Thoughts for March 31 from Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Doyle recorded the following incident relating to this day 100 years ago. It was his first night sleeping in a dug out.

I had rather an amusing experience the first night I spent in the trenches. On arriving here I found two officers in the dug-out, which was intended for me, but as they were leaving the next day, I did not care to evict them. After some search I came across an unoccupied, glorified rabbit hole (any port in a storm.) It was not too inviting looking, and rather damp, but I got a trench- board which made a capital foundation for a bed and spread my sleeping bag over it. Let me say here that I do not recommend ‘trench-boards’ for beds. It is simply a kind of ladder with flat steps, which is laid at the bottom of the trench, but being rather narrow requires great skill to prevent yourself from rolling off during the night. In addition, the sharp edges of the steps have a trick of cutting into your back and ribs making you feel in the morning as if you had been at Donnybrook Fair the night before.

In spite of it all I slept soundly till I was awakened by feeling a huge rat sitting on my sheet. The rats round here beat anything I have ever seen. If I told you they were as big as sheep you would scarcely believe me, so let me say a lamb: in any case this fellow was a whopper, weighing fully 7 pounds as I proved afterwards. I thought first of all that ‘I had them again’, but as I was gradually awoke more fully I felt his weight and could dimly see the black outline. Before I quite realised what was happening, a warm soft tongue began to lick my face, and I recognised my old friend – the dog.

Today also marks an important anniversary in Fr Doyle’s life – he entered the Jesuit novitiate 125 years ago today.

 

Thoughts for March 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus 2

He loves your soul dearly, cling to Him, and trust Him, He so longs to be trusted.

COMMENT: There is something of an unfortunate stereotype about the Catholicism of 100 years ago in Ireland. It suggests that God’s love was ignored or downplayed and that there was an excessive emphasis on morality and on Catholicism as a set of rules rather than as a relationship with Jesus.

There is some truth in this stereotype. I was once struck by something Fr Doyle once wrote (disapprovingly) in his diary:

People say it is very hard to love God.

What an odd idea that is for us today, who have grown up with the idea of a God of love. There was certainly something amiss with a vision of Catholicism in which love did not play the central role.

But this negative view of the past is very far from the whole picture. There is absolutely no evidence that Fr Doyle overemphasised sin and downplayed love – his letters of spiritual direction and his private notes reveal very clearly his own passionate love for God. This love overflowed into a life of zealous service for others.

Most of us have a very weak trust in God. The saints were not like us. Their faith and trust in God’s Providence was simple and profound and it was this reliance on God that allowed them to achieve so much.

Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, died just a few days ago on Easter Sunday, after several years of debilitating illness. Mother Angelica was the living embodiment of trust in God’s providence; it was one of her characteristic virtues. What she achieved in religious broadcasting, with no experience or money, is almost a standing miracle. Again and again EWTN faced financial crises in its early days and a person of lesser faith would have given up in despair. But Mother Angelica put her trust in her Heavenly Father, and the necessary money was always found, sometimes at the last moment and in unexpected ways. This is one of the reasons the saints achieved so much in their lives – they had radical trust in the Lord.

Mother Angelica

Thoughts for March 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

You will be glad to know, as I was, that the ninth edition (90,000 copies) of my little book Vocations is rapidly being exhausted. After my ordination, when I began to be consulted on this important subject, I was struck by the fact that there was nothing one could put into the hands of boys and girls to help them to a decision, except ponderous volumes, which they would scarcely read. Even the little treatise by St. Liguori which Fr. Charles gave me during my first visit to Tullabeg, and which changed the whole current of my thoughts, was out of print. I realized the want for some time; but one evening as I walked back to the train after dining with you, the thought of the absolute necessity for such a book seized me so strongly, (I could almost point out the exact spot on the road), that there and then I made up my mind to persuade someone to write it, for I never dreamt of even attempting the task myself. 

