Life and Spirituality of Félix de Jesús Rougier

Risking the Future
Life and Spirituality of the
Venerable Félix de Jesús Rougier, M.Sp.S
by Ricardo Zimbrón L., M.Sp.S.



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Let us remember these words written by Father Félix: 

"She (Mrs. Cabrera) told me that it was necessary for me to shake the spiritual lethargy which invaded me; that I needed to surrender myself to God seriously, and that I should start a new life". (Letter to his General Superior) 

"During this conversation, my life moved towards new horizons." (Diary) 

In a letter to his brother Manuel, he writes: 

"From that day on, a change has taken place in me: my future is now of another color. My heart has become inflamed with love for the Cross of Christ which now appears to me to be more desirable and bright." 

In another letter to the General Superior he says:

"Since that conversation with Mrs. Cabrera I felt changed and I resolved to live henceforth as a perfect religious."

To Conchita he wrote: 

"Since you spoke to me for the first time until now, I have changed completely. I love Our Lord and think of Him constantly." (April 4, 1903) 

In his diary he says that he made God a total gift of himself and renewed his religious vows with special fervor. Moreover, he increased his penances considerably: he slept on boards and used a piece of wood for a pillow. Every day he gave himself 200 blows with the cord scourge and 300 with the "bloody one" made of barbed wire. He used the hair shirt day and night, He branded the initials JHS on his chest. Every night he rose to pray for an hour, putting a crown of thorns on his head. 

We are horrified by these kinds of penances and moreover, we see no need to do such things to progress in the spiritual life. But during the last century and the beginning of this one, these practices were recommended by the ascetic masters in order to "subdue the evil passions..." What is important in the case of Father Félix is the generosity and surrender which the undertaking of these penitential practices implies. 

In a letter, Father Thrill comments that he and the other Marist Fathers who lived then with Father Félix noted a decided change in him: 

"He was no longer the same. He spent much time in front of the Blessed Sacrament; during recess he was not so full of fun, he seemed to be in another world." (Letter to Father J. Padilla, M.Sp.S.) 

Conchita herself was in awe at the spiritual progress of Father Félix: 

"I have the joy of verifying that Father Félix corresponds unceasingly to the grace of God. I see clearly how the Holy Spirit impels him, and how Father Félix takes advantage of this divine wind that leads him towards the Cross. I understand the struggle within him. I have seen a vocation being born in him which grows like fire and I understand his inner distress, his aspirations are very high and he is called to very high perfection." (Journal) 

For his part, Father Félix wrote in his diary: 

"I am aware of my worthlessness. I remember my abominable and innumerable mortal sins, my relapses, my little intelligence, my lack of knowledge. There is only a thin veneer over me which makes me scum like something, but it is not that way. Everything is superficial ill me except for the thick coat of pride, my hasty judgments, and my disorder in all things. This is the instrument which the Lord has chosen to call to help Him... Oh, the mysteries of God! 

But now, my beloved Jesus, make it possible for this wretchedness to correspond to your grace. You can change me radically." (Good Friday, April 10, 1903) 

That same Good Friday, Father Félix wrote this prayer: 

"Jesus Crucified, I want to crucify myself for you. I want to keep my body in line, treating it like firewood for a sacrifice. I wish to die to everything that is not you or leads to you. I am deeply grateful for your kindness and want to correspond as much as I can, given my weakness and great misery. 

Yes, my Jesus, despite my imperfections, I am all yours, at all times and everywhere."

A month later, Conchita wrote to her spiritual director: 

"What a forceful character and what a heart of fire Father Félix has! One has to hold him back so that he does not run so fast... 

I see something extraordinary in the plans God has for this soul because I have experienced how the action of the Holy Spirit has transformed him. But, why with such unusual speed? Without a doubt this is due to the promptness with which Father Félix has corresponded (to the grace of God) and because God is preparing him for that end." [To be the founder of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit.]  (Letter to Father Mir). 

Two months later, on July 13, Conchita wrote to Father Félix: 

"Once more I have caught a glimpse of the perfection that the Lord wants in your soul. Without your being worthy, God is filling you with gifts: those impulses towards recollection, that thirst to invoke the Holy Spirit, that need to surrender completely to Christ and to be with Him in the tabernacle, your progress in prayer, in penance, and that desire to know yourself well." 

