Thoughts for February 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Margaret of Cortona

As regards confession it would be much better to confine yourself to the accusation of, say, three faults, and turn the whole flood of your sorrow upon these. I fear you, like so many, lay too much stress on the accusation of sins, which in these frequent confessions, is the least important part of the Sacrament. To my mind the one thing which completely changes all our notions of confession is the thought that every absolution means an immense increase of sanctifying grace or holiness. Let that be your aim and not the mere pouring out of little faults, all of which, maybe, were washed away that morning by Holy Communion.

COMMENT: Once again we see that Fr Doyle was ahead of his time. There has been a debate about whether or not Ireland was afflicted with Jansenism in the early part of the 20th Century. Whether it was full-blown Jansenism or not, there were at least widespread tinges of it which were manifested by excessive scrupulosity and an over-emphasis on judgement and considerably less emphasis on the mercy and love of God.

Fr Doyle’s words seem quite radical for their time. He is of course writing to somebody who is striving to live a holy life, so his advice may not apply completely to somebody who has been away from the sacraments for a long time. His advice seems very Ignatian – to focus only on key faults in an attempt to eradicate them. But as always, his emphasis is not on the sin but on the mercy of God and the grace which He longs to give us.

These thoughts are appropriate today on the feast of St Margaret of Cortona. This saint can be somewhat overlooked because today is also the feast of the Chair of St Peter.

St Margaret lived in the 13th century and she seems to have been a promiscuous and rebellious teenager. She gave birth to a son but never married his father. After nine years the father of the child died, probably as a result of a murder. This shock helped bring about a conversion of life for Margaret. It wasn’t easy for her, and she had to fight valiantly against temptations to return to her former life. She became a Franciscan tertiary, and with the assistance of others who were drawn to her growing sanctity, she cared for the poor and established a hospital in Cortona.

We see the truth of Fr Doyle’s words in the life of St Margaret and indeed in the life of many saints – Confession and conversion are less about our accusation of sins, and more about God’s mercy and grace.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts for February 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. Oh, I think that this is so true. I don’t know that I will ever be able to explain it ,but St. Ignatius just helped put the world right and myself in relation to it and God. He brings you to an awareness of your sin but almost as soon as he helps you do this , your right there in the lap of God’s love and Mercy. Good to know we can change with his love, no matter where or who we have been…Thanks, Padre…

  2. Pat, I’m going to repost on my blog soon an address given to the Maynooth Summer School in 1957 (on ‘Priests and People in Ireland’) that I think you’ll enjoy. It deals with some of these issues.

    As for the specific features of Irish Catholicism, unfortunately many liberal commentators in the media whine interminably about church ‘power’, completely failing to recognize that the reason the Church was powerful was because the people wanted the Church to be powerful. Or rather the Church didn’t have ‘power’ so much as the force of public opinion. A people make up a church not vice versa. The Church was pretty much always a reflection of what people wanted at the time. In 1950s Ireland that meant Catholicism was paternalistic, self-assured and venerated.

    PS. Chevalier Thomas McGreevy writes the following in Vexilla Regis, 1951. I haven’t read Wall but it sounds fascinating.

    “These gentle dead sometimes accused of having brought Jansenism into Ireland. My friend, Dr. Tom Wall, has written admirably on this silly accusation and on the whole history of the remarkable part played by Irish priests in Paris in the Jansenist controversy. The so-called Jansenism of late nineteenth century Ireland was nothing more than an element of Victorianism that came over with the compulsory English after the Famine.”

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