Thoughts for the Feast of the Visitation from Fr Willie Doyle

To Mary’s feet in heaven today the angels come in never-ending stream to lay before her the offerings of her loving earthly children. To their Queen they bear fair wreaths of lovely roses. In many a lonely cottage or amid the bustle of the great city have these crowns been formed. Little ones and old folk, the pious nun and holy priest, the sinner too and many a wandering soul, have added to the glory of the Queen of Heaven; and from every corner of this earth to-day has risen the joyous praise of her who is Queen of the Holy Rosary. On earth she was the lowly handmaid of the Lord, and now all generations proclaim the greatness of her name. 

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Visitation in which we commemorate the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. In this scene we find Mary being an instrument of grace, bringing Jesus to Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist. We see Mary’s humility and concern for others in her travel in “haste” to assist Elizabeth. And it is from today’s feast that we derive some of the most beautiful Marian prayers.

Fr Doyle tells us that from all around the world prayers rise to Mary in her honour. There is a beautiful tradition in Rome – the Pope leads a rosary procession around the Vatican Gardens with members of the public on the evening of this feast every year.

We shall conclude today with these words from St Bernard, Doctor of the Church.

O Mary, how great is your humility when you hasten to serve others. If it is true that he who humbles himself will be exalted, who will be more exalted than you who have humbled yourself so much?

When Elizabeth caught sight of you she was astonished and exclaimed: “Whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” But I am still more astonished to see that you, as well as your Son, came not to be served, but to serve…

Humility did not make you fainthearted, magnanimity did not make you proud, but these two virtues were perfectly combined in you! O Mary, you cannot give me a share in your great privileges as Mother of God; these belong to you alone! But you want me to share in your virtues, giving me examples of them in yourself. If, then, sincere humility, magnanimous faith, and delicate sympathetic charity are lacking in me, how can I excuse myself? O Mary, O Mother of mercy, you who are full of grace, nourish us, your poor little ones, with your virtues!

Memorial Day

Perhaps some people in the US will end up here today, Memorial Day, when researching military chaplains.

If you arrive here for the first time today, welcome! Watch this short video for a brief introduction to the life and spirit of Fr Willie Doyle, a rock solid military chaplain and heroic “martyr” of charity.

Thoughts for May 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

We must be intellectually pious, that is, our piety should rest on the bedrock of principle, and not on mood, on sentiment, on spiritual consolation. 

COMMENT: In the Gospel of St Matthew Jesus tells us that it is an unfaithful and wicked generation that looks for a sign. But despite this, how many of us continue along this path, seeking consolations and signs in all sorts of ways? There are those who are overly fascinated with apparitions and with miracles and signs and wonders and with the mystical gifts of saints rather than with their witness of heroic virtue. These things are not bad in themselves, but they can be a distraction in our spiritual life, for they do not touch upon the truly essential thing. Our task is to love God simply because he is God. 

It is true that God may for a time give us special consolations and gifts, especially early in our spiritual journey and perhaps later as we progress. However, it is also likely that we will face many periods of dryness along the way as well. Many of the saints experienced long periods of spiritual darkness, but they persevered because they loved Jesus. They were not mercenaries… 

St Josemaria has expressed the attitude we should adopt very succinctly: 

When you go to pray, let this be a firm resolution: Don’t prolong your prayer because you find consolation in it or shorten it because you feel dry.

St Josemaria Escriva

Thoughts for May 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

Dear Sir — One is often struck, on glancing over the papers, at the numerous appeals made to provide ‘comforts for our troops,’ but no one ever seems to think that the souls of those who have fallen in battle may possibly be in need of much greater comfort than the bodies of their comrades who survive .

