Thoughts for August 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Eudes

August 19 The Feast of St John Eudes

Two wings by which we can fly to God and become saints: the habit of little tiny acts of self-denial and the habit of making a definite fixed number of aspirations every day.

COMMENT: The use of aspirations was an important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. In fact, in his diary he writes that constantly repeating aspirations was the penance of his life. That’s a big claim when you’re dealing with somebody whose entire life was one of hardship and penance.

Amazingly his diary records him saying tens of thousands of aspirations each day. It’s not quite clear how he managed this; in practice it probably means that his mind was always continually focussed on God and he lived St Paul’s command that we pray without ceasing. Certainly he also records how saying some aspirations helped him in moments of temptation and weakness; he also used to pray aspirations to give him the strength to get out of bed on time. Perhaps we can all learn from that.

Certainly we hear much less about the use of aspirations than in previous generations, but the practice was very important to the saints.

St Josemaria Escriva writes:

There will be other occasions on which all we’ll need will be two or three words, said with the quickness of a dart — ejaculatory prayers, aspirations that we learn from a careful reading of Christ’s life: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” “Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief,” strengthen my faith. “Lord, I am not worthy.” “My Lord and my God!”… or other short phrases, full of affection, that spring from the soul’s intimate fervour and correspond to the different circumstances of each day.

Today’s saint, John Eudes, was also much devoted to the use of aspirations. Writing about himself in the third person, he says that he knows a person

…who by the frequent use of (aspirations) has arrived at such a stage that it is easy for him, even when taking his meals, to make actually almost as many acts of love for Jesus as he places morsels in his mouth. This he does not only without strain or trouble of inconvenience, but he is not thereby prevented from talking and taking recreation. I say this, not that you should do the same, for there would immediately be an outcry that I was asking things too difficult, but that you may know how much power there is in a holy habit, and how wrong the world is in imagining so much difficulty and bitterness where there is merely every kind of sweetness and delight.

Those interested in St John Eudes may like this short video produced by Fr James Kubicki SJ.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts for August 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. O’Rahilly says Fr. Doyle got up to 100,000 aspirations a day. What makes me wonder is, how could he have counted them? Counting them would have to be a lot more laborious than actually making them.

    • Yes, the numbers of aspirations are remarkable. In fact, he sometimes maintains that he has “said” more aspirations than there are seconds in the day, and that leaves no time for sleep or anything else!

      Fr Doyle had his own accounting system for aspirations which does not match our normal numerical system. Remember – these numbers were for his own use and nobody else’s, so it’s not too surprising that he would have his own very rounded counting system for his own notes.

      The 5th edition of O’Rahilly (which was published 19 years after the 1st edition and is 200 pages longer, mostly due to more detailed explanations, examples from the lives and writings of the saints and theological reflections) gives the example of the Cloud of Unknowing which counted 22,560 “atoms” in one hour, stating that there are as many possible stirrings of the will as there are atoms in the hour. We’re not sure what the “atoms” refer to, but the basic point is that neither the atoms nor the tens of thousands of aspirations are words, but rather stirrings of the will. Presumably when Fr Doyle says that he said 100,000 aspirations in one day he means that he was in constant prayer throughout that day.

      O’Rahilly’s conclusion in the 5th edition is “We may not, therefore, always interpret aspirations as vocal prayers, when we find them mentioned in spiritual teatises and biographies; nor may we regard numerical estimates of their number as implying more than a vivid way of subsequently recording what was practically a continuous union of will”.

      There are some other explanations like this in the 5th edition in which O’Rahilly correlates certain manifestations of God’s presence in Fr Doyle’s day with his subsequently recording tens of thousands of aspirations on that same day. The details are too involved to write out right now, but suffice it to say that Fr Doyle didn’t, and couldn’t, say 100,000 aspirations in a day, but that, with whatever couting system he used, it involved consciously applying his mind to God’s presence and will.

      That’s the best answer I can give to what is ultimately a mystery, I hope it helps!

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