Thoughts for the Feast of St Fidelis of Sigmaringen (April 24) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Fidelis of Sigmaringen

I have long had the feeling that, since the world is growing so rapidly worse and worse and God has lost His hold, as it were, upon the hearts of men, He is looking all the more earnestly and anxiously for big things from those who are faithful to Him still. He cannot, perhaps, gather a large army round His standard, but He wants every one in it to be a hero, absolutely and lovingly devoted to Him.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin Franciscan who was martyred 592 years ago today.

St Fidelis had been a successful lawyer, but like St Alphonsus of Liguori after him, he became disillusioned with the law and felt called to the religious life. As a Capuchin priest he was renowned for his charity and care for the poor, working tirelessly to assist those suffering from the plague. He was also a devoted missionary who worked for the reunification of Christendom during the Catholic Reformation. It was in the course of these efforts that St Fidelis was killed out of hatred for the Faith by a band of men. As he was being killed, he prayed that they would be forgiven and when they encouraged him to renounce the Catholic Faith he declared that he had come to extirpate their heresy and not to embrace it. Some of those involved in his death subsequently converted to Catholicism as a result of his witness.

I’m sure that St Fidelis, who lived in the early 17th Century, would have agreed with Fr Doyle’s assessment three hundred years later that the “world is growing so rapidly worse and worse”. The division of Christianity in the West was a shattering event for those who lived through it.

If we fast forward three hundred years to Fr Doyle’s time we see a gradual weakening of moral values. Dangerous, atheistic philosophies were growing popular, subtly undermining the faith of ordinary people. In the year of Fr Doyle’s death, this philosophy of atheistic materialism made a breakthrough in Russia with devastating consequences for many millions of people for decades to come.

Every age has its crises, and it always seems that the world is indeed growing worse and worse. But yet, God still IS. The Holy Spirit is still at work, calling forth heroes who will be lovingly devoted to Him. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, He raised up great saints like St Fidelis and so many others of that era who would work for the reform and unification of the Church. We can see the same divine call for heroes, right up to the time of Fr Doyle, and indeed up to our own day.

And what of our own day? Yes, it is true that the world seems to have grown steadily worse and worse. This is so even here in Ireland where those who express Christian values are publicly mocked and made a laughing stock. Yet, God still calls for heroes who are devoted to Him. We have no excuse. If we have been born in this era of crisis it is because this is where God has placed us in order to work out our salvation and to save souls in the midst of the concrete circumstances of our lives and cultures. It has always been this way, for every age has its errors that, to borrow St Fidelis’ famous phrase, need to be extirpated rather than embraced.

Let us therefore serve God with generosity in whatever place and circumstance He has placed us. Let us never lose hope, even if the world seems to be growing steadily worse and worse. Let us remember the example of the saints, who never despaired despite the unfavourable cultures in which they laboured.

Thoughts for April 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

I have just returned from a mission. Before going I made up my mind to give up for the week my mortifications at meals, partly through self-indulgence, partly to avoid singularity. I was very unhappy the whole time, Jesus reproaching me constantly for abandoning my life of crucifixion.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in April 1914. At this stage in his life, Fr Doyle was living a life of intense mortification. It is interesting to read that even one who was so advanced in the life of prayer and asceticism could yield to what he himself calls “self-indulgence” (of course, his definition of self-indulgence could be very different from ours!). The fact that self-indulgence could remain a temptation for Fr Doyle is surely something of a consolation for us in our own temptations – it reminds us that we shall always face temptations throughout our entire lives, and encourage us not to yield to despair in the face of ongoing temptations.

Discipline in the matter of food is a constant theme in the lives of the saints. Fr Doyle’s Jesuit colleague. the Servant of God Fr John Sullivan (who was ordained on the same day as Fr Doyle), was renowned for his own discipline in this area, often only eating small amounts of food, to the dismay of those who cooked for him. The rule of St Benedict imposes a strict fast in Lent, and in some traditions it also necessitates fasting from meat throughout the year. Famously, St John Vianney often ate only one potato per day.  And of course, fasting was an essential part of the asceticism practiced by the early Christians, following the example of Jesus Himself. Fr Doyle himself was motivated to greater fasting by the example of Carmelite nuns to whom he was giving a retreat. Far from being singular, Fr Doyle’s concern for avoiding self-indulgence in food is part of the solid tradition of the Church. And not only that, it is an act of social justice and solidarity in a world where far too many have involuntary hunger imposed on them through poverty. 

