Spiritual Letter to People in the World, by Ven. Francis Libermann. C.S.Sp., translated by Walter van de Putte, C.S.Sp. (Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh. Obtainable in UK from Paraclete Press, 6 Woodlands Road, Bickley, Bromley, Kent, 30s.).
leviewed by MARIAN CURD THANK heaven for the cupboards, closets, boxrooms, attics and trunks of byegone ages. Thank heaven that spring-cleaning addicts restrained their Hoover-equivalents from straying into the deep recesses of drawers where lay Very Private Letters.
I mean of course real letters, handwritten, going on page after page; honest letters which reveal the mind of the writer in a way matched only by the intimate conversations of very old friends.
Such are the letters of Father Libermann, the sort of man who appears as the ideal parish priest. hest uncle, father. and good friend rolled into one. His letters, treasured by their recipients, are full of sound and practical advice for growth in the love of God and our fellow men.
A middle-aged business man, a girl of sixteen, a young mother, arc the kind of people who received and valued these letters. Those (both clerical and lay) with a puritanical attitude towards the life of the priest or religious will be surprised to say the least when they hear of Fr. Libermann's visits to his relatives, his persistent interest in their affairs, their work, children, schooling, and the various ups and downs of life.
Although Fr. Libermann never wrote a complete treatise of spirituality, specialists in ascetical theology do not hesitate to follow Pope Pius XII and call him "an outstanding master of the spiritual life". Like St. Teresa of Lisieux he disliked formal spiritual "systems", considering these to be an obstacle to the free action of God's grace on the individual soul. His spiritual teaching has filled many volumes including thousands of letters to seminarians, sisters, priests, and lay people.
These are letters unconfined to a single nation or period of time.sllt is striking that a man born in Alsace in 1802, the son of a Jewish Rabbi, a convert, a confirmed epileptic, and who was ordained against heavy odds, and was not widely travelled, should bear so few national characteristics.
Jacob Libermann was baptised Francis on Christmas Eve, 1826. Banned by his illness from major orders he nevertheless exercised such a powerful influence as a spiritual guide that in 1837. while still a simple seminarian, he was chosen as Master of Novices of the Eudist' Novitiate.
He founded the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary and was eventually ordained. In 1848 Fr. Liberrnann's Congregation was merged with that of the Holy Ghost and he became its eleventh Superior General. He died in 1852 leaving behind a missionary congregation dedicated to the most difficult and abandoned of the Church's needs, To-day, his beatification cause is safely past the "heroicity" and "writing" stages and awaiting the approval of two miracles. A Cardinal member of the Sacred Congregation of Rites which had made its way through 15 volumes of his works commented: "It is rare that in a cause of beatification the examiners arrive at so favourable a verdict".
Fr, Van de Putte has made such a good job of the translation that the naturalness and the colloqualisms are those of to-day. To his brother and sister-in-law he writes: "David claims that you owe him money and that you laugh at him. Why not try to reach an agreement and pay less attention to money? I assure you that sometimes I wish you were all poor then you would not have to quarrel about questions of money." To his brother: "I beg you never to open the letters which I shall address to Pauline, Caroline and Marie, for they will usually contain something that pertains to their consciences, and it might sometimes embarrass them to know that you have read such things ..."
A masterly and carefully described method of meditation is as eminently readable as the series of letters to young Marie Libermann, his niece. The letters begin when she was nine years old and gro wup with her to the age and problems of a 16-year-old. They ask about her friends, school, troubles; they give a series of counsels and a near-apology for "preaching".
There's good stuff, much of it right up the street of to-day's young cynics and pseudo-antieverythings, as well as the majority of on-the-level types. Fr. Libermann is no pie-in-the-sky "Be good dear child and all will he well" type.
These letters are all addressed to lay people, but their readers need not be. I feel some priests and nuns would find them helpful in remembering what it's like Oil the "outside". A few of the letters in this volume contain little direct spiritual advice. They have been included, says the translator, "To show how the Ven. Francis, with his intense spiritual life, did not lose sight of lesser concerns but raised them all to the level of God".
This book should not have to be imported from the U.S. (although some copies are available at the Holy Ghost Fathers Provincial House in England), but should go immediately into a bright-covered paper-back and on to every bookstall. It's an instant personal spiritual retreat, upturned —not downcast, with grave and gay in right proportions.