We have believed in love

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Juan Vicente González ss.cc.

Santiago de Chile, 1982

Foreword (Fr. Esteban Gumucio, ss.cc.)




  1. Limits

  2. Circumstances

  1. Ecclesial Roots

  2. The Unfolding of the Experience: 1792-1802

  1. Preparations: 1785-1792

  1. The Light of La Motte D'Usseau: May-October, 1792

  1. Communion with the Sacred Hearts in the Service of God and Neighbor: 1792-1796

  2. The First Creation of the Community


  1. The Title of the Congregation

  2. The Preliminary Chapter of the Constitutions of 1825, Today's "Fundamental Document"

  1. The Purpose of the Congregation

  1. The Holy Patrons

C. The Rule of St. Benedict

  1. The Profession Formula

  2. Father Coudrin's "Counsels" on Adoration


  1. Why this Presentation?

  2. The Principal Elements of Our Charism

A. One in Zeal for God's Activity in the World

B. One in the Attitude of "Servant," Like the Hearts of Jesus and Mary
A NOTE (Language of the Servant and Sacrificial Language)
C. One in Perpetual Adoration

i. Adoration as a Cultic Communitarian Exercise

ii. Adoration as a Personal Attitude
A NOTE (Charism, "Secret of Life")
1. A Brief Synthesis of his Life

A. Vocation and Novitiate

B. The Missionary Flame

C. Priesthood and Early Experiences

D. Molokai and Leprosy

E. "We Lepers"

F. Passion and Death
A FOOTNOTE (Sources used)
2. The Spirit of Fr. Damien De Veuster

A. Human Roots

B. In the Bosom of the Community

C. Courageous Zeal on Behalf of God's Activity in the World.

D. The Attitude of the "Servant"

E. The Perpetual Adorer


1. To Recover the Capacity to Dream

2. Dreams of Community Spirit

A. A Unity of "Communion"

B. The Joy of Fellowship

C. The Joy of Feeling "Fulfilled"

3. Dreams of Communitarian Service

A. Services to the Community

i. A Research Center

ii. A Second Novitiate

iii. An Updated Renewal of the Exterior Association

iv. A House of Adoration

B. Services to the Church and to People

i. Formation of the Young

ii. Missions

iii. A Renewal of the Enthronement in Families

iv. The Service of the Poor (Latin America)

FINAL NOTE (Necessary Condition to Realize Dreams)


To study our "charism" is, first of all, a duty of gratitude. It is to recognize the path of the Lord, the path of the Spirit, in paving human trails marked out through our ancestors in the religious life. There are paths which are first laid out on maps and topographical sketches on the engineer's workbench; there are others which are laid out by the first to pass that way and made permanent by those who walk behind them and their contemporaries. In this region of the Andes there are many Inca trails. The path of our Congregation was certainly not laid out on the workbench of a "theology engineer." It was trod by the Good Father, the Good Mother and the primitive community It is something like those Inca trails: it has the wisdom of the poor, the primordial Character of its destination, which is love; it also shows respect for the unforeseen, the personal bent, the ecclesiastical territory it traverses; it has shady spots and rest areas, and high mountains which can only be climbed with the wind of the traveling Spirit at one's back.

It is a duty of gratitude for each and every one of us, Religious of the Sacred Hearts, because within that which Jesus Christ gives us in seed, as a share in the inheritance of his Church, is manifested the hidden plan of his love for us, a love which is concrete, incarnate and sacramental.
To study our "charism" is also a primordial necessity inherent in our vocation of service to the world in the Church. I am speaking of the need to discern the call which the Lord is giving us today. How can we distinguish his voice from imagined "voices," unless we are tuned into the authentic frequency of that communion which the Spirit brings about in and with us in the Church?
To study our "charism" is, finally, an exercise of spiritual hygiene and purifica­tion, since it is in no way a matter of formulating beautiful statements for ourselves, but rather, "without unduly glorifying ourselves, we measure ourselves with the measure which God himself has given us." We go back to drink from pure waters, strong intentions, which gave birth to our Community and which today continue providing our motivation and manner of response to the urgent needs of the Kingdom in our world and Church. I speak of "hygiene" because it is not healthy to consider ourselves ill-begotten, we who bear the seal of what the Spirit brings into being in our family, and with it in the Church.
Juan Vicente Gonzalez has given us all indisputable testimony of his zeal for the "charism" of the Congregation. As long as I have known him—more than forty years—he has been working with concern and perseverance to assemble the necessary historical data which reveal the "acts of the Spirit" in our religious family.
In his book Father Coudrin, Mother Aymer and Their Community, he gives us a summary of the knowledge gleaned from reading a mountain of carefully analyzed documents. Now, with this short study—notes developed for a mini-course given novice and professed Brothers and Sisters of our Congregation—he offers us reflec­tions based on history which bring us one step closer to a communion expressed in a "profession of faith" in what the Holy Spirit is doing in us, and in what the same Spirit is pointing out to be our work in the Church, today.

