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 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.
COMMENT: If Fr Doyle suffered from the problem of human respect – an untoward concern for what others think of us – then there is little surprise that we ourselves might fall prey to it as well. This is especially challenging for us who live in a culture where religious faith is scoffed at and where those who practice it are viewed as being intellectually challenged and uneducated. In some respects, the prevailing norms in Europe make living the faith almost like a “social martyrdom”. We now have festivals and public spectacles that are designed to celebrate and normalise sin.
If we shrink from living our faith for fear of human respect, then we cannot hope to effectively shape the culture in which we live. We must be coherent Christians. Yes, we should practice our faith with discretion and balance, but we should do so without fear. Perhaps the words of St Jean-Marie Vianney, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, might help on this point:
The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people. If the Devil cannot get him back through human respect, he will induce an extraordinary fear to possess him that his confessions are not good, that his confessor does not understand him, that whatever he does will be all in vain, that he will be damned just the same, that he will achieve the same result in the end by letting everything slide as by continuing to fight, because the occasions of sin will prove too many for him.