Thoughts for 22 April from Fr Willie Doyle

Work for Jesus! Yes, though the weary head may ache and the tired brain refuse to act. Work on, work on; the years slip by and soon the hour of toil will cease for ever. Work for Jesus! How sweet these words! Not one effort escapes His watchful eye, and He will reward you with a joy unknown for what you suffer now.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his diary on this day in 1905, before he was ordained a priest. This is the spiritual discipline that he constantly preached to all those he met, and it is the spiritual discipline that is most suitable for lay people – a faithful dedication to duty.

The years will indeed slip by, and our hour of toil will cease. What will we have to show for it? 

Thoughts for Easter Monday from Fr Willie Doyle

If my resurrection is to be a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.

COMMENT: Just as Christ rose from the dead, in a sense we too much continuously rise from sin, from spiritual death. Fr Doyle makes an extremely important point in today’s quote – if the reformation of our lives is real, it should manifest itself in virtuous external acts.

St Josemaria Escriva also touches on this point:

How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

Have our days of penance in Lent, our commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, produced any external fruit that enriches the lives of those around us?

Thoughts for Easter Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

May every Easter blessing be yours, and may our crucified Jesus, Who has certainly drawn you to Him on the cross, raise you up now in the glory of His Resurrection.

COMMENT: Christ is risen! Let us celebrate with great joy!

Fr Doyle has left us some notes which reveal to us something of his experiences on some Easter Sundays during his life. They reveal his missionary zeal and also his good cheer, even in the midst of sufferings. I have chosen just two – his first Easter Sunday as a priest and the last Easter Sunday of his life. 

Easter Sunday 1908, on a mission in Yarmouth: 

I had a strange experience which seemed providential. In my wanderings through the slums I came across by accident an old woman over ninety who had not entered a church for long, long years. ‘I have led a wicked life,’  she said, ‘but every day I asked God to send me a good friend before I died and I feel now my prayer is heard.’ The next day I came back and heard her Confession, and brought her Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the tears streamed down her old withered face she said, ‘Oh, Father this is the first happy day of my life, for I have never known what happiness is since I was a child.’ I could not help feeling that the opening of heaven to that poor sinner was a reward more than enough for all the long years of preparation now passed.

This second quote comes from Easter Sunday 1917, just 4 months before his death. His touching, and respectful, comments about the local French girls shows his good humour and naturalness, even in the midst of much suffering in the war.

Easter Sunday was quite a red letter day in the annals of the town (Pas de Calais, France). The regiment turned out in full strength, headed by the pipers, and crowded the sanctuary, every inch of the church, and out beyond. I had eight stalwart sergeants standing guard with fixed bayonets round the altar. At the Consecration and also at the Communion of the Mass the buglers sounded the Royal Salute which is only given to Monarchs. The guard at the word of command presented arms, and in our poor humble way we tried to do honour to the Almighty King of Kings on the day of His glorious triumph. I must not forget to add that the lassies and maidens did us the honour of coming to sing during Mass, casting many an envious glance (so rumour says) down on the handsome Irish lads praying so devoutly below.

Let us go and meet the risen Lord, sounding the Royal Salute within our own souls.

Thoughts for Holy Saturday from Fr Willie Doyle

The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.

Thoughts for Good Friday from Fr Willie Doyle

The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?

COMMENT: Once again, there are so many things that one could meditate on today. The Passion is a rich and inexhaustible source of meditation for us. It has converted many souls and formed great saints. St Teresa of Avila, for instance, lead a relatively mediocre religious life until one day she reflected on an image of Jesus being scourged at the pillar and was deeply transformed by the experience. 

Today’s quote from Fr Doyle focuses on the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Reflecting on this thirst has had a powerful effect on many saints, and specifically on the life and spirituality of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As Blessed John Paul II said at her beatification: 

The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God’s longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa’s soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.

Certainly it was a physical thirst, after all of the exertions and torture and loss of blood of the preceding several hours. But the thirst was also spiritual in nature. St Josemaria Escriva tells us:

He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him, along the way of the Cross which is the way to immortality and heavenly glory.

