4 January 1917

I did not get my work finished till rather late tonight and as I had to turn out again shortly it was not worth while turning in. Some of my men were to make a raid on the enemy trenches in the early hours of the morning, dangerous work and heavy casualties often, so I make it a point to go round the line and give each man Absolution before he ‘goes over the top.’ It is a hard and anxious time and a big strain waiting for the word to be given and I know it is a comfort to them to see the priest come round and a cheery word bucks them up. All went well with the raid. We should have had more prisoners only a hot-blooded Irishman is a dangerous customer when he gets behind a bayonet and wants to let daylight through everybody.

I got back to my bunk at six and slept like a top till seven, not too long you will say, but if you come out here you will find all the old-fashioned ideas about food and sleep and wet clothes and the rest of it rapidly vanishing. It is wonderful what you can do with a cup of tea and one hours’ sleep in the twenty-four. (Personally I would vote for two hours, and two cups of tea with a wee bit of bread.)

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4 January 1916

Before I thank you for your letter which was doubly welcome in my exile, I want to tell you the New Year’s gift our Lord gave me. We had an awful time of storm and rain coming over here, but the first thing I saw on reaching the barrack square was a hut marked R.C. Church. I took it for granted that it was just the usual hut set apart for Sunday Mass, but on trying the door you can imagine my delight to find a small but beautifully furnished chapel with lamp burning before the altar, which made my heart leap with joy.

I felt as if all the hardships of my life had vanished, for I had found Him again who makes the hard things easy and the bitter things sweet. What did anything matter now since I could go and tell Him all about it and get help and consolation from Jesus. I really think that this month’s privation of the Blessed Sacrament has taught me the true value of the Tabernacle. But His goodness did not stop here; the other priest who had the key gave it to me without my even suggesting it, so I can go to Him at any hour of the day or night if I want to – do you think I shall? Is He not good to have put the little chapel where He did, as it might have been in any other part of the camp, miles away? I do not think there is a happier man in England than I today. I am writing this, sitting on a piece of wood – no chairs in our quarters. There are about 1,200 Catholics in our brigade now. I get a few ‘big fish’ each evening.

Thoughts for January 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Recognise God’s graces to you, and instead of thinking of yourself and your faults, try to do all you can for God, and love Him more.

COMMENT: One danger in the spiritual life is that we become self-absorbed with our own sins and weaknesses and progress. Of course, in all things balance is needed. We must be aware of our faults and strive to overcome them, but we must always keep the primary focus on Christ rather than on ourselves.

Today the Church presents to us the lives of two interesting women of very different backgrounds whose feasts occur today.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton was a convert from Episcopalianism. She had married into a wealthy family and had five children, although she was left impoverished when her husband died. On her conversion to Catholicism, which scandalised some of her Episcopalian friends, she established a school in Boston. She was then invited to establish a school in Baltimore and ultimately ended up founding a religious community which is today known as the Sisters of Charity of New York.

Today is also the feast of Saint Angela of Foligno who lived in the 13th century, and was canonised by Pope Francis in 2013 (although without a public ceremony). She too was married, and described the first 30 years of her life as mortally sinful and adulterous. She was very attached to the pleasures of the world, and seems to have even made bad Confessions and received sacrilegious Communions. She reformed her life, and after the death of her husband and children, became a Franciscan tertiary and great mystic who also provided for the poor and the destitute.

Instead of thinking of themselves and their faults, both St Elizabeth Ann Seton and St Angela of Foligno experienced the healing power of Christ and completely changed their lives and in the process transformed the lives of those around them. Surely the Episcopalian Elizabeth Ann Seton never imagined herself founding Catholic schools and a religious community; surely the adulterous Angela of Foligno never imagined herself a mystic who would still be remembered 700 years after her death. Similarly, the young Willie Doyle, with his constant stomach sicknesses and nervous breakdown probably never imagined that his heroism would be remembered and admired a century after his death.

God has his plans; if we love Him with all our heart He will lead us in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Saint Angela of Foligno