By entering religion and taking my vows I have given myself over absolutely to God and His service. He, therefore, has a right to be served in the way He wishes. If then He asks me to enter on a hard, mortified life and spend myself working for Him, how can I resist His will and desire? What is God asking from me now? Shall I go back on that offering?
COMMENT: The principle that we should serve God as he wishes and without reserve is not only confined to religious – it applies to lay people as well. However, for lay people it will normally involve doing our duties well rather than “going” somewhere else as it might with a religious.
Fr Doyle lived this total dedication in the trenches, going far out of his “comfort zone” to serve God.
Today’s saint, Raymond of Nonnatus, also gave himself completely to God. He was a Mercardian priest from the 13th century. The apostolate of this order was to ransom slaves captured by the Moors. He raised much money for this apostolate, and when the money ran out, he offered himself in exchange for some slaves. Tradition tells us that his captives made holes in his lips and locked them together to stop him from preaching. His example and intercession is clearly relevant for us today.
We are unlikely to be asked to live in trenches with soldiers like Fr Doyle or to offer ourselves as a ransom to free slaves like St Raymond Nonnatus. This is all the more reason why we should live our relatively safe and simple daily lives with complete generosity.
I received the email from Spain yesterday. The person who sent it gave me permission to publish it anonymously. I found it tremendously encouraging. Helping people to confess was a crucial part of Fr Doyle’s ministry, both as a mission priest and as a military chaplain, and similar testimonies were received in the years after Fr Doyle’s death.
After much time away from God, I went to the intercession of Father William Doyle, and on August 16, 2017 I received the sacrament of confession with much peace and confidence. Father Doyle really helped me.
A great miracle.
Why are we not saints? Want of courage and want of patience. We give up, we have not the strength of will and determination to succeed which the saints had. Another point is that our notion of sanctity is adding on, instead of making perfect what we already do.
COMMENT: There are two points worth considering in today’s quote from Fr Doyle. Firstly is the fact that we are not saints, that we are not holy, because we do not want it enough or have not the courage to strive for sanctity. Sanctity does not mean have great mystical experiences or being able to heal people or perform miracles. It means living the virtues heroically, and this capacity is always within our reach if we trust in God’s mercy and follow the means he has given us. For sure, reaching holiness is a lifelong task and not something we achieve in one day. Indeed, at one level it is not even something WE achieve, for holiness comes about through God’s operation in our soul. Our task is to get out of the way, to identify the obstacles to God’s grace and remove them, and to co-operate with the grace that God gives us. Expressed in terms of the teaching of Blessed Columba Marmion (who ultimately derived it from the teaching of St Paul), we must put sin to death in our lives, so that we can live for God. I recently heard a homily in which the priest said that we are not saints because God has not given us the particular grace to be saints, and He has not given us that grace because we have not been faithful to the graces that he already gave us. Why would God give us special graces if we have squandered the ones already given to us? There is much to think about here.
The important thing is that we begin, and keep striving. Many saints, including St Ignatius, were motivated to strive for sanctity by the thought that other ordinary men and women had become saints, and if they could do it, then so could Ignatius.
Perhaps more interestingly, Fr Doyle points out that holiness is not adding on, but making perfect what we already do. This of course presumes that we are already living a stable Catholic life. We do not have to go anywhere to become saints, we do not have to wait for the ideal circumstances to become saints (these ideal circumstances do not exists anyway). By doing our duties perfectly we will have achieved a high degree of holiness. Fr Doyle once again shows himself to be an excellent guide for ordinary lay people in the world.
According to some liturgical calendars, today is the feast of St Margaret Clitherow, St Margaret Ward and St Anne Line, three English martyrs who were tortured and killed on different occasions during the Elizabethan persecution of the Church. Their crimes? To give shelter to hunted priests.
St Margaret Clitherow was killed in a particularly nasty way, but if you want to know more I’ll leave you to google it. St Anne Line was especially connected with the incredible exploits of Fr John Gerard SJ who wrote an amazing firsthand account of his experience as a priest on the run in Elizabethan England. This remarkable Jesuit escaped from captivity in the Tower of London with the help of…orange juice!! Again, I’ll leave you to look up the details. Anybody with an interest in this period of history must read his autobiography; it is one of the best books that I have read. It is recently back in print and can be found here:http://www.ignatius.com/Products/AHUP-P/the-autobiography-of-a-hunted-priest.aspx
These three brave women martyrs sacrificed their lives to preserve the Faith and the priesthood in their land. May we learn from their example.