From the 19th century book “The School of Jesus Crucified” by Fr Ignatius, an Italian Passionist priest, we find the following reflections on the thirst of Jesus:

Besides this corporal thirst, Jesus suffers from another spiritual species of thirst, which cannot be so easily assuaged.

Jesus thirsts for our eternal salvation, He thirsts for souls. This is the thirst of which he complains, and which is consuming His very life’s Blood. Jesus most passionately desires that the Blood He has shed should benefit mankind by saving them from Hell; and yet He foreknows that there will be many eternally lost, notwithstanding all His love and all His sufferings. Oh, truly does this thirst consume the loving Heart of Jesus, and its sacred heat slowly but surely deprives Him of life! 

If thou hadst been present on Mount Calvary, and hadst heard our Redeemer saying ‘I thirst’ wouldst thou not have relieved His sufferings by giving Him a little water? Know that even at the present moment it is in thy power to relieve His burning thirst. He says to thee from the Cross, ‘My son, I thirst for thy soul.’

We will conclude today with the following private reflection from Fr Doyle’s notes. This very personal record was not meant to be seen by others, and it is all the more significant because of the tinge of Jansenism affecting the Church, including the Church in Ireland, at that time. One of the effects of the Jansenist heresy is to diminish our love for God, to make us feel unworthy of His love, and to make us overly austere and focussed on rules. This heretical spirit worked itself out in very damaging ways as the 20th Century progressed. Of course, it is also possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction as an excessive reaction against Jansenism… In any event, it is clear from this reflection that Fr Doyle was not affected by this heresy of Jansenism.

I…once more had an opportunity of a quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.

Perhaps today we may find this outpouring of love to be a bit excessive. But then again, Fr Doyle was called to an excessive love; to that greatest of loves which involves laying down one’s life for others. In this, he imitated his Master to the very end.

Thoughts for Holy Thursday from Fr Willie Doyle

Pain and privation are only momentary, they quickly pass and become even delightfully sweet, if only borne in the spirit with which many of my grand boys take these things: ‘Sure, Father, it’s not worth talking about; after all, is it not well to have some little thing to suffer for God and His Blessed Mother?’ But the craven fear which at times clutches the heart, the involuntary shrinking and dread of human nature at danger and even death, are things which cannot be expressed in words. An officer, who had gone through a good deal himself, said to me recently: ‘I never realized before what our Lord must have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He began to fear and grow sorrowful.’ Yet His grace is always there to help one when most needed. 

COMMENT: There are so many scenes one could meditate on during Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood; the washing of the feet; the betrayal and despair of Judas; the denial of Peter and the abandonment of the apostles; the laziness of the apostles sleeping in the Garden; the arrest of Jesus; His ill treatment and mock-trial; His ordeal before Herod; His night spent in prison; the anguish of Mary…

Yet the fear of our Lord in the Garden is one of the richest sources of meditation precisely because almost everyone can identify somewhat with Jesus’ acute mental anguish, especially in these uncertain and stressed times. 

Yet we can only really guess at the full weight of Jesus’ agony. His soul was sorrowful even unto death – His anguish was so great that it almost killed Him. He even shed drops of blood. As Fr Doyle tells us, sometimes fear and dread are so great that it cannot be fully expressed in words. In fact, sometimes fear is so devastating that it is even worse than the very thing (pain, loneliness, death…) that made us frightened in the first place.. 

Fr Doyle tells us that when we experience such fear Jesus is there by our side to help us. Fr Doyle should know – his diaries reveal the many times when he had to hide in a hole and shook with fear under heavy shelling during his years as a military chaplain. Yet, with God’s grace, he always overcame his deeply felt fear, and went on to encourage the soldiers who were faltering.

Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it Himself. As St Thomas More tells us: 

It seems that Christ is making use of His own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation. Be brave, He seems to say…Do not give up hope…You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was much more afraid and appalled…Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxiety.

The Jesuit spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier also comments on the transformation that overcomes Our Lord after His agony in the garden.

What a transformation takes place after this third prayer! To the end of the Passion, no matter what men may do to Him, we shall never see Him falter or broken anymore. Always henceforth He is Master. He has strength for Himself, except such as many depend on His poor worn body, and He has strength for everyone about Him…We look on amazed; we wonder whether we have understood aright; and yet around us we see the same illustrated in those who seek their own support in prayer.

May we too, through prayer, transform our anxieties and worries into confidence and strength.

New book about Fr Doyle in French!

