Thoughts for May 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

I find the temptation growing stronger every day to leave aside all work that is not absolutely necessary and to spend the time with Jesus. Why does He make me realise so much His loneliness in the Tabernacle and His longing for ‘one to console Him’ and at the same time fill my hands with so many things to do? My room here is opposite the little oratory, only a thin partition separates the two rooms; and it is hard to sleep when I fancy I can almost hear the beating of His heart of love. He is always ‘calling’ and He seems so happy and consoled when I steal in to Him when everyone else is asleep and He is left alone. These moments before Him are rich in grace, especially recently, and I find it hard to think of anything but Jesus and His love. I long to open wide my heart and to let Him hide Himself there, deep, deep down, to bend over Him with tenderest love and give Him every mark of affection, to have Him transform me into Himself, so that I can exclaim ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me!’ (Gal. 2:20).

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 12 May 1913 – 108 years ago today.

Fr Doyle was clearly something of a mystic. This is not just my own judgement – it is based on the evidence presented to us in his own diaries and it is also the opinion of the well known Jesuit spiritual writer and theologian Fr de Grandmaison. Fr Doyle’s life of action in the trenches and his austere penances can tend to obscure this mystical aspect of his spirituality. Yet his diary around this time is full of these passionate exclamations of his love for God.

This same pattern of burning love for Christ can be found in the lives of all of the saints. There are (as usual!) several interesting similarities between Fr Doyle and one of today’s saints, Leopold Mandic, a Capuchin friar from Montenegro who spent much of his life in Padua and who died in 1942. 

St Leopold was one of the great saints of the confessional, often spending 10-15 hours per day hearing confessions in his small, unheated and unventilated room. While Fr Doyle often spent similar amounts of time hearing confessions when conducting missions, it was really during his period as chaplain when his devotion to confession was obvious for all to see as he often risked his life to hear the confessions of wounded soldiers.

Fr Doyle is often remembered for his cheerful emphasis on personal austerity, although this was always of a very moderate and balanced type where other people were concerned. We can find this same emphasis in St Leopold’s life and specifically in his advice to a penitent:

It is not a question of performing extraordinary acts of penance. It suffices to patiently bear the common trials of our miserable life: misunderstandings, lack of gratitude, humiliations, sufferings caused by changes of season and the atmosphere in which we live. God wills all this as a means to work out our Redemption. But in order for these trials to be efficacious and help our soul, we must not seek to flee from them by every possible means. Excessive care for comfort and constant search for ease, have nothing to do with the Christian spirit. That is certainly not taking the cross and following Jesus. Rather it’s running from it. And whoever suffers only what he could not avoid will hardly have any merits.

St Leopold, like Fr Doyle, had a passionate love for Jesus. As he wrote once:

The love of Jesus is a fire which is fuelled with the wood of sacrifice and love for the cross; if it isn’t fed in that way, it goes out.

St Leopold’s description of the life and death of holy priests aptly fits both his own life and that of Fr Doyle:

A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest.

The sanctity of some individuals seems to shine out from their faces; it seems to emanate from their being, even through the medium of photography. St Leopold is one such saint. May he intercede for us who continue our pilgrimage on this earth.

St Leopold Mandic

Today is also the feast of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the first prelate of Opus Dei and successor of St Josemaria Escriva. It was he, while visiting Ireland in 1980, who revealed that the following point of meditation by St Josemaria Escriva was, in fact, based on the life and spiritual struggles of Fr Doyle:

We were reading — you and I — the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. And we saw him fight whole months and years (what ‘accounts’ he kept in his particular examination!) at breakfast time: today he won, tomorrow he was beaten… He noted: ‘Didn’t take butter…; did take butter!’

May you and I too live our ‘butter tragedy’.

Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

Thoughts for May 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

I think our Lord wants your whole day to be one continued act of love and union with Him in your heart, which has no need of words to express it. Your attitude ought to be that of the mother beside the cot of her babe, lost in love and tenderness, but saying nothing, just letting the heart speak, though the wee one cannot know it as Jesus does. There is nothing more sanctifying than this life, which few, I fear, reach to, since it means a constant effort to bring back our wandering imagination.

Thoughts for May 10 (St Damien of Molokai) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Damien of Molokai

 

O eternal Lord . . . provided it be for Thy greater service and praise . . . and if Thy most Holy Majesty be pleased to choose and receive me for such a life and state, I offer myself to Thee for the Congo Mission. Thy will be done. Amen.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had long felt a call become a missionary in the Congo. He struggled for some time with the decision to volunteer for this mission, knowing that he would probably end up as a martyr. He wanted it and didn’t want it at the same time. When he finally offered himself for this role, his offer was not accepted. However, his subsequent offer some years later to become a military chaplain was accepted, with all of the heroic and tragic consequences that amaze us to this day.

May 10 is the feast of St Damien of Molokai, one of the great modern missionaries of the Church. St Damien is well respected, even by those who otherwise would not know much about the Church or the saints. Like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, his selfless love of the poor and abandoned has a strange fascination for modern culture.

St Damien was a great apostle of charity. His journey far from home in Belgium to live amongst lepers, constantly facing the risk of contracting the disease himself, shows him to be a heroic imitator of Christ who laid down His life for others. But St Damien was a true apostle of charity, who cared for both body and soul. One major aspect of his apostolate was a reformation of the morals of the lepers which, due to their despair and abandonment, had become degraded over time.

St Damien drew his energy for this remarkable mission from both prayer and penance. His spiritual notes and resolutions resemble Fr Doyle’s in places – he lived a disciplined life of prayer with many small acts of mortification. Just like in the case of Fr Doyle, we are forced to remember that heroic acts of charity do not materialise from thin air – they arise from daily, grinding faithfulness in our spiritual life.

There is one other surprising similarity between Fr Doyle and St Damien. It seems that Fr Doyle’s desire for the missionary life was not fully satisfied by his time in the trenches. Not long after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Flinn, a fellow Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter:

In the train somewhere here in France I met an officer of W.Doyle’s regiment…For one half-hour in the crowded carriage he spoke the praises of poor Billy. ‘That man was’, he said, ‘the limit’. He wound up with a word that was new, to me at least – ‘He’d have died a martyr anyway, for he had made up his mind to go, after the war, to one of the leper settlements’.

Given what we know about the outrageous sufferings and strains Fr Doyle experienced in the war we might well be forgiven in thinking that he deserved a rather comfortable and safe apostolate if he managed to survive the experience. But this great apostle had other ideas and he wanted to give of himself right to the very end.

Those interested in St Damien can find an excellent overview of his life and spirit from the Benedictine monks of Clairval here: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2010/07/31/2280710.htm

Thoughts for May 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

We love our life, cling to it, hug it, study how to prolong it, rebel if God thinks fit to shorten its span, nay, when we have run our scriptural appointed course – “three score and ten and what is more of them is labour and sorrow” (Psalm 89) – we hunger for more. But do we ever seriously ask ourselves: “Does this life carry any responsibility with it?”

Blessed John Sullivan

Blessed John Sullivan

Today is the feast of Blessed John Sullivan, a contemporary of Fr Doyle. 

Blessed John had a different personality to that of Fr Doyle, but as contemporaries with the same training much of their spirituality is in common. Both were very humble, very cheerful and very ascetic. One of Fr Sullivan’s most popular maxims, very much in line with Fr Doyle’s thought, was:

Take life in instalments, this day now. At least let this be a good day. Be always beginning. Let the past go. The saints were always beginning. That is how they became saints.

Blessed John was born into considerable wealth and privilege, and after some years of travel and study became a barrister. His father was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was brought up in the Church of Ireland, although his mother was a Catholic. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits 4 years later. He was ordained on July 28, 1907 in the same ceremony as Fr Doyle. Fr Sullivan was 46, Fr Doyle was 34.

