Will it be any help to you to learn that I know many who suffer as you do? Hence I can perfectly understand what you are going through: the disgust for everything spiritual, the almost hatred of God, and the mad longing almost to leave it all behind and run away. However we know that such a step would not end the trouble or bring relief in any form; on the contrary that would simply mean playing into the devil’s hands and could only lead to one thing in the end. We know also that these trials come from God and that if one is only patient, they will pass. Hence, my dear child, you must set your teeth and hold on; spiritual life, remember, is a warfare and you will surely not run away when the real attack comes, but rather boldly face the enemy.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words to somebody (presumably a nun) who was suffering from aridity and a general malaise in her spiritual life. It is something we can all identify with to some extent. The advice is classic Fr Doyle: remember that you are at war – grit your teeth and hold on! It is advice we all need to hear at one time or another, whether it relates to spiritual issues or to some other aspect of our lives such as our job, our relationships or our health. Remaining faithful to God and to our good intentions requires effort and will-power, as well the strength of God’s grace which will surely not be lacking if we play our own part.
It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life and even gives a loathing and disgust for its practice. It is not so evident that deliberate imperfections, and for religious repeated violation of rule, have the same result. These are the “little foxes,” attractive and apparently harmless creatures, which must be hunted down and destroyed…if the vineyard is not to perish. A soul given to sin or consciously violating the rules to which it has freely bound itself for life, will sigh in vain for the secret loving embraces of its Beloved.
COMMENT: We have, in general, lost the sense of sin in the world today. For modern culture, it seems as if anything goes. It’s hard not to become influenced by this prevailing opinion, and as a result we can end up easily yielding to sin and temptation because we no longer think it’s a big deal anymore.
We must of course avoid the other extreme of scrupulosity and obsession with sin (an affliction that seems to have been very acute with previous generations). Fr Doyle was a very effective director for those afflicted with this problem.
We are all sinners, and we must start to fight against sin where we are at. For some that will mean a struggle against habitual mortal sin; for others it is the struggle against deliberate venial sin and for the more advanced it will be a struggle against imperfections and omissions with respect to certain virtues.
Wherever we are at, we all have these “foxes” of whatever type that we must chase out of our lives. There’s no better time to start the chase than Advent and our preparation for Christmas!
Try to take your days one by one as they come to you. The hard things of yesterday are past, and you are not asked to bear what to-morrow may have in store; so that the cross is really light when you take it bit by bit.
COMMENTS: What sane advice from a man who knew a thing or two about hardship! Often we multiply our hardship when we think about ongoing future problems. When we are sick we tend not to be able to imagine what it would be like to be well again or to have our energy back. When we face economic deprivation we tend to imagine that we will not see happier days.
Fr Doyle’s words today should give comfort to all those who suffer in any way. Let us follow his advice to live life bit by bit. We are not now asked to carry tomorrow’s burden. That burden may even be lighter than we think when it arrives. And when tomorrow’s burden arrives, today’s burden will have passed already.
Let us carry our cross day by day and bit by bit, consoled by the fact that we are never abandoned by our loving God.
The saints had ever a childlike confidence and trust in God. Upon Him they cast all their anxieties and cares, under His powerful protection they sheltered themselves, and with His almighty help they were ever strong. They lived in the present day alone, striving to bear with cheerful hearts the burden of the moment; the morrow’s work would bring its stream of graces to help them on their journey.
COMMENT: Today we start the Church’s new year, and we start on our journey of preparation for Christmas. The importance of Advent is often forgotten in the West. Often it is seen as period of merriment and shopping and of Christmas parties. And when Christmas finally arrives, the consumer culture quickly turns off the lights and turns its attention towards the secular new year and the January sales…
Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and we should attempt to live it with the same enthusiasm with which we attempt to live Lent.
As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:
Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!
Let us then have the childlike confidence and trust in God to which Fr Doyle exhorts us today. We can count on many graces to help us over the coming weeks as we prepare to encounter the baby Jesus, born in poverty in a broken world, all for love of us.
The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are the logical reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.
The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and encouraged to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service.
Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:
I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.
If there are any readers in Louisiana you may want to check out this very special set of events happening next month to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the miracle that lead to the canonisation of St John Berchmans. The miracle itself was performed in Louisiana, and the saint’s heart is being brought from Belgium especially for the occasion. http://sjbdevotion.orgThis is a truly touching form of devotion to a saint – congratulations to all those involved for remembering the miracle, and thank you for the example you give to the rest of the world…
Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail – good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.
COMMENT: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.
But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.
The life of Jesus was a continual prayer. Even during His public life He began, continued and ended everything He did by prayer, besides devoting whole nights and days to communing with His Father.
If we want our work for souls to be fruitful, we must bring prayer into it. If our children are not all that they ought to be, the cause may not be far to seek. Let us examine if we are praying enough for them, if our aspirations are ever ascending to the throne of God, to bless our work amongst those children and amongst others with whom we have to deal.
COMMENT: The only elaboration that Fr Doyle’s words require today is that of his own example. He was constantly immersed in prayer, often reciting thousands of aspiration each day, and regularly spending entire nights in prayer. It’s not coincidental that his own ministry as a writer, retreat master, preacher, spiritual director and military chaplain was marked by success and fruitfulness.
Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve You now till death.
COMMENT: We sometimes refer in passing to events in Ireland on this blog. But there are many readers of this site from outside Ireland. Today in particular we think of our American friends who celebrate Thanksgiving today.
Even those who face troubles and woes of various types have much to be thankful for. The Lord has given us life and faith and many other blessings and graces all throughout our lives. He has protected us from problems and difficulties that we may not even be aware of. Most importantly of all, He desires union with us for eternity and designs all things to this end. We just need to co-operate with His plan and rely on His grace.
Let us be thankful for everything, for all we have comes to us as a gift from our Father. And let us remember that much is expected from those who have received much – if we have gifts from God it is because he expects us to “invest” those “talents” and bring forth fruit with them. We shall have to render an account of our stewardship of all of the gifts he has given to us.
“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.
COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.
The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.
Fr Doyle wrote the following notes around this time in 1914:
I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.
In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this.
St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.
Today is also the memorial of the Mexican Jesuit martyr Miguel Pro. Fr Doyle and he are kindred spirits, nit just in the common Jesuit vocation and the fact that they were near contemporaries, but because their personalities were so similar. Both loved adventure and faced innumerable dangers in their apostolates, and both were practical jokers with a deep spirituality that was clothed in joy.
Do not try to run till you can walk well. Draw up a list of certain little sacrifices which you feel God is asking from you and which you know you will be able to give Him without very much difficulty: better be cowardly than too generous. Then, come what may, be faithful to your list and shake it in the face of the tempter when he suggests that you should give it up.
COMMENT: As always, Fr Doyle presents a sane and balanced spirituality to us. Constancy leads to success in all areas of life, whether it be in acquiring a new skill, in studying for exams or in the spiritual life. It was by constant effort that Fr Doyle grew spiritually to become the hero of the trenches.
His advice is also very relevant as we prepare to commence Advent which begins in just a few days. Often we forget that Advent is a time of penance and preparation. Here in Ireland – and elsewhere I am sure – there is great hype in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and as soon as we reach the 26th or 27th of December (when Christmas is just starting) – it is forgotten about and the focus becomes the New Year. This is not the way we should live as Christians – Advent is a time of preparation to allow us to live the spirit of Christmas with greater joy and intimacy with the Lord. Perhaps it would be good to take Fr Doyle’s advice, and prepare a short list of small, specific sacrifices that we wish to make in preparation for Christmas?