Thoughts for April 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

I want you to stick to two things: the aspirations and the tiny acts of self-conquest. Count them and mark them daily. You need nothing else to make you a saint. The weekly total, growing bigger as you persevere, will show you how fast you are growing in perfection.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle reveals his Jesuit training in today’s quote. In the Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius recommends making lists and monitoring daily progress.

The claim that “you need nothing else to make you a saint” is a rather big claim! Yet there is certainly something in it. Love shows itself in actions. As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

There is a story of a soul who, on saying to our Lord in prayer, ‘Jesus, I love you,’ heard this reply from heaven: ‘Love means deeds, not sweet words.’ Think if you also could deserve this gentle reproach.

The deeds we are called to do are normally not big deeds, but daily actions of fidelity and self-sacrifice, both in our dealings with God and in our dealings with each other. But unless we actively try to conquer ourselves and make these sacrifices we really won’t do them. We will not genuinely progress without a clear strategic objective to do so. It’s too easy for us to fail and give up if our aspirations to self-sacrifice are vague and uncommitted. Keeping a list and striving for progress can be a great help in this regard, and as we exercise our capacity for love and generosity we will inevitably love more and become progressively more generous, opening up ever more vistas for love, service and holiness. As St Benedict said in his Rule:

But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

But this approach of counting sacrifices or offerings made to God does not suit everybody’s temperament. Those who are scrupulous or anxious may not be helped by it. But it clearly suited Fr Doyle’s own militant temperament. In fact, he not only wrote down his sacrifices, he also carried a set of beads on which they would be counted. He was in good company in this practice – his contemporary St Therese (they were born 2 months apart) also used beads to count her sacrifices.

Thoughts for April 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

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. 

Thoughts for April 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

Whenever there is a question of choice, ask yourself, “Which would please God most?”, then, “Which will come hardest to my nature?”. It is this, then, that you will choose: and even though you may not always do so, keep your mind and will bent in the direction of doing always whatever goes against self. This is true holiness.

COMMENT: This is one of Fr Doyle’s hard sayings. Our human nature tends to values comfort, personal autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure and the easy life. To such a mindset, the idea of “going against self” seems to be bizarre.

Yet for all that, modern man does not mind going against himself when it suits him. How many today “go against themselves” in order to earn more money and gain a promotion? How many “go against themselves” by punishing themselves at the gym in pursuit of a more alluring body? It seems to suit the modern mentality to go against our easy going nature when the reward is worth it. And perhaps this indicates that, for many of us today, the love and glory of God is not a sufficient reward to make us go against our natural tendencies…

This is not how it was with the saints. St Thomas More deliberately chose the eldest sister of a family to marry, even though he found the younger sister to be more appealing to him – he felt that it would be dishonourable to leave the elder sister unmarried. This same saint wrote about how we cannot get to Heaven in a feather bed. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to destroy his lecture notes every year and start from scratch the following year, even though he was teaching the very same course again – he didn’t want to get lazy by regurgitating the same lecture. St John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, wrote on the same theme as follows:

The soul should always be inclined: not to what is easiest, but to what is more difficult; not to what is more tasty but to what is more insipid; not to what is more pleasant but to what is less pleasant.

St Therese, one of the most beloved of all saints, was dedicated to the teaching of St John of the Cross, and she sought to concoct many ways of going against herself – including, for example, not leaning on back of her chair – so as to have some small discomfort as she sat.

The idea of acting against one’s inclinations is very characteristic of Fr Doyle. But as we have seen from just a few saints (and we could multiply the examples many times over…) it was not some oddity or personality quirk on his part. Apart from having a long tradition in ascetically theology, it is a fundamentally Ignatian notion, and we find many references to it in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. It was a concept very dear to the Jesuits of Fr Doyle’s time. Consider the following, written by Blessed John Sullivan SJ, a friend of Fr Doyle’s who was ordained on the same day:

We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. Anything that denies self is an act of love.

Fr Doyle helped many people throughout his life, especially during the war. How many people – and especially how many soldiers – benefitted precisely because Fr Doyle acted against his own inclinations?

And how much our families and our society would benefit if we acted against our natural inclinations more often…

Blessed John Sullivan

Thoughts for Easter Monday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

If my resurrection is to be a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.

COMMENT: Just as Christ rose from the dead, in a sense we too must continuously rise from sin, from spiritual death. Fr Doyle makes an extremely important point in today’s quote – if the reformation of our lives is real, it should manifest itself in virtuous external acts.

