Thoughts for the Feast of St Pius X (August 21) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Pius X
St Pius X

There are two patron saints to whom I have a tremendous devotion: a sheet of paper and a lead pencil. Mark down at least once a day everything you do and every time you do it. It will not make you proud to see all you do; but it will humble you by showing you all you don’t do.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was extremely methodological in his spiritual life. He kept very specific diaries and accounts of what he did and of what he failed to do, and it is largely these books that allow us to get a glimpse at his inner life.

For some people this process of meticulously recording victories over self, and also of weaknesses and sins, could seem too pedestrian and too banal (and perhaps for some it could lead to scruples…). However, it is this fighting spirit that really makes Fr Doyle very endearing for in this we see how an ordinary man fought, with God’s grace, to overcome himself and to become an inspiring hero who saved so many in the trenches. The lead pencil and the sheet of paper were essential in this process of Fr Doyle’s spiritual blossoming. While care might be needed lest we become too self-absorbed or scrupulous, we should not imagine ourselves to be above this process of self-examination.

Today is the feast of St Pius X, Pope from 1903-1914 (he died 100 years ago this week). He had something to say on this matter himself:

It would indeed be shameful if in this matter Christ’s saying should be verified, that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). We can observe with what diligence they look after their affairs; how often they balance their credit and debit; how accurately they make up their accounts; how they deplore their losses and so eagerly excite themselves to repair them.

Today we are not limited to a sheet of paper or a lead pencil – there are many new forms of technology that will allow us to keep track of our use of time and to keep track of our sins. This technology makes the battle against our weakness even easier than it was for Fr Doyle.

St Pius X was a great pope and saint who was greatly loved in his own day. Unfortunately he has often been mistakenly depicted in a rather negative way by some. Suffice it to say he was a deeply humble man with a special place in his heart for children, and he possessed a simplicity similar to that of Pope Francis. It was of course St Pius who lowered the age at which children can receive Holy Communion, from about 12-14 down to 7. In fact, it was a little Irish girl, Ellen Organ, affectionately known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who was instrumental in this. Little Nellie ended up living with some nuns after her mother died. She was diagnosed with TB, but had a great longing to receive Holy Communion, so her local bishop in County Cork gave extraordinary permission for her to receive the Eucharist at just four and a half years of age. She received the Eucharist 32 times before her death in February 1908. She was a remarkable mystic, spending hours in thanksgiving after receiving Communion.

St Pius was deeply edified by this story, and on hearing about it he declared that this was the sign he was waiting for. It was after this event that he allowed younger children to receive Communion. St Pius even asked for a relic of Little Nellie after her death. Imagine – the great Pontiff asking for a relic of a four and a half year old girl in County Cork! Thus he illustrates for us his own child like heart and his concern for the little ones.

Ellen Organ - Little Nellie of Holy God
Ellen Organ – Little Nellie of Holy God

When Nellie’s coffin was opened 18 months after her death, her body was apparently found to be incorrupt.

Of course, Fr Doyle had an interest in the life of Little Nellie, and he visited her grave after giving a retreat in County Cork just three years after her death. He records his experience as follows:

Kneeling there I asked her what God wanted from me, when I heard an interior voice clearly repeating, “Love Him, love Him”. The following day she seemed to rebuke me, when leaving the cemetery, for the careless way I performed most of my spiritual duties, and to say that God was displeased with this and wanted great fervour and perfection in them.

Let us pray to St Pius, who had such care for the little ones, that the Church will finally rid itself of that awful sin of abuse which has damaged so many children and families, which has besmirched the priesthood and which has wounded the credibility of the Church in the eyes of the world.

Let us also pray that the cause of Ellen Organ may finally be opened and that she will be canonised. Ireland needs its own saints, even very little ones! In fact, if she was to be canonised, Nellie would be the youngest non-martyred saint in history.

Thoughts for the Feast of St Bernard from Fr Willie Doyle

St Bernard 2

 

How many deceive themselves in thinking sanctity consists in the holy follies of the saints! How many look upon holiness as something beyond their reach or capability, and think that it is to be found only in the performance of extraordinary actions. Satisfied that they have not the strength for great austerities, the time for much prayer, or the courage for painful humiliations, they silence their conscience with the thought that great sanctity is not for them, that they have not been called to be saints. With their eyes fixed on the heroic deeds of the few, they miss the daily little sacrifices God asks them to make; and while waiting for something great to prove their love, they lose the countless little opportunities of sanctification each day bears with it in its bosom.

