Thoughts for December 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

My genius of an orderly fried meat and pudding together and, with a smile of triumph on his face, brought both on the same plate to the dug-out. He is a good poor chap, but I would not recommend him as a cook.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on 22nd December 1916, 98 years ago today. Fr Doyle loved his orderly (Fr Doyle had the rank of Captain, and thus had an orderly to attend to him), but he had much to suffer at his hands – he seems to have lacked a certain common sense. On one occasion he seems to have made tea from the water in which he washed Fr Doyle’s socks! On another occasion (if I recall correctly…) tea was made from water tainted with petrol. Yet, as usual, Fr Doyle offered it all up and took everything in good spirit. 

The famous Fr Frank Browne SJ was a witness to the challenges posed by Fr Doyle’s orderly. Here is his account of one tale of woe.

I rode over one morning to see Fr Doyle. I found him writing letters, which he interrupted to tell me of Murphy’s latest. Pointing to his trench boots he asked me to smell them. They were awful. Murphy, in order to prepare them for polishing, had in the orthodox way washed them, but in an unorthodox manner he had chosen a cesspool! The result was almost too much from Fr Willie. When I told him to sack Murphy on the spot, saying that it was getting a bit too much of a good joke, he laughed and said: ‘Well he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, I can perhaps gain something too.’ I must say his patience and restraint made a great impression on me.

Fr Doyle’s kind patience in dealing with the incompetence of his orderly, and the huge inconveniences they caused him in the midst of so many other stresses and dangers, is surely a sign of great virtue. It is also a further sign that his penances were appropriate for him - a neurotic and unbalanced personality who performed penance out of an unhealthy obsession seems unlikely to be able to maintain patience and serenity in the face of these provocations. But Fr Doyle was universally known for this sweetness and calm, even when tired, under stress and facing grave dangers. 

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema 101 years ago

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 101 years ago today. It relates to a recent trip to the cinema – it’s not clear what date he went to the cinema, but presumably it was the same day or at most a few days beforehand. 

At the end of the performance of “Quo Vadis?” the words of our Lord seemed to go through my soul. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified for thee.’ Jesus must have given me a big grace, for I walked home stunned, with these words ringing in my ears: ‘crucified for thee.’ Oh, Jesus, Jesus, why cannot I be crucified for You? I long for it with all my heart, and yet I remain a coward. Thank you at least for the dear light You have given me about the life You ask from me, namely, ‘to give up every comfort and gratification, to embrace lovingly every possible pain and suffering.’

As O’Rahilly wryly comments on this passage of Fr Doyle’s diary, this was ‘a devout conclusion not always deducible from cinema shows!’

Quo Vadis? is an excellent and gripping novel written in the late 19th century – I highly highly recommend it. It tells the story of the early Christians and the persecutions that had to endure. Fr Doyle was always attracted by the lives of the early martyrs, and it is this no surprise that the story in Quop Vadis? would really appeal to him. 

So, here we have the modern Fr Doyle, enjoying a trip to the cinema!

Incidentally, here is the version of Quo Vadis?, which Fr Doyle went to see.

 

Thoughts for December 21 (4th Sunday of Advent) from Fr Willie Doyle

21 December: A day I always like because the turning point of the year and from this on the evenings will be longer, the mornings brighter and, best of all, the sun hotter. I can quite understand now why the missioners when preaching to the Eskimos tell them that Hell is the devil and all of a cold place, otherwise every man Jack would just be longing to get there as soon as possible.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter to his father in 1916. He had already lived through some rough conditions and seen a lot of suffering in the previous 12 months as a military chaplain, yet once again we see his joyful and light-hearted spirit on display. Those of us who dislike the intense darkness of this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere can also surely identify with how much he looked forward to spring, though in Fr Doyle’s case, writing in December 1916, he had a intensely cold few weeks ahead of him through January 1917. But of course, he approached them with the same cheerful spirit.

It’s hard not to love Fr Doyle’s sense of humour and cheerful optimism. Fr Doyle was always joyful, always looking to put the best foot forward in every situation. As Pope Francis continually tells us, Christians should be filled with the joy of the Gospel. In fact, it is Fr Doyle’s cheerful spirit, abundantly testified to by so many who knew him, that is one of his most appealing characteristics.

In addition to being the 4th Sunday of Advent it is also the feast of the great Jesuit saint and Doctor of the Church St Peter Canisius. His remarkable life of hard work, preaching and teaching, always with charity and respect, did so much to promote the faith in northern and central Europe during the Catholic Reformation. Like all those who serve Him, Jesus guided this great saint and provided for him the graces needed to make his work bear fruit.

Despite St Peter’s undoubted sanctity and importance in the Catholic Reformation, he wasn’t beatified until more than 250 years after his death. Indeed, let us also recall the case of the Church’s newest saint, St Peter Faber, one of the co-founders of the Jesuits, beatified 300 years after his death and canonised just 4 days ago, more than 450 years after he died! Sometimes it just takes time for these things to work themselves out. Perhaps Fr Doyle’s time will also come one day…

You may be interested in reading more about St Peter Canisius here: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_019.htm

St Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church
St Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for December 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

Ordination 2

There is no rule for vocations, no age-limit for the Call. Innocence attracts the gaze of God, deep-rooted habits of sin, provided they are not persevered in, do not always repel Him. One comes because the world disgusts him, another loves it and leaves it with regret; docility draws down more graces, while resistance often increases the force of the invitation. The little child hears God’s whisperings, while others have not been summoned till years were far advanced.

