Thoughts for December 6 (St Nicholas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Nicholas of Myra

I want you to make a greater effort to see the hand of God in everything that happens, and then to force or train yourself to rejoice in His holy will. For example, you want a fine day for some reason and it turns out wet. Don’t say, “Oh, hang it!” but give our Lord a loving smile and say: “Thank You, my God, for this disappointment.” This will help you to keep down impatience, irritability, etc., when people annoy you. Then when some hard trial is past, look back on it, see how you ought to have taken it, and resolve to act that way in future.

COMMENTS: The great spiritual writers recommend that we try to live constantly in the presence of God at all times, and see all things as coming from His hands and as a manifestation of His will for us at that moment. Such a mentality helps us to overcome passing feelings of sadness and disappointment.

Blessed Columba Marmion once wrote (unfortunately I cannot find the exact quote) that we are often sad because we think too much about ourselves, and not enough about Christ who loves us and dwells within our soul.

Today is also the feast of St Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for Santa Claus. Let us remember this great saint today. He is badly mistreated and neglected in our modern culture, and his reputation is abused in an effort to sell material things at this time of year.

St Nicholas is known as a great intercessor for those with material and financial concerns. St Nicholas himself was notoriously generous with his resources (hence the development of the Santa Claus character), so we may also pray to him for the grace of detachment.

Here is a video which may help us to remember the true St Nicholas.

Thoughts for December 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

You must trust entirely in our Lord. He alone can help you. Give God His time. Be generous with Him and He will be so with you.

COMMENT: The effectiveness of a message is often determined by the credibility of the person delivering it. Toothpaste companies try to feature dentists in their ads. Similarly, ads for household cleaning products will feature busy housewives who seem concerned for the welfare of their children. Source credibility is everything.

When considering today’s quote, we have a source of the highest credibility. Fr Doyle lived this message, and was living proof of the power of trusting in God. This was not just evident in the war years – even as a retreat master, spiritual director and missionary, Fr Doyle was remarkably effective. It was said that he never encountered a sinner that he could not win back to the faith. His fundraising work for poor African children was also very successful. His work promoting vocations met with remarkable success, even after he died. Some time ago I received a letter from a World War II veteran who was given one of Fr Doyle’s pamphlets on the priesthood by his own military chaplain. This man subsequently became a priest because of this pamphlet. Years later he met the military chaplain who gave him the leaflet; this chaplain revealed that he knew of at least 11 other men who became priests after reading Fr Doyle’s pamphlet on priesthood and vocations.

Fr Doyle was generous with God and trusted Him completely. We see the wonderful effects of this generosity and trust in his life just as we see it in the lives of all the saints. And yet despite these examples we so often hold back, lacking in trust and generosity…

Thoughts for December 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

What must have been Mary’s thoughts when first she felt the infant child within her womb, and realised that from her pure blood He had fashioned to Himself a human form? She His Mother, He her Son! What sweet converse between the two, what words of love, of ardent, tender love, the promptings of a heart so pure and good and holy.

COMMENT: We are exactly three weeks from Christmas day. Many people wait expectantly for this feast. Some look forward to it because means a well-earned rest, others because of the food and the drink and the parties and the television…

How bland our anticipation is compared to that of Mary. What prayers must she have said; how profound her contemplation must have been in these last precious weeks of waiting before the birth of the Saviour.

But while Mary waits with anticipation, she is not spared the cross. She does not have the luxury of staying in the comfort of her own home. She must travel to Bethlehem, and encounter all of the inconveniences that travel implies, especially for one so close to a birth. That birth will take place in poverty and without the conveniences that we consider to be essential. And after birth, the Holy Family must flee into exile for their safety…

The Holy Family was not spared suffering and deprivation. Yet Mary remained calm and serene, trusting fully in the Providence of the Lord. We can rely on her intercession as we face our own difficulties in life.

3 December 1914

Towards the end of the retreat a light came to me that, now that I have given Jesus all the sacrifices I possibly can in the matter of food, he is now going to ask retrenchment in the quantity. So far I have not felt that He asked this, but grace now seems to urge me to it. I dread what this means, but Jesus will give me strength to do what He wants. 

Thoughts for December 3 (St Francis Xavier) from Fr Willie Doyle

Death of St Francis Xavier

 

Xavier’s hour has come, the hour of his eternal reward and never-ending bliss. In a little hut, open on all sides to the biting blast, the great Apostle lies dying. Far from home and all that makes this life pleasant, far from the quiet of his own religious house, alone upon this barren isle, our Saint will yield his soul to God. What joy fills his heart now at the thought of the sacrifices he has made, the honours he has despised, the pleasures left behind. Happy sufferings! Happy penances! He thinks of what his life might have been, the life of a gay worldling, and in gratitude he lifts his eyes to thank his God for the graces given him. What matter now the hardships he has endured? All, all, are past, for now the sweet reward of heaven is inviting him to his eternal rest.

COMMENT: St Francis Xavier was one of the greatest missionary saints of all time. He was a good man, although proud and ambitious, when Ignatius met him at the University of Paris. Just like Fr Doyle, it was the experience of the Spiritual Exercises that inflamed his soul and set him on the path to sanctity.

Ultimately St Francis Xavier gave up all human comforts and friendships, leaving Europe behind forever to evangelise in the far east. How strange that land must have seemed, and how far away from everything that he knew. Yet it mattered not to Francis – his love for God spilled over into a love for souls and a passionate desire to bring them to Heaven. So too it was with Fr Doyle. He originally wanted to become a missionary in the Congo. He ended up as a missionary in the bloody trenches instead. If he survived that experience, he had resolved to offer himself as a missionary in a leper colony.

Today we no longer have to go to India or Japan to find mission territory – there are more than enough souls who have not yet properly heard the word of God in our own families and neighbourhoods and towns. Let us pray for a share in the missionary zeal and effectiveness of St Francis Xavier and of Fr Doyle. Let us also pray especially for Ireland, which has truly become a mission territory.

1 December 1914

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent, has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace – they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become saint – it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life ‘sacrifice always and in all things’”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these lines 105 years ago today, on 1 December 1914, during his retreat that year. They sum up a key aspect of his life and spirit – that he clearly felt that he was chosen to live a life of extra penance. He clearly saw this as his special mission, and he recognised that it was not something for others to copy. That is why he was always very tough with himself and very gentle with others. As he says – “they may meritoriously do what I cannot”.

Did Fr Doyle have an inflated ego in thinking that he had a special mission to asceticism? I don’t think so. His penances were shared with his confessor who approved of them with few changes. His penances were also private – nobody else was to know about them apart from his confessor, and we would know nothing of them today were it not decided to disobey Fr Doyle’s wishes and publish some of his personal notes. In several places in his diaries Fr Doyle mentions that he felt energised and strengthened by his penance, but on the other hand he felt sick and fatigued when he took it easier on himself. Finally, one can clearly see that the heroism of Fr Doyle in the trenches cannot really be separated from his asceticism – it is hard to imagine that one who is self-complacent and lazy could have done what Fr Doyle did during his years as a chaplain. His penances prepared him for these rigours. One cannot have the heroic Fr Doyle unless one also has the ascetical Fr Doyle – they are part of the same package. 

Today we also celebrate the feast of one of the great Jesuits, St Edmund Campion. I am not aware that Fr Doyle ever wrote about him, but it is certain that he admired him. St Edmund’s dramatic life surely appealed to Fr Doyle’s own personality.

St Edmund, like so many others, was martyred for being a Catholic at Tyburn. Here is what he had to say on this matter.

And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted; so it must be restored.

St Edmund Campion