Thoughts for October 13 from Fr Willie Doyle


We continue with the meditations of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, and in particular with the meditation on Hell.

Here are the thoughts suggested by St Ignatius:

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the composition, which is here to see with the sight of the imagination the length, breadth and depth of Hell.

Second Prelude. The second, to ask for what I want: it will be here to ask for interior sense of the pain which the damned suffer, in order that, if, through my faults, I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of the pains may help me not to come into sin.

First Point. The first Point will be to see with the sight of the imagination the great fires, and the souls as in bodies of fire.

Second Point. The second, to hear with the ears wailings, howlings, cries, blasphemies against Christ our Lord and against all His Saints.

Third Point. The third, to smell with the smell smoke, sulphur, dregs and putrid things.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to taste with the taste bitter things, like tears, sadness and the worm of conscience.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to touch with the touch; that is to say, how the fires touch and burn the souls.

Colloquy. Making a Colloquy to Christ our Lord, I will bring to memory the souls that are in Hell, some because they did not believe the Coming, others because, believing, they did not act according to His Commandments; making three divisions:

First, Second, and Third Divisions. The first, before the Coming; the second, during His life; the third, after His life in this world; and with this I will give Him thanks that He has not let me fall into any of these divisions, ending my life.

Likewise, I will consider how up to now He has always had so great pity and mercy on me.

I will end with an Our Father.

Hell is real, and we must avoid it at all costs. Christ speaks many times about Hell in the Gospel. Perhaps previous generations focussed too much on Hell; today our tendency is to ignore it altogether. However, we cannot do this without distorting the Gospel and doing a great disservice to souls. People deserve to hear the truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable.

Here are Fr Doyle’s comments on the meditation on Hell:

I can imagine I am a soul in hell, and God in His mercy is saying to me, “Return to the world for this year and on your manner of life during the year will depend your returning to hell or not.” What a life I should lead! How little I should think of suffering, of mortification! How I would rejoice in suffering! How perfectly each moment would be spent! If God treated me as I deserved, I should be in hell now. Shall I ever again have cause for grumbling or complaining, no matter what may happen? My habit of constantly speaking uncharitably of others, and, in general, faults of the tongue, seem to me the chief reason why I derive so little fruit from my Mass and spiritual duties. Nothing dries up the fountains of grace so much as an affection for sin.

COMMENT: What a fruitful topic for meditation – to consider how we would change our lives if we were given a reprieve from Hell with one more year on earth.

Perhaps some people reading this blog will have less than a year to make amends and reform their life before facing their judgement…

Many saints and mystics have been given the great grace of a vision of Hell. This is a great grace because it brings home in a very real way the horror of sin and how we must love souls. We don’t have to believe these visions, although we would do well to pay attention to them, especially when they have been given to canonised saints and Doctors of the Church. The visions may tell us something about the nature of Hell, although its reality may be somewhat different; as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out when it released the Third Secret of Fatima, visions are often shaped by the culture of those who receive them and in any event the human capacity to verbalise and explain a vision is always limited.

Too much interest in visions and such matters can lead to distortions and they should be approached with caution. However, today I am happy to present St Teresa of Avila’s vision of Hell in her own words for she is a wise and no-nonsense guide…

A long time after the Lord had granted me many of the favours which I have described, together with other very great ones, I was at prayer one day when suddenly, without knowing how, I found myself, as I thought, plunged right into hell. I realized that it was the Lord’s will that I should see the place which the devils had prepared for me there and which I had merited for my sins. This happened in the briefest space of time, but, even if I were to live for many years, I believe it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage, like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall, like a cupboard, and it was here that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison with what I felt there. What I have said is in no way an exaggeration.

