Thoughts for Holy Thursday from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus agony

Pain and privation are only momentary, they quickly pass and become even delightfully sweet, if only borne in the spirit with which many of my grand boys take these things: ‘Sure, Father, it’s not worth talking about; after all, is it not well to have some little thing to suffer for God and His Blessed Mother?’ But the craven fear which at times clutches the heart, the involuntary shrinking and dread of human nature at danger and even death, are things which cannot be expressed in words. An officer, who had gone through a good deal himself, said to me recently: ‘I never realized before what our Lord must have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He began to fear and grow sorrowful.’ Yet His grace is always there to help one when most needed. 

COMMENT: There are so many scenes one could meditate on during Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood; the washing of the feet; the betrayal and despair of Judas; the denial of Peter and the abandonment of the apostles; the laziness of the apostles sleeping in the Garden; the arrest of Jesus; His ill treatment and mock-trial; His night spent in prison; the anguish of Mary…

Yet the fear of our Lord in the Garden is one of the richest sources of meditation precisely because almost everyone can identify somewhat with Jesus’ acute mental anguish, especially in these uncertain and stressed times. 

Yet we can only really guess at the full weight of Jesus’ agony. His soul was sorrowful even unto death – His anguish was so great that it almost killed Him. He even shed drops of blood. As Fr Doyle tells us, sometimes fear and dread are so great that it cannot be fully expressed in words. In fact, sometimes fear is so devastating that it is even worse than the very thing (pain, loneliness, death…) that made us frightened in the first place.. 

Fr Doyle tells us that when we experience such fear Jesus is there by our side to help us. Fr Doyle should know – his diaries reveal the many times when he had to hide in a hole and shook with fear under heavy shelling during his years as a military chaplain. Yet, with God’s grace, he always overcame his deeply felt fear, and went on to encourage the soldiers who were faltering.

Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it Himself. As St Thomas More tells us: 

It seems that Christ is making use of His own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation. Be brave, He seems to say…Do not give up hope…You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was much more afraid and appalled…Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxiety.

The Jesuit spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier also comments on the transformation that overcomes Our Lord after His agony in the garden.

What a transformation takes place after this third prayer! To the end of the Passion, no matter what men may do to Him, we shall never see Him falter or broken anymore. Always henceforth He is Master. He has strength for Himself, except such as many depend on His poor worn body, and He has strength for everyone about Him…We look on amazed; we wonder whether we have understood aright; and yet around us we see the same illustrated in those who seek their own support in prayer.

May we too, through prayer, transform our anxieties and worries into confidence and strength.

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Spy Wednesday 1917

On Spy Wednesday evening after Benediction, I told the men I wanted nine volunteers to watch an hour during the following night before the Altar of Repose. I had barely finished speaking when the whole church made a rush up to the altar rails and were keenly disappointed when I could only take the first nine, though I could have had thirty an hour if I wanted them. I was touched by the poor fellows’ generosity, for they had just finished a long, hard day’s work with more before them. I got the nine men to bring their blankets into the little sacristy, and while one watched, the others slept. Surely our Lord must have been pleased with His Guard if Honour, and will bless them as only he can.

Thoughts for Spy Wednesday from Fr Willie Doyle

boninsegna-supper

I think He would like you to pay more attention to little things, looking on nothing as small, if connected with His service and worship. Also try to remember that nothing is too small to offer to Him — that is, the tiniest act of self-conquest is of immense value in His eyes, and even lifting one’s eyes as an act of love brings great grace.

COMMENT: Despite the fact that Fr Doyle lived a very dramatic life that involved many big sacrifices, he consistently preached that holiness is normally to be found in little things. In fact, without having strived for holiness in little things, it is doubtful that Fr Doyle would have been capable of his heroism in the trenches.

At first glance, it seems that reflecting on little things during this most momentous Holy Week is a bit a strange. But today’s Gospel contains a subtle reference to the value of little sacrifices and offerings. Given the drama of the Passion, it is easy to miss it.

Go ye into the city to a certain man and say to him: The master says, My time is near at hand. With thee I make the pasch with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them: and they prepared the pasch.

Who was this “certain man” who provided the room for the Last Supper? We do not know. He is not named. But what is clear is that he did an important service for our Lord by providing the room for the Last Supper. What an honour it would be to have provided the room for the Last Supper! This unknown man, humble and hidden, served Jesus in a most special way. He obviously knew Jesus and was ready to serve Him however he was asked. Yet he remains unknown to us. This is the secret of holiness in little things – providing humble and unknown service, without seeking any attention or fame.

As Fr Doyle tells us, nothing is too small to offer to Him.

In conclusion it might be appropriate today to include Fr Doyle’s “parable” of the hermit and the “recording angel”. He included this little parable in one of his very last letters home to his father, and it tells us of the value of little things by way of an amusing story.

