The First Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

We are now about half way through Lent. At this stage it is easy for our dedication to wane somewhat; the enthusiasm of Ash Wednesday is behind us; the solemnity and beauty of Holy Week is still a few weeks away.

This seems to be an appropriate time to introduce the Stations of the Cross based on the writings of Fr Doyle. For each of the next 14 days a meditation from his writings on one of the Stations will be posted on the site, without the usual daily comment. The images accompanying these meditations are the images of the Stations in St Raphael’s Church in Surrey, England (http://www.straphael.org.uk) and are used with the kind permission of the parish.

The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned To Death

Around the judgement seat are grouped a motley crowd. Men and women of every rank, the high-born Jewish maiden, the rough Samaritan woman; haughty Scribes and proud Pharisees mingle with the common loafer of the great city. Hatred has united them all for one common object; hatred of One Who ever loves them and to their wild fury has only opposed acts of gentle kindness. A mighty scream goes up, a scream of fierce rage and angry fury, such a sound as only could be drawn from the very depths of hell. “Death to Him! Death to the false prophet!”. He has spent His life among you doing good – Let Him die! He has healed your sick, given strength to the palsied, sight to your blind – Let Him die! He has raised your dead – Let death be His fate!

Thoughts for March 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

You will be glad to know, as I was, that the ninth edition (90,000 copies) of my little book Vocations is rapidly being exhausted. After my ordination, when I began to be consulted on this important subject, I was struck by the fact that there was nothing one could put into the hands of boys and girls to help them to a decision, except ponderous volumes, which they would scarcely read. Even the little treatise by St. Liguori which Fr. Charles gave me during my first visit to Tullabeg, and which changed the whole current of my thoughts, was out of print. I realized the want for some time; but one evening as I walked back to the train after dining with you, the thought of the absolute necessity for such a book seized me so strongly, (I could almost point out the exact spot on the road), that there and then I made up my mind to persuade someone to write it, for I never dreamt of even attempting the task myself.

I soon found out that the shortest way to get a thing done is to do it yourself, or rather God in His goodness had determined to make use of me, because I was lacking in the necessary qualifications to get His work done…

I remember well when the MSS. — which does not stand for ‘ Mrs ‘ as Brother Frank Hegarty read out once in Clongowes: ‘St. Jerome went off to Palestine carrying his Missus’ — had passed the censors to my great surprise, the venerable manager of the Messenger Office began shaking his head over the prospect of its selling, for as he said with truth, “It is a subject which appeals to a limited few.” He decided to print 5,000, and hinted I might buy them all myself!

Then when the pamphlet began to sell and orders to come in fast, I began to entertain the wild hope that by the time I reached the stage of two crutches and a long white beard, I might possibly see the 100,000 mark reached. We are nearly at that now without any pushing or advertising, and I hope the crutches and flowing beard are still a long way off. God is good, is He not? As the second edition came out only in the beginning of 1914 the sale has been extra ordinarily rapid. It is consoling from time to time to receive letters from convents or religious houses, saying that some novice had come to them chiefly through reading Vocations; for undoubtedly there are many splendid soldiers lost to Christ’s army for the want of a little help and encouragement. . . . A welcome gift from a benefactor, not a benefactress this time, has just reached me in the shape of a donation of £3 to distribute a thousand free copies of Vocations. The donor believes that if one cannot oneself volunteer for the war, the next best thing is to try to get someone else to do so.

One never can tell into what generous heart the good seed may fall, or the number of souls that possibly may be saved by this distribution. May God bless him and send along a thousand more imitators, for “the harvest is great and the labourers few” said our Blessed Lord, and He ought to know!

COMMENT: This is the text of the second last letter Fr Doyle ever wrote. It was written from the trenches on 25 July, 1917, about 3 weeks before his death. It was written to Fr Doyle’s father and the title “Bits and scraps for an old man’s breakfast” was written on top.

I chose this letter for today’s quote as today is Fr Doyle’s father’s anniversary. Hugh Doyle died on this day in 1924 at the ripe old age of 92.

