Thoughts for February 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

No trespassing

Don’t be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: “Trespassers not allowed”.

COMMENT: One of the greatest hallmarks of holiness is complete abandonment to God’s will. It does not come easily. That is why martyrs are remembered with special reverence – they have literally given everything to God, without reserve.

For most of us there is some area where we would prefer to be left alone. Some vice, some habit, some attachment that we cherish. We can readily give up certain less important things, but this one thing is not so readily handed over to God. God has given us everything – He has a right to expect that we give everything back to Him in return.

Thoughts for February 7 (Blessed Pius IX) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Pius IX
Blessed Pius IX

Then in addition there is the great privilege and joy of carrying our dear Lord next my heart day and night. Long ago when reading that Pius IX carried the Pyx around his neck, I felt a foolish desire, as it seemed to me, for the same privilege. Little did I think then that the God of holiness would stoop so low as to make me His resting-place. Why this favour alone would be worth going through twenty wars for! I feel ashamed at times that I do not profit more by His nearness, but I know that He makes allowances for weak inconstant nature, and that even when I do not directly think of Him, He is silently working in my soul. Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her? I feel that He will do much, very much, for me too whilst I carry Him about with me.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Blessed Pius IX. He was pope for almost 32 years, the second longest reigning pope after St Peter. Pius IX unfortunately gets pretty shoddy treatment in the media today. He was pope at a very difficult time in the history of the Church.

Blessed Pius IX was known as a humble and zealous priest who dedicated himself to the care of the poor and sick in Rome. He was a man of deep piety, and as we see from today’s quote from Fr Doyle, he occasionally carried a pyx containing the Eucharist around his neck. Yet despite his charitable and pious disposition, he was also a strong leader of the Church. 

Today we can ask Blessed Pius IX and Fr Doyle to pray that we too can have some of their simple, child-like faith and piety, combined with the fortitude and courage which they both displayed throughout their lives.

Thoughts for February 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Some of Fr Doyle’s favourite aspirations:

l. My Crucified Jesus, help me to crucify myself.

2. Lord, teach me how to pray and pray always.

3. Jesus, Thou Saint of saints, make me a saint.

4. Blessed be God for all things.

5. My loving Jesus within my heart unite my heart to Thee.

6. Heart of Jesus, give me Your zeal for souls.

7. My God, Thou art omnipotent, make me a saint.

Thoughts for February 5 (St Agatha) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Agatha
St Agatha

I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”?

My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.

A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.

COMMENT: Martyrdom is no joke. It is the ultimate expression of detachment and love; a willingness to give up life itself for the truth and love of Christ. Martyrdom can seem fine in the abstract, but when faced with the pressing reality of this sacrifice, our human nature easily rebels. This tension between religious ideals and the weakness of human nature is wonderfully portrayed in the movie Of Gods and Men which was released a number of years ago. It follows the experience of the seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria in 1996. The movie brilliantly shows the tension within the community between the desire to stand firm against the Islamic extremists who were threatening the monastery and the human desire for self-preservation.

There is some truth in the Flannery O’Connor line “she could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”. If one is going to be a martyr, it is better that the martyrdom be a quick one. But yet, there are few martyrs whose martyrdoms were quick. St Thomas More had a long time to contemplate his impending death in London Tower; so too did St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Auschwitz starvation bunker. Fr Doyle had much time to contemplate his own probable death during his 18 months as a military chaplain.

And this shows us the wisdom of Fr Doyle’s quote today. Unless we toughen ourselves up by small sacrifices each day, we will never be capable of bigger sacrifices if the occasion arises. It is only by learning to deny ourselves now that we will be able to cope with the even more difficult circumstances that are likely to come in the future.

St Agatha, whose feast it is today, also lived this reality, remaining faithful to Christ despite torture and imprisonment. Tradition tells us that her persecutors mutilated her by cutting off her breasts. It is certain that the story of St Agatha is one of those that inspired the young Willie Doyle to desire martyrdom as a boy.

May St Agatha, Fr Doyle and all the martyrs intercede for us so that we may live our daily martyrdom of fidelity to daily sacrifices so that we may be found ready if something more is asked of us.

Thoughts for February 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am glad you wrote to me for I, at least, can understand exactly what you are suffering; it is really a question of nerves, not of soul. You are run down like an old fiddlestring, hence you can get no sweet music out of yourself, try as you may. Now, my child, don’t be troubled or uneasy, imagining God is displeased with you or that you are abusing grace. For a little while give yourself all the rest, relaxation and indulgence you can; there is to be no penance, few spiritual duties, except Mass and Communion, and you are just to do like a little child whatever your superiors tell you, read story books, etc; rest and riot is to be your programme just now. When the old nerves get a bit settled, you will run ahead like a giant to sanctity. I am afraid you must make up your mind for fits of depression from time to time, but that, too, will pass when you become more your old self. I shall pray for you and I know you will do the same when you get good again, but not before!

