks to a smaller community of formators, in charge of the bigger one, now counting up some 40 young men. This way, the creation of Claude could develop, the community counting up some 70 members when he died. The path that allowed Claude to get out from his crisis is an inspiration for us! Should we going on shouldering alone our responsibilities?

There was a common Rule to both formators (Holy Spirit Priests) and seminarians (Holy Spirit students), and Libermann -140 years after- harmonized it with the Rule of the Holy Heart of Mary’s after the merger of his Congregation into the Holy Spirit one, just adding some dispositions about poverty.             


Libermann has always shared the conviction that a difficult apostolic work couldn’t be undertaken neither by one missionary alone, nor by missionaries living together, but working each one on his own. Fraternal community life is essential to the ‘spiritual state’ of the Congregation, meaning its sound spiritual constitution.  

Three things constitute the spiritual state of the Congregation: community life, apostolate and spirit of religion that must be the soul of community life and apostolate. - The community life is a life of society, of regularity and obedience to the superiors. - The apostolate consists of devoting oneself wholeheartedly to the salvation of souls without any permanent position. - The spirit of religion means that one abandons entirely any self interest and devotes its being to the only glory, pleasure and interest of God. - It is an important and fundamental rule in the Congregation that its members must live together, subjected to a common rule, and that no one would ever work separately and one by one. [14]

            A life of society: each member is associated with the others to carry on the common mission: prayer, sharing, support, etc.

A life of regularity, taking in account our Spiritan Rule of Life, elaborated by the Congregation as a coherent body, to which the Mission is entrusted. Obedience to Superiors is a part of it.

                        The apostolate consists in the apostolic life and availability.

                        The spirit of religion means the core of religious life.

When the Provisional Rule had been written (Rome, 1840…La Neuville 1845), some confreres were allowed to make privately the three vows. Later on, it became the common way. We became a canonically Religious Congregation on May, 6, 1855. But more than 10 years before, it was clear in the mind of Libermann, that the common and fraternal life had to be one of the basic requirements of his new Institute.

From the very first beginning of the ‘Work of the Blacks’, he wrote Fr Le Vavasseur, who was behind this project: 

It seems almost indispensable for that sort of work that a Congregation should undertake it. If isolated individuals undertook the task, the individual spirit would soon manifest itself and the work would have no stability, for it would lack unity of spirit; and there are many other reasons besides. It is for this reason that I greatly favour the opinion of Father Pinault that those who engage in that work should live as members of a Congregation. [15]

            Notice the reason given by Libermann: avoiding the individualistic spirit, which does not build any solid apostolic approach. How many times he stressed on the same point: a dislocated body cannot move any more. We have seen from time to time the collapse of important works run by confreres alone, as nobody was able entering the mind of their authors!

            Well, what we understand could be harsh to be put into practise! But we have Eucharist every day, which Jesus offered ‘for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven’: we try to harmonise prayer and community life!

            In the ‘Regulation’ that Libermann wrote in 1849, as a synthesis of the heritage of the Holy Spirit Congregation and the Holy Heart of Mary’s, he points out the benefit of that fraternal common life:

Art. I   For the perfection of the apostolic life which is its purpose, for the stability and extension of the works which are its objective and for the sanctification of its members, the Congregation has taken the common life as its fundamental rule. All its members will live in community (15).

Here appears how this fraternal common life is a strong support to our apostolic life: it brings us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ as true disciples, who do not live and work for the sake of their own project, but to implement the orders Jesus gave his disciples whom he sent in mission together.

In the first letter that Libermann wrote his confreres at work in Africa, we read those warm advices:

My dear Brothers, love one another! What good could you do if you failed to keep peace and union among yourselves? Show, therefore, that the spirit of Jesus-Christ dwells in you because you are perfectly united in mutual affection. Bear one another's faults that spring from individual temperaments and imperfections. Support one another in the charity of Jesus Christ. All sufferings will be nothing if the love for Jesus unites you. Don't judge one another or contradict one another. Why offend the Divine Heart of Jesus that wants a bond of union to exist among you? Let your brother act as he sees fit in God's presence. And you, on your part, act following the inspiration of the Holy Ghost who dwells in your soul. Be considerate and show affection to all. Console one another and act as you would toward Jesus Himself, your Divine Master. Rejoice together in the midst or your labours, pains, and afflictions, for you are the servants and apostles of Jesus Christ!

   Oh how my heart trembles! How great is my desire to be in the midst of you to labour, to suffer also a little for the glory of God. But not! I have not been considered worthy of so great a favour, of the privilege of sacrificing everything for Him who sacrificed Himself for love of me! My dear Brothers, you have been chosen from among so many to receive that great favour; lead therefore a life that is worthy of so great a grace; live animated by love and charity. [16]

            One clearly sees that fraternal common life is connected with apostolic life. It is also the best way to bear witness to the Gospel.

            Here is an excerpt of the ‘Instructions for Missionaries’, written the very last months of Libermann’s life.

  We cannot regard too highly the grace of being called to the religious and common life.  In our vocation to the apostolate we are receiving not only the most powerful graces which can serve as sources of very great sanctity, but we have been surrounded by most efficient safeguards against our purely natural leanings, our predominant passions and the mortal dangers particular to our type of work.

 The religious life has taught us the nature and the value of true apostolic sanctity.  It is God Himself Who stands guard over our soul, when by His Holy Will, He regulates the use of our time, our work, and our relations with others. Thus we are defended against all bad habits and dangers arising from contact with outsiders, dangers that would lead us back to our former life, which was purely natural and dead to Divine grace.

The vow of poverty and its practice prevents us from desiring, or even from considering comforts, gratification and conveniences where we might otherwise be tempted.  Not possessing anything, and being obliged by our vow to become perfectly detached even from the few things we seem to have, we are not at all affected by the things around us.

The practice of obedience is the means by which God eradicates all iniquity from our souls and destroys the source of so many infidelities that arise from our independence or will.  No longer are we subject to our own caprice or to the obstinate faults of our own character, as we were when we governed our own will and our own doings.  Moreover, obedience most efficaciously aids us in rooting our pride from its most secret recesses, and protects us against being carried away by the heavy assaults it makes upon us.  Egoism receives its deathblow because obedience makes us practise the most basic and essential form of self-denial, namely, the sacrifice of our intellect, which touches the very source of egoism.  Should some selfishness remain, it would be only in a few details, easily overcome by good will and vigilance.  The regularity of our religious life is a safeguard against dissipation; for by it all our external actions and relations, already chastened by obedience, are restricted, and ordered and directed in conformity to general as well as to particular rules of the Institute. Natural zeal is tempered and mortified, and our vices and perverse inclinations cannot grow beyond our control or become dominant.  Some earnest effort to grow in perfection will easily overcome any remaining obstacles.

