Thoughts for December 28 (Feast of the Holy Innocents) from Fr Willie Doyle

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power and hatred of Christ. It is a feast of great relevance for us today, for there are still plenty of those who hate Christ and who persecute those who follow Him. We think in a special way of those who were killed when attending Midnight Mass in Nigeria just a few days ago. Let us also remember that the century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and that even today, in the West, those who follow Christ face a dry martyrdom of scorn and insults and damaged careers.

We should also remember the holy innocents of our own era. Three particular categories come to mind. First there are those who are never given a chance of life and who are killed through abortion. Let us pray for an end of this crime, and let us pray in a very special way today for all of those mothers who feel that they have no option but abortion – may we always be ready to help them to choose life and to treat them with compassion. Secondly, we should remember today all of those children who have damaged by abuse, especially abuse by priests and religious. Even though only a small amount of abuse occurs in this way, it is a true outrage. May this scourge be finally and completely eradicated within the Church and within society in general, and may those who have suffered find peace and healing. Finally today we should pray for all of those children who have the innocence of their childhood destroyed by forces of materialism and early sexualisation and through ideological corruption. Many children lose their innocence so early these days. It is corny, but it is true – our children are our future and they need our prayers.

 I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood. Fr Doyle is well known for his work in the war, but these two and a half years were really just the culmination of an active and effective life of practical evangelisation.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent products of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerably less captive to his own culture than many others – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts for December 28 (Feast of the Holy Innocents) from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. Let us pray, not only for an end to abortion, but also to the scourge of contraception, without the acceptance of which we could never have gotten as far as abortion on demand. How many untold millions of children do not exist today because of contraceptives? And many contraceptives (e.g., the pill) are really abortifacients.

  2. I agree with you about abortion – an abuse of the God given skill placed in the hands of the medical profession (except maybe for an acute emergency.) However, I don’t agree about contraception, but then I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am someone who is a devoted follower of Fr. Doyle, human frailities and all!

    • Hi Carole: Many thanks for your comment. It is great to hear that there are non-Catholics who are interested in Fr Doyle! The non-Catholic soldiers who knew him in the war were badly affected by his death and held him in very high esteem for the services he rendered to them. He helped everyone no matter who they were, and risked his life for all.
      The blog is primarily about Fr Doyle and his life and message, but your comments have encouraged me to make two points:
      1. Yes, abortion is a great abuse, but we can also say with absolute certainty that abortion is NEVER needed to save a woman’s life. This really is one case in which we can really be definitive. In fact, being in Ireland allows me to say this with great certainty – we do not have abortion in Ireland, yet Ireland is (according to the UN) consistently the safest place in the world in which to have a baby. We have the lowest level of maternal mortality in the world.
      Abortion is the direct, intentional taking of an unborn baby’s life. There simply is never any instance where the only choice to save a woman involves the direct destruction of her unborn child’s life. Women do not die because of pregnancy; they may die because of an underlying medical condition. This condition needs to be treated even if the child’s life might be lost as an indirect side effect of the treatment. Deliberately destroying the unborn child does nothing to actually treat the underlying medical condition that’s causing the problem in the first place. Those situations in which the unborn die as a side effect of treatment are certainly not unethical or immoral and it is wrong for them to be classified as abortions.
      2. In relation to contraception, well that would take a lot of space to debate and that is beyond our scope here! However, I would point out that all Christian denominations opposed contraception until about the 1920’s – support for contraception really is a novelty in theological terms. Part of the rationale for opposing it is that there are two crucial elements of sexual union between men and women – the unitive and procreative, or in other words, expressing love and making babies. This is part of God’s design, and thus any form of sexual union which deliberately blocks one of these purposes of sexual intercourse is an abuse of God’s gift and is therefore sinful.
      This does not mean that one is obliged to keep having children. The Catholic Church teaches that we should be generous and open to life, but ALSO be prudent in the number and spacing of children when serious reasons for this exist. Natural family planning is as effective as medical forms of contraception but it does not abuse the procreative faculty. Admittedly, NFP takes discipline and some effort, but such effort also builds virtue.
      I would also second what Anita says above – that the acceptance of contraception has inevitably lead to an easier acceptance of abortion because sex has been separated in the minds of many from procreation. In fact, the acceptance of contraception has radically transformed social norms – for many people sex is purely recreational. This has long term emotional, spiritual, physical and demographic consequences for Western societies. It is also worth remembering, as Anita said, that the pill works in a number of different ways, and one of these is as an abortifacient.
      Many thanks Carole for your comments. Please stay in touch with the site and tell others about Fr Doyle!

  3. Carole, if you are interested in the Catholic position on contraceptives, may I recommend Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. Consider whether the evils Paul VI predicted would come as the result of embracing contraceptives have not come to pass.

    Another thing to consider with respect to Humanae vitae is that Paul VI, not noted for his decisiveness and strength of character, reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on contraceptives at a time when he was subjected to overwhelming pressure from both outside and inside the Church to do the opposite.

  4. Thank you PK and Anita for sharing your thoughts, beliefs and solid information with me. It was indeed a revelation to be made aware that there are no circumstances in which an emergency abortion needs to be performed, which only intensifies my abhorrence of the practice. As for contraception, I note what you say about western demographics etc., but my concerns are 1) the demographics/poverty/suffering in the Third World which perhaps could be alleviated somewhat by contraception 2) the idealism of self-restraint and NFP is all well and good, but unfortunately if the male doesn’t want to observe such principles, or “falls from grace”, it is the female who bears the consequences. And whilst every life is precious – far too precious to abort – I still err on the side of the use of contraception.

    I am already spreading the word about Fr. Willie, as his family called him, and will continue to do so.

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