Thoughts for the Feast of St Jerome (September 30) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Jerome in the wilderness
St Jerome in the wilderness

Don’t dwell on what you have not done, for I think that want of confidence in His willingness to forgive our shortcomings pains Him very much, but rather lift up your heart and think what you are going to do for Him now. You know the secret of making a short life very long in His eyes, and a life of few opportunities crammed full of precious things. Do everything for His sweet love alone.

COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful gentleness of Fr Doyle, consoling someone to whom he was giving spiritual direction. Sometimes there may be a tendency to consider Fr Doyle as overly austere; only somebody who deliberately looks for austerity, and ignores other aspects of his life, could come to this conclusion.

His message for us today is very helpful. Every one of us sometimes fails to do some good that ought to be done. The answer is to repent, and then move on, and do our duty now. Dwelling on past failures can lead to discouragement and perhaps even to scruples. Indeed, as Fr Doyle points out, our lack of confidence in God’s forgiveness pains Him.

Today is the feast of St Jerome, one of the Fathers of the Church and also a Doctor of the Church. Fr Doyle mentioned St Jerome once in a letter to his father written from the trenches. The charming aside in which he jokingly mentions St Jerome is also further evidence of Fr Doyle’s balance and good humour. He is describing the booklet on Vocations that he wrote and refers to the old abbreviation “MSS” for the word manuscript, and how the abbreviation once lead to humorous incident in Clongowes College:

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, for I am firmly convinced that both in “Vocations” and “Shall I be a Priest?” my part consisted in the correction of the proof sheets and in the clawing in of the shower of bawbees.

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 extraordinarily rapid.

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Thoughts for the Feast of the Archangels (September 29) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Michael the Archangel
St Michael the Archangel

Today is the feast of St Michael, St Gabriel and St Raphael, the archangels.

This feast was significant in Fr Doyle’s spiritual life, for he made a vow to the Sacred Heart on this very day 106 years ago. He made the vow during one of his late night vigils, and signed the vow in his blood (this was not uncommon at the time; St Therese is known to have done something similar, and Fr Doyle was an early devotee of this saint, so he may have copied the practice from her). Here is the text of the vow:

“Most loving Jesus, kneeling before You in the Blessed Sacrament, I solemnly consecrate myself to Your Sacred Heart by vow. I vow always to be Your faithful lover and to strive every day to grow in Your love. In imitation of the oblation which B. Margaret Mary made of herself, I now wish to give myself up absolutely and entirely, without any reserve whatever, to Your most Sacred Heart, that You may be free to do with me, to treat me, as You wish, to send me whatever suffering or humiliation You wish. I desire to put no obstacle to the action of grace upon my soul, to be a perfect instrument in Your divine hands, to be Your victim should You so desire. I want to make this oblation and immolation of myself to Your Sacred Heart as completely as possible, and in the manner which You wish me to make it, O my Jesus. Therefore, again, by this vow, I make a complete surrender of myself and all I have to You. Do with me as You will, for from this hour I am wholly Yours. Amen.

Feast of St. Michael, Friday, Sept. 29th, 1910.

Made at Midnight. Signed W. J. DOYLE, S J.”

One year later, while on retreat, he added to this vow as follows:

MY VOW.

I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me. Amen.

CONDITIONS.

(1) Until I get permission to make it permanently, this will only bind from day to day, to be renewed each morning at Mass.

(2) To avoid scrupulosity, I am quite free unless I honestly believe the sacrifice is asked.

(3) Any confessor may dispense me from the vow at any time.

Feast of St. Michael, Tullabeg. September 29th, 1911.

Though not coming under the matter of the vow, my aim will be :

(a) Never to avoid suffering e.g. heat or cold, unpleasant people etc.

(b) Of two alternatives, to choose the harder e.g. ordinary or arm chair.

(c) To try and let absolutely no occasion of self-denial pass: they are too precious.

(d) As far as possible, not to omit my ordinary penances when a little unwell.

(e) My constant question to be: What other sacrifice can I make? What more can I ive up for Jesus? How can I do this action more perfectly ?

REASONS FOR MAKING VOW.

(1) The immense help it will be to become fervent.

(2) Additional great merit from doing the acts under vow.

(3) I see now what was the strange want which I have felt so often in my life. I have been urged by grace for years to take some such step, but only recently clearly saw what I should do.

(4) My sanctification depends on doing this.