My feelings, I think, could not possibly be exaggerated, nor can anyone understand them. I felt a fire within my soul the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing. My bodily sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind — the worst it is possible to endure, the doctors say, such as the shrinking of the nerves during my paralysis [251] and many and divers more, some of them, as I have said, caused by the devil — none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never-ceasing. And even these are nothing by comparison with the agony of my soul, an oppression, a suffocation and an affliction so deeply felt, and accompanied by such hopeless and distressing misery, that I cannot too forcibly describe it. To say that it is as if the soul were continually being torn from the body is very little, for that would mean that one’s life was being taken by another; whereas in this case it is the soul itself that is tearing itself to pieces. The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair, which is greater than the most grievous tortures and pains. I could not see who was the cause of them, but I felt, I think, as if I were being both burned and dismembered; and I repeat that that interior fire and despair are the worst things of all.

In that pestilential spot, where I was quite powerless to hope for comfort, it was impossible to sit or lie, for there was no room to do so. I had been put in this place which looked like a hole in the wall, and those very walls, so terrible to the sight, bore down upon me and completely stifled me. There was no light and everything was in the blackest darkness. I do not understand how this can be, but, although there was no light, it was possible to see everything the sight of which can cause affliction. At that time it was not the Lord’s will that I should see more of hell itself, but I have since seen another vision of frightful things, which are the punishment of certain vices.

To look at, they seemed to me much more dreadful; but, as I felt no pain, they caused me less fear. In the earlier vision the Lord was pleased that I should really feel those torments and that affliction of spirit, just as if my body had been suffering them. I do not know how it was, but I realized quite clearly that it was a great favour and that it was the Lord’s will that I should see with my own eyes the place from which His mercy had delivered me. It is nothing to read a description of it, or to think of different kinds of torture (as I have sometimes done, though rarely, as my soul made little progress by the road of fear): of how the devils tear the flesh with their pincers or of the various other tortures that I have read about — none of these are anything by comparison with this affliction, which is quite another matter. In fact, it is like a picture set against reality, and any burning on earth is a small matter compared with that fire.

I was terrified by all this, and, though it happened nearly six years ago, I still am as I write: even as I sit here, fear seems to be depriving my body of its natural warmth. I never recall any time when I have been suffering trials or pains and when everything that we can suffer on earth has seemed to me of the slightest importance by comparison with this; so, in a way, I think we complain without reason. I repeat, then, that this vision was one of the most signal favours which the Lord has bestowed upon me: it has been of the greatest benefit to me, both in taking from me all fear of the tribulations and disappointments of this life and also in strengthening me to suffer them and to give thanks to the Lord, Who, as I now believe, has delivered me from such terrible and never-ending torments.

Since that time, as I say, everything has seemed light to me by comparison with a single moment of such suffering as I had to bear during that vision. I am shocked at myself when I think that, after having so often read books which give some idea of the pains of hell, I was neither afraid of them nor rated them at what they are. What could I have been thinking of? How could anything give me satisfaction which was driving me to so awful a place? Blessed be Thou, my God, for ever! How plain it has become that Thou didst love me, much more than I love myself! How often, Lord, didst Thou deliver me from that gloomy prison and how I would make straight for it again, in face of Thy will!

This vision, too, was the cause of the very deep distress which I experience because of the great number of souls who are bringing damnation upon themselves — especially of those Lutherans, for they were made members of the Church through baptism. It also inspired me with fervent impulses for the good of souls: for I really believe that, to deliver a single one of them from such dreadful tortures, I would willingly die many deaths. After all, if we see anyone on earth who is especially dear to us suffering great trial or pain, our very nature seems to move us to compassion, and if his sufferings are severe they oppress us too. Who, then, could bear to look upon a soul’s endless sufferings in that most terrible trial of all? No heart could possibly endure it without great affliction. For even earthly suffering, which after all, as we know, has a limit and will end with death, moves us to deep compassion. And that other suffering has no limit: I do not know how we can look on so calmly and see the devil carrying off as many souls as he does daily.