Since June 13 of that year (1903) Conchita had taken Father Félix as her spiritual director. This proved to be the cause of great spiritual advancement for both of them. 

Father Félix had the opportunity to read Conchita’s writings and learn her spirituality in depth, that is to say, the spirituality of the Cross, which consists of the following of Christ as priest and victim. 

This situation lasted only a year and a month, for reasons we will explain later. Father Félix said that "it was his year of novitiate." 

As the time passed, Father Félix became more and more certain that all of this was the work of God: the revelations to Mrs. Cabrera, his providential meeting with her, the Works of the Cross, and his vocation to be the Founder of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit. This certainly, which came to be immovable, had a variety of sources: the principal one was the interior light which God communicated to him; but besides that, there was the sanctity of life which he had been able to verify in Conchita, the benefit of the foundation itself, that is to say, the spirit and the goals of the new congregation, and lastly, the notable progress of his own spiritual life since that meeting with Mrs. Cabrera and with the Works of the Cross. 

All of this could not come from the spirit of evil or from anyone's fantasy. Everything had God's stamp on it. 

On the other hand, Father Félix, with great humility and prudence had consulted about this with several bishops and priests and all of them gave him their enthusiastic approval. 

He writes in his Memoirs: 

"To tell the truth, I had no doubt that my calling was the work of the Lord, but I understood that, in order to avoid creating doubts in the minds of future members of that congregation, it was prudent to consult competent persons on this delicate matter." 

But, above all, Father Félix considered that the only sure way to discover God's will was in obedience to his legitimate superiors. Therefore, as we will see later, he chose the decision of his Superior General as the ultimate criterion. 

On April 17, Father Félix traveled to Oaxaca with two other Marist Fathers to make his spiritual exercises, since he had chosen Father Mir as preacher. Father Mir lived in Oaxaca and, as has been mentioned, had been Conchita’s spiritual director for eleven years. 

Father Félix told Father Mir everything that had happened to him since the 4th of February (1903).  The two priests prayed a great deal, carefully weighed every aspect of Father Félix’s new vocation and decided before God that undoubtedly the Lord was calling him to be the Founder of the "Religious (men) of the Cross". 

Upon finishing that retreat, Father Félix wrote in his diary: 

"Lord, I give myself to you completely, and I offer myself for the founding of that congregation, according to your divine will." 

When he returned from Oaxaca, Father Félix wrote to his brother, Manuel: 

"My dear brother Manuel: God's ways are so strange! They are mysterious ways, full of mercy, pardon and tenderness. I had not come to know Jesus, the beloved master, very well. I now feel I would give my life a thousand times for Him. I had abandoned Him: I was living in lukewarmness, an extreme lukewarmness, with occasional flashes of deep repentance that made me serve Jesus, but later I again drifted away from Him. I think that now this is indeed finished. I feel that I belong to Him forever. I want to do His will, all His will. 

"I foresee that many things will be said against me; that I will be slandered and my intentions misunderstood, that people will think me crazy. But that does not frighten me; in fact, I look forward to it for the love of the Lord. I am so sorry I cannot explain things more clearly! Do not think that I am thinking about joining the Trappists. I have another dream. I have not sought it; Jesus has sought me out. Later you will know everything. I hope you will not be the first to consider me out of my mind. 

I have started a great work linked in some way with everything I have told you: it is the work of the Apostleship of the Cross. It was established in our parish on Good Friday in the presence of our Father Provincial. 

Pray that the will of God be fulfilled in me, that I correspond faithfully to it." (May 15, 1903) 

In the months that followed, Father Félix dedicated himself to consolidate the Congregation of the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which underwent a deep crisis. He helped these religious women find God and he became their second founder. 

So we come to the year 1904. On February 4th, Father Félix and Conchita began writing the constitutions of the men's order they wanted to found. They finished the latter part of April.

However, Father Félix took nothing for granted. He foresaw that this foundation would cause him many headaches. 

In a letter to Conchita he writes: 

"Jesus wants to use us for this beloved work; He wants to use you especially, and me as a hidden tool in your hands. 

But I know I will be crowned with thorns. Those who now respect me, will make fun of me. Everyone, my Provincial Superior, the priests who live with me now and obey me, my brothers in Puebla, Oaxaca and Guadalajara.... they will all consider me a traitor to the Society of Mary. 

