Thoughts for February 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Claude de la Colombiere

I have gone through a great deal of desolation, discouragement, fear and dread of my proposed vow. When I make it — I am quite determined now to do so — it will be the result of calm conviction that I must do so, that God wants it from me, and not a burst of fervour. I shrink from this living death, but am quite happy in the thought that, since God has inspired me to do so, He will do all the work if once I submit my will. … I was consoled by seeing Fr. de la Colombiere’s repugnance to making his heroic vow. He spoke of the sadness which this constant fight against nature sometimes gave him. He overcame that temptation by remembering that it is sweet and easy to do what we know will please one we really love.

COMMENT: The vow Fr Doyle speaks of is that of refusing no sacrifice that he perceived Jesus was asking of him. Here is the text of that vow which he made in 1911:

I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me. Amen.

Fr Doyle attached various conditions and exceptions to this in order to avoid scruples. Such a vow represents a total abandonment to God’s will in all aspects of life and represents a very great level of spiritual perfection. Most of us are well-intentioned, but we still tend to reserve areas of our life that we want to control and where we may not want God to “trespass”. Such was not the way of the saints. As the Imitation of Christ says:

What more do I require of you, than that you try to submit yourself fully to me? Whatsoever you give me outside of yourself does not interest me; for I do not seek your gift, but I seek you.

Fr Doyle mentions Fr (now Saint) Claude de la Colombiere, a French Jesuit whose feast it is today. He died this day in 1682. St Claude made a similar vow as a young Jesuit. Here is his (somewhat pessimistic!) reflection on the implications of this vow:

It seems as if it would be easy to spend any other kind of life holily; and the more austere, solitary and obscure it might be and separated from all intercourse, the more pleasing it would appear to me to be. As to what usually terrifies nature, such as prisons, constant sickness and even death, all this seems easy compared with this everlasting war with self, this vigilance against the attacks of the world and of self-love, this living death in the midst of the world.

Whatever about St Claude’s fears of this vow and its “living death”, we know that Fr Doyle remained serene and cheerful, despite his constant war with self-love.

Fr Doyle and St Claude are not the only ones to have made such a vow – great saints like Therese of Liseux did likewise. And together, they inspired saints that came after them. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta read the life of Fr Doyle while she was a young nun (perhaps when she lived in Ireland, very near the Jesuit house in Rathfarnham, where Fr Doyle had lived for a time). His life and spirit so inspired her that she herself took the same vow to refuse no sacrifice to Christ. We see here Fr Doyle’s influence on one of the best known and best loved saints of recent years.

Here is a description from the book “Come be my Light” written by Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk MC, the postulator for Mother Teresa’s canonisation cause.

It was this mysterious feature of love that moved Mother Teresa to seal the total offering of herself by means of a vow and thus tangibly express her longing to be fully united with her Beloved…Thus for Mother Teresa the vow was the means of strengthening the bond with the One she loved and so experiencing the true freedom that only love can give.

Mother Teresa would have read about the practice of making private vows in the spiritual literature of her time.

Irish Jesuit Fr William Doyle, made numerous private vows, as he found this practice a help in keeping his resolutions. One such vow, which he made in 1911 and renewed from day to day until he could obtain permission from his confessor to make it permanently, was “I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me”.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Returning now to St Claude and his vow…Fr Doyle had other reasons to be intrigued by the life of St Claude, for the latter was the spiritual director of St Margaret Mary Alacoque, the great mystic to whom Fr Doyle was much devoted. St Margaret Mary received many visions of the Sacred Heart and it is probably because of St Claude’s influence that the Jesuits have traditionally promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart. This devotion features prominently in the writings and spirituality of Fr Doyle. It is consoling for devotees of Fr Doyle to note that it took almost 250 years before the well known St Claude was beatified.

Today is also the feast of another great spiritual director. Blessed Michal Sopocko was the spiritual director of St Faustina, the great apostle of Divine Mercy. It is quite a coincidence that the spiritual directors of the two visionaries of the most prominent apparitions of Jesus of modern times have both been raised to the altars and that they share the same anniversary of death and feast day. These spiritual directors were crucial supports for St Margaret Mary and St Faustina respectively, and they show us the importance of spiritual direction in our lives.

