Thoughts for October 31 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Alphonsus Rodriquez

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez is a striking example of one who, though in a lowly station in life, devoid of all that in the eyes of the world makes for greatness, yet did a mighty work for God. With a heart burning with zeal, which prayer alone could not satisfy, he saw in the young ardent Peter Claver a ready instrument for the work he longed to do. With burning words he fires the soul of the future apostle with a hunger for abandoned souls. He tells him of the wretched slaves dragging out a miserable existence in a far-off world, knowing not the name of Jesus; he pictures to him the rich and golden harvest to be reaped, the victories over sin and Satan; he whispers of the pain and suffering, the heat, the toil, the lingering death, till Claver’s heart is aflame with zeal, burning with a holy fire.

With tender love did the old saint watch the young one grow in virtue day by day; with trembling hands he begs that grace may fall upon this fresh ardent soul and make him worthy of the heavenly call. Alphonsus’ eyes soon must close in death, his time is nearly run, his hour of sweet repose is drawing near; but if he may no longer toil for God, at least he longs to leave behind him one whom by his prayers and bright example he has made a saint.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Spanish Jesuit saint of the 16th and 17th century. He was a doorkeeper in the Jesuit house on Majorca. How many saints have been doorkeepers! From the top of my head, the distinguished list includes St Faustina, St Josephine Bakhita, St Conrad of Parzham, St Martin de Porres, Venerable Consolata Betrone, Venerable Solanus Casey and one of the most recently canonised saints, St Andre Bessette, as well as numerous others. The doorkeeper plays an important role in religious houses, acting as a link with the outside world. But it is also a humble one. Perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something with the sheer number of saints who have held this humble role.

The humility of St Alphonsus’ task is one reason why Fr Doyle should have such admiration for him. After all, Fr Doyle’s constant theme of performing simple tasks well is readily applicable to the life of a humble doorkeeper. St Alphonsus also had great evangelical zeal, and he played a formative role in the life of the great apostle of the slaves, St Peter Claver. This aspect of St Alphonsus also clearly appealed to Fr Doyle, the tireless apostle.

May the example of St Alphonsus Rodriguez teach us that the simplest and most humble tasks are compatible with great sanctity.

You may read more about the spirituality of St Alphonsus Rodriguez here.

Thoughts for October 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Dominic Collins
Blessed Dominic Collins
Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.

COMMENT: The desire to die a martyr was with Fr Doyle from his earliest days. Far from being something morbid, it is one of the ultimate expressions of love for God – the desire to offer everything, even our life, for the One who has given everything to us.

This desire was felt by many saints across the ages, through perhaps we personally may identify more closely with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story described in these words:

She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

The Church in Ireland today celebrates the feast of Blessed Dominic Collins, one of the Irish martyrs and the only beatified Irish Jesuit. More information on Blessed Dominic is available hereHe was only beatified in 1992, and there is no mention of him in any of Fr Doyle’s publicly available writings. However, it is almost certain that Fr Doyle, who was greatly interested in the lives of the saints and especially in martyrs, was aware of, and esteemed, his fellow Jesuit, especially since a book detailing the lives of the Irish martyrs was published by the Jesuit historian Fr Denis Murphy SJ during the years in which Fr Doyle was a Jesuit seminarian.

Here is an excellent video on the life of Blessed Dominic.

Fr Doyle ultimately had his wish – he did die a Jesuit martyr, albeit a martyr of charity, laying down his life to save another, as opposed to the more traditional definition of a martyr as one who dies in defence of the faith. May the example of Blessed Dominic, and of Fr Doyle, inspire us to a generous and selfless defence of truth and service of others. Let us also pray and work for a greater awareness of the many heroic examples of Irish Catholicism in a country that desperately needs positive Catholic role models. Pope Benedict’s Prayer for Ireland  is appropriate:

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.

Amen.

But back to Flannery O’Connor’s character who could be a martyr but only if killed quickly. Let us leave the last words today to Fr Doyle who so often gets right to the heart of the matter:

I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life?

Thoughts for October 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sunset at Dalkey Island, a scene which would have been very familiar to Fr Doyle
Sunset at Dalkey Island, a scene which would have been very familiar to Fr Doyle

“Time that passeth like a shadow”(Ecclesiastes, 7. 1). Watch the shadow of the sun’s rays creep silently across the dial’s face. Slowly, irresistibly it moves on. No power of man can stay its course; the fair, the mighty, the eloquent, may plead in vain, but nought can check its onward march; ever relentlessly forward man’s destiny is hastening to its end.

COMMENT: We will not have any more reflections from Fr Doyle’s retreat for a few more days – perhaps Fr Doyle refrained from writing at the end of October 1907, or even had a day or two of a break from the retreat. In any event, we shall return to Fr Doyle’s retreat notes in a couple of days.

Today’s reflection is very timely at this time of year, as we inch towards November, a month traditionally associated with death and with the holy souls. Even the very fact of putting our clocks back (for those in my part of the world at least) reminds us that winter will soon be upon us. Our days are now increasingly shrouded in darkness here in the northern hemisphere.

None of us likes the thought of death. Yet we know that we simply cannot escape it. But instead of being morbid at the thought of death, let us be filled with a holy enthusiasm for life, cheerfully filling our days with acts of love and service, just like Fr Doyle did.