The last few months have seen an incredible and unexpected new level of output related to the life and spirit of Fr Doyle. Firstly, Worshipper and Worshipped, a major new biography, was published in November 2013. Then in January 2014 the Catholic Truth Society published an excellent ans accessible new biography of Fr Doyle. And now, a new 150 page, lavishly designed, full colour book about Fr Doyle has been published in French! 

The full text of the book can be found here:  Amis de Saint Benoit Labre Even if you can’t speak French it is worth looking at it!

The book is published by the Amis de St Benoit Labre, and commemorates Fr Doyle’s devotion to this wonderful saint. It is presented on this site today to commemorate Benedict Labre’s feast day.

The author of the book is Didier Noel; here is a short article from him on the Amis de St Benoit Labre, with a discussion on his motivation for producing the book. Enjoy.

Today is Saint Benedict-Joseph Day; this year April 16th is on a holy Wednesday, and he died in Rome on a Wednesday too, on April 16th, 1783.

The day when he died, the children suddenly ran in the streets of Rome and said loud: “The holy man is dead! The holy man is dead!” His miraculous healings and conversions were soon recognized. For example, the conversion to Catholicism of a Presbyterian minister called John Thayer. The Roman Catholic Church has recognized the holiness of Saint Benedict-Joseph Labre’s life and canonized him on December 8th, 1881. During his lifetime, a lot of baptized people were inspired by him.

He’s the patron Saint of spiritual groups and he inspires them within their apostolic actions. He was chosen as a patron Saint by a lot of parishes, places of worship as well as many charities. His name was finally given to streets or places to remember of many places where he went and to refer to prominent events in his life.

April 16th is a great opportunity for Christians to meet together at his birthplace; among these Christians you can find the “Friends of Saint Benedict Labre”. We are a spiritual family founded on mutual friendship and prayers for each other, which makes our unity stronger. In addition to that day, there is a big novena in Amettes, where he was born, once in a year beginning on the last Sunday in August until the next Sunday in September.

And actually I have been writing for years many published works on the web for the two associations of Amettes in France and Amos in Canada during my holiday after having travelled and visited a lot of places where Saint Benedict-Joseph Labre has been. The main purpose of this published work on the web called “Byways” consists in collecting all traces of Saint Benedict Labre’s European travels. As part of this whole work, I’ve written the first number of a new edition called “Light on the way” in order to give importance to the spiritual influence of the holy pilgrim’s life among Christians and many priests who have chosen him as a patron Saint in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr William Doyle received a grace in the bedroom of the holy Pilgrim in Amettes. Fr Doyle had a real human soul in which we can feel the deep unity of a holy icon: body and soul were deeply connected … the human part and the divine part together… Remembering his story and reviving his memory in the heart of “Saint Benedict Labre’s Friends” was very meaningful to me. As a military chaplain, Fr Doyle set his heart on serving God among men.

Suffering is a kind of test, a kind of a way to sanctification. Fr Doyle’s personality puts us in the mind of the holy pilgrim of Amettes for whom he had a great and glorious devotion.

While you’re reading my published work about Father Doyle, you’ll get to know that his visit in Saint Benedict Labre’s birthplace (1916 – 1917) has changed his life. Saint Benedict Labre has become a pillar of Fr Doyle’s ministry during which he was confronted every day with evil and real suffering in the war.

A long time ago I visited Amettes and in a spiritual way, I have “met” Benedict-Joseph, God’s holy beggar. In his small house I’ve learnt how to manage my life, I’ve learnt the meaning of life.

Like Father William Doyle, I was deeply impressed by the feeling of Benedict Labre’s real presence … even until now.

Introducing him to all of you is my life purpose, a kind of quest; this is my tribute too for all friends of Father William Doyle so that I can make him “shine” more and more. It’s for me another way of building tomorrow’s Church. This is Benedict-Joseph Labre’s message too on the way to a new evangelization.

 If you want to join “Saint Benedict Labre Friends”, you just have to:

  •  Know Saint Benedict Labre’s life by reading one the several published biographies.

(Have a look at his biography on the following website: http://www.amis-benoit-labre.net)

 Afterwards please ask yourself how far Saint Benedict Labre’s life inspires your Christian life?

 If you want to be registered in the Friends’ list, please send an email to Father Raymond Martel at this following address: amisbenoitlabre@gmail.com

P.S. Don’t forget to write your first and last names as well as the country where you’re living in.

