Mary in the Writings of Francis Libermann
– Father John Theodore, C.S.Sp.
Atmosphere of His Soul
It is very noteworthy that in every single letter of Francis Libermann we find the name of Mary. He would normally end a letter with reference to both Jesus and Mary. “Que la paix et l'amour de Jesus et de Marie soient dans votre ame." "Tout à vous dans l'amour très doux et très miséricordieux de Jésus et de Marie." However, he would often end his letters with reference to Mary alone. "Tout à vous dans le saint amour du très aimable coeur de Marie." "Tout à vous dans la charité du saint coeur de Marie."
Francis Libermann is known as the second founder of the Holy Ghost Fathers. For acceptance in Rome he was advised to join his young congregation with an older one already approved by Rome. As the Holy Ghost Fathers were dying out, he agreed to join them and become the second founder. However, the name of his original congregation was Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary. We are dealing with a man for whom Mary was the atmosphere of his soul.
That he himself was a Jew gave him a deep sense of unity with Mary .They were both schooled in the same traditions. He understood firsthand what Mary inherited from her Jewish patrimony. He understood deeply the Jewish soul of Mary as manifested in her total trust in Yahweh in all circumstances, pleasant or otherwise.
Mary of the Magnificat
It is very interesting that both the Latin American Bishops at Puebla in 1979, and the Holy Father at Puebla a few years later, in their discourses on the option for the poor, point to the Magnificat as central to this theme. To a great extent the Mary of Libermann was the Mary of the Magnificat. When he spoke of Mary as the Mother of his deprived black children in Africa, it was a Mary who was one with them in understanding their reality. The Mary of Libermann is the Mary of the Magnificat where she always came alongside the poor as she did at Guadalupe. In the sixteenth century the Spaniards were oppressing the Aztec Indians of Mexico. When Mary appeared there, she categorically took the side of the poor. She appeared to an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego. She did not appear to a Spaniard. She appeared dressed as an Aztec woman. She did not appear dressed as a Spanish woman. This is very significant in the context of how the Spaniards viewed the Aztec Indians. The official historian of the Spanish Court, Gonzales Oviedo, had these words to say about the Indians: “The Indians are naturally lazy and vicious, melancholic, cowardly ,and, in general, a lying, shiftless people. Their chief desire is to eat, drink, worship heathen idols and commit bestial obscenities.“
When Mary appeared to an Aztec Indian, something changed. An Indian's word was taken as true, even in the extreme case of a marvelous claim about the apparition of a woman. A new world would come into being when the Indians participated and their collaboration was appreciated and fostered.
When we understand the fact that the negroes of Libermann in Africa were the most abandoned of the abandoned, we understand his embracing of the Mary of the Magnificat who chose to appear to a Juan Diego who was the least of all the lowest and last in the village. For the Aztecs of Mexico and for Libermann's Negroes in Africa the message here is clear: no one would ever be excluded from her maternal love. For Libermann, Mary as companion of the journey of the poor, is a traveling companion sharing pains and joys. According to the Holy Father in Rome 1979: "Her spiritual motherhood knows no limits: it extends in time and space and reaches all human hearts."
The humility of the Magnificat is a major theme in the letters of Libermann. According to Raymond Brown, "the proud look down upon others because they do not look up to God." These words could have been said by Libermann. Raymond Brown also maintains that "the Magnificat is closest to the social radicalism of the pre-Lucan Beatitudes in positing a revolutionary reversal of the inequalities of wealth and power in the world with the destruction of the rich and mighty." Karl Marx chides that the Church has betrayed the poor by spiritualizing the most crucial strands of Christian radicalism. This cannot be said against Libermann. He sees the Mary of the Magnificat as present with the poor in their total reality, not only as souls to be saved. For Libermann, she is one with them. According to Marie-Louise Gubler in her article entitled "Luke's Portrait of Mary," Mary of Nazareth belongs to the 'forgotten ones,' to the world of the poor that lies in the darkness of history, those who lived in the colonial situation of the Roman province of Palestine in hunger, in frightful living conditions, who were oppressed, whose Galilean villages were fiercely attacked, and who expected salvation as the anawim.
