One month of the new year has passed away, leaving behind it the memory of what has been done for God and the unavailing recollection of what might have been achieved. Unavailing regret? No. For the failings and shortcomings of the month that has gone will only serve as a stimulus to a generous soul to spur him on to greater efforts in the service of his Master, efforts to use to the full the priceless gift of time, efforts to make the talents entrusted to his care bring forth the full measure of fruit and profit which our Lord will look for at His coming.
COMMENT: One twelfth of the year has already passed. Time goes quickly. Have we used it well? What about our new year’s resolutions? Have we lived up to them over the past month? Do we even remember what our resolutions were???
We must be determined to imitate Christ more and to become holy. While it is true that we need God’s grace to grow in virtue, we must also supply a lot of effort ourselves. One aspect of this effort is to make a few specific resolutions, and then work to stick to those resolutions. We will not always succeed in the task, but we must at least try to make the effort. If we haven’t stuck to our new year’s resolutions, we don’t have to wait another 11 months to try again. Today is an excellent day to pick ourselves up and start out once more.
Today is the feast of St John Bosco. Let us conclude with a quote from him on the need to overcome our fickleness and stick to our resolutions:
Be neither stubborn nor fickle. I have always noticed that fickle-minded people usually fail in all they do.
A kind word goes far. I stopped to say a few words to a group of men at a street corner in Kinsale, and as I walked away, I heard one of the men say to his companions: “Wasn’t it kind of him to speak to us? He’s a grand man entirely!”
COMMENT: Jesus tells us that we shall be known as His disciples by the love we have for one another. He didn’t say that we would be known as disciples by the orthodoxy of our doctrine or by our evangelical zeal or by our fervent prayer. Yes, all of these are vital in the Christian life. But love is the unmistakeable sign of discipleship. It was this love that allowed the small, impoverished, persecuted Christian sect to grow and flourish in the Roman Empire and gradually transform and enrich the entire world. We rarely find dramatic ways to demonstrate this love, but there are innumerable small ways of doing so, one of the most effective of which is through normal human kindness and politeness. How sad it is to find people who are filled with righteous zeal but yet lack that basic quality of love. Without this, we are nothing.
“He’s a grand man entirely”. Is this what people in general say today about faithful Catholics? Is it what people would say about each of us individually? If it is not, then we need to examine our conscience…
Fr Doyle wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him from any egotistical motive. Rather, his concern was clearly apostolic in nature. Through our kindness we open avenues for apostolate that might otherwise remain closed to us.
Fr Doyle himself demonstrated this in a most dramatic way in the case of “Fanny Cranbush”. This young lady was a prostitute who was sentenced to death for her involvement in a murder in England. A few days before her death she requested the Fr Doyle be found and brought to her cell to instruct her in the Faith, and all because Fr Doyle once saw her on the street and spoke kindly to her about Jesus.
A more complete account of the story can be read starting at page 16 of the pamphlet “Stories of Father Willie” which can be found below. The pamphlet was published in 1932 and reflects the writing style of the period; nonetheless it is the content and message of the story that counts.
Abandon yourself completely into the hands of God, and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable, or disagreeable. Only then can God make you really holy.
COMMENT: We love to stay in control. We find it hard to no longer be in charge of our own affairs. This is part of the human condition. But we are not called to live naturally, we are called to live supernaturally.
Fr Doyle always practiced what he preached. By volunteering to become a missionary in the Congo, even though he wasn’t eventually chosen to go, he showed his abandonment to God’s will. He lived this abandonment to its fullest as a military chaplain – he could easily have lessened his own hardships if he wanted, but he shared the privations of the soldiers.
Fr Doyle described his abandonment to God’s will in the following way to his sister in a letter he wrote to her in 1916:
Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me…The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before.
Let us conclude with a short reflection on abandonment to God from Jean Pierre de Caussade, the Jesuit author of the classic book Abandonment to Divine Providence.
Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”
As to any practice of piety there is a double danger: recommending it as infallible, or condemning it as useless. I always make a point of saying that all things are not for all people. Characters differ so much.
COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful balance of Fr Doyle. He was a man of very definite personal devotion, but he was equally convinced that his way was not the only way, and that there are many other spiritual paths along which people are called. It is true that there are those who are not attracted by Fr Doyle’s acts of mortification (even though everything Fr Doyle did can be found in the lives of the most popular and beloved of saints). But it is perfectly normal not to feel called to follow in Fr Doyle’s personal footsteps in this regard; as he himself says, characters differ so much. But even if our characters are different, we can still marvel at, and admire, Fr Doyle’s own unique character.
The same extraordinary balance is found in the life and writings of today’s saint, Thomas Aquinas. To take just one example relating to the life of prayer, he tells us in the Summa:
The quantity of anything should be proportioned to the end in view, as the quantity of drink should be proportioned to health. Hence it is fitting that prayer should continue only for so long as is useful to excite the fervour of interior desire. But when prayer goes beyond this measure so that it cannot be continued without weariness, then it should not be further prolonged.
St Thomas was one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. His learning was vast. He once declared that he never read anything that he didn’t understand – what a great gift this is for any scholar to possess! St Thomas’ learning was aided by his own deep life of prayer and especially his own purity of life. Jesus tells us that the pure of heart shall see God. St Thomas certainly possessed this purity of heart. When he announced that he wanted to become a Dominican (at that time a new Order of beggar friars) his powerful family were very unimpressed. They arranged for him to be locked up in a castle in order to force him to change his mind. When this wasn’t working his brother arranged for an immodestly dressed prostitute to visit him in the hope that he would fall into sin and give up his vocation. However, Thomas had a different idea – he grabbed a burning firebrand and chased the prostitute from the room. In this episode St Thomas, known as the Angelic Doctor, shows us how to handle temptations against purity – we don’t dialogue with them or entertain them, but instead flee from the temptation immediately. Towards the end of his life St Thomas was granted a vision, after which he declared that all his writing was but straw compared to what God had shown him.
Many people live in ignorance regarding the work of St Thomas. In part this may be due to what might be called chronological snobbery – there is a certain attitude that thinks that only recent thinkers are enlightened and that no intellectual work from other eras is of any value, and especially not if it is Medieval in origin! This attitude is especially acute in Ireland. It is frustrating to hear recent university graduates (most of whom have spent over a decade in Catholic schooling) dismiss the existence of God as a mere fairy tale for weak sentimentalists. For the most part they are completely oblivious to the great intellects within the Church.
St Thomas is rightly renowned for his learning. But he was also obviously a man of great holiness. He was especially devoted to the Eucharist, and wrote many hymns and prayers to honour our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. To conclude our commentary on today’s feast, here are St Thomas’ prayers for before and after Mass.
Prayer before Mass.
Almighty and ever-lasting God, I approach the sacrament of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Therefore, I implore Thee in Thy great generosity, to heal my sickness, to wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the bread of angels, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords with reverence and humility, with contrition and devotion, with purity and faith, and with such purpose and determination that will be expedient to the salvation of my soul.
Grant me, I beseech Thee, that I may not only receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also the reality and power of the Sacrament.
O most kind God, grant that I may receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so received that I may be worthy to be incorporated into His mystical body, and numbered among His members.
O most loving Father, grant me Thy beloved Son, which I now receive under the veil of a sacrament, that I may one day behold Him face to face in glory, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever. Amen.
Prayer after Mass.
Lord, Father all-powerful, and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thy unprofitable servant, not because of my worth, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee. And I pray that Thou willest lead me, a sinner to the banquet where Thou with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to Thy saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The mere saving of their souls should be the last thought of religious who have vowed their lives for God’s glory.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s comments were written to a member of a religious order, but they apply equally to us all.
