Thoughts for September 23 (St Pio) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Pio of Pietrelcina
St Pio of Pietrelcina

It is indeed easy to condemn oneself to death, to make a generous offering of self-immolation; but to carry out the execution daily is more than most can do. . . . Go on bravely, don’t expect too much from yourself, for God often leaves one powerless in acts of self-conquest in order to make one humble and to have more recourse to Him. Remember above all that even one small victory makes up for a hundred defects.

COMMENT: Well, perhaps it is not quite as easy for us to condemn ourselves to death as Fr Doyle suggests! Perhaps many of us can identify with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick!”

More seriously, we can sometimes be willing to make great sacrifices, but keeping up the struggle against our selfishness day after day is what really presents the difficulty for us. And as Fr Doyle encouragingly says, we should not expect too much from ourselves: we are weak, and should accept our weakness with humility. But this doesn’t mean that we settle for mediocrity: as Fr Doyle points out, God is always with us and will sustain us. As St Pio, whose feast is today, says,

Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.

There is a temptation for the demanding message of hugely popular saints like Padre Pio to be overlooked. Too often the lives of such saints get swamped with tales of their miracles and extraordinary phenomena. Lest that happen, here is one final thought from St Pio which in many ways is very similar to the spirit and teaching of Fr Doyle:

The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self.

Thoughts for September 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

You know well that even the smallest cross and happening of your life is part of our Blessed Lord’s plan for your sanctification. It is not easy, I know, to look at things in this light. But one can train the will to look upon the act of others, even their sinful acts in as much as they concern ourselves, as coming from the hand of God. There is so much real holiness and so very much solid happiness and peace and contentment in this little principle, that I am very anxious you should try and acquire it, so that nothing may really ruffle the peace of your soul. Don’t think this is easy, it is not; and you will fail time after time in your efforts, but with perseverance, steady progress will be made.

COMMENT: The last few years have seen tremendous financial turmoil, and many people face severe financial difficulties, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

But as Fr Doyle points out, there is much peace and contentment to be found in the Providence of God. He arranges all things for our long term good and sanctification, even if we do not recognise, or appreciate it, at the time. Fr Doyle lived this reality in the trenches; it was precisely this faith in the loving protection of God that sustained him as he took incredible risks to save others.

As Fr Doyle points out, it may be very difficult for us to have this trust in God, especially if we are suddenly confronted with difficult and life-changing news. We must pray for the grace to acquire this faith and trust in Providence. The Father who feeds the birds of the air and dresses the flowers of the field will not let us down or abandon us.

Thoughts for September 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio
The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the apostle St Matthew, though we do not celebrate it liturgically as it is a Sunday. Christ called him, a sinful and wealthy tax collector. St Matthew followed, giving up his comfort and mammon to follow a prophet who had not even anywhere to lay his head. Matthew continued following him, even unto death.

But both Fr Doyle and St Matthew grew in intimacy with Christ, and in turn gave more and more to Him. Tradition has it that St Matthew was martyred, possibly in Ethiopia. By the time Fr Doyle was sent to the trenches, he seems to have reached a level of detachment where he gladly shared the deprivations of his “poor brave boys”, and was even hoping to go to a leper colony if he survived the war.

Neither man started out so heroically, but responding to grace day by day transformed them in ways they never imagined. We too can be transformed if we rely on grace. It doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom or great suffering for us, but it will mean that we will render great service to God and man if we just follow where God leads.

Thoughts for September 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Houghton
St John Houghton

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God. And does it not commend itself very specially to religious? For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come O Holy Ghost into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Devotion to the Holy Spirit is not just something of relevance for religious; it helps all of us, for we all need inspiration and we all need to be transformed in faith and fortitude.

One liturgical calendar I have consulted designates today as the feast of St John Houghton. I cannot find any other calendar that suggests that his memorial is today, but it matters little, for his story ties in with Fr Doyle’s quote above.

St John Houghton was a Carthusian priest who was one of the very first to oppose King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts, hence the picture of him with a noose around his neck and his heart in his hand.

