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 leave Father Félix for now in the school of the town of Saint Chamond, very nervous, but asking Jesus for more and more patience. 

Let us see what Conchita Cabrera and a few good friends who believed in her were doing.

First they wrote letters to France, trying to persuade Father Félix' superiors to allow him to return to Mexico and take charge of the foundation. 

These letters were written by the Most Reverend Leopoldo Ruiz (Bishop of León), Msgr. Emeterio Valverde (Canon of the Cathedral in Mexico City), the Most Reverend Ramón Ibarra, Archbishop of Puebla, and Conchita herself, who wrote two letters. It would take too much space to transcribe them in full, but the main ideas presented in these letters include the following: 

a) Mrs. Cabrera has been examined by several bishops and theologians, and they all agree that her spirit is of God, that she is not suffering from delusions. Therefore, the petition of the Lord that Father Félix found the Congregation of the Religious of the Cross is real and authentic. 

b) The Archbishop of Mexico has already given his approval for this foundation. We are therefore within the legal norms established by ecclesiastical law. 

c) It seems to us that Father Félix has all the qualifications required of the founder and teacher of the new religious. 

d) We propose that, putting aside Mrs. Cabrera's revelations, the idea of the foundation be studied in itself as to the benefits that would accrue from it and its usefulness and convenience to the Church. 

c) The fact that a member of a religious community should found another religious family is not new in the Church; on the contrary, who better than an experienced religious to form new religious. 

Conchita's second letter to Father Martin includes other elements. We therefore transcribe the relevant paragraphs: 

"I know that you have no reason to believe me, and that you may well consider me a victim of delusions. But, what am I to do, if I feel that the Lord urges me on and I am acting in obedience to my spiritual director? 

"If when you give Father Félix permission to come, you wish to forbid him to see me again, I am in agreement. I do not want to be in the way of the realization of God's plan. I know very well that I am the source of the problem. But, what am I to do, Father Martin, if the Lord impels me to continue struggling for his cause although I make a fool of myself? 

"For me, the evidence that this is of God is as follows: 

1. That I did not even know Father Félix, and it was the Lord who providentially led me to him. He has told me many times that He has chosen Father Félix to found the Religious of the Cross. 

2. That I never acted based on my own judgment, but rather I opened my soul to wise and saintly priests and they have all told me that this is of God. 

3. That since Father Félix became acquainted with the Works of the Cross, the Holy Spirit has wrought admirable changes in him. 

4. That the Church has already approved the Apostleship of the Cross and the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

5. That both Father Félix and I have chosen the path of holy obedience. 

6. That the perfection and end of the Work we are trying to implement is for the glory of God and the good of many souls." 

Of course the Superior General of the Marists and his Council also had their reasons to deny the permission time and again. In all their answers they repeated the same reasons: 

a) We have no proof that the revelations to Mrs. Cabrera are authentic. 

b) Therefore, we have no assurance that it be the will of God that Father Félix establishes that congregation.

c) Moreover, we think that Father Félix lacks the necessary qualities to be the founder of anything, because when he becomes enthusiastic he loses sight of the just mean of prudence. 

d) We think Father Félix is too much under the influence of Mrs. Cabrera, and that he would be no more than her instrument. 

e) Father Félix' departure would not be a good example for the other Marists, and would set a negative precedent. 

f) We need Father Félix because we are short handed.  

g) If Father Félix would wish to ask to be dispensed from his vows to start the foundation, we would not oppose it, but it is he who does not wish to do it without our total approval; but we cannot support his project because of the reasons mentioned above. 

This summarizes the reasons given by the French superiors. As we can see, it is true that not two persons think alike. 

And so, days, months and years passed with reasons going back and forth. Father Félix continued to hold to two convictions which seemed to be ever more contradictory: on the one hand, his decision to obey faithfully till the end; and on the other, the firm conviction that the promise God had made to him through Conchita would be fulfilled, like Abraham: "he believed God and hoped against all hope." 

By his letters we know that his health had its ups and downs during these years and that his work increased because Father Félix had a lot of initiative and could not remain still for long. His diary also reveals to us his most intimate feelings. 

The following letter to Father Naval summarizes them well: 

"...So you see, Father, that I have nothing in my favor to be a founder, neither science, nor virtue, nor degrees of prayer, nor revelations from God, because I have never seen anything, or heard anything. I see nothing in myself that would make me worthy of such a mission. All that I have, and Jesus has given me that, is the wish to do nothing of my own will, but rather to be a completely docile instrument of God by means of holy obedience.

"Since the novitiate I have loved obedience, happy and prompt, and if this foundation is to be implemented, I want it to be by means of the most perfect obedience. 

"Since I decided to undertake this Work, I have spoken to my superiors with childlike simplicity. I made perfectly clear everything related to Mrs. Cabrera: so many words of our Lord, so many revelations, so many direct orders, so many promises for the future, so many supernatural things... I said everything clearly, although I knew what the consequences would be. And they thought that Mrs. Cabrera was very good but perhaps deluded, and that I acted in good faith, but that my mission was doubtful. So they prudently separated me from Mexico and decided to wait. Had I been in their place I might have done the same. They have always been very good to me. But they say that they cannot and ought not to grant me the permission I requested. 

"However, my faith in this foundation has only grown. My heart wishes violently that we begin, but I do not want to be in a hurry, because I know that Jesus has His own hour and time. 