This also makes me wish that in so urgent a matter we were not ourselves satisfied with anything short of doing all that we can. Let us leave nothing undone; and to this end may the Lord be pleased to grant us His grace. I recall that, wicked creature though I was, I used to take some trouble to serve God and refrain from doing certain things which I see tolerated and considered quite legitimate in the world; that I had serious illnesses, and bore them with great patience, which the Lord bestowed on me; that I was not given to murmuring or speaking ill of anyone, nor, I think, could I ever have wished anyone ill; that I was not covetous and never remember having been envious in such a way as grievously to offend the Lord; and that I abstained from certain other faults, and, despicable though I was, lived in the most constant fear of God. And yet look at the place where the devils had prepared a lodging for me! It is true, I think, that my faults had merited a much heavier punishment; but none the less, I repeat, the torture was terrible, and it is a perilous thing for a soul to indulge in its own pleasure or to be placid and contented when at every step it is falling into mortal sin. For the love of God, let us keep free from occasions of sin and the Lord will help us as He has helped me. May it please His Majesty not to let me out of His hand lest I fall once more, now that I have seen the place to which that would lead me. May the Lord forbid this, for His Majesty’s sake. Amen.

Let us pray to St Ignatius, St Teresa and Fr Doyle that we may be spared the horror of Hell, that we may obliterate our attraction for sin and that we may reform our lives so that we become apostolically fruitful and help save souls.

Thoughts for October 12 from Fr Willie Doyle


Today we consider one of the first exercises from the first week – the meditation on sin.

The first week of the Spiritual Exercises is tough – it includes meditations on sin, death, judgement, hell and so forth. Later on the Exercises consider the Resurrection and happier subjects for meditation. But the purpose of the first week is to purify the soul.

St Ignatius proposes a set formula for the meditations including an act of presence of God, a composition of place. These can easily be looked up online and I don’t intend to reproduce them here.

Here is the text of the Exercises dealing with the sin, followed by Fr Doyle’s notes on this meditation.

Second Prelude. The second is to ask God our Lord for what I want and desire.

Here it will be to ask shame and confusion at myself, seeing how many have been damned for only one mortal sin, and how many times I deserved to be condemned forever for my so many sins.

First Point. The first Point will be to bring the memory on the First Sin, which was that of the Angels, and then to bring the intellect on the same, discussing it; then the will, wanting to recall and understand all this in order to make me more ashamed and confound me more, bringing into comparison with the one sin of the Angels my so many sins, and reflecting, while they for one sin were cast into Hell, how often I have deserved it for so many.

I say to bring to memory the sin of the Angels, how they, being created in grace, not wanting to help themselves with their liberty to reverence and obey their Creator and Lord, coming to pride, were changed from grace to malice, and hurled from Heaven to Hell; and so then to discuss more in detail with the intellect: and then to move the feelings more with the will.

Second Point. The second is to do the same–that is, to bring the Three Powers–on the sin of Adam and Eve, bringing to memory how on account of that sin they did penance for so long a time, and how much corruption came on the human race, so many people going the way to Hell.

I say to bring to memory the Second Sin, that of our First Parents; how after Adam was created in the field of Damascus and placed in the Terrestrial Paradise, and Eve was created from his rib, being forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, they ate and so sinned, and afterwards clothed in tunics of skins and cast from Paradise, they lived, all their life, without the original justice which they had lost, and in many labors and much penance. And then to discuss with the understanding more in detail; and to use the will as has been said.

Third Point. The third is likewise to do the same on the Third particular Sin of any one who for one mortal sin is gone to Hell–and many others without number, for fewer sins than I have committed.

I say to do the same on the Third particular Sin, bringing to memory the gravity and malice of the sin against one’s Creator and Lord; to discuss with the understanding how in sinning and acting against the Infinite Goodness, he has been justly condemned forever; and to finish with the will as has been said.

Colloquy. Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me make a Colloquy, how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins.

Likewise, looking at myself, what I have done for Christ, what I am doing for Christ, what I ought to do for Christ.

And so, seeing Him such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself.

The Colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice in them.

St Ignatius presents three images – the sin of the fallen angels who rebelled against God, the sin of our first parents and the sin of a person who committed only one mortal sin in their life, and went to Hell because this was not repented.

This meditation should fill us with great gratitude for the mercy of God who has given us every opportunity to repent.

Here are Fr Doyle’s thoughts:

I can say with all truth that only for the great mercy of God I should now have been in hell. I deserved it for my years of tepidity in Clongowes. Never did the good God show His goodness to me more than in saving me from grievous sin. I have here a second motive of gratitude to urge me to do all He wants.

The meditation on the barren fig-tree (5. Luke 13.) recalled to my mind this gospel which I read in the Mass at Paray- le-Monial. For sixteen years has Jesus been seeking fruit from my soul, and especially in these last three years of preparation for the priesthood. I have no excuse for He has told me how to produce that fruit, especially by the exact discharge of each little duty of the moment. “Spare it for this year,” Never shall I have this opportunity again of becoming holy; and if now I do not “dig round” this unfruitful tree so that it bear much fruit, Jesus will surely “cut it down” by withdrawing His graces and loving invitations.

Truly I have ever been in the community “a running sore” of harm and evil example. My Jesus, can I ever make amends for all the harm I have done? Help me from this instant to try and do so by my fervent earnest life. Help me to become thoroughly changed and to do all You want of me.

This thought came to me. If Jesus wants me to go to the Congo, I shall do more for souls there than by remaining at home. Besides, my sacrifice will obtain grace for others to do more good than I ever could.

“Because you have sinned, cursed be the earth in your work.” (Genesis 3. 17.) I see here the reason why my work for souls must be unfruitful God will never bless it while I have an affection for sin or lead a careless life.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers to Clongowes; this is a Jesuit school in Ireland where he worked for a while as a Jesuit seminarian. He felt that he was tepid while he worked there, although his colleagues at the time considered him an exemplary Jesuit. Perhaps he felt he had been tepid compared with the ardent love and desire for holiness that he felt in his soul. Perhaps his tepidity was relative in nature; even a very devout Jesuit would be tepid relative to the incredible holiness Fr Doyle pursued, and exhibited, in the remaining 10 years of his life.

Interestingly, Fr Doyle felt great gratitude that he was preserved from grievous sin. St Therese also felt this gratitude, and once commented that it is not the great sinner who has been forgiven that has the greatest motive for thanks, but the one who has been protected from sin, for this grace is a pure gift from God that our own meagre efforts are not capable of.

Finally, we may all gain from Fr Doyle’s reflection on the fruitlessness of our work if we live in sin and lukewarmness.

St John XXIII and Fr Doyle


Today is the feast of St John XXIII, although it is not celebrated as it is a Sunday. St John is rightly loved as a good and holy pope. Just as many young Catholic have a great devotion to St John Paul as he was the pope of their formative years, so too there are many of an older generation who have a strong affection for Good Pope John. 

At first glance there does not seem to be much in common between Fr Doyle and St John XXIII. But a closer examination shows many similarities. This is not surprising – Fr Doyle and St John were close in age – Fr Doyle was born in 1873 and St John in 1881. Both were nourished on the same piety and devotional practices typical of that era. Fr Doyle, as a Jesuit, was obviously a son of St Ignatius. But St John himself did the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises himself on a number of occasions. 

We know much about the spiritual life from the diaries of both men. St John’s spiritual diaries have been published under the title Journal of a Soul. It is an extraordinary book, revealing the saint’s struggle to overcome his defects and his growth in holiness. It is hard not to see similarities between these private reflections and Fr Doyle’s private notes in his diary.

One of St John XXIII’s encyclicals was entitled Paenitentiam Agere – On the need for the practice of interior and exterior penance. We find in this encyclical a call for all the faithful to offer up penances for the success of the Second Vatican Council. We also find this interesting paragraph:

It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us almost aghast with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God’s grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations, we whose consciences are perhaps weighed down by so heavy a burden of guilt?

