Thoughts for August 31 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Raymond Nonnatus

By entering religion and taking my vows I have given myself over absolutely to God and His service. He, therefore, has a right to be served in the way He wishes. If then He asks me to enter on a hard, mortified life and spend myself working for Him, how can I resist His will and desire? What is God asking from me now? Shall I go back on that offering?

COMMENT: The principle that we should serve God as he wishes and without reserve is not only confined to religious – it applies to lay people as well. However, for lay people it will normally involve doing our duties well rather than “going” somewhere else as it might with a religious.

Fr Doyle lived this total dedication in the trenches, going far out of his “comfort zone” to serve God.

Today’s saint, Raymond of Nonnatus, also gave himself completely to God. He was a Mercardian priest from the 13th century. The apostolate of this order was to ransom slaves captured by the Moors. He raised much money for this apostolate, and when the money ran out, he offered himself in exchange for some slaves. Tradition tells us that his captives made holes in his lips and locked them together to stop him from preaching.

We are unlikely to be asked to live in trenches with soldiers like Fr Doyle or to offer ourselves as a ransom to free slaves like St Raymond Nonnatus. This is all the more reason why we should live our relatively simple daily lives  with complete generosity.

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Thoughts for August 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Margaret Clitherow

Why are we not saints? Want of courage and want of patience. We give up, we have not the strength of will and determination to succeed which the saints had. Another point is that our notion of sanctity is adding on, instead of making perfect what we already do.

COMMENT: There are two points worth considering in today’s quote from Fr Doyle. Firstly is the fact that we are not saints, that we are not holy, because we do not want it enough or have not the courage to strive for sanctity. Sanctity does not mean have great mystical experiences or being able to heal people or perform miracles. It means living the virtues heroically, and this capacity is always within our reach if we trust in God’s mercy and follow the means he has given us. For sure, reaching holiness is a lifelong task and not something we achieve in one day. But the important thing is that we begin, and keep striving. Many saints, including St Ignatius, were motivated to strive for sanctity by the thought that other ordinary men and women had become saints, and if they could do it, then so could Ignatius.

Perhaps more interestingly, Fr Doyle points out that holiness is not adding on, but making perfect what we already do. This of course presumes that we are already living a stable Catholic life. We do not have to go anywhere to become saints, we do not have to wait for the ideal circumstances to become saints (these ideal circumstances do not exists anyway). By doing our duties perfectly we will have achieved a high degree of holiness. Fr Doyle once again shows himself to be an excellent guide for ordinary lay people in the world.

According to some liturgical calendars, today is the feast of St Margaret Clitherow, St Margaret Ward and St Anne Line, three English martyrs who were tortured and killed on different occasions during the Elizabethan persecution of the Church. Their crimes? To give shelter to hunted priests.

St Margaret Clitherow was killed in a particularly nasty way, but if you want to know more I’ll leave you to google it. St Anne Line was especially connected with the incredible exploits of Fr John Gerard SJ who wrote an amazing firsthand account of his experience as a priest on the run in Elizabethan England. This remarkable Jesuit escaped from captivity in the Tower of London with the help of…orange juice!! Again, I’ll leave you to look up the details. Anybody with an interest in this period of history must read his autobiography. It was back in print for a while but seems no longer to be available, but it may be found in second hand stores or online. It was called The Autobiography of an Elizabethan or The Diary of a Hunted Priest, depending on the publisher.

These three brave women martyrs sacrificed their lives to preserve the Faith and the priesthood in their land. May we learn from their example.

Thoughts for August 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

Salome with the head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio

There is one thing we need never be afraid of, namely, that the devil will ever tempt us to be humble. He may delude us in the practice of other virtues; indiscreet zeal, for instance, or the desire to devote our time solely to prayer.  But we need never be in doubt as to whether it would be better to humble ourselves or not. There can be no doubt about it. It is always safe to do so.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle makes a very important point in today’s quote which we can easily overlook when focussing on the main theme of humility. Sometimes, good people can be tempted to devote their time solely to prayer. Of course, a more common temptation today is to devote no time to prayer, but the temptation to “overdo it” can still present itself. By this, Fr Doyle clearly means that we have to have regard to our duties in life. A student who spends hours in the chapel, but avoids the library, or a husband who spends all his spare time in prayer or even apostolic works whilst ignoring his professional obligations and the needs of his family,  can both easily fool themselves that they are behaving well. But in reality they are avoiding the work God intends for them perhaps through laziness or perhaps through an imprudent pursuit of spiritual consolations.