"These years of separation, of reflection, of obedience, of humiliation and unwavering hope in the word of Jesus have been a precious time for me. I have understood better than ever my incompetence, and that I must not expect anything of myself, but that what will be done, will he done by Jesus, despite so much opposition, and despite the worthlessness of the instrument He has chosen, so that it will be seen more clearly that it is the work of God and that He Himself has done it all." 

In his diary he writes: 

"It now seems that nothing favors the foundation of the Religious of the Cross. I think the Lord has wanted everything to come tumbling down and that everyone gives his back to us, to show without a doubt that it is all His work. He wants to do it and will indeed carry it out. Sometimes I am tempted to despair, but I react right away. Jesus has said it and He always keeps His word, if we are faithful to Him. Obstacles are not important. Jesus has said it, and I have so much evidence that this is so, that I could not ask for more." 

On July 16, 1916, Pope Pius X had issued a decree withdrawing from the bishops the authority to establish new religious congregations without the permission of the Holy See. Therefore, they not only needed a founder, but also the authorization of the Pope. 

So towards the end of 1909, after many fruitless letters, Archbishop Ibarra decided to go to Rome, where he arrived in early January of 1910. 

He was very well received by Cardinal Vives, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious. The Cardinal promised him that he would not return to Mexico without obtaining his wish. He likewise agreed to be the protector of the Apostleship of the Cross and obtained the papal approval for the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (February 17). He also obtained numerous indulgences for the Covenant of Love, which was the third Work of the Cross, founded in Mexico with the approval of Archbishop Ibarra on February 30, 1909. He also examined the constitutions of the Religious of the Cross, prior to negotiating their approval by the Pope. 

On February 26, Msgr. Caroli, who was in charge of the religious communities of men, informed Archbishop Ibarra that the permission for the foundation had been granted. 

Archbishop Ibarra immediately sent a cable to Conchita Cabrera and she in turn immediately informed Bishop Ruiz, Bishop Valverde and the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Everybody rejoiced. 

But something very unexpected happened. The 1st of March, Pope Pius X ordered that the permission for the foundation remain pending and that all the writings of Mrs. Cabrera related to the Religious of the Cross be sent to Cardinal Vives to be examined in detail. Archbishop Ibarra was dismayed by this news... 

He wrote both to Cardinal Vives and to the Pope, begging them to study the matter of the foundation of the Religious of the Cross completely apart from the writings and revelations of Mrs. Cabrera, considering the work in itself, as they would any other congregation. But he received a negative answer. 

The Pope himself (now Saint Pius X), wrote Archbishop Ibarra the following letter in his own hand: 

"Venerable brother: I have read your letter, in which you lament the fact that the permission to found the Congregation of the Priests of the Cross has been postponed. I beg you to forgive me as well as the Congregation for Religious, if in such an important matter we have felt we should proceed with great caution before giving permission. But I assure you that this matter will soon be turned over to the Sacred Congregation for its study, and God willing, will be resolved according to your wishes and those of your brothers. 

"I have confidence, because a work which is pleasing to God, although it meet many obstacles, will overcome them all. And with this hope, Venerable Brother, I extend to you my heartfelt apostolic blessing. Pope Pius X, Rome, March 2, 1910." 

Archbishop Ibarra shared all this with his friends in Mexico. In his letter to Conchita he details everything, transcribes the Pope's letter, and ends by saying: 

"I do not tire of reading this letter time and time again. And I feel a great deal of peace in my heart and an indescribable joy, because I have tried, with all my strength, to do God's will." 

Archbishop Ibarra returned to Mexico with a great deal of peace in his heart, but without the desired permission.

Conchita’s writings regarding the Religious of the Cross were sent to Rome according to the Pope's instructions.

A year and a half went by.... No answer. 

On August 3, 1911, Bishop Ruiz sent the Pope another petition, signed by the five Mexican Archbishops then living in Mexico and two bishops. 

Msgr. Caroli answered this letter as follows: 

"Today I received the letter in which you bring to my attention the matter of the foundation of the Priests of the Cross. It is something that concerns me directly because I am in charge of matters referring to institutes of men in the Sacred Congregation for Religious. 

The persons who support this application are above all praise and encomium. However, given our past experience, I foresee that success will not be forthcoming, at least in the near future. Believe me, I shall do all I can to obtain what you wish." (August 17, 1911) 

The "past experience" to which Msgr. Caroli referred was the inevitable relationship which existed between Conchita's revelations and this foundation: its origin, its spirituality, its goals, its founder, and even its constitutions; everything flowed from the affirmations and writings of this Mexican woman... and from God. Taking into consideration the strictness of the Roman criteria, "the past experience" couldn't be worse. 

More than a year went by and nothing arrived from Rome. No answer, no news, good or bad. 

Then Archbishop Ibarra wrote to Msgr. Caroli: 

"Considerable time has passed since the experts named to examine the writings of Mrs. Concepción Cabrera submitted their reports to the Sacred Congregation for Religious. But until now, no decision has been made. I think the time has come for you to please move on this matter, so that the permission be granted at once for the foundation of the Priests of the Cross." (February 1, 1913) 

Msgr. Caroli answered: 

“…Regarding the matter of the Priests of the Cross, I believe the foundation will not be authorized. The writings you know are still being examined, but, from what I can conclude from the things that 1 know, it is not possible to talk about a foundation. That is the truth, at least for now. Therefore, there is nothing I can do." (February 22, 1913).

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