It is true that our own salvation is one of our highest duties, but the reality is that our salvation is intimately connected with that of others.
There is an old saying that we don’t go to Heaven alone. Our lives are intimately connected with that of others. In fact, one of the things that sociology shows us quite clearly is that the example of peers has a powerful effect on human behaviour. The way we act and live has a profound effect on others, for good or bad. We should not underestimate the power of our example to bring others to a fuller practice of the faith. Neither should we underestimate the negative influence of our hypocrisy, sloth, gossip and so forth.
We also see the importance of holy friendships in the lives of the saints. There are surprisingly large numbers of beatified and canonised saints who were friends or acquaintances while on earth. Numerous examples come to mind immediately…
There is the obvious example of the Apostles and the extended family of Jesus. St Monica was the mother of St Augustine; Augustine was baptised by St Ambrose. St Benedict and St Scholastica were twins; Saints Maurus and Placidus were intimately associated with the life of St Benedict. There is the example of the early companions of St Ignatius who have been formally recognised including St Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Faver. St Philip Neri was friendly with a large number of saints in counter-reformation Rome, including St Ignatius, St Felix of Cantalice, St John Leonardi and St Camillus. He was also close to St Charles Borromeo who in turn gave shelter to St Edmund Campion when he was making his way through Milan back to England (and martyrdom). St Dominic and St Francis knew and admired each other and the latter was of course close to St Clare. St Thomas Aquinas was taught by St Albert the Great and was a friend of St Bonaventure (3 Doctors of the Church connected together…). St Teresa of Avila received spiritual direction from St John of the Cross, St Francis Borgia and St Peter of Alcantara, and her companion and secretary at the end of her life was Blessed Anne of St Bartholomew. St Martin de Porres and St John Macias were friends in Lima; I’m not aware if either of them met St Rose of Lima, but given that she was a Dominican tertiary in the same city it is likely that they did, or were at least aware of her presence. Blessed Raymond of Capua was the confessor of Saint Catherine of Siena. St Francis de Sales was the director of St Jane Frances de Chantal. St Vincent de Paul was the director of St Louise de Marillac. St Claude de la Colombiere was the director of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. Blessed Michael Sopocko was the director of St Faustina. Blessed John Henry Newman was received into the Church by Blessed Dominic Barberi. St Vincent Strambi was a disciple of St Paul of the Cross and a director of St Gaspar de Bufalo and Blessed Anna Maria Taigi who in turn was a close friend of Blessed Elizabeth Canora Mora. St Vincent Pallotti also moved within this 19th century Roman circle. When St Benedict Joseph Labre died as a beggar on the streets of Rome, the children ran through the streets shouting that the saint was dead. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi lived in that very area of Rome and it is thought that she was one of those children who raised the alarm at his death, and that her mother prepared his body for burial. St John Vianney’s family gave hospitality to St Benedict Joseph Labre when he passed through their town. St John Vianney, in turn, was a friend of St Peter Julian Eymard, St Marcellin Champagnat and Venerable Pauline Jaricot. There were numerous saints in Turin who interacted with or influenced each other at the time of St John Bosco, including St Joseph Cafasso, St Joseph Cottolengo and St Dominc Savio. Blessed Elena Guerra was the teacher of St Gemma Galgani who in turn was directed by Venerable Fr Germanus. Blessed Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima were brother and sister and were cousins of the probably soon to be beatified Sr Lucia. Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi was married to Blessed Maria Corsini; similarly Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin were married and were the parents of St Therese of Lisieux. St Alphonsus Liguori was surrounded by an astounding number of holy souls during the early years of the Redemptorists – from those first members who associated with the saint in some fashion, there are 24 causes for canonisation that have been opened! And, a little while after the time of St Alphonsus, two well known Redemptorist missionaries in America were also close – St John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was a friend of St Pedro Poveda, the founder of the Teresian Association. St Josemaria also received help from Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, the Benedictine Archbishop of Milan. He of course was also close to several early members of Opus Dei whose causes have been opened. And of course there are those renowned for their holiness in the Legion of Mary who were close contemporaries – the Servants of God Frank Duff, Alfie Lambe and Venerable Edel Quinn.
