24 October 1916: Fr Doyle’s night of prayer at the Front

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on October 25 1916. It refers to the previous night, in other words, this evening and night 101 years ago. It is worth remembering that at this time Fr Doyle was at the Front. His prayer was conducted in a dug out, not in the relative comfort of a Jesuit house far from violence and death. He obviously found it hard, hence his use of the old strategy of making a vow not to give in to tiredness. He did spend a night of prayer at the Front for the Poor Clares in Cork which he was instrumental in founding – they were experiencing some difficulties at the time. I am not sure if this was that same occasion or not. 

Jesus has long urged me to give Him a whole night of prayer and reparation. Last night I prayed in my dug-out at Kemmel from 9 till 5 (eight hours), most of the time on my knees. I bound myself beforehand to do so by vow in order not to let myself off. Though I had only two hours’ sleep, I am not very tired or weary today. Jesus wants more of these nights of prayer, adoration and atonement.

Thoughts for October 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

We come now to one of the other great moments of the Spiritual Exercises – the Meditation on the Three Classes of Men. This is tough! It is likely that most of us would be delighted to belong to the second class of men. After all, the Second Class seem quite reasonable to us! Yet there are always further levels of sanctity to which we can aspire.

Here is the text from St Ignatius. When reading this, we should remember that 10,000 ducats is a vast sum of money, and that the men did not acquire the money dishonestly, although they did not acquire it only for the love and glory of God.

Prayer. The usual Preparatory Prayer.

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the narrative, which is of three classes of men, and each one of them has acquired ten thousand ducats, but not entirely as they should have – for the love of God. They all want to save themselves and find in peace God our Lord, ridding themselves of the burden arising from their attachment to the sum acquired, which impedes the attainment of this end.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see myself, how I stand before God our Lord and all His Saints, to desire and know what is more pleasing to His Divine Goodness.

Third Prelude. The third, to ask for what I want. Here it will be to ask grace to choose what is more to the glory of His Divine Majesty and the salvation of my soul.

First Class. The first Class would want to rid themselves of the attachment which they have to the thing acquired, in order to find in peace God our Lord, and be able to save themselves, but the hour of death comes, and they have not made use of any means.

Second Class. The second class want to rid themselves of the attachment, but they wish to do so in such a way that they can keep the thing acquired want so to rid themselves of it as to remain with the thing acquired, so that God is to come to what they desire and they do not decide to give up the sum acquired, even though this would be the better way for them.

Third Class. The third class want to rid themselves of the attachment, but want to do so in such a way that they desire neither to retain nor to relinquish the sum acquired. They seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them and as seems better for the service and praise of His Divine Majesty. Meanwhile they will strive to conduct themselves as if every attachment to the thing had been broken. They will make efforts either to want that, nor anything else, unless the service of God our Lord alone moves them to do so. As a result the desire of being better able to serve God our Lord will be the cause of their accepting anything or relinquishing it.

Three Colloquies. I will make the same three Colloquies which were made in the Contemplation preceding, on the Two Standards.

Note. It is to be noted that when we feel a tendency or repugnance against actual poverty, when we are not indifferent to poverty or riches, it is very helpful, in order to crush such disordered tendency, to ask in the Colloquies (although it be against the flesh) that the Lord should choose one to actual poverty, and that one wants, asks and begs it, if only it be the service and praise of His Divine Goodness.

Here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on this meditation:

It is easy for me to test my love for Jesus. Do I love what He loved and came down from heaven to find suffering, humiliation, contempt, want of all things, inconveniences, hunger, weariness, cold? The more I seek for and embrace these things, the nearer am I drawing to Jesus and the deeper is my love for Him. While praying for light to know what God wants from me in the matter of mortifying my appetite, a voice seemed to say: “There are other things besides food in which you can be generous with Me, other hard things which I want you to do.” I thought of all the secret self-denial contained in constant hard work, not giving up when a bit tired, not yielding to desire for sleep, not running off to bed if a bit unwell, bearing little sufferings without relief, cold and heat without complaint, and, above all, the constant never-ending mortification to do each action perfectly. This light has given me a good deal of consolation, for I see I can do much for Jesus that is hard without being singular or departing from common life.

It seems to me that Jesus is asking from me a life in which I am to make war upon “comfortableness” as far as possible, a life without comfort, even that which is allowed by the rule.

The example of men of the Third Class in the world should shame me. What determination, what prolonged effort, what deadly earnestness, in the man who has determined to succeed in his profession! No sacrifice is too great for him, he wants to succeed, he will succeed. My desire, so far, to be a saint is only the desire of the man of the First Class. It gratifies my pride, but I make no real progress in perfection I do not really will it.

The love of Jesus makes the impossible easy and sweet.

COMMENT: The meditation on the three classes of men presents us with a very hard challenge. Perhaps there are few who can readily embrace the way of the third class. This is not surprising, as the approach of the third class of men is one of great sanctity. Our fear of being like the third class should not discourage us. Just as one must be extremely fit to run a marathon, one must have arrived at some degree of holiness before the approach of the third class seems easy or inviting. The important thing is that we keep going forward, and striving to be generous with God, even if we do not as of yet possess that generosity.

Over time, Fr Doyle may have become a man of the Third Class. He was open to God’s will, whatever that might be – the mission in the Congo, the trenches of World War 1, or even to minister in a leper colony – Fr Doyle apparently told some soldiers that if he survived the war he wished to go and work among the lepers. We may not yet have the detachment for such great acts, but we can all practice detachment in the little things in our daily lives.