Blessed John spent most of his life in Clongowes, a Jesuit school not too far from Dublin where Fr Doyle had also spent some time prior to his ordination. He was known for his gentle kindness towards the boys there. He lived an ascetic life, eating very little. Like Fr Doyle, he was no stranger to physical mortification, often spending entire nights in prayer, or sleeping on the floor or performing other physical acts of penance. And, in common with Fr Doyle, there is no evidence that these penances ever interfered with his work. Both priests kept them hidden, and neither ever encouraged others to follow in their own footsteps.

It seems that Blessed John had great regard for Fr Doyle; after his death some of Fr Doyle’s sayings were found transcribed in Blessed John’s writings amongst his private papers.

While there are some similarities between the two contemporary Jesuits, there are also some differences. Two in particular spring to mind. The first is that Blessed John was given the grace of physical healing. He would regularly travel – on bike or by foot – for miles to visit the sick and dying in the countryside around Clongowes.

There are many instances of healings recorded through Blessed John’s intercession, even during his own lifetime. These graces of healing have continued after his death.

The second great difference is that we know relatively little about his interior life. What we know comes from eye witness accounts. If he ever wrote detailed notes about himself, they no longer exist. Perhaps this was Professor Alfred O’Rahilly’s fault! After he published so many extracts from Fr Doyle’s private notes, it is possible that other Jesuit priests ensured that their own diaries were destroyed, although given Blessed John’s profound humility it is likely that he never thought anyone would be interested in his interior life anyway.

Blessed John was beatified in May 2017. Cardinal Amato’s wonderful homily at that beatification can be found here: https://frjohnsullivan.ie/2017/05/faithful-disciple-christ/

Here is a prayer to seek the intercession of Blessed John Sullivan:

God, you honour those who honour you. 
Make sacred the memory of your servant John Sullivan, by granting through his intercession the petition we now make (name the petition) and hastening the day when his name will be numbered among those of your saints. 
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Thoughts for May 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

My way is sure. I think I can say now without a shade of doubt or hesitation that the path by which Jesus wants me to walk is that of absolute abandonment of all human comfort and pleasure and the embracing as far as I can of every discomfort and pain. Every time I see a picture of the crucifixion or a cross, I feel strangely affected and drawn to the life of immolation in a strange way. The heroism of Jesus appeals to me; His ‘naked crucifixion’ calls to me and it gives me great consolation and peace to offer myself to Him on the cross for this perpetual living crucifixion. How often does He not seem to say to me in prayer, ‘I would have you strip yourself of all things — every tiny particle of self-indulgence, and this ever and always? Give Me all and I will make you a great saint.’ This then is the price of my life-long yearning for sanctification. O Jesus, I am so weak, help me to give You all and to do it now.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 8 May 1914, 107 years ago today. Perhaps it is no surprise that he struggled long and hard with recognising this particular calling – a “perpetual living crucifixion” is not something that our weak nature feels inclined towards! 

It is clear that Fr Doyle had a very specific vocation to fight against his own personal comfort and to choose the hardest option always and everywhere. He certainly lived this reality in the war. Burying the dead day in and day out, risking his life to serve the soldiers, going days on end without sleep, eating poor meals, coping with bitter cold, regular floods, searing heat, rats, fleas, smells, shells and all other manner of “discomfort and pain”. It is true that many others lived and died in these conditions. But Fr Doyle really stands out for his cheerfulness and courage in the face of this awful list of discomfort and danger, any one of which inconveniences would probably knock the rest of us off our mental and spiritual equilibrium. Fr Doyle was universally admired for his spirit in the midst of this living hell, and one century later those of us who read his letters from the war are also struck with admiration for how he handled all he went through. 

