As part of the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, retreatants meditate on the early life of Christ. One of these meditations is on the Nativity. Here is the text of St Ignatius:
THE SECOND CONTEMPLATION IS ON THE NATIVITY
Prayer. The usual Preparatory Prayer.
First Prelude. The first Prelude is the narrative and it will be here how Our Lady went forth from Nazareth, about nine months with child, as can be piously meditated, seated on an ass, and accompanied by Joseph and a maid, taking an ox, to go to Bethlehem to pay the tribute which Caesar imposed on all those lands.
Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see with the sight of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; considering the length and the breadth, and whether such road is level or through valleys or over hills; likewise looking at the place or cave of the Nativity, how large, how small, how low, how high, and how it was prepared.
Third Prelude. The third will be the same, and in the same form, as in the preceding Contemplation.
First Point. The first Point is to see the persons; that is, to see Our Lady and Joseph and the maid, and, after His Birth, the Child Jesus, I making myself a poor creature and a wretch of an unworthy slave, looking at them and serving them in their needs, with all possible respect and reverence, as if I found myself present; and then to reflect on myself in order to draw some profit.
Second Point. The second, to look, mark and contemplate what they are saying, and, reflecting on myself, to draw some profit.
Third Point. The third, to look and consider what they are doing, as going a journey and laboring, that the Lord may be born in the greatest poverty; and as a termination of so many labors–of hunger, of thirst, of heat and of cold, of injuries and affronts–that He may die on the Cross; and all this for me: then reflecting, to draw some spiritual profit.
Colloquy. I will finish with a Colloquy as in the preceding Contemplation, and with an Our Father.
Here are Fr Doyle’s notes on this meditation:
What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.
This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart
now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.
By entering religion and taking my vows I have given myself over absolutely to God and His service. He, therefore, has a right to be served in the way He wishes. If thenHe asks me to enter on a hard, mortified life and spend myself working for Him, how can I resist His will and desire? “Oh my God, make me a saint, and I consent to suffer all You ask for the rest of my life.” What is God asking from me now? Shall I go back on that offering?
COMMENT: To be a saint does not necessarily mean that we must consciously deny ourselves ALL lawful pleasures and to ALWAYS seek hard and disagreeable things. However, it is also true that there are some who were called to walk that path, and Fr Doyle was one of them. At the very least, we must be open to what God wants, and detached from our own will in these matters. That is of course easier said than done. However, we will receive the grace we need if we seek the help of Mary and St Joseph, who willingly shared the deprivation and hardship of the baby Jesus in order to fulfil their own vocation.
A second point to consider today is that Christ voluntarily chose to be born in poverty. He chose to make Himself like us in all things but sin. There is no hardship or problem that Jesus does not understand.
Today we start Fr Doyle’s reflections on the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. This part of the Exercises begins with a reflection on the call of Christ the King. Here is the text from St Ignatius:
First Point. The first Point is, to put before me a human king chosen by God our Lord, whom all Christian princes and men reverence and obey.
Second Point. The second, to look how this king speaks to all his people, saying: “It is my Will to conquer all the land of unbelievers. Therefore, whoever would like to come with me is to be content to eat as I, and also to drink and dress, etc., as I: likewise he is to labour like me in the day and watch in the night, etc., that so afterwards he may have part with me in the victory, as he has had it in the labours.”
Third Point. The third, to consider what the good subjects ought to answer to a King so liberal and so kind, and hence, if any one did not accept the appeal of such a king, how deserving he would be of being censured by all the world, and held for a mean-spirited knight.
IN PART 2
The second part of this Exercise consists in applying the above parable of the temporal King to Christ our Lord, conformably to the three Points mentioned.
First Point. And as to the first Point, if we consider such a call of the temporal King to his subjects, how much more worthy of consideration is it to see Christ our Lord, King eternal, and before Him all the entire world, which and each one in particular He calls, and says: “It is My will to conquer all the world and all enemies and so to enter into the glory of My Father; therefore, whoever would like to come with Me is to labour with Me, that following Me in the pain, he may also follow Me in the glory.”
Second Point. The second, to consider that all those who have judgment and reason will offer their entire selves to the labour.
Third Point. The third, those who will want to be more devoted and signalise themselves in all service of their King Eternal and universal Lord, not only will offer their persons to the labour, but even, acting against their own sensuality and against their carnal and worldly love, will make offerings of greater value and greater importance, saying:
“Eternal Lord of all things, I make my oblation with Thy favour and help, in presence of Thy infinite Goodness and in presence of Thy glorious Mother and of all the Saints of the heavenly Court; that I want and desire, and it is my deliberate determination, if only it be Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all injuries and all abuse and all poverty of spirit, and actual poverty, too, if Thy most Holy Majesty wants to choose and receive me to such life and state.”
