Books about Fr Doyle. Part 5: To Raise the Fallen

As we approach the 100th anniversary of Fr Doyle’s death I have already given a review of the major books about Fr Doyle. In this 5th part of the series, I now give an overdrive of the newest book, To Raise the Fallen, which I am responsible for. Thus, it will be more of an overview than a “review’, as it would be strange to review my “own” book!

I put “own” in quotation marks because the book isn’t really my own – it is mostly Fr Willie’s, as the vast majority of the text is Fr Willie telling his own story in his own words. 

The book is 192 pages in length, and hardback. It is a small contribution to the literature on Fr Doyle, but I hope it is a useful one. It is long enough to be give people a good sense of Fr Doyle but not too long as to appear heavy going or too much of a commitment to read. It is published by Veritas, which is the publisher of the Irish bishops. Veritas also have a number of shops throughout Ireland. 

The book opens with a 23 page biographical essay on Fr Doyle written by me. I think this essay on its own is a good overview of Fr Doyle’s life, especially for those who are unfamiliar with him. There then follows 63 pages of edited war letters from Fr Doyle. Apart from the titles I have put on the letters myself, and a few explanatory footnotes, these are entirely Fr Doyle’s own words. I selected letters that capture Fr Doyle’s courage, generosity and suffering as well as the drama of his time in the war. I have also included sone of his humorous letters. All of the material in this chapter was in the public domain previously, having been published by O’Rahilly. Inevitably those who know Fr Doyle’s  war letters well might have chosen different scenes and letters. but the selection was chosen by me to give a good overview for those who are new to Fr Doyle’s life or wanted to be reminded of aspects of his war service. Space was, of course, an issue and there were many other letters I wanted to include, but cuts had to be made! 

The next chapter is about Fr Doyle’s interior war – his own private spiritual life as reflected in his private diaries. This was the hardest chapter to write. It is 22 pages long, and starts with a contextual overview written by me which attempts to set the scene and explain where Fr Doyle was coming from. It is then followed by a series of quotes and extracts from Fr Doyle’s diaries that show us something about his prayer and in particular his personal calling to a hard life. I had to balance discretion with the duty not to sell Fr Doyle short, while writing for an audience in 2017 and beyond. Those who have studied the O’Rahilly biography will understand the challenge here. I hope I have gotten the balance right, but the responsibility for any errors in this are mine!

The following chapter contains almost 150 quotes from Fr Doyle on a wide variety of topics, arranged alphabetically according to theme. I wanted a nice round number like 150 quotes but space restrictions prevented that – I think there are about 146 or something like that. Most of these quotes have been published before, and daily readers of this site will be familiar with some of them. In this book they are arranged according to themes, so if you want a quote from Fr Doyle on Mass or Confession or temptation or generosity, you can immediately find it alphabetically. However, a number of these quotes have never been published before. I have tried to select these quotes so as to appeal to a wide cross section of readers. Obviously convinced Catholics will appreciate Fr Doyle’s spiritual advice, but I think there there is something there to help for anyone of good will and an open mind, even on the purely human level.

Following this are three short chapters. The first of these contains key extracts from Fr Doyle’s writings on priesthood and vocations. Obviously this can help one who is discerning a vocation, but I think these writings are helpful for all people in  some way. Next there is a chapter containing Fr Doyle’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. I publish these here every year in the run up to Holy Week. However I think there it could be useful to have these texts in book format. The third of these short chapters contains some personal prayers of Fr Doyle. Some of these have never before been published. Most of them were never actually written as prayers for public use or as individual vocal prayers, but instead come from Fr Doyle’s own writings in which he would occasionally divert from an abstract or third person discussion into a spontaneous prayer written in the first person. While these prayers are characteristic of Fr Doyle’s spirit of generosity, courage and longing to be a saint, they are accessible and useful for any person.

The book then concludes with an appendix containing testimonies about Fr Doyle from those who encountered him in life. 

The title To Raise the Fallen was suggested to me by a friend, and I think it fits. Fr Doyle obviously died literally trying to raise the fallen in no man’s land. But throughout his own life he tried to raise his own fallen humanity, and that of all he met, to the holiness he felt God wanted.

However, an alternative title could have been: “The Essential Fr Willie Doyle”, or even “Fr Willie Doyle in his Own Words”! I have tried to make Fr Doyle accessible to more people, and allow him to reveal himself in his own words, at this key moment of the 100th anniversary of his death. My hope is that more people will come to know him and be inspired by his generosity, and that we will eventually see his canonisation cause opened formally.

A final note. I would not want anyone to think that I have a desire to make money from Fr Doyle by producing a book. One would be foolish to produce a book like this with the aim of “making money!” Before introducing this book I have tried to promote the books about Fr Doyle that already exist. The aim is always to create awareness of Fr Doyle, and the 100th anniversary is an opportunity not to be missed. (As an aside it is also worth noting that, if you occasionally see ads on the site, they have nothing to do with me, and I receive nothing from them – the wordpress blog platform places them to generate revenue for themselves. I have to pay extra money beyond what I already pay to have ads switched off. I may well do that in the future.) 