His fortitude in the midst of these sufferings was no accident. He was fully equipped, both by grace but also by his natural training. By waging a constant war against his own comfort for years previously he was the perfect candidate to be a successful military chaplain in that awful war. There is no way that somebody who indulged their passions and comforts, who indulged their appetites and sought pleasure in all aspects of life, could have survived and thrived – mentally, spiritually or physically – as long as Fr Doyle did. 

If we admire the heroic Fr Doyle of the trenches we must also admire the Fr Doyle who made war on comfort. We cannot have one without the other. 

It is unlikely that we are called to a similar, total abandonment of all normal comforts. But it is beyond doubt that we are called to wage war against some aspects of our comfortable lives. Life with somebody who cares only about their own comfort would be intolerable and unworkable! Married relationships involve sacrifice and necessitate that we sometimes place our comforts aside. No parent would arise in the night to a crying child if their personal comfort was their highest value. Great scientific and medical discoveries require personal comfort to take a back seat as the researcher works late into the night in pursuit of a proof or a cure. Those who desire physical fitness or beauty wage war on their comfort as they restrict their diets and punish their bodies in the gym. Indeed, there can be no social justice if we each look to our own welfare and ignore that of our needy brethren. 

No, far from being old fashioned or irrelevant, the battle against self-indulgence and comfort is actually essential in building a functioning civilisation.

But if we are not called to deny ourselves all comforts, we can at least make an attempt in small ways. Fr Doyle gives us some examples from his own life – no butter on bread or sugar in tea or salt on meat; not complaining when we have a minor headache; being pleasant to people who irritate us; not warming ourselves at the fire… There are numerous small ways we can all find to deny ourselves just a few of the comforts that have made us spiritually and physically enfeebled. These small sacrifices help train us to overcome ourselves when harder sacrifices are required.

Thoughts for May 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

The past few weeks have been weeks of extraordinary grace and light and strength. I see clearly what He wants from me as clearly and as certainly, I think, as if I had received a written message from His own hand. For years I was groping in the dark; there was ever a want in my life which I could never satisfy. I know He asked the striving for sanctity, but the way was not clear; perhaps I shut my eyes to the truth for I always suspected His will. Then more light came, with a fierce shrinking from what I feared He wanted. But now, more especially lately, though I can never expect a perfect victory in this world, I feel He has broken down the defences of self-love and is reigning in my heart.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes in his diary on 7 May 1914 – 107 years ago today. 

Fr Doyle was always focused on sanctity and on doing God’s will, whatever that may be. From these notes in his diary it appears that, even after being ordained a Jesuit priest that he spent some time struggling with this, trying to discern very specifically what that holy will was. It also seems that he really knew deep down what God might specifically want from him, but that, despite all of his zeal, he was too afraid to acknowledge it. 

We will see tomorrow what he discerned God’s will to be for his life. For today, a couple of points jump out at us. 

I know He asked the striving for sanctity. If we are struggling to know God’s will, either in terms of a vocation or some other decision, we can be sure of one thing – God asks us to strive for sanctity. This search for sanctity is possible just where we are. Holiness is not something that we should procrastinate about, waiting for some imaginary perfect day. There is no such thing. God asks us to strive for sanctity now, and He has given us all we need for this in our present circumstances. 

Though I can never expect a perfect victory in this world. We will never perfectly succeed on this earth. Not even the greatest saints, apart from Mary, were completely free from sins or imperfections. There are two points to remember about this. Firstly, the inability to achieve perfection in this life does not negate our obligation to definitively strive for holiness as best we can. Secondly, the knowledge that we will never ultimately be perfect should help guard against the damage caused by scruples. 

Broken down the defences of self-love. Sin is always our preference for our own will and our own pleasure in contrast to the will of God. The spiritual life involves a fundamental battle between our disordered self-love and love of God and of neighbour. 

Tomorrow we shall look at the notes Fr Doyle wrote on 8th May 1914 in which he discusses his perception of God’s will for him.

Thoughts for May 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in his loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in early May 1916. When he referred to Jesus resting over his heart, he was referring to the fact that he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament with him in a pyx.