With all the spiritual help now at their disposal, even in the very firing line, we may be fairly confident that few, if any, of our Catholic men are unprepared to meet Almighty God. That does not mean they are fit for Heaven. God’s justice must be fully satisfied, and the debt of forgiven sin fully atoned for in Purgatory. Hence I venture to appeal to the great charity of your readers to provide ‘comforts for our dead soldiers’ by having Masses offered for their souls. Remembrance of our dead and gratitude are virtues dear to every Irish heart. Our brave lads have suffered and fought and died for us. They have nobly given their lives for God and country. It is now our turn to make some slight sacrifice, so that they may soon enter into the joy of eternal rest. — Very faithfully yours, NEMO. 

COMMENT: This letter appeared in the Irish Catholic on this day in 1917. The author was, of course, Fr Doyle himself, who, due to his characteristic humility, wished to disguise his identity and write under a pseudonym. 

Was there any limit to his care for the soldiers? He looked after their physical needs, he shared his meagre food with them, he gave up all comfort and even life itself in order to bring the sacraments to them. And here, in the midst of all his other activities, he found time to write a letter back home to encourage Masses for the dead. What a simple, yet loving, act this was. He was willing to sacrifice his time to provide aid for the souls of Irish soldiers in purgatory. 

Perhaps we can examine our conscience on this issue today. Do we pray for the dead? Do we remember our deceased loved ones? Do we take time out of our busy lives to write letters or emails to those who would appreciate it? Do we write letters to newspapers to defend the Church in the midst of the persecutions she faces in these times? If Fr Doyle, facing death every day, found time to do this, do we have any real excuse? 

Today is also the feast of St Philip Neri, who died in 1595. St Philip is one of those remarkable, lovable saints. There are many aspects of St Philip’s life that are similar to that of Fr Doyle’s. Both were renowned for their cheerfulness and love of practical jokes; both had a very affectionate and passionate love for Christ which revealed itself with the tenderness with which they greeted religious items and statues; both longed to go on the missions but could not – St Philip understood that Rome was to be his Indies. Both were devoted to the ministry of the Confessional. In fact, St Philip was one of the truly great confessors who was given the mystical gift of reading souls. In relation to today’s quote from Fr Doyle about the souls in Purgatory, we can recall that St Philip was always concerned about these departed souls, and when he approached death he begged those whose confessions he heard to say a rosary for his own soul after death. St Philip is one of those very lovable saints who is perhaps not as widely known today as he should be, especially in English speaking countries.

Remarkably, St Philip also has a military connection – he is the patron saint of the US Special Forces. I’m not quite sure why, so if anybody knows please leave a comment!

Thoughts for May 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

One German prisoner, badly wounded in the leg, was brought in. He knew only a few words of English, but spoke French fluently. I try to do all I can for the unfortunate prisoners, as sometimes not much sympathy is shown them, and they have evidently been drilled into believing that we promptly roast and eat them alive. I gave him a drink, made him as comfortable as possible, and then seeing a rosary in his pocket, asked him was he a Catholic. ‘I am a Catholic priest,’ I said, ‘and you need not have any fear’. 

‘Ah’, he replied,you are a true priest’. He gave me his home address in Germany, and asked me to write to his parents. ‘Poor father and mother will be uneasy,’ he said, as his eyes filled with tears. ‘O my God, how I am suffering, but I offer it all up to You’. I hope to get a letter through by means of the Swiss Red Cross, which will be a comfort to his anxious parents, who seem good pious souls. 

COMMENT: This incident occurred on this day in 1917. It demonstrates Fr Doyle’s kindness to everyone he met, even to one who was probably firing shells at him just a few days previously. There are many other recorded instances of Fr Doyle’s kindness to German prisoners. He fed them, tended to their wounds, found them something to eat or drink. 

In this way he reflected his Master who told us to love our enemies and that whatever we do for others should be considered as done to Christ also.  

Thoughts for May 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am continuing to work through the rather large pile of corrections that sit before me. However, in an attempt to get back to normal, here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on the incidents that happened on this day in 1917. Once again, his balance and good humour are remarkable. 