Moreover, when we live in an atmosphere of religious integrity and eagerness for sanctification with confreres whom we love and whose example can edify us; when we are aided by the prayers and good works of the whole Congregation, and are bound to the regular daily exercises which serve to maintain an interior spirit; when we are urged in so many ways to perform our sacerdotal duties as it befits men of God; when we earnestly practise poverty, obedience and strict regularity, it needs but an ordinary amount of good-will to assure us of a steady flow of abundant graces.  In this way we shall come to possess a strong faith, a firm wish to grow in holiness and in a sound religious spirit.  We shall find strength and courage to accept pain and sorrow with love and to endure them in the spirit of the saints. [17]

5 - The Spiritan brings the good news to the poor and those who suffer


            There is not any point so often brought up and called to mind in the leadership of our Congregation but this one of the service of the poor, specially with the current Administration. At any time we are witnessing a lot of initiatives imple-mented by Spiritans wherever they had been working and still in charge of the Spiritan Mission. Recently, it has been the ministry with the refugees, the struggle against AID, leading to an important meeting in Southern Africa; the difficult work of Auteuil, which has inspired many involvements with children of the Street, or with children soldiers; the care of immigrants inspired patient engagements in GB and in Eire; in order to put pressure on politic and economic projects involving developing countries, important networks had been set with the collaboration of many institutions from diverse denomination. And so on. Justice and Peace and the integrity of Creation is the major stress of our mission today; in each Spiritan circumscription, there are confreres in charge of promoting that dimension of any Spiritan ministry. Recently the general Council sent us an important document on “Living today our Vow of Poverty”, in which our Spiritan poverty is very much connected with being close to the poor.   


We speak of ‘poor’, what is it about? Our confreres at the Chapter of Maynooth tried to approach the large extent of this word ‘poor’: those who are the most needy today, who are excluded, on the fringes of the society, the small farmers, those without land, those left behind, the weakest, those wanting first evangelisation, education, Justice & Peace, oppressed people, disadvantaged, uprooted, in need of support and protection, but also the victims of serious illness. According to the various places we work in, we meet different kinds of poverty, not forgetting the cultural precariousness and loneliness of many immigrants, mental and spiritual distresses, people in psychiatric hospitals, etc.

The Spiritan Mission is a pilgrimage towards the Holy Spirit at work among people living in the midst of diverse sorts of poverty; that was the way about the course of our Founder’s life. Claude was born in a well off family, generously gifted in human qualities, with all the means to get an excellent education in the best institutions; he was ready and able for a glorious career in his Brittany capital’ Parliament (Rennes). But the Lord brought him to radically change his prospects for the future (retreat 1701).Two years after, he was a poor director among poor students preparing to be modest priests: he had to face big gaps in matter of education, manners, ease, room and private life. Poverty meant for him a life of constant sacrifice of the standards he was used to for more than 20 years. Such has been the pilgrimage of Claude.

            - He let the Holy Spirit guiding him to obey his calling; progressively, he truly became himself a poor among the poor;

            - He became a witness of the merciful love of God for them.

            * He was living among his poor students “as one who serves” (Lc 22:27), as the memory came up to Libermann[18].      

            * He shared their abandonment and insecurity, depending on casual alms most of the time, and becoming himself a beggar, disrespectful of his social level.

            * He set up with them a fraternal community in which everybody, himself, collaborators and students, were living in the same way, with the same Rule and duties.

            * He left them challenging his behaviour and purposes, which brought forth a better service, thanks to the creation of a formators community, totally dedicated to them.

            * He brought them over a human and spiritual liberation, thanks to the solid human and spiritual formation he and his confreres, the H. Sp. Priests, were able to bring them.

            * He helped them to be good servants for the sake of their people, providing for them a solid theological training with the Jesuit students.

            * He had such a respect for them as to be demanding about their forma­tion, in view of the fact that he selected the candidates in order to maintain the standard of their formation; the Holy Spirit Seminary was one the best achievements of the orientations of the Council of Trent about Clergymen formation.

           * He gave his health and life for their own sake: Claude could not think of serving his fellow companions but sharing the Cross of Jesus for them.

            * He found among them his achievement and authentic holiness, as he died from an epidemics like many poor people in the neighbourhood and was buried in a common grave like them.

            25 years after the death of Claude, Louis Bouic, his 2nd successor and dear disciple, wrote the first Rule for the official recognition of the Holy Spirit Society and Seminary, and faithfully according to the intentions of Claude, the Founder.

The Society … has for purpose to educate poor clerics in ecclesiastical discipline, zeal and love of virtue, especially of obedience and poverty, who will be ready for everything in the hands of prelates, to serve in hospices, to evangelise the poor and the infidels, and not only to undertake but to love wholeheartedly and to prefer to everything else the meanest and most laborious ecclesiastical duties for which ministers are found with difficulty. [19]

            A little more than 250 years after, 1987, the general Chapter in Chevilly red this way the fundamental rule of the Congregation:

 12. In faithfulness to the intuitions of our Founders, to their experiences and to the living tradition of our Congre­gation, we give preference to an apostolate that takes us to ‑ those who have not yet heard the gospel message or who have scarcely heard it; ‑ those oppressed and most disadvantaged, as a group or as individuals; - where the Church has difficulty in finding workers.

            The stress on evangelization comes from the merger of the Holy Heart of Mary Congregation in this one of Poullart, 1848. We have become a Congregation whose end is mostly the missionary work, but keeping the spirit of the Founder. Witch explains how Francis, trying to harmonize the Holy Spirit Rule and the Rule of the Holy Heart of Mary, writes in his ‘Règlements’ (Regulations, 1849):

Art. I   The general purpose of the Congregation is to devote itself to the salvation of sinners by a wholly apostolic life; the special object to which it devotes itself and to which its works are dedicated is the care of those who are most in need and most abandoned.

            Our present SRL asserts the same, with the words of today.


            How to be able to be in the service of the ‘poor’, if not practising poverty? In that matter ‘practising poverty’, Francis Libermann had got a substantial experience as he wrote the ‘Règlements’ (Regulations) in 1849. He was himself from a poor family; all along his formation, among fellow students being well-off of financial resources, he had nothing if non by charity; in Rome he had an accommodation in a dovecot, and was often seen among beggars at the door of some convents; he knew how to behave with simplicity and serenity, as he was really destitute. 

            As a Superior General, Francis had to cope with the matter during 8 years. Reading the article on poverty in the Regulations, 1849, we meet a man who knew what he was writing about.


            (500) Art. I The members of the Congregation will consider poverty as one of the most important and fundamental virtues of the apostolic and religious life. They will attach themselves to it with all sincerity of their hearts, taking care that laxity does not introduce itself into the Congregation in this matter. Poverty affects the sanctification of its members and makes them fit for service of the people whom divine Providence has confided to them.

            (501) Art. II   In the practice of poverty, they will seek especially perfect detachment from the goods of this world and an entire indifference to honour, rank, and the comfort, which goes with riches. Having given themselves to Jesus Christ to continue His divine apostolate under His direction, and this the apostolate of the poorest and most abandoned of souls, they would be gravely lacking in the spirit of their vocation were they to retain esteem and affection for social prestige and the riches of the earth and desire to wear its symbols.

            (502) Art. III  Since they are truly free from affection for riches and their false appeal, they will not allow themselves to be influenced in any way by the important people of this world or by its riches. They will not take pleasure in their company, flatter them or cultivate them, conduct indeed unworthy of a Spiritan. They will however behave with prudence, and will render to each one the honour due to his rank and position in the world.

            (503) Art. IV  They will not be ashamed of their poverty before men. They will not have that weakness, so unworthy of apostolic men, of regarding themselves as humiliated by their poverty, as people inferior to the rich and the powerful.  They will treat everyone with modesty and reserve and the deference due to each one. They will behave with dignity, freedom, and according to the demeanour, which characterises an apostolic man who represents Jesus Christ on earth.