St Josemaria Escriva also touches on this point:

How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

Have our days of penance in Lent, our commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, produced any external fruit that enriches the lives of those around us?

Thoughts for Easter Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

May every Easter blessing be yours, and may our crucified Jesus, Who has certainly drawn you to Him on the cross, raise you up now in the glory of His Resurrection.

COMMENT: Christ is risen! Let us celebrate with great joy!

Fr Doyle has left us some notes which reveal to us something of his experiences on some Easter Sundays during his life. They reveal his missionary zeal and also his good cheer, even in the midst of sufferings. I have chosen just two – his first Easter Sunday as a priest and the last Easter Sunday of his life. 

Easter Sunday 1908, on a mission in Yarmouth: 

I had a strange experience which seemed providential. In my wanderings through the slums I came across by accident an old woman over ninety who had not entered a church for long, long years. ‘I have led a wicked life,’  she said, ‘but every day I asked God to send me a good friend before I died and I feel now my prayer is heard.’ The next day I came back and heard her Confession, and brought her Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the tears streamed down her old withered face she said, ‘Oh, Father this is the first happy day of my life, for I have never known what happiness is since I was a child.’ I could not help feeling that the opening of heaven to that poor sinner was a reward more than enough for all the long years of preparation now passed.

This second quote comes from Easter Sunday 1917, just 4 months before his death. His touching, and respectful, comments about the local French girls shows his good humour and naturalness, even in the midst of much suffering in the war.

Easter Sunday was quite a red letter day in the annals of the town (Pas de Calais, France). The regiment turned out in full strength, headed by the pipers, and crowded the sanctuary, every inch of the church, and out beyond. I had eight stalwart sergeants standing guard with fixed bayonets round the altar. At the Consecration and also at the Communion of the Mass the buglers sounded the Royal Salute which is only given to Monarchs. The guard at the word of command presented arms, and in our poor humble way we tried to do honour to the Almighty King of Kings on the day of His glorious triumph. I must not forget to add that the lassies and maidens did us the honour of coming to sing during Mass, casting many an envious glance (so rumour says) down on the handsome Irish lads praying so devoutly below.

Let us go and meet the risen Lord, sounding the Royal Salute within our own souls.

Thoughts for Holy Saturday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.

Thoughts for Good Friday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?

COMMENT: Once again, there are so many things that one could meditate on today. The Passion is a rich and inexhaustible source of meditation for us. It has converted many souls and formed great saints. St Teresa of Avila, for instance, lead a relatively mediocre religious life until one day she reflected on an image of Jesus being scourged at the pillar and was deeply transformed by the experience. 

Today’s quote from Fr Doyle focuses on the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Reflecting on this thirst has had a powerful effect on many saints, and specifically on the life and spirituality of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. As St John Paul II said at her beatification: 

The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God’s longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa’s soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.

Certainly it was a physical thirst, after all of the exertions and torture and loss of blood of the preceding several hours. But the thirst was also spiritual in nature. St Josemaria Escriva tells us:

He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him, along the way of the Cross which is the way to immortality and heavenly glory.

The Jesuit writer Luis de la Palma (1559- 1641) suggests that the thirst of Jesus was both a thirst for us, but also a thirst for more suffering:

What you did, Lord, was crazy; it was as if someone, having drunk the water of an entire river, claimed to be still thirsty. So surprising and marvellous is your desire to suffer for love of us.

From the 19th century book “The School of Jesus Crucified” by Fr Ignatius, an Italian Passionist priest, we find the following reflections on the thirst of Jesus:

Besides this corporal thirst, Jesus suffers from another spiritual species of thirst, which cannot be so easily assuaged.

Jesus thirsts for our eternal salvation, He thirsts for souls. This is the thirst of which he complains, and which is consuming His very life’s Blood. Jesus most passionately desires that the Blood He has shed should benefit mankind by saving them from Hell; and yet He foreknows that there will be many eternally lost, notwithstanding all His love and all His sufferings. Oh, truly does this thirst consume the loving Heart of Jesus, and its sacred heat slowly but surely deprives Him of life! 

If thou hadst been present on Mount Calvary, and hadst heard our Redeemer saying ‘I thirst’ wouldst thou not have relieved His sufferings by giving Him a little water? Know that even at the present moment it is in thy power to relieve His burning thirst. He says to thee from the Cross, ‘My son, I thirst for thy soul.’

