Thoughts for Tuesday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

799px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_The_Denial_of_St_Peter_-_WGA11661

My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.

COMMENT: The denial of our Lord by St Peter contains many powerful lessons for us. St Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus. He witnessed the miracles. He saw the dead rise to life, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He saw devils cast out and the paralysed get up and walk. He saw Jesus calm a storm and walk on water. He was there are the Transfiguration. Jesus taught him how to pray. He had left everything and followed the Master. He urged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and risk death. He didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus wash his feet, and promised him that he would die for him. When the guards came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out his sword to defend him. Peter was the Rock, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. He had just been at the Last Supper – essentially he had just been ordained a priest and bishop by Christ…

And then he failed. The man who would die for Jesus denied him when a maid and some other random bystanders said that he was a friend of Jesus.

Then Jesus looked at him. How low he must have felt. The movie The Passion of the Christ has a wonderful scene where, after his denial, Peter goes to Mary. Three times she reaches out to him, and three times he pulls back. The picture above shows something similar – Peter is in tears in front of Mary. In sorrow herself, she consoles him and prays for him.

We may not have physically lived in Jesus’ presence the same way Peter did, but we have received His grace and we have seen the effects of that grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have received many gifts from Him. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church or by staying silent when we could defend it.

Like Fr Doyle, we may feel that we have gone on for years denying Jesus. Well, let us then learn some lessons from St Peter who was so contrite after his fall that he thought it nothing to suffer imprisonment and death for the One he had denied. St Peter repented. He did not despair like Judas did.

There are other important lessons we can take from this episode. We are told that Peter was warming himself at a fire when he denied Jesus. Was it the lack of a spirit of mortification that weakened his will and lead to his fall? We are told that his first denial came after a maid asked him if he knew Jesus. Was he more fearful of the judgement of the maid than the judgement of God? Did he fall because of what is termed “human respect” – a fear of the opinion of others? We are also told that instead of watching and praying with Jesus in the Garden, Peter slept. Not only once, but three times. Perhaps he failed because he did not watch and pray that he would not be put to the test.

But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…  

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Thoughts for Monday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.

Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:

Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.

Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…

As St Josemaria Escriva said:

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

And also:

Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’

In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called. 

By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Palm Sunday: The Fourteenth Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.

I have prepared a document with the text of Fr Doyle’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. The file can be downloaded from here:

Stations of the Cross

If you like Fr Doyle’s writings, please send this file to friends and contacts, and maybe even to your local priest! If you have a blog yourself, please feel free to post it there as well. Perhaps in this way other people can come to know and love Fr Doyle. May Fr Doyle’s meditations enrich your experience in Holy Week!

The 500th birthday of St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

The great St Teresa of Avila was born on this day 500 years ago. Happy birthday St Teresa!

St Teresa is, without any doubt, one of the greatest female saints of all time. In fact, she is one of the greatest saints of all irrespective of gender, and is one of that elite group of Doctors of the Church.

Her personality was remarkable and communicates itself so readily through her writings. She had a wonderful biting wit and holy impatience, and sometimes it is hard not to laugh out loud when reading the psychologically astute observations in her writings.

Few saints have shown more courage, fortitude and leadership than she did.

Many saints had a great devotion to Teresa and Fr Doyle was no different. He regularly gave retreats to Carmelite convents, and he referred to her several times throughout his letters, and even fasted at meals on one occasions in her honour. Here is his record of this experience:

I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.

Fr Doyle had a great admiration for St Teresa’s pursuit of holiness and virtue, which in her case really kicked in at about the age of 40.

The life of St. Teresa teaches us that we should never despair of becoming saints. As a child she was filled with a strange mysterious longing for martyrdom. But the early years of her religious life found her cold or tepid in the service of God, indifferent to the sacred duties of her state. The call came. Sweetly in her ear sounded that little voice which too often in other souls has been hushed and stifled. Teresa rose. The past was gone and no lamenting could recall its ill-spent days, but the present was hers, and the future lay before her. Ungenerous in the past, generosity would be her darling virtue; cold and careless, no one would now equal her burning love for her patient outraged Saviour. 

A wooden block used as a pillow by St Teresa
A wooden block used as a pillow by St Teresa

Many saints have described mystical experiences involving both spiritual delights and physical pain, especially a kind of mystical wounding of the heart. Saints such as Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Pio of Pietrelcina and Philip Neri come to mind. The most famous of all though is St Teresa of Avila. Here is St Teresa’s description of her experience:

It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this way. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Fr Doyle may have experienced something similar to what St Teresa experienced. Here is one excerpt from his writings:

Even as a child I longed and prayed to be a saint. But somehow it always seemed to me as if that longing could never be realised, for I felt there was some kind of a barrier like a high wall between myself and God. What it was, I cannot say even now. But recently this obstacle appears to me to have been removed, the way is open, and I feel I love Jesus now as I never did before, or even hoped to. With this comes the conviction, so strong and consoling with so much peace and happiness, that Jesus will grant my heart’s desire before I die. I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me, until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.

When Fr Doyle refers to a “sweet wounding”, is he referring to a specific mystical experience? Perhaps he is writing in a symbolic fashion, but there is a possibility that he is describing an extraordinary mystical phenomenon that we find in the lives of some of the greatest saints.