I previously mentioned St Vincent de Paul and St Francis de Sales but didn’t mention that they were friends of each other. They were both also friends of Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (also known as Madame Acarie). St Francis de Sales was also a friend of St Robert Bellarmine; St Robert was for a while the confessor of St Aloysius Gonzaga. St Aloysius also received his First Holy Communion from St Charles Borromeo, who we already mentioned. Shortly before this time, St Peter Canisius was recruited to the Jesuits by Blessed Peter Faber; St Peter in turn recruited St Stanislaus Kostka. St Peter Canisius and St Francis de Sales also corresponded about matters relating to the Catholic Reformation. Staying with the Jesuit theme, St Alphonsus Rodriguez was a close friend and advisor of St Peter Claver. St Basil the Great and St Gregory Naziazen were also close friends. St Bernard was known for his close friendships – Ireland’s own St Malachy was a close friend and he died in Bernard’s arms. St Bernard had such an influence over others that over thirty other young men joined him when he entered the monastery. Some of these are family members, and several members of his family have also been beatified and/or canonised. I’m sure that there are other saintly friendships in the life of St Bernard about which I am unaware.
Another monk, this time the famous Irish Benedictine, Blessed Columba Marmion, was also known for his holy friendships. He was close to the well known spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier and of Cardinal Mercier. I’m cheating a little bit there as their causes have not been opened, but both of them were renowned for their holiness. However, I’m not cheating by pointing out that Blessed Columba was the spiritual director of the Servant of God Mother Mary of St Peter, the foundress of the “Tyburn Benedictines”.
St Bridget of Sweden, one of the Patron Saints of Europe, was the mother of St Catherine of Sweden. Two other Patron saints of Europe – Cyril and Methodius, were brothers. Saints Cosmas and Damian were also brothers. Closer to our own day, Blessed Charles of Austria was married to Princess Zita, whose cause has recently been opened.
Also closer to our own time we find the friendship of St Damien of Molokai and St Marianne Cope. The great Spanish Carmelite reformer of the 20th Century, St Maravillas was a friend of the Jesuit Servant of God Fr Tomas Morales, who founded the Crusaders of Mary. The founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, St Arnold Jansen, was a friend of St Joseph Freinademetz and of Blessed Helena Stollenwerk. And of course, Blessed John Paul II had a well known friendship for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Then there are numerous martyrs who supported each other during major persecutions. Consider the supportive friendships and good examples provided by the early Christians, those persecuted in Elizabethan England, the French Revolution, The Mexican Cristero War, the Spanish Civil War and as well as the Nazi and Communist persecutions. And then there are those blessed Irish martyrs who knew and inspired each other during the time of the Irish Penal Laws. The number of saints who modelled themselves on other saints and who developed a spiritual, as opposed to temporal, friendship, with them is far too numerous to even begin to list them. Then there are the many unrecognised saints in heaven who inspired, and were in turn inspired by, other unknown saints…
We see this friendship also in the life of Fr Doyle. He was ordained on the same day as the Servant of God Fr John Sullivan SJ and was directed by Venerable Adolphe Petit during his tertian year in 1907 in Belgium. He also assisted Fr James Cullen SJ in his work in governing the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. One wonders if Venerable Matt Talbot ever met Fr Doyle? He probably did, since they were around Dublin at the same time…
And of course, after his death Fr Doyle continued to inspire many others recognised for their own holiness. These include St Josemaria Escriva, the Servant of God Monsignor Bernard Quinn from New York and Fr Wlodimir Ledóchowski, the Superior General of the Jesuits (whose own sisters have been raised to the altars: Blessed Maria Teresia Ledóchowska and St Ursula Ledóchowska).