We will conclude today with the following private reflection from Fr Doyle’s notes. This very personal record was not meant to be seen by others, and it is all the more significant because of the slight tinge of Jansenism affecting the Church, including the Church in Ireland, at that time. One of the effects of the Jansenist heresy is to diminish our love for God, to make us feel unworthy of His love, and to make us overly austere and focussed on rules. Aspects of this error worked itself out in very damaging ways as the 20th Century progressed. Of course, it is also possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction as an excessive reaction against the errors of the past… In any event, it is clear from this reflection that Fr Doyle was not affected by this error

I…once more had an opportunity of a quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.

Thoughts for Holy Thursday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Pain and privation are only momentary, they quickly pass and become even delightfully sweet, if only borne in the spirit with which many of my grand boys take these things: ‘Sure, Father, it’s not worth talking about; after all, is it not well to have some little thing to suffer for God and His Blessed Mother?’ But the craven fear which at times clutches the heart, the involuntary shrinking and dread of human nature at danger and even death, are things which cannot be expressed in words. An officer, who had gone through a good deal himself, said to me recently: ‘I never realized before what our Lord must have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He began to fear and grow sorrowful.’ Yet His grace is always there to help one when most needed. 

COMMENT: There are so many scenes one could meditate on during Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood; the washing of the feet; the betrayal and despair of Judas; the denial of Peter and the abandonment of the apostles; the laziness of the apostles sleeping in the Garden; the arrest of Jesus; His ill treatment and mock-trial; His night spent in prison; the anguish of Mary…

Yet the fear of our Lord in the Garden is one of the richest sources of meditation precisely because almost everyone can identify somewhat with Jesus’ acute mental anguish.

Yet we can only really guess at the full weight of Jesus’ agony. His soul was sorrowful even unto death – His anguish was so great that it almost killed Him. He even shed drops of blood. And all of this because He bore the weight of all the sins of the world – those that happened before that moment in the garden, those occurring at that time, and those that would occur into the future until the end of the world. 

As Fr Doyle tells us, sometimes fear and dread are so great that it cannot be fully expressed in words. In fact, sometimes fear is so devastating that it is even worse than the very thing (pain, loneliness, death…) that made us frightened in the first place.. 

Fr Doyle tells us that when we experience such fear Jesus is there by our side to help us. Fr Doyle should know – his diaries reveal the many times when he had to hide in a hole and shook with fear under heavy shelling during his years as a military chaplain. Yet, with God’s grace, he always overcame his deeply felt fear, and went on to encourage the soldiers who were faltering.

Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it Himself. As St Thomas More tells us: 

It seems that Christ is making use of His own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation. Be brave, He seems to say…Do not give up hope…You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was much more afraid and appalled…Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxiety.

The Jesuit spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier also comments on the transformation that overcomes Our Lord after His agony in the garden.

What a transformation takes place after this third prayer! To the end of the Passion, no matter what men may do to Him, we shall never see Him falter or broken anymore. Always henceforth He is Master. He has strength for Himself, except such as many depend on His poor worn body, and He has strength for everyone about Him…We look on amazed; we wonder whether we have understood aright; and yet around us we see the same illustrated in those who seek their own support in prayer.

May we too, through prayer, transform our anxieties and worries into confidence and strength.

31 March 1891: Young Willie enters the Jesuit novitiate

Fr Doyle entered on his career as Jesuit on this day 130 years ago. The following is as letter he wrote from Stonyhurst to his parents on the 31 March 1901, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of his entrance to the Society of Jesus.

10 years ago today I went to Tullabeg and entered on my career as a novice in the Society. Looking back on it all now, it seems hard to realise that 10 long years have gone by since that eventful day on which I took a step which has meant so much for me, and which, thank God, during all this time I have never for a moment regretted. Our Lord was very good to me at that time, smoothing away many difficulties and making that day, which, to human nature at least, was full of sorrow, one of the happiest of all my life.

I remember well my arrival at Tullabeg and the way I astonished the Father Socius (as he told me afterwards) by running up to the hall door three steps at a time. He was not accustomed, he said, to see novices coming in such a merry mood, evidently enjoying the whole thing; and, though I did not know it then, it was the best of signs of a real vocation.

Since then I’ve gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face – even a Jesuit’s life it is not all roses – but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.

I think this would be a consolation to you, dearest father and mother, for I’ve often pictured you to myself as wondering if I were really happy and content. I could not be more so, and were I to look upon religious life from the soul aspect of what makes for the greatest happiness, I would not exchange it for all the pleasures the world could offer. Thank God for all his goodness, and after him, many grateful thanks to you both, dearest father and mother, for that good example and loving care to which we all owe so much