Fr Doyle obviously knew nothing of St Faustina who died in 1938 or of Blessed Michal who died in 1975. But we can well imagine that he would have been a great promoter of the Divine Mercy devotion which sits so well with his own Christocentric spirituality.

One final coincidence for today – Fr Doyle would have identified with Blessed Michal if he knew of him: Blessed Michal served as a military chaplain in the Polish army during World War 1.

Blessed Michal Sopocko

Book review of “Worshipper and Worshipped”

Worshipper and Worshipped

It would not be unfair to say that, from the middle of the last century until quite recently, the once famous Fr Willie Doyle has seemingly been shrouded in a certain reserved silence. At one stage his name and deeds were renowned not just in Ireland, but around the globe. The fact that there are 6,426 recorded favours, from literally every part of the world, allegedly granted through his intercession in the first 14 years after his death, is ample testimony to the worldwide appeal he once had. But in recent years, it appeared that Fr Doyle was no longer of interest to modern Catholics, and that devotion to him was something of the past.

Yet, such an analysis would be entirely superficial. Devotion to Fr Doyle has always survived. In the first place, that devotion was maintained by those whose fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers knew, or were helped by, Fr Doyle in the war. For example, I have personally received numerous emails from people who have preserved a devotion to Fr Doyle in their families precisely because of what he is reported to have done for their ancestors during the Great War. The second category of those who have preserved devotion to Fr Doyle are those who have stumbled across Alfred O’Rahilly’s classic biography, first published 94 years ago this month. I belong to this second category, as do countless others around the globe who have found O’Rahilly’s biography to be a source of amazement and spiritual wonder. It is because of this growing number of those who have recently discovered Fr Doyle that we can say that interest in Fr Doyle is growing once again, and this new substantial biography of Fr Doyle by Carole Hope is the very greatest testimony to this fact.

The first lines of the Foreword to Worshipper and Worshipped by Carole Hope present sentiments that will be familiar to many people who have unexpectedly encountered Fr Doyle, and they absolutely ring true to my own personal experience:

Fr Willie Doyle’s life has been told before. I started writing this new biography for reasons I don’t entirely understand myself; only that Willie Doyle has ‘got under my skin’.

What is all the more remarkable is that, on reading O’Rahilly’s biography, Fr Doyle’s life and character reached across the decades and touched a lady living in England who had never heard of him before, had never written a book before, and is not even a Catholic. Fr Doyle’s spirit and example touched people of all backgrounds during life, and it still does so after death.

Worshipper and Worshipped is primarily concerned with Fr Doyle’s military service and is not a spiritual biography like O’Rahilly’s biography. The first 9 chapters – about 160 pages – deal with Fr Doyle’s early life and background, including his childhood, spiritual formation and life as a mission priest. The next 22 chapters – almost 450 pages – deal with the last two years of Fr Doyle’s life, and cover his service as a military chaplain in fascinating detail.

One might legitimately wonder if Worshipper and Worshipped can add anything to our knowledge of Fr Doyle beyond what we learn from Alfred O’Rahilly. Despite having access to all of Fr Doyle’s letters and diaries, O’Rahilly didn’t use them all, and what he did use, he did not necessarily present in an entirely chronological order. Using archival material preserved by Fr Doyle’s extended family, Carole Hope presents Fr Doyle’s life in chronological order, and fills in many details and provides anecdotes that were hitherto unknown to the wider public. She tells the story of Fr Doyle’s war adventures using his own words – she reproduces practically the full text of all his letters and diaries that he sent to his father during the war, and a staggering total of 89,000 words come directly from Fr Doyle’s own pen. This is the definitive history of Fr Doyle’s military service.

