Today, the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s heroic death, we shall consider the role of serenity and peace in Fr Doyle’s life.
One of the remarkable things about Fr Doyle was his profound interior peace, even in the midst of objectively horrific circumstances. This is something that we can also identify in the lives of canonised saints – they all had a rare serenity, even when facing death. St Thomas More joked with his executioner, while St Lawrence the Deacon joked with those who were burning him to death that they should turn him over on the griddle, because he was already well cooked on one side already! And it wasn’t just martyrs who remained peaceful – saints like Gerard Majella and Vincent de Paul remained calm when falsely accused of crimes, while others like Teresa of Avila and Maravillas remained peaceful in the face of grave financial worries related to their foundations.
Many people noticed a special peace that emanated from Fr Doyle. His brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ noted:
Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.
The soldiers felt a certain “something” about Fr Doyle as well, and some of this peace seemed to communicate itself to them. An Irish soldier recounts the following incident:
You need not worry any longer about my soul. I came across a Jesuit, a Fr Willie Doyle, out here, and he settled up my accounts with the Lord. Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’
What did Fr Doyle himself have to say about his peace of soul, and its true source? We learn a lot from his letters home:
In some ways I have found life out here much easier than I expected and in other respects a good deal more trying. Still if I get only a little bit of holiness out of it all, will it not be well worth it all? Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world — to love Him and Him alone — for the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving Hands and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.
God’s will is everything to me now. . . . True, nature rebels at times, for He has filled me with such a longing to labour for Him, to live and suffer for His dear sake, that the thought of death is very bitter. I can only call it a living martyrdom. But I conquer the feeling by saying this little prayer: ‘Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly — suffering, wounds, death — if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.’ That always brings back peace, even when a bullet grazing my head drives home the reality of the offering.
Fr Doyle also felt this peace even as a young man preparing for the priesthood. He wrote the following in a letter to his mother:
Since then I have gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face — even a Jesuit’s life is not all roses — but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.
We will conclude today with some of Fr Doyle’s advice for finding holiness and inner peace:
If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy.