Thoughts for August 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am truly glad you are looking to the perfection of your daily actions; it is the simplest, yet perhaps hardest, way of sanctification, with little fear of deception. It is the certain following of Christ: “He hath done all things well.” (Mark 7:37)

COMMENT: Performing all of our daily actions well, and doing so with love, was a constant theme of Fr Doyle’s advice to others. He recognised that this daily fidelity to duty required great discipline and was in itself a great penance.

There are numerous saints whose feasts are celebrated each day of the year. Three saints whose feasts occur today present three very different paths to sanctity, but each of them shows us that holiness is to be found precisely in our daily actions.

St Louis of France
St Louis of France

Firstly, St Louis IX of France, was the King of France who lived from 1214-1270. He was a third order Franciscan who wore a hairshirt under his royal clothing and who prioritised the spiritual and temporal welfare of his subjects. He was the father of 11 children. He was also greatly devoted to the collection and preservation of relics. He lead two crusades to liberate the Holy Land and was killed on his second crusade.

St Genesius
St Genesius

St Genesius of Rome was an actor who wanted to win the favour of the emperor Diocletian who at that time was persecuting Christians. He infiltrated the Christian community in order to do research for a comedy play mocking Christianity that he wished to perform for the emperor. During the play itself he was struck forcefully by the grace and love of God, converted on the spot, and professed his faith in front of the emperor, urging him also to convert. He was subsequently tortured and martyred for his faith. (Those interested in St Genesius may wish to visit the Fraternity of St Genesius)

St Joseph Calasanz
St Joseph Calasanz

St Joseph Calasanz was a Spanish priest who founded a religious order in Rome (the Piarists) dedicated to teaching young boys in that city. He was a dedicated and holy priest, but was subsequently undermined and replaced as head of the order by a cabal of criminal perverts who lived an immoral community life and who preyed on the young boys. St Joseph had to live through the suppression of the order in 1646 and was dead before it was re-established in 1656.

Fr Doyle, St Louis, St Genesius and St Joseph Calasanz – four very different paths to sanctity in four very different ages and sets of circumstances. No matter what our role in life is we can still find holiness there if we perform our duties with fidelity.

Thoughts for August 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

All these trials, snubs, unpleasantnesses, etc., do not come to you by chance, they are precious jewels from the hand of God, and, if you could only bring yourself to look upon them in the right light, would make you a really big saint. Here is how you are to do it. Do you remember a story told of a certain saint who searched the whole city to find the most troublesome, cranky, sick woman in it and then took her into her house and lavished every care upon the wretched creature, who repaid her with curses and in gratitude? The saint bore it all without a murmur and even with joy, because this ill- treatment was the very thing she was in search of, and could she have found a more cross-grained old hag she would have exchanged her with pleasure. Have you learned your lesson? Try and love the “hard thing,” wish for it, ask for it provided that God wishes to send it to you, and then when it comes in the shape of an unjust, stinging word, force yourself to say (dryly), “Thank God, now I am holier.”

COMMENT: The saint Fr Doyle was referring to here is, if I am not mistaken, St Catherine of Siena, one of his favourites (I am open to correction in the comments box below if anybody knows better). 

Some people may think this is a bit crazy – to love the hard thing, to seek the hard thing. We live in a culture that generally seeks indulgence and comfort and a pill for every ill. although one might add  the exception of many of those who frequent gyms specifically seek out the heaviest weights and toughest exercises (the hard things) in order to prove their physical prowess.

But imagine how much more pleasant our families would be if people disciplined themselves to accept “hard things”. How much more peace there would be if people could hold their own tongues in the face of unjust and stinging words. How much better our society would be if people embraced the “hard thing” by doing their job properly – the economy would probably be healthier and banks would not have collapsed. Perhaps Fr Doyle and those like him who urge us to embrace hard things as an act of discipline were onto something after all. 

Venerable John Sullivan, ordained with Fr Doyle, urged a similar approach. We shall conclude today with his thoughts.

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. God is jealous of our love. Anything that denies self is an act of love.

Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ
Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ

Thoughts for August 23 (St Rose of Lima) from Fr Willie Doyle

Look upon the grace God gives you as a talent you must work with and increase. The Master in the Gospel gave his profitable servants twice as many talents. In like manner will God double your grace if you make good use of it. He will give you “grace for grace”. (John 1. 16)

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was most certainly a profitable servant, who carefully “invested” the grace God gave him. He set out to be faithful in little things, always striving to perform each task with love and perfection. In the end he was faithful in much, even when it came to offering his own life to save a wounded soldier. This heroism in the trenches finds its foundation in daily faithfulness. In the ordinary ways of life, barring a miracle of grace, it is hard to imagine someone who was slovenly and careless in his daily life of work and relationships and ordinary duty suddenly becoming a hero in the trenches. Really great achievements are built on daily fidelity to duty and preparation.

Today is also the feast of St Rose of Lima, the first canonised saint of the Americas who died at the age of 31. Like Fr Doyle, she was noted for her life of great penance which she offered for sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. 

St Rose of Lima
St Rose of Lima

22 August 1917: Fr Doyle mentioned in the Daily Express and in The Times

The following was written about Fr Doyle by Sir Percival Phillips, the famous war correspondent, and appeared in the Daily Express on this day in 1917.

The Orangemen will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battle field with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint — they speak his name with tears.

The Times also included this note on the same day. The chaplain in question was Fr Doyle. 

Many tales of individual gallantry are told; two instances especially which should be recorded; one being that of an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Leinsters, who spent five hours in circumstances of the greatest danger tending the wounded, and behaving in all ways with consummate heroism; and the other that of a Roman Catholic chaplain who went up with the men, sustained and cheered them to the last, till he was killed.

21 August 1917: St Anthony’s Institute in Locre requests Fr Doyle’s “holy body”

During his time away from the trenches Fr Doyle often stayed in a convent in Locre. If my memory serves me correctly, he had an uninterrupted 13 hour sleep after one particularly trying period at the front, and on one occasion he got locked out and had to sleep on a bench outside. 

In any event, these nuns of St Anthony’s Institute obviously held Fr Doyle in very great esteem. They were heartbroken when they heard of his death, and on August 21 1917 they sent the following note to Fr Frank Browne, requesting that Fr Doyle’s body be buried in their convent.

What very sad news I have received! Our good brave holy Fr. Doyle has been killed! Compassionate Lord Jesus give him eternal rest! Rev. Fr Browne will accept my condolence, my feelings of sympathy in the great loss of our good Fr. Doyle, your confrere. Notre petit saint, he has now received his recompense for his holy life, his great love for God and neighbour. Oh! he was so much loved by everybody and we shall never forget him. We are all very glad to have had him with us in the convent and to have made his life as comfortable as possible. Were it not possible Rev. Fr. to bring his holy body to the convent? It were a great honour to us to have it.

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was never found, and so the “holy body” of the “petit saint” never returned to St Anthony’s Institute. 

Thoughts for August 21 (St Pius X) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Pius X
St Pius X

There are two patron saints to whom I have a tremendous devotion: a sheet of paper and a lead pencil. Mark down at least once a day everything you do and every time you do it. It will not make you proud to see all you do; but it will humble you by showing you all you don’t do.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was extremely methodological in his spiritual life. He kept very specific diaries and accounts of what he did and of what he failed to do, and it is largely these books that allow us to get a glimpse at his inner life.

For some people this process of meticulously recording victories over self, and also of weaknesses and sins, could seem too pedestrian and too banal (and perhaps for some it could lead to scruples…). However, it is this fighting spirit that really makes Fr Doyle very endearing for in this we see how an ordinary man fought, with God’s grace, to overcome himself and to become an inspiring hero who saved so many in the trenches. The lead pencil and the sheet of paper were essential in this process of Fr Doyle’s spiritual blossoming. While care might be needed lest we become too self-absorbed or scrupulous, we should not imagine ourselves to be above this process of self-examination.

