Thoughts for June 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

“No evil shall come upon you”, (Jerem. 23. 17). It is a consoling thought that God watches over us with unceasing care; that no matter where we may be – alone in our humble cell or passing through the crowded streets of the feverish panting city – the hand of God is over us and sheltering us from a thousand unknown dangers, guiding us safely along the path of life. Wicked men may plot evil things against us, all the hellish horde may rage in fury round us, but harm us they cannot without His consent who directs all things for His own wise ends.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle certainly personified this tremendous trust in God throughout his own adventurous life. But we also see this abandonment to, and trust in, Divine providence in the lives of all the saints, and none more so than the great Thomas More. It was his feast yesterday, but we did not reflect on it because it was also the feast of Corpus Christi. However, we shall consider St Thomas More today.

There is something quite fascinating about lay saints. Perhaps it is my own bias as a layman that leads me to this conclusion. There are obviously many great saints who were members of religious orders, but then their entire lives – its structure and timetable and relative freedom from worldly cares – more readily orient that life towards sanctity. Yes, it takes much effort, and grace, for religious to reach heroic sanctity, but at least the external form and support of religious life offers much help in this regard. For those of us in the world, there are few such obvious supports. In fact, today there are so many temptations and structural obstacles that lead us in the opposite direction that it requires an even firmer will, and lots of grace, to even get us started on the road towards sanctity. That, however, is no excuse, for we are all called to perfection! We must grow where we are planted. This is why the many new lay movements and organisations of different types and spiritualities are a great assistance as they provide structure and support for holiness for those who must seek that holiness in the midst of daily troubles and distractions.

St Thomas More himself faced many obstacles to sanctity. It’s not spiritually easy to be the head of a large household and to be one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful countries in the world. In addition to his extensive legal, political and scholarly pursuits (any one of which would have made for a very complete life), St Thomas was a real family man who took the education of his children (and his daughters!) very seriously. He was renowned for his cheerfulness and for the depth of his spiritual life. It is said that he went to bed at 9pm and arose at 2am every morning, spending several hours in prayer before setting off for his busy public engagements at dawn. He was also known for his asceticism, and wore a hairshirt under his robes. He was a third order Franciscan and, due to his relationship with the Charterhouse, was probably the equivalent of what we would today regard as a Benedictine oblate.

When those around him compromised in order to maintain the favour of the King, St Thomas remained steadfast, and gave up everything to remain faithful to the Church. He knew the truth of Fr Doyle’s quote today – God watches over us with care no matter where we may be and no matter whether we remain powerful and respected or whether we end up in prison awaiting death simply because we upset the powers that be. As St Thomas put it himself:

Every tribulation which ever comes our way either is sent to be medicinal, if we will take it as such, or may become medicinal, if we will make it such, or is better than medicinal, unless we forsake it.

Let us pray today that we too may have faith in God’s paternal care for us; let us pray also for our political leaders, that they remain faithful to, and uphold, the natural law. St Thomas faced death for defending the Faith. Let us pray for political leaders, that they may always have the courage to do what is right.

Let us also remember that yesterday was also the feast of the heroic bishop and martyr St John Fisher. Let us pray to him for our bishops, that they will have strength when the time of trial comes.

St John Fisher
St John Fisher

Thoughts for the Feast of Corpus Christi from Fr Willie Doyle

Real devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is only to be gained by hard, grinding work of dry adoration before the Hidden God. But such a treasure cannot be purchased at too great a cost, for once obtained, it makes of this life as near an approach to heaven as we can ever hope for.

COMMENT: Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. While the feast properly falls on a Thursday, the liturgical celebration is translated to the following Sunday. in many dioceses.

In today’s quote, Fr Doyle shows us that the encounter with Christ in prayer and adoration is not primarily emotional. We may experience consolations, but it is often more likely that this will not happen.

It was this hard, grinding work at prayer (and indeed in all aspects of his life) that prepared Fr Doyle and procured for him the grace to willingly suffer the deprivation of the trenches and to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life while serving others.

I recently read (on the always excellent Vultus Christi blog) a wonderful quote from Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698), foundress of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, which is relevant for today’s topic.

The interior life is not what one thinks or imagines. It consists not in having beautiful thoughts, nor in saying beautiful words, nor in remaining in a passive kind of prayer without applying one’s mind, as if one were in lofty heights. All of this is, more often than not, no more than fantasy.

The interior life is found in the solid practice of mortification, in the love of littleness and in total detachment from oneself and from creatures.

May we all seek to love the Lord through this tried and tested manner, whether we feel like it or not.

