St. Alphonsus Rodriguez is a striking example of one who, though in a lowly station in life, devoid of all that in the eyes of the world makes for greatness, yet did a mighty work for God. With a heart burning with zeal, which prayer alone could not satisfy, he saw in the young ardent Peter Claver a ready instrument for the work he longed to do. With burning words he fires the soul of the future apostle with a hunger for abandoned souls. He tells him of the wretched slaves dragging out a miserable existence in a far-off world, knowing not the name of Jesus; he pictures to him the rich and golden harvest to be reaped, the victories over sin and Satan; he whispers of the pain and suffering, the heat, the toil, the lingering death, till Claver’s heart is aflame with zeal, burning with a holy fire.
With tender love did the old saint watch the young one grow in virtue day by day; with trembling hands he begs that grace may fall upon this fresh ardent soul and make him worthy of the heavenly call. Alphonsus’ eyes soon must close in death, his time is nearly run, his hour of sweet repose is drawing near; but if he may no longer toil for God, at least he longs to leave behind him one whom by his prayers and bright example he has made a saint.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Spanish Jesuit saint of the 16th and 17th century. He was a doorkeeper in the Jesuit house on Majorca. How many saints have been doorkeepers! From the top of my head, the distinguished list includes St Faustina, St Josephine Bakhita, St Conrad of Parzham, St Martin de Porres, Venerable Consolata Betrone, Venerable Solanus Casey and one of the most recently canonised saints, St Andre Bessette, as well as numerous others. The doorkeeper plays an important role in religious houses, acting as a link with the outside world. But it is also a humble one. Perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something with the sheer number of saints who have held this humble role.
The humility of St Alphonsus’ task is one reason why Fr Doyle should have such admiration for him. After all, Fr Doyle’s constant theme of performing simple tasks well is readily applicable to the life of a humble doorkeeper. St Alphonsus also had great evangelical zeal, and he played a formative role in the life of the great apostle of the slaves, St Peter Claver. This aspect of St Alphonsus also clearly appealed to Fr Doyle, the tireless apostle.
May the example of St Alphonsus Rodriguez teach us that the simplest and most humble tasks are compatible with great sanctity.
You may read more about the spirituality of St Alphonsus Rodriguezhere.
Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.
COMMENT: The desire to die a martyr was with Fr Doyle from his earliest days. Far from being something morbid, it is one of the ultimate expressions of love for God – the desire to offer everything, even our life, for the One who has given everything to us.
This desire was felt by many saints across the ages, through perhaps we personally may identify more closely with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story described in these words:
She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.
The Church in Ireland today celebrates the feast of Blessed Dominic Collins, one of the Irish martyrs and the only beatified Irish Jesuit. More information on Blessed Dominic is available here. He was only beatified in 1992, and there is no mention of him in any of Fr Doyle’s publicly available writings. However, it is almost certain that Fr Doyle, who was greatly interested in the lives of the saints and especially in martyrs, was aware of, and esteemed, his fellow Jesuit, especially since a book detailing the lives of the Irish martyrs was published by the Jesuit historian Fr Denis Murphy SJ during the years in which Fr Doyle was a Jesuit seminarian.
Here is an excellent video on the life of Blessed Dominic.
Fr Doyle ultimately had his wish – he did die a Jesuit martyr, albeit a martyr of charity, laying down his life to save another, as opposed to the more traditional definition of a martyr as one who dies in defence of the faith. May the example of Blessed Dominic, and of Fr Doyle, inspire us to a generous and selfless defence of truth and service of others. Let us also pray and work for a greater awareness of the many heroic examples of Irish Catholicism in a country that desperately needs positive Catholic role models. Pope Benedict’s Prayer for Ireland is appropriate:
God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation, the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal, the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland.
May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family.
To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother, and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland.
But back to Flannery O’Connor’s character who could be a martyr but only if killed quickly. Let us leave the last words today to Fr Doyle who so often gets right to the heart of the matter:
I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life?
“Time that passeth like a shadow”(Ecclesiastes, 7. 1). Watch the shadow of the sun’s rays creep silently across the dial’s face. Slowly, irresistibly it moves on. No power of man can stay its course; the fair, the mighty, the eloquent, may plead in vain, but nought can check its onward march; ever relentlessly forward man’s destiny is hastening to its end.
COMMENT: We will not have any more reflections from Fr Doyle’s retreat for a few more days – perhaps Fr Doyle refrained from writing at the end of October 1907, or even had a day or two of a break from the retreat. In any event, we shall return to Fr Doyle’s retreat notes in a couple of days.
Today’s reflection is very timely at this time of year, as we inch towards November, a month traditionally associated with death and with the holy souls. Even the very fact of putting our clocks back (for those in my part of the world at least) reminds us that winter will soon be upon us. Our days are now increasingly shrouded in darkness here in the northern hemisphere.
None of us likes the thought of death. Yet we know that we simply cannot escape it. But instead of being morbid at the thought of death, let us be filled with a holy enthusiasm for life, cheerfully filling our days with acts of love and service, so that our hands might be full of good deeds when our final moments on earth arrive.
And let us also pray for those approaching death, that they may have the grace of final perseverance, and be accompanied by the prayers of Mary, whose assistance at the hour of death we invoke every time we say the Haily Mary. Fr Doyle himself accompanied many a poor soldier in his final moments. May he also pray for us when our time comes.
A great desire to know our Lord better, His attractive character, His personal love for me, the resolve to read the life of Christ and study the Gospels.
I feel also a longing to love Jesus passionately, to try my very best to please Him, and to do all I think will please Him. I see nothing will be dearer to Him than my sanctification, chiefly attained by the perfection with which I perform even the smallest action. “All for love of Jesus.”
COMMENT: This quotation from Fr Doyle’s retreat notes from around this time in 1907 summarises the fruit he gained from the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises.
May we copy Fr Doyle’s love for Christ, and come to know Him intimately, imitating Him even in the smallest details of our lives.
Today we continue with some of Fr Doyle’s reflections on the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises and his resolutions aimed at achieving the Third Degree of Humility. Once again, Fr Doyle’s words are very direct and succinct and there is little requirement for commentary and elaboration.
The reformation of one’s life must be the work of every day, I should take each rule and duty, think how Jesus acted, or would have done, and contrast my conduct with His.
I think it better not to make any definite resolutions about mortification, such as “I will never do so-and-so.” I know how such resolutions have fared. But I am determined to keep up a constant war against myself, now in one matter and now in another, varying the kinds of mortification as much as possible, but trying to do ten little acts each day.
We have a strict right to the love of God, because our vocation is to follow Him; we cannot do this unless we love Him. Jesus will assuredly give me a sensible love of Him, if I only ask. I must ask, seek, and knock daily and hourly.
Fr. Petit told me that the spirit of the Third Degree is not so much the practice of austerities as the denial of one’s will and judgement and perfect abnegation of self and humility. This is the spirit of our rules which are simply the Third Degree.
Have I a real hunger and thirst for the love and the service of Jesus? Is it growing?
If I do not begin to serve God as I ought now, when shall I do so? shall I ever? This retreat is a time of special grace, and if my cooperation is wanting, Jesus may pass by and not return. The devil has made me put off my thorough conversion to God for seventeen years, making me content myself with the resolution of “later on really beginning in earnest and becoming a saint.” What might not have been done in that time!
The reason, said Fr Petit, why we find our life so hard, mortification difficult, and why we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike, is because we have no real love for Jesus.
The Gospel says, “He was teaching daily in the temple”. How often, and for how long, am I in the chapel? Is the chapel the place where people know I am to be found? What a difference it would make in my visits, if only I realised the real corporal presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. This is a grace I must earnestly ask for.
“He passed the whole night in the prayer of God”. I say I am anxious to imitate the life of Jesus, here is something in which I can do so. Would it not be possible (afterwards) to spend an hour at night in the chapel after examen?
Following straight on the heels of the meditations on the Two Standards and the Three Classes of Men, we will today consider the Three Kinds of Humility. This is even tougher than the previous meditations! Fr Doyle completed this meditation on this day in 1907.