I soon found out that the shortest way to get a thing done is to do it yourself, or rather God in His goodness had determined to make use of me, because I was lacking in the necessary qualifications to get His work done… 

I remember well when the MSS. — which does not stand for ‘ Mrs ‘ as Brother Frank Hegarty read out once in Clongowes: ‘St. Jerome went off to Palestine carrying his Missus’ — had passed the censors to my great surprise, the venerable manager of the Messenger Office began shaking his head over the prospect of its selling, for as he said with truth, “It is a subject which appeals to a limited few.” He decided to print 5,000, and hinted I might buy them all myself! 

Then when the pamphlet began to sell and orders to come in fast, I began to entertain the wild hope that by the time I reached the stage of two crutches and a long white beard, I might possibly see the 100,000 mark reached. We are nearly at that now without any pushing or advertising, and I hope the crutches and flowing beard are still a long way off. God is good, is He not? As the second edition came out only in the beginning of 1914 the sale has been extra ordinarily rapid. It is consoling from time to time to receive letters from convents or religious houses, saying that some novice had come to them chiefly through reading Vocations; for undoubtedly there are many splendid soldiers lost to Christ’s army for the want of a little help and encouragement. . . . A welcome gift from a benefactor, not a benefactress this time, has just reached me in the shape of a donation of £3 to distribute a thousand free copies of Vocations. The donor believes that if one cannot oneself volunteer for the war, the next best thing is to try to get someone else to do so.

One never can tell into what generous heart the good seed may fall, or the number of souls that possibly may be saved by this distribution. May God bless him and send along a thousand more imitators, for “the harvest is great and the labourers few” said our Blessed Lord, and He ought to know! 

COMMENT: This is the text of the second last letter Fr Doyle ever wrote. It was written from the trenches on 25 July, 1917, about 3 weeks before his death. It was written to Fr Doyle’s father and the title “Bits and scraps for an old man’s breakfast” was written on top. 

I chose this letter for today’s quote as Fr Doyle’s father’s anniversary is this week (in fact it was yesterday, March 28). Hugh Doyle died on this day in 1924 at the ripe old age of 92. 

Fr Doyle clearly had a close relationship with his father. It is due to this relationship that we know so much about his experiences in the war as he wrote many letters home to his father. He clearly missed his father and wanted to reassure him that all was well. 

One of the striking characteristics of his letters to his father was their remarkable cheerfulness. Here he is, surrounded by death and squalor, including in his letter the charming story of St Jerome’s missus! We see this tendency in many of Fr Doyle’s letters to his father. It illustrates Fr Doyle’s own virtue and concern for others, as well as his filial love. 

There is one further charming story about Hugh Doyle. One night in 1922 (he would have been 89 or 90) he was disturbed by a burglar who made him get up and open all of the drawers. As he was ransacking the drawers he came across a photo of Fr Doyle who had been dead for 5 years at this stage. The burglar became excited and asked who it was. Fr Doyle said that it was his son who had given his life for the soldiers in Flanders. The robber responded by saying “That was a holy priest, he saved many souls”. He then took the card, kissed it, put it in his pocket, and left the house! 

The text of the booklet on Vocations mentioned by Fr Doyle in today’s quote can be found here: https://fatherdoyle.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/vocations.pdf  

Thoughts for Easter Monday from Fr Willie Doyle

Resurrection

If my resurrection is to be a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.

COMMENT: Just as Christ rose from the dead, in a sense we too much continuously rise from sin, from spiritual death. Fr Doyle makes an extremely important point in today’s quote – if the reformation of our lives is real, it should manifest itself in virtuous external acts.

St Josemaria Escriva also touches on this point:

How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

Have our days of penance in Lent, our commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, produced any external fruit that enriches the lives of those around us?

Thoughts for Easter Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus resurrection 1

May every Easter blessing be yours, and may our crucified Jesus, Who has certainly drawn you to Him on the cross, raise you up now in the glory of His Resurrection.

COMMENT: Christ is risen! Let us celebrate with great joy!

Fr Doyle has left us some notes which reveal to us something of his experiences on some Easter Sundays during his life. They reveal his missionary zeal and also his good cheer, even in the midst of sufferings. I have chosen just two – his first Easter Sunday as a priest and the last Easter Sunday of his life. 

