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.
Surely, my child, you are not surprised to find that you have broken your resolution, or rather, that the devil has gained a victory over you. I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it, since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble. Besides, to expect to keep any resolution, till repeated acts have made it solid in the soul, is like expecting to learn skating, for example, without ever falling. The more falls; the better (that is if you do not mind bumps), for every fall means that we have begun again, have made another effort and so have made progress. I mention this because I know that you like myself are given to discouragement and tempted to give up all when failure comes.
COMMENT: So the New Year of 2021 is not so new anymore. We are two months into it; 1/6th of the year is gone and will never return.
Have we stuck with our new year’s resolutions? Do we even remember what they were? And our Lenten resolutions – is our commitment wavering?
If we have failed, never mind. Fr Doyle reassures us today that the spiritual life is about always beginning again. It is consoling to read that one who was so hard on himself was so gentle on others. In today’s quote Fr Doyle once again reveals his own remarkable spiritual balance and gentleness.
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, but also courage and hope to face the hard days to come. 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, holiness can sometimes manifest 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.
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 the life and soul of the party and was also a good shot with a gun. Fr Doyle was of course renowned for his own sense of adventure and fun, so I’m sure that the very human, and very fervent, St Gabriel would have appealed to him. The spiritual outlook was also somewhat similar. Both believed in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well and both struggled with great industry to grow in holiness through self-denial and a war on comfort and self-love.
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.
He loves your soul dearly, cling to Him, and trust him, He so longs to be trusted. Be like a faithful dog at his master’s feet, have you never seen how, even after he has been punished, a really affectionate dog will come back and kiss his master’s hand? Child, do this, He wants no more.
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?
How often have we murmured against the good God because He has refused our petitions or frustrated our plans. Can we look into the future as God can do? Can we see now and realize to the full the effect our request would have had if granted? God loves us, He loves us too dearly to leave us to the guidance of our poor judgements; and when He turns a deaf ear to our entreaties, it is as a tender Father would treat the longings of a child for what would work him harm.
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.
As Fr Doyle suggests, we truly can gain from 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.
“The power of the Most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke, 1:35). Light comes with this blessed over-shadowing,. and before God’s power difficulties disappear. It is ever so. With God’s grace mine, I face the difficulty and find it has vanished: I take up the heavy cross and discover it most light; I put my hand to the work and it proves easy.
As regards confession it would be much better to confine yourself to the accusation of, say, three faults, and turn the whole flood of your sorrow upon these. I fear you, like so many, lay too much stress on the accusation of sins, which in these frequent confessions, is the least important part of the Sacrament. To my mind the one thing which completely changes all our notions of confession is the thought that every absolution means an immense increase of sanctifying grace or holiness. Let that be your aim and not the mere pouring out of little faults, all of which, maybe, were washed away that morning by Holy Communion.
COMMENT: There has been a debate about whether or not Ireland was afflicted with Jansenism in the early part of the 20th Century. Whether it was full-blown Jansenism or not, there were at least widespread tinges of it which were manifested by excessive scrupulosity and an over-emphasis on judgement and considerably less emphasis on the mercy and love of God. Fr Doyle was an enemy of what he rightly termed as “the wretched spirit of Jansenism”.
In today’s quote he is of course writing to somebody who is striving to live a holy life, so his advice would not apply completely to somebody who has been away from the sacraments for a long time. His advice seems very Ignatian – to focus on key faults in an attempt to eradicate them. But as always, his emphasis is not on the sin itself but on the mercy of God and the grace which He longs to give us.
These thoughts are appropriate today on the feast of St Margaret of Cortona.
St Margaret lived in the 13th century and she seems to have been a promiscuous and rebellious teenager. She gave birth to a son but never married his father. After nine years the father of the child died, probably as a result of a murder. This shock helped bring about a conversion of life for Margaret. It wasn’t easy for her, and she had to fight valiantly against temptations to return to her former life. She became a Franciscan tertiary, and with the assistance of others who were drawn to her growing sanctity, she cared for the poor and established a hospital in Cortona.
We see the truth of Fr Doyle’s words in the life of St Margaret and indeed in the life of many saints – Confession and conversion are less about our accusation of sins, and more about God’s mercy and grace.
Finally, an interesting detail in the image of St Margaret below – as St Margaret turns to the angel, and the devil is driven to despair and rage in the background…