Fr Doyle’s struggle against his dominant defect

Fr Doyle, like all of us, had to struggle against his defects. We see an especially vivid example of his struggle in private diary notes written on this day 100 years ago (10 August 1916 – 1 year before his death and one year before the “Behold the Man” episode reported in an earlier posting today).

For the past couple of days I have been very unhappy, in bad humour, with peace of soul quite gone, owing to certain arrangements about billets etc which I dislike. This has come from fighting against God’s will. I know He wants me to take every detail of my life as coming from His hand; and I cannot bring myself to submit. I get irritated and annoyed over trifles e.g. the server signing the bell at Mass too long, my men coming into my room in the morning for my boots etc etc. I feel Jesus urges me to these things: (1) to take every single detail of my life as done by Him; (2) lovingly to accept it all in the spirit of immolation that my will and wishes may be annihilated; (3) never to complain or grumble even to myself; (4) to try and let everyone do with me as he pleases, looking on myself as a slave to be trampled on…If I kept these rules I should never be annoyed or upset about anything and should never lose my peace of soul.

Consider the stress of the life Fr Doyle was living and the sights he had already witnessed at this stage of the war. We can hardly blame him for feeling bit irritable! There are some lessons that we can take from this. 

Firstly, we all have to struggle. Those who are advanced in the spiritual life have to struggle just like the rest of us. Holiness, at every stage, requires struggle. Any spirituality that denies this or ignores it is a spirituality that is not based on the Gospel. Some people will cope with the struggle better than others, but the struggle will always be there.

Secondly our struggle will primarily be against our dominant defect. We all have one particular weakness that drags us down. We will have many sins, but one particular sin that will lead us into other faults. For some it might be pride. Perhaps this was the case with St Vincent de Paul. Other struggled with sensuality – St Augustine and St Margaret of Cortona come to mind. But with Fr Doyle it seems, on my reading of his writing at least, to have been a certain tempestuousness – a quick temper and strong passions. Perhaps this was also the dominant defect of St Peter. It was certainly the case with St Francis de Sales, who, despite having this defect, is known as the gentleman saint, because he consistently fought this defect and overcome it significantly. Perhaps it is inevitable that somebody with a strong will has to fight against this defect of temper – the two probably go hand in hand. This battle against the dominant defect is fundamental to our spiritual life. If we want to be holy, and we want a practical programme for sanctity, then the battle against our own unique fault will be central to this. For those who want more information on this, see the works of the renowned expert Fr Garrigou-Lagrange on this topic http://www.christianperfection.info/tta34.php

Thirdly, despite how Fr Doyle felt internally, I suspect that nobody around him knew of his interior struggle. Those who knew Fr Doyle always spoke of how gentle and meek and mild he was. He was a source of strength, serenity and calm for others, especially in the most stressful situations. Tough Irish soldiers flocked to him – they would not flock to a man who was irritable and highly strung. Despite the interior trials Fr Doyle felt, he managed to surmount them. How rarely many of us manage to do this!

The final lesson here is that we must never give up! To give up is to fail. To stop advancing is to fall back. And if we fail, if we fall or are tempted, we get back up and begin again. We never get tired of beginning again, and as Pope Francis keeps saying, God never gets tired of forgiving us, rather it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness, we who get tired of beginning again. Fr Doyle kept this struggle going always, and he kept it up with specific resolutions. He didn’t tell himself to merely be “nice” to others. Rather, like a good soldier trained in the practical spirituality of St Ignatius, he had specific resolutions that were aimed at rooting out his defect. We will always face this struggle against our passions and against our main defect. But the examples of those who, like Fr Doyle, fought tenaciously against their defects, are a source of inspiration to us.

To conclude, the words of St Benedict may be a source of comfort for all who find the struggle hard:

If a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow. For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

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