Thoughts for December 31 from Fr Willie Doyle

“All our days are spent.” (Psalm 89. 9). The hour will come for each of us when we shall echo these words of the Psalmist, when with anxious eyes we shall watch the last few sands of our life run out for ever. What avail then will be our useless regrets that we have made such little use of those precious days? Will our bitter sorrow and biting remorse bring back even one of the moments we have so uselessly squandered in idle pleasure or consumed in sinful deeds?

COMMENT: The last day of the year is actually a very important one. Even those with no faith tend to take stock of their lives and develop resolutions to improve themselves. We don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to make resolutions, although it is an excellent time to start. In addition to traditional resolutions like eating more healthily, exercising more, working harder and so forth, we must remember the importance of spiritual resolutions. These can include being more faithful to our prayer, adopting certain regular acts of penance or attempting to root out a particular vice or weakness.

The end of the year also reminds us that we are closer to death. It is a simple fact that we are one year closer to death than we were at the start of 2010. Perhaps we, or one that we love, may not live to see beyond 2011…We should not become morbid or depressed with these thoughts, and it would be unhelpful to fixate too much on this, but it is similarly unhelpful – and unrealistic – to ignore the thought altogether. Instead, let us be prepared to meet Christ whenever He may call us, whether it is in 2011 or several decades away.

The end of the year is also a time to be thankful. For many, especially in Ireland, 2010 has been a tough year. But no matter how hard it has been, there are always things to be thankful for. There may have been many dangers from which we have been spared that we are not even aware of. Let us give thanks to God for all of His blessings, both those we remember and those we will only see when we die. The last day of the year is also a good day on which to obtain a plenary indulgence. The Church grants this indulgence, under the usual conditions, to all those who publicly sing the Te Deum on this last day of the year.

Finally, here is a worthwhile meditation by Bishop Richard Challoner of London who died in 1781, and whose cause for beatification is both extremely worthy and in need of some promotion.

Consider first, that the year is now come to a conclusion: it is just upon the point of expiring: all these twelve months that are now past, have flown away into the gulf of eternity; they are now no more; they shall return to us no more. All our years pass in this manner, they all hasten away one after another and hurry us along with them, till they bring us also into an endless and unchangeable eternity. Our years will all be soon over; we shall find ourselves at the end of our lives much sooner than we imagine. O let us not then set our hearts upon any of these transitory things. Let us despise all that pass away with this short life, and learn to adhere to God alone, who never passes away, because he is eternal. Let us always be prepared for our departure hence.

Consider 2ndly, that as the year is now past and gone, so are all the pleasures of it: all our diversions, all our amusements, in which we have spent our time this year, are now no more: the remembrance of them is but like that of a dream. O, such is the condition of all things that pass with time! Why then do we set our esteem or affection upon any of them? Why are we not practically and feelingly convinced of the emptiness and vanity of them all; and that nothing deserves our love or attention but God and eternity? And as the pleasures of the year are all past, so are all the displeasures and uneasinesses, pains and mortifications of it: they are also now no more than like a dream: and so will all temporal evils appear to us a little while hence when we shall see ourselves upon the brink of eternity. Let us learn, then, only to fear those evils which will have no end, and the evil of sin, which leads to these never-ending evils.

Consider 3rdly, how you have spent your time this year. It was all given you by your Creator, in order to bring you forward to Him, and to a happy eternity. O how many favours and blessings have you received from him every day of the year! How many graces and invitations to good! And what use have you made of these favours? What virtue have you acquired this year? What vice have you rooted out? What passions have you overcome? Have you made any improvement at all in virtue, since the beginning of the year? Instead of going forward to God, have you not rather gone backward? Alas! what an account will you have to give one day for all this precious time, and for all these graces and blessings, spiritual or corporal, which you have so ungratefully abused and perverted during the course of this year. Then as to your sins, whether of omission or commission against God, your neighbours, or yourselves – which you have been guilty of this year, either by thought, word, or deed – what a dreadful scene will open itself to your eyes upon a little examination! And little have you done during the course of this year to cancel them by penance. O, how melancholy would your case be, if your eternal lot were to be determined by your performances of the past year!

Conclude by giving thanks to God for all his blessings of this year; and especially for his patience and forbearance with you in your sins. Return now at least to him with your whole heart; begging mercy and pardon of all the sins of the year, and for all the sins of your life. And resolve, with God’s grace, if he is pleased to give you another year, to spend it in such a manner as to secure to your souls the never-ending year of a happy eternity.

Bishop Richard Challoner

Thoughts for December 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas Becket

Jesus, you know my longing to become a saint. You know how much I thirst to die a martyr. Help me to prove that I am really in earnest by living this life of martyrdom.

O loving Jesus, help me now not to fight any longer against You. I really long to do what You want, but I know my weakness so well and my inconstancy. I have made so many generous resolutions which I have never kept that I feel it is almost a mockery to promise more. This record of my feelings and desire at this moment will be a spur to my generosity; and if I cannot live up to the perfection of what You want, at least I am now determined to do more than I have ever done before. Help me, Jesus!