In addition to providing very useful background commentary on the war and the conditions encountered by the soldiers (topics that O’Rahilly did not discuss in much detail), Worshipper and Worshipped reveals how Fr Doyle provided spiritual support to a soldier who was executed for desertion, staying with him right to the end, and writing to his family for him. Presumably O’Rahilly did not deal with this incident because the man’s family was still alive when he published his book. Also of great interest will be the revelation of the identities of the officers and soldiers Fr Doyle was with when he died, including those he went into No Man’s Land to rescue when they were wounded.

Of particular interest to many readers will be the last 4 chapters which look at the aftermath of Fr Doyle’s death, including a fascinating chapter which examines the Fr Doyle’s recommendation for the Victoria Cross, which O’Rahilly claimed was not awarded because Fr Doyle was a Catholic priest. The author does an excellent job of analysing this question, examining archives for cases where similar awards were made. Her conclusions on this matter are of great interest.

Also of interest in the book are some of the photographs, including previously unpublished photographs of the entire Doyle family and a particularly heart breaking one (for me, at least!) of Fr Doyle home on leave from the war – the weight loss and strain caused by life in the trenches can be seen, but the joyful serenity is still there in Fr Doyle’s eyes.

One of the greatest things about this book, and perhaps its greatest contribution, is the way in which it humanises Fr Doyle. When O’Rahilly wrote his book, he told the story of Fr Doyle’s life and revealed much of his character. But he also overlaid all of this with a lot of spiritual and theological commentary. For many, this overlay of commentary is fascinating and enlightening. But it can sometimes get in the way. By showing how brilliant and heroic Fr Doyle was, O’Rahilly sometimes unwittingly obscured his humanity. In Worshipper and Worshipped, we see a more rounded portrait of Fr Doyle. His humour and gentleness, always evident in the original biography, are on full display here. The complete text of his letters to his father reveal the many touching expressions of love and veneration he sent to Hugh Doyle. Little family jokes, naturally omitted back in the 1920’s by O’Rahilly, are reproduced here, and show us a very human, accessible and lovable side to Fr Doyle’s character. There are passages in his letters that actually made me laugh out loud.

Having said all of this, there are naturally some very small aspects of the book with which I disagree slightly, including the very brief handling of Fr Doyle’s penances – the author suggests in passing that they reflect an “inner turmoil”, whereas my own interpretation is that they reflect both the spirituality of the time as well as Fr Doyle’s own pursuit of moral and spiritual perfection, based on his own discernment and the guidance of his confessor.

But such references are fleeting, are merely matters of emphasis and interpretation, and they do not at all detract from the work. It is clear that Carole Hope has a great affection for Fr Doyle, and we have all gained by her painstaking act of love in retelling Fr Doyle’s story in a form that is accessible for readers of today.

Worshipper and Worshipped is a big book (700+ pages). But it is a fast, accessible and enjoyable read. Those who already know Fr Doyle well, or those who are merely curious about him, will read this with great profit.

Worshipper and Worshipped can be bought in local bookshops or from Amazon here. 

Amazon seems to be out of paperback copies, but you can still find a link there to purchase the book in hardback. In any event, Amazon will order new stock, particularly if you place an order for the book. Alternatively readers may contact me via the email address on the right hand side of the webpage and I will direct them to Carole Hope who will be happy to help them.

EDIT: Carole Hope left the following comment on this post; I thought it would be more useful to place it here to give it more visibility.

Thank you for the review. I would just like to add for everyone’s information that the workings of Amazon are a mystery to me and I have no control on how they present the selling information on their website. It seems to me that the pricing of some of the supposed hardback copies of Worshipper and Worshipped on offer may very well be paperback. They indicate that paperbacks are out of stock at present and I don’t really know why that is. If anyone wishes to buy a copy direct from me then I can arrange that, but for people outside of the UK the cost of postage makes it very expensive. However, if you go into any bookshop you can order the book via the ISBN numbers 978-1-908336-92-7 for hardback or 978-1-908336-86-6 for paperback.

Thoughts for February 11 (Our Lady of Lourdes) from Fr Willie Doyle

Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr Doyle visited the shrine in November 1912, and today’s quote summarises his spiritual experience there.