There is much of value here on which we may reflect. Here are Fr Doyle’s notes on this part of the retreat:
I seemed at prayer to hear Jesus asking me if I were willing to do all He would ask of me. I feel much less fear than in the first week, of what this may be, and greater courage and desire even for sacrifices.
This thought came to me: I am not to take the lives of others in the house as the standard of my own, what may be lawful for them is not for me; their life is most pleasing to God, such a life for me would not be so; God wants something higher, nobler, more generous from me, and for this will offer me special graces.
Meditating on the Kingdom of Christ, the thought suddenly came to me to make this offering : O eternal Lord . . . provided it be for Thy greater service and praise . . . and if Thy most Holy Majesty be pleased to choose and receive me for such a life and state, I offer myself to Thee for the Congo Mission. Thy will be done. Amen.
I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Napoleon said, “I want you to do so and so,” and I replied, “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? generous or making conditions? in easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?
COMMENT: The meditation on the Kingdom of Christ, and the meditation on the Two Standards which we will consider in a few days, has inspired many saints over the last four and a half centuries. It inspired Fr Doyle to offer himself for the Congo Mission, and, ultimately, to service in the blood soaked trenches of World War 1.
Christ wants to conquer the world and conquer His enemies, and He does so by saving souls and embracing them in His eternal love. This conquering of enemies is not something violent or aggressive, but is instead based on a campaign of love and service for others. Are we willing to play our part in this campaign? Or do we prefer an easy life; do we want “sleep in the afternoon and plenty of good things to eat?”
On October 19 we are fortunate to celebrate many saints who worked to win the world for Christ.
In the first instance, we have Fr Doyle’s spiritual confrere’s, the Jesuit martyrs of North America. Their story can easily be found online. It is a story of courage and heroism which is almost without equal. Ultimately it was the call of Christ, and the inspiration of the Spiritual Exercises, that drove these refined Frenchmen to travel to Canada and face cold, hunger, rancid food, hatred, violence, complete deprivation and loneliness and even cannibalism to bring the Gospel to the native tribes of North America. As heroic as that sounds, it pales into insignificance when one considers St Isaac Joques who, having escaped to France from the Mohawk Indians, minus some fingers which had been chewed off, promptly returned to the very same tribe, knowing that he faced almost certain death.
Today is also the feast of St Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, whose penances rivalled, and exceeded, those of Fr Doyle.
And if that wasn’t enough, it is also the feast of St Peter of Alcantara, one of the friends and advisors of St Teresa of Avila. How often sanctity is fostered in friendships! Teresa was not only advised by St Peter (who appeared to her after death), but by St John of the Cross and St Francis Borgia and was nursed on her deathbed by Blessed Anne of St Bartholomew, as well as being surrounded by many unknown, and unrecognised, saints in her convents. The examples of these holy friendships could be multiplied over and over in the lives of the saints. Fr Doyle himself was friendly with the Servant of God Fr John Sullivan SJ and was ordained at the same ceremony on 28 July 1907, and for a time was directed by Venerable Adolphe Petit.
St Peter of Alcantara was a remarkable Franciscan reformer. Here is St Teresa’s description of him from the book of her life:
And what a grand picture of it has God just taken from us in the blessed Fray Peter of Alcantara! The world is not yet in a fit state to bear such perfection. It is said that people’s health is feebler nowadays and that times are not what they were. But it was in these present times that this holy man lived; and yet his spirit was as robust as any in the days of old, so that he was able to keep the world beneath his feet. And, although everyone does not go about unshod or perform such severe penances as he did, there are many ways, as I have said on other occasions, of trampling on the world and these ways the Lord teaches to those in whom He sees courage. And what great courage His Majesty gave to this holy man to perform those severe penances, which are common knowledge, for forty-seven years! I will say something about this, for I know it is all true.
He told this to me, and to another person from whom he concealed little — the reason he told me was his love for me, for the Lord was pleased to give him this love so that he might stand up for me and encourage me at a time of great need, of which I have spoken and shall speak further. I think it was for forty years that he told me he had slept only for an hour and a half between each night and the next day, and that, when he began, the hardest part of his penance had been the conquering of sleep, for which reason he was always either on his knees or on his feet. What sleep he had he took sitting down, with his head resting against a piece of wood that he had fixed to the wall. Sleep lying down he could not, even if he had so wished, for his cell, as is well known, was only four and a half feet long. During all these years, how ever hot the sun or heavy the rain, he never wore his hood, or anything on his feet, and his only dress was a habit of sackcloth, with nothing between it and his flesh, and this he wore as tightly as he could bear, with a mantle of the same material above it. He told me that, when it was very cold, he would take off the mantle, and leave the door and window of his cell open, so that, when he put it on again and shut the door, he could derive some physical satisfaction from the increased protection. It was a very common thing for him to take food only once in three days. He asked me why I was so surprised at this and said that, when one got used to it, it was quite possible. A companion of his told me that sometimes he would go for a week without food. That must have been when he was engaged in prayer, for he used to have great raptures and violent impulses of love for God, of which I was myself once a witness.
