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!

5 thoughts on “Thoughts for May 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. “St Phillip Neri was selected as the Patron Saint of Special Forces because he embodied the traits of the ideal Special Forces Soldier, Selfless, Superb Teacher, and Inspirational Leader.” (www.sfa9.org/philipneriaward.htm). Other US Army patrons: St. Maurice (infantry),St. George (armor), St. Barbara (artillery), St. Michael (airborne )

  2. Fr Doyle’s request here is one that needs to be emphasised today where we have so many instant’canonisations’ – and I don’t mean the ‘Santo Subito’ that many asked for when Blessed John Paul was being buried. I will use this letter at funerals and on other appropriate occasions.

    The instant’canonisations’ seem to have become common in Ireland, though they’re not as common in the Philippines. Many church funerals too have become ‘ celebrations of the life of so-and-so’ instead of requiem Masses. A celebration of the life of the deceased would be quite appropriate at the wake or at the meal that follows funerals in Ireland today.

    It’s good that many still say ‘God rest his soul’ and the like. I hear it from time to time on Irish radio. One broadcaster who uses it frequently is Gay Byrne, God bless him.

    Father Willie Doyle, unlike St Philip Neri, didn’t order that all his writing be burned after his death. Thank God for that!

  3. Fr. Doyle actually left a note that his private notes/diaries/correspondence be burned upon his death. After Fr. Doyle’s death his brother, Fr. Charles Doyle, SJ, went to dispose of his personal effects. He consulted with Fr. Willie Doyle’s Jesuit Superior and the Superior decided to go against his wishes and preserve most of his writings. (O’Rahilly, pp xvi – xviii.)

  4. Fr Coyle: Yes, I agree on the issue of “instant canonisations”. It is really a problem in Ireland, and it is most unfair both to the deceased and to those attending the funeral. There are two things we should do at a funeral: pray for the dead, and remember that we will inevitably follow them one day, perhaps sooner that we might like to imagine.

    Dave: you are correct about Fr Doyle’s writings. However, I suspect that there are quite a lot of other materials that have never made it into the public domain that O’Rahilly hints at in passing.

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