Thoughts for January 31 (St John Bosco) from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Bosco
St John Bosco

One month of the new year has passed away, leaving behind it the memory of what has been done for God and the unavailing recollection of what might have been achieved. Unavailing regret? No. For the failings and shortcomings of the month that has gone will only serve as a stimulus to a generous soul to spur him on to greater efforts in the service of his Master, efforts to use to the full the priceless gift of time, efforts to make the talents entrusted to his care bring forth the full measure of fruit and profit which our Lord will look for at His coming.

COMMENT: One twelfth of the year has already passed. Time goes quickly. Have we used it well? What about our new year’s resolutions? Have we lived up to them over the past month? Do we even remember what our resolutions were???

We must be determined to imitate Christ more and to become holy. While it is true that we need God’s grace to grow in virtue, we must also supply a lot of effort ourselves. One aspect of this effort is to make a few specific resolutions, and then work to stick to those resolutions. We will not always succeed in the task, but we must at least try to make the effort. If we haven’t stuck to our new year’s resolutions, we don’t have to wait another 11 months to try again. Today is an excellent day to pick ourselves up and start out once more.

Today is the feast of St John Bosco. Let us conclude with a quote from him on the need to overcome our fickleness and stick to our resolutions:

Be neither stubborn nor fickle. I have always noticed that fickle-minded people usually fail in all they do.

Thoughts for January 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

A kind word goes far. I stopped to say a few words to a group of men at a street corner in Kinsale, and as I walked away, I heard one of the men say to his companions: “Wasn’t it kind of him to speak to us? He’s a grand man entirely!”

COMMENT: Jesus tells us that we shall be known as His disciples by the love we have for one another. He didn’t say that we would be known as disciples by the orthodoxy of our doctrine or by our evangelical zeal or by our fervent prayer. Yes, all of these are vital in the Christian life. But love is the unmistakeable sign of discipleship. It was this love that allowed the small, impoverished, persecuted Christian sect to grow and flourish in the Roman Empire and gradually transform and enrich the entire world. We rarely find dramatic ways to demonstrate this love, but there are innumerable small ways of doing so, one of the most effective of which is through normal human kindness and politeness. How sad it is to find people who are filled with righteous zeal but yet lack that basic quality of love. Without this, we are nothing.

“He’s a grand man entirely”. Is this what people in general say today about faithful Catholics? Is it what people would say about each of us individually? If it is not, then we need to examine our conscience…

Fr Doyle wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him from any egotistical motive. Rather, his concern was clearly apostolic in nature. Through our kindness we open avenues for apostolate that might otherwise remain closed to us.

Fr Doyle himself demonstrated this in a most dramatic way in the case of “Fanny Cranbush”. This young lady was a prostitute who was sentenced to death for her involvement in a murder in England. A few days before her death she requested the Fr Doyle be found and brought to her cell to instruct her in the Faith, and all because Fr Doyle once saw her on the street and spoke kindly to her about Jesus.

A more complete account of the story can be read starting at page 16 of the pamphlet “Stories of Father Willie” which can be found below. The pamphlet was published in 1932 and reflects the writing style of the period; nonetheless it is the content and message of the story that counts.

Stories of Fr Willie

Thoughts for January 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

Abandon yourself completely into the hands of God, and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable, or disagreeable. Only then can God make you really holy.

COMMENT: We love to stay in control. We find it hard to no longer be in charge of our own affairs. This is part of the natural human condition. But we are called to go beyond the natural level and to live supernaturally, and this involves a level of no longer being in control of every aspect of our lives.

Fr Doyle always practiced what he preached. By volunteering to become a missionary in the Congo, even though he wasn’t eventually chosen to go, he showed his abandonment to God’s will. He lived this abandonment to its fullest as a military chaplain – he could easily have lessened his own hardships if he wanted, but he shared the privations of the soldiers.

Fr Doyle described his abandonment to God’s will in the following way to his sister in a letter he wrote to her in 1916:

Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me…The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before.

Let us conclude with a short reflection on abandonment to God from Jean Pierre de Caussade, the Jesuit author of the classic book Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”

Thoughts for January 28 (St Thomas Aquinas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas Aquinas
St Thomas Aquinas

As to any practice of piety there is a double danger: recommending it as infallible, or condemning it as useless. I always make a point of saying that all things are not for all people. Characters differ so much.

COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful balance of Fr Doyle. He was a man of very definite personal devotion, but he was equally convinced that his way was not the only way, and that there are many other spiritual paths along which people are called. It is true that there are those who are not attracted by Fr Doyle’s acts of mortification (even though everything Fr Doyle did can be found in the lives of the most popular and beloved of saints). But it is perfectly normal not to feel called to follow in Fr Doyle’s personal footsteps in this regard; as he himself says, characters differ so much. But even if our characters are different, we can still marvel at, and admire, Fr Doyle’s own unique character.