            (504) Art. V   As men devoted to the apostolate of Jesus Christ they will work for His glory, their spirits free of all anxiety for their livelihood and with hearts detached from all human things. They will put all their hope in the Master whom they serve and the Heavenly Father who feeds the birds of the sky will repay their confidence and their love. Superiors will, however, seek with prudence and solicitude to obtain for the missionaries whatever is necessary and useful to them.

            (505) Art. VI  They will willingly bear the privations of poverty, even those that may be caused by forgetfulness on the part of superiors. However, in this last case, if one's health could be endangered or if there be some other grave inconvenience, they will remind the person in authority of his negligence.

            (506) Art. The community to which they belong will provide everything of which missionaries make use. They will avoid becoming attached to these things and will always be ready to give them up, if there is need.

            (507) Art. VIII Economies will be made where there is any excess in food, lodgings, furnishings, and clothing. Each will be satisfied with the modest necessity. In the quality of what is in use in the communities, everything, which approaches luxury, will be avoided. The rules of poverty will be observed and everybody will be content with what is ordinary.

            (508) Art. IX  However, since the practice of the virtues of religion should have for the members some apostolic purpose, they will avoid in their exterior poverty anything, which might appear excessive to outside persons. What they ordinarily use will be adapted to the customs of the country where they live and to the persons who live about them, and everything will be kept clean.

            (509) Art. X    Meals, although in accordance with the spirit and virtue of poverty, should be healthy, substantial and suitable to maintain the missionaries in good health.

            (510) Art. XI  There will be no pleasure gardens in the community. Every part must be used for the benefit of the community. Whatever is planted will be for the convenience of the missionaries. Studied elegance will be avoided and in them, as in everything else, they should not give in to a desire for rare or curious objects. Everything in their lifestyle should show this rejection of the luxury and glamour of wealth. Luxury and elegance in the acquisition of books will be avoided, but every house will have a library suited to its needs.

            (511) Art. XII The missionaries will take from this library the books they need, but they should only keep them in their rooms for the time they are using them.[20]


Libermann usually speaks of poverty more on the spiritual aspect linked to that evangelical attitude, meaning humility, as it does match with our experience too, poverty being close to soberness.

Be humble in your interior more than in your exterior, in your thoughts than in your words, in your desires more than in your actions, in your sentiments more than in your bearing and manners. Let external humility, nevertheless, correspond with the interior, but the interior humility must always be the source of all that is exterior and must greatly surpass the latter.[21]

            Libermann knows how to explain clearly the purpose of the Congregation, in its commitment to the poor:

            To evangelise the poor, this is our general end. Nevertheless, the Missions are our principal objects we aim at, and in the Missions, we have chosen the most wretched and abandoned souls. Divine Providence made our work for the Blacks, either in Africa or in the Colonies. These are incontestably the most wretched and abandoned peoples down to today. We would wish to work in France for the salvation of souls, but still having the poor as principal aim, without abandoning all the same those who are not. In France, we would propose (courses of) preaching in rural parishes, and also, and especially, labours for the souls of the working class and the poor of the towns, whose needs seem to us greatest at this moment. For this it would be preferable to live in a populous town and, as far as possible, a manufacturing town where there are a bigger number of workers and where corruption and irreligion are unfortunately and ordinarily the greatest. There one could attract this class to oneself and exercise all influence on it. The clergy of the parishes usually cannot reach these men because they do not come to Church/. [22]/


            Libermann had too a sense of humour; even in reproaching some faults to confreres, he could do it smiling:

We are like the sack, which the farmer attaches to his neck as he sets out to sow the seed all over the fields. That sack that he uses to spread the seed is not exactly the most beautiful thing he has. God has chosen us in a similar way, although we are not exactly brilliant in His house. He fills us with His divine seed; and He uses us to cast it into souls. The farmer makes sure that the sack he is using is not full of holes. And in case they are holes, he first takes pain to mend them. That is what God has done for us in His divine mercy: We are full of “holes” caused by pride, susceptibility, self-seeking, sloth and other numerous weaknesses and faults; but he mended all that and put our souls in proper condition. How grateful we ought to be to our Divine Master! He mended our miseries and filled the voids in our souls, because He wanted to make use of us. We are weak vessels and are full of holes on every side; yet in spite of it, God chose us for a work that is holy and most pleasing to Him. Let us do all we can to remain humble, recollected and detached from ourselves and from all things; and let us surrender entirely to the designs of His divine mercy toward us[23].

6 - To be Spiritan is to be available and to be sent


As the initial formation is near to end, the young spiritan student starts a dialogue with the General Council in order to be sent in one of the missions entrusted to the Congregation. The elders among us had no dialogue with their Superiors, and they discovered their mission on the very day of their Consecration to Apostolate.

It happened in the past that the first mission was so stable, that many confreres spent nearly all their life in the service of the same district. In the present times, the personnel are more changing; for that reason, we receive now our appointment ‘to the Mission of the Congregation’. In any case one needs an appointment; and also to be wholeheartedly available as our Spiritan ancestors. This way, we feel to have a right place as members of a genuine body belonging to the Church of Jesus-Christ. However it happens that some Spiritans give themselves an appointment, as if they had chosen to be available to their own purpose …

The essential aim of the Congregation is the apostolate, says Libermann/. Those attached to it go out to be employed by it according to its end, to its intentions and spirit in the Missions confided to it by the Holy See. [24] A fraternal community helps our integration into the common mission, as members of the same family who serve that part of mission of the Church. Thus it’s of the most importance that each of us maintain his obedience to the mandate he got from the Lord through the Church and his Superiors.   /

            Here below, we have an excerpt of one of the two witnesses of Claude Poullart, Charles Besnard. He tells us - in a rather military and dramatic language - that the Founder had strong convictions about the availability of the young Holy Spirit Community’s members, sent to any service for the poor at the end of their formation.

One sees that under the guidance of their immediate superiors and at the first sign of their will - but always in dependence on the bishops – they constitute a kind of military detachment of auxiliary troops, ready to go anywhere where there is work to be done for the salvation of souls. They consecrate themselves preferably to missionary activity both foreign and domestic, offering to go and stay in the poorest and most abandoned places for which it is especially difficult to find candidates. Whether it is a question of being exiled into the remote countryside, or buried in the caverns of a hospital, teaching in a college, lecturing in a seminary, directing a poor community, travelling to the farthest corners of the Kingdom or staying there in a austere post, whether it is a question even of crossing the seas and going to the very ends of the earth to gain a soul for Christ – their motto is : Behold, we are ready to do Thy will : Ecce ego, mitte me (Is 6,12) (Charles Besnard :  Vie de Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, circa 1760).


