I am writing in great desolation and sadness, tempted even to abandon my vocation and plunge headlong into sin. All this is the result of having given in to myself, broken my resolutions and indulged myself in every way. Oh, my God, what am I to do? I made a fresh start with great generosity and determination, and in three days was worse than ever. I see my deadly enemy is my weak character and inconstant will, which I have made worse by years of yielding to it. My Jesus, I am humbled and crushed. Is there any use trying more? Every effort means a new failure and disappointment to You; and still I feel You urging me on to nobler things, to begin again.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s quote today is quite revealing about his own spiritual struggles. At one point he was even tempted to abandon God and his vocation! There is much we can learn from this…
Lent is almost at an end. Holy Week will begin tomorrow.
Perhaps, after 5 weeks of Lent, we feel somewhat like Fr Doyle. Perhaps we have broken our resolutions. Perhaps we have squandered many opportunities for growing in holiness and preparing ourselves well for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. Perhaps, also like Fr Doyle, we have already repented of our unfaithfulness to our resolutions, only to once again give up, ending up worse than we originally were.
Never mind! There is still time. As Fr Doyle tells us, we are urged towards nobler things, we are urged to begin again. This was the practice of all the saints. This is the path we must follow.
The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.
The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Mother
Mary stands at the foot of the cross to receive in her arms the lifeless body of her Son. Once more His head is resting on her bosom as it used to do long years ago when a little child He nestled to His Mother#s breast. But now that sacred head is bruised and swollen, stamped with the cruel mark of the mocking diadem; His hair all clotted with the oozing blood, tangled and in disorder. Even she, upon whose heart is stamped every lineament of her Son’s dear face, can scarcely recognise His features now. On every line is marked the anguish of long drawn agony, of torture and agonizing pain, of woe, unutterable woe, of sorrow, suffering and abandonment.
The Twelfth Station of the Cross: Jesus dies on the cross
Upon the cross He hangs now, the most abject and despised of all men, the butt for vile jests, a common mark for all to hurl their jibes at. There He hangs, in agony no human lips can tell, no mind conceive, an impostor, a vile hypocrite, a failure. “He came to make Himself a King! See, we have crowned His brow with a royal, sparkling diadem. He sought a kingdom! From that elevated throne let Him look upon the land which will never be His now. He threatened our Scribes with woes and punishments, let Him look to His own fate and if He has that power which some say was His, let Him come down now from the cross and we too shall believe in His word.”
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Upon His last resting place Jesus lays Himself down. No soft bed, no easy couch to ease the agony of His aching limbs, but a hard, rough beam must be His place of death. Meekly He extends His arms, those arms ever open to welcome back the repentant sinner, and offers His hands to be pierced as the Prophet had foretold. A long, blunt nail is placed upon the palm: a heavy, dull thud, the crunch of parting flesh and rending muscle, the spouting crimson blood which covers the face and hands of the hardened soldier and Jesus is fastened to the cross. Come, sinner, gaze upon your work for you have nailed Him there! Your sins it was which flung your Saviour down, your sins which drove the iron deep into His sacred flesh.
Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her?
COMMENT: Today we celebrate the great feast of the Annunciation. Mary’s Yes was a pivotal moment in our salvation history and indeed in the history of the world.
Mary didn’t know the full implications of her acceptance of God’s will. Yet she didn’t hesitate. She abandoned herself to God with utter faith. How different things would have been without her faithful acceptance…
And how different things would have been without Fr Doyle’s yes to God. How many priests and religious owed their vocations to his writings? How many souls converted through his preaching? How many soldiers saved and consoled by his loving presence and ministry in the trenches?
And what of us? How many people depend on our faithfulness to our vocation, whatever that may be…
Blessed John Henry Newman tells us:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.
Let us turn today to Mary, that she may help us understand our vocation in life more clearly and persevere in it with greater fidelity.
The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His garments
At last He stands upon the hill of shame to pay the price of our redemption. In the eyes of His Eternal Father, a sinner laden with the crimes of a wicked world; before men, the most abject and abandoned of creatures. A brutal soldier advances. He lays his hand upon the garment of Jesus and roughly tears it from His sacred shoulders. The cloth has sunk deeply into the gaping wounds left by the recent scourging, and driven deeper still by the weight of the cross and the oft-repeated blows. With a horrid, rending sound the wounds are torn open afresh, the sacred blood gushes forth anew and bathes His limbs in its ruddy stream. It is a moment of awful agony.
