St Stephen’s Day 1916

The following two excerpts from a letter written by Fr Doyle recount two incidents that happened on St Stephen’s Day, 1916. They give us a further insight into the harshness life in wartime, as well as Fr Doyle’s own cheerfulness in the face of the horrors of war. May we never have to face these trials in our own day, and if we do, may we face them with the strength and calm that Fr Doyle obtained through his intense life of prayer.

On St. Stephen’s Day the men were engaged in a football match, when the Germans saw them, sent over a lovely shot at long range, which carried away the goal post — the umpire gave a ‘foul’ — and bursting in the middle of the men, killed three and wounded seven. The wounded were bandaged up and hurried off to hospital, the dead carried away for burial; and then the ball was kicked off once more, and the game went on as if nothing had happened. The Germans must have admired the cool pluck of the players, for they did not fire any more. This is just one little incident of the war, showing how little is thought of human life out here; it sounds callous but there is no room for sentiment in warfare, and I suppose it is better so…

I was riding on my bicycle past a wagon when the machine slipped, throwing me between the front and back wheels of the limber. Fortunately the horses were going very slowly and I was able, how I cannot tell, to roll out before the wheel went over my legs. I have no luck, you see, else I should be home now with a couple of broken legs, not to speak of a crushed head. The only commiseration I received was the remark of some passing officers that ‘the Christmas champagne must have been very strong!’

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Christmas Day 1914

During midnight Mass at Dalkey Convent I made the oblation of myself as a member of the League of Priestly Sanctity…Our Lord gave me great graces during the Mass and urged me more strongly than ever to throw myself into the work of my sanctification so that I may draw many other priests to Him. He wants the greatest possible fervour and exactness in all his priestly duties. 

Christmas Day 1890: Young Willie decides to become a Jesuit

I was alone in the drawing-room when Father came in and asked me if I had yet made up my mind as to my future career. I answered ‘Yes” – that I intended to become a Jesuit. I remember how I played my joy and happiness into the piano after thus giving myself openly to Jesus.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words about Christmas Day 1890, on which he told his father that he would become a Jesuit. He was 17. This decision followed several months of discernment. He originally intended to become a diocesan priest and was rather scornful of the idea of entering a religious congregation. However, the influence of his brother, and a book on the religious life by St Alphonsus Liguori, were central to him changing his mind. 

Two things jump out here. Firstly that played his “joy and happiness into the piano” – how many of us have a similar joy about our Faith and about our own vocation, whatever it may be? If we lack this joy, how do we recover it? It’s also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems never to have lost this joy, even in tough times. 

Secondly is Fr Doyle’s love of music. He played the piano, and we also know that he played the organ in the church in Dalkey. He also directed the first musical in Clongowes Wood College for some considerable time, and it appears that he took on this task in the face of some scepticism.  Interestingly, we hear little of music in Fr Doyle’s later life as a priest, despite his obvious interest in it. Was it that he saw no particular need for it in the apostolic tasks assigned to him? If so, his abandonment of music was just one in a long list of sacrifices he made in the fuilfillment of the duties assigned to him.

Christmas at Melrose

O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, it was published anonymously, and was in fact written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother.

Below is a link to a scan of a section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family home, Melrose. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s. It conjures up images of innocence and of a tranquil time that many today sadly do not know. But there is also an astounding fact that one could easily miss…The Doyle family gave gifts and money to the poor of the neighbourhood at Christmas time. Willie and his brother Charlie used to shine the coins so that they would look like new. Just think about this for a moment. Let the kindness and attention to detail sink in…

What a hidden, but remarkable, act of kindness! The money was still worth the same amount. Yet the intention behind this small, hidden act, was to give greater dignity to the poor, to show them greater respect. 

Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!

Christmas at Melrose

An imagined Victorian Christmas scene

Thoughts for Christmas Day from Fr Willie Doyle

 

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

Thoughts for Christmas Eve from Fr Willie Doyle

The following excerpt from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle recalls Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass during the war in 1916…

