Thoughts for January 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano

Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world: to love Him and Him alone. For the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving hands, and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly – sufferings, wounds, death if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.

COMMENT: The confident embrace of God’s will, even if this means suffering and difficulties, is the hallmark of high sanctity. In today’s quote, Fr Doyle shows us his complete acceptance of God’s will. Every time we say the Our Father, we express our willingness that God’s will be done on earth. Most of us think very little about what this means. So often we really mean that we want our will to be done; so often we can automatically assume that God’s will coincides nicely with our own. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Some of the most difficult moments in life occur when God’s will fundamentally differs from our own. In such circumstances we must learn to trust in God, and remember that He is a loving Father who directs everything to our ultimate good, even if it means suffering in the short term. Yes, this may be hard to accept, but we see the truth of this again and again in the lives of the saints. We see the serenity of victim souls like St Therese or St Gemma Galgani despite their illness; we see the cheerfulness of martyrs as they face death; we see the joy of St Francis or St Teresa or St John of the Cross as they embraced radical poverty. We see a particularly striking example of this in the life of the recently beatified Chiara Luce Badano who died at the age of 18 in 1990 from bone cancer. Her parents report that she went through a short struggle to accept the cross of cancer, but having once accepted it, she radiated peace and serenity. And of course we see the good humour of Fr Doyle himself so eloquently expressed in all of his letters sent home from the trenches. None of this is easy to do. It is certainly easy to write and to theorise about the life of the saints when all is going well, but it is surely more difficult to embrace God’s will with complete joy and abandonment when we truly face great difficulties. Yet that is what sanctity ultimately means. While we should not pretend that it is easily acquired, ultimately there is a peace to be found in abandoning ourselves into God’s loving hands. The challenge is to learn how to willingly find this abandonment and peace at all times of life, not just when we have run out of options and have no choice but to accept the finality of God’s will.

Fr Doyle’s prayer today is very similar to the Suscipe of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Here is the full text of St Ignatius’ prayer:

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

 

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Thoughts for January 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

I see more and more that self-indulgence even in lawful things brings only unhappiness; and I realise I can never be truly content or at peace till I make my life a crucified one, and this always.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1914. His was advice was not for everyone – he was specifically writing about himself in his private diary. Counter-intuitively, he found that whenever he indulged himself (presumably in little ways, such as taking butter on his bread or having a full night’s sleep), that he was less happy. Elsewhere he reported that not performing penance left him tired and lethargic but that penance invigorated him. This is surely an important sign that Fr Doyle truly had a specific calling to a life of asceticism.

14 January 1916

I want you to know what I went through by volunteering for the Front. God made me feel with absolute certainty – I suppose to increase the merit of the offering – that I shall be killed. The struggle was hard, for I did not want to die; not indeed that i am afraid of death, but the thought that I could never again do more for God or suffer for Him in heaven made the sacrifice too bitter for words. 

Thoughts for January 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

Worries? Of course; and thank God. How else are you going to be a saint? “When thou comest to the service of God, prepare thy soul for temptation” – which means trials and worries of all kinds.

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy. 

Thoughts for January 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

We are all God’s children, fashioned by His divine hands after His own image and likeness. From all eternity He has thought of us; before time was, we were present to his mind; and through the long ages which have passed away since first this world was made. God busied Himself with our creation. He has longed for the hour when He could call us His children.

I am eternal in God’s love. Have I always loved Him in time?

13 January 1917: Fr Doyle gives the last rites to dying soldiers

101 years ago tonight Fr Doyle was awoken to absolve some dying soldiers. This is his description of the event, sent home in one of his regular updates to his family. Two things really stick out. Firstly, his dedication to his family, and to keeping them informed and easing their fears. This would have taken some time to write, and probably not in very comfortable circumstances. He could easily have taken some much needed rest instead of writing this letter. Secondly we see his dedication to his priestly duty. He faced some danger in trying to reach the soldiers and came under significant fire as he tried to reach them, but for him that danger was of no consequence, for as he said himself: “what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench”.

‘Two men badly wounded in the firing line, Sir.’ I was fast asleep, snugly tucked up in my blankets, dreaming a pleasant dream of something ‘hot.’ One always dreams of lovely hot things at night in the trenches, sitting at a warm fire at home, or of huge piles of food and drink, but always steaming hot.

‘You will need to be quick, Father, to find them alive.’ By this time I had grasped the fact that someone was calling me, that some poor dying man needed help, that perhaps a soul was in danger. In a few seconds I had pulled on my big boots, I know I should want them in the mud and wet, jumped into my waterproof and darted down the trench.

It was just 2 a.m., bitterly cold and snowing hard. God help the poor fellows holding the tumbled in ditch which is called the Front Line, standing there wet and more than frozen, hour after hour; but more than all God help and strengthen the victims of this war, the wounded soldier with his torn and bleeding body lying out in this awful biting cold, praying for the help that seems so slow in coming.

