Abandon yourself completely into the hands of God, and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable, or disagreeable. Only then can God make you really holy.
COMMENT: We love to stay in control. We find it hard to no longer be in charge of our own affairs. This is part of the natural human condition. But we are called to go beyond the natural level and to live supernaturally, and this involves a level of no longer being in control of every aspect of our lives.
Fr Doyle always practiced what he preached. By volunteering to become a missionary in the Congo, even though he wasn’t eventually chosen to go, he showed his abandonment to God’s will. He lived this abandonment to its fullest as a military chaplain – he could easily have lessened his own hardships if he wanted, but he shared the privations of the soldiers.
Fr Doyle described his abandonment to God’s will in the following way to his sister in a letter he wrote to her in 1916:
Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me…The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before.
Let us conclude with a short reflection on abandonment to God from Jean Pierre de Caussade, the Jesuit author of the classic book Abandonment to Divine Providence.
Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”
The merit of living under religious rule may be gathered from the difficulty of always and faithfully keeping that rule. Holiness and deliberate violation of our rules are a contradiction.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was known for his close adherence to the Jesuit rule, and the faithful fulfilment of its precepts is a recurring theme in his resolutions and notes. Adhering to a religious rule is tough, and because of this it is a sign of sanctity. St Teresa of Avila said that her nuns would not need miracles to prove their sanctity – if they faithfully followed the rule she established it would be enough for them to reach holiness.
Normally it is only members of a religious order to have rules that they have to formally live by. However, it would be a mistake for the rest of us, especially for lay people, to attempt to live without some rule of life. Many people establish rules or guidelines in order to help them get through their work each day. When people join a gym they are given set exercises to follow. If we are to take our spiritual life seriously we will also establish some rules or guidelines which we should aim to follow. Otherwise we run the risk of following particular spiritual exercises only when we feel like it, and as anybody who has ever achieved anything will testify, this is a sure way to fail! It is not necessary for the rule to be very detailed or to minutely programme every moment of our day – indeed, such an approach is almost impossible for lay people living in the world. But it is essential to have some basic rules about when and how we will pray, as well as small sacrifices that we will try to offer up each day. There is no better time to develop such a rule of life than Lent.
Fr Wilfrid Upson, who was Abbot of Prinknash Abbey in England in the 1940’s, laid out the importance of having our own rule of life in the middle of the world in the following words:
Human nature is the same whether we respond to the monastic cell or whether we live out our lives in a normal worldly environment. Few are so spiritually minded that they can afford to neglect the help of some sort of rule of life and standard of spirituality to which they can endeavour to conform themselves when faced with the many problems of a world where even moral standards have ceased to exist.
Over and over again I asked myself, when reading that book, was it not strange that I should come across the very ideas which had been in my mind so long: namely, the longing of our Lord for more souls who would be absolutely at His mercy, His pleasure and disposal; souls in whom He could work at will, knowing that they would never resist Him, even by praying to Him to lessen the trials He was sending; souls who were willing and longing to be sacrificed and immolated in spite of all the shrinking of weak human nature.
Now I have long thought He wants that from you. And everything that is happening seems to point that way. If you make such a surrender of yourself absolutely into His hands, I know not what humiliations, trials and even sufferings may come upon you, though you must not ask for them. But He will send you grace in abundance to bear them, He will draw immense glory out of your loving crucifixion, and in spite of yourself He will make you a saint. . . This must be chiefly an act of the will, for it would be unnatural not to feel trials or humiliations; but even when the tears of pain are falling, the higher nature can rejoice. You can see this is high perfection, but it will bring great peace to your soul. Our Lord will take the work of your sanctification into His own hands, if you keep the words of the Imitation (iii. 17. i) ever before you: ‘Child, suffer Me to do with thee whatever I will.’ Do not be afraid for He would not ask this if He did not intend to find you the grace.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in February 1912 to a religious to whom he was giving spiritual direction, and the book to which he was referring was a biography of Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny whose feast is commemorated today.
Blessed Marie de Jésus was the French foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, a congregation especially founded to pray for priests and to offer reparation for the sins of priests. This is how Fr Doyle’s biographer, Alfred O’Rahilly, describes the charism of this congregation:
This ideal (prayer for priests) is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are “to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders.” In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. “It is not without consolation of heart,” said the Pope, “that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity.”
