Happy birthday Fr Doyle!

Melrose in Dalkey, Dublin. Fr Doyle was born here 142 years ago today.
Melrose in Dalkey, Dublin. Fr Doyle was born here 142 years ago today.

Today is Fr Doyle’s birthday – he was born on this day in 1873. For today we shall reproduce the first few pages of O’Rahilly’s biography which tell us something about Fr Doyle’s early life.

William Joseph Gabriel Doyle was born at Melrose, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, on 3rd March, 1873. His father is Mr. Hugh Doyle, an official of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, who died on the 24th of March 1924 in his 92nd year; his mother was Christina Mary Doyle, nee Byrne. Willie was the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls. The eldest and youngest of the girls married; the second became a Sister of Mercy. The eldest boy after a short stay in the Jesuit Novitiate entered Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, whence he passed to the College of the Propaganda, Rome. Ten days before his ordination he caught fever and died in 1887 in the twenty-eighth year of his age. The second son entered the legal profession and became the Recorder of Galway. Willie’s third brother, a few years older than himself, and the inseparable companion of his boyhood, became a Jesuit.

Willie was a frail and delicate child, though like most highly strung children, he had great reserves of energy. All through life, indeed, ill-health was one of his great trials, and for some years before his death he suffered acutely from an internal complaint. But, curiously enough, his nearest approach to death was due, not to sickness, but to an accident. When he was quite a little fellow, his nurse one night placed a lighted candle on his little cot, probably to enable herself to read or sew. The nurse fell asleep, and the candle overturned and set the bed clothes on fire. Fortunately his father, who was sleeping in the next room, was awakened by the smoke and rushed into the nursery. He found the cot on fire, and little Willie fast asleep with his legs curled up, as though he felt the fire creeping towards him. In an instant the child was lifted out of bed, and the mattress and bed clothes thrown out through the window. As a military chaplain Father Willie once laughingly alluded to this escape as his first experience under fire.

For all his future holiness, Willie was by no means a stilted or unnatural child. He played games and he played pranks; and though he cannot be said to have been naughty, he was also far from being irritatingly or obtrusively pious. It is consoling to find that, like most of us, he played at being a soldier. He was seven years old when it was decided that he should emerge from the stage of velvet suit and long curls. On his return from the fateful visit to the hairdresser’s, his mother seemed sad on seeing Willie with his shorn locks. But the little fellow himself was delighted, and sturdily insisted that soldiers did not wear curls, at least not nowadays. His mother had to make a soldier’s suit for him, with red stripes down the sides; and when he won a great battle, a couple of stripes had to be added to one sleeve! This is how his old nurse describes his youthful exploits:

“His love to be a soldier even from his babyhood was wonderful— to fight for Ireland. He would arrange his soldiers and have them all ready for battle. The nursery was turned upside down, to have plenty of room for fighting, building castles, putting up tents, all for his soldiers. Poor nurse looked on, but was too fond of him to say anything. He and a brother with some other little boys were havinga great battle one day. He was fighting for Ireland; his brother was fighting for England, as he said his grandmother was English. There was a flag put up to see who was able to get it; the battle went on for some time, then in a moment, Master Willie dashed in and had the flag in his hand, though they were all guarding it. They could not tell how he got it; he was the youngest and smallest of the lot.”

How curiously and prophetically appropriate is this characteristic of him, who was to be enrolled in the Company of Jesus and to die on the battlefield as a soldier of Christ!

There are many indications that Willie’s youthful militarism was prompted by something deeper than a primitive instinct of pugnacity. Just as in after years he loved to aim at the Ignatian ideal of “distinguishing oneself in the service of one’s Eternal King,” so, even as a youngster, he felt the call to be foremost in energy and service. Long before he read of the saint of Manresa, he had a natural affinity with the soldier of Pamplona. And it was not always the mimic battle of the nursery; even at this early age he started real warfare, he began a life-long struggle against himself. At the beginning of Lent, when he was quite a little boy, an old Aunt, chancing to go into his Mother’s bedroom, found him gesticulating and talking in front of the mirror. “You villain, you wretch,” he kept saying to his reflection, “I’ll starve you, I’ll murder you! Not a sweet will you get, not a bit of cake will you get!”

This is one of the few glimpses we obtain of Willie’s interior life during his boyhood. Even of his maturer soul-struggles we should know little or nothing were it not for the chance preservation of his notes and diaries. There is a danger lest these revelations of penance and mortification should mislead a reader, who was not personally acquainted with Fr. Doyle, into fancying that he was exteriorly repellent or gloomily ascetic. Throughout his life he retained a fund of humour and kindliness; no one would suspect his slow struggle for self-mastery and perfection. That even in boyhood he sought self-conquest and recollection, and experienced the working of God’s grace, we can have no doubt. There is no record, however, save in the archives of Him who seeth in secret, where even the sparrow’s fall is registered and the hairs of our heads are numbered. But neither in youth nor in after life was his virtue fugitive and cloistered; his light so shone before men that they saw his good works, his thoughtful kindness and self-sacrificing charity.

