The First Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

We are now over half way through Lent. At this stage it is easy for our dedication to wane somewhat; the early enthusiasm of Ash Wednesday is behind us; the solemnity and beauty of Holy Week is still a few weeks away.

This seems to be an appropriate time to introduce the Stations of the Cross based on the writings of Fr Doyle. For each of the next 14 days a meditation from his writings on one of the Stations will be posted on the site, normally without the usual daily comment. The images accompanying these meditations are the images of the Stations in St Raphael’s Church in Surrey, England (http://www.straphael.org.ukand are used with the kind permission of the parish.

The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned To Death

Around the judgement seat are grouped a motley crowd. Men and women of every rank, the high-born Jewish maiden, the rough Samaritan woman; haughty Scribes and proud Pharisees mingle with the common loafer of the great city. Hatred has united them all for one common object; hatred of One Who ever loves them and to their wild fury has only opposed acts of gentle kindness. A mighty scream goes up, a scream of fierce rage and angry fury, such a sound as only could be drawn from the very depths of hell. “Death to Him! Death to the false prophet!”. He has spent His life among you doing good – Let Him die! He has healed your sick, given strength to the palsied, sight to your blind – Let Him die! He has raised your dead – Let death be His fate!

Thoughts for the Feast of the Annunciation from Fr Willie Doyle

Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her?

COMMENT: Mary’s Yes was a pivotal moment in our salvation history and indeed in the history of the world. The request that she consent to being the mother of the Messiah must have been bewildering for her. It had implications for her, and for all of humanity throughout all eternity, that she could not at that time imagine. Yet she didn’t hesitate. She abandoned herself to God with utter faith. Her “Fiat”, her declaration “May it be done unto me according to your word” is such an important example for us. How different things might have been without her faithful acceptance…

How different the world would have been if the saints across history had not accepted God’s will. And how different things would have been without Fr Doyle’s yes to God. How many priests and religious owed their vocations to his writings? How many souls converted through his preaching? How many soldiers were saved and consoled by his loving presence and ministry in the trenches?

And what of us? How many people depend on our faithfulness to our vocation, whatever that may be…

Blessed John Henry Newman tells us:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

Let us turn today to Mary, that she may help us understand our vocation in life more clearly and persevere in it with greater fidelity.

24 March 1917

It was a beautiful clear morning, such a morning as would tempt the laziest aviator to have a sail, so many eyes were on the watch out for visitors. We had not long to wait. Away in the distance a solitary German aeroplane was seen approaching, flying very fast towards where we are. With that love for fair play and a good even fight, for which the British navy is so justly famous, three of our machines together made for the adventurous German, probably thinking he would fly for his life back to where he came from. On the contrary, the rude fellow made for them; in a brace of shakes, had sent two of our machines crashing to the ground, and the third limping home, evidently badly mauled, and then seeing there was no one else ‘having any’, continued on his journey. I have seen (in the newspapers) one of our men taking on eight Germans at a time, but they cannot have been the same stuff as our visitor, who is evidently ‘a topper’.

Thoughts for March 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

The great defect in my character and chief reason why I make so little progress is my want of fidelity. Thus in the past eighteen months I have not marked the ejaculations and acts of self-denial over three hundred times. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers here to his tendency of keeping meticulous records about numerous aspects of his spiritual life. Many saints kept detailed spiritual records in order to review their progress day by day and to ensure that they were aware of any slippage in their acts of devotion. It is a practice recommended by St Ignatius for his Jesuit sons. Fr Doyle was generally very conscientious in keeping his “spiritual accounts” up to date. 

It is consoling for the rest of us to read about this period of time in which Fr Doyle did not keep his records up to date so often, presumably due to being busy or overwhelmed with others tasks. Even the very devout have to struggle with their resolutions – this fact should give consolation to the rest of us. 

The key issue that we might consider in today’s quote is that of fidelity. Fr Doyle is correct – we will not make progress unless we are faithful to our resolutions. We see this in so many areas of our life. We will not advance in study unless we are faithful in our work; we will not become fitter unless we remain faithful to our physical exercises. The same principle holds true for our spiritual life. We must strive to remain faithful to our resolutions. However, there will inevitably be times when we fail and when we lack fidelity. In such a situation we don’t give into discouragement which is one of the greatest weapons of the enemy. Rather, we pick ourselves up and start again. 