Here is how Blessed Marie de Jésus described her calling in her own words:
To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times. . . . I would gladly give my life if only Christ could find in priests what he is expecting from them. I would gladly give it even if just one of them could perfectly realize God’s divine plan for him.
There are a number of references to Blessed Marie de Jésus in Fr Doyle’s notes and letters, and we know from much else in his life how important the ideal of priestly sanctity was for him – not only did Fr Doyle strive with all of his energy towards his own personal sanctification, but he was also the Director-General for Ireland of the League for Priestly Sanctity and he also offered up many of his great austerities for priests and in reparation for the sins of priests.
So let us copy the example of both Blessed Marie de Jésus and of Fr Doyle, and pray for our priests who face so many challenges and difficulties today, especially in Ireland.
Today is also the feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a young Passionist who died of tuberculosis before his ordination. I can find no reference to St Gabriel in Fr Doyle’s writings, but he was most certainly aware of St Gabriel – he was beatified during Fr Doyle’s lifetime, and St Gabriel features prominently in the life of St Gemma Galgani to whom Fr Doyle was devoted. That both had somewhat similar personalities: St Gabriel was apparently the life and soul of the party and was also a good shot with a gun. Fr Doyle was of course renowned for his own sense of adventure and fun, so I’m sure that the very human, and very fervent, St Gabriel would have appealed to him. The spiritual outlook was also somewhat similar. Both believed in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well and both struggled with great industry to grow in holiness through self-denial and a war on comfort and self-love.
Here are some of St Gabriel’s resolutions which are very similar in tone to those of Fr Doyle:
I will keep my rule, even the smallest thing. I will not neglect any of my spiritual exercises. I will shun idleness. I will be punctual. I will obey the sound of the bell as though it were the voice of God. I will receive all things from the hand of God, as being sent by Him for my own personal benefit. I will profit by every occasion for mortification that may occur. I will fulfil exactly my ordinary duties, mortifying self in whatever would prove an obstacle to perfect obedience. I will mortify my eyes and my tongue. I will not leave my cell without necessity. I will not inquire after anything through curiosity. I will check my desire to talk. I will increase the number of such like acts daily. I will not take any food outside of mealtime. I am poor and I should act accordingly. I should be willing to put up with any inconvenience gladly. I will not eat with avidity, but rather with reserve and with modesty, subjecting my appetite to reason. I will mortify myself in ordinary things and whatever I feel inclined to do, saying in my heart: “O my God, I will not do this thing through mere inclination, but because it is thy will”. I will be reserved toward those to whom I feel most inclined, prudently avoiding their presence and conversation. I will not utter a word that might, in the least, turn to my praise. I will not take pleasure in any praise bestowed upon me. I will never excuse myself when I am blamed or corrected, nor even resent it interiorly, much less put the blame upon others. I will never speak of the faults of others, even though they may be public, nor will I ever show want of esteem for others, whether in their presence or in their absence. I will not judge ill of anyone. I will show the good opinion I have of each one by covering up his faults. I will consider everyone my superior, treating all with humility and reverence. I will rejoice at the good done by others. I will not permit myself to become interested in vain and useless things. I will rejoice at the success of others. I will practice charity and kindness, assisting, serving and pleasing all. I will shun particular friendships, so as to offend no one. Every morning and evening I will practice some act of humility, and gradually increase the number. I will close my heart against disquiet of any kind. I will suppress immediately all emotions of impetuosity and all affections that might cloud my mind, even lightly. I will obey the voice of the Superior as if it were the voice of God himself. In my obedience I will neither examine the why nor the wherefore. I will conform my judgment to that of my Superior. I will not employ time in conversing about purely worldly matters. “Faithfulness in little things” is the motto I will always follow in my efforts to reach holiness. I will try to reproduce in myself whatever I see edifying and virtuous in the conduct of others. I will give to God the best that I have — the entire affection of my heart.
A habit of ejaculatory prayer is a sign of nearness to God, for our own holiness will be in proportion to our love and thought of Him all day long.
COMMENT: St Paul tells us to pray always. The great saints and mystics lived constantly in God’s presence, almost unconsciously making everything they did a prayer. Yet, unless they have received many graces, it is unlikely that they started out with this constant presence of God. For many, it required much effort and discipline to overcome their natural human tendency towards dissipation.
