Thoughts for the Feast of Christ the King from Fr Willie Doyle


I have long had the feeling that, since the world is growing so rapidly worse and worse and God has lost His hold, as it were, upon the hearts of men, He is looking all the more earnestly and anxiously for big things from those who are faithful to Him still. He cannot, perhaps, gather a large army round His standard, but He wants every one in it to be a hero, absolutely and lovingly devoted to Him; if only we could get inside that magic circle of generous souls, I believe there is no grace He would not give us to help in the work He has so much at heart – our personal sanctification.

COMMENT: In the liturgical calendar of the Ordinary Form, today is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Christ asks us to serve in His army, to follow His standard. It takes even greater commitment to follow Christ now than it did in other generations. But by the same token, even more grace is available to assist us.

Christ is the King Who ordains all things for our sanctification and who longs for our union with Him in Heaven. Such thoughts are deeply comforting in the midst of a confused and troubled world.

Thoughts for November 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

Even as a child I longed and prayed to be a saint. But somehow it always seemed to me as if that longing could never be realised, for I felt there was some kind of a barrier like a high wall between myself and God. What it was, I cannot say even now. But recently this obstacle appears to me to have been removed, the way is open, and I feel I love Jesus now as I never did before, or even hoped to. With this comes the conviction, so strong and consoling with so much peace and happiness, that Jesus will grant my heart’s desire before I die. I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me, until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.

COMMENT: Is Fr Doyle referring here to a mystical experience? Perhaps he is writing in a symbolic fashion, but if he is describing an actual mystical experience that involved some form of “sweet wounding”, then it is clear that he was a very great mystic indeed.

Many saints have described mystical experiences involving spiritual delights and physical pain. Here is St Teresa of Avila describing one of her experiences:

It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

The later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography contain a letter from an unnamed nun who knew Fr Doyle well. Perhaps it was his sister – we do not know. In any event, this nun knew something of the “sweet wounding” to which Fr Doyle referred and said that it was “a grace like to that received by St Teresa”. If this is correct, it is remarkable. But, alas, we cannot say for certain based on the information to hand. Perhaps it is even better not to speculate.

St Teresa reached such mystical heights despite the fact that she only truly reformed her life at 40, having even given up prayer altogether for a whole year at one stage. We should have confidence that, if we continue to progress towards God, no matter what setbacks or diversions we encounter, the Lord will continue to give us all the graces we need to reach Heaven.

Thoughts for 23 November from Fr Willie Doyle

Do not try to run till you can walk well. Draw up a list of certain little sacrifices which you feel God is asking from you and which you know you will be able to give Him without very much difficulty: better be cowardly than too generous. Then, come what may, be faithful to your list and shake it in the face of the tempter when he suggests that you should give it up.

COMMENT: As always, Fr Doyle presents a sane and balanced spirituality to us. Constancy leads to success in all areas of life, whether it be in acquiring a new skill, in studying for exams or in the spiritual life. It was by constant effort that Fr Doyle grew spiritually to become the hero of the trenches.

His advice is also very relevant as we prepare to commence Advent which begins in just over a week. Often we forget that Advent is a time of penance and preparation. Here in Ireland – and elsewhere I am sure – there is great hype in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and as soon as we reach the 26th or 27th of December (when Christmas is just starting) – it is forgotten about and the focus becomes the New Year. This is not the way we should live as Christians – Advent is a time of preparation to allow us to live the spirit of Christmas with greater joy and intimacy with the Lord. Perhaps it would be good to take Fr Doyle’s advice, and prepare a short list of small, specific sacrifices that we wish to make in preparation for Christmas?

Thank you to those who provided endorsements and reviews for the Ignatius Press edition of To Raise the Fallen

I have been meaning to extend my thanks to those reviewers who have given endorsements for either the outside cover or website of the Ignatius Press edition of To Raise the Fallen. Most of these reviewers are from the US, so Thanksgiving Day seems like a good opportunity to extend my thanks and gratitude to them for their encouragement and kind words about the book and about Fr Doyle. 

So my grateful thanks go to 

Fr James Schall SJ

Fr Joseph Koterski SJ

Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ

George Weigel

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Armagh

George Marlin

Fr John S. Hogan

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, US Military Services’

You can read their kind words below.