In the good old days of yore a holy hermit built him a cell in a spot a few miles from the well, so that he might have a little act of penance to offer to Almighty God each day by tramping across the hot sand and back again with his pitcher. All went gaily for a while, and if the holy man did lose many a drop of honest sweat he knew he was piling up sacks of treasure in Heaven, and his heart was light. But though the spirit was willing, the sun was very warm, the sand most provokingly hot, the pitcher the devil and all of a weight, and the road seemingly longer each day. It is a bit too much of a good joke, thought the man of God, to tramp these miles day in and day out, with my old bones, clanking like a traction engine. Why not move the cell to the edge of the water, save time (and much bad language probably) and have cool water in abundance, and a dry hair shirt on my back?

Away home he faced for the last time with his brimming water jar, kicking the sand about in sheer delight, for the morrow would see him on the trek, and an end to his weary trudging, when suddenly he heard a voice, an angel’s voice he knew it to be, counting slowly One, two, three, four. The hermit stopped in wonder and so did the voice, but at the next steps he took the counting began again, Five, six, seven. Falling on his knees the old man prayed that he might know the meaning of this wonder. ‘I am the angel of God’, came the answer, ‘counting up each step which long ago you offered up to my Lord and Master, so that not a single one may lose its reward. Don’t be so foolish as to throw away the immense merit you are gaining, by moving your cell to the water’s edge, for know that in the eyes of the heavenly court nothing is small which is done or borne for the love of God.’

That very night down came the hermit’s hut, and before morning broke he had built it again five miles further from the well. For all I know he is merrily tramping still backwards and forwards across the burning sand, very hot and tired no doubt, but happy in the thought that the recording angel is busy counting each step.

Thoughts for Tuesday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

799px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_The_Denial_of_St_Peter_-_WGA11661

My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.

COMMENT: The denial of our Lord by St Peter contains many powerful lessons for us. St Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus. He witnessed the miracles. He saw the dead rise to life, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He saw devils cast out and the paralysed get up and walk. He saw Jesus calm a storm and walk on water. He was there are the Transfiguration. Jesus taught him how to pray. He had left everything and followed the Master. He urged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and risk death. He didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus wash his feet, and promised him that he would die for him. When the guards came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out his sword to defend him. Peter was the Rock, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. He had just been at the Last Supper, that most intimate final meal with Christ…

And then he failed. The man who would die for Jesus denied him when a maid and some other random bystanders said that he was a friend of Jesus.

Then Jesus looked at him. How low he must have felt. The movie The Passion of the Christ has a wonderful scene where, after his denial, Peter goes to Mary. Three times she reaches out to him, and three times he pulls back. The picture above shows something similar – Peter is in tears in front of Mary. In sorrow herself, she consoles him and prays for him.

We may not have physically lived in Jesus’ presence the same way Peter did, but we have received His grace and we have seen the effects of that grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have received many gifts from Him. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church or by staying silent when we could defend it.

Like Fr Doyle, we may feel that we have gone on for years denying Jesus. Well, let us then learn some lessons from St Peter who was so contrite after his fall that he thought it nothing to suffer imprisonment and death for the One he had denied. St Peter repented. He did not despair like Judas did.

There are other important lessons we can take from this episode. We are told that Peter was warming himself at a fire when he denied Jesus. Was it the lack of a spirit of mortification that weakened his will and lead to his fall? We are told that his first denial came after a maid asked him if he knew Jesus. Was he more fearful of the judgement of the maid (the judgement of the world?) than the judgement of God? Did he fall because of what is termed “human respect” – a fear of the opinion of others? We are also told that instead of watching and praying with Jesus in the Garden, Peter slept. Not only once, but three times. Perhaps he failed because he did not watch and pray that he would not be put to the test.

But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…  

21 March 1913 & 1917

There are two entries that I can find in Fr Doyle’s diaries relating to March 21, both of which refer to his desire to sacrifice himself and perform mortification. The first one is dated 21 March 1913, which was Good Friday that year:

A. M. D. G. SOLEMN VOW. After much thought and prayer, feeling myself urged strongly by grace and the ceaseless pleading of Jesus, I have resolved to lead the life of absolute crucifixion which I know He wants and which alone will please Him.

I now promise and bind myself by vow (under mortal sin) ‘ to give Him everything until next Christmas Day, with the power of dispensing myself in case of necessity on any day.

Dear Jesus, I vow, with the help of Your grace, to give You all You ask for the future.

Good Friday, March 21st, 1913.

Three o’clock.

The second entry is for 4 years later, 21 March 1917, just 5 months before his death:

I know I can never be happy unless I am heroically generous with Him. This I have proved time after time. A sacrifice which costs much always brings great grace, joy and interior peace.

These words from 1917 probably capture Fr Doyle’s spirituality better than any others he ever wrote.

 

Thoughts for Monday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus suffering 8

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.

Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:

Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.

Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…

As St Josemaria Escriva said:

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

And also:

Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’

In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called. 

By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Palm Sunday: The Fourteenth Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Fourteenth Station – Jesus is laid in the tomb

Image courtesy of St Raphael's Parish, Surrey. www.straphael.org.uk

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.

I have prepared a document with the text of Fr Doyle’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. The file can be downloaded from here:

Stations of the Cross

If you like Fr Doyle’s writings, please send this file to friends and contacts, and maybe even to your local priest! If you have a blog yourself, please feel free to post it there as well. Perhaps in this way other people can come to know and love Fr Doyle. May Fr Doyle’s meditations enrich your experience in Holy Week!