Thoughts for September 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio
The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the apostle St Matthew. St Matthew followed, giving up his comfort and mammon to follow a prophet who had not even anywhere to lay his head. Matthew continued following him, even unto death.

But both Fr Doyle and St Matthew grew in intimacy with Christ, and in turn gave more and more to Him. Tradition has it that St Matthew was martyred, possibly in Ethiopia. By the time Fr Doyle was sent to the trenches, he seems to have reached a level of detachment where he gladly shared the deprivations of his “poor brave boys”, and was even hoping to go to a leper colony if he survived the war.

Neither man started out so heroically, but responding to grace day by day transformed them in ways they never imagined. We too can be transformed if we rely on grace. It doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom or great suffering for us, but it will mean that we will render great service to God and man if we just follow where God leads.

Thoughts for September 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God. And does it not commend itself very specially to religious? For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come O Holy Ghost into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Devotion to the Holy Spirit is not just something of relevance for religious; it helps all of us, for we all need inspiration and we all need to be transformed in faith and fortitude.

One liturgical calendar I have consulted designates today as the feast of St John Houghton. I cannot find any other calendar that suggests that his memorial is today, but it matters little, for his story ties in with Fr Doyle’s quote above.

St John Houghton was a Carthusian priest who was one of the very first to oppose King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts, hence the picture of him with a noose around his neck and his heart in his hand.

Originally the Carthusian monks did not know whether to support the Act or not, and it was after saying the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit that the monks received the strength to oppose King Henry and the courage to follow through with their position despite its grizzly implications.

Fr Doyle, too, followed the inspirations of the Holy Spirit by volunteering as a military chaplain, and the grace of the Holy Spirit saw him through many tough times, allowing his cheerfulness to shine out to those around him.

Both St John Houghton and Fr Doyle trusted in the Holy Spirit and, to use Fr Doyle’s phrase, “were changed …from skulking cowards” and became “afire with the love of God”. That very same grace that was available to the Apostles and early Christians, to St John Houghton and Fr Doyle, remains available to us today.

St John Houghton
St John Houghton

Thoughts for September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Joseph the Worker
St Joseph the Worker

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the famous prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. We would profit immensely to reflect on its sentiments.

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for September 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Without constant union with our Lord there cannot be any real holiness, one reason being that without recollection the inspirations of the Holy Spirit are missed and with them a host of opportunities of little sacrifices and a shower of graces. As a means of gaining greater recollection, each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus to dwell in your heart during the day as in a Tabernacle. Try all day to imagine even His bodily presence within you and often turn your thoughts inwards and adore Him as He nestles next your heart in a very real manner, quite different from His presence in all creation. This habit is not easily acquired, especially in a busy life like yours, but much may be done by constant effort. At times you will have to leave Him alone entirely, but as soon as you can, get back to His presence again.

COMMENT: The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an inexhaustible source of grace. Yet, while the same amount of grace is available to everyone, in practice we do not all obtain the same graces from the sacraments. Those who are more well disposed to the sacraments, and who approach them with greater purity, humility and love, will obtain more grace. This was the secret of the saints. As that other great Irish priest of the last century, Blessed Columba Marmion, tells us:

Enlarge by faith, confidence, and love the capacity of your souls and grace will abound in you. For if the grace of the sacraments is substantially the same for all, it varies in degree, in intensity, according to the dispositions of those who receive it after having removed the obstacles; it is measured, certainly not in its entity but in its fruitfulness and extent of action, according to the dispositions of the soul. Let us then open wide the avenues of our souls to Divine grace; let us bring for our part all possible charity and purity so that Christ may make His Divine life superabound in us.

Blessed Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion

Thoughts for September 17 (St Robert Bellarmine) from Fr Willie Doyle

A deadly pitfall lies hidden in the desire of some to pour themselves out in works of zeal for God’s glory, to which the evil spirit not uncommonly urges those whom he sees full of zeal. It is evident even to one little versed in the way of the spiritual life that a multiplicity of external occupations, even though good and meritorious in themselves, must by their very nature hinder that calm peace of soul which is essential for interior union with God.

For one who has advanced in the way of interior union, no life, no matter how occupied or full of distracting work, will prove much of a hindrance; such a one has learned how to ride on the waves of worldly care and not to be engulfed by them, he refuses to put himself out or be totally absorbed in things which have only a fleeting interest; but it is not so with the beginner in the spiritual life. Overwork has broken down not a few weakly bodies but has ruined far more souls, drying up if not destroying all love for prayer and the things of God, leaving the wreck of many a “spoiled saint” strewn on the road of life.