            Francis Libermann got a hard training to complete availability: confronted with a painful religious crisis in his twenties as he was a Jew, and become a Christian at nearly 25 of age, disown and cursed by his father, the Rabbi Lazar, prevented to be ordained because of epilepsy, kept in the Sulpician Issy’ Seminary for 6 years as a sick assistant bursar, sent to Rennes to be the novitiate’s master of the reviving Eudist Society, but meeting over there so many trials in carrying the job out, he expressed his deep poverty with this prayer: My Jesus, you know well that I am nothing, that I can do nothing, that I am worth nothing. Here I am as you find me, that is, a poor nobody. Take me, if you are good enough to show that mercy. I abandon myself and hand over myself into your hands and I ask for nothing more. [25]  

            The Lord called him as he was in the middle of that trial, to participate in the creation of the ‘Work of the Blacks’ (28.10.1839) and to be sent abroad as a member of it. To create this new missionary community, he left Rennes where he was in a quiet employment, to ask the permission from the Holy See, being a simple cleric, sick and unfamiliar to the ecclesiastical roman society. He was able, one year after, to write in Rome the draft of this missionary Community’s Rule, which he called Holy Heart of Mary Congregation (HHM): 

Rule of the Congregation of Missionaries of the Holy Heart of Mary – Ch. I.

ART.I. - The Congregation of the Missionaries of the Most Holy Heart of Mary is a union of priests who, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and sent by him, dedicate themselves totally to announcing his holy Gospel, and to establishing his reign among the poorest and most abandoned souls in the Church of God. There-from the articles which follow:

ART.II. - They must think of themselves as apostles sent by Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why they must bear deeply engraved in their hearts and must announce everywhere the holy maxims of his holy Gospel; to make known his holy mysteries and his divine wishes to those ignorant of them; to draw to him souls which are being lost and to fill with love and holiness those already on the right path.

ART.III. - They will not lose sight of the fact that if they are to establish the love and reign of Jesus Christ among others, they must, with all the more reason, first establish it most solidly and most perfectly in their own souls.

ART.VII. - They must live in great union with Our Lord Jesus Christ as their superior, their father, their sovereign Master and their leader. They will keep themselves before him as faithful disciples eager to hear him and to receive his orders. They will obey him with faith and love as children filled with the desire to please him in all things and to glorify him everywhere and always.

ART.IX. -Knowing the incomprehensible holiness of this adorable Master, they must strive with all their might to reproduce it in their person, imitating his virtues in the most perfect manner and never content with "It is enough", that people will be bound to recognize in them and in their conduct the one who sends them, the most holy, most lovable, sweetest Lord Jesus their Master.

ART.X. - They must be so filled with the spirit of holiness of this adorable Master, and they must so act under the influence of divine grace that spreading this by the words and their actions, they will fill with it all those in relation with them. [26]       


                        Having got from the Congregation of Propaganda Fide the agreement to the project of the Work of the Black, Francis was ordained a priest on September 18, 1841 in Amiens. The Congregation of the HHM was founded one week after on September 25 in the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories, Paris, seat of the (Archcon) Fraternity of the Holy Heart of Mary, Refuge of Sinners; it opened a novitiate 2 days after near to Amiens, northern France. Little by little, vocations came and join Francis, so that, hardly two years after, there was an important group of young missionaries, ready to leave for the quite new mission of the Two Guineas, West Africa, with Bishop Edward Barron. To them, Francis sent his first letter to his missionaries in Africa: they are sent to be available in the hands of Jesus.

Dear Confreres, may the peace of Our Lord be with you!

Be full of courage, my dear Brothers! Devote yourselves to the glory of God and the salvation of so many wretched souls[27]. You have much suffering and will continue to undergo great trials, but remember that it is for God that you bear these troubles and that He will reward you a hundredfold even in this world for all the sacrifices you are making for love of Him. Every trial that you offer for the salvation of souls will perhaps save several. It may be that this is "the hundredfold" that Christ has promised.

            Keep in mind that the Sovereign Master lived a life of sorrow and that He underwent inexpressible pain for the salvation of the world. You are disciples of Jesus-Christ! Don't seek to receive better treatment that your master. Never entertain fears because of the difficulties you encounter. It is not in your own name that you went to the missions nor it is you who will accomplish the work. The Master sent you and you are not alone; if you are faithful, He is always at your side. Hence don't be fearful or weak in faith. An apostle of Jesus-Christ must never be downcast in the presence of obstacles. Bear difficulties peacefully and patiently and always persevere in your projects and labours that are truly useful for God's glory and the salvation of souls. Rest awhile when you face obstacles that you are unable to overcome at that time. Wait for "God's own time" full of confidence, and be faithful when that moment arrives. [28]

            The few HHM’ missionaries, at work for a short while in Bourbon Island, or trying to start a mission in Haiti, did criticize Francis for scattering his men through the world in an insecure way: you would have better, they told him, to concentrate our efforts where there is no danger! Francis tells them that the acceptation of a new mission depends overall on the call received from the Lord who alone sends us.

Do not argue so badly: that we have first to undertake what is more sure before undertaking what is unsure. If St Paul had argued this way, he would never have done so many things for the glory of God. We have to work according to our present situation for the growing of the Church and its defence against heretics. We have to be generous and not to tremble that much for the good of our little Congregation. Not to be foolish, nor to let us give way to wrong imaginations; but all the same not look for a sure success before starting a work. If we were not totally dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ in his Church, and ready for every sacrifice, there had not been any point we to gather (in a Congregation). [29]

            Another challenge arose in the next years. The problem was not that the missionaries were discouraged by the difficulty of their work among African people, just the opposite. So much they were enthusiast that they were more and more inclined to put aside the Community’s rule, in order to be more involved in the service of their people. But did they come in Africa to serve their own enthusiasm? Has the Congregation been only a means to bring them to Africa? What is apostolic availability? 

The missionaries of Guinea must not be first of all men of Guinea, they must be first of all men of God and of the Church, then members of the Congregation to which God has given them, to which they are attached with all the affection of their soul; and in this Congregation they are employed for the salvation of the souls in Guinea. But in Guinea as elsewhere they are members of the body to which God has attached them. This cohesion and even a simple union of hearts cannot exist if Guinea comes before everything else and the Congregation becomes a secondary thing. What would be said in Guinea would be said in each of the other Missions. In each, one would always be disposed to consider the Congregation as a secondary thing and be prepared to sacrifice it in the interest of the Missions. The Congregation would be torn apart. Soon there would be as many separate societies as there are missions, having nothing in common but name and rules. It would not last long…

The source of the evil, if, that is, the evil exists at all, could be in certain erroneous ideas or inexact conclusions drawn from thoughts that are true. On entering the Congregation one's aim is the Mission; the Congregation's only aim is the apostolate and exists only to upkeep and sanctify the Missionaries in the midst of their works; therefore the Congregation is secondary.