This poor woman's union with God was a major theme of Libermann. He quotes St. Anselm who says Mary is a living temple where God receives the greatest homage. According to Libermann, Mary never wanted anything except the will of God. For him the Fiat is the resume of her entire interior life.
Libermann spoke the language of St. John Eudes when he sees the hearts of Jesus and Mary as one heart. In this sense Mary's pondering is a listening to the silence of her life. She is not a woman of talk. According to Libermann, she could draw us into an intimacy that finds its delight only in God..
Peace of mind has always been a major theme in the writings of Libermann .He sees Mary as model here. For Libermann, Mary is never disturbed; her union with Jesus, her rest in God, characterized her even when she gave herself to necessary action. According to Libermann, when Mary brought pain to Joseph by her pregnancy, when she suffered the loss of her Son, her spirit remained in peace because her heart was transported with burning love towards God, the object of her love.
For Libermann, Mary is the model of interior life. Her dealings with Jesus are both exterior and interior. According to him, at Cana Jesus heard not only her words but saw her eyes. There is a communication between them that goes beyond words. Her eyes said everything to Him.
Commenting on Cana again, he says that because of the high regard the Father had for her prayer, He advances the hour of her Son's miracles and preaching.
In terms of the sequela Christi (the following of christi), Libermann maintains that at Cana Mary gave a profound message to young couples; at the first hint of trouble the first need is to find Jesus. According to him, Mary preaches that great graces come to us when we do exactly what he asks of us. For him she brings great joy to Christ by her inspiring all to do whatever He tells them.
Commenting on the prayer "Jésus vivant en Marie," Libermann maintains that her principal and direct interest is Jesus. It is a link with the divine operations of the life of Jesus in Mary. According to Libermann, Mary has understood the supereminent science of the charity of Jesus. The heart of Mary alone has plunged into its depths and experienced its marvelous effects.
According to Libermann, sanctity is having before our eyes always the examples of Jesus and Mary. He sees clearly the great book that must be the interior of Jesus and Mary, a book not written by human hands but traced by the hands of God Himself.
For Libermann, we see in Mary that the sequela Christi is a journey of pain. He says to us, "Go towards Calvary with Mary who knew the deepest pain when she offered herself to the Father." With Jesus Mary is burdened with the sins of men and for them she willed to suffer in the pattern of Jesus. She is there at the foot of the Cross. With Jesus she saw many hardened sinners among the children of God. She is happy to unite her sacrifice to that of her Son for the salvation of the world.
A Trinitarian Vision
To move from the sequela Christi to the Trinity was an easy step for Libermann. For him the vision of Mary is always Trinitarian. According to him the union with the divinity operated by the Incarnation remained always with Mary in such a way that she developed a special relationship with each Person of the Trinity. He sees Mary as a sanctuary of the Trinity. When we read his words, "All for the greatest glory of God, the Father, in Jesus our Lord, through the Holy Spirit, in union with the heart of Mary," we know that he sees Mary within the bosom of the Trinity.
His counsel to his disciples was always in this vein:"Give yourself to Mary to be offered through her to the Father. Where could she lead us except to her Son and to the Father? We do all for Jesus in union with Him and Mary for the glory of the Father."
For Libermann, both Jesus and Mary acted under the impulse of the third Person of the Trinity . He always pointed his disciples to the action of the Spirit in Mary. He prays for them, " May the Spirit superabound in your heart as He does in the heart of Mary." He sees that the heart of Mary was prepared by the Holy Spirit for the Incarnation. For him the Spirit acts mysteriously in Mary: He prepared her for her divine role through incomprehensible operations. For him, calm peace is the mark of the action of the Spirit in our souls and Mary here is the supreme model.
