Libermann exhorted us to practice charity at all times, to identify with those we serve and value peace, solidarity, justice, and freedom, which find their fulfillment in Jesus. His writings bring to life the principles behind Spiritan faith, mission and practices.
The Provisional Rule of the Missionaries of the Holy Heart of Mary (1840-1845)
“The congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Heart of Mary is a family of priests who, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and sent by Him, dedicate themselves completely to announcing his Gospel and to setting up his reign amongst those who are the poorest and most neglected in the Church of God. The following articles flow from this.
“They must see themselves as Apostles sent by Our Lord, Jesus Christ. For this reason, they must announce everywhere the holy maxims of His Gospel and engrave them deeply on their own hearts; make known its holy mysteries and the commandments of God to those who do not know them; bring back to Him the souls who have gone astray and feed those who are on the right road with His love and sanctity.
“They must not forget that if they are establishing the love and the reign of Jesus Christ in others, they must first of all establish them in their own hearts, as firmly and perfectly as possible
“Their divine Master is sending them to the poorest of people; therefore, they will only take on missions amongst the most neglected and abandoned. They will be totally committed to these poor people, seeing themselves as their servants, having no other thought, desire, or concern than the salvation of their souls.
“They will consider themselves as totally unworthy and incapable of carrying out such a lofty vocation on their own. They will place all their trust in the Master who is sending them and do everything possible to conform perfectly to the great plans that God has prepared for them.”
In 1845, he gave some final advice in a letter to two members who were sailing from Bordeaux for Gabon:
Don’t depend on your own ability, prudence or activity. You must place all your confidence in God and in Mary… Always be guided by your faith, basing your conduct solely on the principles of the Gospel. But while your mind is tuned into the things of God, it should also reason things out and act after mature reflection and deliberation. Whenever possible, don’t act in matters of importance until you can see things clearly. Try to foresee, more or less, what the result will be before you decide anything. Leave nothing to chance, but once you have taken every precaution, place your trust in God alone.”
In 1839, Libermann spoke of his “Work for the Black People” on the islands of Bourbon (Reunion) and Haiti to Fr. Gallais, his spiritual director.
“As regards the Blacks, who are infinitely greater in number, the parish priests and curates do nothing at all for them. Their masters have no religion themselves and their only concern is to get as much out of their black servants as they possibly can; so these poor people, in their extreme misery, receive no religious instruction whatsoever. Their ignorance is total and I doubt if 3 or 4 out of ten can even make the sign of the cross.
Libermann considered the salvation that priests could bring to these souls.
“When one has spent a little time with the inhabitants of this country, it is evident that if a few apostolic men would be ready to bring the word of God to these souls, they would be able to bring most of them back to life. For despite the moral corruption, there are those who still have the seeds of faith and a readiness to believe; they would produce much fruit if the seed was sown in their hearts. I am convinced that they presently lack faith and devotion because they are without priests.”
Libermann suggested that missionaries should live on the same level as those they would seek to reach.
For the missionaries to make a success of such a noble project, they would have to adopt a style of life that was even poorer and more deprived than that of the Blacks. If these poor people were to see that their evangelisers were enjoying a more comfortable life then themselves, they would not be able to understand their message. In the same way, for Jesus to have the right to preach poverty and self-denial, he chose to be born in a stable and die on a cross.
The missionaries must love and cherish the Black People as their own brothers and children; this love and affection should be much greater than the love they have for the Whites. They must be so devoted and united to the Blacks that they will become associated with them and be looked down on by the other Whites.
The missionaries should love the Blacks as a mother loves her children, he wrote:
Their conduct towards the Blacks must be such that they will be respected as people who would be happy to suffer death to preserve them from the least suffering or evil. The missionaries will have total confidence in these people, who will feel that they are loved passionately in the Lord, just as God loved us when he was on the cross and in the Blessed Sacrament – the same love as a mother has for her children.
Missions must be built on solid and stable foundations, based on the local conditions:
“It is easy enough to start a Mission, to try to achieve some success by the grace of God; that is the duty and the main concern of every missionary, seeking the glory of Jesus Christ. But there are many difficulties and heavy responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of those who are directing such an important task.
They have to gather together the resources to increase, spread and strengthen the initial success; set up a work which is solid and stable; protect it from all those enemy forces which wish to do it harm; foresee obstacles and take action to avoid and overcome them; finally, to form a sold base on which can be built the apostolic work as instituted by Jesus Christ”.
“Forget about Europe, its ways of thinking, its customs, its conventions. Be African with the Africans, and you will learn how to judge them as they should be judged.”
Preaching the Gospel means, in the first place, sharing the life of those to whom you are sent, as Francis Libermann wrote to his confreres in Dakar and Gabon in 1847:
“Forget about Europe, its ways of thinking, its customs, its conventions. Be African with the Africans, and you will learn how to judge them as they should be judged. Be a Negro with the Negro, so as to form them into what they can be, not along European lines, but according to their own way of being. Relate to them as if you were their servants and they were your masters, adapting yourselves to their style of doing things. Your sole purpose in all this must be to perfect and sanctify them and to raise them up from their oppressed state to become a people of God. This is what St. Paul meant when he told Christians to be all things to all men so as to win them for Jesus Christ.”
Libermann wrote down the essence of Spiritan apostolic life in the Rule of 1849:
“The Congregation of the Holy Spirit exists in order to devote itself to the salvation of the most abandoned souls. So the members live the apostolic life and take whatever steps are needed to acquire the virtues proper to that state.
To attain the perfection of that apostolic life, to preserve the fervour of the missionaries and for the stability and extension of its work, the Congregation has a fundamental and inflexible rule that its members must always live in community. “
To the first group of missionaries leaving for Africa, he gives them hope amidst poverty (written in August 1843).
“We are all worthless people, who have been brought together by the will of the Master, in whom lies all our hope. If we thought we were worth something, we would not accomplish very much. Paradoxically, now that we are nothing, have little, and are good for less, we can dream of doing something really worthwhile. This is because we do not rely on ourselves, but rather on him who is almighty. Do not be concerned about your weakness and poverty. It is when we are weak that the power and mercy of Jesus can really reveal themselves in us.”