(5) I wish to do my utmost to please my dear Jesus.

(6) I feel simply I must make this vow as if I had no power to refuse, which shows me that all this is the work of grace, and not my doing in the least.

(7) Since Jesus, out of pure love for me, has always lived this life, and since I have promised to imitate Him, how can I now refuse to do so?

(8) I shall gain immensely by this vow, my work for others will be blessed, more souls will be saved and greater glory given to God.

(9) What shall I lose? A little gratification which brings no real pleasure but always leaves me unhappy, for I feel I am resisting grace.

I make this vow with immense distrust of myself and my power to keep it, but place all my confidence and trust in Thee, O most loving Heart of Jesus.”

By the time Fr Doyle made this second vow 106 years ago today, he had advanced far in the spiritual life and was actively seeking daily sacrifices to offer to the Lord for others. We can learn a lot from his spirit of generosity, even if the way we live this generosity is different from the ways open to Fr Doyle. 

Also today we honour the archangels. In a particular way in our own time we pray for the protection and help of St Michael, protector of the Church, and of all Christians, against the attacks the enemy. How sad when people think that angels are merely nice imaginary friends for children, and how sad when they are co-opted into a New Age fad. Scripture s very clear about the existence and role of angels, and also very explicit about the role of St Michael in the battle against Satan. Exorcists, and exorcisms, have received a lot more publicity in recent years. There is a danger of being too superstitious and curious about these matters, but also an even greater danger of dismissing them altogether. Instead we should approach these matters with a sober realism. Exorcists are very clear now in speaking about the increased demands for their ministry. They suggest that dabbling with new age activities and the occult, and in particular an engagement with online pornography, have opened doors to the demonic in many people’s lives. Consider the words of St John Paul II from some addresses in 1987:

The continuous struggle against the devil that characterises Michael the Archangel is still going on since the devil who seeks to take advantage of every situation is still living and operative in the world.

And also:

There are periods in which the existence of evil among men becomes singularly apparent. We have the impression today that people do not want to see the problem. Everything possible is done to remove from public awareness the existence of the “cunning attacks of the devil” who “holds dominion over the underworld…Nevertheless there are historical periods when the profound truth of this revelation of faith is expressed with greater force and is almost tangibly perceived.

We are surely in one of those times now. As Blessed Paul VI famously stated in a homily in 1972:

From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

And Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima seers, spoke on several occasions of a contemporary “diabolical disorientation”.

We conclude with a prayer from Lauds:

Send Michael, the prince of the heavenly hosts, to the aid of your people. May he defend them against Satan and his angels on the day of battle.

Thoughts for September 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

Don’t let the devil spoil the work by making you fret and worry.

COMMENT: This line from Fr Doyle is taken from a much longer letter of spiritual direction, the specifics of which are unlikely to be relevant to many of the readers of this website.

But this line, about the father of lies, and his capacity to make us worry, is relevant for us all…

One of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit and His influence in our lives is peace and consolation. On the other hand, one of the traits of the enemy is worry and anxiety.

All of the saints faced worries and anxieties. Many were founders who faced financial worries. Many saints faced false accusations of scandal. Then there were those who underwent a severe trial of faith, experiencing a profound dark night of the soul. Then we have those “victim souls” who suffered intense illness and abandonment. Other saints had to separate themselves from friends and family in the process of entering religious life, or going away to the missions, or even converting to Catholicism. And of course there were the martyrs, who faced torture and horrific death.

One thing that characterises the saints throughout their trials is serenity. They had the peace that the world cannot give; they refused to give in to the temptation to fret and worry. We see this same tranquility and cheerfulness in Fr Doyle’s letters home to his father from the Front. It is hard to believe that bombs and gas attacks were being unleashed around one who was so happy and concerned for others. 

We who live in a comfortable age – which is paradoxically marked by much anxiety and stress – have much to learn from the example of the saints.

Thoughts for September 27 (St Vincent de Paul) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Vincent de Paul
St Vincent de Paul

For fifteen years has Jesus been waiting for me to return to Him, to return to the fervour of my first year of religious life. During that time how many pressing and loving invitations has He not given me? What lights and inspirations, remorse of conscience, and how many good resolves which were never carried into effect. O my God, I feel now as if I cannot resist You longer. Your infinite patience and desire to bring me to You has broken the ice of my cold heart. “I will arise and go” to You, humbled and sorrowful, and for the rest of my life give You of my very best. Help me, sweet Jesus, by Your grace, for I am weak and cowardly.

COMMENT: In today’s quote we find Fr Doyle lamenting what he considered to be his unfaithfulness during his first 15 years of religious life. These lines were written during the 30 day spiritual exercises he did just after ordination in 1907.

In retrospect, it’s not immediately clear to us that Fr Doyle was lukewarm or lacking in zeal during his time studying for the priesthood. Many who knew him then considered him an excellent role model. However it is clear that Fr Doyle felt he lacked something during this time, and it is also clear that after this retreat he went about the process of serving God with a much greater efficiency and exactitude so that in comparison a very pious period of studying for the priesthood might seem lukewarm and lacking in devotion.

Fr Doyle isn’t the only great spiritual hero who felt he had much lukewarmness to account for. Today’s saint, Vincent de Paul, seems to have had very mixed motives during his early years. The desire to secure a prestigious ecclesiastical benefice and live in comfort seems to have been foremost in his mind when he was ordained a priest in his very early 20’s. In fact, he even had recourse to the courts to vindicate what he saw as his rights in the Church, and, so keen was he to protect his rights that he even chased a man who owed him money to Marseilles. It was on this expedition that he was kidnapped by Turkish pirates and sold as a slave. It is this experience, plus the importance of friendships like those with St Francis de Sales and Pierre de Berulle that gradually brought about his conversion.

There are other important similarities between St Vincent and Fr Doyle. Both were renowned for their charity. In Fr Doyle’s case this started very early in life – as a child he would take food from his family home and give it to the poor around Dalkey, his native village. He kept this habit all his life, often giving away his food and gifts to soldiers in the trenches.

Both also stand in opposition to the dreadful disease of Jansenism. For anyone unfamiliar with this heresy, here is an excellent description of it, and it’s relevance to Ireland (and the history of abuse in Irish institutions) that I have taken from the blog of Fr Ray Blake:

The bleakness of the Irish institutions where abuse took place seems to reflects the theology of those who ran them. There is no Baroque exuberance, no time of festivity, just grinding tedium, where the norm is fast and penance mitigated by an occasional feast which is itself yet another penitential act. The pictures of these institutions show no sign of the Catholic sun shining, and black tea is served instead of good red wine, there is indeed only Calvinist gloom. One simply can’t imagine a sense of festival that is more than an empty mouthing of the Gloria in these grim mills.

People have suggested that Jansenism lies behind the appalling accounts of dehumanisation and abuse. What type of anthropology lies behind Jansenism? There is a heightened sense of sin, sin which cannot be overcome, but only beaten into semi-containment. There is a division of humanity into the saved and the damned, with the majority being damned. There is a tendency to see the poor, the weak as being damned, or at the very least as being beyond the influence of grace. Victims are damned, abusers are damned. Grace is given so sparingly, by a God who is mean with both love and Grace, and man, he is made in the same niggardly image. God is not merciful and forgiving but full of anger and rage, swift to condemn, waiting to punish. The wounds of the Son are not salvific but condemnatory, both victims and abusers are left without hope, the hell of now is but a foretaste of the hell to come. It is in this image man is created.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Irish Catholic history over the past century will instantly identify with what Fr Blake says here. Even if Irish priests and nuns didn’t know about Jansenism or thought that they were unaffected by it, it is clear that many were at least tainted with its spirit.

In St Vincent’s case, he knew the original promoters of this heresy, and tried, through gentleness and friendship, to win them back. In the case of Fr Doyle we find a great abhorrence of Jansenism. As he said in one letter:

The wretched spirit of Jansenism has driven our dear Lord from His rightful place in our hearts. He longs for love, and familiar love, so give Him both.

It is clear that everything Fr Doyle stood for was in marked opposition to the Jansenistic spirit. Fr Doyle had a great love of the poor and the weak and a burning, passionate love of Christ. He was always gentle with others, and wrote a booklet to combat the problem of scruples. He encouraged the notion of spiritual childhood and the reliance on God’s grace to overcome our faults.

Both St Vincent and Fr Doyle are relevant to us today for another reason. It is truly shocking to read about the state of the Church in France during St Vincent’s lifetime. Priests were uneducated, slovenly, given to liturgical abuse and living lives of scandal. Bishoprics were seen as the hereditary rights of powerful families, and young boys were appointed bishops by these families in an attempt to secure their rights and benefices.