His poverty was extreme, and so, even when he was quite young, was his mortification: he told me that he once spent three years in a house of his Order and could not have recognized a single friar there, except by his voice, for he never raised his eyes, and so, when he had to go to any part of the house, could only do so by following the other friars. It was the same thing out of doors. At women he never looked at all and this was his practice for many years. He told me that it was all the same to him now whether he saw anything or not; but he was very old when I made his acquaintance and so extremely weak that he seemed to be made of nothing butroots of trees. But with all this holiness he was very affable, though, except when answering questions, a man of few words. When he did speak it was a delight to listen to him, for he was extremely intelligent. There are many other things which I should like to say about him but I am afraid Your Reverence will ask why I am starting on this subject — indeed, I have been afraid of that even while writing. So I will stop here, adding that he died as he had lived, preaching to, and admonishing, his brethren. When he saw that his life was drawing to a close, he repeated the psalm “Laetatus sum in hic quae dicta sunt mihi”, and knelt down and died.
The life and spirit of St Peter, as well as that of St Paul of the Cross and the North American Martyrs, in many respects reflects the radical detachment, self-emptying and militant love of Christ which was so evident in the life of Fr Doyle. There is nothing in the life of Fr Doyle which is not also found in the life of the canonised saints. Their example humbles us as we enjoy our 21stCentury complacency. As St Ignatius asked:
What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?
The Fruit of the First Week: I realise in a way I never did before that God created me for His service, that He has a strict right that I should serve Him perfectly, and that every moment of my life is His and given to me for the one end of praising and serving Him. I recalled with horror how often I have wandered from this my end, what an appalling amount of time I have wasted, and how few of my actions were done for God, or worthy of being offered to Him. I see what I should have been and what I am. But the thought of Jesus waiting and eagerly looking out for me, the prodigal, during fifteen years, has filled me with hope and confidence and new resolve to turn to my dearest Jesus and give Him all He asks.
I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness, having as my aim to get back the fervour of my first year’s novitiate.
Lord, what would you have me do? I am ready to do Your will, no matter how hard it may seem to me.
COMMENT: The aim of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises is to purify the soul so that it is better disposed to meditate on the service of Christ and to discern God’s will in the later stages of the Exercises.
It is clear that Fr Doyle was open to God’s will even when it was hard. His promise wasn’t just idle chatter. He followed it up with action and with total abandonment, even to the extent of offering his own life for his soldiers.
Let us pray that we too can be fully committed to doing God’s will, instead of just daydreaming about it…
One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have often broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me.
I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas! too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.
For fifteen years has Jesus been waiting for me to return to Him, to return to the fervour of my first year of religious life. During that time how many pressing and loving invitations has He not given me? What lights and inspirations, remorse of conscience, and how many good resolves which were never carried into effect. O my God, I feel now as if I cannot resist You longer. Your infinite patience and desire to bring me to You has broken the ice of my cold heart. “I will arise and go” to You, humbled and sorrowful, and for the rest of my life give You of my very best. Help me, sweet Jesus, by Your grace, for I am weak and cowardly.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle reflects here on aspects of the First week of the Spiritual Exercises, and tomorrow we shall read his notes on the fruits of the First Week.
For today perhaps it will be helpful for us to reflect on Fr Doyle’s impression of himself as weak and cowardly and in need of God’s grace. If Fr Doyle, so devoted and focussed, needed God’s grace to live a life of virtue, how much more necessary is it for the rest of us to humble ourselves before Christ and beg Him for the graces we need. God gives us many means by which we may obtain these graces – prayer, penance, spiritual reading, the sacraments, spiritual direction, the example and intercession of the saints… We who so obviously need God’s grace must make sure to take advantage of all of these opportunities for grace.
Meditating on the Particular Judgement, God gave me great light. I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time. To take only my seventeen years of religious life, what account could I give of the 6,000 hours of meditation, 7,000 Masses, 12,000 examinations of conscience, etc.? Then my time how have I spent every moment? I resolved not to let a day more pass without seriously trying to reform my life in the manner in which I perform my ordinary daily duties. For years I have been “going to begin,” and from time to time made some slight efforts at improvement. But now, dear Jesus, let this change be the work of Thy right hand.