This reflection on Lourdes is utterly characteristic of Fr Doyle, who had such a horror for sin and combined this with a special vocation for reparation for sin.

In almost all approved Marian apparitions, Our Lady urges us to prayer and penance. Yes, she also comes to tell us of the love of God, and often reveals this love through miraculous healings and other graces. But just like in the Gospel, penance remains central to the message.

Thoughts for February 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

You seem to be a little troubled at finding yourself cold at prayer and as if our Lord had abandoned you. Were it otherwise I should feel uneasy; for this is one of the best signs that you are really pleasing to God, since He puts your fidelity to the test by sending desolation. There is no happiness to be compared to the sweets one tastes at times in prayer; but this, the greatest of all sacrifices, He will ask from you at times.

Hence in darkness and dryness, when weariness and disgust come on you, when the thousand petty worries of every day crowd upon you, raise your eyes with a glad smile to the face of Jesus, for all is well and He is sanctifying you.

 

 

Thoughts for February 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Christian abnegation is not composed merely of renunciation: it leads to something tangible and definite. We abandon what is false to cling to what is true. We empty our hearts of earthly things to make room for eternal. We lose ourselves to gain Christ.

COMMENT: Those who punish their bodies by lifting weights in a gym or by jogging in the bleak early hours, do not do so for its own sake – they push themselves to achieve something else such as fitness or weight loss or greater physical attractiveness. It is this same mentality that we need when considering the penances of Fr Doyle, and indeed of all the saints. These penitential lives were not an end in themselves, but were instead an attempt to remove self-will so that God could occupy a more central role in their lives. By losing themselves, they truly found Christ.

We see something similar in the life of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich whose feast it is today. She suffered greatly through illness, and was confined to bed for much of her life. But despite, or perhaps because of, her sufferings she attracted many who sought her counsel and spiritual support, including many priests and bishops. Blessed Pope John Paul said that “her special mystical vocation shows us the value of sacrifice and suffering with the crucified Lord”. She is one of those special victim souls whose complete self-abnegation allows them to be more completely filled with grace.

We do not have to confined to bed with illness for many years like Blessed Anne Catherine, and many others, were. By struggling to overcome our faults but by bit we can remove obstacles to the more effective operation of grace in our souls. The more filled with grace we become, the more we will change the world.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

Thoughts for February 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

No trespassing

Don’t be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: “Trespassers not allowed”.

COMMENT: One of the greatest hallmarks of holiness is complete abandonment to God’s will. It does not come easily. That is why martyrs are remembered with special reverence – they have literally given everything to God, without reserve.

For most of us there is some area where we would prefer to be left alone. Some vice, some habit, some attachment that we cherish. We can readily give up certain less important things, but this one thing is not so readily handed over to God. God has given us everything – He has a right to expect that we give everything back to Him in return.

Thoughts for February 7 (Blessed Pius IX) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Pius IX

 

Then in addition there is the great privilege and joy of carrying our dear Lord next my heart day and night. Long ago when reading that Pius IX carried the Pyx around his neck, I felt a foolish desire, as it seemed to me, for the same privilege. Little did I think then that the God of holiness would stoop so low as to make me His resting-place. Why this favour alone would be worth going through twenty wars for! I feel ashamed at times that I do not profit more by His nearness, but I know that He makes allowances for weak inconstant nature, and that even when I do not directly think of Him, He is silently working in my soul. Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her? I feel that He will do much, very much, for me too whilst I carry Him about with me.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Blessed Pius IX. He was pope for almost 32 years, the second longest reigning pope after St Peter. Pius IX unfortunately gets pretty shoddy treatment in the media today. He was pope at a very difficult time in the history of the Church, and one can recognise his sanctity without necessarily agreeing with his political decisions which, like those of all leaders, were based in a particular historical context far removed from our own.

 

Blessed Pius IX was known as a humble and zealous priest who dedicated himself to the care of the poor and sick in Rome. He was a man of deep piety, and as we see from today’s quote from Fr Doyle, he occasionally carried a pyx containing the Eucharist around his neck. Yet despite his charitable and pious disposition, he was also a strong leader of the Church.

