21 December 1916

I had just finished breakfast when I heard Miss Krupp come singing overhead with that peculiar note which warns of her proximity. I ran to the door (the running consisted of one step) and saw the explosion at the bottom of the little hill about 200 yards away. A moment later another scream and the earth is flying sky-high, this time 50 yards nearer. I waited anxiously for the next shot. Again the range was shorter, the third shell bursting half the distance from the first and then I realised that at this rate of progression I should very soon have an unwelcome visitor landing at my very door, for my dug-out was in direct line of fire. There was no time to adopt the Dublin lad’s advice when faced with a difficulty and ‘send for the polis’, nor was there any use trying to get out of the way, for as likely as not another shell would land in the trench itself, while my dug-out afforded some protection.

I knew there was nothing to fear while His powerful protection was over me, and it never failed me yet, but I confess I shook with fear as another shell came crashing down and the stones and the clay rattled in a shower outside and on the roof.

It is a curious thing I have never had a moment’s hesitation, nor ever felt fear in going into the greatest danger when duty called and some poor chap needed help, but to sit ‘in cold blood’, so to speak, and wait to be blown to pieces or buried by a ‘crump’ is an experience which tests one’s nerves to the limit. Thank God I have been able to conceal my feelings and so help others to despise the danger when I was just longing to take to my heels.

An officer said to me at the Somme: ‘I have often envied you your coolness and cheerfulness in hot corners.’ I rather surprised him by saying that my real feeling was abject fear and I often shook like a leaf. 

And writing later in the day about another attack:

Three of my lads came tearing in to my dug-out, they had nearly been sent to glory and felt they were safe with the priest. The poor priest cracks a joke or two, makes them forget their terror, and goes on with his lunch while every morsel sticks in his throat from fear and dread of the next shell. A moment passes, two – ‘here he comes’ – dead silence and anxious faces for a second and then we all laugh, for it is one of our own shells going over. Five minutes more and we know all danger has passed, but it has been a memorable day for me, though only one of many such in the past.

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema, 105 years ago today

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 105 years ago today. It relates to a recent trip to the cinema – it’s not clear what date he went to the cinema, but presumably it was the same day or at most a few days beforehand. 

At the end of the performance of “Quo Vadis?” the words of our Lord seemed to go through my soul. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified for thee.’ Jesus must have given me a big grace, for I walked home stunned, with these words ringing in my ears: ‘crucified for thee.’ Oh, Jesus, Jesus, why cannot I be crucified for You? I long for it with all my heart, and yet I remain a coward. Thank you at least for the dear light You have given me about the life You ask from me, namely, ‘to give up every comfort and gratification, to embrace lovingly every possible pain and suffering.’

As O’Rahilly wryly comments on this passage of Fr Doyle’s diary, this was ‘a devout conclusion not always deducible from cinema shows!’

Quo Vadis? is an excellent and gripping novel written in the late 19th century – I highly highly recommend it. It tells the story of the early Christians and the persecutions they had to endure. Fr Doyle was always attracted by the lives of the early martyrs, and it is this no surprise that the story in Quo Vadis? would really appeal to him. 

So, here we have the “modern” Fr Doyle, enjoying a trip to the cinema!

Incidentally, this is the 1912 version of Quo Vadis?, which is presumably the one Fr Doyle went to see.

Thoughts for December 21 (St Peter Canisius) from Fr Willie Doyle

21 December: A day I always like because the turning point of the year and from this on the evenings will be longer, the mornings brighter and, best of all, the sun hotter. I can quite understand now why the missioners when preaching to the Eskimos tell them that Hell is the devil and all of a cold place, otherwise every man Jack would just be longing to get there as soon as possible.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter to his father in 1916. He had already lived through some rough conditions and seen a lot of suffering in the previous 12 months as a military chaplain, yet once again we see his joyful and light-hearted spirit on display. Those of us who dislike the intense darkness of this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere can also surely identify with how much he looked forward to spring, though in Fr Doyle’s case, writing in December 1916, he had a intensely cold few weeks ahead of him through January 1917. But of course, he approached them with the same cheerful spirit.

It’s hard not to love Fr Doyle’s sense of humour and cheerful optimism. Fr Doyle was always joyful, always looking to put the best foot forward in every situation. Christians should be filled with the joy of the Gospel. In fact, it is Fr Doyle’s cheerful spirit, abundantly testified to by so many who knew him, that is one of his most appealing characteristics.

Today is the feast of the great Jesuit saint and Doctor of the Church St Peter Canisius. His remarkable life of hard work, preaching and teaching, always with charity and respect, did so much to promote the faith in northern and central Europe during the Catholic Reformation. Like all those who serve Him, Jesus guided this great saint and provided for him the graces needed to make his work bear fruit.

Despite St Peter’s undoubted sanctity and importance in the Catholic Reformation, he wasn’t beatified until more than 250 years after his death. Sometimes it just takes time for these things to work themselves out. Perhaps Fr Doyle’s time will also come one day…

You may be interested in reading more about St Peter Canisius herehttp://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_019.htm

St Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church