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

Thoughts for June 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

I felt the presence of Jesus very near to me while praying in the chapel at Ramsgrange. He seemed to want me to write down what He said: ‘I want you, my child, to abandon every gratification, generously, absolutely, for the love of Me. Each time you give in to yourself you suffer an enormous loss. Do not deceive yourself by thinking that certain relaxations are necessary or will help your work. My grace is sufficient for you. Give Me all at all times; never come down from the cross to which I have nailed you. Be generous, go on blindly, accepting all, denying yourself all. Trust in Me, I will sustain you, but only if you are really generous. Begin this moment and mortify every look, action, desire. No gratification, no relaxation, no yielding to self. Surrender yourself to Me as My victim and let Me make you a saint.’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recorded this message 102 years ago today, on June 16, 1912.

Fr Doyle was something of a mystic; the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography make this much clearer than the earlier editions do. Fr Doyle seems to have received several messages similar to this one around this particular period of his life. Perhaps these messages or inspirations continued right to the end of his life, we do not know.

What are we to make of such inspirations? Well, ultimately they matter little. While various kinds of inspirations and messages are common in the lives of saints and other holy people, they are neither necessary for sanctity nor are they are a guarantee that the person practiced heroic sanctity. In general, this website has tended to avoid discussion of the mystical graces that Fr Doyle seems to have received. There is a good reason for this – they are unnecessary for our own progress and, 100 years removed from the event, we cannot be sure whether they were truly divinely inspired. Indeed, we should avoid too much curiosity about such mystical phenomena in general, especially when they have not been approved by the Church. Even St Pio, surely one of the saints most closely associated with extraordinary mystical phenomena in recent centuries, used to become impatient with those who were too curious about such things, insisting that it is better to live by faith alone without seeking “proof” of the supernatural in this way.

Clearly the core of this message – that of denying oneself always and in everything – is not of immediate, universal application. This was a particular call that Fr Doyle felt within himself, and it seems to have been approved by his confessor. It is not the road that most people are expected to follow.

Nonetheless, there are three particular messages that we may take from today’s quote and apply to our own lives.

Firstly, the idea that every time we yield, we suffer a loss. Obviously this is true of mortal sin. We suffer an incalculable loss whenever we freely consent to such sin. We lose the life of grace in our soul, we lose all of the merit we have accumulated in our life to date and we would end up losing eternal life if we were to die without repenting. However, we also lose even by giving in to venial sin. We may not lose the state of grace, but we also lose out on acquiring extra graces as a result of our struggle against sin. The same also applies to our purely temporal affairs. Every time we yield to the desire to eat chocolate we lose in our battle to stick to a diet; every time we yield to the temptation to stay in bed longer we lose in our battle to be more effective in our working day. The principle has many applications which we can easily apply to our own lives.

Secondly, we see in today’s quote the importance of trusting in Jesus. According to Fr Doyle’s perception, Jesus indicated that His grace was sufficient for him. This echoes the famous prayer of St Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing dismay thee, all things pass.

God never changes, patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing.

God alone suffices.

Finally, Fr Doyle felt that Jesus said to him: “Let Me make you a saint”. We have to make serious efforts ourselves through various acts of piety and asceticism, but ultimately these are never enough on their own and they always require the addition of grace. If we do what we are meant to do, we can be assured that Jesus will provide the grace that we need to reach the sanctity He has in mind for us.

Thoughts for June 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me. I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.

COMMENT: If Fr Doyle suffered from the problem of human respect – an untoward concern for what others think of us – then there is little surprise that we ourselves might fall prey to it as well. This is especially challenging for us who live in a culture where religious faith is scoffed at and where those who practice it are viewed as being intellectually challenged and uneducated. In some respects, the prevailing norms in Europe make living the faith almost like a “social martyrdom”. On the other hand, we now have festivals and public spectacles that are designed to celebrate and normalise sin.

If we shrink from living our faith for fear of human respect, then we cannot hope to effectively shape the culture in which we live. We must be coherent Christians. Yes, we should practice our faith with discretion and balance, but we should do so without fear. Perhaps the words of St Jean-Marie Vianney, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, might help on this point:

The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people. If the Devil cannot get him back through human respect, he will induce an extraordinary fear to possess him that his confessions are not good, that his confessor does not understand him, that whatever he does will be all in vain, that he will be damned just the same, that he will achieve the same result in the end by letting everything slide as by continuing to fight, because the occasions of sin will prove too many for him.

St John Vianney
St John Vianney

Thoughts for June 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Naploeon said “I want you to do so and so”, and I replied “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? Generous or making conditions? In easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

COMMENT: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus? It was regular reflection on these questions that shaped Fr Doyle’s will and strengthened him for the martyrdom that he suffered. For Fr Doyle, Napoleon was a compelling figure. For us, 100 years on, perhaps it is a more contemporary military or political figure that attracts. How many people would go through fire and water for the current President of the United States? Or even for a sports star or a celebrity? But if we would happily serve such an “idol”, how much more willingly should we serve our Creator to Whom we owe everything?