No man, it is said, is a hero to his valet; at any rate, domestic servants are apt to be severe critics. Willie, however, was deservedly a favourite. He always tried to shield the maids when anything went astray or was neglected. He was ever on the look out for an opportunity of some act of thoughtfulness. Thus sometimes after a big dinner at Melrose, the cook would come down next morning and find the fire lighting and the dinner things washed. Willie had been playing the fairy! Again, whenever a maid was looking ill, he used to volunteer privately to do her work. A servant of the family, who gave many years of faithful service, still remembers her first arrival at Dalkey. As she was timorously proceeding to Melrose, she met the two brothers walking on stilts along the road. “How are you, Anne?” said Willie, divining that this was the new maid. He alighted and insisted on taking whatever she was carrying. Before she had her things off, he had tea ready for her.

“I know I was really awkward after leaving the rough country,” writes Anne. “I had got orders to have the boots cleaned that evening. But the good saint took them out to the coach-house and brought them in shining. No one knew only Kate (the parlourmaid) he did it so quietly. To put it off he made the remark, ‘I dare say you have no such thing in the country as blacking.’ Not understanding the coal fire, and while I was learning, he would run down stairs and have the fire lighting and the kettle on by the time I would arrive. Then when breakfast was ready, he would come to the kitchen and ask how did I get on with the fire that morning?”

When we hear of these acts of charity and zeal exercised at an age which is often associated with selfish thoughtlessness, we may be inclined to imagine that Willie Doyle was a prim, stilted, ‘goody-goody’ sort of boy. Nothing of the kind. He had a wonderful freshness and spontaneity. One never could feel that his kindness was artificially produced or that his goodness was forced. His virtue, like his laugh, had the genuine ring in it. One of his most endearing characteristics throughout life was his sense of humour. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” he once said to a rather lugubrious would-be-saint; “a sense of humour is one of the greatest aids to sanctity.” As a boy he was full of humour, even when he was doing good. He once brought to one of his poor people a carefully wrapped parcel which was joyfully acclaimed as a pound of butter; but when extricated it proved to be a stone! Next day, however, the real article, with much more besides, was brought to console the good woman.

A toy soldier found under the floorboards in Melrose. Perhaps this is one of the soldiers young Willie played with?
A toy soldier found under the floorboards in Melrose. Perhaps this is one of the soldiers young Willie played with?

Thoughts for March 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

sunset

It is useful from time to time to pause and ask ourselves if we are, like the child Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace. Does each evening see us farther on the path of perfection? When we lie down to rest, is it with the feeling that the day just passed has been one of progress in the spiritual life, of merit and victory over self? Have we crushed the promptings of self-will and trampled on our pride? Have we spent ourselves for God and wearied ourselves in works for Him? Have we been a help to the weak, the comfort of the needy, a light to the wandering one? If so, thank God for His goodness and resolve on nobler things.

COMMENT: It is highly recommended that we examine our conscience each evening. In doing so, if we can answer yes to these questions posed by Fr Doyle then we can be sure that we have lived a good and fruitful day. There is much truth in what the Imitation of Christ tells us:

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide.

Almost invariably we will have to accept that our day could have been better. We could have been kinder, we could have been more patient, we could have worked harder or taken more advantage of opportunities for apostolate or lived more consciously in the presence of God.

In such a situation we do what Fr Doyle would suggest – thank God for what was good, ask pardon for our failings, and resolve with God’s help to improve tomorrow.

Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

Transfiguration 2

I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.

COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. Even this small glimpse of His Divinity is enough to dumbfound the apostles and fill them with fear. While the earthly transfiguration, as such, was obviously unique to Christ because of His Divinity, it remains true that we are all meant to be “transformed” in some spiritual way by grace.

However, this transformation can also be physical in some way in the lives of the saints. There is a temptation to discount such phenomena as part of as mythical “Golden Legend” of the saints. Sometimes it can be good to be a little sceptical about mystical phenomena, but it is surely not the Christian position to completely and automatically dismiss such phemonena out of hand entirely.

We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. The Book of Exodus tells us how the face of Moses was shining and radiant after he came down from the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of St John Paul II perceived that his face also shone on occasion. Those who were present at the apparitions at Lourdes also reported a radiant look on the face of St Bernadette during her visions, and it was the power of this radiance that convinced them of the authenticity of the visions. Similarly, those present when St Pio said Mass could also perceive a radiance in his face.

Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:

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.

Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, internal holiness manifests itself externally in some fashion. Here is some similar testimony from a soldier who knew Fr Doyle in the Great War:

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.’

We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:

Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.

Thoughts for February 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

The merit of living under religious rule may be gathered from the difficulty of always and faithfully keeping that rule. Holiness and deliberate violation of our rules are a contradiction.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was known for his close adherence to the Jesuit rule, and the faithful fulfilment of its precepts is a recurring theme in his resolutions and notes. Adhering to a religious rule is tough, and because of this it is a sign of sanctity. St Teresa of Avila said that her nuns would not need miracles to prove their sanctity – if they faithfully followed the rule she established it would be enough for them to reach holiness.

Normally it is only members of a religious order to have rules that they have to formally live by. However, it would be a mistake for the rest of us, especially for lay people, to attempt to live without some rule of life. Many people establish rules or guidelines in order to help them get through their work each day. When people join a gym they are given set exercises to follow. If we are to take our spiritual life seriously we will also establish some rules or guidelines which we should aim to follow. Otherwise we run the risk of following particular spiritual exercises only when we feel like it, and as anybody who has ever achieved anything will testify, this is a sure way to fail! It is not necessary for the rule to be very detailed or to minutely programme every moment of our day – indeed, such an approach is almost impossible for lay people living in the world. But it is essential to have some basic rules about when and how we will pray, as well as small sacrifices that we will try to offer up each day. There is no better time to develop such a rule of life than Lent.

Fr Wilfrid Upson, who was Abbot of Prinknash Abbey in England in the 1940’s, laid out the importance of having our own rule of life in the middle of the world in the following words:

Human nature is the same whether we respond to the monastic cell or whether we live out our lives in a normal worldly environment. Few are so spiritually minded that they can afford to neglect the help of some sort of rule of life and standard of spirituality to which they can endeavour to conform themselves when faced with the many problems of a world where even moral standards have ceased to exist.

Abbot Wilfrid Upson OSB
Abbot Wilfrid Upson OSB

Thoughts for February 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny
Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny

Over and over again I asked myself, when reading that book, was it not strange that I should come across the very ideas which had been in my mind so long: namely, the longing of our Lord for more souls who would be absolutely at His mercy, His pleasure and disposal; souls in whom He could work at will, knowing that they would never resist Him, even by praying to Him to lessen the trials He was sending; souls who were willing and longing to be sacrificed and immolated in spite of all the shrinking of weak human nature.

Now I have long thought He wants that from you. And everything that is happening seems to point that way. If you make such a surrender of yourself absolutely into His hands, I know not what humiliations, trials and even sufferings may come upon you, though you must not ask for them. But He will send you grace in abundance to bear them, He will draw immense glory out of your loving crucifixion, and in spite of yourself He will make you a saint. . . This must be chiefly an act of the will, for it would be unnatural not to feel trials or humiliations; but even when the tears of pain are falling, the higher nature can rejoice. You can see this is high perfection, but it will bring great peace to your soul. Our Lord will take the work of your sanctification into His own hands, if you keep the words of the Imitation (iii. 17. i) ever before you: ‘Child, suffer Me to do with thee whatever I will.’ Do not be afraid for He would not ask this if He did not intend to find you the grace.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in February 1912 to a religious to whom he was giving spiritual direction, and the book to which he was referring was a biography of Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny whose feast is commemorated today.

Blessed Marie de Jésus was the French foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, a congregation especially founded to pray for priests and to offer reparation for the sins of priests. This is how Fr Doyle’s biographer, Alfred O’Rahilly, describes the charism of this congregation:

This ideal (prayer for priests) is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are “to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders.” In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. “It is not without consolation of heart,” said the Pope, “that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity.”

Here is how Blessed Marie de Jésus described her calling in her own words:

To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times. . . . I would gladly give my life if only Christ could find in priests what he is expecting from them. I would gladly give it even if just one of them could perfectly realize God’s divine plan for him.

There are a number of references to Blessed Marie de Jésus in Fr Doyle’s notes and letters, and we know from much else in his life how important the ideal of priestly sanctity was for him – not only did Fr Doyle strive with all of his energy towards his own personal sanctification, but he was also the Director-General for Ireland of the League for Priestly Sanctity and he also offered up many of his great austerities for priests and in reparation for the sins of priests.

So let us copy the example of both Blessed Marie de Jésus and of Fr Doyle, and pray for our priests who face so many challenges and difficulties today, especially in Ireland.