COMMENT: The cross is always at the centre of the Christian life, in one way or another. It was present in Bethlehem with its poverty and lack of comfort. The day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St Stephen. Two days later we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents and today we celebrate the feast of St Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed because he defended the freedom of the Church against the dictates of the State.

Even in this joyful Christmas season we find these heroic examples of martyrdom. St Thomas’ example is very relevant for us today. A form of aggressive secularism seeks to squeeze the Church from the public square. We may not have to face physical martyrdom like St Thomas, and we do not have to feel an inner calling to martyrdom like Fr Doyle. But we are called to stand firm and defend the Church against unjust restrictions on its freedom. Sometimes this may mean a kind of dry martyrdom which may lead to a loss of opportunities or scorn and abuse. For some this dry martyrdom may involve even greater suffering than traditional martyrdom. If this is the case, let us copy the example of Fr Doyle by calling on Jesus to give us the grace and assistance that we need.

Thoughts for December 28 from Fr Willie Doyle


Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power. I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood. Fr Doyle is well known for his work in the war, but these two and a half years were really just the culmination of an active and effective life of practical evangelisation.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent prisoners of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerable less captive to his own culture than many others were – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

Thoughts for December 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try to get down low and follow out what He Himself taught: “Unless you become as little children.” This will make you more confiding, more trustful and more naturally loving, which sometimes we are not, our love for Him being much too formal and prim.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John the Apostle, often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There was a particular closeness between Jesus and St John; John alone amongst the male followers of Jesus remained steadfast even up to the crucifixion, and it was to St John that Jesus entrusted Mary, albeit in a figurative sense on behalf of humankind.

In the lives of both Fr Doyle and St John we see two men who were not afraid to love Jesus with a natural and personal love. It is this personal love that counteracts the stereotype of Christianity being a system of rules and morality. At the heart of Christianity is the love and service of Christ, from which all other moral and charitable works flow. The feast of the disciple whom Jesus loved is a good day to remember this fundamental aspect of our Faith.

Thoughts for December 26 from Fr Willie Doyle


First Sunday after Christmas: The Feast of the Holy Family

On St. Stephen’s Day the men were engaged in a football match, when the Germans saw them, sent over a lovely shot at long range, which carried away the goal post — the umpire gave a ‘foul’ — and bursting in the middle of the men, killed three and wounded seven. The wounded were bandaged up and hurried off to hospital, the dead carried away for burial; and then the ball was kicked off once more, and the game went on as if nothing had happened. The Germans must have admired the cool pluck of the players, for they did not fire any more. This is just one little incident of the war, showing how little is thought of human life out here; it sounds callous but there is no room for sentiment in warfare, and I suppose it is better so…

I was riding on my bicycle past a wagon when the machine slipped, throwing me between the front and back wheels of the limber. Fortunately the horses were goingvery slowly and I was able, how I cannot tell, to roll out before the wheel went over my legs. I have no luck, you see, else I should be home now with a couple of broken legs, not to speak of a crushed head. The only commiseration I received was the remark of some passing officers that ‘the Christmas champagne must have been very strong!’

COMMENT: These two incidents, which occurred on this day in 1916 and were  recorded by Fr Doyle in a letter home to his family, give us a further insight into the harshness life at the trenches, as well as Fr Doyle’s own cheerfulness in the face of the horrors of war. May we never have to face these trials in our own day, and if we do, may we face them with the strength and calm that Fr Doyle obtained through his intense life of prayer.

Thoughts for December 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

COMMENT:  O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, I do not believe that it was written by him; the 1939 edition I have gives no indication about who the author is.

Personally I believe that it was written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother. There are two reasons why I think this. Firstly, why else would it be anonymous? A Jesuit priest writing a book anonymously about his brother makes sense in terms of the virtue of humility. Secondly, there is little new in it beyond O’Rahilly’s masterpiece except for Fr Doyle’s early years in Dalkey and his time as a schoolboy and seminarian. Everything else is more or less taken from O’Rahilly’s book. These early chapters of the book were written almost as if the author was an eye witness to the events, and many stories are told about the kinds of things that both Willie and Charlie got up to.

Below is a scan of section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s.

Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!

