Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary. Day 2: The virtue of Hope

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of hope:

1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

1819 Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice.”Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations.”

1820 Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the “hope that does not disappoint.” Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: “Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” It affords us joy even under trial: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.” Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.

1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.

Fr Doyle lived the virtue of hope throughout his life, but most especially during the war years. He ardently desired the Kingdom of Heaven, so much so that he even desired martyrdom. We do not hear much talk of “merit” in contemporary religious discourse, but it was an important element of the spiritual life in Fr Doyle’s time. In the Gospel, Jesus says that in His Father’s house there are many mansions. In other words, even though Heaven is a place of perfect happiness, there are different degrees of glory in Heaven relative to our capacity to receive it. The greater our capacity for love, the greater is our capacity for being filled with God’s love and glory in Heaven. Thus Fr Doyle often wrote about growing in the love of God and of acquiring merit on earth so that we will be capable of being more fully filled with God’s love in Heaven:

What treasures of grace, what innumerable opportunities of merit are within my grasp if only I seize them.

It is unlikely that Fr Doyle could have functioned effectively in the war years were he not filled with hope. He also had this hope for the soldiers he risked his life to serve – he believed that by providing the sacraments to them that he was literally opening the gates of Heaven for them. They shared this belief, and were always relieved when they met the priest before death.

I don’t think you will blame me when I tell you that more than once the words of Absolution stuck in my throat, and the tears splashed down on the patient suffering faces of my poor boys as I leaned down to anoint them. One young soldier seized my two hands and covered them with kisses; another looked up and said: ‘Oh ! Father I can die happy now, sure I’m not afraid of death or anything else since I have seen you.’ Don’t you think, dear father, that the little sacrifice made in coming out here has already been more than repaid, and if you have suffered a little anxiety on my account, you have at least the consolation of knowing that I have, through God’s goodness, been able to comfort many a poor fellow and perhaps to open the gates of Heaven for them.

But Fr Doyle also had great hope in his own safety and protection. Despite his own very natural fears, he trusted in God’s loving providence over all things. He wrote the following to his father while he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx in his pocket.

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in His loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.

Fr Doyle’s hope in the face of such death and destruction is all the more remarkable when one considers that he was caught up in a fire while he was a student and had a nervous breakdown as a result. His transformation was so complete that two decades later he was a rock of strength, courage and hope, and that tough men flocked to him to be strengthened. 

Hope is one of the forgotten virtues. Despite all of the comforts of modern life, many people are fearful, especially at this time of economic instability. It is only by acquiring the virtue of hope that we can live securely in these difficult times.

Thoughts for August 9 (St Teresa Benedicta) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Co-Patroness of Europe

Fr Doyle does not have a specific record for the events of 9 August 1917, so we will instead have one of his typical sayings, and resume his narrative tomorrow.

You must bear in mind that, if God has marked you out for very great graces and possibly a holiness of which you do not even dream, you must be ready to suffer; and the more of this comes to you, especially sufferings of soul, the happier it ought to make you. . . . Love of God is holiness, but the price of love is pain. Round the treasure-house of His love, God has set a thorny hedge; those who would force their way through must not shrink when they feel the sharpness of the thorns piercing their very soul. But alas! how many after a step or two turn sadly back in fear, and so never reach the side of Jesus.

COMMENT: This is classic Fr Doyle. But it is also utterly representative of the message of Christ Himself who tells us:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The way to holiness is hard. It is true that it may be filled with many consolations and the help of God’s grace, but the pursuit of sanctity itself is a hard road. This is seen in the life of every saint, from the martyrs to the hidden contemplatives to those living apostolic lives in the world, whether religious or lay. This suffering isn’t always physical, it can entail a suffering of the soul, similar, for instance, to that darkness experienced by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for most of her life. Today in the West, and very especially in Ireland, it is becoming increasingly clear that our suffering as Catholics may involve scorn and insults because of our faith. But for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere, we see a hard road that now leads to actual martyrdom, and even crucifixion, at the hands of Islamic militants. 

Progress in the spiritual life requires effort, just like progress in a sport or a career requires effort. Those who win medals do not do so by accident – their success is based on many years of training and effort. But the fact that effort is required is not a sufficient excuse to stay still; as Fr Doyle says, we may have been marked out for a holiness of which we do not even dream. What a tragedy, for us and the world, if we do not strive to reach the level of holiness God has planned for us. Imagine if Fr Doyle had settled for a life of average sanctity, if he turned “sadly back in fear”? He could have lived a comfortable life; he could have managed to get a relatively easing posting at home. But how much more difficult would life in the trenches have been for some of those soldiers as a result? The same can be said for all the saints – if they had turned back sadly in fear, how many religious orders with all their works would remain unfounded; how many works of charity or of apostolate would remain undone?

And the same can be said of us. If we turn back out of fear of suffering, how many people will be worse off? That’s why the universal call to holiness is so remarkable, and exciting, and why we must not forget the implications of this spiritual truth for all of us. There are some high ranking prelates in the Church who have recently expressed the view that heroism isn’t for “ordinary Christians”. This is a strange clericalist mindset and it seems hard to reconcile this with the Gospel and with the witness of the first Christians. It’s true that we may not actually become heroic in practice, but we are still called to strive for heroism, even in faithfulness to mundane daily duties.

But we must not give way to fear, for Christ has promised His grace, and this will help carry us forward, for without it we can do nothing. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He will help us. As St Benedict tells us in his Rule:

For as we advance…in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

Finally, we can turn today to St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross for help. She is one of the patron saints of Europe, where the Church suffers so much today. St Teresa Benedicta surely did not imagine what God had in store for her – from Jew to atheist to brilliant scholar to Catholic convert to enclosed Carmelite mystic to martyr of the Nazi holocaust. She did not turn sadly back when she felt the pain of the thorns, but trusted in God each step of the way. How richer the world, and the Church, is for her holiness.

St Teresa Benedicta, pray for us.