Today is the feast of St Pius X, Pope from 1903-1914, though it is not celebrated as it is a Sunday. He had something to say on this matter himself:

It would indeed be shameful if in this matter Christ’s saying should be verified, that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). We can observe with what diligence they look after their affairs; how often they balance their credit and debit; how accurately they make up their accounts; how they deplore their losses and so eagerly excite themselves to repair them.

Today we are not limited to a sheet of paper or a lead pencil – there are many new forms of technology, including smartphone apps, that will allow us to keep track of our use of time and to keep track of our sins. This technology makes the battle against our weakness even easier than it was for Fr Doyle.

St Pius X was a great pope and saint who was greatly loved in his own day. He was a deeply humble man with a special place in his heart for children, and he possessed a simplicity similar to that of Pope Francis. It was of course St Pius who lowered the age at which children can receive Holy Communion, from about 12-14 down to 7. In fact, it was a little Irish girl, Ellen Organ, affectionately known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who was instrumental in this. Little Nellie ended up living with some nuns after her mother died. She was diagnosed with TB, but had a great longing to receive Holy Communion, so her local bishop in County Cork gave extraordinary permission for her to receive the Eucharist at just four and a half years of age. She received the Eucharist 32 times before her death in February 1908. She was a remarkable mystic, spending hours in thanksgiving after receiving Communion.

St Pius was deeply edified by this story, and on hearing about it he declared that this was the sign he was waiting for. It was after this event that he allowed younger children to receive Communion. St Pius even asked for a relic of Little Nellie after her death. Imagine – the great Pontiff asking for a relic of a four and a half year old girl in County Cork! Thus he illustrates for us his own child like heart and his concern for the little ones.

Little Nellie of Holy God
Little Nellie of Holy God

When Nellie’s coffin was opened 18 months after her death, her body was apparently found to be incorrupt.

Of course, Fr Doyle had an interest in the life of Little Nellie, and he visited her grave after giving a retreat in County Cork just three years after her death. He records his experience as follows:

Kneeling there I asked her what God wanted from me, when I heard an interior voice clearly repeating, “Love Him, love Him”. The following day she seemed to rebuke me, when leaving the cemetery, for the careless way I performed most of my spiritual duties, and to say that God was displeased with this and wanted great fervour and perfection in them.

Let us pray to St Pius, who had such care for the little ones, that the Church will finally rid itself of that awful sin of abuse which has damaged so many children and families, which has besmirched the priesthood and which has wounded the credibility of the Church in the eyes of the world.

Let us also pray that the cause of Ellen Organ may finally be opened and that she will be canonised. Ireland needs its own saints, even very little ones! In fact, if she was to be canonised, Nellie would be the youngest non-martyred saint in history.

20 August 1917: Fr Frank Browne’s praise for Fr Doyle

On this day in 1917, 4 days after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Frank Browne, the famous photographer and Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter expressing his esteem for Fr Doyle. Fr Browne worked closely with Fr Doyle, and these words come from the pen of one who knew Fr Doyle intimately. 

All during these last months he was my greatest help, and to his saintly advice, and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything I felt and did. With him, as with others of us, his bravery was no mere physical show-off. He was afraid and felt fear deeply, how deeply few can realise. And yet the last word said of him to me by the Adjutant of the Royal Irish Rifles in answer to my question, ‘I hope you are taking care of Fr. Doyle?’, was, ‘He is as fond of the shells as ever.’ His one idea was to do God’s work with the men, to make them saints. How he worked and how he prayed for this! Fine weather and foul he was always thinking of them and what he could do for them. In the cold winter he would not use the stove I bought for our dug-out. He scoffed at the idea as making it ‘stuffy’ – and that when the thermometer was fifteen to twenty degrees below zero, the coldest ever known in living memory here.

And how he loathed it all, the life and everything it implied! And yet nobody suspected it. God’s Will was his law. And to all who remonstrated, ‘Must I not be about the Lord’s business?’ was his laughing answer in act and deed and not merely in word. May he rest in peace — it seems superfluous to pray for him.