Your name will be then published on the “Saint Benedict Labre’s Friends” website.

Of course, your email-address won’t be published for reasons of confidentiality.

 

St Benedict Joseph Labre

St Benedict Joseph Labre

Thoughts on St Benedict Joseph Labre from Fr Willie Doyle

St Benedict Joseph Labre

St Benedict Joseph Labre

Second pilgrimage to Amettes from Locre. During the journey I felt our Lord wanted to give me some message through St. Benedict Joseph Labre. No light came while praying in the Church or in the house; but when I went up to his little room and knelt down a voice seemed to whisper “Read what is written on the wall.” I saw these words: “God calls me to an austere life; I must prepare myself to follow the ways of God.” With these words came a sudden light to see how much one gains by every act of sacrifice, that what we give is not lost; but the enjoyment (increased a thousand fold) is only postponed. This filled me with extraordinary consolation which lasted all day. 

COMMENT: Today is normally the feast of St Benedict Joseph Labre, though of course it is superseded by Holy Week this year. Fr Doyle had a great devotion to this saint – in one letter he outlines what he felt was a “strange devotion” that he felt to this saint, even as a boy. 

St Benedict Joseph Labre was a beggar; in the following quote from another of Fr Doyle’s letters home from the war he shows us his affection for this saint, as well as his own personal humour: 

I spent most of the next day wandering around the country, with a visit to the home and shrine of the beggarman saint, Benedict Joseph Labre. I often think he must be nearly mad with envy watching us in the trenches, surrounded, walked on and sat upon by his ‘pets’. But from the same pets deliver us, O Lord, as speedily as may be, this coming hot weather! 

The pets to which Fr Doyle refers are presumably fleas, lice and other creep crawlies.

There are two lessons that we may take from today’s quote and feast. 

Firstly, the obvious message relates to austerity, a particularly relevant one in this era in which there is much talk of financial austerity. God called both St Benedict Joseph Labre and Fr Doyle to a distinct type of austerity. We can be sure that we are also called to our own particular type of austerity, but this will vary from person to person and will correspond with our state in life. It is almost certainly the case that we are called to a different, and lesser, type of austerity – it would be wrong for someone to attempt to copy Fr Doyle or St Benedict Joseph. But as St Francis de Sales tells us, our cross is made specifically for us, so whatever austerity we are asked to bear, it will stretch us and help to perfect us, even if it is not as objectively severe as serving as a chaplain in the trenches or living homeless on the streets of Rome. However, we must remember that whatever austerity we live with, it should never make us sour or unpleasant. Those who knew Fr Doyle always remarked on his cheerfulness and his good humour – his presence was a source of courage for the soldiers. So too with St Benedict Joseph Labre – despite his dirt and his poverty and austerity, his presence was a source of light to all those whom he encountered. Would that others would say the same of us!

The second lesson is that the call to holiness is universal. St Benedict Joseph Labre was a distinctly odd young man. He was certainly intelligent and very well read, but he chose (or felt called to) the life of a tramp. Some people even suggest that he was mentally disturbed, although perhaps that is going a bit too far. Nonetheless, the point remains that the young man who was not accepted into several monasteries and who wandered the roads of Europe visiting shrines and living homeless in Rome for a decade, far away from his family, was recognised by the Church as a saint worthy of honour and with virtues worthy of imitation. Truly there is wonderful diversity in the Church! 

Pope Francis has spoken many times since his election about the poor. Today’s feast reminds us that everyone, including the poor, are called to be saints, and that those who are materially poor can be spiritually rich.

On my last visit to Rome I had the great privilege of being able to visit the house where St Benedict Joseph Labre died – he was taken to this house after he collapsed on the steps of a nearby church (he is now buried in that same church). It took some effort to find this spot, but it was worth it. I have had the honour in life of visiting many out-of-the-way places in Rome – the kind of places that don’t always show up in guidebooks. Often these are the best spots in Rome! Out of all of these locations I would consider this particular place to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful I had ever visited. Members of a secular institute now live in this house and they preserve relics associated with St Benedict Joseph with great care. Below is a photo of the bed on which the saint died.

St Benedict Joseph Labre bed

Finally, it is worth noting that today is also the birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – he is 87. We should remember him in our prayers today.