In publishing this little book, our Province of Chile seeks to make a contribution to what the entire Congregation has set as a goal, as expressly decided in the General Chapter of 1976: "Research is to be made by the Congregation at every level in order to bring out the features of our identity starting from our life and work together . . . " (Dec. 5).

Thank you, Juan Vicente, in the name of your brothers and sisters in the Sacred Hearts.

Arequipa, Peru, September 2, 1982


Although it concerns a topic on which I have reflected for almost all of my religious life—the reflection and research began in January of a now-distant 1940—it is still not easy for me to write about charism today. The word itself has become fashionable and is frequently used imprecisely. On the other hand, serious studies of the "charism" of religious life in general are quite scarce; studies of the particular charism of individual communities are scarcer still.

Two authors have been of most help to me recently: Fr. Tillard, O.P., especially his book, Pour Dieu et devant le Monde (Editions du Cerf, 1974), and F. Wulf, Si., in his study in Mysterium Salutis IV:2 (Cristiandad, 1975).

At any rate, I make no pretense at a work of scientific value. This is no more than a simple fraternal communication of what seem to me the most solid points of view. I am keenly aware that in taking up this topic, I am overstepping a little the limits of the historical and entering the area of spiritual theology. For this reason I intend to proceed with considerable caution and modest expectations. This is not to say that I do so with any less relish. On the contrary, I have always been in­terested in historical investigation, primarily so I could make a contribution towards furnishing the Congregation with the information it needs for its Conciliar renewal in line with Perfectae Caritatis 2b. But in the investigation itself, I had to avoid all theorizing which could distort reality and render descriptions of it suspect.

Presupposing historical study, especially what is found in the last two parts of my work (Father Coudrin, Mother Aymer and their Community), I will try here to center attention on the charism. Awareness of it—I have always felt this—is vital in order to situate ourselves as a community in the Church and to strengthen the bonds of our unity in a providential vocation. I believe this is necessary not only to more fully assume the responsibility that is ours in the church, but also to avoid at the personal level a subtle rupture between the religious' profession and apostolic mission.

Besides, the whole life of the community calls for a shared awareness of charism. The capacity to make shared decisions without domination or intrigue, but evangelical­ly with all participating; submission to a certain common discipline; the disposition to pray together and still more to take on communal responsibility in the apostolate and service to the local and universal Church—all of these are in large part condi­tioned by this awareness. The values of religious life "in general" are abstract and are not effective as long as they are not adequately integrated in a particular charism. Thus I am convinced that a Community's consciousness of its charism is also a vital matter for the Church itself.

Furthermore, Vatican II, in the passage already cited, indicated the decisive value of reference to the charism for the process of renewal. For us in particular, it would be interesting to know the history of the awareness of charism which has been pres­ent in the Congregation, since the time of the Founders. But this is a major under­taking which we can make rio pretense of doing in these few pages.

I have the impression that we have a significant lacuna in this area through no fault of anyone in this century. The sealing of the general archives as a result of the crisis of 1852-53, which lasted for almost a hundred years until after World War II, is one of the explanations. As a result of this, we have lacked information about our origins until now. Many distortions and inaccuracies have resulted from this, such as those in The Religious of the Sacred Hearts, an excellent book in other respects.

So as not to exaggerate or be inexact, it must be said at the same time that the principal characteristics of the Congregation have remained alive until today. Becom­ing aware of the historic charism will, as well as making it possible for us to ap­preciate that fidelity, have the stimulating effect of letting us see how the Spirit has not forgotten the Congregation. This, in turn, will allow us to confront the future with greater optimism.

Be that as it may, we cannot judge the richness or poverty of the present-day com­munal awareness of the charism—its subjective aspect—if we do not first of all have the "objective" aspect quite clear, that is: the Founders' conception of the charism, how it was incarnated by the primitive community, and with what features the Con­gregation was approved by Pope Pius VII in the Bull Pastor Aeternus of Nov. 17, 1817.