To perform each action well I will try and do them: (a) with a pure intention often renewed, (b) earnestly, punctually exactly, (c) with great fervour. How little I think of committing venial sin, and how soon I forget I have done so! Yet God hates nothing more than even the shadow of sin, nothing does more harm to my spiritual progress and hinders any real advance in holiness. My God, give me an intense hatred and dread and horror of the smallest sin. I want to please You and love You and serve You as I have never done before. Let me begin by stamping out all sin in my soul.
We could not take pleasure in living in the company of one whose body is one running, festering sore; neither can God draw us close to Himself, caress and love us, if our souls are covered with venial sin, more loathsome and horrible in His eyes than the most foul disease. To avoid mortal sin I must carefully guard against deliberate venial sin, so to avoid venial sin I must fly from the shadow of imperfection in my actions. How often in the past have I done things when I did not know if they were sins or only deliberate imperfections and how little I cared, my God!
COMMENT: Today we continue with our reflections from the notes Fr Doyle took during the Spiritual Exercises of 1907.
The particular judgement is the moment of judgement immediately after our death. Typically it is understood as a moment in which we must render an account of our lives. As Fr Doyle put it: “I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time”. And indeed, not just our actions, but our thoughts as well…
The only response we can make to this is to reform our lives, and the ideal way in which to do this is to reform our performance of our daily duties as Fr Doyle suggests. Otherwise we run the risk that our reform will be merely imaginary and superficial in nature.
Today is also the feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to her. She was chosen by the Lord to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. As we consider the particular judgement today, let us learn from the life of St Margaret Mary the reality that Jesus loves us intensely, and let us learn to see the particular judgement through the lens of this love. But let us also remember the other aspect of St Margaret Mary’s life, and that is the need for us to make reparation to the Sacred Heart for our sins. The best way for us to do this is through continuous conversion and making the sacrifice of doing our duties well.
I would also ask readers for their prayers for the repose of the soul my father who died 7 years ago today.
Here is a homily on the life and spirit of St Margaret Mary Alacoque.
The life of St. Teresa teaches us that we should never despair of becoming saints. As a child she was filled with a strange mysterious longing for martyrdom. But the early years of her religious life found her cold or tepid in the service of God, indifferent to the sacred duties of her state. The call came. Sweetly in her ear sounded that little voice which too often in other souls has been hushed and stifled. Teresa rose. The past was gone and no lamenting could recall its ill-spent days, but the present was hers, and the future lay before her. Ungenerous in the past, generosity would be her darling virtue; cold and careless, no one would now equal her burning love for her patient outraged Saviour.
COMMENT: We do not have notes from Fr Doyle’s 1907 retreat for today, which is really quite handy as it allows us to give some time to St Teresa of Avila, whose feast it is today.
What a great feast this is! St Teresa is, without any doubt, one of the greatest female saints of all time. In fact, she is one of the greatest saints of all irrespective of gender, and is one of that elite group of Doctors of the Church.
Her personality was remarkable and communicates itself so readily through her writings. She had a wonderful biting wit and holy impatience that really got to the bottom of things, and sometimes it is hard not to laugh out loud when reading the psychologically astute observations in her writings.
Few saints have shown more courage, fortitude and leadership than she did.
Many saints had a great devotion to Teresa and Fr Doyle was no different. He regularly gave retreats to Carmelite convents, and he referred to her several times throughout his letters, and even fasted at meals on one occasions in her honour. Here is his record of this experience:
I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.
Anyone with an interest in St Teresa is advised to acquire the superb 7.5 hour long miniseries of her life produced in the 1980’s in Spain. Often films about saints fail to capture the spirit of the saint; this one achieves the task admirably.
Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21, 4.) In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more – do I really believe this?
COMMENT: It is normal to meditate on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – in any well designed retreat. The first four of these play an important part in the meditations one makes in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, and Fr Doyle wrote these reflections on death at some stage during his retreat, 106 years ago this week.
Death is a reality that we cannot escape from. The images above come from the remarkable Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto Rome. There are numerous chapels in this crypt, each with piles of thousands of bones, often arranged decoratively. Towards the exit of the crypt is an inscription with these words:
What you are we once were, what we are you will be.
Death is the one thing we all have in common, and each time we attend a funeral we should reflect that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we shall end up in a coffin ourselves. That is why funerals are an important evangelical opportunity which priests should take full advantage of.
Of course, constantly thinking of death is not a great idea, but neither is the habit of ignoring it altogether. As always we need a balanced approach. Our occasional reflections on death should fill us with a ready determination to live our lives with fervour and utilise every moment in God’s service. Our ultimate destination after death depends on our use of time.
Let us pray for the grace of final perseverance for ourselves and for all those facing an imminent, and unprepared, death.
And speaking of death, may I also ask readers to say a prayer for the soul of my own father whose 7th anniversary occurs this coming Thursday, October 16th.