Thoughts for Spy Wednesday from Fr Willie Doyle

I think He would like you to pay more attention to little things, looking on nothing as small, if connected with His service and worship. Also try to remember that nothing is too small to offer to Him — that is, the tiniest act of self-conquest is of immense value in His eyes, and even lifting one’s eyes as an act of love brings great grace.

COMMENT: Despite the fact that Fr Doyle lived a very dramatic life that involved many big sacrifices, he consistently preached that holiness is normally to be found in little things. In fact, without having strived for holiness in little things, it is doubtful that Fr Doyle would have been capable of his heroism in the trenches.

At first glance, it seems that reflecting on little things during this most momentous Holy Week is a bit a strange. But today’s Gospel contains a subtle reference to the value of little sacrifices and offerings. Given the drama of the Passion, it is easy to miss it.

Go ye into the city to a certain man and say to him: The master says, My time is near at hand. With thee I make the pasch with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them: and they prepared the pasch.

Who was this “certain man” who provided the room for the Last Supper? We do not know. He is not named. But what is clear is that he did an important service for our Lord by providing the room for the Last Supper. What an honour it would be to have provided the room for the Last Supper! This unknown man, humble and hidden, served Jesus in a most special way. He obviously knew Jesus and was ready to serve Him however he was asked. Yet he remains unknown to us. This is the secret of holiness in little things – providing humble and unknown service, without seeking any attention or fame.

As Fr Doyle tells us, nothing is too small to offer to Him.

In conclusion it might be appropriate today to include Fr Doyle’s “parable” of the hermit and the “recording angel”. He included this little parable in one of his very last letters home to his father, and it tells us of the value of little things by way of an amusing story.

In the good old days of yore a holy hermit built him a cell in a spot a few miles from the well, so that he might have a little act of penance to offer to Almighty God each day by tramping across the hot sand and back again with his pitcher. All went gaily for a while, and if the holy man did lose many a drop of honest sweat he knew he was piling up sacks of treasure in Heaven, and his heart was light. But though the spirit was willing, the sun was very warm, the sand most provokingly hot, the pitcher the devil and all of a weight, and the road seemingly longer each day. It is a bit too much of a good joke, thought the man of God, to tramp these miles day in and day out, with my old bones, clanking like a traction engine. Why not move the cell to the edge of the water, save time (and much bad language probably) and have cool water in abundance, and a dry hair shirt on my back?

Away home he faced for the last time with his brimming water jar, kicking the sand about in sheer delight, for the morrow would see him on the trek, and an end to his weary trudging, when suddenly he heard a voice, an angel’s voice he knew it to be, counting slowly One, two, three, four. The hermit stopped in wonder and so did the voice, but at the next steps he took the counting began again, Five, six, seven. Falling on his knees the old man prayed that he might know the meaning of this wonder. ‘I am the angel of God’, came the answer, ‘counting up each step which long ago you offered up to my Lord and Master, so that not a single one may lose its reward. Don’t be so foolish as to throw away the immense merit you are gaining, by moving your cell to the water’s edge, for know that in the eyes of the heavenly court nothing is small which is done or borne for the love of God.’

That very night down came the hermit’s hut, and before morning broke he had built it again five miles further from the well. For all I know he is merrily tramping still backwards and forwards across the burning sand, very hot and tired no doubt, but happy in the thought that the recording angel is busy counting each step.

The Titanic, Fr Browne and Fr Doyle

Titanic BW

102 years ago today, the Titanic sank with the loss of 1,514 lives.

A lot of the media coverage of the anniversary, in Ireland at least, tends to mention Fr Francis Browne S.J., and rightly so. For those who do not know, Fr Browne (or Br Browne, as he then was) was a passenger on board the Titanic as it sailed from Southampton to Cobh. He was due to leave the ship at Cobh, but some wealthy passengers offered to pay for his ticket all the way to the US. He telegraphed his provincial for permission, but he received a short and terse message in reply – “Get off that ship”. Religious obedience saved his life. Fr Browne is significant in the Titanic story because he was an enthusiastic photographer, and he took the only photographs of the Titanic at sea. In fact, some of his photos are the only photos we have of certain rooms on the Titanic.

