April 25, 2019
Previous Table of Contents Next

DR#: 12 The Spirituality of the Heart of Christ in the Writings of Brother Polycarp


Brother Polycarp was born John Hippolytus Gondre in the French town of La Motte in 1801.  He entered the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1827 and made perpetual profession in 1829. While only a novice himself, he held the roles of teacher, novice master and director.  After the resignation of Father Vincent Coindre, Brother Polycarp was elected the first Brother Superior General (1841 – 1859). He was accorded the title “Second Founder” following his death in 1859.

One of Brother Polycarp’s top priorities as Superior General was to assemble all the extant written works of Father Coindre. His goal was to maintain and deepen the Brothers’ understanding of the Founder’s charism and spirituality. Drawing on these documents and his experience as novice master and teacher, Brother Polycarp educated the Brothers and inspired them in the charism. He “gave form and stability to the charism” by completing the Rules (Brother Polycarp, Workbook 2, p. 61). He encouraged the Brothers through his own letters, which reflected the spirituality of the Founder.

In these letters, Brother Polycarp emphasized charity, unity, zeal and an intimate relationship with Jesus in his Sacred Heart. Although “these texts do not express our present day spirituality and theology, nor do they describe the signs of our times, Brother Polycarp used a language and theology of his time …. We see him opening up avenues for his Brothers’ relations with God and providing them with a meaningful lifestyle able to solidify and develop these relations.” (Workbook 2, p 61-62)

Through this reading, the participant will:

  • gain a better understanding of the spirituality of the Heart of Christ as expressed in the writings of Brother Polycarp;
  • more closely identify with the spirituality of the Institute; 
  • deepen his/her own personal spirituality. 
  • Brother Polycarp Workbook 2
    Charity and Unity:  p. 85-89 (complete Circular of January 1, 1844)
    Zeal:   p. 91 (starting with “Let each one of you…” to end)
    Zeal:   p. 92 (beginning through “…have reason to thank me…)
    Zeal:  p. 97 (complete from letter to Brother David)
    Prayer:   p 72 (starting with “Be fully convinced…” and ending with “…divine sources…”)
Options for Additional Readings
  • Brother Polycarp Workbook 2
  • Brother Polycarp – The Biography
     - Chapter XIV: “Love For Our Lord”;
     - Chapter XVI: “Spiritual Thoughts and Counsels”
     - Chapter XVII: “Excerpts From Letters”
Suggestions for Journal Reflection
  1. “Follow him so closely that you never lose sight of him.” Reflecting on Brother Polycarp’s words on charity, unity, zeal and prayer, where is God present for you in the course of a day?
  2. Brother Polycarp saw that the path Jesus walks is none other than the path of our own lives’ “brambles, thorns, and even crags.” What have been your moments of deepest difficulty and discouragement in educational ministry? How do you find spiritual growth in painful experiences? As a leader in the spirituality of the Heart of Christ, how can you help others who are experiencing challenges in ministry?
  3. Brother Polycarp made the spirituality of the Heart of Christ real to his Brothers in word and deed. As a leader in a Brother’s school, how do you translate the spirituality Polycarp expressed into concrete actions today? 

Lord God,
whose Heart burns with love for all,
at the end of this day filled with demands and questions,
let me rest in you.
Enable me to see that you have walked with me this day.
No trauma is new, no difficulty unsolvable,
for you have walked this way before, 
and now walk with me.

Grant me the perspective of Brother Polycarp.
May I begin with you, 
with your unlimited love,
that awaits my response.
Enable me to respond
wholeheartedly, constantly, lovingly, hopefully,
building on your love for me, your presence with me,
for that is the beginning of love.

Then, Lord,
grant me zeal, an enthusiasm for my ministry, 
that is my response to all your gifts.
Fill me with charity, not limited by the response of others 
but called forth by you.
Give me an awareness of the unity of our ministry,
so that my ministry is truly one that builds your Kingdom.

And at the end of this day, Lord,
enfold me, 
fire me with your love,
that enables me to see you clearly in all each day holds;
that calls forth my response even in the busiest, or darkest times;
that nurtures my hope in every crisis;
that affirms all I am,
as your gift, your minister, your presence for others.

May I be a sign of your compassion
in a wounded world.  



Workbook 2:  Brother Polycarp
by Brother Polycar
“Charity and Unity”, pp. 85-89



1. Fraternal Charity, Soul of Our Congregation 

May the love and Spirit of the Lord be always in you, my good Brothers, through Jesus our Savior.