Originally the Carthusian monks did not know whether to support the Act or not, and it was after saying the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit that the monks received the strength to oppose King Henry and the courage to follow through with their position despite its grizzly implications.

Fr Doyle, too, followed the inspirations of the Holy Spirit by volunteering as a military chaplain, and the grace of the Holy Spirit saw him through many tough times, allowing his cheerfulness to shine out to those around him.

Both St John Houghton and Fr Doyle trusted in the Holy Spirit and, to use Fr Doyle’s phrase, “were changed …from skulking cowards” and became “afire with the love of God”. That very same grace that was available to the Apostles and early Christians, to St John Houghton and Fr Doyle, remains available to us today.

Thoughts for September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Joseph the Worker
St Joseph the Worker

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the famous prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. We would profit immensely to reflect on its sentiments.

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for September 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Without constant union with our Lord there cannot be any real holiness, one reason being that without recollection the inspirations of the Holy Spirit are missed and with them a host of opportunities of little sacrifices and a shower of graces. As a means of gaining greater recollection, each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus to dwell in your heart during the day as in a Tabernacle. Try all day to imagine even His bodily presence within you and often turn your thoughts inwards and adore Him as He nestles next your heart in a very real manner, quite different from His presence in all creation. This habit is not easily acquired, especially in a busy life like yours, but much may be done by constant effort. At times you will have to leave Him alone entirely, but as soon as you can, get back to His presence again.

COMMENT: The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an inexhaustible source of grace. Yet, while the same amount of grace is available to everyone, in practice we do not all obtain the same graces from the sacraments. Those who are more well disposed to the sacraments, and who approach them with greater purity, humility and love, will obtain more grace. This was the secret of the saints. As that other great Irish priest of the last century, Blessed Columba Marmion, tells us:

Enlarge by faith, confidence, and love the capacity of your souls and grace will abound in you. For if the grace of the sacraments is substantially the same for all, it varies in degree, in intensity, according to the dispositions of those who receive it after having removed the obstacles; it is measured, certainly not in its entity but in its fruitfulness and extent of action, according to the dispositions of the soul. Let us then open wide the avenues of our souls to Divine grace; let us bring for our part all possible charity and purity so that Christ may make His Divine life superabound in us.

Blessed Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion

Thoughts for September 17 (St Robert Bellarmine) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church
St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church

A deadly pitfall lies hidden in the desire of some to pour themselves out in works of zeal for God’s glory, to which the evil spirit not uncommonly urges those whom he sees full of zeal. It is evident even to one little versed in the way of the spiritual life that a multiplicity of external occupations, even though good and meritorious in themselves, must by their very nature hinder that calm peace of soul which is essential for interior union with God.

For one who has advanced in the way of interior union, no life, no matter how occupied or full of distracting work, will prove much of a hindrance; such a one has learned how to ride on the waves of worldly care and not to be engulfed by them, he refuses to put himself out or be totally absorbed in things which have only a fleeting interest; but it is not so with the beginner in the spiritual life. Overwork has broken down not a few weakly bodies but has ruined far more souls, drying up if not destroying all love for prayer and the things of God, leaving the wreck of many a “spoiled saint” strewn on the road of life.

COMMENT: This is an interesting quote from Fr Doyle who so often advocates hard work. Yes, hard work is important, but we must always be balanced and recognise the potential danger of overwork. We must always make time for rest and avoid mere activism which is very dangerous to the spiritual life.

St Teresa of Avila also recognised this danger in writing to a priest:

Will Your reverence please remember that you aren’t made of iron. Just think of all the good brains in our Order that have been ruined from overwork.

Today is also the feast of the Jesuit St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church. St Robert was a famous theologian and cardinal. He had a special interest in England and his works were considered so dangerous by Protestants that Queen Elizabeth I banned them.

As  a Doctor of the Church, St Robert is one of the most important Jesuit saints. We ask for his prayers today for all Jesuits, and for Jesuit vocations.