Whenever there is a question of choice, ask yourself, “Which would please God most?”, then, “Which will come hardest to my nature?”. It is this, then, that you will choose: and even though you may not always do so, keep your mind and will bent in the direction of doing always whatever goes against self. This is true holiness.
COMMENT: Perhaps Fr Doyle never wrote anything more counter-cultural than these words. We live in a world that values comfort, personal autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure and the easy life. To such a mindset, the idea of “going against self” seems to be sheer and utter madness.
Yet for all that, modern man does not mind going against himself when it suits him. How many today “go against themselves” in order to earn more money and gain a promotion? How many “go against themselves” by punishing themselves at the gym in pursuit of a more alluring body? It seems to suit the modern mentality to go against our easy going nature when the reward is worth it. And perhaps this indicates that, for many of us today, the love and glory of God is not a sufficient reward to make us go against our natural tendencies…
This is not how it was with the saints. St Thomas More deliberately chose the eldest sister of a family to marry, even though he found the younger sister more attractive – he felt that it would be dishonourable to leave the elder sister unmarried. This same saint wrote about how we cannot get to Heaven in a feather bed. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to destroy his lecture notes every year and start from scratch the following year, even though he was teaching the very same course again – he didn’t want to get lazy by regurgitating the same lecture. St John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, wrote on the same theme as follows:
The soul should always be inclined: not to what is easiest, but to what is more difficult; not to what is more tasty but to what is more insipid; not to what is more pleasant but to what is less pleasant.
St Therese, one of the most beloved of all saints, was dedicated to the teaching of St John of the Cross, and she sought to concoct many ways of going against herself – including, for example, not leaning on back of her chair – so as to have some small discomfort as she sat.
The idea of acting against one’s inclinations is very characteristic of Fr Doyle. But as we have seen from just a few saints (and we could multiply the examples many times over…) it was not some oddity or personality quirk on his part. Apart from having a long tradition in ascetically theology, it is a fundamentally Ignatian notion, and we find many references to it in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. It was a concept very dear to the Jesuits of Fr Doyle’s time. Consider the following, written by the Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ, a friend of Fr Doyle’s who was ordained on the same day:
We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. Anything that denies self is an act of love.
Fr Doyle helped many people throughout his life, especially during the war. How many people – and especially how many soldiers – benefitted precisely because Fr Doyle acted against his own inclinations?
And how much our families and our society would benefit if we acted against our natural inclinations more often…