Yes the Church in Ireland, and indeed in much of the world, faces its fair share of problems today. But it also faced massive problems 350 years ago as well. Both St Vincent and Fr Doyle were deeply concerned for the reform of the Church and for the priesthood in particular. Let us pray for these intentions today. 

The night of September 26 1915 from Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Doyle wrote the following very private notes in his diary on 27 September 1915 about his prayer the previous night:

Last night I rose at twelve, tied my arms in the form of a cross and remained in the chapel till three a.m. I was fiercely tempted not to do so, the devil suggesting that, as I had a cough, it was madness and would unfit me for the coming mission. Though I shivered with cold, I am none the worse this morning, in fact, the cough is better, proving that Jesus is pleased with these ‘holy imprudences.’ At the end of an hour I was cold and weary, I felt I could not possibly continue; but I prayed and got wonderful strength to persevere till the end of the three hours. This has shown me what I might do and how, with a little determined effort, I could overcome the greatest repugnances and seeming impossibilities.

Clearly we are not called to copy Fr Doyle’s penitential and prayer practices. But it also seems clear that Fr Doyle had a special calling to prayer and penance of this nature. We are called not to judge others. We naturally interpret this to mean that we do not judge others harshly for their sins and failings. But it also means that we do not judge others harshly for their piety, their prayer and their penance. Fr Doyle’s nocturnal prayer and penance has a precedent in the lives of many saints, and it seems to have indeed brought about about both spiritual and even physical fruit in his life. 

As Fr Doyle said on another occasion:

How much is comprised in the little words agere contra! Therein is the real secret of sanctity, the hidden source from which the saints have drunk deep of the love of God and reached that height of glory they now enjoy.

The phrase agere contra refers to the practice of going against oneself, of denying oneself in various ways in order to overcome our defects and vices.

It is not in vogue today, but it has traditionally been an important part of the spiritual life and it is essential in understanding the spirituality of Fr Doyle. He practiced this in so many different ways. In the note above about this night in 1915 he practiced what might be termed a harsh penance. But he also practiced, and always advocated, small and insignificant penances that have the effect of showing love for God, of making one stronger and generally equipping one for better service of others.

Anybody can adopt this type of practice in little things if the will is there – getting up on time, going to bed on time, giving up sugar in our tea, giving up butter on bread or maybe just giving up jam but keeping the butter!! Many of us make such sacrifices for earthly and mundane reasons such as our health or career or our appearances. Surely our love of God, and desire for sanctification, should be of more importance and should be a greater motivation for going against ourselves? Venerable Fr Petit, who was Fr Doyle’s spiritual director in Belgium during his tertian year, immediately after ordination, said that we find self-denial difficult because we have such little love of Jesus.

Thoughts for September 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

I have noticed that every time I have indulged myself, my appetite especially, for no matter what reason, I have always had remorse and felt unhappy; but that each generous victory, every additional act of penance, has been followed by peace of soul and contentment.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his diary on this day in 1913 – 103 years ago today.

These words are probably counter-intuitive for us. Most of us in the modern world have bought into the idea that life is about maximising our pleasure and getting as much “stuff” as we possibly can. Yet, so often this approach to life leaves us unsatisfied. 

Fr Doyle – and indeed all of the saints – had a different philosophy. They believed that happiness and peace came from detachment, and from a radical love of God and neighbour. An essential part of developing this detachment is penance and mortification.

Perhaps our lesson today is that it wouldn’t hurt us much to say “no” to ourselves from time to time, and that it would probably make those around us a bit happier as well.

Thoughts for September 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

You may make the most complete and absolute offering of yourself to God to bear every pain He may wish to send. Renew this frequently and place yourself in His hands as His willing victim to be immolated on the altar of sacrifice. But it is better not to ask directly for great sufferings; few of the saints did so.

COMMENT: Today’s quote from Fr Doyle may perhaps be difficult to understand for most of us. We love our comfort and we, naturally, desire to keep our comfort.

One of the characteristics of a growth in sanctity is a complete abandonment to the will of God, and an acceptance of sufferings if these should be His will. At the very least, according to St Ignatius, we should be indifferent to sickness and health, poverty or riches, popularity or rejection… But once again, for most of us this is hard, and we can but pray for an increase in our faith and trust in God’s gentle Providence.