Early June 1917

I had not the heart to wake up the poor nuns, and after all when one is fast asleep, is not a hard plank just as soft as a feather bed? You see I am becoming a bit of a philosopher! The next morning, I had Mass in a field close to the camp. I wish you could have seen the men as they knelt in a hollow square round the improvised altar, brilliant sunshine overhead, and the soft green of spring about them. They looked so happy, poor lads, as I went down one line and up the other, giving them the Bread of the Strong, and I could not help thinking of another scene long ago when our Lord made the multitude sit down on the grass, and fed them miraculously with the seven loaves. Before I got to the end of my 700 Communions I felt wondrous pity for the twelve Apostles, for they must have been jolly tired also.

COMMENT: The incident described here took place in the early days of June 1917. Fr Doyle was meant to sleep in a convent (he was looking forward to what he described as “an unblushing gluttonous feast of blankets” after 16 days in the front line), but due to a mistake on the part of his orderly, he arrived late at the convent and the nuns were already asleep. Fr Doyle seems to have reached a point where everything is seen as coming from the hand of God – he was happy with the hard plank of wood, because when you’re asleep, it’s all the same really! How many of us would take this setback with such calm acceptance, especially after 16 days of intense pressure and danger at the front line? This incident reflects another, even more heroic one: on one occasion, when the medical doctor was ill, and there was no dry ground to sleep on in the dig out, Fr Doyle lay face down on the damp ground and made the doctor sleep on his back….

In today’s quote we also see Fr Doyle’s simple, cheerful humanity. This quote comes from one of Fr Doyle’s letters home to his father. His humorous comment at how tired the Apostles must have been when Jesus fed the five thousand is so typical of him – these little asides must surely have brought a smile to his father’s face. His constant solicitude for his father so many miles away, when he himself thought so little of his own extreme danger, is one of Fr Doyle’s most charming characteristics.

Thoughts for the Feast of Pentecost from Fr Willie Doyle

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God…For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of the Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come, O Holy Ghost, into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Yes, see how the Holy Spirit changed the Apostles from cowards into heroes who travelled the earth to preach the Gospel without fear of imprisonment, shipwreck or death. See also how the Holy Spirit changed Fr Doyle from a young nervous Jesuit who had a complete nervous breakdown after being involved in a fire, to a hero of the trenches whose powerful presence was enough to give renewed courage to tough Irish soldiers.

The Feast of Pentecost is really one of the great feasts of the liturgical year, but unfortunately we can tend to treat it like any other day…Truly we need the Holy Spirit today, and nowhere more so than in Ireland, where morale within the Church is low and where the sins of yesterday hold us back from proclaiming the Gospel today. The Holy Spirit can transform us and equip us for the challenge of apostolate in this generation. His presence is available to us today, just as much as it was for the Apostles and the early Christians. Let us conclude today with some words from the great Irish Benedictine Blessed Columba Marmion:

This action of the Holy Spirit in the Church is varied and manifold…In the first days of the Church’s existence, this action was much more visible than in our own days; it entered into the designs of Providence, for it was necessary that the Church should be firmly established by manifesting, in the sight of the pagan world, striking signs of the Divinity of her Founder, of her origin and mission. These signs, the fruits of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit, were wonderful. We marvel when we read the account of the beginnings of the Church. The Holy Spirit descended upon those who through baptism were made Christ’s disciples. He filled them with “charismata” as numerous as they were astonishing; graces of miracles, gifts of prophecy, gifts of tongues and many other extraordinary favours granted to the first Christians in order that the Church, adorned with such an abundance of eminent gifts, might be recognised as the true Church of Jesus…If the visible and extraordinary character of the effects of the workings of the Holy Spirit have in great part disappeared, the action of this Divine Spirit ever continues in souls and is not the less wonderful for now being chiefly interior.

Blessed Columba Marmion