To this I reply. The essential aim of the Congregation is the apostolate. Those attached to it go out to be employed by it according to its end, to its intentions and spirit in the Missions confided to it by the Holy See. It follows that all should apply themselves zealously and fervently wherever they are employed, but within the Congregation, according to its outlook and intentions and in its spirit. The Congregation therefore is not secondary, nor can it be; attachment to the Congregation is essential and must be in the forefront. Vows were made in the Congregation and not to the Mission. The links with the Congregation then are for all time; links with the Mission are for while one is there. The first attachment must be to the Congregation. Nevertheless let there be great affection, complete dedication and genuine zeal for the Mission. I hold it certain that if we do not succeed in establishing this principle then within fifteen years most of the missionaries will be broken down and God will not bless their works. [30]



Now, from our Spiritan Tradition, some witnesses:

                        Jacques Laval was a medical doctor near to Evreux, Normandy, when he felt attracted towards priesthood. He studied theology in the same seminary as Francis, and was ordained a priest on Dec. 22, 1838. He was a pastor of a little parish in Normandy’ countryside, but called to the service of the Missions, he left it, and boarded in London on June 04, 1841, for Mauritius that he reached (Port-Louis) on September 13. He died in Mauritius in September 09, 1864 having done a stupendous apostolic work. Here a sample of his apostolic zeal: 

Here, Father Superior, is my little daily regulation: rising at 5 o'clock in the morning, visit to the jail for morning prayer with men and women prisoners; at a quarter to six I go to the church for a half hour meditation followed by half an hour preparation for Holy Mass, which is at seven o'clock followed by half an hour thanksgiving. In the confessional until between half nine and ten; at half ten recital of Little Hours, a little Scripture reading; a quarter of an hour for lunch and then the remainder of the day is taken up with hearing confessions, marrying, baptising, visiting the sick; at four o'clock in the confessional, at five visit to the jail for evening prayer with men and women; in the confessional from half past five o'clock until seven; at seven the Rosary and instruction begin; at eight the main prayer followed by some hymns. Some people who do not know their prayers or their mysteries of religion or sacraments remain and instruction continues until nine in the evening; at the stroke of nine I shut the church door: then a little prayer, a little supper, to bed and on to five next morning, to begin the same round.[31]


Entered the Spiritan novitiate of Orly, aged 31, Daniel Brottier, priest of Blois’ diocese, France, applies at the end of his novitiate to have an appointment from his Superior general. Here is an excerpt of his letter:

From the age of twelve I have always envisaged missionary life, and I still do, as the life of one who is prepared to offer and sacrifice all for the salvation of souls - whether quickly or drop by drop, what does it matter? If I may state my preference it would be for the former. I have no wish to be presumptuous, but if you have a dangerous post where someone has to be risked I say in all simplicity, I am ready./ [32]/


Some 30 years after, an outstanding bishop, Joseph Shanahan, retired now from its most dear Nigeria, that he had evangelised as a pioneer for 30 years, has that to say on to be sent and available:

Nothing makes a human being more Christ‑like than giving to others of the best we have. The best we have - as well as all the rest we have - comes from God, and is not other than God's own Holy Spirit given to us on the day of our baptism. With the gift of his own self, God bestows on us that most glorious and inexpressible of gifts, namely that of co-operating with Him in preparing other human souls for the reception of God's own self - in baptism and the other sacraments, in preparing other human beings for the ineffable dignity and glory of becoming deified gods. [33]


            And surely they are many other Spiritan witnesses in any part of the mission entrusted to the Congregation in the service of the poor, and in other Congregations, as surely too in the diocesan Clergy.


7 - Empowering poor people with spiritual and social weapons


                     Providing our brothers and sisters who struggle for the Gospel with the help of a spiritual accompaniment, is an important part of our ministry. Spiritual accompaniment constitutes a formation’s effective way to benefit the Christians that are able to carry out diverse responsibilities in the community. According to Libermann, many good willing people do not know how to behave to improve their spiritual life and their service in the Church:

There is a very few people that clearly know what God asks from them; there is a very few of them calm enough, peaceful enough, to understand and clearly conceive what they have to do to fully implement the holy and blessed will of God for their spiritual improvement, to run away from dangers and temptations. [34]

Spiritual accompaniment is a Christian ministry, not specifically reserved to priests. If the priests particularly qualify for that ministry, this is because they have a constant experience of dialogue with people and because they have got a suitable formation in matter of spiritual theology and psychology. But lay people, provided they have got too a suitable experience and formation, may do very well in the matter. Among Religious women and men, it’s a usual ministry to those in charge of leadership. The Holy Spirit likes providing us with His gifts to qualify us for spiritual accompaniment, and sometimes He would reward some people with a specific charism. Francis Libermann was given this charism, and he was conscious of it.

Spiritual accompaniment is very necessary as it provides a personal dialogue and sharing between an experienced Christian and a brother or sister anxious of progressing in the way of discipleship. How it is possible to provide for lay collaborators and vocations unless offering a spiritual accompaniment? In our times, there is a growing requirement for such a formation, entailing experienced brothers or sisters ready to listen to and to help Christians in their daily life. Thanks to God, there are also more ‘accompanying’ qualified people.

            Spiritual accompaniment requires a sufficient competence in matter of spiritual theology and psychology, and more, common sense and discernment: which discernment is sharpened by experience. You need a real ability for personal relation, to be able entering into a personal dialogue in a friendly way, not as an inquiry, but with simplicity and trust; not in a hurry, but with patience, discretion, never putting pressure, but paying respect to the while somebody needs to say what he likes and when he likes it. You need too some courage to ask gently some crucial questions, which are important to estimate the righteousness of the approach. In any way you have to pay respect on a hand to the freedom of the person in accompaniment, and on the other hand to the truth of any Christian commitment, which the accompanied longs for.

                        As far as you have to cope with human relations, you find a great inspiration as your heart has developed a personal approach with chastity: human relations constitute the chastity’s field. Chastity is a respectful manner to behave with others, and particularly if it matters of a single woman or man. You don’t force anybody following your advices, you get out of doing anything that could make you indispensable to him, you look for his improvement, you show him other people who could be useful to him, you help him to be able of doing on his own: They will avoid becoming attached to their penitents, especially to persons of the opposite sex. They should hold themselves free from every bond, seeking only to love Jesus and Mary and have them loved by others. [35]

            Let’s ask Francis Libermann to share with us the fruit of his wonderful experience in the matter. (He uses the term ‘director’, but in that sense: the director does not direct people, but he helps people to behave with spiritual discernment) :

As you direct souls (people), always consider the appeal of God’s grace in them. The ‘director’, once he has seen God acting in a soul, has no other task but guiding it[36], so that it receives its grace and be faithful to it. Thus he (‘director’) shall have to cut from it all the faults and other obstacle that prevent the grace to develop and sanctify it to the full. But he has to be careful not to behave as the leader of any soul; it belongs to God to do it, and to the ‘director’ to provide the means so that the soul does not resist His leading. The ‘director’ gets the light from God alone in praying and being constantly united with Our Lord. A ‘director’ who obeys his own ideas, particular views, his personal principles, does very often resist the Holy Spirit’s leading the souls. It does not belong to us to impose laws or limits to Our Lord.[37]

The only duty of the ‘director’ consists in guiding the soul; it’s up to the soul to be faithful to the voice of the One who calls it from its inner… The ‘director’ is useful only as much as it pleases God to blow in the soul’s inner; he cannot direct a soul towards Him but as much as the Holy Spirit directs it from inner. He is an echo, nothing else, but an echo of the voice of the divine Spirit who speaks in the inner of the souls.[38]   

            Let’s read a letter that Francis, still a minor Cleric, and in charge of the Eudist novitiate in Rennes, writes to a Sulpician priest, Fr Poupard, concerning a young man he was accompanying to initiate his spiritual journey.

My very dear Father in our Lord, […]

            Mr N. asks in his letter for my advice regarding the way to pray, and in general, on the way he must lead his life.         

            It seems to me it would not be appropriate for him to start praying already without considerations, in a simple and pure vision, remaining united with God in a spirit of faith internally freed from feelings. I believe that this state can never be for beginners, since they are used to acting in everything through imagination. They are not yet freed enough from feelings but rather only act through feelings. This means they have insurmountable obstacles to go to God directly without the help of imagination and feelings, except if God himself strongly attracts them in his way. And even then they will follow it by way of feelings, that is to say not exactly by way of considerations, but it will be an intellectual representation of God in their imagination that they will feel, which they will enjoy and to which they will be united. This may be better than considerations; but except if God strongly invites, they will never be completely freed.

             I believe that, in the beginning, God takes our weakness into account and communicates himself to our souls in a perceptible way, that is to say, to our imagination and to the other internal feelings and so attracts us to him by the means of considerations.

            When, in this way he has once purified our senses and has freed us from feelings and pleasures; when he has filled our souls with fervour, desires of sanctification and self-renunciation, then he retreats slowly inside our self, getting away from feelings, and acts more purely, by means of faith he communicates to the most intimate an spiritual faculties of our souls. This faith always comes together with charity; but it can't be felt and only takes place in the most intimate spiritual depth of our souls.

            This moment when God makes the separation from the feelings is the most crucial, it seems to me, and the most decisive for a soul. She thinks she is lost, having lost the feeling of her union with God, and she believes she is unfaithful and God is abandoning her. Then she is in great danger of being led into discouragement, worries, scruples and other countless evils. If she has denied herself well, she overcomes all the hardships and difficulties and reaches a truly interior and contemplative life; if she has not denied herself, if she is self-seeking, she slowly wanders astray and sometimes becomes more imperfect and worse than when was before.

            In all this, it seems to me that the important thing is to let God act in souls, to follow his action and to work at preparing them to allow themselves to be opened to this divine process, allowing God to act freely, not blocking him by their fickleness, their imperfections and their own too violent activity. This is why I have usually done it this way. Be kind enough to consider this before God and give me your opinion about it.

            • When I saw a soul whose reach seemed high, I mean a soul who seemed to me called to the perfection of interior life (and there are more than one may think), I began by giving her a strong idea of Christian perfection, so that she would be attracted and drawn forwards it. I did it this way, for in her inside, God was pushing her violently. Seeing the height and the beauty of this reality, she was delighted and developed a strong desire to reach such a beautiful and wonderful state.

            • Then I tried to show her the perfection as a whole and in its breadth, as much as God would give me to do so. I needed some time before being able to go to particular details and give to this soul a direction corresponding to her state for practicing [prayer]. Once the way was open to me, and once our Lord made me know the interior of this soul, and then I could see the difficulty she had and I could direct my assaults in that direction. But, in that moment; I would try and keep her away from too much movement, haste, confusion, worries, and so forth, in order to maintain her quiet, so that she could always be face to face with God and more easily obey all his movements. This peace prepared her little by little for this interior life, and always led her to contemplation as well as renunciation.

            • I would insist much on self-renunciation and universal renunciation, always pushing for it, even building peace on this foundation, so that these souls were always busy with self-renunciation and self-purification. I believed it was especially the state of beginners, and for a long time I would never talk to them about prayer. I don't know whether I was right; but I thought that since they were trying to live in interiority and renunciation to all, God would perfect in them the spirit of prayer and since they were always aiming at peace and inner sweetness, at moderation and seriousness of mind, they would not fail to know and follow God and his inspirations. When they would talk to me about prayer, I would probe their inner tastes and attractions and the way they used to pray; I would try to straighten what I thought was twisted, but I would let them to do.

            • It seems to me that little by little, this pure prayer of faith and union with God by means of simple contemplation. I would often admire the things they would tell me that were happening in them, which were of pure contemplation, and this without having heard from me anything that could bring them to such a state. Then I would tell them that they could act in such a way and continue in such a state; all this without any pressure from me, but letting them follow their interior movement, without telling them what was this way of prayer.

            • Later, when things became interiorly imperceptible, and they had no way of making considerations (for until then they were still making considerations, at least often, except when God would manifest himself too strongly thus preventing them from making them), when they lacked taste for considerations and when I saw no more fruit, I would invite them to this simple sight of God, and led them to remain before him through faith. […]          

            I am, in the very holy charity of Jesus and of Mary, your very poor servant.

                                     Fr. Libermann[39]


8 - The Spiritans walk with Mary as their guide to the Holy Spirit

            Our Congregation has a long tradition of filial love for Mary, linked to its dedication to the Holy Spirit: it goes back to our very origin.

            Some months after Claude Poullart des Places had left his College Louis-le-Grand to settle among the little group of his poor fellow students, together they decided to set themselves up into a community, with a superior and a rule of life. They chose the Feast of Pentecost, 27 may 1703, to make the step, and the quite nearby church of Saint-Etienne and its little chapel of Our Lady of Rescue (Notre-Dame de Bonne Délivrance) as the right place to pronounce their first commitment at the feet of the statue of Our Lady:

Mr Poullart des Places, being at the time only an aspirant to the clerical state, began the foundation of the said Community and Seminary consecrated to the Holy Spirit under the invocation of the Blessed Mary conceived without sin, on the Feast of Pentecost in the year seventeen hun­dred and three" [40]

            Progressively Claude worked out the General and Particular Regulations of the Holy Spirit Community, which are not properly speaking a Rule, as the ‘community’ was not legally authorized, but rather a pious hostel: here are the first articles, common to directors and students:

1.  All the students will adore in a special way the Holy Spirit, to whom they have been specially conse­crated. To this they will add a personal devo­tion to the Blessed Virgin, through whose protection they have been offered to the Holy Spirit.

2.  As their two principal feasts they will choose Pentecost and the Immaculate Conception.  The first they will celebrate to obtain from the Holy Spirit the fire of divine love; the second to obtain from the Blessed Virgin an angelic purity. Their piety will be grounded in these two virtues.

            The traditional Icon art has a special figurative image of Mary, pointing her Child to Christian faithful, as if she was telling them: Do whatever he will tell you. These Icons are called ‘hodogirita’, meaning ‘showing the way to go to Jesus’. In the very same way, Claude had us ‘devoted’ to Mary, as she surely guides us on the way to the Holy Spirit.

            Our Congregation, which became an officially authorized Institute in 1734 with a Rule of Life, 35 years after the founder’s death, used to proclaim a traditional prayer on its Patron Saint Day, on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception:

Holy Mary, my mother and my queen, humbly and piously prostrate at your feet I beg your assistance. Help me your servant to devote myself to the Holy Spirit, your heavenly Spouse in whose honour I wish this day, despite my weakness to take on an engagement of great importance. O, my dear Mother, hear me; Holy Spirit listen to my dear Mother and through her intercession, enlighten my understanding by your light and inflame my heart by the fire of your love so that in this house dedicated to you, I may do everything that pleases you, all that touches your glory, my sanctification and the edification of my fellows. [41]

            Francis Libermann, brought up in a great dislike for Mary as he was a Jew, became a convert to Jesus after he had been enlightened in November, 1826. He    recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and the grace opened his eyes to recognized too Mary as the mother Jesus gives us. From this marvelous revelation comes up his unconditional love for Jesus and for Mary:

When the baptismal water poured over my Jewish head, at that instant I loved Mary, whom I used to hate before... [42]


            Francis Libermann expresses his total confidence in Mary in a great lot of letters, but without developing the point; the only one wholly written about his devotion to Mary is a comment of a prayer in use in St Sulpice Seminary:

O Jesus, come and live in Your servants as You live in Mary, in the spirit of Your holiness, in the fullness of Your power, in the perfection of Your ways, in the truth of Your virtues, in the communion of Your mysteries. Overcome all inimical power, in Your Spirit, for the glory of the Father.