The same extraordinary balance is found in the life and writings of today’s saint, Thomas Aquinas. To take just one example relating to the life of prayer, he tells us in the Summa:

The quantity of anything should be proportioned to the end in view, as the quantity of drink should be proportioned to health. Hence it is fitting that prayer should continue only for so long as is useful to excite the fervour of interior desire. But when prayer goes beyond this measure so that it cannot be continued without weariness, then it should not be further prolonged.

St Thomas was one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. His learning was vast. He once declared that he never read anything that he didn’t understand – what a great gift this is for any scholar to possess! St Thomas’ learning was aided by his own deep life of prayer and especially his own purity of life. Jesus tells us that the pure of heart shall see God. St Thomas certainly possessed this purity of heart. When he announced that he wanted to become a Dominican (at that time a new Order of beggar friars) his powerful family were very unimpressed. They arranged for him to be locked up in a castle in order to force him to change his mind. When this wasn’t working his brother arranged for an immodestly dressed prostitute to visit him in the hope that he would fall into sin and give up his vocation. However, Thomas had a different idea – he grabbed a burning firebrand and chased the prostitute from the room. In this episode St Thomas, known as the Angelic Doctor, shows us how to handle temptations against purity – we don’t dialogue with them or entertain them, but instead flee from the temptation immediately. Towards the end of his life St Thomas was granted a vision, after which he declared that all his writing was but straw compared to what God had shown him.

Many people live in ignorance regarding the work of St Thomas. In part this may be due to what might be called chronological snobbery – there is a certain attitude that thinks that only recent thinkers are enlightened and that no intellectual work from other eras is of any value, and especially not if it is Medieval in origin! This attitude is especially acute in Ireland. It is frustrating to hear recent university graduates (most of whom have spent over a decade in Catholic schooling) dismiss the existence of God as a mere fairy tale for weak sentimentalists. For the most part they are completely oblivious to the great intellects within the Church.

St Thomas is rightly renowned for his learning. But he was also obviously a man of great holiness. He was especially devoted to the Eucharist, and wrote many hymns and prayers to honour our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. To conclude our commentary on today’s feast, here are St Thomas’ prayers for before and after Mass.

Prayer before Mass.

Almighty and ever-lasting God, I approach the sacrament of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Therefore, I implore Thee in Thy great generosity, to heal my sickness, to wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the bread of angels, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords with reverence and humility, with contrition and devotion, with purity and faith, and with such purpose and determination that will be expedient to the salvation of my soul.

Grant me, I beseech Thee, that I may not only receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also the reality and power of the Sacrament.

O most kind God, grant that I may receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so received that I may be worthy to be incorporated into His mystical body, and numbered among His members.

O most loving Father, grant me Thy beloved Son, which I now receive under the veil of a sacrament, that I may one day behold Him face to face in glory, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever. Amen.

Prayer after Mass.

Lord, Father all-powerful, and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thy unprofitable servant, not because of my worth, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee. And I pray that Thou willest lead me, a sinner to the banquet where Thou with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to Thy saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

27 January 1914

Last night I rose at 1am and went down to the church, renewing before the crucifix my desire and promise absolutely to surrender all human comfort and embrace instead every possible pain and discomfort. With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me. I realised that if I prayed when tempted to give in, grace would come to my help.

Jesus on cross

Thoughts for January 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

adoration nun

Each look of love to the Tabernacle causes a beat of grace-laden love in the Sacred Heart.

COMMENT: The Lord awaits us in the Tabernacle. Fr Doyle drew much strength from regular prayer before the Lord – often he could be found in prayer right through the night, especially when he was busy preaching a retreat. It seems that the busier he was, the more he approached the Lord in the Tabernacle and the more strength he gained for his work.

Fr Doyle also urged others to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He was one of the first to introduce Eucharistic holy hours in Ireland and he also one of the first in Ireland to advocate night vigils every Thursday in honour of the Agony in the Garden. Even during the war he spent entire nights in prayer, and often carried the Blessed Sacrament with him. 

Thoughts for January 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

communion_of_saints

The mere saving of their souls should be the last thought of religious who have vowed their lives for God’s glory.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s comments were written to a member of a religious order, but they apply equally to us all.

It is true that our own salvation is one of our highest duties, but the reality is that our salvation is intimately connected with that of others.