Fr Francis Browne SJ

Fr Francis Browne SJ

Fr Browne played an important role in Fr Doyle’s life – they were together in the schools at Clongowes and Belvedere, but in particular they worked together as military chaplains in World War I, and they had great esteem for each other. I have been told that, so great was Fr Browne’s respect for Fr Doyle, that he kept a pair of Fr Doyle’s shoes as a relic and only ever wore them while saying Mass.

O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle recounts a touching scene in which both priests arose exhausted, at 1am on Corpus Christi, June 7 1917, to say Mass before moving off to the front line. Fr Doyle, who was older and senior to Fr Browne, made a resolution to ask Fr Browne to treat him like a slave, so that he could experience occasions for perfecting the virtue of humility. It’s not known if Fr Browne took him up on this offer!

Fr Browne and Fr Doyle used to relieve each other at the front line, and would hear each other’s confessions whenever they swapped over. Here is Fr Browne’s description of this arrangement:

During our whole time there we relieved each other in this way every eight days. I remember how decent Fr. Willie used to be, coming up early on the relief days, before his Battalion came up, in order that I might get away. He knew how I hated it — and I did not hate it half as much as he did. We used generally to confess each other before leaving. We were very exact about waiting for each other, so that I do not think the (48th) Brigade was ever without a priest in the line.

However, Fr Browne was appointed chaplain to a different group of soldiers on August 2 1917, but due to a mix up his replacement never showed up. This meant that Fr Doyle had double the work with no rest and was the only chaplain to 4 Battalions from August 2 to his death on August 16, and that during some of the worst days of battle. Fr Doyle commented on this loss of Fr Browne’s company in these terms:

The Battalion went out to-day for three days’ rest, but I remained behind. Fr. Browne has gone back to the Irish Guards. He is a tremendous loss, not only to myself personally, but to the whole Brigade where he did magnificent work and made a host of friends. And so I was left alone.

Here is some of Fr Browne’s testimony about Fr Doyle, written on August 15 1917, just a day before Fr Doyle’s death:

Fr. Doyle is a marvel. You may talk of heroes and saints, they are hardly in it! I went back the other day to see the old Dubs, as I heard they were having, we’ll say, a taste of the War.

No one has been yet appointed to my place, and Fr. Doyle has done double work. So unpleasant were the conditions that the men had to be relieved frequently. Fr. Doyle had no one to relieve him and so he stuck to the mud and the shells, the gas and the terror. Day after day he stuck it out.

I met the Adjutant of one of my two Battalions, who previously had only known Fr. Doyle by sight. His first greeting to me was: — ‘Little Fr. Doyle’ — they all call him that, more in affection than anything else — ‘deserves the V.C. more than any man that ever wore it. We cannot get him away from the line while the men are there, he is with his own and he is with us. The men couldn’t stick it half so well if he weren’t there. If we give him an orderly, he sends the man back, he wears no tin hat, and he is always so cheery’. Another officer, also a Protestant, said: ‘Fr. Doyle never rests. Night and day he is with us. He finds a dying or dead man, does all, comes back smiling, makes a little cross, and goes out to bury him, and then begins all over again.’

I needn’t say, that through all this, the conditions of ground, and air and discomfort, surpass anything that I ever dreamt of in the worst days of the Somme.

Fr Browne was also there for Fr Doyle’s last homily – Fr Browne said Mass and Fr Doyle preached at the Mass in late July 1917 in front of 2,500 Irish soldiers in the church at St. Omer in France. Here is Fr Browne’s account of Fr Doyle’s homily:

From the pulpit Fr. Doyle directed the singing of the hymns, and then, after the Gospel, he preached. I knew he could preach, but I had hardly expected that anyone could speak as he spoke then. First of all he referred to the Bishop’s coming, and very, very tactfully spoke of the terrible circumstances of the time. Next he went on to speak of our Lady and the Shrine to which we had come. Gradually the story was unfolded; he spoke wonderfully of the coming of the Old Irish Brigade in their wanderings over the Low Countries. It was here that he touched daringly, but ever so cleverly, on Ireland’s part in the war. Fighting for Ireland and not fighting for Ireland, or rather fighting for Ireland through another. Then he passed on to Daniel O’Connell’s time as a schoolboy at St. Omer and his visit to the Shrine. It certainly was very eloquent. Everyone spoke most highly of it afterwards, the men particularly, they were delighted.

