Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary: Day 1 – the virtue of faith in the life of Fr Doyle

Counting today, Fr Doyle’s anniversary is 9 days away. It is traditional for Catholics to reflect on specific themes, or to pray for particular favours, for 9 consecutive days. This is a very ancient tradition and dates back to the earliest days of the Church – the apostles and Mary spent 9 days in prayer between the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

So, starting today, in addition to the normal daily post, we will have a specific post on a specific virtue in the life of Fr Doyle. Readers may like to reflect on Fr Doyle’s virtues, and perhaps develop their own private “novena” based around them. On the right hand column of this site you can find an old prayer asking for Fr Doyle’s intercession. This prayer is for private devotion only. It was first written in the 1920’s and it was printed on tens of thousands of prayer cards that were distributed in numerous languages in the first half of the 20th Century.

In all of this, please bear in mind that everything on the site is in conformity with the relevant decress of Pope Urban VIII. Please see the declaration in the sidebar. We do not wish to pre-empt any future judgement of the Church on the virtues of Fr Doyle, and will willingly submit to the judgement of the Church.

There are numerous virtues and qualities that one could pick from the life of Fr Doyle. I have chosen to stick with the 3 theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Love) and the 4 cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance) and 2 of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Joy and Peace). So over the 9 days we will very briefly examine the evidence for one of these virtues and fruits in the life of Fr Doyle.

Please bear in mind that these reflections on Fr Doyle’s virtues are intended to be brief reflections that are necessarily incomplete in nature – a comprehensive treatment would require many many pages to complete!

Day 1: The virtue of Faith in the life of Fr Doyle

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (1814-1816):

1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.”

1815 The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it. But “faith apart from works is dead”: when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.

1816 The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

There is much that could be said about the virtue of faith in the life of Fr Doyle. He certainly committed his “entire self to God”, not only through his life as a Jesuit, but by an ardent longing for sanctity, no matter what the cost might be. If faith apart from works is dead, we can say that Fr Doyle had a vibrantly living faith, for he devoted himself to good works for those around him, both before and during the war.

The Catechism says that we must confidently bear witness to the faith and spread it. Fr Doyle did this best in his actions, and by the ways in which he interacted with others, especially during the war. It is of significance that he was greatly mourned by the Protestant soldiers with whom he interacted. This was not an era of ecumenism as we know it today. It was a time of tension, especially in Ireland. The love that these Protestant soldiers had for Fr Doyle says much about the gentle, and effective, manner in which he spread the faith.

He also exhibited this gentleness in spreading the Faith in his encounter with Fanny Cranbush, the street prostitute who was subsequently implicated in a murder and executed. He saw her on the street, and gently urged her to go home and not to offend Jesus. These words, and especially the love and gentleness with which they were spoken, had a deep impact on her and the memory of them made her seek out Fr Doyle’s help before her death.

Fr Doyle lived at time when societal trends were turning against faith and religion. While the faith held strong in Ireland for several decades longer than other countries, Fr Doyle was well aware of the challenges to faith that were growing in other countries. When he speaks of socialism here he is surely speaking of the most extreme forms, which has always attacked and persecuted religious faith. If his words below seem alarmist, consider the results of the October Revolution in 1917, or two decades later the consequences of the leftist persecution of the Church in Spain which saw literally thousands killed for no reason other than their faith. 

To the anxious watcher signs are not wanting that we shall not be long secure from the attacks of those who, on the Continent, have worked such havoc in the Church. The voice of the Socialist is heard in the land. The tide of infidel literature – cheap, clever, attractive – is slowly gaining ground, carrying with it the foul poison of doubt and incredulity, sparing nothing, however sacred or holy. 
How to save our dear land from such dangers is a problem which must interest every man and woman who has the interests of their country at heart. This was the problem which Catholics in other lands had to face. They saw the efforts made to draw the toiler from allegiance to his Church, the harm done to home and State by socialistic doctrines, and irresistible onward march of modern infidelity.

Fr Doyle’s faith was not merely abstract or intellectual – it was living and vibrant and fundamentally rooted in the person of Christ. We will end today with a quote from Fr Doyle on this very point.

The wretched spirit of Jansenism has driven our dear Lord from His rightful place in our hearts. He longs for love, and familiar love, so give Him both.

Thoughts for August 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

Continuing our narrative today, it is hard not to be struck by the extraordinary good humour of Fr Doyle. The “cathedral” to which he refers was, of course, just another dug out or shell hole somewhere in a battlefield. His final comment about being glad not to be asked to say the rosary with bombs falling around him is classic Irish wit. It is important to remember that these letters were sent home to give comfort to his worried father. By putting such a brave face in circumstances that it is clear that he loathed, Fr Doyle once again shows us something of his virtue. It also shows that his life of penance did not deprive him of his charm one bit.

Also of note is the devotion of the other soldiers in carrying out the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead, at some risk to their own lives.

Here are the events of 8 August 1917 in Fr Doyle’s own words…

There is little to record during the next couple of days except the discovery of a new cathedral and the happiness of daily Mass. This time I was not quite so well off, as I could not kneel upright and my feet were in the water which helped to keep the fires of devotion from growing too warm.

Having carefully removed an ancient German leg, I managed to vest by sitting on the ground, a new rubric I had to introduce also at the Communion, as otherwise I could not have emptied the Chalice. I feel that when I get home again I shall be absolutely miserable because everything will be so clean and dry and comfortable. Perhaps some kind friend will pour a bucket or two of water over my bed occasionally to keep me in good spirits.

When night fell, I made my way up to a part of the Line which could not be approached in daylight, to bury an officer and some men. A couple of grimy, unwashed figures emerged from the bowels of the earth to help me, but first knelt down and asked for Absolution. They then leisurely set to work to fill in the grave. ‘Hurry up, boys’, I said, ‘I don’t want to have to bury you as well’, for the spot was a hot one. They both stopped working much to my disgust, for I was just longing to get away. ‘Be gobs, Father’, replied one, I haven t the divil a bit of fear in me now after the holy Absolution’. ‘Nor I, chimed in the other, I am as happy as a king’. The poor Padre who had been keeping his eye on a row of crumps which were coming unpleasantly near felt anything but happy; however there was nothing for it but to stick it out as the men were in a pious mood; and he escaped at last, grateful that he was not asked to say the rosary.

Later today we shall also have the first in a series of 9 special posts which examine the virtues in the life of Fr Doyle, as we mark each of the 9 remaining days before Fr Doyle’s anniversary.