Jesus, I understand that I am not worthy of carrying this crown of thorns, of being despised for obeying you, of being considered crazy for being faithful to you. But perhaps you will speak soon, you will let me know what the first step is to be on this road to Calvary which is known to you... 

I am miserable and weak, but with your grace I will go, run, to do your will. 

Make me completely yours, Jesus. Make me courageous always. Let me be able to smile when faced with pain and difficulties, and let me receive them with open arms, as messengers of your love. 

Make me humble and obedient. Make me hungrier to do your will. Let me always remain hidden at the foot of your tabernacle, pressing you close to my heart, sacrificing myself for you and yours. Amen." 

On Wednesday, March 30, most unexpectedly, Conchita warned Father Félix that he was going to receive "a very dangerous [prick with a] thorn". 

Father Félix wrote in his diary: 

"For a moment I felt frightened, but then I told myself: For the love of Jesus, let that thorn come. With His help, I will receive it with great joy. 

I cannot even imagine what it could be: a death? A cruel illness? I don't know... Whatever you want, beloved Jesus, although I am unworthy to suffer for you." The morning of April 1st, Good Friday, Father Félix learned what the "thorn" was. Through Mrs. Cabrera, the Lord was asking him to cleanse his heart from everything that belonged to this world, everything that was not Himself, renouncing also the idea of founding the Congregation of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit. 

Father Félix, kneeling before the tabernacle, wrote in his diary: 

"That is all right, Lord. Certainly I am not worthy even of touching your Works. Your poor Félix thought himself called and he was happy. Now that he knows that it is not your will to use him, and that he must remain where he is, he offers you his heart as a holocaust. 

"I will serve you always wherever I find myself and I will offer you all my life, in silence and darkness, for the sake of the Religious [men] of the Cross.

"May You be my all. May You be my only love. May you be the only object of my soul." 

The masters of the spiritual life, especially St. John of the Cross, insist on the need for a total detachment from all creatures as an essential condition for intimate union with God. It is necessary to renounce the attachment we feel towards persons and things, although these things are very holy and good, such as the works of apostolate. The disposition of one's heart has to be this: Only what God wills...Only because God wills it...Only when God wills it. 

Father Félix made great strides on this road of total detachment. His novices at that time remember that very spontaneously he would repeat: "God... God... God... only God." 

Let us go back to that Good Friday morning. Father Félix renounced whole-heartedly becoming the founder of the fifth Work of the Cross, and his heart became ever more full of God. He was at peace. But that afternoon, Conchita spoke with him to say that the Lord was satisfied: that he had passed a test similar to that of Abraham and that he would indeed be the founder of the Religious [men] of the Cross. The time had come, therefore, to seek his Superior’s permission. 

That same Good Friday, after praying the office, Father Félix wrote the Superior General a brief letter: 

"Very reverend Father: For several months now I have been intending to write to ask you permission to go to France and speak with you about two matters. 

"One has to do with my family. My father wants to will his farm on Les Iles to my brother Stanislaus and he wants Manuel and me to be present and to make the arrangements. 

“The other is a very serious matter concerning myself. I should like to make this trip as soon as possible." 

The feelings and optimism of Father Félix are present in this letter which he wrote to Msgr. Ibarra, Archbishop of Puebla, about that time: 

"I strongly believe that what I am about to do is the will of God. I will need to leave the Society of Mary, perhaps on the verge of being named Provincial or Vice-Provincial; this appointment is a sign that they appreciate me. But I will do it because I am sure that Jesus wishes it. 

I know that humanly speaking, my Superior ought not to grant me the permission that I will request, but he will do it because it is the will of God that the Work is carried out. Afterwards I will go to Rome to ask for the blessing of the Representative of Our Lord and I am sure I will be well received. Later I will sock vocations in France. 

I do not have a cent to travel and less to bring ten or more vocations. Nor do I have money for other important expenses. But I am not worried, because knowing that it is the will of God that this happen, I am sure He will send me the necessary resources. 

"I cannot take much credit for believing in so many things which humanly speaking are so difficult to carry out, because my faith rests on such a series of happenings that it is impossible for me to doubt. (April 30, 1904). 

On May 11, Father Félix received the much awaited letter from his superior in France. It was dated April 24: "... If you have a real need to speak to me about very important personal matters, which cannot be dealt with in writing, you may come..."

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