Thoughts for the last day of the year from Fr Willie Doyle

“All our days are spent.” (Psalm 89. 9). The hour will come for each of us when we shall echo these words of the Psalmist, when with anxious eyes we shall watch the last few sands of our life run out for ever. What avail then will be our useless regrets that we have made such little use of those precious days? Will our bitter sorrow and biting remorse bring back even one of the moments we have so uselessly squandered in idle pleasure or consumed in sinful deeds?

COMMENT: The last day of the year is actually a very important one. Even those with no faith tend to take stock of their lives and develop resolutions to improve themselves. We don’t have to confine our formation of resolutions to New Year’s Eve, although it is an excellent time to start. In addition to traditional resolutions like eating more healthily, exercising more, working harder and so forth, we must remember the importance of spiritual resolutions. These can include being more faithful to our prayer, adopting certain regular acts of penance or attempting to root out a particular vice or weakness.

The end of the year also reminds us that we are closer to death. It is a simple fact that we are one year closer to death than we were at the start of 2013. Perhaps we, or one that we love, may not live to see beyond 2014…We should not become morbid or depressed with these thoughts, and it would be unhelpful to fixate too much on this, but it is similarly unhelpful – and unrealistic – to ignore the thought altogether. Instead, let us be prepared to meet Christ whenever He may call us, whether it is in 2014 or several decades away.

The end of the year is also a time to be thankful. For many, especially in Ireland, 2013 has been a tough year. But no matter how hard it has been, there are always things to be thankful for. There may have been many dangers from which we have been spared that we are not even aware of. Let us give thanks to God for all of His blessings, both those we remember and those we will only see when we die. The last day of the year is also a good day on which to obtain a plenary indulgence. The Church grants this indulgence, under the usual conditions, to all those who publicly sing the Te Deum on this last day of the year.

Finally, here is a worthwhile meditation for New Year’s Eve by Bishop Richard Challoner of London who died in 1781, and whose cause for beatification is an extremely worthy one. As a child, Fr Doyle used to read Challoner’s meditations to his father, and perhaps this is one of the ones that he read and meditated on himself.

Consider first, that the year is now come to a conclusion: it is just upon the point of expiring: all these twelve months that are now past, have flown away into the gulf of eternity; they are now no more; they shall return to us no more. All our years pass in this manner, they all hasten away one after another and hurry us along with them, till they bring us also into an endless and unchangeable eternity. Our years will all be soon over; we shall find ourselves at the end of our lives much sooner than we imagine. O let us not then set our hearts upon any of these transitory things. Let us despise all that pass away with this short life, and learn to adhere to God alone, who never passes away, because he is eternal. Let us always be prepared for our departure hence.

Consider 2ndly, that as the year is now past and gone, so are all the pleasures of it: all our diversions, all our amusements, in which we have spent our time this year, are now no more: the remembrance of them is but like that of a dream. O, such is the condition of all things that pass with time! Why then do we set our esteem or affection upon any of them? Why are we not practically and feelingly convinced of the emptiness and vanity of them all; and that nothing deserves our love or attention but God and eternity? And as the pleasures of the year are all past, so are all the displeasures and uneasinesses, pains and mortifications of it: they are also now no more than like a dream: and so will all temporal evils appear to us a little while hence when we shall see ourselves upon the brink of eternity. Let us learn, then, only to fear those evils which will have no end, and the evil of sin, which leads to these never-ending evils.

Consider 3rdly, how you have spent your time this year. It was all given you by your Creator, in order to bring you forward to Him, and to a happy eternity. O how many favours and blessings have you received from him every day of the year! How many graces and invitations to good! And what use have you made of these favours? What virtue have you acquired this year? What vice have you rooted out? What passions have you overcome? Have you made any improvement at all in virtue, since the beginning of the year? Instead of going forward to God, have you not rather gone backward? Alas! what an account will you have to give one day for all this precious time, and for all these graces and blessings, spiritual or corporal, which you have so ungratefully abused and perverted during the course of this year. Then as to your sins, whether of omission or commission against God, your neighbours, or yourselves – which you have been guilty of this year, either by thought, word, or deed – what a dreadful scene will open itself to your eyes upon a little examination! And little have you done during the course of this year to cancel them by penance. O, how melancholy would your case be, if your eternal lot were to be determined by your performances of the past year!

Conclude by giving thanks to God for all his blessings of this year; and especially for his patience and forbearance with you in your sins. Return now at least to him with your whole heart; begging mercy and pardon of all the sins of the year, and for all the sins of your life. And resolve, with God’s grace, if he is pleased to give you another year, to spend it in such a manner as to secure to your souls the never-ending year of a happy eternity.

Bishop Richard Challoner

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Thoughts for December 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas Becket 2

Jesus, you know my longing to become a saint. You know how much I thirst to die a martyr. Help me to prove that I am really in earnest by living this life of martyrdom.

O loving Jesus, help me now not to fight any longer against You. I really long to do what You want, but I know my weakness so well and my inconstancy. I have made so many generous resolutions which I have never kept that I feel it is almost a mockery to promise more. This record of my feelings and desire at this moment will be a spur to my generosity; and if I cannot live up to the perfection of what You want, at least I am now determined to do more than I have ever done before. Help me, Jesus!

COMMENT: The cross is always at the centre of the Christian life, in one way or another. It was present in Bethlehem with its poverty and lack of comfort. The very first day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St Stephen. Two days later we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents and yesterday we would have celebrated the feast of St Thomas Becket, but the feast of the Holy Family, on the first Sunday after Christmas, displaced it this year.

St Thomas is the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed because he defended the freedom of the Church against the dictates of the State. St Thomas’ example is very relevant for us today, and thus we will reflect on him today so as not to miss out. A form of aggressive secularism seeks to squeeze the Church from the public square; this is becoming especially acute in Ireland. Amazingly, there are now some, even in influential positions, who question the right of the Church to comment on matters of public policy. The same challenges can now be found around the world, especially in the United Kingdom and in the United States. We may not have to face physical martyrdom like St Thomas, but we are called to stand firm and defend the Church against unjust restrictions on its freedom. Sometimes this may mean a kind of dry martyrdom which may lead to a loss of career opportunities or public scorn and abuse. For some people this dry martyrdom may be harder to bear than the loss of one’s life. Indeed, the well known 19th century spiritual writer Father Faber, writing on this very point, says:

Learn from St. Thomas to fight the good fight even to the shedding of blood, or, to what men find harder, the shedding of their good name by pouring it out to waste on the earth.

If we find it hard to stand firm, we are in good company. St Thomas himself was proud and aggressive in his earlier days, and it was only over time, as Archbishop of Canterbury, that he slowly grew into his role with God’s grace. When we find the going hard, let us copy the example of the saints, and cry out with Fr Doyle: “Help me, Jesus!”

Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family from Fr Willie Doyle

And you, wives and bread-winners, have you no task within the fold, no little flock to tend and guard? Has not God committed to your care the innocent lambs, the little ones of your household? Within the pasture of your own family are you the good shepherd, or the thief and the hireling? . . . Jesus does not ask from His shepherds now the shedding of their life-blood But He does ask from them a death more hard, more lingering, a life-long death of sacrifice for His flock, . . . the daily crucifying of every evil passion, the stamping out of sloth, of anger, of drunkenness, the constant striving after the holiness of your state of life. . . . Look upon the great Christ, the Good Shepherd, hanging on the Cross. He is our model, our hero. Gaze well upon His bleeding wounds, His mangled limbs, that sad agony-stricken face. Look well, and pray with generous heart that he may make you in word and deed heroes in His service. 

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Fr Doyle has some rather direct words for mothers and fathers in today’s quote. Parents have a flock to guard. Children have immortal souls and they have been entrusted to their parents for a time. Parents have a serious obligation to put their children on the right path in life. Naturally, parents are not responsible if their children abandon their Faith in later life. But if their spiritual life was not nourished in the first place, if they were never provided with formation, if their innocence was never protected to begin with, then the day will come when parents will have to provide an account of their stewardship…

St Benedict gives us exactly this message in his Rule. Referring to the responsibility that an Abbot has towards his monks (which is the exact same responsibility a parent has towards their children), he says:

Let the Abbot always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters: his teaching and the obedience of his disciples.
And let the Abbot be sure that any lack of profit the master of the house may find in the sheep will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand, if the shepherd has bestowed all his pastoral diligence on a restless, unruly flock and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behaviour, then he will be acquitted at the Lord’s Judgment. 

So, as parents, do we follow the Good Shepherd in protecting our flock, or, as Fr Doyle says, are we a mere hireling? Are we content to allow the television to constantly babysit children for us? Are we content to leave their religious education to others? Are we too focused on work or our own ease to spend time with our children? Such a life of dedication to raising children is truly a sacrifice, a daily dying to self. But for those of us who are married and are parents, this is what we signed up to and it is through these sacrifices that we will grow in holiness by fulfilling the duties of our state in life. 

Let us look then towards the Holy Family of Nazareth, and ask their help in turning our own homes into another Nazareth – an oasis of peace and balance and love in which God is glorified.

St Benedict. Image copyright Edith OSB

St Benedict.
Image copyright Edith OSB

Thoughts for December 28 (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. The century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and 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. In particular we pray for Ireland – 2013 was a dark year in which abortion without time limits was legalised by the Government, and a year in which some brave politicians paid a heavy price for adhering to their conscience. Secondly, we should remember today all of those children who have been 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. 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.

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.

Thoughts for the Feast of St John from Fr Willie Doyle

Try to get down low and follow out what He Himself taught: “Unless you become as little children.” This will make you more confiding, more trustful and more naturally loving, which sometimes we are not, our love for Him being much too formal and prim.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John the Apostle, often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There was a particular closeness between Jesus and St John; John alone amongst the male followers of Jesus remained steadfast even up to the crucifixion, and it was to St John that Jesus entrusted Mary.

In the lives of both Fr Doyle and St John we see two men who were not afraid to love Jesus with a deep personal love. It is this personal love that counteracts the stereotype of Christianity being a mere system of rules and morality. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, at the heart of Christianity is the love and service of Christ, from which all other moral and charitable works flow. The feast of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is a good day to remember the primacy of the love of Christ in our spiritual lives.

Thoughts for St Stephen’s Day from Fr Willie Doyle

The following two excerpts from a letter written by Fr Doyle recount two incidents that happened on St Stephen’s Day, 1916. They give us a further insight into the harshness life in wartime, as well as Fr Doyle’s own cheerfulness in the face of the horrors of war. May we never have to face these trials in our own day, and if we do, may we face them with the strength and calm that Fr Doyle obtained through his intense life of prayer.

On St. Stephen’s Day the men were engaged in a football match, when the Germans saw them, sent over a lovely shot at long range, which carried away the goal post — the umpire gave a ‘foul’ — and bursting in the middle of the men, killed three and wounded seven. The wounded were bandaged up and hurried off to hospital, the dead carried away for burial; and then the ball was kicked off once more, and the game went on as if nothing had happened. The Germans must have admired the cool pluck of the players, for they did not fire any more. This is just one little incident of the war, showing how little is thought of human life out here; it sounds callous but there is no room for sentiment in warfare, and I suppose it is better so…

I was riding on my bicycle past a wagon when the machine slipped, throwing me between the front and back wheels of the limber. Fortunately the horses were going very slowly and I was able, how I cannot tell, to roll out before the wheel went over my legs. I have no luck, you see, else I should be home now with a couple of broken legs, not to speak of a crushed head. The only commiseration I received was the remark of some passing officers that ‘the Christmas champagne must have been very strong!’

Thoughts for Christmas Day from Fr Willie Doyle

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

COMMENT:  O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, it was published anonymously, and was in fact written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother.

Below is a link to a scan of a section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s. It conjures up images of innocence and of a tranquil time that many today sadly do not know. But there is also an astounding fact that one could easily miss…The Doyle family gave gifts and money to the poor of the neighbourhood at Christmas time. Willie and his brother Charlie used to shine the coins so that they would look like new. Just think about this for a moment. Let the kindness and attention to detail sink in…

What a hidden, but remarkable, act of kindness! The money was still worth the same amount. Yet the intention behind this small, hidden act, was to give greater dignity to the poor, to show them greater respect. I bet Pope Francis would be impressed…

Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!

Fr Doyle’s family Christmas