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.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle occasionally wrote about what he called the “abuse of grace” – the idea that we fail to profit from all of the graces that God gives us. We are all almost certainly guilty of this failing to one degree or another.
In Ireland, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, May is the month in which children traditionally receive Holy Communion for the first time. In this part of the world it is a very big deal, but not always in the best way – it can become a secular rite of passage with little spiritual meaning for the child and the family. In Ireland, the worrying thing about First Holy Communion is that it may be years before some children will receive the their Second Holy Communion…
But those of us who do attend the sacraments, and have been doing so for some years, have no cause for complacency. How many times have we received the Eucharist since our First Holy Communion? Most adults will have attended Mass at least hundreds, and probably thousands, of times since receiving the Lord for the first time. Have we profited by His nearness during all of these years? Many of us have already received the Eucharist more frequently than many of the saints did. Is there interior and exterior fruit in our lives that gives testimony to all of that grace that was on offer for us?
If we are concerned about the state of the world or the state of the Church, let us look at our failure to profit from the nearness of Christ in the Eucharist. We are called to holiness and to perfection. We simply cannot reach this by ourselves, but we can make strides in that direction by relying on God’s grace and removing obstacles to the workings of that grace in our souls. Those who are holy really impact the world around them for the better. The lives of the saints prove this for us beyond doubt. If we are dismayed at the state of the world, or the state of the Church, then we need to examine ourselves on our efforts to correspond to God’s graces.
Thankfully it’s never too late. As Fr Doyle says, Jesus “makes allowances for weak, inconstant nature”. If we try to profit more from His nearness, we will slowly begin to reform ourselves, and our world.
You would throw up your hands in horror were you to see my room at the present moment. It is a scene of chaos and disorder that would discourage and frighten even that patient and persevering arranger of confusion and disorder, the Little Mother (Fr Doyle’s nickname for his mother). For the past week examinations have been in full swing. Now it is a comparatively easy task to sit down and set an examination paper that will keep a couple of hundred boys hard at work for three hours; but it is quite a different proposition to wade through and correct the output of the said boys during these hours. Can you wonder, then, that my pale and emaciated countenance grew still paler and more emaciated, and that my hair, usually so well behaved, stood on end, as day by day I watched the pile of examination papers rise higher on my table? But gazing would never reduce that pile, so with a cry to heaven for help I plunged at it and fought my way through to the last sheet.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this letter to his father while he was a seminarian. Between 1894-1898 he was stationed in Clongowes school as a teacher and prefect (this is where Blessed John Sullivan spent almost all of his priestly life). It is interesting to note that he never lost his good humour in writing to his father. In fact, it seemed to intensify over time. His letters written 20 years later from the war show an even more exuberant joy.
The first ever novena was in the Upper Room, between the moment when Jesus ascended into Heaven and when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the apostles. Based upon this historical event, Christians have traditionally prayed novenas for special intentions.
This year, let us all pray especially in these days for a special intention relating to Fr Doyle…
V. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. R. And kindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. R. And you will renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of your faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise, and ever rejoice in your consolation, Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I saw many interesting places and things during my weeks of travel. But over all hung a big cloud of sadness, for I realised as I never did before how utterly the world has forgotten Jesus except to hate and outrage Him, the fearful, heart-rending amount of sin visible on all sides, and the vast work for souls that lies before us priests. My feelings at times are more than I can describe. The longing to make up to our dear Lord for all He is suffering is overwhelming, and I ask Him, since somehow my own heart seems indifferent to His pleading, to give me the power to do much and very much to console Him.
COMMENT: In addition to being Ascension Thursday, today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We are not obliged to believe in the authenticity of apparitions. However, the Church has approved of the Fatima apparitions; the remarkable miracle of October 1917 testifies to its authenticity, and the popes since then have shown a special interest in them. Pope John Paul was shot on this day 40 years ago, and attributed his miraculous survival to Mary’s intercession – he even had the assassin’s bullet placed in the crown of the statue of Our Lady in Fatima. Pope Benedict visited Fatima and spoke of how the message of the apparitions is still of relevance for us today. And Pope Francis canonised the two shepherd children Francisco and Jacinta Marto in Fatima in 2017.
Fr Doyle’s quote today is quite apt for this feast, for the apparitions at Fatima are a call to conversion and a call to reparation for the sins of the world. Perhaps some people mistakenly think of Fatima in a negative manner or as something old fashioned or no longer relevant in the 21st century. While there is still so much good in the world, who can doubt that the world has forgotten Jesus more now than in 1917 when the apparitions occurred and when Fr Doyle died? Isn’t there more need for penance and reparation for the awful sins that have occurred since 1917? The Russian Revolution; the horrors of the First World War; the persecution of the Church in Mexico and in Spain; the Second World War; the Communist persecution and its millions of victims; the general breakdown of moral norms; the growth of aggressive secularism that seeks to remove the Church from the public square; the growth of materialism and the pursuit of wealth at all costs which oppresses the poor and which even destroys our natural environment. And in all of this let us not forget our own sins; not one of us are innocent either…
Truly there is an even greater need for penance and reparation now than there was in 1917. Yet there is always hope and mercy and God’s grace to help us get back on the right track. So while we have much to be sorrowful for, we also have much to be thankful for. Jesus always offers His mercy to us, and promised that the gates of Hell would not withstand against the Church, and at Fatima Mary promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph…
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.