Away from the palace now a sad procession is winding. On the faces of the multitude a fiendish joy is written, they have had their wish and now issue forth to glut their eyes on the dying struggles of the suffering innocent One. Painfully He is toiling up the long narrow street, narrower still from the crowds that line the way; each step is agony, each yard of ground He covers a fresh martyrdom of ever increasing suffering. With a refinement of cruelty His enemies have placed upon His shoulders the heavy, rough beams which will be His last painful resting place.
Cruelly the heavy beam weighs upon His mangled flesh and cuts and chafes a long, raw sore deep to the very bone.
We are now over half way through Lent. At this stage it is easy for our dedication to wane somewhat; the early enthusiasm of Ash Wednesday is behind us; the solemnity and beauty of Holy Week is still a few weeks away.
This seems to be an appropriate time to introduce the Stations of the Cross based on the writings of Fr Doyle. For each of the next 14 days a meditation from his writings on one of the Stations will be posted on the site, normally without the usual daily comment. The images accompanying these meditations are the images of the Stations in St Raphael’s Church in Surrey, England (http://www.straphael.org.uk) and are used with the kind permission of the parish.
The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned To Death
Around the judgement seat are grouped a motley crowd. Men and women of every rank, the high-born Jewish maiden, the rough Samaritan woman; haughty Scribes and proud Pharisees mingle with the common loafer of the great city. Hatred has united them all for one common object; hatred of One Who ever loves them and to their wild fury has only opposed acts of gentle kindness. A mighty scream goes up, a scream of fierce rage and angry fury, such a sound as only could be drawn from the very depths of hell. “Death to Him! Death to the false prophet!”. He has spent His life among you doing good – Let Him die! He has healed your sick, given strength to the palsied, sight to your blind – Let Him die! He has raised your dead – Let death be His fate!
There was much interest in the life and spirituality of Fr Doyle, and in his canonisation cause, up to the middle of the last century. At this point, on the surface, interest in Fr Doyle seemed to reduce somewhat. But closer inspection indicates that interest in, and devotion to, Fr Doyle did not completely disappear. Fr Doyle has always had his clients – those whose families have reason to be grateful for his service to their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers in the war, and those who discovered him in the older books and formed a devotion to him over the past half century or so.
It seems that the days of Fr Doyle’s apparent decline (and again I emphasise that this decline was only a perceived decline, for devotion to him has always lingered on) are over. It is abundantly clear that many who had previously heard of Fr Doyle have rediscovered him, and that an entirely new generation that has encountered him for the first time are now determined to tell others about this remarkable man.
From apparent obscurity, the last few years have seen a number of significant developments in relation to Fr Doyle. For example, a number of years ago, a small book publisher called Tradibooks republished Alfred O’Rahilly’s classic biography of Fr Doyle, making it readily and widely available to a whole new generation (review here: http://fatherdoyle.com/2011/03/08/spiritual-reading-for-lent-2/). The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer have republished a slightly modified edition of Merry in God under the title Trench Priest (Available here: http://www.papastronsay.com/bookshop/product.php?ID=21). This blog and website was started in June 2010. A number of newspapers and magazines, both religious and secular, have carried stories about Fr Doyle. The last 6 months have brought very significant developments. In November 2013 Carole Hope produced the important new study of Fr Doyle’s military career in Worshipper and Worshipped (review here: http://fatherdoyle.com/2014/02/13/book-review-of-worshipper-and-worshipped/). And just this year, and also of great significance, the Catholic Truth Society has produced a booklet about Fr Doyle written by K.V. Turley entitled Fr Willie Doyle & World War I: A Chaplain’s Story. All of these initiatives are independent of one another and have developed in an organic fashion. While all of these initiatives are small building blocks, it seems likely that interest in Fr Doyle will grow as we commemorate World War I over the next 4 years.
The newly published CTS booklet is important precisely because of the wide distribution and attention that CTS booklets attract. Not everybody will read a full biography, or at least, not until they know that it is worth investing time and money in the endeavour. This 70 page booklet is an excellent and concise introduction to the life and spirit of Fr Doyle, and is sure to inspire many to investigate this heroic figure in more detail.