Once again, we must remember that we are not necessarily expected to have the third degree of humility; or at least not just yet. As Ignatius says, the First Degree is necessary for salvation; he does not say this about the other two. Possessing the Third Degree of Humility and detachment implies heroic sanctity and union with God. After all, those with the Second Degree of Humility seem to be very holy to us, and if the truth is told we are likely to consider those with even the First Degree to be pretty good people as well. But then again, we are to consider the issue from the standard of Christ and not our own, flawed standard. We may never reach this level of holiness, but we should start out on the road towards it, little by little, even if it seems frightening to us at first.
Here is the text of St Ignatius:
First Humility. The first manner of Humility is necessary for eternal salvation; namely, that I so lower and so humble myself, as much as is possible to me, that in everything I obey the law of God, so that, even if they made me lord of all the created things in this world, nor for my own temporal life, I would not consent to breaking a Commandment, whether Divine or human, which binds me under mortal sin.
Second Humility. The second is more perfect Humility than the first; namely, if I find myself at such a stage that I do not want, and feel no inclination to have, riches rather than poverty, to want honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long rather than a short life – provided only in each alternative I would promote equally the service of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul; and so not for all creation, nor because they would take away my life, would I consent to committing a venial sin.
Third Humility. The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when – presuming the first and second degree are already attained, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equally served – in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.
Fr Doyle made this meditation 111 years ago today, at midnight on October 25, 1907. In the old liturgical calendar October 25 was the feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted. This is why he refers to her so much in these reflections. Note also that St Margaret Mary was canonised in 1920 and thus he refers to her as Blessed Margaret Mary.
Fr Doyle’s words today are so direct that there will be no need for comments afterwards.
I have now reached the great meditation, the crucial point, of the retreat. God has been very good to me in enlightening my mind to see His will and in filling my heart with a most ardent desire to do it cost what it may. Jesus, dear Jesus, I want to please You, to do exactly what You want of me, to give all generously this time without any reserve, and never to go back on my resolution. In this spirit I made the midnight meditation on October 25th, the Feast of Blessed. Margaret Mary. I saw clearly what I knew years ago but would not admit: that God is asking from me the practice of the Third Degree in all its perfection as far as I am capable. I cannot deny it or shut my eyes to this truth any longer. Should I not be grateful to the good God for choosing me for such a life, since it will be all the work of His grace and not my own doing? God wants me to put perfection sanctity before me and to “go straight” for that, for holiness. He wants me not to be content with the ordinary good life of the average religious, but to aim at something higher, nobler, more worthy of Him. He wants me to make ceaseless war on myself, my passions, inclinations, habits; to smash and break down my own will, to mortify it in all things so that it may be free for His grace to act upon; in a word, to aim at the perfection of the Third Degree and all that that means, not for one day or month or a year, but for the rest of my life, faithfully, unceasingly, constantly, without rest or intermission. To do this I must strive to cut away all comfort in my life, choose that which is “hard,” go against my natural inclination, and give up the easy self-indulgent life I have hitherto led. The motive for this is the immense, deep, real love of the Heart of Jesus for me, His example which He wants me to follow, for He chose want of all things, suffering and a hard comfortless life, and by doing the same I imitate Him and become more and more like to Him. Can I do this for five, ten, twenty years – lead a crucified life so long? Jesus does not ask that, but only that I do so for this day so quickly passed and with it the recollection of the little suffering and mortifications endured once over, all is over, but the eternal reward remains.
My Jesus, I feel that at last You have conquered, Your love has conquered; and last night, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, I promised You to begin this new life, to begin at last to serve You as You urged me to do during the past sixteen years. I made my promise, knowing well my weakness, but trusting in Your all-powerful grace to do what seems almost impossible to my cowardly nature. Now I have begun. I promise You, sweet Jesus, to serve You perfectly with all the fervour of my soul, aiming at the Third Degree in its perfection. I make this offering through the hands of Blessed. Margaret Mary. Amen.
Tronchiennes, Oct. 25th, 1907. Feast of Blessed Margaret Mary.
I’m very excited to be in Irondale, Alabama to appear tonight on EWTN Live with Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ to discuss Fr Doyle’s life and example. Please tune in, and encourage others to do likewise, so that FR Doyle can become more well known and loved.
The programme will air in Ireland and the UK at 8pm Thursday evening.
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 102 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. We know that he spent 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.