My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle experienced a major turning point in his life during his second 30-day experience of the Spiritual Exercises. This excerpt from his notes written at this time indicates in a small way the depth of this conversion. There are many elements of this reflection that are relevant for us today, but perhaps the one with most universal relevance is the importance of good example.
It is fascinating to read that Fr Doyle thought that he was a bad example to others, when we have numerous testimonies relating to his positive effect on those he lived with. But then again, it is a characteristic of those who are very holy that they consider themselves very weak and sinful. And in a certain sense they are right. Compared to us, the saints seem almost divine in their goodness, but compared with God, they remain abject, weak and full of imperfection.
But back to ourselves, and our bad example…
How many people might we have lead astray through our bad example? Maybe it was gossip. Maybe it was impatience. Maybe it was shoddiness in our work. If religious practice is declining, maybe it is because the lives of those who believe don’t shine out as compelling examples of joy and goodness to others. We see this so clearly in the case of crimes committed by the clergy; the scandal of abuse has wreaked havoc on the Church, especially in Ireland. But that does not absolve the rest of us, for our own hypocrisies also affect those around us in a negative fashion.
Not everyone has the opportunity, or talent, to preach publicly about our faith. But we all have the chance to preach through our good example. On his deathbed St Francis of Assisi told his friars to preach always, and when necessary to use words. Fr Doyle presents the same challenge to us today.