Fr Doyle clearly had a close relationship with his father. It is due to this relationship that we know so much about his experiences in the war as he wrote many letters home to his father. He clearly missed his father and wanted to reassure him that all was well.

One of the striking characteristics of his letters to his father was their remarkable cheerfulness. Here he is, surrounded by death and squalor, including in his letter the charming story of St Jerome’s missus! We see this tendency in many of Fr Doyle’s letters to his father. It illustrates Fr Doyle’s own virtue and concern for others, as well as his filial love.

There is one further charming story about Hugh Doyle. One night in 1922 (he would have been 89 or 90) he was disturbed by a burglar who made him get up and open all of the drawers. As he was ransacking the drawers he came across a photo of Fr Doyle who had been dead for 5 years at this stage. The burglar became excited and asked who it was. Fr Doyle said that it was his son who had given his life for the soldiers in Flanders. The robber responded by saying “That was a holy priest, he saved many souls”. He then took the card, kissed it, put it in his pocket, and left the house!

Let us remember the repose of the soul of Mr Hugh Doyle in our prayers today.

Thoughts for the Third Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

Make your prayer simple, as simple as you can; reason little, love much, and you will pray well.

COMMENT: There is perhaps a danger in presenting this quote from Fr Doyle today. I am not exactly sure who Fr Doyle was writing to when he wrote these lines, but almost certainly it was somebody in religious life, probably a nun.

The spirituality of 100 years ago was somewhat different from today. There were numerous manuals on prayer. They had the great advantage of providing some sort of framework for the spiritual life, but they perhaps also came with the disadvantage of making the entire process too formulaic, at least for some people.

Today’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form of the Mass recounts Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Let us read again Christ’s words:

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

And later:

Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

In his message for Lent, Pope Benedict comments as follows on this Gospel passage:

The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.

Simple prayer, based on love, will bring us this living water. As St Teresa of Avila, commenting on prayer, tells us:

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much.

This, of course, is easier said than done! The Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass today gives us some further insight. Jesus tells us:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.

How often our hearts are divided. We say we want God, but yet we indulge in sinful habits, often without the necessary struggle against them. We cannot find that living water with a weak, divided will. We cannot succeed with only simple, loving prayer unless we try to control our conflicted heart.

St Teresa, Fr Doyle, and presumably the nun he was writing to were all capable of this simple prayer of love because they struggled to conquer their divided hearts. That is one of the secrets of Lent. We should wage a battle against our sinful habits so that we can find Christ, the Living Water, and love Him with an undivided heart.

Let us not squander the opportunity that Lent presents to us.

Thoughts for the Annunciation from Fr Willie Doyle

Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her?

COMMENT: Today we celebrate the great feast of the Annunciation. Mary’s Yes was a pivotal moment in our salvation history and indeed in the history of the world.

Mary didn’t know the full implications of her acceptance of God’s will. Yet she didn’t hesitate. She abandoned herself to God with utter faith. How different things would have been without her faithful acceptance…

And how different things would have been without Fr Doyle’s yes to God. How many priests and religious owed their vocations to his writings? How many souls converted through his preaching? How many soldiers saved and consoled by his loving presence and ministry in the trenches?

And what of us? How many people depend on our faithfulness to our vocation, whatever that may be…

Blessed John Henry Newman tells us:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

Let us turn today to Mary, that she may help us understand our vocation in life more clearly and persevere in it with greater fidelity.

Thoughts for March 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

The great defect in my character and chief reason why I make so little progress is my want of fidelity. Thus in the past eighteen months I have not marked the ejaculations and acts of self-denial over three hundred times.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers here to his tendency of keeping meticulous records about numerous aspects of his spiritual life. Many saints, especially Jesuits, kept detailed spiritual records in order to review their progress day by day and to ensure that they were aware of any slippage in their acts of devotion. Fr Doyle was generally very conscientious in keeping his “spiritual accounts” up to date.

It is consoling to read about this period of time in which Fr Doyle did not keep his records up to date so often, presumably due to being busy or overwhelmed with others tasks (and it is especially helpful to me as it eases my guilt about those days when the normal duties of work and family life prevent me from keeping the website up to date!).

