Thoughts for September 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

You know well that even the smallest cross and happening of your life is part of our Blessed Lord’s plan for your sanctification. It is not easy, I know, to look at things in this light. But one can train the will to look upon the act of others, even their sinful acts in as much as they concern ourselves, as coming from the hand of God. There is so much real holiness and so very much solid happiness and peace and contentment in this little principle, that I am very anxious you should try and acquire it, so that nothing may really ruffle the peace of your soul. Don’t think this is easy, it is not; and you will fail time after time in your efforts, but with perseverance, steady progress will be made.

COMMENT: We live in a world full of change and stress and conflict. There are economical and political and social turmoils. and even the Church is not immune to trouble and stress. 

As Fr Doyle points out, there is much peace and contentment to be found in the Providence of God. He arranges all things for our long term good and sanctification, even if we do not recognise, or appreciate it, at the time. Fr Doyle lived this reality in the trenches; it was precisely this faith in the loving protection of God that sustained him as he took incredible risks to save others.

It may be very difficult for us to have this trust in God, especially if we are suddenly confronted with difficult and life-changing news. We must pray for the grace to acquire this faith and trust in Providence. The Father who feeds the birds of the air and dresses the flowers of the field will not let us down or abandon us.

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Thoughts for September 21 (St Matthew) from Fr Willie Doyle

The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio

 

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the apostle St Matthew. St Matthew followed, giving up his comfort and mammon to follow a prophet who had not even anywhere to lay his head. Matthew continued following him, even unto death.

But both Fr Doyle and St Matthew grew in intimacy with Christ, and in turn gave more and more to Him. Tradition has it that St Matthew was martyred, possibly in Ethiopia. By the time Fr Doyle was sent to the trenches, he seems to have reached a level of detachment where he gladly shared the deprivations of his “poor brave boys”, and was even hoping to go to a leper colony if he survived the war.

Neither man started out so heroically, but responding to grace day by day transformed them in ways they never imagined. We too can be transformed if we rely on grace. It doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom or great suffering for us, but it will mean that we will render great service to God and man if we just follow where God leads.

Thoughts for September 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God. And does it not commend itself very specially to religious? For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come O Holy Ghost into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Devotion to the Holy Spirit is not just something of relevance for religious; it helps all of us, for we all need inspiration and we all need to be transformed in faith and fortitude.

The example of St John Houghton comes to mind in this regard. St John Houghton was a Carthusian priest who was one of the very first to oppose King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts, hence the picture of him with a noose around his neck and his heart in his hand.

Originally the Carthusian monks did not know whether to support the Act or not, and it was after saying the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit that the monks received the strength to oppose King Henry and the courage to follow through with their position despite its grizzly implications.

Fr Doyle, too, followed the inspirations of the Holy Spirit by volunteering as a military chaplain, and the grace of the Holy Spirit saw him through many tough times, allowing his cheerfulness to shine out to those around him.

Both St John Houghton and Fr Doyle trusted in the Holy Spirit and, to use Fr Doyle’s phrase, “were changed …from skulking cowards” and became “afire with the love of God”. That very same grace that was available to the Apostles and early Christians, to St John Houghton and Fr Doyle, remains available to us today.

St John Houghton

Thoughts for September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the famous prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. 

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for September 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Without constant union with our Lord there cannot be any real holiness, one reason being that without recollection the inspirations of the Holy Spirit are missed and with them a host of opportunities of little sacrifices and a shower of graces. As a means of gaining greater recollection, each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus to dwell in your heart during the day as in a Tabernacle. Try all day to imagine even His bodily presence within you and often turn your thoughts inwards and adore Him as He nestles next your heart in a very real manner, quite different from His presence in all creation. This habit is not easily acquired, especially in a busy life like yours, but much may be done by constant effort. At times you will have to leave Him alone entirely, but as soon as you can, get back to His presence again.

COMMENT: The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an inexhaustible source of grace. Yet, while the same amount of grace is available to everyone, in practice we do not all obtain the same graces from the sacraments. Those who are more well disposed to the sacraments, and who approach them with greater purity, humility and love, will obtain more grace. This was the secret of the saints. As that other great Irish priest of the last century, Blessed Columba Marmion, tells us:

Enlarge by faith, confidence, and love the capacity of your souls and grace will abound in you. For if the grace of the sacraments is substantially the same for all, it varies in degree, in intensity, according to the dispositions of those who receive it after having removed the obstacles; it is measured, certainly not in its entity but in its fruitfulness and extent of action, according to the dispositions of the soul. Let us then open wide the avenues of our souls to Divine grace; let us bring for our part all possible charity and purity so that Christ may make His Divine life superabound in us.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Thoughts for September 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

A deadly pitfall lies hidden in the desire of some to pour themselves out in works of zeal for God’s glory, to which the evil spirit not uncommonly urges those whom he sees full of zeal. It is evident even to one little versed in the way of the spiritual life that a multiplicity of external occupations, even though good and meritorious in themselves, must by their very nature hinder that calm peace of soul which is essential for interior union with God.

For one who has advanced in the way of interior union, no life, no matter how occupied or full of distracting work, will prove much of a hindrance; such a one has learned how to ride on the waves of worldly care and not to be engulfed by them, he refuses to put himself out or be totally absorbed in things which have only a fleeting interest; but it is not so with the beginner in the spiritual life. Overwork has broken down not a few weakly bodies but has ruined far more souls, drying up if not destroying all love for prayer and the things of God, leaving the wreck of many a “spoiled saint” strewn on the road of life.

COMMENT: This is an interesting quote from Fr Doyle who so often advocates hard work. Yes, hard work is important, but we must always be balanced and recognise the potential danger of overwork. We must always make time for rest and avoid mere activism which is very dangerous to the spiritual life.

St Teresa of Avila also recognised this danger in writing to a priest:

Will Your reverence please remember that you aren’t made of iron. Just think of all the good brains in our Order that have been ruined from overwork.

Today is also the feast of the Jesuit St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church. St Robert was a famous theologian and cardinal. He had a special interest in England and the sufferings of Catholics there; his works were considered so effective that Queen Elizabeth I banned them in her realm due to their impact.

St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for September 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Blessed Lord loves me, with all my faults and failings, and has marked me out for the special graces which will make me a saint, a big one if I like.

COMMENT: Three points are worth reflecting on today.

Firstly, Fr Doyle’s words may, at first glance, seem arrogant or proud. “God loves ME. He has marked ME out for special graces. They could make ME a BIG saint.” And yet, what Fr Doyle says is true. Fr Doyle was marked out for special graces that could make him a big saint. But not just Fr Doyle – all of us. We are all marked out for special graces. We can all become great saints. We are all called to be perfect, no matter what our temporal circumstances are like, and we are all given the opportunity to obtain the grace to achieve that, even if that path will be very hard.

And that leads us to the second point. “If I like”…What telling words from Fr Doyle today. God loves us, and He wants us to imitate Him more closely and to be perfect, to be a big saint. But He will not force us. We are called to be saints and to co-operate with His will for us. But we have to want to do so and to dispose ourselves to receive those graces. God will not make us holy against our will. We must co-operate.

Thirdly, then, perhaps we, too, can learn from this in our relations with others. Even though He wants us to be better, God does not force us to become saints. Similarly, we cannot force others to believe or to practice their faith. Fr Doyle knew this and always approached others with gentleness and kindness, despite his burning zeal for their salvation. He did not force or condemn. As St Francis de Sales used to say, a spoon of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar. 

St Francis de Sales