St John XXIII speaks of inspiration, admiration and saintly heroism when considering the harsh penances of the saints…

The entire document is well worth reading:

Fr Doyle’s life of penance may not be something we are called to imitate in its totality today. Indeed, on this day in 1914, Fr Doyle wrote one of his characteristic diary entries:

Jesus told me at Exposition, and I do not think I have mistaken His voice, that the way in which I must sanctify myself myself is by suffering, corporal penance, and denial in all things. 

Clearly we are not expected to copy Fr Doyle by denying ourselves in all things. But it is important to remember that Fr Doyle’s penitential spirit was entirely in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and is mirrored in the lives and teachings of the saints, including the ever popular St John XXIII. 

It would be bizarre for anybody to over-emphasise the role of physical penance in the life of St John XXIII and to reduce his personality to this one aspect of his spiritual life. So, too, those who allow Fr Doyle’s penance to loom too large in their memory of him do him a disservice, and foster an unbalanced image of a very human and very self-sacrificing war hero. 

Thoughts for October 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Ignatius of Loyola by Ruebens

The Spiritual Exercises begin with a meditation on the Principle and Foundation of our existence. Any serious Christian should be able to concur with the principles St Ignatius outlines at the beginning of the Exercises. However, accepting these principles brings home to us the full extent of our obligations before Almighty God. It is one thing to accept them, quite another to wholeheartedly live our lives in accordance with these Principles. If we ever managed to fully live these principles we would, undoubtedly, become saints.

Here is what St Ignatius has to say:


Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on this part of the Spiritual Exercises:

God had some special end in creating me, some particular part in His great plan. I was not created as it were one of a great number who came into the world on the same day; but God had a particular object in giving me life. Why did He create me ?

How miserable has been my service of God since I entered religion! A bit fervent one day, the next dissipated and careless, even since my ordination. I have fallen away from the fervent way in which I had resolved to live hence forth. I feel inclined to despond ; but with God’s help I will go on, trying now at last to make some little progress in serving Him worthily. My true service of God consists in performing the ordinary actions of the day as perfectly and as fervently as I can, with a pure intention for love of my Jesus. It is a mistake to think that I can only serve Him by preaching, saving souls, etc. What would have become of me if I had treated an earthly master as I have served God?

To be indifferent does not mean to desire things which are hard to nature, but a readiness and determination to embrace them when once the will of God is known. In this sense I think I am indifferent about going to the Congo. But I must force myself to be willing to accept the way of life which God seems to be leading me to and wants me to adopt. My God, I dread it but “not my will but Thine”.

God has a perfect right to ask from me what He wills; I am His servant. How then can I be free to do or not whatever He may ask?

I close the Fundamentum (meditation on the Principle and Foundation) with feelings of humility and sorrow at the thought of my past service of God. How little reverence! Thank God, I have still time to make up for it. One thing alone can repair the lost years a life of great fervour.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle here refers to the Congo. Perhaps there are readers who are unfamiliar with Fr Doyle so some commentary may be in order. Fr Doyle felt that the Lord may have been asking him to volunteer for missionary work in the Congo. Fr Doyle was at once attracted to, and repulsed by, this idea. Throughout this retreat he discerns whether he should volunteer for this tough missionary assignment. In the end he decided that it was what God wanted. However, his superiors decided against sending him, and 8 years later he volunteered as a chaplain in World War 1 and faced deprivation that was surely equal to, if not greater than, anything the Congo had to offer.

Fr Doyle revealed himself to be indifferent to health, riches, honour, comfort and life itself in his quest to praise, reverence and serve his Master.