Fr Doyle’s confidence in the midst of war was one of the most remarkable aspects of his life. His very presence filled the soldiers with courage and cheerfulness. As one of his officers said about him:

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.

Yet, this courage was not necessarily innate to him. His diaries reveal the fear he felt; they show that at times he shivered while he hid in a shallow hole, seeking protection from the shells falling around him. As a missionary priest he also suffered from fear, and describes sweating from every pore with the stress of preaching. It was so bad he was determined to quit his preaching ministry. Yet, curiously, despite his fear and stress, his ministry was fruitful and he was always in high demand. As a novice he had what is described as “a complete nervous breakdown” following a fire in his building. He had to leave his formation for a while and there was even talk of his not being fit enough to return to the Jesuits.

From a nervous breakdown to a fearless hero who was a source of inspiration to his soldiers – such is the transformation that Christ can work in us if we let Him.

But we must remember that grace builds upon nature. The grace of God will transform us, but we must dispose ourselves to receive this grace. This means saying no to ourselves, and fighting to overcome sin in our lives. Without this death to sin, we do not remain in Christ and He does not remain in us.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno. She is little known in the English speaking world, but she deserves our attention. She lived a very full life as a wife and mother. But as a widow in her thirties she felt a call to found a religious order, and having received confirmation of this from several ecclesiastics, including Blessed Pius IX, she founded the Daughters of St Anne, Mother of Mary Immaculate. When she died 34 years later, there were 368 houses of this congregation containing over 3,500 sisters in 6 countries, along with numerous hostels and schools. What an incredible rate of growth!

Truly, if we remain in Christ, we will be transformed and bear fruit in plenty.

Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno

Thoughts for May 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Edmund Rice

Having completed his course of philosophy, Willie returned to Clongowes in 1901 for another period of prefecting. Here he remained for two years, and he was then transferred to the teaching staff of Belvedere College, Dublin, where he spent a fruitful year of labour. For, as the immediate preparation for the priesthood drew near, zeal for souls that was afterwards to become so strong and ardent, began now to show itself more markedly in his life. He did much good work for the Apostleship of Prayer and for temperance among the boys in Belvedere, with whom he was even more popular than among those he had left behind in Clongowes. The stirring little talks he gave occasionally to his class made an impression which some of his pupils still recall. Especially was he insistent on the spirit of self-sacrifice and on Holy Communion. His attractive character and kindness led many of the boys to give him their confidence and seek help and counsel in their difficulties and doubts; and more than one vocation was discussed and decided at these interviews.

COMMENTS: These words about Fr Doyle are taken from O’Rahilly’s biography of his life. Fr Doyle seems to have been a conscientious and popular teacher in the two Jesuit schools in which he was stationed during his years of formation. He realised that the task of Catholic education is not just to train children for jobs, but to shape and mould their character and to equip them for a future of personal virtue and civic service.

Today is the feast of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of both the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. These congregations were formed to provide a specifically Catholic education for boys during the period immediately after the Penal Laws when there was little or no Catholic schooling in Ireland. Blessed Edmund’s contribution to Irish life is incalculable.

Thoughts for May 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

The more this generous spirit springs up in your heart, the nearer and dearer will you be to Jesus. Love for Love. Blood for Blood. Life for Life. Will you give Him all?

COMMENT: God has given us everything we have. The saints were profoundly grateful people – they knew the debt they owed to God. But more than this, they repaid that debt through their love, through their action, and, in some cases (including Fr Doyle himself), they repaid this debt with their own blood and their own lives.

St Therese and St Josemaria Escriva both made their own the famous phrase of St John of the Cross: “Love is repaid with love alone”. St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that love is more than nice feelings, rather, as he says:

Love is shown in deeds more than in words.

God has given us everything. While we can never really do enough to repay that debt, it seems very possible that we can end up doing far too little to repay it…

St John of the Cross: “Love is repaid by love alone”.