Thoughts for November 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, based on the writings of St John Climacus
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, based on the writings of St John Climacus

The reason I find it so hard to love God, why I have so little affection for Him, is because of my attachment to venial sin and my constant deliberate imperfections. I have, as it were, been trying to run with an immense weight round my feet; I have tried to reach the unitive way without passing through the purgative, to jump to the top of the ladder without climbing up the steps; so that after all these years I am still as barren of real love of God as when first I entered religion. No, I must work earnestly now to remove the very shadow of sin from my life, then to imitate the humble suffering life of Jesus and thus win His love.

I look upon it as a great grace that in spite of my tepid life Jesus has given me an ardent desire to love Him. I long eagerly to love my Jesus passionately, with an intense ardent love such as the saints had; and yet I remain cold and indifferent with little zeal for His glory.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 108 years ago today, during the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises.

Back then, reasonably educated Catholics would have understood what Fr Doyle referred to when he wrote about the unitive and purgative way; we hear much less about this idea today than in the past, but it remains a fundamentally important aspect of Catholic spirituality. The idea is that we are called to union with God, not just in heaven, but also in a sense in this life as well. However, we cannot “jump to the top of the ladder without climbing up the steps”; thus we must pass through the purgative and illuminative way first. The first stage involves the fight against mortal and deliberate venial sin, and necessitates the development of personal discipline. This is precisely why Fr Doyle is such a great example for us. His personal notes and reflections, detailed so well in Alfred O’Rahilly’s biography (which is available by clicking on the link in the right hand column) provide a tremendously detailed tactical guide for the spiritual life. Certainly there are aspects of Fr Doyle’s life that should not be copied by others – he received many great graces and much was asked of him. But in many other respects his life and teaching is of very great relevance for us today, especially with respect to performing our duties with love and making small penitential sacrifices.

Fr Doyle’s simple spiritual tactics are an excellent guide to help us climb the ladder of the spiritual life.

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