Fr Doyle’s more substantive point today relates to humility. Normally August 29th is celebrated as the feast of the beheading of St John the Baptist. Because today is a Sunday the Church does not celebrate it formally, but we can still recognise St John privately today. Recalling the importance of humility is very apt today, for St John always pointed to Christ and recognised his own unworthiness to even tie His sandals.

St John has two feasts in the Church calendar – his birth and his beheading. There are very few who are recognised by the universal Church in this way. This is an acknowledgement of St John’s greatness and thus we may take him as a trustworthy model, especially in terms of his detachment from the world, his zeal for souls, his dedication to the truth, and his humility before Christ.

Thoughts for August 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Augustine, Doctor of the Church

August 28 Feast of St Augustine Doctor of the Church

How many wish to belong entirely to Jesus without reserve or restriction? Most want to serve two masters, to be under two standards. A union of wordliness and devotion; a perpetual succession of sins and repentance; something given to grace, more to nature; fervour and tepidity by turns. Such is the state of many religious. Obligations are whittled down; rules are interpreted laxly; all kinds of excuses are invented for self-indulgence, health, greater glory of God in the end, etc. No service is so hard as the half-and-half; what is given to God costs more; His yoke is heavy; the cross is dragged, not cheerfully carried; the thought of what is refused to grace causes remorse and sadness; there is no pleasure from the world and little from the service of Christ.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle seems to be on to something here in his analysis of our half-hearted spirituality, and it is very appropriate for our feast today. St Augustine wanted to serve God, but not yet. He wanted to be good, but did not want to give up his easy going life. Perhaps counter-intuitively to our purely human eyes, it is this half-hearted commitment that is most difficult and that tears us apart.

Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. But we have to embrace the yoke and the burden, always knowing that God’s grace is there to help us. So often we can make the mistake of thinking that being fully committed to our faith will make us morose or sad or diminish our personality in some way. But the opposite is the case. In the life of Fr Doyle, to take just one example, we see a man who did not opt for the half-and-half solution, but who gave himself fully to God. Yet he was also a tremendous practical joker and was a man who was renowned for his kindness and his warm personal qualities, precisely because of his whole-hearted commitment which filled his sould with such joy. His soldiers, tough men as they were, loved him dearly. No dour, plaster saint could win that kind of affection from tough Irish soldiers in the trenches.

As St Augustine says in one of his famous quotes:

Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you

We were made for God. We should not fear Him.

Thoughts for August 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Monica

August 27 Feast of St Monica

Don’t be stingy in giving praise, particularly with the young.

If in a community there is some sister not as edifying as she might be, but who after a retreat makes an effort to rise, be ever the one to encourage and to hold out a helping hand. Many a first attempt has been crushed in the bud by the contemptuous look or sneering remark as to how long it will last.

COMMENT: How appropriate Fr Doyle’s advice is today on the feast of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine who prayed so long and so hard for his conversion.

Monica was married to a pagan who beat her. She cultivated the virtue of patience, ultimately winning her husband’s conversion before he died. So too with her son Augustine – her prayers and patience had an effect that bitterness could never have.

Thoughts for August 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

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.


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, as a constant theme of Fr Doyle’s advice to others. He is correct in stating that it is perhaps the hardest path to sanctity, for doing our duties perfectly itself requires quite a degree of perfection.

Fr Doyle lived this way himself, and in many ways he is so admirable precisely because he performed his duties as a military chaplain well. He could have played it safer and taken fewer risks, but he was always to be found in the place of greatest danger, precisely because that was his duty.

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

St Louis IX 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 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 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.