There is an old saying that we don’t go to Heaven alone. Our lives are intimately connected with that of others. In fact, one of the things that sociology shows us quite clearly is that the example of peers has a powerful effect on human behaviour. The way we act and live has a profound effect on others, for good or bad. We should not underestimate the power of our example to bring others to a fuller practice of the faith. Neither should we underestimate the negative influence of our hypocrisy, sloth, gossip and so forth.

We also see the importance of holy friendships in the lives of the saints. There are surprisingly large numbers of beatified and canonised saints who were friends or acquaintances while on earth. Numerous examples come to mind immediately. This very incomplete list may seem rather long and strange, yet it illustrates a very important point about our interconnectedness, and how good friendships can inspire and help us.

There is the obvious example of the Apostles and the extended family of Jesus. St Monica was the mother of St Augustine; Augustine was baptised by St Ambrose. St Benedict and St Scholastica were twins; Saints Maurus and Placidus were intimately associated with the life of St Benedict. There is the example of the early companions of St Ignatius who have been formally recognised including St Francis Xavier and St Peter Faver. St Philip Neri was friendly with a large number of saints in counter-reformation Rome, including St Ignatius, St Felix of Cantalice, St John Leonardi and St Camillus, as well as Venerable Cardinal Baronius, whose cause has been reopened. He was also close to St Charles Borromeo who in turn gave shelter to St Edmund Campion when he was making his way through Milan back to England (and martyrdom). St Charles Borromeo was also a close friend of St Pius V, who surely was also close with other saints of that era (how interesting it would have been to live in Rome in the latter half of the 16th Century!!). St Dominic and St Francis knew and admired each other and the latter was of course close to St Clare. St Thomas Aquinas was taught by St Albert the Great and was a friend of St Bonaventure (3 Doctors of the Church connected together…). St Teresa of Avila received spiritual direction from St John of the Cross, St Francis Borgia and St Peter of Alcantara, and her companion and secretary at the end of her life was Blessed Anne of St Bartholomew. St Martin de Porres and St John Macias were friends in Lima; I’m not aware if either of them met St Rose of Lima, but given that she was a Dominican tertiary in the same city it is likely that they did, or were at least aware of her presence. Blessed Raymond of Capua was the confessor of Saint Catherine of Siena. St Francis de Sales was the director of St Jane Frances de Chantal. St Vincent de Paul was the director of St Louise de Marillac. St Claude de la Colombiere was the director of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. Blessed Michael Sopocko was the director of St Faustina. Blessed John Henry Newman was received into the Church by Blessed Dominic Barberi; both of them knew Fr Luigi Gentili, whose cause should be opened. Luigi Gentili was a disciple of Blessed Antonio Rosmini who was closely connected with Blessed Pius IX. St Vincent Strambi was a disciple of St Paul of the Cross (and his postulator and biographer) and a director of St Gaspar de Bufalo and Blessed Anna Maria Taigi who in turn was a close friend of Blessed Elizabeth Canora Mora. St Vincent Pallotti also moved within this 19th century Roman circle. When St Benedict Joseph Labre died as a beggar on the streets of Rome, the children ran through the streets shouting that the saint was dead. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi lived in that very area of Rome and it is thought that she was one of those children who raised the alarm at his death, and that her mother prepared his body for burial. St John Vianney’s family gave hospitality to St Benedict Joseph Labre when he passed through their town. St John Vianney, in turn, was a friend of St Peter Julian Eymard, St Marcellin Champagnat and Venerable Pauline Jaricot. There were numerous saints in Turin who interacted with or influenced each other at the time of St John Bosco, including St Joseph Cafasso (his confessor), St Joseph Cottolengo and St Dominc Savio. St John Bosco also worked closely with St Maria Domenica Mazzarello. Blessed Elena Guerra was the teacher of St Gemma Galgani who in turn was directed by Venerable Fr Germanus. Blessed Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima were brother and sister and were cousins of the probably soon to be beatified Sr Lucia. Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi was married to Blessed Maria Corsini; similarly Saints Louis and Zelie Martin were married and were the parents of St Therese of Lisieux. St Alphonsus Liguori was surrounded by an astounding number of holy souls during the early years of the Redemptorists – from those first members who associated with the saint in some fashion, there are 24 causes for canonisation that have been opened! And, a little while after the time of St Alphonsus, two well known Redemptorist missionaries in America were also close – St John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was a friend of St Pedro Poveda, the founder of the Teresian Association. St Josemaria also received help from Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, the Benedictine Archbishop of Milan. He of course was also close to several early members of Opus Dei whose causes have been opened, in particular Venerable Isidoro Zorzano and of course Blessed Alvaro del Portillo. And of course there are those renowned for their holiness in the Legion of Mary who were close contemporaries – the Servants of God Frank Duff, Alfie Lambe and Venerable Edel Quinn.