Holy friendships ensure that we do not go to Heaven alone. But so too, bad friendships can drag us away from the Lord. One is reminded of the words of St Thomas More to his daughter Meg as he was being led to death:
Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may all happily meet in Heaven.
Let us live with our friends in such a way that we can be assured of bringing them to Heaven with us.
Every grace we get enlightens the understanding and strengthens the will. When the understanding is enlightened, we have the awful alternative of cooperating with or rejecting the inspirations of grace. This we are either doing or not doing all the day long. God will not compel us, He will not interfere with our freedom, it must be our own choice. St. Paul was struck down when he received the inspiration. But he did not lie there as so many of us do. He got up and asked God what He wanted him to do. His will was strengthened because he accepted the grace that was offered. Let us do the same. From neglect of Thy holy inspirations, O Lord, deliver us.
COMMENT: “We have the awful alternative of cooperating with or rejecting the inspirations of grace.” Think about these words of Fr Doyle… This is the price of freedom. God wants us to love Him. But love cannot be forced. God does not impose himself on us. We are free to choose Him, or reject Him. But it is not a once-off choice – we choose to follow Him or not each moment of each day. So long as we do not freely choose to reject Him in a big matter then our souls remain in a state of grace, and our task is to train ourselves, with the help of grace, to continually adhere to God’s holy will in all aspects of our lives.
Today is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Saul, as he was originally called, was one of the greatest persecutors of the early Church. God revealed himself to Saul in a dramatic moment on the road to Damascus. But He didn’t force Himself. Saul still had a choice. St Paul became the great Apostle of the Gentiles – neither loneliness nor shipwreck nor prison could prevent him from journeying to spread the Gospel. Imagine how impoverished the early Church would have been if Paul had ignored God’s grace. Imagine how many soldiers might have gone without the consolation of the sacraments if Fr Doyle had decided not to follow the inspiration of grace to become a military chaplain.
Look at the difference one person made in each of those situations. We may not be as heroic as St Paul or as Fr Doyle, but as Blessed John Henry Newman put it, God has called us to “some definite service”. We must respond to this grace with generosity and trust. If we do not, others may suffer. We will never know the good we have done, or the good that we could have done, until the end of our days.
In conclusion, let us also pray for all of those who now persecute the Church, whether they do so through physical persecution under totalitarian regimes or through scorn and verbal attacks which are so typical in the media in the West. May they respond to the grace offered to them, and follow the road of conversion travelled by St. Paul.
There is nothing better than the practice of aspirations, steadily growing in number. Keep a little book and enter them once a day. . . . I would like you to keep count of these little acts like the aspirations, but don’t go too fast; build up and do not pull down.
COMMENT: The use of spiritual aspirations – short heartfelt prayers which remind us that we are in the presence of God – were an extremely important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. His diaries record how, at certain points in his life, he repeated tens of thousands of aspirations each day. Nobody quite knows how he managed to say (and count!) so many.
Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. St Francis is one of the most efficacious guides to the spiritual life. His advice is eminently practical, especially for lay people, and one doesn’t need to be a great mystic to follow it. One of the key elements of St Francis’ teaching was that we do not need to do great tings to be holy, we just need to do out own work, even if it is very little, but do it with great love. We find the same theme in the advice Fr Doyle gave to others.
Fr Doyle referred to St Francis quite a few times in his letters of spiritual direction. Incidentally, like Fr Doyle, St Francis was naturally very hot tempered and impatient, and he knew that he needed to conquer this particular vice in order to reach holiness. He was so successful at this that everyone who knew him viewed him as the sweetest, most gentle and patient man they knew. This practice of deliberately targeting one’s dominant defect and focusing one’s spiritual energies on this specific point is a central part of the Spiritual Exercises which of course formed such an important part of the spiritual formation of Fr Doyle himself.