But having said all of that, I am going to do my best to promote the book, because in this way more people will buy it, which will mean that more copies will be printed and more people will encounter Fr Doyle. So I hope that readers will buy the book (and the other books about Fr Doyle also!) and also buy extra copies for their friends and families and give them away as gifts!

The link to purchase the book can be found here:

http://www.veritasbooksonline.com/to-raise-the-fallen-a-selection-of-the-war-letters.html

A reminder also that the book launch is in Dublin on Thursday at 5.30. All welcome. 

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Thoughts for August 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

We once again resume Fr Doyle’s narrative of the events at the Battle of Passchendaele. This is his account of the events of August 5, 1917. In a particular way, we see Fr Doyle’s tenderness as he describes his tears for the fallen soldiers, as well as his confidence in God’s providence and protection. We also see his incredible sense of fun and adventure, though I for one cannot personally identify his description of hiding from shells as the “promise of an exciting time”!

All day I have been busy hearing the men’s confessions, and giving batch after batch Holy Communion. A consolation surely to see them crowding to the Sacraments, but a sad one too, because I know for many of them it is the last Absolution they will ever receive, and the next time they meet our Blessed Lord will be when they see Him face to face in Heaven.

My poor brave boys! They are lying now out on the battle-field; some in a little grave dug and blessed by their chaplain, who loves them all as if they were his own children; others stiff and stark with staring eyes, hidden in a shell-hole where they had crept to die; while perhaps in some far-off thatched cabin an anxious mother sits listening for the well-known step and voice which will never gladden her ear again. Do you wonder in spite of the joy that fills my heart that many a time the tears gather in my eyes, as I think of those who are gone?

As the men stand lined up on Parade, I go from company to company giving a General Absolution which I know is a big comfort to them, and then I shoulder my pack and make for the train which this time is to carry us part of our journey. Top end for Blighty, boys, bottom end Berlin, I tell them as they clamber in, for they like a cheery word. If you’re for Jerryland, Father, we’re with you too, shouts one big giant, which is greeted with a roar of approval and Berlin wins the day hands down.

Though we are in fighting kit, there is no small load to carry: a haversack containing little necessary things, and three days rations which consist of tinned corn beef, hard biscuits, tea and sugar, with usually some solidified methylated spirit for boiling water when a fire cannot be lighted; two full water-bottles; a couple of gas-helmets the new one weighing nine pounds, but guaranteed to keep out the smell of the Old Boy himself; then a waterproof trench coat; and in addition my Mass kit strapped on my back on the off chance that some days at least I may be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice on the spot where so many men have fallen. My orderly should carry this, but I prefer to leave him behind when we go into action, to which he does not object. On a roasting hot day, tramping along a dusty road or scrambling up and down shell-holes, the extra weight tells. But then I think of my friend the hermit, and the pack grows light and easy!

As I marched through Ypres at the head of the column, an officer ran across the road and stopped me: Are you a Catholic priest? he asked, I should like to go to Confession. There and then, by the side of the road, while the men marched by, he made his peace with God, and went away, let us hope, as happy as I felt at that moment. It was a trivial incident, but it brought home vividly to me what a priest was and the wondrous power given him by God. All the time we were pushing on steadily towards our goal across the battle-field of the previous week. Five days almost continuous rain had made the torn ground worse than any ploughed field, but none seemed to care as so far not a shot had fallen near.

We were congratulating ourselves on our good luck, when suddenly the storm burst. Away along the front trenches we saw the S.O.S. signal shoot into the air, two red and two green rockets, telling the artillery behind of an attack and calling for support. There was little need to send any signal as the enemy’s guns had opened fire with a crash, and in a moment pandemonium, in fact fifty of them were set loose. I can but describe the din by asking you to start together fifty first class thunder storms, though even then the swish and scream, the deafening crash of the shells, would be wanting.

On we hurried in the hope of reaching cover which was close at hand, when right before us the enemy started to put down a heavy barrage, literally a curtain of shells, to prevent reinforcements coming up. There was no getting through that alive and, to make matters worse, the barrage was creeping nearer and nearer, only fifty yards away, while shell fragments hummed uncomfortably close. Old shell- holes there were in abundance, but every one of them was brim full of water, and one would only float on top. Here was a fix! Yet somehow I felt that though the boat seemed in a bad way, the Master was watching even while He seemed to sleep, and help would surely come. In the darkness I stumbled across a huge shell-hole crater, recently made, with no water. Into it we rolled and lay on our faces, while the tempest howled around and angry shells hissed overhead and burst on every side. For a few moments I shivered with fear, for we were now right in the middle of the barrage and the danger was very great, but my courage came back when I remembered how easily He Who had raised the tempest saved His Apostles from it, and I never doubted He would do the same for us. Not a man was touched, though one had his rifle smashed to bits.

We reached Head Quarters, a strong block house made of concrete and iron rails, a master-piece of German cleverness. From time to time all during the night the enemy gunners kept firing at our shelter, having the range to a nicety. Scores exploded within a few feet of it, shaking us till our bones rattled ; a few went smash against the walls and roof, and one burst at the entrance nearly blowing us over, but doing no harm thanks to the scientific construction of the passage. I tried to get a few winks of sleep on a stool, there was no room to lie down with sixteen men in a small hut. And I came to the conclusion that so far we had not done badly and there was every promise of an exciting time.

A flooded shell hole