Here is an excerpt from another one of Fr Doyle’s letters in which he speaks about a kind of spiritual wounding:

What you say is indeed true. Jesus has been “hunting” me during these past days, trying to wound my heart with His arrows of love. He has been so gentle, so patient, tender, loving, I do not know at times where to turn, and yet I somehow feel that much of this grace is given me for others, I know it has helped souls and lifted them close to Jesus.

I long to get back to my little room at night, to calm and quiet, and yet I dread it, for He is often so loving there. I feel He is near because I cannot go to Him in the Tabernacle. It is such a helpless feeling to be tossed about as it were on the waves of love, to feel the ardent, burning love of His Heart, to know He asks for love, and then to realise one human heart is so tiny.

In the later editions of his biography, Alfred O’Rahilly gives us some further tantalising hints about this aspect of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. Fr Doyle gave spiritual direction to an unnamed nun who O’Rahilly described as a “privileged penitent”. By this he means that she received many graces herself from God. It seems that as well as directing her, Fr Doyle also spoke to her of his own spiritual life. This nun sent the following in a letter to O’Rahilly, presumably in an attempt to explain Fr Doyle’s “wounding”.

In response to inspirations received directly and indirectly from Jesus, he strove, notably for seven or eight years before he died, to ‘put on Jesus Christ’, to model his life on the Priest-Christ, to be, as far as it was humanly possible, ‘another Christ’. This was the secret spring of his holiness. It was not a simple attraction, not a mere fad, but a forming of a life of priestly holiness, distinctly asked for and expressed by Christ. He heard with attention the first invitation: ‘Model your life on Mine, lead a perfect life’. And as if to secure a faithful response, Jesus seemed in the year 1910 to have planted in his heart a spark of divine love. This was the ‘sweet wounding’, a grace like to that received by St Teresa, of which he complained…Jesus infused into his souls some of his own passionate love for souls; and it was this passion that made him seem to do rash things. It was the ‘charity of Christ’ that urged him, and he did nothing through mere caprice or impulse.

Such lofty heights in the spiritual life are hard for most of us to appreciate and understand. There may be extraordinary phenomena in the advanced stages of the spiritual life, and it is surely difficult for our ordinary language to explain them and even more difficult for us to begin to understand them. And perhaps, in this age of doubt and confusion, it may even sometimes be difficult to believe them.

What we can at least say about Fr Doyle is that he received many graces from God (how else could he do what he did?) and that there is evidence which suggests that some of these were very great graces. And if those great graces did actually involve a mystical wounding of his heart, then he is in good company with many of the greatest saints and mystics in the history of the Church, including St Teresa herself.  But we may never actually know the truth of the matter, and in any event such a determination is of course not mine to make – it rests with the Church.

Transverberation of the heart of St Teresa of Avila
Transverberation of the heart of St Teresa of Avila

One thing that both Fr Doyle and St Teresa had in common was a refreshing humanity and sense of humour – St Teresa said that she despised dour faced saints, and it’s clear that Fr Doyle agreed with her on this. Here is one last quote from Fr Doyle which mentions St Teresa in a humorous context.

I wonder is there a happier man in France than I am. Just now Jesus is giving me great joy in tribulation, though conditions of living are about as uncomfortable as even St. Teresa could wish — perpetual rain, oceans of mud, damp, cold and a plague of rats. Yet I feel that all this is a preparation for the future and that God is labouring in my soul for ends I do not clearly see as yet. Sometimes I kneel down with outstretched arms and pray God, if it is a part of His divine plan, to rain down fresh privations and sufferings. But I stopped when the mud wall of my little hut fell in upon me — that was too much of a good joke! 

The Thirteenth Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Mother

Mary stands at the foot of the cross to receive in her arms the lifeless body of her Son. Once more His head is resting on her bosom as it used to do long years ago when a little child He nestled to His Mother#s breast. But now that sacred head is bruised and swollen, stamped with the cruel mark of the mocking diadem; His hair all clotted with the oozing blood, tangled and in disorder. Even she, upon whose heart is stamped every lineament of her Son’s dear face, can scarcely recognise His features now. On every line is marked the anguish of long drawn agony, of torture and agonizing pain, of woe, unutterable woe, of sorrow, suffering and abandonment.

The Twelfth Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross

Upon the cross He hangs now, the most abject and despised of all men, the butt for vile jests, a common mark for all to hurl their jibes at. There He hangs, in agony no human lips can tell, no mind conceive, an impostor, a vile hypocrite, a failure. “He came to make Himself a King! See, we have crowned His brow with a royal, sparkling diadem. He sought a kingdom! From that elevated throne let Him look upon the land which will never be His now. He threatened our Scribes with woes and punishments, let Him look to His own fate and if He has that power which some say was His, let Him come down now from the cross and we too shall believe in His word.”

The Eleventh Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Upon His last resting place Jesus lays Himself down. No soft bed, no easy couch to ease the agony of His aching limbs, but a hard, rough beam must be His place of death. Meekly He extends His arms, those arms ever open to welcome back the repentant sinner, and offers His hands to be pierced as the Prophet had foretold. A long, blunt nail is placed upon the palm: a heavy, dull thud, the crunch of parting flesh and rending muscle, the spouting crimson blood which covers the face and hands of the hardened soldier and Jesus is fastened to the cross. Come, sinner, gaze upon your work for you have nailed Him there! Your sins it was which flung your Saviour down, your sins which drove the iron deep into His sacred flesh.