“Ireland was once a land of Catholic heroes. If the Emerald Isle is going to escape the secular morass into which it’s sunk — if Ireland is going to be, again, a nation of saints — witnesses to the faith who embody Catholicism’s capacity to summon forth courage and compassion are urgently needed. Those virtues were vibrantly alive in Father Willie Doyle, S.J.. His story, and his witness, should be part of any genuine revival of Irish Catholicism.”
George Weigel, Author, The Fragility of Order

“In the context of a nationalistic war that placed nation ahead of God, Church, or the dignity of unique individuals, Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J. restored the proper order. His love of Jesus Christ fired his courage to bring the needed sacraments to anyone in need. The men knew he cared for each of them, and he risked his life for any of them. An impersonal bomb was the way this good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. Anyone who reads his story of love for God’s sake will be made a better person by the experience.”
Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., TV Host, EWTN Live 

“Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., is one of the unsung heroes of the First World War.  During one of the war’s most wretched battles he sacrificed his life to tend to a wounded member of his flock.  His letters in To Raise the Fallen reveal he cheerfully put up with the horrors of trench warfare—the filth, the vermin, the constant enemy shelling—to bring spiritual solace to his comrades in uniform.  This book provides the grounds to reopen the cause for Father Doyle’s Beatification.”
George Marlin, Author, The Sons of St. Patrick:  A History of the Archbishops of New York  

“A moving an account of a courageous priest who literally gave his life for his flock, being determined to minister at the front line, amidst the roar and stench of battle. His example speaks to our time about the healing presence of Christ at the margins, bringing love, hope and the consolation of faith.”
Most Reverend Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh; Primate of All Ireland

“Just the story we need right now: the short life of a witty military chaplain who devoted much of his private prayers to reparation for the sins of priests.This book contains Fr. Doyle’s letters from the front and an account of his August 1917 death as a martyr of charity while serving the men of his unit in the brutal trenches of the First World War.  The section on the prayers he composed is worth the price of the book.”
Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University

Father Willie Doyle, S.J. exemplified the best qualities of a Catholic Chaplain: total dedication to those in his care, fearlessness in the face of enemy fire, and the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Now 101 years after his death, readers of To Raise the Fallen will enjoy learning about this man for others in the long tradition of the Society of Jesus. “
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop of Military Services

“Though Father Doyle wished to remain hidden, when the story of his soul was revealed, devotion to him sprung up spontaneously and countless favors through his intercession revealed God’s judgement on this holy man’s life. Through his life and writings we see the power of God working to inspire us, and to bring peace and strength to those who are weary—to raise the fallen.”
Fr. John S. Hogan, EWTN Co-host, Forgotten Heritage: Europe and the Saints

“A powerful story of a great Irish Jesuit, a World War 1 chaplain, a teacher, a man of prayer and zeal who represents the best in Irish Jesuit spirituality, both generous and disciplined, full of humour and wisdom.”
Fr. James Schall, S.J., Author The Order of Things, Professor Emeritus Georgetown University 

Thoughts for November 22 (Thanksgiving) from Fr Willie Doyle

Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve You now till death.

COMMENT: Thanksgiving is not celebrated outside of the United States, but today we think of our American friends who celebrate this holiday and wish them all well.

Even those who face troubles and woes of various types have much to be thankful for. The Lord has given us life and faith and many other blessings and graces all throughout our lives. He has protected us from problems and difficulties that we may not even be aware of. Most importantly of all, He desires union with us for eternity and designs all things to this end. We just need to co-operate with His plan and rely on His grace.

Let us be thankful for everything, for all we have comes to us as a gift from our Father. And let us remember that much is expected from those who have received much – if we have gifts from God it is because he expects us to “invest” those “talents” and bring forth fruit with them. We shall have to render an account of our stewardship of all of the gifts he has given to us.

Thoughts for November 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

Remember the devil is a bad spiritual director, and you may always recognise his apparently good suggestions by the disturbances they cause in the soul. Our Lord would never urge you to turn away from a path which is leading you nearer to Himself, nor frighten you with the prospect of future unbearable trials. If they do come, grace will come also and make you abound with joy in all your tribulations.

COMMENT: Many spiritual writers echo the words of Fr Doyle in today’s quote. St Ignatius speaks of consolations and desolations; the former coming from God and the latter from the enemy. The devil wishes to disturb our soul, injecting fears and scruples and anxiety and a distaste for spiritual things. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, wishes to give us peace. It’s not for nothing that the risen Christ always spoke of peace when He appeared to His disciples.

Fr Doyle was not necessarily an innately heroic man. He suffered from ill health quite a lot in his life. At one stage during his seminary days he suffered what Alfred O’Rahilly describes as “a complete nervous breakdown”  and had to leave the novitiate for a while.  Some doctors even said that he was ill-equipped for the religious life. As one soldier said of him, he had all of the inherent characteristics of a coward. But Fr Doyle didn’t rely on himself and his own powers. He abounded with joy in all of his tribulations because he relied on God who never abandons His followers.

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he promised to be with his disciples to the end of time. That was true almost two thousand years ago; it was true 100 years ago in the trenches and it remains true today.