COMMENT: This is an interesting quote from Fr Doyle who so often advocates hard work. Yes, hard work is important, but we must always be balanced and recognise the potential danger of overwork. We must always make time for rest and avoid mere activism which is very dangerous to the spiritual life.

St Teresa of Avila also recognised this danger in writing to a priest:

Will Your reverence please remember that you aren’t made of iron. Just think of all the good brains in our Order that have been ruined from overwork.

Today is also the feast of the Jesuit St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church. St Robert was a famous theologian and cardinal. He had a special interest in England and his works were considered so dangerous by Protestants that Queen Elizabeth I banned them.

As  a Doctor of the Church, St Robert is one of the most important Jesuit saints. We ask for his prayers today for all Jesuits, and for Jesuit vocations.

St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church
St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for September 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Blessed Lord loves me, with all my faults and failings, and has marked me out for the special graces which will make me a saint, a big one if I like.

COMMENT: “If I like”…What telling words from Fr Doyle today. God loves us, and He wants us to imitate Him more closely. But he will not force us. We are called to be saints and to co-operate with His will for us. But we have to want to do so. God will not force us – He will not make us holy against our will. We must co-operate.

Perhaps we, too, can learn from this. Even though He wants us to be better, God does not force us to become saints. Similarly, we cannot force others to believe or to practice their faith. Fr Doyle knew this and always approached others with gentleness and kindness, despite his burning zeal for their salvation. He did not force or condemn. As St Francis de Sales used to say, a spoon of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar. 

Thoughts for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows from Fr Willie Doyle

Our lady of sorrows

To sensitive souls the pain they cause others is far worse than any sufferings they may endure themselves. They may have much to endure, but to see others in pain causes them deeper grief. Jesus and Mary meet. Alone He could have suffered with joy so that she, His dearest Mother, might have been spared the agony of seeing all He must endure. With one look of pity Jesus reads the anguish of that cruelly lacerated heart; with one long gaze of infinite love and pity Mary sees the depth of her Son’s woe, His long hours of torture, His utter weariness, His sorrow, His grief, His anguish. May she not help Him? At least lift for one moment that cross?

COMMENT: Mary longed to help Jesus with His cross. So too she wants to help us, and will obtain for us the graces we need to assist us with our difficulties.

15 September 1917: Praise for Fr Doyle from an Irish officer

In his biography of Fr Doyle, Alfred O’Rahilly reports that an Irish officer (unidentified by O’Rahilly) published the following tribute to Fr Doyle in the Catholic News on 15 September 1917:

Strong Point 13 and the little dug-out of the brave padre rise before me as I write. I recall the early Mass when our battalion was in reserve. Often have I knelt at the impromptu altar serving that Mass for the padre in the upper barn, hail, rain, and snow blowing in gusts through the shell-torn roof. He knew no fear. As company officers, how many times have we accompanied him through the front line system to speak a word to the men. Well do we remember when at long last we went back for rest and training, how our beloved padre did the long three days’ march at the head of the battalion. Which of the men do not recall with a tear and a smile how he went ‘over the top’ at Wytschaete? He lived with us in our newly-won position, and endured our hardships with unfailing cheerfulness. In billets he was an ever welcome visitor to the companies, and our only trouble was that he could not always live with whatever company he might be visiting. Ypres sounded the knell. Recommended for the D.S.O. for Wytschaete, he did wonderful work at Ypres, and was recommended for the V.C. Many a dying soldier on that bloody field has flashed a last look of loving recognition as our brave padre rushed to his aid, braving the fearful barrage and whistling machine-gun bullets, to give his boy a last few words of hope.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus on 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.

Come, sinner, gaze upon your work for you have nailed Him there!

COMMENT: On this, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, we remember how the instrument of torture on which Christ was abused and insulted, was also the sign of His victory over sin and death.

Let us also remember to pray for the Church around the world, but especially in Ireland. Unfortunately many wish to subject the Church to vile jests and jibes, just as Christ Himself was tormented. Let us pray for grace to touch their hearts, but also very especially that the internal corruption that has occasioned these jibes will be eradicated once and for all.

13 September 1917: Praise for Fr Doyle from Lt. Col. Stirke

Lieutenant Colonel H. R. Stirke, who commanded the 8th Dublins, had the following praise for Fr Doyle in a note that he wrote on this day in 1917:

He was one of the finest fellows I ever met, utterly fearless, always with a cheery word on his lips, and ever ready to go out and attend the wounded and dying under the heaviest fire. He was genuinely loved by everyone, and thoroughly deserved the unstinted praise he got from all ranks for his rare pluck and devotion to duty.