The very distance in time at which we stand from this first approbation will allow us to better discern what remains alive of that original image and what therefore belongs to the gift of the Spirit which defies time. Here I will concern myself with this "objective" aspect and with it alone.

My reflections, then, have been concentrated under six principal points:

  1. The meaning of "religious charism";

  2. The first experience of our charism;

  1. A rereading of our documents;

  2. A presentation of our charism;

  3. The light of Father Damien de Veuster;

  4. A window on the future.

The word "charism" belongs to the theological vocabulary of St. Paul and nowadays people prefer not to translate the original Greek. One can say that, in brief, it means: the free gift of the Spirit, varied in its forms, and given to a baptized person in view of building up and serving the community in the Church.
In this gratuitous gift there is summed up all that an adoptive child of God is and has, since all is gift: natural gifts of intelligence and will, of feeling, sensibility and character, etc. — in a word, the unique person each one is. There is, on the other hand, each one's life and graced history, insofar as it is taken up in docility to the living, real Spirit acting in one's life.
In St. Paul's way of speaking, a "charism" is always a gift given to an individual person, not to moral persons or institutions. It is a gift of many and varied forms. The lists in 1 Cor 12, Rom 12 and Eph 4 do not appear to be exhaustive, and the gifts are not extraordinary; rather they represent the contribution of each person to the life of the Body of Christ under the guidance of the Spirit.
Vatican II did not use the word in reference to religious vocation and life. Never­theless, it recognized this life as "a gift of God" given for building up and serving the Church (Lumen Gentium 42-44 and Petfectae Caritatis 1), which made it clear that it recognized in religious life the essential elements of charism.
Paul VI, in Evangelica Testificatio, speaks of "the charism of the founders," "the charism of the religious life," and "the charism of diverse institutes" (cf. 11 and 32).
I have not discovered a single work which studies how the extension of the word from its use in The New Testatment (a gift to a person) to that by Paul VI (a gift to a religious community) came about. What follows is my own view on the matter.
The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, taken as permanent norms of life, result in something extremely difficult for the average person. They cannot be taken on prudently nor observed faithfully without a gift of the Spirit. Every true religious, then, has a charism. We are still using the word in its full biblical sense.
Something similar—and with more reason—is true of founders. Now then, if we ask in what does the "charism" of a founder as such consist, what does it add to the simple religious charism, it seems one must respond that it consists in "being a docile instrument of the Spirit, to gather together a new community, give it a par­ticular concrete way of living the Gospel radically, and to take on a responsibility from the Church in harmony with the hierarchical authorities."
We note that "to gather together" does not mean simply to unite under one roof or to share the same bread, nor to submit to a single discipline. The fundamen­tal aspect of this "to gather together" is to live in practical and daily "commu­nion" (koinonia). This "communion" is attained by means of practical agreement on a concrete way of living faith, hope and charity, and in how its demands are understood. I believe in this connection that what St. Gregory said of St. Benedict can be said of all founders: "The holy man was able in a certain way to teach something other than that which he himself had lived." (Dial. II, 36). And so we have a vital synthesis of Christianity elaborated by the founder, converted into a gift granted to the community so as to bring its "communion" into being around him. In other words, the charism of the founder has moved on to be "charism of the community," making it a "good of the church."
So as to better understand the concrete and global reality of the religious life, and its witness in the heart of the Church, the point of departure must be a careful scrutiny of this charismatic phenomenon as it has actually existed through the course of the centuries.
The least that can be said in looking over this striking procession is that the forms of the religious life, as they have actually existed and exist today in the Church, are most varied, and this both from the canonical and disciplinary point of view as well as the ascetical and spiritual. According to Wulf, "the historical changes touched not only the external features of religious life but also its essence" (op. cit. p. 439). And: "As regards the concrete conception of the life itself and its ideas, mentality and motivations, the diverse forms of religious life can differ considerably from one to another."
As a matter of fact, the same panoramic view of religious life shows something very important when it comes to speaking about religious life in general: that the concept of "religious life" is not universal (so that it could be said in an absolutely identical manner of all of its inferiors), but rather "analogous" (a concept where unity is based solely on a similarity of relations). While being attentive not to end up in univocity, we can search for what the so very diverse forms of religious life have in common
Postconciliar theologians see in the very root of historical religious life taken as a whole a spiritual reality pertaining to the life of faith of the individual person, which Wulf calls "the impact of faith." It is a matter of a certain perception in which "for me" the totality of life is experienced as so bound to the mystery of faith, also in its totality, that—always "for me"—nothing else is possible than a total surrender of self to this mystery and to its service. This "total surrender" coincides with what Tillard calls "a radical gospel path" (op. cit. p. 193).
All of this is only perceived in faith, and it is the culmination of a Christian life: the surrender of all that one is and all that one has to the service of God and the Kingdom, reaching to the renunciation of marriage.
This "impact of faith" and its consequent "radical option" thus constitute the deepest being and root of the religious life.
Such a faith perception has a wide and solid foundation in Sacred Scripture, par­ticularly in the Gospel, which—besides the beatitudes themselves—comes across in many texts as an appeal to the absolute and a demand for a radical response (cf. especially: Mt 5:29-30; 8:19-22; 10:37-38; 16:24-27; 19:9-12, 16-21, and parallel passages in Mark and Luke).
On the other hand, observation and study of actual cases which are to be found so abundantly in the history of the religious life show clearly that the forms adopted by the "radical option," in response to the "impact of faith," vary greatly in accord with certain factors, such as: a) the character of the person; b) the process by which the person arrives at this option, or, if you like, his "grace history"; and c) the religious and cultural milieu to which the person or the primitive community belonged and the historical circumstances in which they lived.