 

Today we can ask Blessed Pius IX and Fr Doyle to pray that we too can have some of their simple, child-like faith and piety, combined with the fortitude and courage which they both displayed throughout their lives.

Thoughts for February 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Some of Fr Doyle’s favourite aspirations:

l. My Crucified Jesus, help me to crucify myself.

2. Lord, teach me how to pray and pray always.

3. Jesus, Thou Saint of saints, make me a saint.

4. Blessed be God for all things.

5. My loving Jesus within my heart unite my heart to Thee.

6. Heart of Jesus, give me Your zeal for souls.

7. My God, Thou art omnipotent, make me a saint.

Thoughts for February 5 (St Agatha) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Agatha

I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”?

My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.

A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.

COMMENT: Martyrdom is no joke. It is the ultimate expression of detachment and love; a willingness to give up life itself for the truth and love of Christ. Martyrdom can seem fine in the abstract, but when faced with the pressing reality of this sacrifice, our human nature easily rebels. This tension between religious ideals and the weakness of human nature is wonderfully portrayed in the recent movie Of Gods and Men which follows the experience of the seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria in 1996. The movie brilliantly shows the tension within the community between the desire to stand firm against the Islamic extremists who were threatening the monastery and the human desire for self-preservation.

There is some truth in the Flannery O’Connor line “she could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”. If one is going to be a martyr, it is better that the martyrdom be a quick one. But yet, there are few martyrs whose martyrdoms were quick. St Thomas More had a long time to contemplate his impending death in London Tower; so too did St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Auschwitz starvation bunker. Fr Doyle had much time to contemplate his own probable death during his 18 months as a military chaplain.

And this shows us the wisdom of Fr Doyle’s quote today. Unless we toughen ourselves up by small sacrifices each day, we will never be capable of bigger sacrifices if the occasion arises. This principle arises in the secular sphere as well. Anyone familiar with Ireland knows how much the country has suffered economically in recent years, and this economic pain is likely to continue into the future. It is only by learning to deny ourselves now that we will be able to cope with the even more difficult circumstances that are likely to come in the future.

St Agatha, whose feast it is today, also lived this reality, remaining faithful to Christ despite torture and imprisonment. Tradition tells us that her persecutors mutilated her by cutting off her breasts. It is certain that the story of St Agatha is one of those that inspired the young Willie Doyle to desire martyrdom as a boy.

May St Agatha, Fr Doyle and all the martyrs intercede for us so that we may live our daily martyrdom of fidelity to daily sacrifices so that we may be found ready if something more is asked of us.

Thoughts for February 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am glad you wrote to me for I, at least, can understand exactly what you are suffering; it is really a question of nerves, not of soul. You are run down like an old fiddlestring, hence you can get no sweet music out of yourself, try as you may. Now, my child, don’t be troubled or uneasy, imagining God is displeased with you or that you are abusing grace. For a little while give yourself all the rest, relaxation and indulgence you can; there is to be no penance, few spiritual duties, except Mass and Communion, and you are just to do like a little child whatever your superiors tell you, read story books, etc; rest and riot is to be your programme just now. When the old nerves get a bit settled, you will run ahead like a giant to sanctity. I am afraid you must make up your mind for fits of depression from time to time, but that, too, will pass when you become more your old self. I shall pray for you and I know you will do the same when you get good again, but not before!

COMMENT: Today’s quote comes from a letter that Fr Doyle wrote to somebody who was obviously run down and ill. Perhaps the person was suffering from anxiety or depression. Fr Doyle says that he can understand what this person is suffering; he suffered a nervous breakdown himself when he was a seminarian.

Today we once again see Fr Doyle’s great balance. His clear instruction for the sick person (probably a nun) is simply to rest and relax. This is, of course, the correct advice. But it is interesting that it comes from the man who gave himself no rest, who sought to go against his own will at every possible moment and who practised remarkable penances. Far from being over-zealous, Fr Doyle once again shows himself to possess a wonderful balance in his measured dealings with others.