Mother Mechtilde

Thoughts for June 21 (St Aloysius Gonzaga) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Aloysius Gonzaga

Jesus told me today that the work of regeneration and sanctification is to be done by leading souls to Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes in his diary on June 21, 1917, slightly less than two months before his death. Was this based on an actual vision or a locution or just a simply inspiration? We do not know, but ultimately it does not matter for the truth of what Fr Doyle writes is plain for us to see.

Today is also the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, a young Jesuit who died at the age of 23 in 1591. St Aloysius was – like pretty much every saint – deeply devoted to the Eucharist. He begged the Lord that he would die within the Octave of Corpus Christi. He received his first Holy Communion from the great St Charles Borromeo. It is said that he became so hot with devotion after receiving Communion that he often had to leave the church and bathe in a fountain to get relief. Perhaps this last story belongs somewhat to that line of exaggerated hagiographies; I have not read any scholarly review of his life so I cannot judge the truthfulness of this alleged aspect of his life.

Let us pray to St Aloysius that we may acquire some small taste of the devotion that both he and Fr Doyle both had for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Those interested in learning more about the life and spirituality of St Aloysius may find more information here: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_008.htm

 

Thoughts for June 20 (Irish martyrs) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Margaret Ball, one of the Irish martyrs whose feast we celebrate today

Sunday and Monday last were days of wonderful grace for me, as if the Hunter of souls had run His quarry down and so surrounded it with the coils of His love that all escape was impossible. Alas! Does he not well know how that foolish hare will break loose and escape again so soon, spoiling all the plans of the patient Hunter. Still Jesus cannot pass close to the soul without leaving some lasting impression. I cannot but feel that the light he has given me must leave its mark behind, and that I cannot be quite the same again without an awful abuse of grace.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his diary 102 years ago today, on June 20 1912.

Fr Doyle often spoke about the notion of abusing God’s grace. It is not something we hear much about today. In essence, he means that we shall have to give an account of all that God has given us. Everything we have is a gift of God. But God is entitled to a return on that gift; He expects us in some way to use the talents and graces that He has given us to good effect – to give glory to Him and to save souls. Yet, how often do we fail to wisely “invest” those talents that he has given to us…

One of the most frightening lines in the Gospel is found in Chapter 11 of St Matthew’s Gospel. It is easy to overlook it and its significance for us. Speaking of the town of Capernaum, Jesus says:

If the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgement for Sodom than for you. 

In other words, those who never received the grace of faith, even though their sins are greater, will receive a lesser punishment than those who have had the faith revealed to them, but whose sins are smaller. These are stunning words that all who consider themselves to be “practising Catholics” need to carefully reflect on. We abuse the graces of God to our peril!

One of the great gifts that God has given us is the gift of faith. Here in Ireland, until very recently, the Catholic Faith was held in high esteem. Yet, largely due to internal corruption, many have now abandoned Christ and His Church, often without ever knowing much about it at all.

Today in Ireland we celebrate the feast of the Irish martyrs – 17 men and women who lost their lives because of their faith in the late 1500′s and early 1600′s and who were beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1992. Whatever crisis of aggressive secularism we now face in Ireland, we are at least not losing our lives for our faith. Yes, we may be belittled, we may have our sanity or our decency questioned. We may even lose out financially or in our careers due to a subtle discrimination against those of faith. In a sense, this is also a persecution, but a bloodless, psychological one. The Irish martyrs remind us of what our ancestors suffered to preserve the faith in Ireland. From this small land, many missionaries went out to evangelise the new world, especially in Africa, America and Australia. These 17, plus the hundreds of other unrecognised martyrs, and the other unknown multitudes who suffered in other ways, have played a significant role in the evangelisation of the English speaking world by preserving the faith for future generations. How well are we doing in preserving the faith for future generations? Have we abused this gift that God has given to us?

Today is a day of remembering these heroic men and women, and being thankful for their sacrifice. It is also a day on which those of us in Ireland might well examine our consciences, myself included. What is to happen with these 17 Irish martyrs? Is there any interest in having them canonised? Is there any attempt to promote devotion to them and learn from their examples? Do we pray through their intercession for miracles? Are we happy that they, and the hundreds of others who could be beatified, are largely forgotten?

Thoughts for June 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

You need not fear whatever He may send you to bear, since His grace will come with it; but you should always try to keep in mind your offering, living up to the spirit of it. Hence endeavour to see the hand of God in everything that happens to you now; e.g. if you rise in the morning with a headache, thank Him for sending it, since a victim is one who must be immolated and crucified. Again, look upon all humiliations and crosses, failure and disappointment in your work, in a word, everything that is hard, as His seal upon your offering, and rouse yourself to bear all cheerfully and lovingly, remembering that you are to be His “suffering love”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers here to the practice of some rare individuals who offer themselves as so-called “victim souls”, willing to accept great sufferings in reparation for the sins of mankind. This is a path he himself followed, and the Lord accepted his sacrifice as he endeavoured to save some wounded soldiers in August 1917.