The enemy for once did me a good turn. I had arranged to hear the men’s confessions shortly before he opened fire, and a couple of well directed shells helped my work immensely by putting the fear of God into the hearts of a few careless boys who might not have troubled about coming near me otherwise. I wonder were the Sacraments ever administered under stranger circumstances? Picture my little dug-out (none too big at any time) packed with men who had dashed in for shelter from the splinters and shrapnel coming down like hail. In one corner is kneeling a poor fellow recently joined — who has not ‘knelt to the priest’ as the men quaintly say, for many a day — trying to make his Confession. I make short work of that, for a shower of clay and stones falling at the door is a gentle hint that the ‘crumps’ are getting uncomfortably near, and I want to give him Absolution in case an unwelcome visitor should walk in. Then, while the ground outside rocks and seems to split with the crash of the shells, I give them all Holy Communion, say a short prayer, and perform the wonderful feat of packing a few more men into our sardine tin of a house. . 

As soon as I got the chance, I slipped round to see how many casualties there were, for I thought not a mouse could survive the bombardment. Thank God, no one was killed or even badly hit, and the firing having ceased, we could breathe again. I was walking up the trench from the dressing station when I suddenly heard the scream of another shell. … It was then I realized my good fortune. There are two ways to my dug-out, and naturally I choose the shorter. This time, without any special reason, I went by the longer way; and it was well I did, for the shell pitched in the other trench, and probably would have caught me nicely as I went by. But instead of that it wreaked its vengeance on my unfortunate orderly, who was close by in his dug-out, sending him spinning on his head but other wise not injuring him I found another string of men awaiting my return in order to get Confession and Holy Communion. In fact I had quite a busy evening, thanks once more to Fritz’s High Explosive, which has a wonderful persuasive effect of its own. I am wondering how many pounds of high explosive I shall require when giving my next retreat!

Thoughts for May 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

You would throw up your hands in horror were you to see my room at the present moment. It is a scene of chaos and disorder that would discourage and frighten even that patient and persevering arranger of confusion and disorder, the Little Mother (Fr Doyle’s nickname for his mother). For the past week examinations have been in full swing. Now it is a comparatively easy task to sit down and set an examination paper that will keep a couple of hundred boys hard at work for three hours; but it is quite a different proposition to wade through and correct the output of the said boys during these hours. Can you wonder, then, that my pale and emaciated countenance grew still paler and more emaciated, and that my hair, usually so well behaved, stood on end, as day by day I watched the pile of examination papers rise higher on my table? But gazing would never reduce that pile, so with a cry to heaven for help I plunged at it and fought my way through to the last sheet. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this letter to his father while he was a seminarian. Between 1894-1898 he was stationed in Clongowes school as a teacher and prefect. It is interesting to note that he never lost his good humour in writing to his father. In fact, it seemed to intensify over time. His letters written 20 years later from the war show an even more exuberant joy. 

I cannot personally identify with Fr Doyle’s cheerfulness at the prospect of exam correction, but I can identify with his hair standing on end. The photograph below show the exam papers on my desk that I have to correct over the coming period. The bottle of water is for perspective… 

So, apologies that posts have been a bit sporadic over the past week and apologies in advance if they will be a bit sporadic over the next few days. Like Fr Doyle, I will cry to heaven for help, and hopefully business will eventually return to normal…


Thoughts for Vocations Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

I do not know if I have told you of a scheme which I have in my mind to help poor boys who are anxious to be priests. Before the war I came in contact with a number of very respectable lads and young men, whose one desire was to work for God and the salvation of souls, but who, for want of means, were not able to pursue their studies. I was able to help some of them and get them free places in America or England, with a couple at Mungret, but the number of applicants was far in excess of the resources. 

One day having successfully negotiated or missed a couple of shells, I was struck instead by a happy idea. I was coming home on leave and made up my mind to make an experiment with my new idea, which was this. I gave a little talk to the Sodality of the Children of Mary in a certain convent in Dublin on the need for priests at the present time, and what a glorious work it was to help even a single lad to become one of the ‘Lord’s Anointed.’ I told them how many were longing for this honour, and suggested that they should adopt some poor boy and pay for his education until he was ordained. Two hundred girls subscribing 5/- a year would provide £50, more than enough for the purpose. I suggested that this money ought to be the result of some personal sacrifice, working overtime, making a hat or dress last longer, etc., but as a last resource they might collect the 5/- or some of it. 