The first part of my journey was easy enough, except that the snow made it difficult to keep one’s feet, and I began to realise that one cannot run as easily at 44 as one could at 24.

All went well till I reached a certain part of the trench, which rejoices in the attractive name of ‘Suicide Corner,’ from the fact that the Germans have a machine gun trained on it and at intervals during the night pump a shower of lead on that spot in the hope of knocking out some chance passer-by.

It was just my luck that as I came near this place I heard the ‘Rat-tat- tat’ of the beastly gun and the whiz of the passing bullets. It was not a pleasant prospect to run the gauntlet and skip through the bullets ‘made in Germany’ but what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench? I ducked my head and ‘chivvied’ down that trench. (I do not know what this word means, but I believe it implies terrific speed and breathless excitement.)

In the dark and at that distance I was quite invisible to the German gunner, but I think the Old Boy himself was turning the handle that night, but luckily for me was out of practice; the cold I expect upset his aim. Away on my left as I ran I could hear in the stillness of the night the grinding ‘Rat-tat-tat’ of the machine gun, for all the world as if a hundred German carpenters were driving nails into my coffin, while overhead ‘crack, crack, whiz, whiz’ went the bullets tearing one after another for fear they would be too late.

It was a novel experience to have a whole machine gun all to yourself, but it is a pleasure I am not particularly anxious to repeat. At the same time I do not think I was really in any great danger as judging by the sound the leaden shower was going too high.

The guns make all movement by night very unpleasant. Both sides have any number of them firing all night, from time to time at fixed points, for example cross-roads, ‘dumps,’ light railways etc., everywhere in fact where men are likely to be. Yet in spite of the fact that each fires about 10,000 rounds each night and bullets are flying about like mosquitos, it is very rare indeed that anyone is hit, weeks at a time without a casualty and scarcely never if one takes the ordinary precautions.

The first man was ‘in extremis’ when I reached him. I did all I could for him, commended his soul to the merciful God as he had only a few minutes to live, and hurried on to find the other wounded boy.

A journey along the Firing Line in the day time is not an easy matter, but in the darkness of the night it baffles description. A star shell from time to time gave me light and I made good progress, only to end in blackness and a pool or a shell hole full of mud and water.

I found the dying lad, he was not much more, so tightly jammed into a corner of the trench it was almost impossible to get him out. Both legs were smashed, one in two or three places, so his chances of life were small as there were other injuries as well. What a harrowing picture that scene would have made. A splendid young soldier, married only a month they told me, lying there pale and motionless in the mud and water with the life crushed out of him by a cruel shell. The stretcher bearers hard at work binding up as well as they may his broken limbs; round about a group of silent Tommies looking on and wondering when will their turn come. Peace for a moment seems to have taken possession of the battlefield; not a sound save the deep boom of some far off gun and the stifled moans of the dying boy, while as if anxious to hide the scene, nature drops her soft mantle of snow on the living and dead alike. Then while every head is bared come the solemn words of absolution, ‘Ego te absolve,’ I absolve thee from thy sins. Depart Christian soul and may the Lord Jesus Christ receive thee with a smiling and benign countenance. Amen.

Oh! surely the gentle Saviour did receive with open arms the brave lad who had laid down his life for Him, and as I turned away I felt happy in the thought that his soul was already safe in that land where ‘God will wipe away all sorrow from our eyes, for weeping and mourning shall be no more’.

Thoughts for January 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

As regards prayer, you should try to follow the attraction of the Holy Spirit, for all souls are not led by the same path. It would not be well to spend all the time in vocal prayer, there should be some meditation, thought or contemplation. Try “basking in the sun of God’s love,” that is, quietly kneeling before the Tabernacle, as you would sit enjoying the warm sunshine, not trying to do anything, except love Him; but realizing that, during all the time you are at His feet, more especially when dry and cold, grace is dropping down upon your soul and you are growing fast in holiness.

COMMENT: In today’s quote, Fr Doyle teaches us something very important about prayer – we are all lead by a different path. There are many spiritualities in the Church. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any and all spiritualities are advisable, but nonetheless it is a broad Church and the Holy Spirit will lead us along the right path if we are sufficiently well disposed to follow. Sometimes people can form a negative image of Fr Doyle if they think too much about his own purely personal austerity. Today we see Fr Doyle in all of his gentleness and liberality and balance. This gentleness and balance was always a key characteristic of his advice to others.

Today’s quote also reminds me of a story about St John Vianney. I cannot remember whether the story is told about his own prayer, or whether he is meant to have told this story about somebody else’s prayer and I cannot find a definitive version of the story online. In any event, the story is that a holy person who spent much time in the church before the Tabernacle (as I say, the holy person was either the saint himself or one of his parishioners) was asked what he did during this time. The response was “I just look at Him, and He just looks at me”.

Such a simple (and exalted) prayer will not be suitable for everyone, but the point is that there is a lot more to prayer than vocal prayer. If we receive the correct spiritual direction and formation and are well disposed, the Holy Spirit will lead us along the right path.

St John Vianney