Back to the issue of aspirations… The following is a quote from St Francis’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life on the issue of aspirations. As we can see, Fr Doyle was not alone in his devotion to the practice. St Francis’ analogy of how lovers constantly think of their beloved is especially apt in explaining this practice.
Do you then, my daughter, aspire continually to God, by brief, ardent upliftings of heart; praise His Excellence, invoke His Aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of His Cross, adore His Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix your inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a little child to its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant nosegay, upraise Him in your soul as a standard. In short, kindle by every possible act your love for God, your tender, passionate desire for the Heavenly Bridegroom of souls. Such is ejaculatory prayer, as it was so earnestly inculcated by St. Augustine upon the devout Proba; and be sure, my daughter, that if you seek such nearness and intimacy with God your whole soul will imbibe the perfume of His Perfections. Neither is this a difficult practice,–it may be interwoven with all our duties and occupations, without hindering any; for neither the spiritual retreat of which I have spoken, nor these inward upliftings of the heart, cause more than a very brief distraction, which, so far from being any hindrance, will rather promote whatever you have in hand. When a pilgrim pauses an instant to take a draught of wine, which refreshes his lips and revives his heart, his onward journey is nowise hindered by the brief delay, but rather it is shortened and lightened, and he brings it all the sooner to a happy end, pausing but to advance the better.
Sundry collections of ejaculatory prayer have been put forth, which are doubtless very useful, but I should advise you not to tie yourself to any formal words, but rather to speak with heart or mouth whatever springs forth from the love within you, which is sure to supply you with all abundance. There are certain utterances which have special force, such as the ejaculatory prayers of which the Psalms are so full, and the numerous loving invocations of Jesus which we find in the Song of Songs. Many hymns too may be used with the like intention, provided they are sung attentively. In short, just as those who are full of some earthly, natural love are ever turning in thought to the beloved one, their hearts overflowing with tenderness, and their lips ever ready to praise that beloved object; comforting themselves in absence by letters, carving the treasured name on every tree;–so those who love God cannot cease thinking of Him, living for Him, longing after Him, speaking of Him, and fain would they grave the Holy Name of Jesus in the hearts of every living creature they behold. And to such an outpour of love all creation bids us–nothing that He has made but is filled with the praise of God, and, as says St. Augustine, everything in the world speaks silently but clearly to the lovers of God of their love, exciting them to holy desires, whence gush forth aspirations and loving cries to God.
I should examine all my actions, taking Jesus as my model and example. What a vast difference between my prayer and His; between my use of time, my way of speaking, walking, dealing with others, etc., and that of the child Jesus! If I could only keep Him before my eyes always, my life would be far different from what it has been.
COMMENT: The incarnation was one of the central moments of history, and the reality that the Word was made flesh is central to Catholicism. God has taken on human form. We can know Him. God is revealed to us in the sacred Humanity of Christ. Jesus should be our model and guide; we should seek to know Him through scripture, through prayer and through the Eucharist.
The Humanity of Christ was central to the spiritual life of many of the saints. St Teresa of Avila is particularly known for her devotion to the Humanity of Christ. It was while meditating in front of an image of Christ being scourged at the pillar that she experienced her deeper conversion to Christ.
Here are some words from St Teresa:
If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight. Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example. What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.
COMMENT: How typical is this pithy statement from Fr Doyle! We are here for a short time and we must love God and our neighbour during this short time. We must do our best to overcome our weakness and sinfulness in the few short years that we have on earth. There is no time for a truce, there is no time to slacken off in the spiritual life, for he who does not advance falls back. Of course, this does not mean that we live with intense frenzy and nervous exhaustion. Fr Doyle never allowed a truce in his battle against sin, but he was also a source of profound serenity and calm for those around him. The same can be said for all the saints.
Today’s quote is also of relevance for our American readers, for on this day 40 years ago the Supreme Court of the United States legalised abortion on demand.
