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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Now that time has passed and the life of Father Félix belongs to history, we can analyze these happenings objectively. 

We can ask ourselves: Was what Father Félix chose to do, the best thing? 

This question is valid because ecclesiastical law foresees the case of the religious who, having made vows in any congregation, later discovers that he/she has another vocation and sincerely believes that the will of God for him/her is to follow the other path. In this situation, the religious has the right to ask for a dispensation from his/her vows and incurs in no fault, rather, he or she is seeking to be faithful to the will of God through legitimate channels. 

In fact, Father Félix's General Superior tells him as much in his letter July 1st, 1904: 

"If after having completed nine days of spiritual exercises in the monastery of the Trappists, you believe it is the will of God that you ask for a dispensation from your religious vows, I will not put obstacles in your way, but rather I will do all I can to help you." 

On the other hand, we know that Father Félix often said that he "had not the slightest doubt regarding his new vocation," and that "he is absolutely sure that his calling is from God." Moreover, in order not to depend on his own judgment, Father Félix consulted with several bishops and other "very competent" priests. And he received their unanimous, enthusiastic approbation. 

Under the circumstances, I believe it was a mistake for Father Félix to condition the projected foundation on the decision of his superiors who lived in France and who, because of the distance, could not have either the information or the necessary criteria to evaluate this case correctly. For example, they lacked direct and sufficient knowledge of Mrs. Cabrera, of her charisma, her spirituality, her writings, of the two Works of the Cross already approved, of the intelligence and importance of the bishops and theologians who supported the idea of the foundation, and of the gradual process which Father Félix had lived the last fifteen months. 

It was natural that Father Martin, and especially his Council, would deny Father Félix the permission to found a Congregation based on the supposed revelations of a certain Mexican lady... 

But the Superior General himself points to the real cause of the impasse in a letter addressed to Bishop Leopoldo Ruiz, of León: 

"In order to found that Congregation, Father Félix would have to leave the Society of Mary and ask Rome for a dispensation from his religious vows. However, it is Father Félix’s decision not to ask for this dispensation until I am fully in agreement and will give my unconditional consent. But I cannot do this as long as my Council is against it" (December 1, 1904). 

The problem could not be solved due to Father Félix’s posture. My personal opinion is that Father Félix ought to have asked for a dispensation from his vows, based on his own conviction and that of the Mexican bishops and theologians. Since at that time the bishops could establish new congregations without Rome's approval, Father Félix could have started the foundation that very year, under the auspices of the Archbishop of Mexico City. The Congregation would have been "of diocesan right" for a time and later, as is normal, would have become "of pontifical right". 

Father Félix's dispensation would have been processed without difficulty, with the support of the Superior General himself. In this way our founder would have saved ten years and ten tons of health since he suffered considerably due to the constant stress of the psychological wear and scar produced by the tension of strong opposing forces when they have taken over our life. 

But Father Félix judged things from another point of view. He was sure that the Lord wanted him to establish the fifth Work of the Cross, but he wanted to know if the hour chosen by God was at hand. And he believed that God would give his superiors enough light to discern His will. That is why he decided to obey regardless of the cost.

His obedience was heroic. It was terribly difficult for him to give up an ideal upon which he had centered all his enthusiasm, derived from a strong and impetuous temperament. But he gave it up; for the time his Superiors saw fit, or even forever... 

Nothing sanctifies a person more than to give up his own wishes in an effort to submit to the will of God. Nothing purifies a person as much as this because then the heart is empty of everything, of the self, and totally available to God. That is why I am sure that after these ten years, Father Félix was a real saint. What for some of us seemed to be a mistake, was the road to sanctity for Father Félix. Sometimes God leads His elect by paths we don't understand. He himself tells us so in Isaiah: "My paths are not your paths, or my ways your ways." (Is. 55: 8) 

And what did Father Félix do in Barcelona? If we consider his experience and human caliber, we would say he wasted his time. But if we see things with the eyes of faith, we must say that he was dedicating himself to becoming a saint. 

The first task Father Gauven assigned to him was to seek alms for the support of the French Chapel which the Marist Fathers had in Barcelona. Father Félix writes in his diary: 

"Yesterday I made five calls for alms. I find it so very trying. But I do it with great pleasure, because that is what God wants of me." 

He was also assigned to teach a small group of children ages 5 to 12: 

"I am teaching my little students, teaching them to spell. The youngest is five. In the beginning I found this very difficult, but not anymore. As long as I am doing the will of God, what difference does it make to do this or that?"

His superior ordered him to visit several convents of women religious and offer his services as confessor, but he did not have much luck. 

"They all consider me a poor, jobless worker. Sometimes I blush before I enter the house, but holy obedience gives me courage and when I offer it all to Jesus I even feel joy in the midst of my shame." 

Later he was put in charge of the association of governesses and domestics and he accepted it "with great pleasure."

In the first months of his "exile," as he characterized this period, he wrote frequently to the Superior General, insisting with filial respect that his case be reconsidered and always giving new reasons to do so. The answer he received included the following paragraph: 

"You wrote to me a short time ago, and your writing every month is excessive. Moreover, it is useless, because my resolution, which is also the Council's, will not be changed either by pleading or by the passage of time, be it days or months. Be calm, waiting for God's time to arrive, if it is to do so. But if you feel compelled to write to me once in a while with the same request, I may not respond, since I will have nothing new to say. But be assured of my paternal affection for you, and of the ardent desire I have that you grow in sanctity and that you do all the good that God expects of you." 