The idea was taken up most warmly: nearly all the money for this year is paid in, though the girls are nearly all factory hands, and the lucky boy will begin his college course in September. I am hoping when the cruel war is over to get the other convents to follow suit; for the scheme is simple and no great burden on any one, and is a ready solution of the financial difficulty and should bring joy to many a boy’s heart. Certain difficulties naturally suggest themselves, but I think we may safely count a little at least on our Blessed Lord’s help, since the work is being done for Him, and go on with confidence. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter home to his father in July 1917, just three weeks before his death. How remarkable that, even in the midst of some of his darkest days in the war that he was planning future apostolic initiatives. It is even more extraordinary that he launched this initiative when on leave from the Front, when most other people would simply take life easy and enjoy a well earned rest. 

Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We all have a vocation in life, and our sanctity largely depends on our conformity with that vocation and our fulfilment of the duties that attach to that vocation. 

However, this is a day when we specifically pray for priestly and religious vocations. That isn’t because the vocation to the married or single life aren’t important or aren’t valid paths to sanctity. They clearly are paths to great holiness if they are embraced with fidelity and generosity. Instead, we pray today for priestly and religious vocations because the Church needs these vocations and because Christ still calls people to follow Him in this special way and because this call is often harder to discern, harder to follow and harder to persevere with in the cultural context in which we live. 

Fr Doyle was an enthusiastic and effective promoter of vocations. Not only did he provide spiritual direction for those discerning a call, he also provided practical help as well. In addition to the above mentioned fundraising schemes he also helped to place young women in convents. Specifically, found places in convents around the world (including America, Australia and South America) for women who could not find a suitable convent in Ireland. Let us remember that this was before the advent of the internet! Fr Doyle’s global efforts show the importance he placed on vocations. 

Some of Fr Doyle’s most famous pamphlets were on vocations, and links to them can be found here. 

Shall I be a Priest? 

Vocations.

These pamphlets sold tens of thousands during his life, surpassing all expectations. What a consolation it must have been for him when he received letters from priests and nuns informing him that his writings helped them discern their true calling. 

The power of Fr Doyle’s writing was still operating decades after his death. Recently I received a letter from a retired English priest. He reported that, when he was a soldier in the Second World War his chaplain gave him a copy of Shall I be a Priest, and that it was this pamphlet that set him on the road to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1953. Years later he met the chaplain again, and was informed that at least 11 other soldiers who had been given the pamphlet went on to become priests. 

Perhaps Fr Doyle’s words are bearing fruit, even to this day…

Thoughts for May 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

I saw many interesting places and things during my weeks of travel. But over all hung a big cloud of sadness, for I realised as I never did before how utterly the world has forgotten Jesus except to hate and outrage Him, the fearful, heart-rending amount of sin visible on all sides, and the vast work for souls that lies before us priests. My feelings at times are more than I can describe. The longing to make up to our dear Lord for all He is suffering is overwhelming, and I ask Him, since somehow my own heart seems indifferent to His pleading, to give me the power to do much and very much to console Him. 

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We are not obliged to believe in the authenticity of apparitions. However, the Church has approved of the Fatima apparitions and the popes since then have shown a special interest in them. 