The key issue that we might consider in today’s quote is that of fidelity. Fr Doyle is correct – we will not make progress unless we are faithful to our resolutions. We see this in so many areas of our life. We will not advance in study unless we are faithful in our work; we will not become fitter unless we remain faithful to our physical exercises. The same principle holds true for our spiritual life. We must strive to remain faithful to our resolutions. However, there will inevitably be times when we fail and when we lack fidelity. In such a situation we don’t give into discouragement which is one of the greatest weapons of the enemy. Rather, we pick ourselves up and start again.

We are now over one third of the way through Lent. Have we been faithful to our resolutions? If not, it doesn’t mean that we just give up – we still have about two thirds of Lent left. This is plenty of time for us to show our fidelity and in that process to grow in holiness.

Thoughts for March 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy.

COMMENT: Courage, more commonly referred to as fortitude, is one of the cardinal virtues. It is impossible to live a holy life without it. In fact, it is also probably impossible to live a happy life in the purely worldly sense without it. As St Teresa of Avila, herself no stranger to this virtue, once said:

To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.

We see many examples of courage in the life of Fr Doyle. Most obviously, his simply astounding courage during the war comes immediately to mind. If that doesn’t qualify as “heroic virtue” I don’t know what does! But Fr Doyle exhibited courage and fortitude throughout his life. Even as a student before ordination he had to confront persistent illness and fought long and hard to succeed in study. Here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit who lived with him before he was ordained:

Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise.

This courage was not necessarily innate within Fr Doyle; he continuously prayed for this gift. As he says in one part of his diary:

With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me.

All saints demonstrated courage to a heroic degree, but in some cases this virtue seems to shine out with special grandeur. Today the Church celebrates two such men.

The torture of St Nicholas Owen

St Nicholas Owen was a Jesuit lay brother who died in 1606. He was a carpenter by trade, and it was he who perfected the art of constructing priest-holes in Elizabethan England. He travelled in disguise and worked quietly at night while the household was asleep, for it was dangerous to allow others to know the nature of his work. His work was so exceptional that he undoubtedly saved the lives of many priests. As Fr John Gerard, the remarkable Jesuit missionary of that era who chronicled his exploits in a fascinating memoir noted:

I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.

This, of course, made St Nicholas a prime target for capture. When he was himself arrested, he was subjected to the most horrific tortures in order to make him reveal the secrets of his hiding holes. Remarkably, he withstood all attempts to break him, and he died while being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. He was a true hero and a man of courage.

Blessed Clemens August von Galen

We also celebrate today the feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933-1946. He was a staunch opponent of both the Communists and Nazis, and, despite threats and violence, he preached fearlessly against the Nazi death-culture and in defence of the Church. He is popularly known as the Lion of Münster in recognition of his courage. More can be read about him here: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcgovern/vongalb.html

Fr Doyle showed his courage in the First World War, Blessed Clemens demonstrated his in the Second World War and St Nicholas Owen stood firm during the Elizabethan persecution. Most people reading this site do not live in the midst of such dramatic circumstances, and for that perhaps we should be thankful. But we are still called to live with heroic courage in our ordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note that All thrre exhibited their greatest courage in fulfilling their vocations – Fr Doyle as a military chaplain; St Nicholas Owen as a carpenter and Blessed Clemens as a bishop fearlessly proclaiming the truth, even though it was politically unpopular.

Daily life will also provide many opportunities for us to demonstrate our own fortitude, most often in overcoming our own personal defects and weaknesses. As Fr Doyle once noted in a letter:

For your consolation remember that everyone I have ever met found the struggle for perfection hard because most of the work is done in the dark. It is a question of faith and courage, going along bravely day after day,

Thoughts for March 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.

COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. In a certain sense, this scene shows us the power of grace to transform our soul. While the transfiguration, as such, was unique to Christ, it does seem that saints have been “transformed” in some way by grace. We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of the soon-to-be-beatified Pope John Paul II perceived that he reflected this heavenly grace. Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, internal holiness manifests itself externally in some fashion.

We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:

Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.