Today is also the feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a young Passionist who died of tuberculosis before his ordination. I can find no reference to St Gabriel in Fr Doyle’s writings, but he was most certainly aware of St Gabriel – he was beatified during Fr Doyle’s lifetime, and St Gabriel features prominently in the life of St Gemma Galgani to whom Fr Doyle was devoted. That both had somewhat similar personalities: St Gabriel was apparently engaged with two girls simultaneously before he entered religious life, was the life and soul of the party and was also a good shot with a gun. There are no records of any romantic involvements in Fr Doyle’s life, but he was renowned for his own sense of adventure and fun and incredible sense of humour and cheer, so I’m sure that the very human, and very fervent, St Gabriel would have appealed to him.

To conclude today, here are some of St Gabriel’s resolutions which are very similar in tone to those of Fr Doyle:

I will keep my rule, even the smallest thing.
I will not neglect any of my spiritual exercises.
I will shun idleness.
I will be punctual.
I will obey the sound of the bell as though it were the voice of God.
I will receive all things from the hand of God, as being sent by Him for my own personal benefit.
I will profit by every occasion for mortification that may occur.
I will fulfil exactly my ordinary duties, mortifying self in whatever would prove an obstacle to perfect obedience.
I will mortify my eyes and my tongue.
I will not leave my cell without necessity.
I will not inquire after anything through curiosity.
I will check my desire to talk.
I will increase the number of such like acts daily.
I will not take any food outside of mealtime.
I am poor and I should act accordingly.
I should be willing to put up with any inconvenience gladly.
I will not eat with avidity, but rather with reserve and with modesty, subjecting my appetite to reason.
I will mortify myself in ordinary things and whatever I feel inclined to do, saying in my heart: “O my God, I will not do this thing through mere inclination, but because it is thy will”.
I will be reserved toward those to whom I feel most inclined, prudently avoiding their presence and conversation.
I will not utter a word that might, in the least, turn to my praise.
I will not take pleasure in any praise bestowed upon me.
I will never excuse myself when I am blamed or corrected, nor even resent it interiorly, much less put the blame upon others.
I will never speak of the faults of others, even though they may be public, nor will I ever show want of esteem for others, whether in their presence or in their absence.
I will not judge ill of anyone.
I will show the good opinion I have of each one by covering up his faults.
I will consider everyone my superior, treating all with humility and reverence.
I will rejoice at the good done by others.
I will not permit myself to become interested in vain and useless things.
I will rejoice at the success of others.
I will practice charity and kindness, assisting, serving and pleasing all.
I will shun particular friendships, so as to offend no one.
Every morning and evening I will practice some act of humility, and gradually increase the number.
I will close my heart against disquiet of any kind.
I will suppress immediately all emotions of impetuosity and all affections that might cloud my mind, even lightly.
I will obey the voice of the Superior as if it were the voice of God himself.
In my obedience I will neither examine the why nor the wherefore.
I will conform my judgment to that of my Superior.
I will not employ time in conversing about purely worldly matters.
“Faithfulness in little things” is the motto I will always follow in my efforts to reach holiness.
I will try to reproduce in myself whatever I see edifying and virtuous in the conduct of others.
I will give to God the best that I have — the entire affection of my heart.

St Gabriel Possenti
St Gabriel Possenti

Thoughts for February 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

A habit of ejaculatory prayer is a sign of nearness to God, for our own holiness will be in proportion to our love and thought of Him all day long.

COMMENT: St Paul tells us to pray always. The great saints and mystics lived constantly in God’s presence, almost unconsciously making everything they did a prayer. Yet, unless they have received many graces, it is unlikely that they started out with this constant presence of God. For many, it required much effort and discipline to overcome their natural human tendency towards dissipation.

One technique for living more completely in God’s presence is the use of aspirations – short prayers interspersed throughout the day to help remind us that we are in the presence of God.

If we love someone with a human passion, it is normal that we think about them throughout the day. Can we really say that we love God as we ought if we only think of Him during our times of formal prayer, or when we want His help with something?

Thoughts for February 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

When you commit a fault which humbles you and for which you are really sorry, it is a gain instead of a loss. 

COMMENT: Here we see the great balance and humanity of Fr Doyle, which was also the great balance and humanity of many of Fr Doyle’s generation. 

It is easy to fall into the prejudice that Catholics of previous generations were narrowly obsessed with sin and that they lacked mercy and balance. It was simply not so! Of course, there were those in the past who, through error, fostered excessive scrupulosity in others. It is worth noting that we are not lacking those people today! Thankfully such generally well meaning people have always ben in the minority. 

As Fr Doyle suggests, we truly can gain from our sins and our faults when we repent and humble ourselves and adhere more closely to Christ. The bitter experience of our weakness teaches us how little we are. It is those who are little, who know their limitations, who are most secure from temptation. On the contrary it is those who feel most secure in their own merits and virtues who are most likely to fall. Pride goes before the fall, as the saying goes.

The experience of our sins also fosters a great spirit of repentance – or compunction – in our soul. As the Imitation of Christ declares, 

No man is worthy of Heavenly comfort who has not diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.