Fr Doyle never commented on the issue of abortion. For him, the idea that the most vulnerable could be legally destroyed would have been mind boggling. Fr Doyle was distraught at the loss of life he saw in World War I; he would have been astounded at the even greater number of lives lost through abortion. Knowing the character of Fr Doyle, he would have responded with two very complementary approaches – a profound compassion and care for those women who have had an abortion or are tempted to have an abortion, and with great energy and effectiveness in the educational, legal and political battle to protect life.
For far too many unborn babies, their life is indeed too short, and there can be no truce with those who wish to promote the destruction of unborn life.
Abortion is an issue that excites the emotions. This is as it should be, and it is an understandable reaction. However, too often pro-life advocates let their emotions negatively impact on the effectiveness of their work. The secret of effective communication is to meet the audience where they are at. Fr Doyle, as a good Jesuit, would have understood this. In fact, St Ignatius Loyola told the first missionaries that he sent to Ireland – Fr Salmeron and Fr Broet – to go in the door of the Irish, but bring them out the door of the Jesuits. We must speak to people in a calm and measured way, showing the clear scientific evidence of the humanity of the unborn and the evidence that abortion can also be damaging to women. And we must remember that support for unborn life is human rights issue, not a specifically Catholic or religious issue. We must do all of this with genuine heartfelt compassion for those who face unwanted pregnancies and for those who have had abortions, while never selling out on our principles that life is to be protected at all costs and that abortion is a gross abuse of human rights.
Ireland is now in the midst of a terrific struggle on abortion. Despite promising not to legalise abortion if elected, the Fine Gael party is preparing legislation to do just that. For the first time in history, and Irish government is preparing to legalise the direct taking of innocent unborn life. Last Saturday saw the biggest prolife rally in Irish history – in excess of 25,000 people (at a conservative estimate) came out on a bitterly cold winter day to remind Fine Gael of the promise they made. To put it in context, that is the equivalent of 1.7 million people attending a rally in the United States. If Fine Gael proceeds with this initiative, it will pay a heavy electoral price for reneging on its promise.
So, today we pray for peace and forgiveness for those who have had abortions; for help for those who are facing an unwanted pregnancy; for fortitude and prudence for those involved in the struggle against abortion in Ireland, in the United States and globally; for the conversion of those within the abortion industry; and most importantly in Ireland, that Fine Gael politicians will keep their promise and protect the rights of the most vulnerable.
Even as a child I was convinced that one day God would give me the grace of martyrdom. When quite small I read and re-read every martyr’s life in the twelve volumes of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and longed and prayed to be a martyr, and I have often done so ever since. As years went on, the desire grew in intensity, and even now the sufferings of the martyrs, their pictures, and everything connected with their death, have a strange fascination for me and help me much.
COMMENT: In today’s quote, Fr Doyle tells us that he – just like St Teresa of Avila and St Catherine of Siena – was deeply influenced by the lives of the saints as a child. We should encourage devotion to the saints amongst our children; even toddlers can learn important lessons and virtues from the lives of the saints.
Undoubtedly one of the martyrs that Fr Doyle read about in Butler’s Lives of the Saints was St Agnes, whose feast it is today. St Agnes, who was just 12 or 13, reminds us that even the young can have an ardent love of God and a willingness to die rather than offend Him.
Here is the text for the feast of St Agnes from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Perhaps the writing style is somewhat old fashioned, but nonetheless it provides a good insight into the martyrdom of St Agnes and on the tales of heroism and love that inspired the young Willie Doyle.
ST JEROME says that the tongues and pens of all nations are employed in the praises of this saint, who overcame both the cruelty of the tyrant and the tenderness of her age, and crowned the glory of chastity with that of martyrdom. St. Austin observes that her name signifies chaste in Greek, and a lamb in Latin. She has always been looked upon in the church as a special patroness of purity, with the Immaculate Mother of God and St. Thecla. Rome was the theatre of the triumph of St. Agnes; and Prudentius says that her tomb was shown within sight of that city. She suffered not long after the beginning of the persecution of Diocletian, whose bloody edicts appeared in March, in the year of our Lord 303.