Easter Sunday 1908, on a mission in Yarmouth: 

I had a strange experience which seemed providential. In my wanderings through the slums I came across by accident an old woman over ninety who had not entered a church for long, long years. ‘I have led a wicked life,’  she said, ‘but every day I asked God to send me a good friend before I died and I feel now my prayer is heard.’ The next day I came back and heard her Confession, and brought her Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the tears streamed down her old withered face she said, ‘Oh, Father this is the first happy day of my life, for I have never known what happiness is since I was a child.’ I could not help feeling that the opening of heaven to that poor sinner was a reward more than enough for all the long years of preparation now passed.

This second quote comes from Easter Sunday 1917, just 4 months before his death. His touching, and respectful, comments about the local French girls shows his good humour and naturalness, even in the midst of much suffering in the war.

Easter Sunday was quite a red letter day in the annals of the town (Pas de Calais, France). The regiment turned out in full strength, headed by the pipers, and crowded the sanctuary, every inch of the church, and out beyond. I had eight stalwart sergeants standing guard with fixed bayonets round the altar. At the Consecration and also at the Communion of the Mass the buglers sounded the Royal Salute which is only given to Monarchs. The guard at the word of command presented arms, and in our poor humble way we tried to do honour to the Almighty King of Kings on the day of His glorious triumph. I must not forget to add that the lassies and maidens did us the honour of coming to sing during Mass, casting many an envious glance (so rumour says) down on the handsome Irish lads praying so devoutly below.

Let us go and meet the risen Lord, sounding the Royal Salute within our own souls.

Thoughts for Holy Saturday from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus in tomb

The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.

Thoughts for Good Friday from Fr Willie Doyle

Crucifixion

The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?

COMMENT: Once again, there are so many things that one could meditate on today. The Passion is a rich and inexhaustible source of meditation for us. It has converted many souls and formed great saints. St Teresa of Avila, for instance, lead a relatively mediocre religious life until one day she reflected on an image of Jesus being scourged at the pillar and was deeply transformed by the experience. 

Today’s quote from Fr Doyle focuses on the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Reflecting on this thirst has had a powerful effect on many saints, and specifically on the life and spirituality of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As St John Paul II said at her beatification: 

The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God’s longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa’s soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.

Certainly it was a physical thirst, after all of the exertions and torture and loss of blood of the preceding several hours. But the thirst was also spiritual in nature. St Josemaria Escriva tells us:

He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him, along the way of the Cross which is the way to immortality and heavenly glory.

From the 19th century book “The School of Jesus Crucified” by Fr Ignatius, an Italian Passionist priest, we find the following reflections on the thirst of Jesus:

Besides this corporal thirst, Jesus suffers from another spiritual species of thirst, which cannot be so easily assuaged.

Jesus thirsts for our eternal salvation, He thirsts for souls. This is the thirst of which he complains, and which is consuming His very life’s Blood. Jesus most passionately desires that the Blood He has shed should benefit mankind by saving them from Hell; and yet He foreknows that there will be many eternally lost, notwithstanding all His love and all His sufferings. Oh, truly does this thirst consume the loving Heart of Jesus, and its sacred heat slowly but surely deprives Him of life! 

If thou hadst been present on Mount Calvary, and hadst heard our Redeemer saying ‘I thirst’ wouldst thou not have relieved His sufferings by giving Him a little water? Know that even at the present moment it is in thy power to relieve His burning thirst. He says to thee from the Cross, ‘My son, I thirst for thy soul.’

We will conclude today with the following private reflection from Fr Doyle’s notes. This very personal record was not meant to be seen by others, and it is all the more significant because of the tinge of Jansenism affecting the Church, including the Church in Ireland, at that time. One of the effects of the Jansenist heresy is to diminish our love for God, to make us feel unworthy of His love, and to make us overly austere and focussed on rules. This heretical spirit worked itself out in very damaging ways as the 20th Century progressed. Of course, it is also possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction as an excessive reaction against Jansenism… In any event, it is clear from this reflection that Fr Doyle was not affected by this heresy of Jansenism.

I…once more had an opportunity of a quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.

Perhaps today we may find this outpouring of love to be a bit excessive. But then again, Fr Doyle was called to an excessive love; to that greatest of loves which involves laying down one’s life for others. In this, he imitated his Master to the very end.