           Francis understands the role of Mary in our Christian life this way: her heart is perfectly opened to the presence of Jesus and to His mission, thanks to the Holy Spirit; praying Mary means sharing in her marvelous availability to Jesus through the Spirit. It has been said that there was something sentimental in his devotion, as his own mother died, as he was 11 of age, and couldn’t find any comfort with his stepmother. Yet Libermann shows that his devotion to Mary lies on solid foundations, which have nothing to do with sentimentality.

            So our two Fathers, Claude and Francis, join in the same understanding of the Marian devotion: Mary is a perfect guide to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus by the fact. They surely had their Marian devotion as a full part of the spiritan apostolic spirituality. Many of our Spiritan ancestors had the same liking for Mary. It’s a pity that our last General Chapter in Torre d’Aguilha, in the 1st chapter on the important elements of Spiritan Spirituality, had nothing about that original tie.    

            As Francis was together the superior general of the Holy Heart of Mary Society and its novice director, he had to explain the novices why their missionary family was consecrated to Mary. He told them that, being in Rome, in 1850, in charge of getting an authorization from the Holy See for setting up the missionary community, said ‘Work of the Blacks’, he was first convinced that a dedication to Mary was not relevant for the purpose: he thought of a dedication to the Holy Cross. Yet, having made some pilgrimages to Marian shrines in Rome, he changed his mind. This is now what he told his novices:

Notice that it is not simply to Mary but to the heart of Mary that our Congregation is consecrated. This choice of devotion to the heart of Mary was not at all the result of calculated reasoning but of an attraction and powerful impulse... We are called to the apostolate. Now to fruitfully exercise the apostolate what do we need if not the apostolic spirit? And this apostolic spirit, where could we find it more perfectly and plentifully, after Our Lord, than in the heart of Mary, which was filled with it, heart eminently apostolic and all inflamed with desire for the glory of God and the salvation of the souls? She directed the apostles, communicating her apostolic spirit to them and drawing down the graces of conversion and sanctification on souls... If our heart is filled with the burning charity that inflamed Mary's heart, we will always be in a position to spread this fire in the souls whom we come in contact with. [43]

            The next prayer to the Blessed Lady was said at the end of Novitiate’s formation, before leaving to Missions (then the novices were already priests): it’s the Consecration to the Apostolate:

            Most holy and most august Virgin Mary, Mother of my God, my Queen, and my sovereign Mistress, I come with confidence to open my heart before you and I firmly hope that you will listen to my prayer and that you will grant me the special grace which I have come to ask you for.

            Being called to minister in the apostolate and ardently desiring to consecrate myself to the service of your well-beloved Son for the salvation of souls. I turn to your heart so tender and so compassionate towards sinners. See my poor soul, how weak and miserable it is, full of imperfections and faults. Nevertheless, I am destined for great things. I must evangelise the poor, heal the hearts of men, draw sinners from hell, preach the holy name of your Son, establish his kingdom everywhere and exercise all the other important functions of the apostolate. How can I do such great things when I am so weak and miserable? Oh my Mother, Oh sovereign Queen of my soul, come to my help. Think with pity on the lot of so many people reserved to me to save from eternal pain. If I am left to my own weakness they will all unfailingly perish but if you are kind enough to receive me under your protection, what will I not be able to do?

            Be so gracious then as to accept the offering I make of myself. Give me to the Holy Spirit, your well-beloved Spouse. I wish to devote and consecrate myself entirely to the divine Spirit and entirely to your Immaculate Heart. I wish to live and die, to devote myself and to sacrifice myself, following Jesus, in the Society of Missionaries. I want to vow my whole being to the all-powerful Spirit who brings life to men, and consecrate myself entirely to your Immaculate Heart.

            Oh most holy Mother of my God! If I obtain from you this great favour, if I have the happiness of being received into this Society, I take the firm and unshakable resolution to work in it all my life and to serve your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I give you my soul that it may belong to you as a child belongs to his mother. I will cherish you all my life with a tender and filial love and I will preach everywhere your greatness. I open my heart. I abandon it to the divine Spirit. May he fill it, possess it and act in it as its sovereign Master. Guided by Him, I wish to pour out his holy love on all the souls, which will be entrusted to me by the goodness of your beloved Son.

            I promise you also, that once received into the Society consecrated to the divine Spirit and to your Immaculate Heart, I will observe the rules, which are in force and particularly those concerning poverty, as it is prescribed in its rules. I will obey with exactitude and fidelity all the Superiors whom divine Providence will give me, as I would obey you and Jesus Christ your Son and my sovereign Master. It is on these conditions that I ask to be received among the number of faithful servants of the Holy Spirit, well beloved children of your Immaculate Heart. With them I promise to be faithful to them and I am sincerely resolved to observe them all my life so as to live and to die, and to be for all eternity the child of your Immaculate Heart consumed in the love of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father and of the Son. Amen. [44]

            Those who had been admitted for private vows, take their commitment to Mary this way:

Mary, my good and loving Mother, unite me in your love to your Son Jesus, and standing at the foot of His cross, offer me with Him to the Heavenly Father. Pour into my soul the sentiments of love and holiness, which animated Him. Intercede for me so that this love and this holiness may unceasingly fill my soul as they filled yours. Let the Spirit of Jesus be always my life, my support, my strength and let Him make me faithful in the perfect execution of the promises, which I have just made to God. Amen. [45]


1 - 01:11. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.

Lord Jesus, come into me; I, too, am your slave and your property. I do not want to be like the world; I want, I desire ardently, to receive you. And if I had the misfortune to resist you, command, force me; use your power and authority as a Master! 'Come, Lord Jesus' (Rev 22: 20) (01:11)

2 - 01:14. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we

have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

O Love, incomprehensible love of my God, of my Jesus! How can I love you as you love me? I must remain in my nothingness and poverty face to face with your adorable love; for, my well‑beloved Love you are too great for me to think of doing anything for you. At least, most adorable Love, do with me and in me everything that is in harmony with your good pleasure: 'Come, Lord Jesus, come and live in your most wretched servant'. (01:14)

3 - 03:03.  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew he cannot 

see the kingdom of God." 

O Jesus, how great is your love for the poor people we are: I am ignorant and full of imperfections and defects, as Nicodemus was. Receive me also with that entrancing goodness and please instruct me also! (3:3)

4 - 03:08  The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know

whence it comes or whither it goes,, so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit. "

 Blessed are those who hear this divine voice and follow it! Most holy and most adorable Spirit of my Jesus, let me hear your sweet loving voice. Refresh me by your delightful breath. Divine Spirit, I wish to be before you as a light feather, so that your breath may carry me off where it wishes and that I may never offer it the least resistance. (03:08)

5 - 03:11. Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony

 My most gentle Jesus, if only I could console your heart afflicted so much by the hardness of our hearts, how happy I would be! Tell me, adorable Lord, what you have seen from all eternity in the bosom of your Father. Give me testimony of all the consequences of your love in souls. Most gentle and lovable Lord Jesus, how happy I would be if you granted me this favour! I would believe you with my whole soul with the help of your grace and I would wish to melt away in love before you at all the divine words flowing from your sacred lips! (03:11)

6 - 03:15. that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "

 Lord Jesus, give me eternal life, I beg you that I may know the only true God, and the One he has sent, you, Jesus Christ, my most loving and merciful Lord and Redeemer. What wonderful knowledge! most lovable Jesus! (03:15)

7 - 04:07. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink.” [Our adorable Master was more willing to announce eternal truths to this poor woman degraded by sin, who was decried by her own people, a stranger despised by the Jews as a Samaritan, than to Nicodemus, a pious Jew, a doctor of the law and a prince of the people, who had come, nevertheless, with good intentions. He spoke to her more clearly and directly than to the doctor of the law.]