Christmas at Melrose

Thoughts for December 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

The following excerpt from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle recalls Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass in 1916…

Christmas itself Fr. Doyle had the good luck of spending in billets. He got permission from General Hickie to have Midnight Mass for his men in the Convent. The chapel was a fine large one, as in pre-war times over three hundredboarders and orphans were resident in the Convent; and by opening folding-doors the refectory was added to the chapel and thus doubled the available room. An hour before Mass every inch of space was filled, even inside the altar rails and in the corridor, while numbers had to remain in the open. Word had in fact gone round about the Mass, and men from other battalions came to hear it, some having walked several miles from another village. Before the Mass there was strenuous Confession-work. “We were kept hard at work hearing confessions all the evening till nine o’clock” writes Fr. Doyle, “the sort of Confessions you would like, the real serious business, no nonsense and no trimmings. As I was leaving the village church, a big soldier stopped me to know, like our Gardiner Street friend, ‘if the Fathers would be sittin’ any more that night.’  He was soon polished off, poor chap, and then insisted on escorting me home. He was one of my old boys, and having had a couple of glasses of beer — ‘It wouldn’t scratch the back of your throat, Father, that French stuff’ — was in the mood to be complimentary. ‘We miss you sorely, Father, in the battalion’, he said, ‘we do be always talking about you’. Then in a tone of great confidence: ‘Look, Father, there isn’t a man who wouldn’t give the whole of the world, if he had it, for your little toe! That’s the truth’. The poor fellow meant well, but ‘the stuff that would not scratch his throat’ certainly helped his imagination and eloquence. I reached the Convent a bit tired, intending to have a rest before Mass, but found a string of the boys awaiting my arrival, determined that they at least would not be left out in the cold. I was kept hard at it hearing Confessions till the stroke of twelve and seldom had a more fruitful or consoling couple of hours’ work, the love of the little Babe of Bethlehem softening hearts which all the terrors of war had failed to touch.”

The Mass itself was a great success and brought consolation and spiritual peace to many a war- weary exile. This is what Fr. Doyle says:

“I sang the Mass, the girls’ choir doing the needful. One of the Tommies, from Dolphin’s Barn, sang the Adeste beautifully with just a touch of the sweet Dublin accent to remind us of home, sweet home, the whole congregation joining in the chorus. It was a curious contrast: the chapel packed with men and officers, almost strangely quiet and reverent (the nuns were particularly struck by this), praying .and singing most devoutly, while the big tears ran down many a rough cheek: outside the cannon boomed and the machine-guns spat out a hail of lead: peace and good will — hatred and bloodshed!

“It was a Midnight Mass none of us will ever forget. A good 500 men came to Holy Communion, so that I was more than rewarded for my work.”

Thoughts for December 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

“He went out into a mountain to pray; and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God” (Luke 6. 12).

Christ prays, on His knees, humbly, reverently. I watch Him well during this great act of His life. Lord, teach me how to pray like You.

He goes up into a mountain, away from all that may distract Him. He leaves His preaching, His work, even the thought of it, behind. In quiet and solitude He goes on His knees, humbly as a creature, reverently as a child.

He had gone through a long hard day s work, He was weary, longing for rest and sleep. Yet He passed the whole night in the prayer of God. To teach me the need of prayer, to teach me to love prayer, to teach me to persevere in prayer.

Thoughts for December 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

Reading over my reflections and resolutions on the Third Degree during the Long Retreat, I see now they are little more than empty promises; they have produced no real change in my life. I put before myself “always to choose the hard thing, to go against self in all things.” But have I really done so since? Has my life been more mortified from the time I made this resolution? Now, however, I am fully resolved no longer to “beat the air,” but have drawn up a list of definite acts of self-denial by which I can test myself. If only I am faithful to these, I shall indeed have begun to lead a new and better life than formerly.

COMMENT: A few months ago we followed Fr Doyle’s reflections on the Long Retreat (see the posts in October and early November for more on this). We saw how Fr Doyle made so many enthusiastic resolutions. Today’s quote comes from Fr Doyle’s diary in January 1909, slightly over a year after this retreat. It is very consoling for us to see that even Fr Doyle had difficulty in always living out his resolutions. This is a universal human experience. Indeed, the very fact that we have to struggle to live our resolutions is also an opportunity for us to acquire grace and merit.

As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

The saints are those who struggle right to the end of their lives: those who always manage to get up each time they stumble, each time they fall, and courageously embark on their way once more with humility, love and hope.

Fr Doyle also struggled to live out his resolutions, but we know that he persevered right to the end. If we have made resolutions, we should frequently reflect on them in order to improve our adherence to them. And if we have no resolutions, what better time to start making them than the last days of the year, in anticipation of a new year with a fresh start…

Thoughts for December 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus is very gentle but very firm with me. He has shown me that I must not shrink from what He wants. He is ever near, urging me in the same direction; you know where His divine face was turned so constantly during life and at its close. I am not afraid of sacrifice; He has given me a most intense love for suffering and humiliation, but why, oh why, did He make me so wretchedly weak that I cannot take one step if His strong arm is not around me?

COMMENT: If Fr Doyle was so aware of his own weakness and inability to move forward without Divine assistance, how much more do we need grace to help us on our journey? We should never underestimate the power of this grace; a quick review of the letter Fr Doyle wrote to his sister in December 1916 (and published here on December 19), shows a man transformed by the power of God’s grace, ready and willing to accept God’s will, even if it run contrary to our own legitimate desires.

We should take heart this week as we prepare for Christmas. God is with us. He assumed our lowly human condition with all of its physical weaknesses and sufferings in order to save us. He understands our needs and will not be slow to assist us.