Fr Doyle’s quote today is quite apt for this feast, for the apparitions at Fatima are a call to conversion and a call to reparation for the sins of the world. Perhaps some people mistakenly think of Fatima in a negative manner or as something old fashioned or no longer relevant in the 21st century. But who can doubt that the world has forgotten Jesus more now than in 1917 when the apparitions occurred and when Fr Doyle died? Isn’t there more need for penance and reparation for the awful sins that have occurred since 1917? The Russian Revolution; the continuing horrors of the First World War; the persecution of the Church in Mexico and in Spain; the Second World War; the Communist persecution of the Church; the general breakdown of the family and sexual restraint and the sins connected to this, including abortion; the growth of aggressive secularism that seeks to remove the Church from the public square; the growth of materialism and the pursuit of wealth at all costs, even the destruction of our natural environment. And then there are the outrageous sins of those in the Church who should have loved and protected children but who instead preyed on them. And in all of this let us not forget our own sins, for none of us are innocent either… 

Truly there is an even greater need for penance and reparation now than there was in 1917. Yet there is always hope and mercy and God’s grace to help us get back on the right track. So while we have much to be sorrowful for, we also have much to be thankful for and there are indeed many signs of hope and of new growth in the Church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not withstand against the Church, and at Fatima Mary promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph… 

Today is also the 30th anniversary of the shooting of Blessed Pope John Paul. Let us also be thankful for his sacrifices for the reform of the Church and recommend ourselves to his powerful intercession.

Here is an interesting American news report on the assassination attempt from that night in 1981.


Thoughts for May 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Leopold Mandic

I find the temptation growing stronger every day to leave aside all work that is absolutely necessary and to spend the time with Jesus. Why does He make me realise so much His loneliness in the Tabernacle and His longing for ‘one to console Him’ and at the same time fill my hands with so many things to do? My room here is opposite the little oratory, only a thin partition separates the two rooms; and it is hard to sleep when I fancy I can almost hear the beating of His heart of love. He is always ‘calling’ and He seems so happy and consoled when I steal in to Him when everyone else is asleep and He is left alone. These moments before Him are rich in grace, especially recently, and I find it hard to think of anything but Jesus and His love. I long to open wide my heart and to let Him hide Himself there, deep, deep down, to bend over Him with tenderest love and give Him every mark of affection, to have Him transform me into Himself, so that I can exclaim ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me!’ (Gal. 2:20). 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 12 May 1913. 

Fr Doyle was clearly something of a mystic. His life of action in the trenches and his austere penances can tend to obscure this mystical aspect of his spirituality. Yet his diary around this time is full of these passionate exclamations of his love for God. This passion was in many ways the engine that propelled him towards greater acts of heroism in the apostolate and in penance. 

This same pattern of burning love for Christ can be found in the lives of all of the saints. There are (as usual!) several interesting similarities between Fr Doyle and one of today’s saints, Leopold Mandic, a Capuchin friar from Montenegro who spent much of his life in Padua and who died in 1942. 

St Leopold was one of the great saints of the confessional, often spending 10-15 hours per day hearing confessions in his small, unheated and unventilated room. While Fr Doyle often spent similar amounts of time hearing confessions when conducting missions, it was really during his period as chaplain when his devotion to confession became apparent as he often risked his life to hear the confessions of wounded soldiers. 

Fr Doyle is often remembered for his cheerful emphasis on personal austerity. We can find this same emphasis in St Leopold’s life and specifically in his advice to a penitent: 

It is not a question of performing extraordinary acts of penance. It suffices to patiently bear the common trials of our miserable life: misunderstandings, lack of gratitude, humiliations, sufferings caused by changes of season and the atmosphere in which we live.  God wills all this as a means to work out our Redemption. But in order for these trials to be efficacious and help our soul, we must not seek to flee from them by every possible means  Excessive care for comfort and constant search for ease, have nothing to do with the Christian spirit. That is certainly not taking the cross and following Jesus. Rather it’s running from it. And whoever suffers only what he could not avoid will hardly have any merits. 

St Leopold, like Fr Doyle, had a passionate love for Jesus. As he wrote once:

The love of Jesus is a fire which is fuelled with the wood of sacrifice and love for the cross; if it isn’t fed in that way, it goes out. 

St Leopold’s description of the life and death of holy priests aptly fits both his own life and that of Fr Doyle: 

A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest. 

The sanctity of some individuals seems to shine out from their faces; it seems to emanate from their being, even through the medium of photography. St Leopold is one such saint. May he intercede for us who continue our pilgrimage on this earth.