Christmas itself Fr. Doyle had the good luck of spending in billets. He got permission from General Hickie to have Midnight Mass for his men in the Convent. The chapel was a fine large one, as in pre-war times over three hundred boarders and orphans were resident in the Convent; and by opening folding-doors the refectory was added to the chapel and thus doubled the available room. An hour before Mass every inch of space was filled, even inside the altar rails and in the corridor, while numbers had to remain in the open. Word had in fact gone round about the Mass, and men from other battalions came to hear it, some having walked several miles from another village. Before the Mass there was strenuous Confession-work. “We were kept hard at work hearing confessions all the evening till nine o’clock” writes Fr. Doyle, “the sort of Confessions you would like, the real serious business, no nonsense and no trimmings. As I was leaving the village church, a big soldier stopped me to know, like our Gardiner Street friend, ‘if the Fathers would be sittin’ any more that night.’ He was soon polished off, poor chap, and then insisted on escorting me home. He was one of my old boys, and having had a couple of glasses of beer — ‘It wouldn’t scratch the back of your throat, Father, that French stuff’ — was in the mood to be complimentary. ‘We miss you sorely, Father, in the battalion’, he said, ‘we do be always talking about you’. Then in a tone of great confidence: ‘Look, Father, there isn’t a man who wouldn’t give the whole of the world, if he had it, for your little toe! That’s the truth’. The poor fellow meant well, but ‘the stuff that would not scratch his throat’ certainly helped his imagination and eloquence. I reached the Convent a bit tired, intending to have a rest before Mass, but found a string of the boys awaiting my arrival, determined that they at least would not be left out in the cold. I was kept hard at it hearing Confessions till the stroke of twelve and seldom had a more fruitful or consoling couple of hours’ work, the love of the little Babe of Bethlehem softening hearts which all the terrors of war had failed to touch.”

The Mass itself was a great success and brought consolation and spiritual peace to many a war- weary exile. This is what Fr. Doyle says:

“I sang the Mass, the girls’ choir doing the needful. One of the Tommies, from Dolphin’s Barn, sang the Adeste beautifully with just a touch of the sweet Dublin accent to remind us of home, sweet home, the whole congregation joining in the chorus. It was a curious contrast: the chapel packed with men and officers, almost strangely quiet and reverent (the nuns were particularly struck by this), praying .and singing most devoutly, while the big tears ran down many a rough cheek: outside the cannon boomed and the machine-guns spat out a hail of lead: peace and good will — hatred and bloodshed!

“It was a Midnight Mass none of us will ever forget. A good 500 men came to Holy Communion, so that I was more than rewarded for my work.”

Pope Francis, Fr Adolphe Tanquerey, and Fr Doyle

Pope Francis gave his annual lecture to the members of the Roman curia last week. And he had a gift for them – a copy of Adolphe Tanquerey’s The Spiritual Life. 

Tanquerey was a French priest and seminary professor (in Baltimore) who died in 1932. He wrote manuals in dogmatic, moral and spiritual theology. The book Pope Francis gave to the Roman curial officials was Tanquerey’s classic on spiritual and ascetical theology. It can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Life-Treatise-Ascetical-Mystical-ebook/dp/B0106X7NKA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1545598652&sr=8-1&keywords=tanquerey+the+spiritual+life

The book deals with all aspects of the spiritual life, including the virtues, their opposing vices, and the three stages of the spiritual life (the purgative, illuminative and unitive paths). The book is a synthesis of the best of classic Catholic spirituality.

The book is based on Tanquerey’s vast engagement with the best of Catholic spiritual writing, and it lists a series of classics of Catholic spirituality. The book states that only the most important books are mentioned.

And that’s where Fr Doyle comes in. For in the midst of classics by Fathers and Doctors of the Church, we find O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle listed amongst these most important books.

The O’Rahilly book is a masterpiece, and O’Rahilly himself was surely a bona fide genius. But it’s not O’Rahilly’s genius that merited Tanquerey’s attention, but the spiritual genius of his subject.

Fr Doyle was a master spiritual tactician, with practical advice for everyone, no matter what their stage or state of life is. And it is surely this mastery of practical spiritual tactics that merits his inclusion on Tanquerey’s list of most important spiritual books. 

In his treatise on the spiritual life, Tanquerey dealt extensively with mortification. He had the following to say:

770 …To jeer at the austerities of former Christian days is a baneful error of modern times. As a matter of fact the saints of all ages, those that have been beatified in these latter days as well as those of old, have severely chastised their bodies and their exterior senses, well aware that man’s whole being must be brought into subjection, that in the state of fallen nature, man’s whole being must be crucified if he is to belong wholly to God…

771… St Paul was so alive to the necessity of mortifying the flesh that he punished it severely in order to escape sin and final reprobation: “But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps when I have preached to others I myself should become a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).

So here we have Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey, master of spiritual theology, endorsing both physical mortification and, also, O’Rahilly’s study of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. And Tanquerey himself has just been endorsed by Pope Francis, as a Christmas gift and as recommended spiritual reading for his closest collaborators in the Vatican.

Pope Tanquery
Pope Francis presents Tanquerey’s The Spiritual Life to the staff of the Vatican curia