One technique for living more completely in God’s presence is the use of aspirations – short prayers interspersed throughout the day to help remind us that we are in the presence of God.
If we love someone with a human passion, it is normal that we think about them throughout the day. Can we really say that we love God as we ought if we only think of Him during our times of formal prayer, or when we want His help with something?
When you commit a fault which humbles you and for which you are really sorry, it is a gain instead of a loss.
COMMENT: Here we see the great balance and humanity of Fr Doyle, which was also the great balance and humanity of many of Fr Doyle’s generation.
It is easy to fall into the prejudice that Catholics of previous generations were narrowly obsessed with sin and that they lacked mercy and balance. It was simply not so!
As Fr Doyle suggests, we truly can gain from our sins and our faults when we repent and humble ourselves and adhere more closely to Christ. The bitter experience of our weakness teaches us how little we are. It is those who are little, who know their limitations, who are most secure from temptation. On the contrary it is those who feel most secure in their own merits and virtues who are most likely to fall. Pride goes before the fall, as the saying goes.
The experience of our sins also fosters a great spirit of repentance – or compunction – in our soul. As the Imitation of Christ declares,
No man is worthy of Heavenly comfort who has not diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.
“The power of the Most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke, 1:35). Light comes with this blessed over-shadowing,. and before God’s power difficulties disappear. It is ever so. With God’s grace mine, I face the difficulty and find it has vanished: I take up the heavy cross and discover it most light; I put my hand to the work and it proves easy.
As regards confession it would be much better to confine yourself to the accusation of, say, three faults, and turn the whole flood of your sorrow upon these. I fear you, like so many, lay too much stress on the accusation of sins, which in these frequent confessions, is the least important part of the Sacrament. To my mind the one thing which completely changes all our notions of confession is the thought that every absolution means an immense increase of sanctifying grace or holiness. Let that be your aim and not the mere pouring out of little faults, all of which, maybe, were washed away that morning by Holy Communion.
COMMENT: There has been a debate about whether or not Ireland was afflicted with Jansenism in the early part of the 20th Century. Whether it was full-blown Jansenism or not, there were at least widespread tinges of it which were manifested by excessive scrupulosity and an over-emphasis on judgement and considerably less emphasis on the mercy and love of God. Fr Doyle was an enemy of what he rightly termed as “the wretched spirit of Jansenism”.
In today’s quote he is of course writing to somebody who is striving to live a holy life, so his advice would not apply completely to somebody who has been away from the sacraments for a long time. His advice seems very Ignatian – to focus on key faults in an attempt to eradicate them. But as always, his emphasis is not on the sin itself but on the mercy of God and the grace which He longs to give us.
These thoughts are appropriate today on the feast of St Margaret of Cortona.
St Margaret lived in the 13th century and she seems to have been a promiscuous and rebellious teenager. She gave birth to a son but never married his father. After nine years the father of the child died, probably as a result of a murder. This shock helped bring about a conversion of life for Margaret. It wasn’t easy for her, and she had to fight valiantly against temptations to return to her former life. She became a Franciscan tertiary, and with the assistance of others who were drawn to her growing sanctity, she cared for the poor and established a hospital in Cortona.
We see the truth of Fr Doyle’s words in the life of St Margaret and indeed in the life of many saints – Confession and conversion are less about our accusation of sins, and more about God’s mercy and grace.
Finally, an interesting detail in the image of St Margaret below – as St Margaret turns to the angel, and the devil is driven to despair and rage in the background…
The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle clearly perceived that he had a special calling to make reparation for the sins of priests. In fact, he reiterated this calling in the very last entry that he ever made in his diary, on July 28 1917, the 10th anniversary of his ordination and just two weeks before his death:
I have again offered myself to Jesus…to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy…in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all “little pains” in this spirit. A strong urging to this.
We don’t hear very much about reparation these days but this idea is entirely scriptural. St Paul tells us:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.
In some mysterious way, our own sacrifices strengthen the Church and win grace for others.
Fr Doyle specifically focuses on the sins of priests. Priests were held in very high esteem 100 years ago, yet here we have Fr Doyle recognising the reality of priestly sinfulness. It was a desire to atone for these sins that drove him to some of his severe penances.
