One month of the new year has passed away, leaving behind it the memory of what has been done for God and the unavailing recollection of what might have been achieved. Unavailing regret? No. For the failings and shortcomings of the month that has gone will only serve as a stimulus to a generous soul to spur him on to greater efforts in the service of his Master, efforts to use to the full the priceless gift of time, efforts to make the talents entrusted to his care bring forth the full measure of fruit and profit which our Lord will look for at His coming.
COMMENT: One twelfth of the year has already passed. Time goes quickly. Have we used it well? What about our new year’s resolutions? Have we lived up to them over the past month? Do we even remember what our resolutions were???
We must be determined to imitate Christ more and to become holy. While it is true that we need God’s grace to grow in virtue, we must also supply a lot of effort ourselves. One aspect of this effort is to make a few specific resolutions, and then work to stick to those resolutions. We will not always succeed in the task, but we must at least try to make the effort. If we haven’t stuck to our new year’s resolutions, we don’t have to wait another 11 months to try again. Today is an excellent day to pick ourselves up and start out once more.
Today is the feast of St John Bosco. Let us conclude with a quote from him on the need to overcome our fickleness and stick to our resolutions:
Be neither stubborn nor fickle. I have always noticed that fickle-minded people usually fail in all they do.
A kind word goes far. I stopped to say a few words to a group of men at a street corner in Kinsale, and as I walked away, I heard one of the men say to his companions: “Wasn’t it kind of him to speak to us? He’s a grand man entirely!”
COMMENT: The social virtues are so important. Jesus tells us that we shall be known as His disciples by the love we have for one another. He didn’t say that we would be known as disciples by the orthodoxy of our doctrine or by our evangelical zeal or by our fervent prayer. Yes, all of these are vital in the Christian life. But love is the unmistakeable sign of discipleship. It was this love that allowed the small, impoverished, persecuted Christian sect to grow and flourish in the Roman Empire and gradually transform and enrich the entire world. We rarely find dramatic ways to demonstrate this love, but there are innumerable small ways of doing so, one of the most effective of which is through normal human kindness and politeness.
“He’s a grand man entirely”. Is this what people in general say today about faithful Catholics? Is it what people would say about each of us individually? If it is not, then we need to examine our conscience…
Fr Doyle wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him from any egotistical motive. Rather, his concern was clearly apostolic in nature. Through our kindness we open avenues for apostolate that might otherwise remain closed to us.
Fr Doyle himself demonstrated this in a most dramatic way in the case of “Fanny Cranbush”. This young lady was a prostitute who was sentenced to death for her involvement in a murder in England. A few days before her death she requested the Fr Doyle be found and brought to her cell to instruct her in the Faith, and all because Fr Doyle once saw her on the street and spoke kindly to her about Jesus.
A more complete account of the story can be read starting at page 16 of the pamphlet “Stories of Father Willie” which can be found below. The pamphlet was published in 1932 and reflects the writing style of the period; nonetheless it is the content and message of the story that counts.
Abandon yourself completely into the hands of God, and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable, or disagreeable. Only then can God make you really holy.
COMMENT: We love to stay in control. We find it hard to no longer be in charge of our own affairs. This is part of the human condition. But we are not called to live naturally, we are called to live supernaturally.
Fr Doyle always practiced what he preached. By volunteering to become a missionary in the Congo, even though he wasn’t sent there, he showed his abandonment to God’s will. He lived this abandonment to its fullest in the trenches, suffering the same hardships that the soldiers endured, even though he could easily have lessened his own hardships if he wanted.
The ability to accept this abandonment is a sign of holiness which in turn guarantees us access to even more grace. Fr Doyle described this in the following way to his sister in a letter he wrote to her in 1916:
Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me…The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before.
Let us conclude with a short reflection on abandonment to God from Jean Pierre de Caussade, the Jesuit author of the classic book Abandonment to Divine Providence.
Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”
As to any practice of piety there is a double danger: recommending it as infallible, or condemning it as useless. I always make a point of saying that all things are not for all people. Characters differ so much.
COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful balance of Fr Doyle. He was a man of very definite personal devotion, but he was equally convinced that that his way was not the only way, and that there are many other spiritual paths along which people are called. It is true that there are those who are not attracted by Fr Doyle’s acts of mortification (even though everything Fr Doyle did can be found in the lives of the most popular and beloved of saints). But it is perfectly normal not to feel called to follow in Fr Doyle’s personal footsteps in this regard; as he himself says, characters differ so much. But even if our characters are different, we can still marvel at, and admire, Fr Doyle’s own unique character.
