Thoughts for July 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sunset in Dun Laoghaire, very near where Fr Doyle grew up

The soft chimes of the angelus bell mark the fall of evening. Another day is gone. Another precious day, our measurement of God’s most precious gift, time, has passed away and is swallowed up in the vast gulf of the irrevocable past. Another day has passed! Another stage of our journey towards our final end is traversed. Nearer still than yesterday to that solemn moment of our lives, its end; nearer still to heaven with its joys unknown, untasted; nearer still to Him for Whom we labour now and strive to serve. How many more days are left? Too few alas! for all we have to do, but not so few that we cannot heap them high with noble deeds and victories bravely won.

COMMENT: Each day brings us closer to our death, and to our judgement…

This is a deeply sobering thought. Once again, these sobering thoughts can tempt us to downplay them or to scrub them from our minds. But death is the ONE thing we cannot ultimately ignore. The fact of our death, and that each day brings us closer to it, is an incontrovertible truth. Our last day on earth will come, perhaps sooner than we would like. Ignoring this fact does not make it any less true.

It has traditionally been a common feature of Catholic spirituality to meditate on the Four Last Things: death, judgement, Heaven and Hell. Many saints had the habit of keeping skulls with them in order to remind them of death.

This focus on death need not make us morose, and in fact can encourage us to joyfully make the most of the time that we do have on earth. And, as Christians, we must also remember that death is not the end, but, if we die in a state of grace, is the start of a joyful eternity. Fr Doyle lived with death every day for two years in the trenches. At any moment he could have been killed; practically every day he anointed men in the last minutes of their lives. Despite this he retained his constant joy and cheerfulness.

Remembering the fact of our death allows us to make the most of our lives. We are alive for a purpose; our human life is vitally important as it is the training ground for eternity. How easy it could be to waste days listlessly if we ignored the shortness of our time on earth.

Time is a great gift, the existence of which allows us to change and to grow closer to God. When we consider the sins of our lives, we should, as Fr Doyle says, use the opportunities of each day “to heap them high with noble deeds and victories bravely won”. These deeds will normally be composed of the ordinary activities of the moment and hidden faithfulness to our duty that is hardly discerned by any passer-by. But this faithfulness day by day can allow us to face the prospect of death with the cheerfulness that characterised Fr Doyle’s apostolate in the killing fields of World War I.

Perhaps it is worth concluding today with two lines from The Imitation of Christ:

Always remember your end and do not forget that lost time never returns.

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide.

One thought on “Thoughts for July 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. In the summer of 1976, when I was on my first visit home to Ireland after nearly five years in the Philippines, the BBC had a number of excellent programmes to mark the 60th anniversary of The Somme. That had just been a name to me as I grew up in an Ireland where the participation of Irish soldiers in the Great War wasn’t spoken much about, though I knew that some of our neighbours were veterans.

    On one programme, presented by Leo McKern, there was a poignant moment that still moves me when I think of it. An old soldier was recalling an evening at the front rather like the one in the beautiful photo of Dún Laoghaire and the one Father Willie was writing about, though he may not have written that at the front. A group of soldiers were relaxing and one of them sang ‘When you come to the end of a perfect day’.

    By the same token, a few years later here in the Philippines I was looking at the tapes of a TV series about ‘The Troubles’ in Ireland in the second decade of the last century. An old man from Northern Ireland, a Protestant as it happened, spoke of the ‘pall of sorrow’ that hung over Ulster for months after The Somme. So many families had lost a loved one. It was the first time that I realised that The Somme is part of Irish history.

    You have pointed out how Father Willie was revered and respected by soldiers from all parts of Ireland, Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists.

    Father Willie’s words remind me of the riposte of another Jesuit, the late Fr Leonard Shiels, during a Lenten retreat to teenage boys in Aughrim St Parish, Dublin, around 1960 or 1961. He held a forum in a hall in the parish one evening and when it came time for questions one lad, trying to be smart, asked Father Shiels, ‘What time is it?’ The Jesuit shot back with a smile, ’15 minutes nearer to your judgment day!’ That got a great cheer from the rest of us and shut up the lad.

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