COMMENT: We are all called to some form of vocation, whether that be the religious life, marriage or even to be perpetually single and without vows. To a great extent, our sanctity depends on our perseverance in that vocation.

In today’s quote, Fr Doyle is specifically referring to a religious vocation. He was a well known and effective promoter of religious vocations; some of his writings on the vocation to the priesthood and the religious life can be found by clicking on the link to Fr Doyle’s writings on the top of the page.

Jesus has given all to us – our life, our health, our family and friends, our immortal soul. He gives us everything. We owe everything to Him. Those who fully embrace their vocation always report that it is a source of great joy and happiness for them.

If we have already found our vocation, we should pray for those still trying to discern. If we are still uncommitted in life, we should remain open to the Lord’s call, whatever that may be…

Thoughts for December 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

Soldiers preparing Christmas dinner at the front

Fr Doyle wrote the following letter to his sister from the trenches on 19th December 1916, 98 years ago today. It gives some insight into the hardship of his life, the humour and humanity with which he greeted these hardships, and his constant supernatural outlook.

I want to have a little chat with you but you must promise to keep to yourself what I write to you. Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me. In the first place my life, especially here in the trenches, has become a real hermit’s one, cave and all, a mixture of solitude with a touch of the hardships of a foreign mission. The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before. He has put strange thoughts into my head and given me many lights which I feel have changed my whole outlook upon life. Then I feel, oh, so strongly, that I am going through a kind of noviceship, a sort of spiritual training, for some big work He wants me to do in the future. I feel every day as if spiritual strength and power were growing in my soul. This thought of being trained or fitted for God’s work (if I may use the comparison with all reverence) like St. John the Baptist, has filled me with extraordinary joy and made me delight in a life which could not well be much harder.

Here I am in a bit of a hole in the side of a ditch, so low that I cannot stand upright and have to bend my head and shoulders during Mass — I can tell you my back aches at the end. My only window is the door (without a door) through which the wind blows day and night; and a cold wind it is just now. I was offered a little stove but my “Novice Master” did not want that luxury, for it never came. My home would be fairly dry if I could keep out the damp mists and persuade the drops of water not to trickle from the roof. As a rule I sleep well, though one is often roused to attend some poor fellow who has been hit. Still it is rather reversing the order of things to be glad to get up in the morning to try and get warm; and it is certainly not pleasant to be wakened from sweet dreams by a huge rat burrowing under your pillow or scampering over your face! This has actually happened to me. There is no great luxury in the matter of food, as you may well guess. Recently, owing to someone’s carelessness, or possibly because the bag was made to pay toll on the way up to the trenches, my day’s rations consisted of half a pot of jam and a piece of cheese!

Through all this, and much in addition, the one thought ever in my mind is the goodness and love of God in choosing me to lead this life, and thus preparing me without a chance of refusal for the work He wants doing. No amount of reading or meditating could have proved to me so convincingly that a life of privation, suffering and sacrifice, accepted lovingly for the love of Jesus, is a life of great joy, and surely of great graces You see, therefore, that I have reasons in abundance for being happy, and I am truly so.

Hence you ought to be glad that I have been counted worthy to suffer something for our dear Lord, the better to be prepared to do His work. Ask Him, won’t you, that I may not lose this golden opportunity, but may profit to the full by the graces He is giving me. Every loving wish from my heart for a holy and happy Christmas. Let our gift to the divine Babe be the absolute sacrifice of even our desires, so that His Will alone may be done.

Thoughts for December 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

“I have called upon Thee in the day of my trouble” (Psalm 85. 7). Jesus is our comforter. What burden is there which He cannot lighten? What cross that He cannot make sweet? Be our troubles what they may, if only we will call on Jesus and implore His aid, we shall find our sufferings lessened and the rough ways smoothed for our bleeding feet.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle knew what he was talking about; he lived the reality of suffering in a way that few of us can ever realise. Let us imitate him by increasing our trust in God. Whether we face only minor inconveniences and frustrations or major, life-altering problems, we will find help if we turn to Christ.

In one week we shall celebrate the birth of Christ. What an incredible event this was in history – God became man in order that we might be saved. Jesus has experienced poverty, pain, loneliness, betrayal, tiredness, hunger, temptation, and all for love of us. How can we ever doubt Him? How can we ever fail to turn to Him when we are in need?

Thoughts for December 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

A want of will is the chief obstacle to our becoming saints. We are not holy because we do not really wish to become so. We would indeed gladly possess the virtues of the saints – their humility and patience, their love of suffering, their penance and zeal. But we are unwilling to embrace all that goes to make a saint and to enter on the narrow path which leads to sanctity. A strong will, a resolute will, is needed; a will which is not to be broken by difficulties or turned aside by trifling obstacles; a determination to be a saint and not to faint and falter because the way seems long and hard and narrow. A big heart, a courageous heart, is needed for sanctification, to fight our worst enemy – our own self-love.