The same extraordinary balance is found in the life and writings of today’s saint, Thomas Aquinas. To take just one example relating to the life of prayer, he tells us in the Summa:
The quantity of anything should be proportioned to the end in view, as the quantity of drink should be proportioned to health. Hence it is fitting that prayer should continue only for so long as is useful to excite the fervour of interior desire. But when prayer goes beyond this measure so that it cannot be continued without weariness, then it should not be further prolonged.
St Thomas was one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. His learning was vast. He once declared that he never read anything that he didn’t understand – what a great gift this is for any scholar to possess! St Thomas’ learning was aided by his own deep life of prayer and his own purity of life. Towards the end of his life he was granted a vision, after which he declared that all his writing was but straw compared to what God had shown him.
Most people live in ignorance regarding the work of St Thomas. In part this may be due to what might be called chronological snobbery – there is a certain attitude that thinks that only recent thinkers are enlightened and that no intellectual work from other eras is of any value, and especially not if it is Medieval in origin! This attitude is especially acute in Ireland. It is frustrating to hear recent university graduates (most of whom have spent over a decade in Catholic schooling) dismiss the existence of God on the most flimsy basis. I recently witnessed one online debate in which there was general consensus that the existence of evil was a proof of the non-existence of God. As one of the great Catholic apologists of the last century once commented (I think it was Hilaire Belloc, but I cannot find the exact reference), every objection against God and religion has already been considered and fully answered centuries ago.
St Thomas is rightly renowned for his learning. But he was also obviously a man of great holiness. He was especially devoted to the Eucharist, and wrote many hymns and prayers. To conclude on this great feast, here are St Thomas’ prayers for before and after Mass.
Prayer before Mass.
Almighty and ever-lasting God, I approach the sacrament of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Therefore, I implore Thee in Thy great generosity, to heal my sickness, to wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the bread of angels, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords with reverence and humility, with contrition and devotion, with purity and faith, and with such purpose and determination that will be expedient to the salvation of my soul.
Grant me, I beseech Thee, that I may not only receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also the reality and power of the Sacrament.
O most kind God, grant that I may receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so received that I may be worthy to be incorporated into His mystical body, and numbered among His members.
O most loving Father, grant me Thy beloved Son, which I now receive under the veil of a sacrament, that I may one day behold Him face to face in glory, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever. Amen.
Prayer after Mass.
Lord, Father all-powerful, and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thy unprofitable servant, not because of my worth, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee. And I pray that Thou willest lead me, a sinner to the banquet where Thou with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to Thy saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each look of love to the Tabernacle causes a beat of grace-laden love in the Sacred Heart.
COMMENT: The Lord awaits us in the Tabernacle. Fr Doyle drew much strength from regular prayer before the Lord – often he could be found in prayer right through the night. He was one of the first to introduce Eucharistic holy hours in Ireland. He also advocated night vigils every Thursday in honour of the Agony in the Garden.
If we lack strength to love and serve Christ as we ought, we need look no further for the solution than the Tabernacle whether He awaits us.
Every grace we get enlightens the understanding and strengthens the will. When the understanding is enlightened, we have the awful alternative of cooperating with or rejecting the inspirations of grace. This we are either doing or not doing all the day long. God will not compel us, He will not interfere with our freedom, it must be our own choice. St. Paul was struck down when he received the inspiration. But he did not lie there as so many of us do. He got up and asked God what He wanted him to do. His will was strengthened because he accepted the grace that was offered. Let us do the same. From neglect of Thy holy inspirations, O Lord, deliver us.
COMMENT: “We have the awful alternative of cooperating with or rejecting the inspirations of grace.” Think about these words of Fr Doyle… This is the price of freedom. God wants us to love Him. But love cannot be forced. God does not impose himself on us. We are free to choose Him, or reject Him. But it is not a once-off choice – we choose to follow Him or not each moment of each day. We often choose not to follow Him in small ways. So long as we do not freely choose to reject Him in a big matter then our souls remain in a state of grace, and our task is to train ourselves, with the help of grace, to continually adhere to God’s holy will in all aspects of our lives.
Today is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Saul, as he was originally called, was one of the greatest persecutors of the early Church. God revealed himself to Saul in a dramatic moment on the road to Damascus. But He didn’t force Himself. Saul still had a choice. St Paul became the great Apostle of the Gentiles – neither loneliness nor shipwreck nor prison could prevent him from journeying to spread the Gospel. Imagine how impoverished the early Church would have been if Paul had ignored God’s grace. Imagine how many soldiers might have gone without the consolation of the sacraments if Fr Doyle had decided not to follow the inspiration of grace to become a military chaplain.
Look at the difference one person made in each of those situations. We may not be as heroic as St Paul or as Fr Doyle, but as Blessed John Henry Newman put it, God has called us to “some definite service”. We must respond to this grace with generosity and trust. If we do not, others may suffer. We will never know the good we have done, or the good that we could have done, until the end of our days.
In conclusion, let us also pray for all of those who now persecute the Church, whether they do so through physical persecution under totalitarian regimes or through scorn and verbal attacks which are so typical in the media in the West. May they respond to the grace offered to them, and follow the road of conversion travelled by St. Paul.
There is nothing better than the practice of aspirations, steadily growing in number. Keep a little book and enter them once a day. . . . I would like you to keep count of these little acts like the aspirations, but don’t go too fast; build up and do not pull down.
COMMENT: The use of spiritual aspirations – short heartfelt prayers which remind us that we are in the presence of God – were an extremely important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. His notes record how, at certain points in his life, he repeated tens of thousands of aspirations each day. Nobody quite knows how he managed to say (and count!) so many.
Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. St Francis is one of the most efficacious guides to the spiritual life. His advice is eminently practical, especially for lay people, and one doesn’t need to be a great mystic to follow it. Fr Doyle referred to St Francis quite a few times in his letters of spiritual direction. Incidentally, St Francis was naturally very hot tempered and impatient, and he knew that he needed to conquer this particular vice in order to reach holiness. He was so successful at this that everyone who knew him viewed him as the sweetest, most gentle and patient man they knew. This practice of deliberately targeting one’s dominant defect and focusing one’s spiritual energies on this specific point is a central part of the Spiritual Exercises which of course formed such an important part of the spiritual formation of Fr Doyle himself.
Back to the issue of aspirations… The following is a quote from St Francis’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life on the issue of aspirations. As we can see, Fr Doyle was not alone in his devotion to the practice. St Francis’ analogy of how lovers constantly think of their beloved is especially apt in explaining this practice.
Do you then, my daughter, aspire continually to God, by brief, ardent upliftings of heart; praise His Excellence, invoke His Aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of His Cross, adore His Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix your inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a little child to its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant nosegay, upraise Him in your soul as a standard. In short, kindle by every possible act your love for God, your tender, passionate desire for the Heavenly Bridegroom of souls. Such is ejaculatory prayer, as it was so earnestly inculcated by St. Augustine upon the devout Proba; and be sure, my daughter, that if you seek such nearness and intimacy with God your whole soul will imbibe the perfume of His Perfections. Neither is this a difficult practice,–it may be interwoven with all our duties and occupations, without hindering any; for neither the spiritual retreat of which I have spoken, nor these inward upliftings of the heart, cause more than a very brief distraction, which, so far from being any hindrance, will rather promote whatever you have in hand. When a pilgrim pauses an instant to take a draught of wine, which refreshes his lips and revives his heart, his onward journey is nowise hindered by the brief delay, but rather it is shortened and lightened, and he brings it all the sooner to a happy end, pausing but to advance the better.
Sundry collections of ejaculatory prayer have been put forth, which are doubtless very useful, but I should advise you not to tie yourself to any formal words, but rather to speak with heart or mouth whatever springs forth from the love within you, which is sure to supply you with all abundance. There are certain utterances which have special force, such as the ejaculatory prayers of which the Psalms are so full, and the numerous loving invocations of Jesus which we find in the Song of Songs. Many hymns too may be used with the like intention, provided they are sung attentively. In short, just as those who are full of some earthly, natural love are ever turning in thought to the beloved one, their hearts overflowing with tenderness, and their lips ever ready to praise that beloved object; comforting themselves in absence by letters, carving the treasured name on every tree;–so those who love God cannot cease thinking of Him, living for Him, longing after Him, speaking of Him, and fain would they grave the Holy Name of Jesus in the hearts of every living creature they behold. And to such an outpour of love all creation bids us–nothing that He has made but is filled with the praise of God, and, as says St. Augustine, everything in the world speaks silently but clearly to the lovers of God of their love, exciting them to holy desires, whence gush forth aspirations and loving cries to God.