COMMENT: Today’s quote comes from a letter that Fr Doyle wrote to somebody who was obviously run down and ill. Perhaps the person was suffering from anxiety or depression. Fr Doyle says that he can understand what this person is suffering; he suffered a nervous breakdown himself when he was a seminarian.

Today we once again see Fr Doyle’s great balance. His clear instruction for the sick person (probably a nun) is simply to rest and relax. This is, of course, the correct advice. But it is interesting that it comes from the man who gave himself no rest, who sought to go against his own will at every possible moment and who practised remarkable penances. Far from being over-zealous, Fr Doyle once again shows himself to possess a wonderful balance in his measured dealings with others.

Thoughts for February 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church
St Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church

It seems to me that the best and most practical resolution I can make is to determine to perform each action with the greatest perfection. This will mean a constant going against self, ever agendo contra, at every moment and every single day. I have a vast field to cover in my ordinary daily actions e.g. to say the Angelus always with the utmost attention and fervour. I feel too that Jesus asks this from me as without it there can be no real holiness.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle here presents to us the “little way” of holiness in ordinary life which is the hallmark of real sanctity. Many great saints have advocated this realistic path to sanctity; St Therese and St Josemaria Escriva immediately come to mind. It is perhaps no surprise that Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to St Therese and that St Josemaria read, and was inspired by, Fr Doyle’s life story and spirit.

Yet, for all its apparent simplicity, this little way of constantly going against ourselves is a tough road. Yet it is the only road for most of us. The opportunity of doing great things may not come to us, but we have the opportunity of doing our daily tasks well every single day. Let us also remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Luke 16:10):

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Thoughts for February 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

Little Nellie of Holy God
Little Nellie of Holy God

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

COMMENT: Today’s quote recounts Fr Doyle’s experience of visiting the grave of Ellen Organ, otherwise known as Little Nellie of Holy God. Little Nellie died on this day in 1908 in County Cork. Fr Doyle visited her grave in February 1911. We don’t know the exact date, but perhaps it was even 105 years ago on this day, her anniversary.

Little Nellie was only four and a half years old when she died. She was sent to live with the Good Shepherd sisters when her own mother died. She was diagnosed with TB and fell gravely ill. She was known even at that young age for her intense love of “Holy God”. She had a great longing to receive the Eucharist, and received extraordinary permission to do so at the age of four and a quarter. She seems to have reached the age of reason very quickly, and experienced several mystical graces. Her thanksgivings after Communion lasted until the late afternoon, and the smell of her rotting jaws and gums allegedly ceased after she had received her First Communion. She was unafraid of death, looking forward to being united with Jesus in Heaven. She died on this day in 1908.

Her fame soon spread, and her body was found to be incorrupt when examined 18 months after death. St Pius X was greatly moved by her story, and she helped inspire him to reduce the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age. In fact, St Pius was so moved that he asked for a relic of Little Nellie. How remarkable and humble – the great Pontiff requesting the relic of an unknown 4 year old girl!!

Fr Doyle obviously felt a particular affinity with Little Nellie. Did he have a mystical experience when he visited the grave? Did Little Nellie really chide him for his lack of fervour and perfection? We shall never know; such matters are hard to discern, and impossible 100 years removed from the event.

Little Nellie’s story is charming and edifying. Her example helped change Church practice on the age of First Holy Communion. The great St Pius X recognised her sanctity. Books are still published about her and significant interest in her life remains. Given the prevailing situation for too many Irish children of First Communion age – for many it is a day out when they receive lots of cash – her example is sorely needed, and her cause should be opened and promoted. Many children have already been raised to the altars and many more are on their way. One thinks immediately of Nennolina from Rome who died at six and a half in the 1930’s and whose story is similar to that of Little Nellie. She has already been declared Venerable, and an alleged miracle is apparently being investigated.

Pope Benedict tells us in his Letter to the Irish Church to remember the rock from which we have been hewn. We need contemporary Irish saints!!! This is not a pious, niche interest. Jesus Himself used everyday examples that were familiar to His listeners to illustrate His teachings. Missionaries in far away lands do the same today, utilising aspects of local culture to teach people about Christianity. Ireland is now mission territory once again, and we need to use our very own examples of holiness to reintroduce people to the Truth, Goodness and Beauty of Christianity. We have many worthy candidates, including, but not limited to, Fr Doyle and Little Nellie. Let us continue to pray for the day when we will see more Irish candidates recognised and held up as worthy models for the new evangelisation. But let us also work for this end, by writing and speaking about them and respectfully encouraging the relevant ecclesiastical authorities to open and pursue their causes.