The hill of Calvary is almost reached, the hour of the great sacrifice is at hand. Still the heart of Jesus thirsts for suffering to show His great, His all devouring love for us. Again He falls! With limbs all bruised and broken, with a body all one raw, red, quivering sore, each step He took was agony. But to fall thus helpless on the ragged ground, to be kicked and beaten as He lay with nerveless limbs all paralyzed with pain must have been to His high-strung, delicate frame a thousand-fold martyrdom. The executioners were alarmed. Was death going to rob them of their victim and cheat them of the joy they promised themselves as their victim writhed in the agonies of death?
The Eighth Station: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
The disciples of Jesus have deserted their Master, and fearful for their own safety, have abandoned Him to His fate. Peter who would die for Him, Matthew who left all to follow Him, are far from Him now and dread to be pointed to as His friends. Yet Jesus is not alone. A few, a faithful few, remain beside Him still, poor, weak women, but strong with the courage of love. The brutal crowd surge round, inflamed with hate and lust for blood; but they offer Him the tribute of a woman#s heart the silent tears of sympathy.
“Weep not for Me,” He says, “weep rather for those who unlike these My executioners will one day crucify Me again with full knowledge of what they do.”
I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy.
COMMENT: Courage, more commonly referred to as fortitude, is one of the cardinal virtues. It is impossible to live a holy life without it. In fact, it is also probably impossible to live a happy life in the purely worldly sense without it. As St Teresa of Avila, herself no stranger to this virtue, once said:
To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.
We see many examples of courage in the life of Fr Doyle. Most obviously, his simply astounding courage during the war comes immediately to mind. If that doesn’t qualify as “heroic virtue” I don’t know what does! But Fr Doyle exhibited courage and fortitude throughout his life. Even as a student before ordination he had to confront persistent illness and fought long and hard to succeed in study. Here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit who lived with him before he was ordained:
Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise.
This courage was not necessarily innate within Fr Doyle; he continuously prayed for this gift. As he says in one part of his diary:
With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me.
All saints demonstrated courage to a heroic degree, but in some cases this virtue seems to shine out with special grandeur. Today the Church celebrates two such men. Because of their memorials gives us an interesting excuse to reflect on the virtue of courage, I decided to take a break from our reflections on the Stations of the Cross for today and to consider their examples. We will return to the Stations of the Cross tomorrow.
St Nicholas Owen was a Jesuit lay brother who died in 1606. He was a carpenter by trade, and it was he who perfected the art of constructing priest-holes in Elizabethan England. He travelled in disguise and worked quietly at night while the household was asleep, for it was dangerous to allow others to know the nature of his work. His work was so exceptional that he undoubtedly saved the lives of many priests. As Fr John Gerard, the remarkable Jesuit missionary of that era who chronicled his exploits in a fascinating memoir noted:
I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.
This, of course, made St Nicholas a prime target for capture. When he was himself arrested, he was subjected to the most horrific tortures in order to make him reveal the secrets of his hiding holes. Remarkably, he withstood all attempts to break him, and he died while being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. He was a true hero and a man of courage.
We also celebrate today the feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933-1946. He was a staunch opponent of both the Communists and Nazis, and, despite threats and violence, he preached fearlessly against the Nazi death-culture and in defence of the Church. He is popularly known as the Lion of Münster in recognition of his courage. More can be read about him here:http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcgovern/vongalb.html
Fr Doyle showed his courage in the First World War, Blessed Clemens demonstrated his in the Second World War and St Nicholas Owen stood firm during the Elizabethan persecution. Most people reading this site do not live in the midst of such dramatic circumstances, and for that perhaps we should be thankful. But we are still called to live with heroic courage in our ordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note that all three exhibited their greatest courage in fulfilling their vocations – Fr Doyle as a military chaplain; St Nicholas Owen as a carpenter and Blessed Clemens as a bishop fearlessly proclaiming the truth, even though it was politically unpopular.
Daily life will also provide many opportunities for us to demonstrate our own fortitude, most often in overcoming our own personal defects and weaknesses. As Fr Doyle once noted in a letter:
For your consolation remember that everyone I have ever met found the struggle for perfection hard because most of the work is done in the dark. It is a question of faith and courage, going along bravely day after day.