I previously mentioned St Vincent de Paul and St Francis de Sales but didn’t mention that they were friends of each other. They were both also friends of Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (also known as Madame Acarie). St Francis de Sales was also a friend of St Robert Bellarmine; St Robert was for a while the confessor of St Aloysius Gonzaga. St Aloysius also received his First Holy Communion from St Charles Borromeo, who we already mentioned. Shortly before this time, St Peter Canisius was recruited to the Jesuits by St Peter Faber; St Peter in turn recruited St Stanislaus Kostka. St Peter Canisius and St Francis de Sales also corresponded about matters relating to the Catholic Reformation. Staying with the Jesuit theme, St Alphonsus Rodriguez was a close friend and advisor of St Peter Claver. St Basil the Great and St Gregory Naziazen were also close friends. St Bernard was known for his close friendships – Ireland’s own St Malachy was a close friend and he died in Bernard’s arms. St Bernard had such an influence over others that over thirty other young men joined him when he entered the monastery. Some of these are family members, and several members of his family have also been beatified and/or canonised. I’m sure that there are other saintly friendships in the life of St Bernard about which I am unaware. 

Another monk, this time the famous Irish Benedictine, Blessed Columba Marmion, was also known for his holy friendships. He was close to the well known spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier and of Cardinal Mercier. I’m cheating a little bit there as their causes have not been opened, but both of them were renowned for their holiness. However, I’m not cheating by pointing out that Blessed Columba was the spiritual director of the Servant of God Mother Mary of St Peter, the foundress of the “Tyburn Benedictines”, whose cause has been opened.

St Bridget of Sweden, one of the Patron Saints of Europe, was the mother of St Catherine of Sweden. Two other Patron saints of Europe – Cyril and Methodius, were brothers. Saints Cosmas and Damian were also brothers. Closer to our own day, Blessed Charles of Austria was married to Princess Zita, whose cause has recently been opened. And speaking of family members, Blessed Joan of Aza was the mother of St Dominic and Venerable Margherita Occhiena was the mother of St John Bosco.

Also closer to our own time we find the friendship of St Damien of Molokai and St Marianne Cope. The great Spanish Carmelite reformer of the 20th Century, St Maravillas was a friend of the Jesuit Servant of God Fr Tomas Morales, who founded the Crusaders of Mary. The founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, St Arnold Jansen, was a friend of St Joseph Freinademetz and of Blessed Helena Stollenwerk. And of course, Saint John Paul II had a well known friendship with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and was naturally also friendly with many contemporary saints of his time, including Blessed Alvaro del Portillo. He was also appointed bishop by Saint John XXIII and created a cardinal by Blessed Paul VI. He also corresponded with St Pio of Pietrelcina and went to him for confession. 

Then there are numerous martyrs who supported each other during major persecutions. Consider the supportive friendships and good examples provided by the early Christians, those persecuted in Elizabethan England, the French Revolution, the Mexican Cristero War, the Spanish Civil War and as well as the Nazi and Communist persecutions. And then there are those blessed Irish martyrs who knew and inspired each other during the time of the Irish Penal Laws.

The number of saints who modelled themselves on other saints and who developed a spiritual, as opposed to temporal, friendship, with them is far too numerous to even begin to list them. Then there are the many unrecognised saints in heaven who inspired, and were in turn inspired by, other unknown saints…

We see this friendship also in the life of Fr Doyle. He was ordained on the same day as Venerable (and soon to be beatified) Fr John Sullivan SJ and was directed by Venerable Adolphe Petit during his tertian year in 1907 in Belgium. He also assisted Fr James Cullen SJ in his work in governing the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. One wonders if Venerable Matt Talbot ever met Fr Doyle? He probably did, since they were around Dublin at the same time…

And of course, after his death Fr Doyle continued to inspire many others recognised for their own holiness. These include St Josemaria Escriva, St Alberto Hurtado, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, the Servant of God Monsignor Bernard Quinn from New York and Fr Wlodimir Ledóchowski, the Superior General of the Jesuits (whose own sisters have been raised to the altars: Blessed Maria Teresia Ledóchowska and St Ursula Ledóchowska).

Holy friendships ensure that we do not go to Heaven alone. But so too, bad friendships can drag us away from the Lord. One is reminded of the words of St Thomas More (who of course was closely associated with St John Fisher – another friendship to remember) to his daughter Meg as he was being led to death:

Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may all happily meet in Heaven.

Let us live with our friends in such a way that we can be assured of bringing them to Heaven with us.

By the way, I would be delighted if anyone can add to this list – just leave a comment!