And let us also pray for those approaching death, that they may have the grace of final perseverance, and be accompanied by the prayers of Mary, whose assistance at the hour of death we invoke every time we say the Haily Mary. Fr Doyle himself accompanied many a poor soldier in his final moments. May he also pray for us when our time comes.

Thoughts for October 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus suffering 7

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.”

COMMENT: This quotation from Fr Doyle’s retreat notes from around this time in 1907 summarises the fruit he gained from the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises.

May we copy Fr Doyle’s love for Christ, and come to know Him intimately, imitating Him even in the smallest details of our lives.

Thoughts for October 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Today we continue with some of Fr Doyle’s reflections on the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises and his resolutions aimed at achieving the Third Degree of Humility. Once again, Fr Doyle’s words are very direct and succinct and there is little requirement for commentary and elaboration.

The reformation of one’s life must be the work of every day, I should take each rule and duty, think how Jesus acted, or would have done, and contrast my conduct with His.

I think it better not to make any definite resolutions about mortification, such as “I will never do so-and-so.” I know how such resolutions have fared. But I am determined to keep up a constant war against myself, now in one matter and now in another, varying the kinds of mortification as much as possible, but trying to do ten little acts each day.

We have a strict right to the love of God, because our vocation is to follow Him; we cannot do this unless we love Him. Jesus will assuredly give me a sensible love of Him, if I only ask. I must ask, seek, and knock daily and hourly.

Fr. Petit told me that the spirit of the Third Degree is not so much the practice of austerities as the denial of one’s will and judgement and perfect abnegation of self and humility. This is the spirit of our rules which are simply the Third Degree.

Have I a real hunger and thirst for the love and the service of Jesus? Is it growing?

If I do not begin to serve God as I ought now, when shall I do so? shall I ever? This retreat is a time of special grace, and if my cooperation is wanting, Jesus may pass by and not return. The devil has made me put off my thorough conversion to God for seventeen years, making me content myself with the resolution of “later on really beginning in earnest and becoming a saint.” What might not have been done in that time!

The reason, said Fr Petit, why we find our 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.

The Gospel says, “He was teaching daily in the temple”. How often, and for how long, am I in the chapel? Is the chapel the place where people know I am to be found? What a difference it would make in my visits, if only I realised the real corporal presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. This is a grace I must earnestly ask for.

“He passed the whole night in the prayer of God”.  I say I am anxious to imitate the life of Jesus, here is something in which I can do so. Would it not be possible (afterwards) to spend an hour at night in the chapel after examen?

Venerable Adolphe Petit (1822-1914), Fr Doyle's spiritual director during his year in Belgium (1907-1908)
Venerable Adolphe Petit (1822-1914), Fr Doyle’s spiritual director during his year in Belgium (1907-1908)

Fr Doyle’s battle against his self-will and comfort

On October 13 (see here) we looked at Fr Doyle’s resolution to submit his will to that of his servant (Fr Doyle had the rank of Captain, and as such had an orderly or servant to look after some of his material needs). Her did this in order to conquer his self-will and to grow in virtue.

Here is one diary note written on this day in 1916, reflecting on his experiences of submitting himself to the will of his servant for the previous two weeks:

I am slowly learning her lesson Jesus brought me out here to teach me. The first and greatest is that I must have no will of my own, only His, and this in all things. It is hard to let everyone walk on you, even your own servant; but Jesus asks this and I try to let Him arrange all as He pleases. Result: yesterday I got no dinner, though I foresaw this would be the consequence of this planning.

These diary notes, written less than a year before his death, show how seriously Fr Doyle took the battle to grow in virtue, and also show how far he had come. It’s worth remembering, as discussed two days ago, that Fr Doyle had also just spent an entire night in prayer in his dug-out. He could well have done with his dinner, but he was content to let God “arrange all as He pleases”.

On one occasion I gave a talk about Fr Doyle and one gentleman in the audience told me that he was told by a priest that Fr Doyle would not be canonised because he was too fond of comfort when he travelled to give missions! It always amazes me how such baseless rumours spread – there is certainly a precedent for it in the lives of many canonised saints!

All one needs to do is to point to these resolutions of Fr Doyle, made in the midst of much suffering in the trenches, to see how little he cared for comfort.

Thoughts for October 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

What account shall I give of this resolution when I stand before my God for judgement?

PRACTICE OF THE THIRD DEGREE.

I. 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.

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

III. Eligo. With all my might I will strive every day agere contra in omnibus (to act against myself in all things): (a) against my faults; (b) against 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 quote from Fr Doyle refers to his tactics for living the Third Degree of Humility (see yesterday’s post for more details). It clearly shows us that sanctity comes about through hard work and God’s grace; the saints were not just born that way. For Fr Doyle, reaching the Third Degree meant that he would accept and desire unpleasant things and act against his own inclinations in a variety of ways. Who amongst us would not benefit from adopting this approach to life? If real hardships are imposed on us, through wars, financial turmoil or other misfortunes, how much better prepared is the person who has learned to act against their own desires and inclinations even in little things.

And if all of this seems too much, remember that Fr Doyle had already been a faithful and zealous Jesuit for almost two decades when he wrote these words -he would seem to have been very far advanced in his spiritual life. Let us begin where we can and trust in the Lord to help us along the way.