Thoughts for October 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

Copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1586
Copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1586

Today we will start a new series of special quotations from Fr Doyle. This day 108 years ago – 10 October 1907 – Fr Doyle commenced the “Long Retreat”: 30 days immersed in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Many people – lay and religious – do the spiritual exercises but in a truncated form over 8 or so days. But St Ignatius designed the exercises to last 30 days, with particular meditations and themes for each week and each day. Jesuits do the exercises for the full 30 days twice in their life – once when they start in the novitiate and then a second time after ordination. It is this second experience of Fr Doyle in doing the 30-day exercises that we are now going to consider.

Firstly, an overview of the Exercises from O’Rahilly, who himself had been a Jesuit novice before discerning that this was not his vocation.

As we begin with his Long Retreat, it may be useful to add here by way of preface a few general ideas about the scope of the Exercises. According to St. Ignatius, “the name of spiritual exercises is applied to any method of preparing and disposing the soul to free itself from all inordinate affections, and after it has freed itself from them, to seek and find the will of God concerning the ordering of life for the salvation of one soul.” Thus a retreat is designed for earnest souls only in a very attenuated form can the Exercises be adapted to a mission for sinners; and it has a definite object to find God’s will. At the beginning St. Ignatius lays down the “first principle and foundation” which must be admitted at the outset. It is the basis of all valuation of life: Man was made for God, all other things for man to bring him to God. Thus the exercitant accepts in advance and in general the practical consequences which logically follow from this acceptance of the Creator’s sovereign rights. Then for a whole week he must seek to eliminate all sin and disorder and to examine his soul. In the second week the exercitant is brought face to face with Jesus Christ. Will he follow the invitation and enlist in the King s service? He must count up the cost, he must study Christ s standard, he must at least aspire to the highest and noblest service. Then comes the great choice, which St. Ignatius calls “the election,” and which is the culminating point of the Exercises.

In ordinary retreats, of course, there is no great decisive choice to be made, but there is always some “reformation of life,” some re-ordering of one’s life in the light of the great spiritual truths and scenes which have been marshalled before the soul. God s will is known and accepted. One more week is spent in meditating on the Passion, and a fourth and last is devoted to the contemplation of the Risen Master, in order to habituate the soul to pure love and to strengthen the resolutions taken. Such, in brief essentials, are the Exercises through which in their entirety each Jesuit passes twice in his life, once as a novice at the outset of his spiritual life, and finally as a priest at the outset of his ministry.

Fr Doyle made many notes during these 30 days and they shall be reproduced here in full over the next month. There is much in these notes – often the daily quotes from the blog have been taken from these retreat notes. I do not intend to elaborate often or in depth on these notes, both because I am inadequate to such a task and because the implications of Fr Doyle’s meditations are direct, clear and immediately practical to us. Fr Doyle did not make notes every day or on every aspect of the retreat, but I have attempted to divide them up the notes we do have so that we can consider some aspect of his retreat meditations for quite a few of the days over the next month.

This retreat was a turning point for Fr Doyle. He was clearly a devout and dedicated Jesuit before this retreat. But something stirred deep within him on these 30 days and he subsequently pursued sanctity and the fulfilment of God’s will with a much deeper dedication than before. His deeply personal notes, intended only for his private use, allow us to see some of this transformation in action. May we too experience a deepening of commitment as we follow Fr Doyle’s footsteps over the coming weeks.

Let us begin with Fr Doyle’s first diary entry on the night on which he commenced the Spiritual Exercises in Tronchiennes, Belgium, 108 years ago today.

Tronchiennes, 10th October, 1907.

I begin the Long Retreat this evening with very varied feelings. I feel a great desire and determination to make this retreat as I have never made one before, for I know this is the turning point in my life I can never be the same again. I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.” Hence I feel my cowardly and weak nature dreading this retreat, for I feel our Lord is going to ask some big sacrifice from me, that He expects much from me. He has been tugging at my heart for so many years, urging me in so many ways to give myself wholly to Him, to give all and refuse Him nothing. I dread lest now I shall again refuse Him perhaps it is the last time He will ask me to do what He wants. My loving Jesus, I will, I will be generous with You now at last. But You must aid me, it must be Your work, I am so cowardly. Make me see clearly Your holy will. Lord, what would you have me do?