I am pleased, my very dear Brothers, that through Jesus Christ our Lord I again have the occasion to make a wish for you, the fulfillment of which, in overwhelming us with a veritable interior joy, will let us experience the most chaste delights while uniting us by an indissoluble bond to him who is all love.  Love, my good Brothers, such is the gift that we will never cease to ask of the Lord for you and for us during the course of this new year.  It is the indispensable virtue for every congregation, indispensable above all for ours, whose unity can be its whole strength. 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no other commandment greater than these (Mk 12:30-31 RSV).  Such is the yoke that the Lord imposes, however much it may be a command to love only.  Ah, my very dear Brothers, would this not be the place to exclaim in protestation with St. Augustine: “What, Lord?  Was it not enough that you permitted us to love you?  Was it necessary, then, to make it a commandment?  Beauty always ancient and always new, how late have I known you and how long I have delayed to love you.” 

The knowledge of God and of his attributes is more than sufficient to cause in our souls the birth and growth of this love of which your grateful hearts should be filled.  I am not today speaking to you of that love of God that should be the motive of all your actions; I wish to speak only of the second part of the great commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34 RSV).  Such, then, is the measure of love that we should have for our Brothers: to love them as Jesus Christ has loved us. Now, how has Jesus Christ loved us?  To the point of becoming for us the victim of sin by dying on the cross after the most outrageous injury and ignominy.  Such is how God has loved men: to the point of giving them his Son.  If, then, he has loved us to such an extent, we should also love one another, as St. John said. St. Augustine said in reflecting on this precept: “The Lord wanted to give so much weight to this command that he went so far as to say: ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (Jn 13:35 RSV).  Doubtlessly, we all want to be disciples of the Lord right up to the end, but are we?  Can men know us for disciples of the Lord by our charity?  Do we love one another, as St. John says, “not in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18 RSV)?  The Savior, as if fearing that we would not give enough attention to this new commandment, repeats it in a thousand places in the Holy Scriptures.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ... This I command you, to love one another” (Jn 15:12, 17 RSV).  And St. John Chrysostom adds that our Savior goes even further in the prayer that he addresses to his Father: “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (Jn 17:21 RSV).  And elsewhere he again says: “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one” (Jn 17:23 RSV).  O infinite charity of my God, O love without limit, O incomprehensible condescension!  To be one with God, to be absorbed into him...  Have you ever seriously weighed, meditated on, these divine words, my very dear Brothers?  Have you ever savored them?  Have they ever refreshed you down to the bottom of your heart?  Can you conceive of their strength today?  “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (Jn 17:21 RSV), one in will, one in opinion, one in conduct.  Such is the true picture of a religious congregation; do we recognize ourselves?..  Yes, my good Brothers, let us be firmly convinced that fraternal charity should be the soul of our Congregation, and that inasmuch as it is so animated, so shall it live, prosper, and, like the mustard seed, grow branches that will bear abundant fruit and in the shelter of which will come to rest a multitude of souls, saving themselves from the shipwreck which today is so difficult to avoid on the stormy sea of the world.  But if, on the contrary, fraternal charity would become weakened or extinguished, have no doubt about it, we shall see this weakened and lifeless Congregation go up in flames like straw.  If then, my very dear Brothers, as I do not doubt it, you are animated by the Spirit of the Lord and have at heart the good of your Congregation and of the glory of God, equip yourselves with charity as St. Paul says, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Cor 3:14 RSV).  Be as Our Lord said: absorbed in him with God the Father so as to be one with him, all in one. 

Do you want to know now what should be the principal characteristics of your charity for it to produce true brotherly unity?  The Great Apostle will tell you: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way,' it is not irritable or resentful” (1Cor 13:4-6 RSV).

The first two qualities are, as you should understand them, of a very great importance to preserve unity.  Yes, we have to bear patiently the defects of everybody and above all of those with whom we have the happiness of being associated.  We are all human and consequently full of defects and imperfections; we all furnish plenty of occasions for our neighbor to practice patience.  From another point of view, since we are very weak and very disabled, we then need to be helped and supported.  This is why, in accordance with St. Paul, we should bear one another's burdens.  And neither should we allow our charity to be puffed up with pride, but let us strip ourselves of all sort of pride through a deep realization of our lowliness and wretchedness so that our charity can allow the utmost equality to find its way into our midst, and this equality, which is an effect of charity and love, will contribute much to the increase of charity and the preservation of unity.

Finally, love is not jealous or boastful and does not insist on its own way.  Whoever is endowed with love wishes as much good for his brothers as for himself, and rejoices at their successes as much as at his own.  And from there it is easy to conclude that he who finds his happiness in the happiness of others is far removed from any thought of self-interest or ambition.

If charity, to be preserved in all its purity, must be adorned with all the virtues, the person who wants to be thus enriched had better provide against many enemies, for all the vices seem to arm themselves for war against fraternal charity.  There are a few vices in particular that deal slier and deadlier blows: pride, envy, ambition, impatience, and indocility.  Self-love, above all, is the implacable enemy of fraternal charity; there is nothing more opposed to charity and unity than self-love and a certain attachment to one's own opinion and particular conveniences.  Accordingly, the masters of the spiritual life call it, among other things, the capital enemy of any kind of order and unity, the plague of religious life and of all societies.

