Thoughts for April 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

I have just returned from a mission. Before going I made up my mind to give up for the week my mortifications at meals, partly through self-indulgence, partly to avoid singularity. I was very unhappy the whole time, Jesus reproaching me constantly for abandoning my life of crucifixion.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in April 1914. At this stage in his life, Fr Doyle was living a life of intense mortification. It is interesting to read that even one who was so advanced in the life of prayer and asceticism could yield to what he himself calls “self-indulgence” (of course, his definition of self-indulgence could be very different from ours!). The fact that self-indulgence could remain a temptation for Fr Doyle is surely something of a consolation for us in our own temptations – it reminds us that we shall always face temptations throughout our entire lives, and encourage us not to yield to despair in the face of ongoing temptations.

Discipline in the matter of food is a constant theme in the lives of the saints. Fr Doyle’s Jesuit colleague. the Servant of God Fr John Sullivan (who was ordained on the same day as Fr Doyle), was renowned for his own discipline in this area, often only eating small amounts of food, to the dismay of those who cooked for him. The rule of St Benedict imposes a strict fast in Lent, and in some traditions it also necessitates fasting from meat throughout the year. Famously, St John Vianney often ate only one potato per day.  And of course, fasting was an essential part of the asceticism practiced by the early Christians, following the example of Jesus Himself. Fr Doyle himself was motivated to greater fasting by the example of Carmelite nuns to whom he was giving a retreat. Far from being singular, Fr Doyle’s concern for avoiding self-indulgence in food is part of the solid tradition of the Church. And not only that, it is an act of social justice and solidarity in a world where far too many have involuntary hunger imposed on them through poverty.