Thoughts for October 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

Copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1586

Today we will start a new series of special quotations from Fr Doyle. This day 110 years ago – 10 October 1907 – Fr Doyle commenced the “Long Retreat”: 30 days immersed in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Many people – lay and religious – do the spiritual exercises but in a truncated form over 8 or so days. But St Ignatius designed the exercises to last 30 days, with particular meditations and themes for each week and each day. Jesuits do the exercises for the full 30 days twice in their life – once when they start in the novitiate and then a second time after ordination. It is this second experience of Fr Doyle in doing the 30-day exercises that we are now going to consider.

Firstly, an overview of the Exercises from O’Rahilly, who himself had been a Jesuit novice before discerning that this was not his vocation.

As we begin with his Long Retreat, it may be useful to add here by way of preface a few general ideas about the scope of the Exercises. According to St. Ignatius, “the name of spiritual exercises is applied to any method of preparing and disposing the soul to free itself from all inordinate affections, and after it has freed itself from them, to seek and find the will of God concerning the ordering of life for the salvation of one soul.” Thus a retreat is designed for earnest souls only in a very attenuated form can the Exercises be adapted to a mission for sinners; and it has a definite object to find God’s will. At the beginning St. Ignatius lays down the “first principle and foundation” which must be admitted at the outset. It is the basis of all valuation of life: Man was made for God, all other things for man to bring him to God. Thus the exercitant accepts in advance and in general the practical consequences which logically follow from this acceptance of the Creator’s sovereign rights. Then for a whole week he must seek to eliminate all sin and disorder and to examine his soul. In the second week the exercitant is brought face to face with Jesus Christ. Will he follow the invitation and enlist in the King s service? He must count up the cost, he must study Christ s standard, he must at least aspire to the highest and noblest service. Then comes the great choice, which St. Ignatius calls “the election,” and which is the culminating point of the Exercises.

In ordinary retreats, of course, there is no great decisive choice to be made, but there is always some “reformation of life,” some re-ordering of one’s life in the light of the great spiritual truths and scenes which have been marshalled before the soul. God s will is known and accepted. One more week is spent in meditating on the Passion, and a fourth and last is devoted to the contemplation of the Risen Master, in order to habituate the soul to pure love and to strengthen the resolutions taken. Such, in brief essentials, are the Exercises through which in their entirety each Jesuit passes twice in his life, once as a novice at the outset of his spiritual life, and finally as a priest at the outset of his ministry.

Fr Doyle made many notes during these 30 days and they shall be reproduced here in full over the next month. There is much in these notes – often the daily quotes from the blog have been taken from these retreat notes. I do not intend to elaborate often or in depth on these notes, both because I am inadequate to such a task and because the implications of Fr Doyle’s meditations are direct, clear and immediately practical to us. Fr Doyle did not make notes every day or on every aspect of the retreat, but I have attempted to divide them up the notes we do have so that we can consider some aspect of his retreat meditations for quite a few of the days over the next month.

This retreat was a turning point for Fr Doyle. He was clearly a devout and dedicated Jesuit before this retreat. But something stirred deep within him on these 30 days and he subsequently pursued sanctity and the fulfilment of God’s will with a much deeper dedication than before. His deeply personal notes, intended only for his private use, allow us to see some of this transformation in action. May we too experience a deepening of commitment as we follow Fr Doyle’s footsteps over the coming weeks.

Let us begin with Fr Doyle’s first diary entry on the night on which he commenced the Spiritual Exercises in Tronchiennes, Belgium, 110 years ago today.

Tronchiennes, 10th October, 1907.

I begin the Long Retreat this evening with very varied feelings. I feel a great desire and determination to make this retreat as I have never made one before, for I know this is the turning point in my life I can never be the same again. I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.” Hence I feel my cowardly and weak nature dreading this retreat, for I feel our Lord is going to ask some big sacrifice from me, that He expects much from me. He has been tugging at my heart for so many years, urging me in so many ways to give myself wholly to Him, to give all and refuse Him nothing. I dread lest now I shall again refuse Him perhaps it is the last time He will ask me to do what He wants. My loving Jesus, I will, I will be generous with You now at last. But You must aid me, it must be Your work, I am so cowardly. Make me see clearly Your holy will. Lord, what would you have me do?

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