I noticed a tone of despondency in your letter, a yielding to that commonest of all the evil suggestions of the tempter, Cui bono? What is the use of all this struggling without any result, and so much prayer followed by no apparent improvement? It is a very clever temptation, and a successful one with most souls, resulting in the giving up of the very things which are slowly but surely making them saints. If only one could grasp this fact: Every tiny thing (aspiration, self-denial, etc.,) makes us holier than we were. Just think of the thousands of tiny things done each day for God, e.g. each step we take; all is done for Him, every one of them has added to our merit, making us more pleasing in His sight, and each moment holier. No one can see this gradual spiritual growth, though sometimes when we have gained a big victory, such as the secret one you won recently over yourself, we wonder where the strength came from to do it. I have watched your steady progress in perfection with the greatest joy and gratitude for your generosity, and so I want to warn you not to listen to such a suggestion that your efforts have been in vain. Your biggest fault at present, my child, is that you have not yet completely bent your will to God’s designs. I think it would please Him immensely to have no wishes of our own, apart from holy ones, so that He could bend and twist and fashion us just as He pleases, knowing well that we will not even murmur. Remember this does not mean that our feelings will die also.
COMMENT: The pursuit of personal holiness was a dominant theme of Catholic spirituality in Fr Doyle’s time. Unfortunately, some people, looking back on this era, seem to have misunderstood what this meant, thinking that it was a selfish approach in which one’s only concern is to get to Heaven and that social justice and care for others was of little importance.
This, of course, was a dreadful misunderstanding. Care for others, both spiritual and temporal, is absolutely inherent in the idea of personal holiness. Unfortunately this misunderstanding seems to have had serious consequences. We hear little today about personal holiness, and a lot about care for others. While there are many good things in this, it is also based on a misunderstanding, for our care for others grows immeasurably when we ourselves grow in perfection. Holiness and charity go hand in hand.
That is by way of background to one of the most remarkable lines in today’s quote: “If only one could grasp this fact: Every tiny thing (aspiration, self-denial, etc.,) makes us holier than we were. Just think of the thousands of tiny things done each day for God, e.g. each step we take; all is done for Him, every one of them has added to our merit, making us more pleasing in His sight, and each moment holier.”
Each moment either brings us closer to God, or puts a barrier between Him and us. Seen in this light, each day becomes an adventure in which we can become more like Christ by following His will, even in the very mundane things of each day.
A few years ago I found an old prayer card inside a book I had bought from a second hand book store. It explains this principle very well. Photos of the card appear below.