When Fr Browne heard of Fr Doyle’s death, he wrote the following in a letter on August 20: 

All during these last months he was my greatest help, and to his saintly advice, and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything I felt and did. With him, as with others of us, his bravery was no mere physical show-off. He was afraid and felt fear deeply, how deeply few can realise. And yet the last word said of him to me by the Adjutant of the Royal Irish Rifles in answer to my question, ‘I hope you are taking care of Fr. Doyle?’, was, ‘He is as fond of the shells as ever.’ His one idea was to do God’s work with the men, to make them saints. How he worked and how he prayed for this! Fine weather and foul he was always thinking of them and what he could do for them. In the cold winter he would not use the stove I bought for our dug-out. He scoffed at the idea as making it ‘stuffy’ – and that when the thermometer was fifteen to twenty degrees below zero, the coldest ever known in living memory here.

And how he loathed it all, the life and everything it implied! And yet nobody suspected it. God’s Will was his law. And to all who remonstrated, ‘Must I not be about the Lord’s business?’ was his laughing answer in act and deed and not merely in word. May he rest in peace — it seems superfluous to pray for him.

And so back to the Titanic…I read with interest recently the story of three different priests – a German, a Lithuanian and an Englishman, who stayed on board the Titanic to minister to those who were inevitably going to die. Like Fr Doyle who died while trying to minister to wounded soldiers, these three priests, by refusing to get into lifeboats, gave up their lives to serve others. What a powerful witness and example of heroic charity. Surely the cause of these “Titanic martyrs of charity” should be introduced? You may read more about them here:

Father Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz: http://www.kloster-scheyern.de/01-benediktiner/Titanic/Eng_schicksal_titanic.htm

Father Juozas Montvila http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/juozas-montvila.html

Father Thomas Byles: www.fatherbyles.com

Thoughts for Tuesday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

Saint Peter Weeping in the Presence of the Sorrowful Mother by Guercino, 1647.

My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.

COMMENT: The denial of our Lord by St Peter contains many powerful lessons for us. St Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus. He witnessed the miracles. He saw the dead rise to life, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He saw devils cast out and the paralysed get up and walk. He saw Jesus calm a storm and walk on water. He was there are the Transfiguration. Jesus taught him how to pray. He had left everything and followed the Master. He urged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and risk death. He didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus wash his feet, and promised him that he would die for him. When the guards came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out his sword to defend him. Peter was the Rock, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. He had just been at the Last Supper – essentially he had just been ordained a priest and bishop by Christ…

And then he failed. The man who would die for Jesus denied him when a maid and some other random bystanders said that he was a friend of Jesus.

Then Jesus looked at him. How low he must have felt. The movie The Passion of the Christ has a wonderful scene where, after his denial, Peter goes to Mary. Three times she reaches out to him, and three times he pulls back. The picture above shows something similar – Peter is in tears in front of Mary. In sorrow herself, she consoles him and prays for him.

We may not have physically lived in Jesus’ presence the same way Peter did, but we have received His grace and we have seen the effects of that grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have received many gifts from Him. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church or by staying silent when we could defend it.

Like Fr Doyle, we may feel that we have gone on for years denying Jesus. Well, let us then learn some lessons from St Peter who was so contrite after his fall that he thought it nothing to suffer imprisonment and death for the One he had denied. St Peter repented. He did not despair like Judas did.

There are other important lessons we can take from this episode. We are told that Peter was warming himself at a fire when he denied Jesus. Was it the lack of a spirit of mortification that weakened his will and lead to his fall? We are told that his first denial came after a maid asked him if he knew Jesus. Was he more fearful of the judgement of the maid than the judgement of God? Did he fall because of what is termed “human respect” – a fear of the opinion of others? We are also told that instead of watching and praying with Jesus in the Garden, Peter slept. Not only once, but three times. Perhaps he failed because he did not watch and pray that he would not be put to the test.

But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…  

Thoughts for Monday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.

Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:

Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.

Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…

As St Josemaria Escriva said:

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

And also:

Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’

In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called. 

By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Thoughts for Palm Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

I have prepared a document with the text of Fr Doyle’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. The file can be downloaded from here:

Stations of the Cross

If you like Fr Doyle’s writings, please send this file to friends and contacts, and maybe even to your local priest! If you have a blog yourself, please feel free to post it there as well. Perhaps in this way other people can come to know and love Fr Doyle. May Fr Doyle’s meditations enrich your experience in Holy Week!