How much more we know about the sinfulness of some priests now than we did 100 years ago! The Church in Ireland has been especially badly hit by the scandal – the crime! – of child abuse. It is no exaggeration to say that the moral credibility of the Church has been dreadfully undermined by these scandals, and especially by their mishandling. Those in the United States who have seen the fallout of clerical abuse in dioceses like Boston have some sense of the implications of clerical scandals on the credibility and life of the Church. But it must be stressed – the fallout for the Church in Ireland has been vastly more serious than anywhere else, and that includes places like Boston.
Today we celebrate the feast of St Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church. St Peter Damian is not one of the better known Doctors, but he is of great significance for his zealous work in reforming the Church, and in particular the clergy, of his time. And what was the main focus of his reform? Yes, that’s right, sexual corruption amongst the clergy, and in particular the abuse of teenage boys by priests and monks. Remarkably, St Peter Damian was born over 1,000 years ago, and died in 1072. His extensive writings on this problem cite with approval the works of another Doctor of the Church, St Basil the Great, who died over 1,600 years ago in 379. It is clear that neither saint took the matter lightly. Their prescription for abusers included public flogging, imprisonment, bad food and constant supervision to ensure that the guilty party never again had contact with children.
This is not to suggest that the crime of abuse is disproportionately acute in the Church; we know from authoritative statistics that this is not the case. But we do know that the way in which the problem was handled in recent decades was gravely deficient. Perhaps the Church leaned too heavily on psychologists, or was too strongly influenced by the prevailing secular social norms which, in that period, trivialised this activity.
The point remains that the Church has, within its own tradition, a strong response to the problem of clerical abuse. If the Church in Ireland had adopted the zero tolerance approach of St Peter Damian the Church would have underlined its seriousness in eradicating this crime and would have protected children.
For some reason, however, especially in Ireland, the Church decided to prefer the solution of secular therapists to that of the saints.
And so we come back to Fr Doyle and reparation for the sins of priests…
Once again we find that Fr Doyle is a very fitting model for us today. Here is a priest who died for others, even those who did not share his faith. Here is a man who literally offered his life to God in reparation for the sins of other priests. True, we must not follow his own personal style of penance – he makes it clear that he had a special calling for hard penance that others did not have – but the principle is there for us to follow nonetheless. And it now officially forms part of the Church’s response to the abuse crisis. Pope Benedict, in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland, urged us to offer our Friday penances essentially in reparation for the sins of priests and for healing and renewal.
Let us pray to St Peter Damian for reform within the Church – and most importantly within ourselves – and to Fr Doyle that we may make adequate reparation for sin through our own small penances.
I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.
COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. Even this small glimpse of His Divinity is enough to dumbfound the apostles and fill them with fear. While the earthly transfiguration, as such, was obviously unique to Christ because of His Divinity, it remains true that we are all meant to be “transformed” in some spiritual way by grace.
However, this transformation can also be physical in some way in the lives of the saints. There is a temptation to discount such phenomena as part of as mythical “Golden Legend” of the saints. Sometimes it can be good to be a little sceptical about mystical phenomena, but it is surely not the Christian position to completely and automatically dismiss such phemonena out of hand entirely.
We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. The Book of Exodus tells us how the face of Moses was shining and radiant after he came down from the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of St John Paul II perceived that his face also shone on occasion. Those who were present at the apparitions at Lourdes also reported a radiant look on the face of St Bernadette during her visions, and it was the power of this radiance that convinced them of the authenticity of the visions. Similarly, those present when St Pio said Mass could also perceive a radiance in his face.
Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:
Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.
Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, internal holiness manifests itself externally in some fashion. Here is some similar testimony from a soldier who knew Fr Doyle in the Great War:
Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’
We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:
Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.
I am convinced that generally we reach sanctity of life only through a long series of falls from which we get up.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a very realistic understanding of our human nature. He too struggled with temptations and with his own defects, but like the saints he realised that we do not battle alone, but rather with the help of our loving God, of our guardian angel and of the entire communion of saints.
Perhaps many of us have already forgotten what our new year’s resolutions were. No matter, we can pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. The most important thing is never to give up.
Here is leaflet printed in 1955 from Maine in the United States which contains this particular quote from Fr Doyle whom the author referred to as a “the saintly chaplain of World War 1”. How true those words were. It is interesting to come across yet another unexpected reference to Fr Doyle from another part of the world. This is a further testament to how widespread devotion was to Fr Doyle was at one point.
You may find there entire pamphlet here (Fr Doyle is mentioned on page 6):