Fr Doyle lived a life of great action and intensity, both externally in his work as a priest and military chaplain, and internally in his spiritual life. K.V. Turley’s book captures this life and its fine balance of action and contemplation in an accessible and attractive manner. The booklet is divided into 15 short chapters and a number of appendices. The first 28 pages review Fr Doyle’s life prior to the war, and almost 40 pages provide an overview of his adventures as military chaplain from November 1915 until his eventual death in August 1917. As with all books about Fr Doyle, most chapters include numerous charming quotes from Fr Doyle’s own pen, often illustrating his intense spiritual life, and giving us a glimpse into his burning love for God and for others.
By and large, the contents of the booklet will mostly be familiar to those who have already read the O’Rahilly biography, but it has the great advantage of brevity and accessibility. But there is some material which has not generally been published in widely available books prior to this. Appendix III outlines the devotion that St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, had for Fr Doyle, and describes how St Josemaria wrote about Fr Doyle (without naming him) in his famous book The Way.
K.V. Turley and the Catholic Truth Society have done a great service in producing a short, direct, and accessible booklet which provides a rounded portrait of the life and soul of Fr Doyle. We now have a concise, modern introduction to Fr Doyle’s life to share with others. Those with an interest in Fr Doyle should buy multiple copies of it to distribute it to their friends and contacts.
Today is the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s father’s death. Hugh Doyle died on this day in 1924, just three months short of his 92nd birthday.
Hugh Doyle seems to have been a remarkable man. He was Chief Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court in Dublin, and retired at the age of 90, having served for 73 years! (Yes, those figures are correct; they are not typos…). He was a devout man – he prayed every morning before going to work, he lead the rest of the family and servants in their devotions, and after breakfast he would appoint one or other of the children to read aloud to the household from the Imitation of Christ or from Challoner’s Meditations. He was also renowned for his service to the poor, and was active in the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Fr Doyle clearly had a close relationship with his father. It is due to this relationship that we know so much about his experiences in the war as he wrote many letters home to his father. He clearly missed his father and wanted to reassure him that all was well.
One of the striking characteristics of his letters to his father was their remarkable cheerfulness. Fr Doyle was often surrounded by death and squalor, yet he still found time to write home to his father. He describes in some of his letters the conditions in which he wrote – sometimes up to his knees in water, sometimes standing up as there was nowhere to sit, or sometimes even sitting on unexploded shells! This dedication in writing to his father, to reassure him and put him at ease, illustrates Fr Doyle’s own virtue and concern for others, as well as his filial love.
One of the great things about “Worshipper and Worshipped”, the new biography of Fr Doyle’s war service (seehere), is that it includes practically the complete war correspondence from Fr Doyle to his father. We can see in these letters just how tender their relationship was – Fr Doyle often signs off with many expressions of respect, affection and love.
There is one further charming story about Hugh Doyle. One night in 1922 (he would have been 89 or 90) he was disturbed by a burglar who made him get up and open all of the drawers. As he was ransacking the drawers he came across a photo of Fr Doyle who had been dead for 5 years at this stage. The burglar became excited and asked who it was. Fr Doyle said that it was his son who had given his life for the soldiers in Flanders. The robber responded by saying “That was a holy priest, he saved many souls”. He then took the card, kissed it, put it in his pocket, and left the house!
Let us remember the repose of the soul of Mr Hugh Doyle in our prayers today.
I will give a lecture on the life and spirituality of Fr Doyle next Thursday evening (April 3) at the Young Adults Forum at 7.30pm in Merrion Road Church, Dublin 4. The talk will take place in the Upper Room which is located in the Tower.
The talk will last for about 45 minutes and will be followed by time for questions and discussion.
Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her?