COMMENTS: The feast of St Bernard seems as good a day as any to address some of the controversies that seem to surround Fr Doyle’s life of penance.

In today’s quotation, Fr Doyle is clear that sanctity does not necessitate severe penances. Yes, a few are called by that path, but we are all called along the path of embracing the tasks and challenges of each day. We are all called to some form of penance, but for the most part it will be moderate and focused on doing our duties well. This is not easy but it is ultimately within our reach, if we will it and if we rely on God’s grace.

Fr Doyle certainly embraced the mundane tasks of each day. But he also went much further and lived a life of severe penance. This caused something of a scandal for a very small number of people when it was revealed in O’Rahilly’s biography (though it is noteworthy that in his later editions, O’Rahilly mentions a number of Protestant clerics who admired Fr Doyle’s example in this area). To this day it remains a stumbling block to some people.

It is clear that Fr Doyle repented of an occasion when he was temporarily ill due to imprudent penance. It is also clear that he lived a most vigorous life of action during the war and that his health was in no way compromised as a result of his penances; in fact he even reported that he felt more energetic and healthy following penance. If the test of prudence in penance is that it does not interfere with our daily duties and tasks, then he most certainly passed that test.

It is also clear, from today’s quotation and from many others, that he never advised others to adopt hard physical penances and in fact he often forbade others to do so.

Fr Doyle also acted with the approval of his confessor, moderating his acts as his confessor suggested. Everything Fr Doyle did had a precedent in the lives of the saints, including some of the most popular, modern saints. It also appears that he had, or at least he thought he had, a specific calling to austerity of this type.

We must not forget the context in which Fr Doyle lived. It is also important to remember that people – even the very holy – are influenced by their surrounding culture. Corporal penance was the norm in religious life right up to a few decades ago. Some well known Jesuits destroyed their private notes before death precisely because of the way the secrets of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life became public following the discovery of his diaries. Perhaps Fr Doyle’s penances were more common than we imagine. It is also worth remembering that penance – moderate and appropriate for our condition – is a normal part of the Christian life, so much so that the ever popular St John XXIII wrote an entire encyclical on penance and urged Catholics to offer penances for the success of the Second Vatican Council. Penance is not something obscure or disturbing in the Christian life. Indeed, it is odd for anyone to consider penance to be an anachronism given that we now live in a culture where hard, pressured work is seen as the norm, and where many people punish their bodies in a gym – this work, and these workouts, are probably much harsher than the penances normally practiced in the past. 

It is also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems to have given up the hard physical penances for the last years of his life in the trenches, instead cheerfully embracing the hardships of that most awful life as his penance.

Yes, corporal penance was an aspect of Fr Doyle’s life, as with almost all canonised saints. But these hard penances were only one aspect of Fr Doyle’s spirituality. It would be a mistake to sum up a charming personality like that of St Pope John Paul II only by reference to the modified leather belt with which he scourged himself, or St Therese of Lisieux only by reference to the hairshirt which she wore, or the great Servant of God Fr John Sullivan by the floor on which he slept and the chains which he wore. We can keep multiplying the examples – Venerable Matt Talbot, St Pio of Pietrelcina, St Francis of Assisi, St Dominic, St Ignatius, St Martin de Porres and on and on. There is so much more to the remarkable personalities of the saints than the physical penance they practiced. We should not ignore this aspect of the lives of the saints, but neither should we allow it to overshadow the rest of their lives and certainly we should not allow it to influence us to copy their example imprudently.

And this brings us to today’s feast of St Bernard, who admitted that he ruined his health through imprudent penance, and repented of his folly. This revelation of his imprudence does not make St Bernard any less of a role model for the rest of us, nor did it ever prevent him from being canonised or declared a Doctor of the Church.

By the way, it is often said that St Bernard exerted more influence during his own life than any other saint in history. Some of this was probably due to his own magnetic personality and to the gifts God gave him, and some of it is almost certainly due to the era in which he lived – Christendom in the West was not yet divided and the Church was organised and very powerful.

Here is an interesting homily on St Bernard which elaborates on St Bernard’s incredible influence on those around him, and which also touches on the topic of his imprudent penance.

Thoughts for August 19 (St John Eudes) from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Eudes
St John Eudes

Two wings by which we can fly to God and become saints: the habit of little tiny acts of self-denial and the habit of making a definite fixed number of aspirations every day.

