The picture above is a copy of the last written words (that we know of) from Fr Doyle. They were written 94 years ago today, and were written just two days before his death. They read as follows:
I have told you all my escapes, dearest Father, because I think what I have written will give you the same confidence which I feel, that my old arm chair up in Heaven is not ready yet, and I do not want you to be uneasy about me. I am all the better for these couple of days rest, and am quite on my fighting legs again. Leave will be possible very shortly, I think, so I shall only say au revoir in view of an early meeting. Heaps of love to every dear one. As ever, dearest Father, your loving son, Willie. 14/8/17.
And as ever, Fr Doyle was thinking of others, even amongst the mess and strain of the trenches. Could we honestly say that we would have a similar concern for others if we found ourselves in the same situation that Fr Doyle was in?
Today of course, is also the feast of St Maximilian Kolbe (or at least it would be if it were not a Sunday), one of the shining examples of holiness and apostolic zeal of the twentieth century. It is interesting that St Maximilian, who was so devoted to Mary, was given the grace of martyrdom on the eve of the feast of the Assumption, while Fr Doyle, who always reported receiving special graces from Mary on this particular feast, received his long desired wish for martyrdom immediately after this feast. Their martyrdoms are also quite similar. St Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who was to be killed in the concentration camp as an act of revenge by the Nazis for the escape of a prisoner. Fr Doyle was blown up while trying to rescue, and bring the sacraments to, some wounded soldiers. Both St Maximilian and Fr Doyle are martyrs of charity who laid down their lives to save others.
Like Fr Doyle in the trenches of World War 1, and St Teresa Benedicta at Auschwitz (who we discussed on last week), St Maximilian’s body was entirely destroyed by the Nazis, although there are still some first class relics of St Maximilian due to a barber who cleverly kept some of his hair when it was being cut. Interestingly, there are also some very precious first class relics of Fr Doyle – the letters on which he wrote with his own blood. This was not an unusual thing at that time. The much loved St Therese, for example, wrote the Apostle’s Creed in her own blood in order to counter the temptations against the faith that she was encountering at the end of her life.
We shall return to this issue of the destruction of the body of martyrs with some reflections from St Ignatius of Antioch and St Patrick on Tuesday when we remember Fr Doyle’s anniversary. In the meantime, those who want to read more about St Maximilian’s spirituality could fruitfully read some reflections from Fr John Hardon SJ here: