Thoughts for November 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life and even gives a loathing and disgust for its practice. It is not so evident that deliberate imperfections, and for religious repeated violation of rule, have the same result. These are the “little foxes,” attractive and apparently harmless creatures, which must be hunted down and destroyed…if the vineyard is not to perish. A soul given to sin or consciously violating the rules to which it has freely bound itself for life, will sigh in vain for the secret loving embraces of its Beloved.

COMMENT: We have, in general, lost the sense of sin in the world today. For modern culture, it seems as if anything goes. It’s hard not to become influenced by this prevailing opinion, and as a result we can end up easily yielding to sin and temptation because we no longer think it’s a big deal anymore.

We must of course avoid the other extreme of scrupulosity, and Fr Doyle was a very effective director for those afflicted with this problem.  

We are all called to perfection, but we will not reach that in one go, barring a miracle. Rather, we start where we are at. For some that will mean a struggle against habitual mortal sin; for others it is the struggle against deliberate venial sin and for the more advanced it will be a struggle against imperfections and omissions with respect to certain virtues.

Wherever we are at, we all have these “foxes” of whatever type that we must chase out of our lives. There’s no better time to start the chase than Advent and our preparation for Christmas!

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Thoughts for November 29 (Feast of All Franciscan Saints) from Fr Willie Doyle

During the winter I have done a penance which I shrink from and dread in a way which I cannot describe. I have had to drive myself by vow to perform it. I set my alarm for three o’clock when it is freezing, slip out of the house in my night-shirt and stand up to my neck in the pond, praying for sinners.

COMMENT: This particular act of penance on the part of Fr Doyle is a stumbling block for some people. While there is no suggestion that it was a bitterly cold winter night (some winter nights in Dublin can actually be quite mild), this act still seems to be too extreme for us. And that is because it IS too extreme, for US. Not everyone is called to the same types of penance. For most, indeed probably ALL of us reading this, standing in an icy lake in the middle of the night would be an indiscreet penance that would damage our health and be bad for us spiritually.

But thankfully we are not all the same. Some are called by a different road. It is clear that Fr Doyle was called to live a more intense life of penance than many others. He received the graces necessary to live this life. Five crucial points need to be borne in mind – 1. Fr Doyle NEVER encouraged anyone else to follow his example, and always encouraged others to offer small, simple sacrifices to God. 2. This particular penance did not damage Fr Doyle’s health or limit his capacity to perform his duties in life. On the contrary, his vigour in the war, and indeed in other aspects of his life, would seem to encourage us all to start having cold showers! 3. It seems clear from his notes and diaries that his spiritual director was aware of his penances, an important issue in ensuring that he acted within certain limits. Indeed, there is evidence that Fr Doyle modified his penance in response to suggestions from his confessor. 4. Physical penance was the norm in religious life during Fr Doyle’s lifetime. Fr Doyle’s penances must be understood in the context of his time.

The final point is the most important one of all. A precedent for all of Fr Doyle’s penances can be found in the lives of the saints. Indeed, many of the saints surpassed Fr Doyle’s penances. Compared to them, Fr Doyle’s penances were quite unremarkable.

This last point is relevant for us on today’s feast of All of the Franciscan saints. St Francis himself rolled in the snow as an act of penance. Often St Francis is misrepresented as a medieval hippy and peace activist. In reality he was a very tough ascetic who emptied himself completely so that he could be filled by God. Much the same can be said for many of the other Franciscan saints we celebrate today. Other saints have also practiced similar penances; St Benedict rolled in thorns while St Ignatius is known to have practiced the same penance of standing in a cold pond praying for sinners. It is probable that Fr Doyle was simply copying the example of his saintly founder. The extreme penances of many of the saints have not lessened our love and devotion for them…

Such activities are surely not for the rest of us; modern man is both physically and spiritually softer than his ancestors. But Catholic spirituality has room for many expressions of love and piety and we should not presume to impose our own caution on one who was called by a different path and who lived in a different spiritual climate. Indeed, it is likely that Fr Doyle’s heroism in the trenches can be traced directly back to the ways in which these types of penances fortified his will.

In conclusion, let us also be thankful that there have been, and indeed surely still are, great souls in the Church who offer their sufferings and penances for the rest of us. We sorely need them.

Thoughts for November 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

Do not try to run till you can walk well. Draw up a list of certain little sacrifices which you feel God is asking from you and which you know you will be able to give Him without very much difficulty: better be cowardly than too generous. Then, come what may, be faithful to your list and shake it in the face of the tempter when he suggests that you should give it up.

COMMENT: As always, Fr Doyle presents a sane and balanced spirituality to us. Constancy leads to success in all areas of life, whether it be in acquiring a new skill, in studying for exams or in the spiritual life. It was by constant effort that Fr Doyle grew spiritually to become the hero of the trenches.

His advice is also very relevant as we commence Advent. Often we forget that Advent is a time of penance and preparation. Perhaps it would be good to take Fr Doyle’s advice, and prepare a short list of small, specific sacrifices that we wish to make in preparation for Christmas? 

Thoughts for November 27 (First Sunday of Advent) from Fr Willie Doyle

The saints had ever a childlike confidence and trust in God. Upon Him they cast all their anxieties and cares, under His powerful protection they sheltered themselves, and with His almighty help they were ever strong. They lived in the present day alone, striving to bear with cheerful hearts the burden of the moment; the morrow’s work would bring its stream of graces to help them on their journey.

COMMENT:  Today we start the Church’s new year, and we start on our journey of preparation for Christmas. The importance of Advent is often forgotten in the West. Often it is seen as period of merriment and shopping and of Christmas parties. And when Christmas finally arrives, the consumer culture quickly turns off the lights and turns its attention towards the secular new year and the January sales…

Advent is a time of intense spiritual preparation for Christmas, and we should attempt to live it with the same enthusiasm with which we attempt to live Lent.

As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!

Let us then have the childlike confidence and trust in God to which Fr Doyle exhorts us today. We can count on streams of graces to help us over the coming weeks as we prepare to encounter the baby Jesus, born in poverty in a broken world, all for love of us.

St Josemaria Escriva

Thoughts for November 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail – good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.

COMMENT: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.

But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.

Thoughts for November 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try to take your days one by one as they come to you. The hard things of yesterday are past, and you are not asked to bear what to-morrow may have in store; so that the cross is really light when you take it bit by bit.

COMMENTS: What sane advice from a man who knew a thing or two about hardship! Often we multiply our hardship when we think about ongoing future problems. When we are sick we tend not to be able to imagine what it would be like to be well again or to have our energy back. When we face economic deprivation we tend to imagine that we will not see happier days.

Fr Doyle’s words today should give comfort to all those who suffer in any way. Let us follow his advice to live life bit by bit. We are not now asked to carry tomorrow’s burden. That burden may even be lighter than we think when it arrives. And when tomorrow’s burden arrives, today’s burden will have passed already.

Let us carry our cross day by day and bit by bit, consoled by the fact that we are never abandoned by our loving God.

Thoughts for November 24 (Thanksgiving) from Fr Willie Doyle

Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve You now till death.

COMMENT: We often refer in passing to events in Ireland on this blog. But there are many readers of this site from outside Ireland. Today in particular we think of our American friends who celebrate Thanksgiving today.

Even those who face troubles and woes of various types have much to be thankful for. The Lord has given us life and faith and many other blessings and graces all throughout our lives. He has protected us from problems and difficulties that we may not even be aware of. Most importantly of all, He desires union with us for eternity and designs all things to this end. We just need to co-operate with His plan and rely on His grace.

Let us be thankful for everything, for all we have comes to us as a gift from our Father.