Thoughts for January 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Charles of Mount Argus

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: Today is the feast of St Charles of Mount Argus, a Dutch Passionist priest who spent about 30 years of his life in Dublin, dying here in 1893 at the age of 71. He greatly loved by the people of Dublin, primarily because of his humility and simplicity. He was not a great preacher, but he was extremely gentle in the confessional. Like many of those who excel in the virtue of humility, he received many graces from God, including many graces within his own spiritual life as well as the grace of healing. Each day hundreds of people would flock to the monastery at Mount Argus to receive his blessing and those with means from far away would often send carriages to collect him and bring him to someone who was sick or dying. There were many reports of wonderful healings and these reports continue to this day, now that his power of intercession is even greater in Heaven. For an eye witness account of the life and virtues of St Charles click here.

There is no mention that I can find of St Charles in the writings of Fr Doyle, but it is certain that Fr Doyle would have been aware of him. Fr Doyle was 20 when St Charles died, and his reputation for holiness was been kept alive and well, so Fr Doyle must have been aware of St Charles and his holy life.

St Charles is also interesting as he is the only canonised saint of modern times (within the last half millennium at least) to have died in Ireland. And he wasn’t even Irish; he was Dutch! This point to an interesting thing about this so-called land of saints and scholars – we are pretty poor at having worthy candidates beatified and canonised. When one compares Ireland to other countries with strong Catholic heritage – Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, France, even parts of Germany, we perform very poorly in the saint-making rankings. Of course, it’s not a contest and the numbers themselves don’t really matter. Yet, at another level, the numbers are a kind of barometer that tell us something about the spiritual climate of a country. After all, a vibrant Catholic culture will foster holiness. This holiness will be recognised by others, who will then be motivated to promote these examples of holiness in an effective and professional manner. Other people will join in this process by praying for miracles. All of this needs institutional support from the religious orders, dioceses and parishes. Thus, a healthy, properly functioning Catholic culture will steadily produce canonised saints, especially given the increased frequencies of beatifications and canonisations within the Church over the past 3 decades.

Let us look at the Irish situation. St Charles of course stands out, but while we have adopted him as our own, he was Dutch, and interestingly both of the miracles for his beatification and canonisation were worked in the Netherlands. St Oliver Plunkett is of course Irish through and through, but his situation was slightly different as he was a martyr which symbolically makes his canonisation a little easier. Blessed Edmund Rice also lived and died in Ireland, and his beatification miracle was worked for a man in Newry in Northern Ireland. However, for a variety of reasons his cause for canonisation probably will not progress for some time. Then of course there is Blessed Columba Marmion who was a Dubliner but who became renowned as the abbot of a Belgian monastery. He is not widely known in Ireland. Then there are the 17 Irish martyrs who were beatified in 1992. Again, most unfortunately they are even less well known than Columba Marmion – one would probably search far and wide to find an ordinary Catholic who could even name one of them. (There is also the case of Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy from Cloyne but he falls just outside the time frame we are looking at, having died in 1492).

And that’s it. That’s the sum total of Ireland’s effectiveness in promoting sanctity since the Council of Trent. Of course, it’s not for the lack of good candidates. There were dozens of other martyrs from the penal times that deserve recognition, in addition to candidates like Venerable Matt Talbot, Mary Aitkenhead, Catherine McCauley, Nano Nagle, the three Legion of Mary candidates Edel Quinn, Alfie Lambe and Frank Duff; Fr John Sullivan and of course Fr Doyle himself. There are of course, many other worthy causes besides these. As an Irish poem says:

Why are saints so difficult to recognise,

In these days, not like in olden times,

When we had a resident saint in each oak-grove,

A holy well in each townland, miracles galore?

By the law of averages, if, as philosophers maintain,

And common sense agrees, human nature doesn’t change,

And we are the mixture as before, there must be

Saints somewhere, if only we had eyes to see

We should celebrate those who have already been raised to the altars, and today is a great day of celebration for our own adopted St Charles of Mount Argus. But we should also celebrate those who have yet to be recognised formally, and the best way to do this is by actually promoting their cause and making them well known, and in particular by asking their help in prayer. If we do not ask for miracles, they will not be granted!

Of course, neither Fr Doyle nor Matt Talbot nor any of the others are in the least bit insulted or upset that they have not yet been beatified or canonised! But it is we, and our country, that lose out, for beatifications and canonisations strengthen the local Church. Let us thus remember the beautiful words of Pope Benedict in his letter to the Church in Ireland last year:

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.