To inhabit the world of the Trinity, and, more specifically, the world of the Spirit is to be a person of faith. Libermann says that Mary is the person of faith par excellence. He sees in the Magnificat both faith and abandonment. He saw that it was in faith that she abandoned herself blindly to Providence in the story of Bethlehem. At Cana he saw her firm confidence in her Son. He teaches that we could learn from Mary not to use many words but to expose our hearts to Jesus, abandoning ourselves to His mercy.
Libermann had some interesting things to say about the charity of Mary,"It is certain", says Libermann, "that our little work for the black peoples is due to the powerful protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The heart of Mary is the true missionary."
He sees the Visitation as the mystery of the charity of Mary, an active charity. Mary did not wait for Elizabeth to ask. Moreover, according to him, the charity was not the impulse of a moment, but it continued, seeing that Mary stayed with Elizabeth. It was a charity with a price because she had to face all the difficulties of travel at that time.
According to Libermann, at Cana we see Mary interested not only in the soul but also in the concrete physical need of the couple. In the story of Cana he sees her marvelous power over the heart of her Son, giving us confidence. According to him she sees our misery, she remembers from heaven that she, too, was in the valley.
For Libermann the charity of Mary was not by chance. According to him, Jesus, for our good, has put into her heart so many graces and favours that she could help out not only this world, but one hundred thousand worlds like ours. Because of our deep poverty, Jesus put all these riches into the heart of Mary. According to him the gifts of God overflowed in her not only for herself but for the salvation of the world.
Mary, herself, in her personal life, is greatly gifted by God but, according to Libermann, in the line of the Little Way of St. Therese, in the Magnificat Mary saw her baseness and her nothingness. Humility filled her heart. She could teach us to remain humble although we are aware that God has greatly gifted us. Writing to one of his very gifted disciples, he advises her to ask Mary that she would be able to remain humble in spite of the immensity of graces with which she was gifted. He advises all to go to Mary that she may help us to obtain a solid and interior humility. According to him, Mary, our good mother, loves very humble children. In imitation of Mary he advised his missionaries to remain like poor, humble men, like empty vases. He advised them to walk with confidence and simplicity.
In the tradition of the Little Way, the desire to be known publicly for our work is not the correct attitude. Writing to a priest, he points out that there are two ways to save the children of God. The first way is to actively serve them in our ministry of preaching and the like. The other way is the way of silently suffering for them. According to Libermann, the second way is by far the more efficacious. In the tradition of the Little Way, he sees Mary silently moving from progress to progress, from virtue to virtue, without any pretensions.
A great theme of Libermann was gentleness with ourselves. St. Therese would call it not taking ourselves too seriously. He says that we learn from Mary not to be overly disturbed by our weaknesses and our nothingness. We must be gentle with ourselves and others.
According to Libermann we need to guard a certain moderation in our conduct. Mary's behaviour was always moderate. This is the atmosphere of St. Therese of the Little Way. For Libermann peace came from being before God with all the will to do whatever He asks of us. For him Mary is our model here. Mary is our teacher in peace of soul. According to Libermann, God's will is the secret. Mary never made the headlines, but for Libermann she was more apostle than all the apostles. She never preached the Gospel, but we see her simply being one with her Son at the foot of the Cross.
Libermann always thought of Mary with great tenderness. He maintains that God kept Mary on earth to sustain the early Church on its road to sanctity. For him the physical presence of Mary softened the loneliness of the disciples missing Jesus. For Libermann, if Jesus is our life it is Mary who gave Him to us and keeps giving Him to us. He invited his disciples to study the interior state of Mary in her different circumstances of life. For instance, he asked," What happened to her when her Son was in the sepulchre?" This tenderness characterized the love of Libermann for Mary.
Poisson, A., Petit Mois de Marie. Paris: Editions St. Paul, 1956
Libermann, Francis. Commentaire de Saint Jean. Paris: Désclée de Brouwer, 1961
Voger, P .L. Lettres du Vénérable Pere Libermann. Paris: Désclée de Brouwer, 1965