What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

Thoughts for June 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

Pope leads Benediction after Eucharistic adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

The Moment of Benediction.

The priest turns and raises aloft the Sacred Host. In loving adoration, in reverent awe, the invisible angels fall prostrate. The bell tinkles softly, fragrant clouds of sweet-smelling incense ascend on high, and in the remotest corner of the vast church every head is bowed in adoration. It is a solemn moment, a moment when the silent streams of grace pour down upon our souls. God’s hands are lifted up to bless us; His sacred face is turned upon us, and He waits oh ! so eagerly for us to ask some favour that He may win our hearts by His generosity. Let us ask, then, confidently and show our trust in God’s great goodness by the boldness of our requests.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recommends that we be bold in our requests. This comes from a priest who knew the power of God, for he saw it at work firsthand in his own life.

God wants to give us His blessings and His graces. It is true that he doesn’t want to be treated like a heavenly ATM machine, and there is surely something defective in our spiritual life if we only call on Him when we are in trouble. But none of this changes the fundamental generosity of God. He wants to help us, and sometimes He will even work real miracles to assist us. If we do not ask for miracles we will not receive them!

Today is the feast of one of the great miracle workers in the Church – St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church. In many churches, St Anthony’s statue is one of the most popular ones; it is not unusual across Europe to find an overflowing pile of papers stuck into the statue’s hands. These requests for favours come from all sorts of people of every age. Perhaps there are those who might be tempted to sneer at this simple piety and devotion. It is surely not to everyone’s taste, but that does not mean that it is not to God’s taste. St Anthony’s enduring popularity surely indicates that he is an effective intercessor for those of us who still journey on this earth.

Let us be bold in our requests, both to God Himself, and also through the intercession of Mary, our guardian angel, the souls in Purgatory and the saints. We can also be bold in our requests (privately, of course!) of those who have not been canonised, including Fr Doyle himself. 

St Anthony
St Anthony

Thoughts for June 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Third Degree of Humility.

1. Accepto. I will receive with joy all unpleasant things which I must bear : (a) pain, sickness, heat, cold, food; (b) house, employment, rules, customs; (c) trials of religious life, companions; (d) reprimands, humiliations; (e) anything which is a cross.

2. Volo et desidero. I will wish and desire that these things may happen to me, that so I may resemble my Jesus more.

3. Eligo. Wtih all my might I will strive every day agere contra in omnibus: (a) against my faults; (b) against my my own will; (c) against my ease and comfort; (d) against the desires of the body; (e) against my habit and inclination of performing my duties negligently and without fervour.

COMMENT: Today’s text from Fr Doyle comes from his notes on the Long Retreat in the autumn of 1907. This retreat was to have a profound influence on his life; everything that came after, including his sacrifices in the trenches, seem to be fruits of the seeds that were planted on this retreat.

In these notes, Fr Doyle reflects on St Ignatius’ meditation on the three types of humility, which is placed during the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. The full text from Ignatius is as follows:

Third Humility. The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when…in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want to choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobium with Christ replete with it rather than honours; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.

Fr Doyle shows us a way in which we can attempt to reach this degree of humility, namely by acting agere contra in omnibus – against myself in all things. This was fundamental in Fr Doyle’s spirituality, and it is crucial to remember that the hero of the trenches was not born that way – he made himself strong and courageous, with God’s grace, by acting against himself in small things every day. We do not need to act against ourselves in ALL things – Fr Doyle had a special calling that is different from ours. But if we do not act against ourselves in SOME things we become spiritually weak and flabby, we become selfish and unattractive to live with in our families and communities.

The benefits of this spiritual discipline can help us not only in spiritual terms but in human terms as well. The Jesuit priest, Fr Walter Ciszek, who suffered greatly for the faith in prison camps in Siberia and elsewhere in Russia, reports in his own memoirs that it was his own daily discipline in denying himself that helped him prepare for long years of deprivation, solitude and hard work.

Fr Doyle, Fr Ciszek and so many saints show us in their lives that traditional ascetical practices not only train us for the next world, but they also equip us to face challenges in this life as well.

Fr Walter Ciszek SJ

Thoughts for June 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

Venerable Matt Talbot

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive…

Physical mortification was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day – there was nothing unusual in it all. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion? The self inflicted “pain” Fr Doyle speaks of need not be something very big or burdensome. Getting up a little earlier, going to bed on time, reducing time wasted on television, starting work on time, biting our tongue when we want to criticise someone, not taking salt on our dinner… There are many ways that we can practice a measured asceticism that is discreet, balanced, humble and will improve both our spiritual and temporal lives.

Last Saturday was the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot, but we had two other posts on that day, so we are only finding time to commemorate Matt today.

Matt died in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know…

As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit. How odd then if anyone were to think that Fr Doyle’s asceticism would make him less appealing to the public…

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had?

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Prayer for the beatification of Venerable Matt Talbot.

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament.

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.