Thoughts for November 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

“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.

Blessed Miguel Pro just before his execution
Blessed Miguel Pro just before his execution
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One thought on “Thoughts for November 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. I first learned about Blessed Miguel Pro SJ in a supplement the Irish Independent published in 1955 to celebrate its Golden Anniversary. The supplement included a photo of one event in each of those years. The one for 1927 was the one you used. I hope that he will be canonised soon.

    Two days ago, 23 November, also the feast of St Columban, Ireland’s greatest missionary, the Irish Independent included what is a genuinely ‘good news’ story: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-sacred-heart-must-have-sent-them-granny-96-thrilled-to-move-home-thanks-to-kindhearted-builders-35238938.html But the headline reads: “‘The sacred heart must have sent them’– Granny (96) thrilled to move home thanks to kindhearted builders.” I’m certain that the 96-year-old granny, Mrs Rita Rafter, knows the difference between ‘the Sacred Heart’ and ‘the sacred heart’. Clearly the headline-writer doesn’t.

    Ireland, and most of the Western Church, has become largely religiously illiterate. But there is still an understanding of the Beatitudes and a deep generosity, rooted in the Gospel, among the Irish and thank God for that.

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