COMMENT: The use of aspirations was an important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. Those under a certain age may be unfamiliar with aspirations and may even be unaware of what they mean. Aspirations are simple, short prayers of just a sentence or even a few words. They can be repeated in times of trial or temptation, or like many of the saints, on a regular or indeed constant basis in order to deepen our union with Christ.

In his diary Fr Doyle writes that constantly repeating aspirations was the penance of his life. Those who know something about Fr Doyle’s inner life will realise what a big claim that is!

Amazingly his diary records him saying tens of thousands of aspirations each day. It’s not quite clear how he managed this; in practice it probably means that his mind was always continually focused on God and that he lived St Paul’s recommendation that we pray without ceasing. He also records how saying some aspirations helped him in moments of temptation and weakness; he also used to pray aspirations to give him the strength to get out of bed on time. Perhaps we can all learn from that!

While we hear much less about the use of aspirations than in previous generations, the practice was very important to the saints.

St Josemaria Escriva writes:

There will be other occasions on which all we’ll need will be two or three words, said with the quickness of a dart — ejaculatory prayers, aspirations that we learn from a careful reading of Christ’s life: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” ”Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” ”Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief,” strengthen my faith. “Lord, I am not worthy.” ”My Lord and my God!”… or other short phrases, full of affection, that spring from the soul’s intimate fervour and correspond to the different circumstances of each day.

Today’s saint, John Eudes, was also much devoted to the use of aspirations. Writing about himself in the third person, he says that he knows a person

…who by the frequent use of (aspirations) has arrived at such a stage that it is easy for him, even when taking his meals, to make actually almost as many acts of love for Jesus as he places morsels in his mouth. This he does not only without strain or trouble of inconvenience, but he is not thereby prevented from talking and taking recreation. I say this, not that you should do the same, for there would immediately be an outcry that I was asking things too difficult, but that you may know how much power there is in a holy habit, and how wrong the world is in imagining so much difficulty and bitterness where there is merely every kind of sweetness and delight.

August 18: St Alberto Hurtado and Fr Doyle

St Alberto Hurtado 1901-1952
St Alberto Hurtado            1901-1952

Today is the feast of St Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit saint from Chile. He was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and is renowned for his social work and love of the poor.

Contacts in Chile also tell me that he is remembered among the Jesuits there as a devotee of Fr Doyle. He apparently distributed literature relating to Fr Doyle and encouraged others to learn about his life. I understand that he came to Ireland as a young Jesuit to learn English, so it was probably on this occasion that he heard about Fr Doyle. Here we have a joyful, cheerful modern saint who was devoted to social justice and who also presumably derived personal spiritual benefits from the example, and words, of Fr Doyle.

St Alberto is not alone – we know that St Josemaria Escriva, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Venerable Adolphus Petit, the Servant of God Bernard Quinn and the Servant of God John Sullivan all admired Fr Doyle. There may well be other well known saints who were also devoted to him, and indeed there are many thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who have been inspired by Fr Doyle’s love of God and of neighbour.

I am not aware of a specific reference to Fr Doyle in St Alberto’d writings, but there may well be something there: if anybody knows anything please let me know.

There is a list of some meditations in English from St Alberto here. Interestingly, St Alberto refers to the Venerable Matt Talbot (we have no direct evidence, but also surely a devotee of Fr Doyle??) in this meditation.

Here is a short video of his life:

.

A hero dies: The 97th anniversary of the death of Fr Doyle

3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917
3 March 1873 – 16 August 1917

My Martyrdom for Mary’s Sake.

Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, on this the first day of thy month, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.

May 1st, 1893.

May God’s will, not mine, be done! Amen.

Fr Doyle kept his part of the bargain – the remaining 24 years of his life were literally a slow martyrdom of “earnest hard work and constant self-denial”. As might be expected, Mary kept her part of the bargain, and won for him the grace of martyrdom on August 16, 1917: 97 years ago today.

This is O’Rahilly’s brief account of Fr Doyle’s death:

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

The book The Cross on the Sword: Catholic Chaplains in the Armed Forces claims that another military chaplain by the name of Fr Fitzmaurice heard Fr Doyle’s confession 15 minutes before his death. If this is true, then Fr Doyle himself had the great grace of confession just moments before death – this is a great gift to one who lost his own life while bringing this sacrament to others.