Tribute by Sergeant T. Flynn published in the Irish News on this day in 1917
We had the misfortune to lose our chaplain, Fr. Doyle, the other day. He was a real saint and would never leave his men, and it was really marvellous to see him burying dead soldiers under terrible shell fire. He did not know what fear was, and everybody in the battalion, Catholic and Protestant alike, idolised him. I went to Confession to him and received Holy Communion from him a day or two before he was killed, and I feel terribly sorry after him.
He loved the men and spent every hour of his time looking after them, and when we were having a fairly hot time in the trenches he would bring us up boxes of cigarettes and cheer us up. The men would do anything he asked them, and I am sure we will never get another padre like him. Everybody says that he has earned the V.C. many times over, and I can vouch for it myself from what I have seen him do many a time. He was asked not to go into action with the battalion, but he would not stop behind, and I am confident that no braver or holier man ever fell in battle than he.
There is one thing we need never be afraid of, namely, that the devil will ever tempt us to be humble. He may delude us in the practice of other virtues; indiscreet zeal, for instance, or the desire to devote our time solely to prayer. But we need never be in doubt as to whether it would be better to humble ourselves or not. There can be no doubt about it. It is always safe to do so.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle makes a very important point in today’s quote which we can easily overlook when focusing on the main theme of humility. Sometimes, good people can be tempted to devote their time solely to prayer. Of course, a more common temptation today is to devote no time to prayer, but the temptation to “overdo it” can still present itself. By this, Fr Doyle clearly means that we have to have regard to our duties in life.
Fr Doyle’s more substantive point today relates to humility. Recalling the importance of humility is very apt today, the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, for St John always pointed to Christ and recognised his own unworthiness to even tie His sandals.
St John has two feasts in the Church calendar – his birth and his beheading. There are very few who are recognised by the universal Church in this way. This is an acknowledgement of St John’s greatness and thus we may take him as a trustworthy model, especially in terms of his detachment from the world, his zeal for souls, his dedication to the truth, and his humility before Christ.
The feast of John’s beheading, and the circumstances that surrounded it, are also a timely reminder that the disciples of Christ must remain faithful and not neglect their duty to proclaim the truth in charity in the public square.
Ronan McGreevy of the Irish Times, author of Wherever the Firing Line Extends, has produced a fascinating documentary entitled The Irish at Passchendeale, in which Fr Doyle features significantly. It is also of wider historical interest, telling the story of Irish troops in the war, and places Fr Doyle’s service in context.
Ronan has kindly arranged a special screening of the video at Veritas on Abbey Street next Friday, September 1, at 1pm. All welcome, however please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your seat, as space is limited.
How many wish to belong entirely to Jesus without reserve or restriction? Most want to serve two masters, to be under two standards. A union of wordliness and devotion; a perpetual succession of sins and repentance; something given to grace, more to nature; fervour and tepidity by turns. Such is the state of many religious. Obligations are whittled down; rules are interpreted laxly; all kinds of excuses are invented for self-indulgence, health, greater glory of God in the end, etc. No service is so hard as the half-and-half; what is given to God costs more; His yoke is heavy; the cross is dragged, not cheerfully carried; the thought of what is refused to grace causes remorse and sadness; there is no pleasure from the world and little from the service of Christ.
COMMENT: This is perhaps an uncharacteristically harsh saying from Fr Doyle. But he seems to be on to something here in his analysis of our half-hearted spirituality, and it is very appropriate for our feast today. St Augustine wanted to serve God, but not yet. He wanted to be good, but did not want to give up his easy going life. Perhaps counter-intuitively to our purely human eyes, it is this half-hearted commitment that is most difficult and that tears us apart. We can recognise this in many aspects of life. Any half-hearted commitment – to work, to relationships, to exercise, to study – makes the task itself so much harder. It is when we give ourselves with full commitment that we prosper and the road seems easier.
Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. But we have to embrace the yoke and the burden, always knowing that God’s grace is there to help us. So often we can make the mistake of thinking that being fully committed to our faith will make us morose or sad or diminish our personality in some way. But the opposite is the case. In the life of Fr Doyle, to take just one example, we see a man who did not opt for the half-and-half solution, but who gave himself fully to God. Yet he was also a tremendous practical joker and was a man who was renowned for his kindness and his warm personal qualities, precisely because of his whole-hearted commitment which filled his soul with such joy. His soldiers, tough men as they were, loved him dearly. No dour, plaster saint could win that kind of affection from tough Irish soldiers in the trenches.
As St Augustine says in one of his famous quotes:
Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you