How many things remain to be said on such an interesting subject!  But I am cutting it short and I end by recommending these precious virtues to you: charity and unity, which will strengthen us against the enemy of good.  Please accept, my good Brothers, these few admonitions from the one whom the Lord has placed over you not to be your master but your father, in which capacity he holds you all in his heart as his very dear children.  You will strive, I am convinced, to please him and even more to glorify God and to sanctify yourselves by putting into practice the virtues that he recommends to you.  My very dear Brothers, may these few words dictated by love bear in your hearts fruit for salvation and serve to maintain understanding and religious spirit among you, and I shall be fully compensated and consoled for the heavy load that you have placed on my weak shoulders.

I am and will always be in Jesus Christ your very loving and poor servant.

1 Circular of Brother Polycarp, Paradis, January 1, 1844. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * * *  *

Workbook 2:  Brother Polycarp
by Brother Polycarp
“Zeal”, p. 91

2.  Jesus, Our Life and Our Way

Let each one of you conduct himself in such a way as to be able to say with St. Paul: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1Cor 11:1 RSV).  Live, then, with a sense of the deepest humility.  May there always be among you the virtues of modesty, simplicity, and meekness.  It's by all of these marks that you will be recognized as disciples of him who made himself your slave to win your love...  Keep constantly to the path traced out for you by the spouse of your soul.  Follow him so closely that you never lose sight of him.  You will often see him walk through brambles, thorns, and even crags, for it is through such that the Beloved passes.  If you should happen to get lost or lose courage, make your cries heard; he will never be deaf to your voice...  Take no respite nor rest without being always at his side.  Only there will you be invincible, will you taste meekness and peace; everywhere else you will find nothing but pain, anguish, and torment. Let your entire purpose, then, be to love him who alone is lovable... (Excerpts from letters to several Brothers). 

2 “Vie du Frère Polycarpe” in Positio, pp. 440-441.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * * *  *


Workbook 2:  Brother Polycarp
by Brother Polycarp
“Zeal”, p. 92

3. Appointment with the Heart of Jesus

Let us bring forth now some of Brother Polycarp's thoughts on devotion to the Sacred Heart, thoughts which reveal his ardent desire to make his Brothers worthy of the beautiful name they bear.  How keenly he wished the divine Heart to mean everything for them: “Do not forget that you are all Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and that in this capacity you should be fired by the same flames that burn in him.  Now, zeal for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls, such is the fire that consumes him; it is also the fiery furnace that should burn in your hearts...” (Letter to the Brothers in America, August 20, 1852).  “Ah! if only I could introduce you to intimacy with the adorable Heart of Jesus and enter with you to be burned and consumed in the intensity of divine love! I would do so happily; I think that you would have reason to thank me... “

3 “Vie du Frère Polycarpe” in Positio, pp. 441-442.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * * *  *

Workbook 2:  Brother Polycarp
by Brother Polycarp
“Zeal and Devotion,” p. 97


1. Be Filled with Zeal and Devotion

“Whoever wants to raise children must first of all become a saint, (said a worthy colonel recently in the manner of a soul as generous as it is deeply Christian)  How can we pass on to them virtues which we do not have ourselves?  Let us become saints, real saints: without this we shall never be anything but bad teachers.”

It was surely this that Brother Polycarp wanted to instill in his Brothers when he gave them these wise counsels: “Be filled with zeal and devotion for the salvation of souls... Never get discouraged, especially when your efforts obtain little result.  Discouragement ordinarily comes because we really seek self; we aim for a little share of glory, or at least for satisfaction, for the joy of heart brought on by success; and this success, God in his goodness refuses it or delays it.  Let us increase our humility and selflessness, let us do good for its own sake.  (Self-love is a very big obstacle to the divine work.)  May the spirit of zeal, patience, and interior life be the soul of your soul.  Breathe but God, be occupied with and hunger for none but God...” (Letter to Brother David, in America, December 26, 1856).

4 “Vie du Frère Polycarpe” in Positio, pp. 397-398.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * * *  *

Workbook 2:  Brother Polycarp
by Brother Polycarp
“The Importance of Prayer”, p. 72

Be fully convinced, dear Brothers, of the importance of fidelity to these practices and of careful attention to prayer.  Pray, and do so fervently.  In your relations with God, imitate the conduct of a child towards its mother, of a poor person at the door of a rich one.  Give yourself over to the spirit of prayer by entering into the solitude of your heart: it is in this solitude that you will realize the unfathomable depth of wretchedness within you; it is in this same solitude that you will get to know the hearts of Jesus and Mary to whom we belong, and in this knowledge you will recognize the infinite riches and the treasures of grace that flow from these divine sources.

Previous Table of Contents Next