Jesus, my most adorable Lord, I too am wretched, despicable in the eyes of everyone and of all your creatures. I too wish to draw water, but heavenly water from the fountain of my most gentle Saviour. Reveal yourself also to me and teach me what I must do to be pleasing in your eyes and in the eyes of your heavenly Father. (04:08)

8 - 04:15. The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw. "

 'Lord Jesus, give me this living water to satiate my soul, which, without this good, surrenders to its passions and seeks nourishment in worldly goods. I am always thirsty; and not having your divine water of grace I go and pursue the goods of this world. In these I seek pleasure. Lord, give me your living water that my passions may be satisfied and that I may no longer draw upon the pleasures of earth'. (04:15)

9 - 04:18. The woman answered him "I have no husband. "Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, Y have no husband”. [she was afraid she would meet the rigour of the Pharisees.]

Adorable Jesus, I know well that this is not true! I have personally and wonderfully experienced the way of your goodness, your love, your gentleness and your tender compassion beyond all understanding towards the worst of sinners, such as I was. Oh Jesus! I want to open my heart to you, to confess my crimes and horrid wickedness. I want to be abashed in your presence, laid low with my face to the ground. Grant me, I beseech you, your holy and delightful love. I am sinner enough for you to grant me this holy favour. (04:18)

10 - 05:16. The man went away and told  the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. [they flew into a rage and wildly persecuted him. Nevertheless their doctors who drew up the law would have excepted this case, for they certainly did not mean that it was forbidden to cure miraculously.]

 Lord Jesus, how terribly dangerous are the recesses of our self love! How careful we must be in judging someone whose conduct in the perfect life is different from ours, especially when that conduct is higher in the ways of God, especially when these judgments are accompanied by bitterness, trouble, anxiety and other similar movements, or when we yield to sentiments of overactive zeal! Lord Jesus, preserve me from that self‑love, I beg you, and ground me in your gentle humility. (05:16)

11 - 06:57. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

 Blessed is the faithful soul who is well disposed for such great things. It surrenders unreservedly into the hands of its adorable Master, and is docile to all the impressions and promptings he desires to give by coming substantially into it in the adorable sacrament of his love. (06:57)

12 - 06:61. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"

 O Jesus, never let my mind and heart be hard and unfaithful. May they always be disposed to listen to you and receive with joy and love all your divine words, so that they may be the life my soul! (06:61)

13 - 06:69. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

 'To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'. Our only desire is in you, our sovereign Master. We want to think only of you. We have no longer any love but for you, and our only joy and happiness is in the divine words, full of grace, which come from your adorable lips to fill us with love and kindness. They are words of life, eternal life. They give us that life for which you came, we desire no other life than that. And why, my dearest Master, do you ask us whether we too want to leave you? No! we do not want to leave you, we want to become ever more attached to you, for no one else has that word of life which thrills us and gives us life: 'to whom shall we go'? That is the language every faithful soul should engage in with its beloved. It was the first leader of the Church who spoke it in his own name, and in the name of those with him. (06:69)

14 - 07:37. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.

 'Let him who thirsts come and drink?' O my Lord Jesus, I hear your cry. You call me; Lord, here I am. I am thirsty, my adorable Jesus. Great is my thirst even to fainting, for I am empty and burnt up inside. Take me into yourself and give me to drink from your fountain of salvation; plunge me into it, submerge me, drown me in your heavenly waters. Yes, Lord, I beg you, drown me in these most desirable and desired waters. Drown my concupiscence; drown my pride; drown all my vices and all my defects, so that everything in me that comes from myself may die; may the old creature no longer live, and may there be nothing. (07:37)

15 - 11:11. Our friend Lazarus is at rest: I am going to wake him.

“O my Jesus, I also love you a little, although little and miserably; I am also your friend, like Lazarus. I am dead like him; my soul is benumbed and incapable of doing anything. Please come unto me with this tenderness and willingness. Give me also your graces, which shake me from my sleep so dangerous and bad. I wait for them, Lord, with very great desires. Come then with your great goodness, your great gentleness, your great love.


[1] These ‘Congregations’ were common in all Jesuit Colleges: they were small groups of students to reflect on Christian faith and its concrete implication.

[3] archbishop of Mainz, Germany (VIII°-IX°s.)

[5] ibidem

[6] Regulations, 1849; N.D. X, 505

[7] to Fr Collin, 21.09.51, NDXIII, p.293-297

[8] Instructions for Missionaries, ch. I

[9] Ibidem,  ch. IX

[10] Last Conferences at N.D. du Gard, N.D. XIII, p.697 & foll.

[11] Ibidem, ND XIII, p. 686 & foll.

[12] to Fr Collin, 29.06.1845,ND VII, p.34

[13] , cf. retreat “Choice of a state of Life”

[14] Provisional Rule of Holy Heart of Mary’s Congregation, n° 98, 99 &163

[15] to Fr Le Vavasseur, 8 March, 1839

[16] To Cape Palmas Community, Jan., 1844, N.D.VI, p.3-8

[18] cf  his “Mémoire”, 1850, to Fr. Le Vavasseur

[19] 1st Rule of the Congregation, 1734

[20] Regulations 1849, Part II, Section III, Chapter III: Poverty

[21] to Fr Mangot, Oct. 1839, ND 1, p.533

[22] to Don Sallier, 30/05/51, ND IV, 303

[23] to Fr Prosper Lambert, 23/02/1851, ND 13 p.50

[24] See the reference below

[25] to Mme Rémond, L.S.II, p.392, 1839

[26] HHM Provisional Rule, 1840-1845, N.D.II, p.235-236

[27] In the hope of salvation

[28] To the Community of Cape Palmas,15.01 1844 - N.D.VI, p.3-8

[29] To the Community of Bourbon, 25.02.44; ND VI, pp. 73-81

[30] to Fr Boulanger, 13.11.1850, ND XII, p.462-469

[31] from a letter to his Superior general, 1845

[32] 1903, 32 years old

[33] Bishop Shanahan and his Missionaly Family, Vol. II, 22

[34] Ecrits Spirituels, The Direction of Souls, p. 353

[35] Regulations 1849, 516 Art. V

[36] we use the pronoun ‘it’ as related to ‘soul’; others use ‘she’.

[37] According to the letter to Fr. Ferret, 15.12.1839

[38] Ecrits Spirituels, The Direction of Souls, p. 361

[39] 1839, L.S.II p.385-391, transl. Lombard & Mulcahy

[40] from a Register today lost, but copied in a volume of ‘Gallia Christiana’

[41] Holy Spirit Seminary Handbook, Archives

[42] N.D.I, 99

[43] Glose 18 (commentary of the Provisional HHM’ Rule)

[44] Regulations, 1849, 244

[45] Regulations, 1849, 259

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