We learn from St. Ambrose and St. Austin that she was only thirteen years of age at the time of her glorious death. Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome to vie with one another in their addresses who should gain her in marriage. Agnes answered them all that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. Her suitors, finding her resolution impregnable to all their arts and importunities, accused her to the governor as a Christian, not doubting but threats and torments would overcome her tender mind, on which allurements could make no impression. The judge at first employed the mildest expression and most inviting promises, to which Agnes paid no regard, repeating always that she could have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. He then made use of threats, but found her soul endowed with a masculine courage, and even desirous of racks and death. At last terrible fires were made, and iron hooks, racks, and other instruments of torture, displayed before her, with threats of immediate execution. The young virgin surveyed them all with an undaunted eye, and with a cheerful countenance beheld the fierce and cruel executioners surrounding her, and ready to dispatch her at the word of command. She was so far from betraying the least symptom of fear that she even expressed her joy at the sight, and offered herself to the rack. She was then dragged before the idols and commanded to offer incense, “but could by no means be compelled to move her hand, except to make the sign of the cross,” says St. Ambrose.
The governor seeing his measures ineffectual, said he would send her to a house of prostitution, where what she prized so highly should be exposed to the insults of the debauchees. Agnes answered that Jesus Christ was too jealous of the purity of his spouses to suffer it to be violated in such a manner, for he was their defender and protector. “You may,” said she, “stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.” The governor was so incensed at this that he ordered her to be immediately led to the public brothel, with liberty to all persons to abuse her person at pleasure. Many young profligates ran thither, full of the wicked desire of gratifying their lust, but were seized with such awe at the sight of the saint that they durst not approach her-one only excepted, who, attempting to be rude to her, was that very instant, by a flash’ as it were, of lightning from heaven, struck blind, and fell trembling to the ground. His companions, terrified, took him up and carried him to Agnes, who was at a distance, singing hymns of praise to Christ, her protector. The virgin by prayer restored him to his sight and health.
The chief prosecutor of the saint, who at first sought to gratify- his lust and avarice, now laboured to satiate his revenge by incensing the judge against her, his passionate fondness being changed into anger and rage. The governor wanted not others to spur him on, for he was highly exasperated to see himself baffled and set at defiance by one of her tender age and sex. Therefore, resolved upon her death, he condemned her to be beheaded. Agnes, transported with joy on hearing this sentence, and still more at the sight of the executioner, “went to the place of execution more cheerfully,” says St. Ambrose, “than others go to their wedding.” The executioner had secret instructions to use all means to induce her to a compliance, but Agnes always answered she could never offer so great an injury to her heavenly spouse, and, having made a short prayer, bowed down her neck to adore God, and received the stroke of death. The spectators wept to see so beautiful and tender a virgin loaded with fetters, and to behold her fearless under the very sword of the executioner, who with a trembling hand cut off her head at one stroke. Her body was buried at a small distance from Rome, near the Nomentan Road. A church was built on the spot in the time of Constantine the Great, and was repaired by Pope Honorius in the seventh century. It is now in the hands of Canon-Regulars, standing without the walls of Rome, and is honoured with her relics in a-very rich silver shrine, the gift of Pope Paul V, in whose-time they were found in this church, together with those of St. Emerentiana. The other beautiful rich church of St. Agnes, within the city, built by Pope Innocent X (the right of patronage being vested in the family of Pamphili), stands on the place where her chastity was exposed. The feast of St. Agnes is mentioned in all Martyrologies, both of the East and West, though on different days. It was formerly a holyday for the women in England, as appears from the Council of Worcester, held in the year 1240. St. Ambrose, St. Austin, and other fathers have wrote her panegyric. St. Martin of Tours was singularly devout to her. Thomas a Kempis honoured her as his special patroness, as his works declare in many places. He relates many miracles wrought and graces received through her intercession.