Thoughts for October 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Pray for all, but especially for sinners, and in particular for those whose sins are most painful to His Sacred Heart. With great earnestness recommend to His mercy the poor souls who are in their agony. What a dreadful hour, an hour tremendously decisive, is the hour of our death! Surround with your love these souls going to appear before God, and defend them by your prayers.

COMMENT: It’s almost paradoxical – the most important moment of our lives is the very last moment. In this moment our eternity is decided. Someone who has lived a life of vice may convert and be saved, but similarly someone who lived a good life, if they freely and consciously commit a mortal sin at the moment of death and do not repent, cannot see God.

This is why the grace of final perseverance is so important, and why the saints constantly prayed for this grace. Even though we attempt to live a virtuous life, we should never presume that we will persevere. It is also one of the reasons why we must flee mortal sins with all our might, for we may die unexpectedly in the act of rebellion against God. (Of course, the more perfect reason to avoid mortal sin is because it offends God…).

We must always consider our death when we pray the Hail Mary, for in this prayer we ask our Mother to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. How causally we can overlook the importance of these words.

Fr Doyle was acutely aware of the importance of those last final moments, and he risked his own life, and abandoned his own comforts, in order to provide the sacraments to soldiers during their last moments. Here is one small snippet out of many in his letters describing the gratitude of those soldiers who had the grace of a priest to bless them at the hour of death. May we all be similarly blessed with this grace!

A sad morning as casualties were heavy and many men came in dreadfully wounded. One man was the bravest I ever met. He was in dreadful agony, for both legs had been blown off at the knee But never a complaint fell from his lips, even while they dressed his wounds, and he tried to make light of his injuries. “Thank God, Father”, he said, “I am able to stick it out to the end. Is it not all for little Belgium?” The Extreme Unction, as I have noticed time and again, eased his bodily pain. “I am much better now and easier, God bless you”, he said, as I left him to attend a dying man. He opened his eyes as I knelt beside him: “Ah! Fr. Doyle, Fr. Doyle”, he whispered faintly, and then motioned me to bend lower as if he had some message to give. As I did so, he put his two arms round my neck and kissed me. It was all the poor fellow could do to show his gratitude that he had not been left to die alone and that he would have the consolation of receiving the Last Sacraments before he went to God. Sitting a little way off I saw a hideous bleeding object, a man with his face smashed by a shell, with one if not both eyes torn out. He raised his head as I spoke. “Is that the priest? Thank God, I am all right now.” I took his blood-covered hands in mine as I searched his face for some whole spot on which to anoint him. I think I know better now why Pilate said “Behold the Man” when he showed our Lord to the people.

Thoughts for October 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

Solid virtue is so called because it is formed by amassing together a facility in repeated acts. Hence the practice of any virtue is not the less meritorious because it is easy. Quite the contrary. The merit depends on the intention we had when we determined to practise the virtue, and not on the amount of pain it costs.

COMMENT: Here we see once again the tremendous balance of Fr Doyle. Solid virtue comes from practicing virtue time and time again, especially in little things. Big once-off actions, while they may be meritorious, are not the essence of well grounded virtue and holiness which comes from doing ordinary tasks with the right intention.

In this Fr Doyle was quite like St Francis de sales who taught that even small, simple acts performed with love were of great merit.

Here is a description of St Francis’ view of the matter from his great friend and disciple Jean Pierre Camus, taken from the book The Spirit of St Francis de Sales:

He considered, as we have seen, that the degree of the supernatural in any virtue could not be decided by the greatness or smallness of the external act, since an act in itself altogether trivial, may be performed with much grace and charity, while a very brilliant and dazzling good work may be animated by but a very feeble spark of love of God, the intensity of which is, after all, the only rule by which to ascertain its true value in His sight.

St Francis de Sales
St Francis de Sales