On March 25, 1905, Father Martin died and Father Raffin was elected Superior General of the Society of Mary. Father Félix wrote him a memorandum, asking him as new Superior General to please review his case. His long letter ends thus: 

"But should you feel that the time has not yet come, I will remain calm and resigned in our dear 'Nazareth' and will continue to wait and to obey, until God's time comes. 

"I will not deny that I will do this while experiencing a most cruel desolation; but the desire I have to obey faithfully and till the end, will enable me to accept this most heavy cross with special joy." 

The answer of the now Superior was the same: 

"The unanimous opinion of the Council is that you should not be given permission to make that foundation. But, if to implement the mission that you think God has entrusted to you, you wish to ask for a dispensation from your vows, we will not stand in the way." 

Father Félix answered this negative answer thanking Father Ruffin and the Council for having reconsidered his case. He would continue to wait until God willed something different. He ended with the following paragraph: 

"Humanly everything seems ended since I was counting especially on your help; but in the midst of the sacrifice I make by obeying you, I feel such confidence in the promises of God it seems to me that I will be starting his Work very soon." 

I believe that given this answer, Father Raffin started to esteem and admire Father Félix, not only for his obedience, but also for the steadfastness of his ideal. 

Three years went by in this fashion. And in February of 1908 Father Félix health broke. He wrote in his Diary: 

"I have reached a state of weakness such as I had never experienced before, and I have a chronic bronchitis."

The doctor was afraid for his life and ordered complete rest. His opinion was that the Barcelona climate was mortal for the patient, and advised that he should go to France. His superiors sent him to the baths at Bourbule to recuperate. Father Félix wrote: 

"I pray to God for patience and that He grants me the grace never to complain. I have offered God my sickness in reparation for my innumerable sins."

It happened that about this time, Father Ruffin also had to go to the same resort to recuperate, and without Father Félix bringing it up, Father Ruffin asked him to explain in detail everything referring to his new ideal. Father Félix recounts in his Dairy the result of these conversations:

"I opened my soul to him with great case and presented the reasons that could persuade him in favor of my petition. The Father General seemed very pleased with my absolute obedience during these past years, and during our last trek to the mountains together he told me: 'In the beginning, I not only did not believe in your new vocation, but I felt that your projects were inconsistent, and I even made fun of them in the presence of the Fathers. But now, because of all you have told me, I believe that Our Lord is calling you to make that foundation, and we will give you the permission you wish if the Holy See is willing." 

Father Félix returned to Barcelona with new hope and his health improved noticeably.

The following year Father Raffin visited the Barcelona community and spoke again with Father Félix. The latter told him that he was tormented by a doubt: since he was so sure that God was calling him to begin the foundation, should he continue to wait indefinitely without doing anything about it? The Father General gave him the following answer in writing: 

"Leave everything in God's hands. Let Him be the one who decides the time. Continue to obey as you have until now because this is the safest and quickest means to obtain our permission to start the foundation you long to establish." 

Moreover, he gave Father Félix permission to write to Mrs. Armida "once or twice a year, but without mentioning the foundation." 

However, Father Raffin had told Father Félix several times that should he wish to obtain a dispensation from his vows, he would not be opposed. For this reason, during 1906 Father Félix consulted with various persons regarding his obtaining a dispensation. These persons included: Cardinal Casanas of Barcelona; Archbishop Ibarra, of Puebla; Father Alejandro Cepeda and Father Salustiano Carrera. They all hesitated to recommend a radical change in the life of Father Félix and suggested that it would be better to keep on waiting, enjoying the security offered by obedience. 

Father Félix commented: 

"Let's be confident! Jesus has said it and His word will be fulfilled despite all obstacles. While that happy day arrives, I will apply myself to be more faithful in everything; giving myself to the Lord without taking me back; letting Him do with me what He will; filling me ever more with the spirit of the Works of the Cross, and preparing myself with the grace of God, to be the first male Religious of the Cross." (Diary) 

By the month of August of that year (1909), Father Félix' health was again very poor. The doctor insisted that the Barcelona climate was very bad for him, and he was therefore sent to the Marist Fathers' school in Saint Chamond. This was a small town of 13,000 who lived from mining coal and working in iron and steel factories. The Marist school was the best in the region. It had 35 teachers and more than 500 students, almost all of them boarders. 

Father Félix wrote in his Diary:

"They have given me very little work because of my poor health. 

"I can hear the whistle of the locomotives from my room; and I make believe it is the train that will take me to Mexico..." 

For five more years Father Félix stayed in Saint Chamond, obeying and waiting for the dream train... 

When his health was normal, he taught 12 hours of class a week, prepared his lessons, corrected notebooks and was in charge of disciplining the students. He did not like this, but he felt happy: 

"My current occupations are opposed to my natural tastes, but I feel happy because I see clearly that Jesus wants me here. And what else can I wish for, but to do His will? Every day I thank the Lord for bringing me to this town, to this silence, to this solitude where I know nobody except my brothers and my students. I feel called to this life, away from the world, with time to pray and to fulfill my daily tasks." 

But despite the apparent tranquility, at the beginning of the 1910 school year, he wrote the following note in his diary:

"I have noticed that I have become very nervous, and cannot stand anything against the rules. I make an effort to be patient, but it is very difficult. What is happening is that there are one or two people here more nervous than myself... but with no malice.

"Jesus, I want to be patient."

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