For the rest of us who are not called to such a life of suffering, there is still much to learn from Fr Doyle today, especially with respect to “offering up” little problems, frustrations and pains to God. In some mysterious way that we cannot understand, these offerings enrich the entire Church. As St Paul says: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24)

Seen in this way, the headaches of everyday life, borne with patience and fortitude, are an excellent source of grace and merit.

Thoughts for June 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

A great desire to know our Lord better, His attractive character, His personal love for me, the resolve to read the life of Christ and study the Gospels.

I feel also a longing to love Jesus passionately, to try my very best to please Him, and to do all I think will please Him. I see nothing will be dearer to Him than my sanctification, chiefly attained by the perfection with which I perform even the smallest action. “All for love of Jesus.”

The reason, said Fr. Petit, why we find life so hard, mortification difficult, and why we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike, is because we have no real love for Jesus.

COMMENT: Venerable Adolphus Petit was Fr Doyle’s spiritual director during his year of tertianship, the final year of formation for Jesuits before they take their final vows. He had a great respect for Fr Doyle – he is yet another “saint” who approved of Fr Doyle’s spirit and life. It is known that Fr Doyle consulted with him on a trip to Belgium in 1912, 5 years after his ordination. A biography of Fr Petit, written by an anonymous nun in 1932, has the following to say about Fr Doyle’s relationship with Fr Petit:

Overjoyed at the unusual graces bestowed on the young priest (Fr Doyle), the Spiritual Father (Fr Petit) encouraged whole-heartedly his desire for closer union with God, his passionate love of our Lord and his eager zeal for souls. He approved his attraction for mortification, but insisted at the same time that perfections consists much less in the practice of austerities than in abnegation of one’s will and judgement, and in self-forgetfulness and humility.

Here is Fr Doyle’s description of Fr Petit:

There is a wonderful little old priest here, named Fr. Petit, small in name and small in size – he is about three feet high. He is eighty-five, but as active as a man of thirty, being constantly away giving retreats. I have tried several times to get down to the chapel at four o’ clock in the morning before him, but he is always there when I come in. He is a dear saintly old man with wonderful faith and simplicity. In the middle of an exhortation in the chapel, he will turn round to the Tabernacle and say: Is not that true, my Jesus? He is giving a retreat here this moment to a hundred and ten gentlemen.

In relation to the main quote at the top of this posting, once again, there is much that one can reflect on here. The last line is key: we find life so hard, mortification difficult, and…we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike…because we have no real love for Jesus.

Most people have family and/or friends that they love in life, and are generally willing to make great, even heroic efforts, to serve them because of this love. Can the same be said about our service of Christ?

Venerable Adolphus Petit

Thoughts for June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past to give myself heart and soul to the service of God, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and suffer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day.

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”, I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be wanting to aid me at every step.

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree will be all my life’s work, so that I may be worthy to die for Him.

COMMENT: There is much that one could reflect about in these retreat notes from Fr Doyle. Three points, out of many possibilities, suffice.

It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. This idea is a recurring one in the thought of Fr Doyle. All we have to offer God is the present moment. Living in that present moment, and sanctifying it, is the essence of sanctity. This is especially important if we suffer or are offering up some penance. We don’t know if we will have to suffer tomorrow, or next month or next year. But even if we do, we don’t have to bear those sufferings right now. We have only the sufferings or duties or work of this moment. When this moment is over, we will never have to bear its sufferings again. Elsewhere in his notes, Fr Doyle relates this principle to dryness in prayer. If we struggle in prayer, well we needn’t worry about the fact that we have to stay still and pray for an hour. All we have to do is to pray for this one minute. After that, we pray for another minute, and so on, step by step.

Faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”. We will never succeed in doing all things perfectly, but we must at least try, and keep beginning again and again when we fail. Faithfulness in little duties sounds easy, but is incredibly hard in practice, and it is the ordinary path to sanctity for all of us.

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity. Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

The choice of the narrow path is not a once off decision but rather one to be made each moment of each day. It is the decision to adhere to our duty when we would rather ignore it. It was this constant, moment by moment adherence to the narrow path in little things that created the selfless hero of the trenches.

Fr Doyle ended up literally walking a “narrow path” during his time in the trenches