Those who wish to know more about Fr Doyle’s service as a military chaplain, and who wish to know the identity of the officers that Fr Doyle ran to help when he was killed, should purchase a copy of Carole Hope’s Worshipper and Worshipped – it is the definitive guide to this aspect of Fr Doyle’s life.

Worshipper and Worshipped

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was not properly buried and preserved. There are various suggestions that he was hastily buried under rocks, and that soldiers who found his body removed some of his uniform buttons and his Pioneer pin and gave them to Fr Frank Browne for safe keeping. There are other suggestions that the location of Fr Doyle’s body was noted, and when men returned to bury him, that it was no longer to be found, presumably having been hit by another shell. Ultimately, we don’t know where his body is so we have no physical remains or monuments to him. In this regard, one of the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography quotes the words of St Ignatius of Antioch which are very fitting:

Entice the wild beasts to become my tomb and leave no trace of my body so that in falling asleep I may be a burden to no one. Then shall I be really a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world will not even see my body.

St Patrick wrote in a similar vein: 

I beg of God whom I love to grant me that I may shed my blood with those strangers and captives for His name’s sake, even though I be without burial itself, or my corpse be most miserably divided, limb by limb, amongst dogs and fierce beasts, or the birds of the air devour it. I think it most certain that if this happens to me, I shall have gained my soul with my body.

And so it was with Fr Doyle.

How does one sum up someone who lived such a varied and remarkable life as Fr Doyle on this, his anniversary? Perhaps only the words of Christ Himself would do him justice:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Thank you Fr Willie for this love that you showed to the wounded soldiers in the Great War and for the inspiring example of your virtues throughout your life.

A song mentioning Fr Doyle

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary – Day 9: Peace in the life of Fr Doyle

Today, the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s heroic death, we shall consider the role of serenity and peace in Fr Doyle’s life.

One of the remarkable things about Fr Doyle was his profound interior peace, even in the midst of objectively horrific circumstances. This is something that we can also identify in the lives of canonised saints – they all had a rare serenity, even when facing death. St Thomas More joked with his executioner, while St Lawrence the Deacon joked with those who were burning him to death that they should turn him over on the griddle, because he was already well cooked on one side already! And it wasn’t just martyrs who remained peaceful – saints like Gerard Majella and Vincent de Paul remained calm when falsely accused of crimes, while others like Teresa of Avila and Maravillas remained peaceful in the face of grave financial worries related to their foundations.

Many people noticed a special peace that emanated from Fr Doyle. His brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ noted:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

The soldiers felt a certain “something” about Fr Doyle as well, and some of this peace seemed to communicate itself to them. An Irish soldier recounts the following incident:

You need not worry any longer about my soul. I came across a Jesuit, a Fr Willie Doyle, out here, and he settled up my accounts with the Lord. Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’  

What did Fr Doyle himself have to say about his peace of soul, and its true source? We learn a lot from his letters home:

In some ways I have found life out here much easier than I expected and in other respects a good deal more trying. Still if I get only a little bit of holiness out of it all, will it not be well worth it all? Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world — to love Him and Him alone — for the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving Hands and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

And elsewhere

God’s will is everything to me now. . . . True, nature rebels at times, for He has filled me with such a longing to labour for Him, to live and suffer for His dear sake, that the thought of death is very bitter. I can only call it a living martyrdom. But I conquer the feeling by saying this little prayer: ‘Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly — suffering, wounds, death — if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.’ That always brings back peace, even when a bullet grazing my head drives home the reality of the offering.

Fr Doyle also felt this peace even as a young man preparing for the priesthood. He wrote the following in a letter to his mother:

Since then I have gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face — even a Jesuit’s life is not all roses — but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.

We will conclude today with some of Fr Doyle’s advice for finding holiness and inner peace:

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy.

EWTN Radio interview about Fr Doyle this weekend

EWTN radio in Ireland and the UK will broadcast an interview about Fr Doyle this weekend. It will air at 8am (Dublin/London time) on Saturday (Fr Doyle’s 97th anniversary) and 12 noon on Sunday. I don’t know if those outside Ireland and the UK will be able to access the programme online at that time. However, I will post links to the interview after the event.

The programme will also feature an interview about Fr Doyle’s colleague and friend Fr Frank Browne SJ. The segment featuring Fr Doyle will commence approximately 20 minutes into the broadcast.

This interview was due for broadcast last weekend, but this had to be changed for technical reasons. It now happily coincides with Fr Doyle’s anniversary. 

EWTN radio programme