Thoughts for December 1 (St Edmund Campion) from Fr Willie Doyle

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent, has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace – they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become saint – it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life ‘sacrifice always and in all things'”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these lines 100 years ago today, on 1 December 1914, during his retreat that year. They sum up a key aspect of his life and spirit – that he clearly felt that he was chosen to live a life of extra penance. He clearly saw this as his special mission, and he recognised that it was not something for others to copy. That is why he was always very tough with himself and very gentle with others. As he says – “they may meritoriously do what I cannot”.

Did Fr Doyle have an inflated ego in thinking that he had a special mission to asceticism? I don’t think so. His penances were shared with his confessor who approved of them with few changes. His penances were also private – nobody else was to know about them apart from his confessor, and we would know nothing of them today were it not decided to disobey Fr Doyle’s wishes and publish some of his personal notes. In several places in his diaries Fr Doyle mentions that he felt energised and strengthened by his penance, but on the other hand he felt sick and fatigued when he took it easier on himself. Finally, one can clearly see that the heroism of Fr Doyle in the trenches cannot really be separated from his asceticism – it is hard to imagine that one who is self-complacent and lazy could have done what Fr Doyle did during his years as a chaplain. His penances prepared him for these rigours. One cannot have the heroic Fr Doyle unless one also has the ascetical Fr Doyle – they are part of the same package. 

Today we also celebrate the feast of one of the great Jesuits, St Edmund Campion. I am not aware that Fr Doyle ever wrote about him, but it is certain that he admired him. St Edmund’s dramatic life surely appealed to Fr Doyle’s own personality.

St Edmund, like so many others, was martyred for being a Catholic at Tyburn. Here is what he had to say on this matter.

And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted; so it must be restored.

“It is of God, it cannot be withstood…”. So too with our own lives, even if they are much less dramatic than St Edmund’s or Fr Doyle’s. If we struggle to improve in our interior life, in our work and family relationships, in our apostolate, and entrust all this to God’s grace, then surely it cannot be withstood.

St Edmund Campion
St Edmund Campion

2 thoughts on “Thoughts for December 1 (St Edmund Campion) from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. Dear Pat, I first came across Fr. Willie via a copy O’Rahilly many years ago. He was a man both extraordinary yet down to earth, the type of Saint we need today. I have your blog bookmarked on my IPad next to electronic morning newspapers and I appreciate your dedication and discipline. The sadness is that you are doing a job that the Irish Jesuits should be doing. God bless you.

  2. The words of St Edmund Campion SJ remind me of the last letter of another ‘Advent Jesuit’, if I may use that term, Fr Alfred Delp SJ, executed by the Nazis on 2 February 1945. He wrote in his lat letter, on the day of his death, ‘The real reason for my conviction is that I am and have remained a Jesuit. They could not show a connection to July 20. And the Stauffenberg charge could not be upheld. The other sentences that really had to do with knowledge of July 20 were less serious and more matter of fact. The atmosphere was so full of hate and hostility. The basic thesis was: a Jesuit is a priori an enemy and opponent of the Reich.’ [ ].

    He wrote a number of Advent meditations while in prison. These, and other of his writings, were published after the War.’ Advent of the Heart – Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings – 1941-1944′ is published by Ignatius Press [ ]. Their website has a number of extracts from the writings of Fr Delp and articles about him. I had a paperback edition of his writings with a foreward by Thomas Merton many years ago but lost it along the way..

    The extract above from the writings of Father Willie shows, as you pint out, that his call to practise severe penances was a grace from God and was something he did very quietly, with the blessing of his confessor. Matt Talbot’s penitential life was very similar. This is brought out very clearly in the marvellous 30-minute video of Matt’s life written by the late Fr Desmond Forrestal in 1985 [ and ]. An added delight for anyone from Dublin is the script – pure Dublin but perfectly intelligible to non-Dubliners.

    I wonder if Father Willie and Matt ever met each other. Matt surely would have known of the Jesuit priest.

    I was chatting with an Irish bishop last year who didn’t think that Father Willie’s cause for beatification and canonisation would prosper because of the form of his asceticism. I think that your extract from Father Willie’s writings today and your comment answer that particular objection. His life and death surely pass the ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ text.

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