The particular "radical option" of a religious community expresses itself in an amalgam of practical attitudes which constitute its communion (koinonia), and in the motivations it gives to them, and which come to constitute its raison d'etre in the life of the Church.

Consequently, in order to understand what are the characteristics peculiar to the charism of a community in the Church, it is important to consider the historical cir­cumstances in which its first expression took place and to follow the process of its development, right up to the forging of its proper character. All of this must be done without losing sight of the riches of the Christian patrimony which were taken hold of, and without disregarding the process itself by means of which this particular community developed its "being in communion."


  1. Limits

In order to read our charism with as great an historical exactitude as is within our reach, we must begin by studying closely that faith experience within which the Founders and the primitive Community welcomed the gift of the Spirit and became conscious of it.
To adequately evaluate this first expression, it must be placed with care in its living, concrete historical context, and consequently located precisely in time. Other­wise, it would be quite easy to have a distorted picture of its features and understand­ing of the Church.
We begin with the moment when the idea of forming the community first arose. We consider the experience to have reached fruition when all those elements which give the new Congregation its own character are to be found joined together, and when this character is officially recognized by the ecclesiastical hierarchy and so is accorded citizenship in the visible Church.
In our case, the beginning dates from the dream or "vision" which Fr. Coudrin had during his confinement in the Motte d'Usseau during September-October, 1792. The Congregation completed the elements of its own personality and obtained the first episcopal recognition when, soon after the first approbations of the Vicars of Poitiers in 1800 and 1801, Bishop de Chabot of Mende gave it his approval in 1802.
The first experience of our charism occurred, therefore, in a relatively brief period: 1792-1802. The subsequent life of the Congregation until 1817, the date when the Congregation was approved by the Holy See, did not contribute any elements which changed the conception which the Congregation had in 1802. It is striking that Mother Henriette stopped sending memos (Billets) to Fr. Coudrin in 1801. When work was being done on developing the Constitutions in 1819, these letters of 1801 were referred to and not any later documents.

  1. Circumstances

The circumstances of this time in France make us suspect that this experience was a particularly intense one. It coincided, in fact, with the most cold-blooded mo­ment of the French Revolution.
The year in which it is said that the Congregation began is the tragic 1793, which was inaugurated by the execution of King Louis XVI on the guillotine on January 21. The insurrection in the Vendee Region in March brought the Reign of Terror to Poitiers three months before it came to Paris. The Terror, strictly speaking, came to an end with the death of Robespierre on July 27, 1794, but religious persecution continued until the coup of 18 Brunaire (November 10) of 1799, in which Napoleon Bonaparte came to power. In fact, the situation was settled only with the promulga­tion of the Concordat on Easter, April 19, 1802.
It is no figure of speech, therefore, nor can it be called an exaggeration, to say that the first experience of our charism occurred in the midst of one of the greatest catastrophes known to history.
The weight and enormity of the French Revolution is not derived from the number of its victims, who were around 50,000. What made it so critical an event was its effect on every aspect of French society, changing profoundly its structures, spirit and mentality, in such a way as to produce a totally "different" society.
On the other hand, the position of France in the western world assured it a vast and enduring influence.

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