We are now almost half way through Lent. Have we been faithful to our resolutions? If not, it doesn’t mean that we just give up – we still have 3 weeks of Lent left in order to get back on track.

Thoughts for March 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

As the moth is attracted to the light, is drawn ever nearer to the warmth and brightness, until at length with irresistible longing it casts itself into the flame, so the Sacred Heart draws us to Itself by Its love. We are warm by the fervour of Its affection, dazzled by Its brilliancy. We come to realize the extent of that love, its foolish excesses; it bursts upon us that all this is a personal love for me. Jesus has won the victory. The fluttering little moth surrenders completely and hurls itself into that furnace of love. The rest is easy. Sin ceases; imperfection becomes hateful, more hateful than former sin; a spirit of sacrifice, a longing for self-immolation springs up.

Thoughts for March 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy. 

COMMENT: Courage, more commonly referred to as fortitude, is one of the cardinal virtues. It is impossible to live a holy life without it. In fact, it is also probably impossible to live a happy life in the purely worldly sense without it. As St Teresa of Avila, herself no stranger to this virtue, once said: 

To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that. 

We see many examples of courage in the life of Fr Doyle. Most obviously, his simply astounding courage during the war comes immediately to mind. If that doesn’t qualify as “heroic virtue” I don’t know what does! But Fr Doyle exhibited courage and fortitude throughout his life. Even as a student before ordination he had to confront persistent illness and fought long and hard to succeed in study. Here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit who lived with him before he was ordained: 

Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise. 

This courage was not necessarily innate within Fr Doyle; he continuously prayed for this gift. As he says in one part of his diary: 

With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me. 

All saints demonstrated courage to a heroic degree, but in some cases this virtue seems to shine out with special grandeur. Today the Church celebrates two such men.

The torture of St Nicholas Owen

St Nicholas Owen was a Jesuit lay brother who died in 1606. He was a carpenter by trade, and it was he who perfected the art of constructing priest-holes in Elizabethan England. His work in building protest holes was fascinating; some of them were only discovered centuries later, such was his creativity and skill in constructing them. He travelled in disguise and worked quietly at night while the household was asleep, for it was dangerous to allow others to know the nature of his work. His work was so exceptional that he undoubtedly saved the lives of many priests. As Fr John Gerard, the remarkable Jesuit missionary of that era who chronicled his exploits in a fascinating memoir noted:

I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular. 

This, of course, made St Nicholas a prime target for capture. When he was himself arrested, he was subjected to the most horrific tortures in order to make him reveal the secrets of his hiding holes. Remarkably, he withstood all attempts to break him, and he died while being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. He was literally torn asunder and died on rack, and the case was apparently something of a scandal at the time given the ferocity of the torture he was subjected to. The authorities even went as far as to allege that he committed suicide, such was their desire to cover up their crime of murdering him on the rack. Yet he revealed no secrets, preferring agonising death rather than reveal his secrets and endanger the Catholic mission in Elizabethan England. He was a true hero and a man of courage.

Blessed Clemens August von Galen

We also celebrate today the feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933-1946. He was a staunch opponent of both the Communists and Nazis, and, despite threats and violence, he preached fearlessly against the Nazi death-culture and in defence of the Church. He is popularly known as the Lion of Münster in recognition of his courage. More can be read about him here: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcgovern/vongalb.html  He is also the subject of an interesting new biography – ore can be read about that herehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/03/the-bishop-and-the-nazis

Fr Doyle showed his courage in the First World War, Blessed Clemens demonstrated his in the Second World War and St Nicholas Owen stood firm during the Elizabethan persecution. Most people reading this site do not live in the midst of such dramatic circumstances, and for that perhaps we should be thankful. But we are still called to live with heroic courage in our ordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note that all three exhibited their greatest courage in fulfilling their vocations – Fr Doyle as a military chaplain; St Nicholas Owen as a carpenter and Blessed Clemens as a bishop fearlessly proclaiming the truth, even though it was politically unpopular. 

Daily life will also provide many opportunities for us to demonstrate our own fortitude, most often in overcoming our own personal defects and weaknesses. As Fr Doyle once noted in a letter:

For your consolation remember that everyone I have ever met found the struggle for perfection hard because most of the work is done in the dark. It is a question of faith and courage, going along bravely day after day.