COMMENT: Mary’s Yes was a pivotal moment in our salvation history and indeed in the history of the world. The request that she consent to being the mother of the Messiah must have been bewildering for her. It had implications for her, and for all of humanity throughout all eternity, that she could not at that time imagine. Yet she didn’t hesitate. She abandoned herself to God with utter faith. Mary was without sin, and always responded to God’s will. Yet she retained her own free will, and in theory she could have refused to follow God’s path for her. That’s why her “Fiat”, her declaration “May it be done unto me according to your word” is such an important example for us. How different things might have been without her faithful acceptance…
How different the world would have been if the saints across history had not accepted God’s will. 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 were 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 great defect in my character and chief reason why I make so little progress is my want of fidelity. Thus in the past eighteen months I have not marked the ejaculations and acts of self-denial over three hundred times.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers here to his tendency of keeping meticulous records about numerous aspects of his spiritual life. Many saints kept detailed spiritual records in order to review their progress day by day and to ensure that they were aware of any slippage in their acts of devotion. It is a practice recommended by St Ignatius for his Jesuit sons. Fr Doyle was generally very conscientious in keeping his “spiritual accounts” up to date.
It is consoling for the rest of us to read about this period of time in which Fr Doyle did not keep his records up to date so often, presumably due to being busy or overwhelmed with others tasks. Even the very devout have to struggle with their resolutions – this fact should give consolation to the rest of us.
The key issue that we might consider in today’s quote is that of fidelity. Fr Doyle is correct – we will not make progress unless we are faithful to our resolutions. We see this in so many areas of our life. We will not advance in study unless we are faithful in our work; we will not become fitter unless we remain faithful to our physical exercises. The same principle holds true for our spiritual life. We must strive to remain faithful to our resolutions. However, there will inevitably be times when we fail and when we lack fidelity. In such a situation we don’t give into discouragement which is one of the greatest weapons of the enemy. Rather, we pick ourselves up and start again.
We are now almost half way through Lent. Have we been faithful to our resolutions? If not, it doesn’t mean that we just give up – we still have almost 4 weeks of Lent left in order to get back on track.
Make your prayer simple, as simple as you can; reason little, love much, and you will pray well.
COMMENT: There is perhaps a danger in presenting this quote from Fr Doyle today. I am not exactly sure who Fr Doyle was writing to when he wrote these lines, but almost certainly it was somebody in religious life, probably a nun.
The spirituality of 100 years ago was somewhat different from today. There were numerous manuals on prayer. They had the great advantage of providing some sort of framework for the spiritual life, but they perhaps also came with the disadvantage of making the entire process too formulaic, at least for some people.
Today’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form of the Mass recounts Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Let us read again Christ’s words:
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.
Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Commenting on this Gospel passage Pope Benedict once wrote:
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7)…expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.
Simple prayer, based on love, will bring us this living water. As St Teresa of Avila, commenting on prayer, tells us:
The important thing is not to think much, but to love much.
This, of course, is easier said than done! The Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass today gives us some further insight. Jesus tells us:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.
How often our hearts are divided. We say we want God, but yet we indulge in sinful habits, often without the necessary struggle against them. We cannot find that living water with a weak, divided will. We cannot succeed with only simple, loving prayer unless we try to control our conflicted heart.
St Teresa, Fr Doyle, and presumably the nun he was writing to were all capable of this simple prayer of love because they struggled to conquer their divided hearts. That is one of the secrets of Lent. We should wage a battle against our sinful habits so that we can find Christ, the Living Water, and love Him with an undivided heart.
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.
The torture of St Nicholas Owen
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.
Blessed Clemens August von Galen
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,
Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more do I really believe this?
COMMENT: Today is the anniversary of the death of St Benedict, and in the older calendar it is his feast day. St Benedict, like St Joseph, is the patron of a happy death. Much of what we know about St Benedict comes from the writings of St Gregory the Great. Here is his description of the death of St Benedict on this day in 543.
Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.
St Benedict’s death was a peaceful one. Fr Doyle spent himself tirelessly to try to bring a peaceful death to many fallen soldiers. His was the last face many of them saw, as he brought the consolation of his priestly presence in their last moments. It was in this cause that he died, when he ran into no man’s land to rescue two wounded officers and was himself killed in the process.