I see more and more each day how different the world would be if we had more really holy priests. With this object I have started a crusade of prayer.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on this day in 1913. His was right when he wrote this 100 years ago, and hindsight has shown us that he was even more correct about the importance of holy priests than he probably realised himself.
Yes, it is popular to talk about green shoots of growth in the Church today, and such shoots do exist, in places. But one cannot escape the reality that the Faith is in decline across the West, especially in Ireland…
One of the key drivers of this decline is the unfaithfulness of some priests. It is absolutely true that there are many loyal, faithful and holy priests. But it is beyond doubt that the criminal actions, or negligence, of some priests and bishops has had a devastating impact on the spiritual lives and faith of millions of people.
We are all called to be holy, and holy lay people can do things that a priest simply cannot. But without holy priests who sanctify and support lay people the progress of the Church is limited. Fr Doyle knew this – he worked hard to promote vocations and to support priests, urging them not to settle for mediocrity, but to be ambitious in their pursuit of sanctity.
Fr Doyle himself was a holy priest who loved others so much that he sacrificed himself and died to save non-Catholic soldiers in World War 1. At a time when the priesthood is held in low regard, the example of his heroism and holiness is needed now more than ever.
The soft chimes of the angelus bell mark the fall of evening. Another day is gone. Another precious day, our measurement of God’s most precious gift, time, has passed away and is swallowed up in the vast gulf of the irrevocable past. Another day has passed! Another stage of our journey towards our final end is traversed. Nearer still than yesterday to that solemn moment of our lives, its end; nearer still to heaven with its joys unknown, untasted; nearer still to Him for Whom we labour now and strive to serve. How many more days are left? Too few alas! for all we have to do, but not so few that we cannot heap them high with noble deeds and victories bravely won.
COMMENT: Each day brings us closer to our death, and to our judgement. In fact, none of us have ever been as close to our deaths than we are at this present moment…
This is a deeply sobering thought. The stark nature of these thoughts can tempt us to downplay them or to scrub them from our minds simply because they are uncomfortable. But death is the ONE thing we cannot ultimately ignore. The fact of our death, and that each day brings us closer to it, is an incontrovertible truth. Our last day on earth will come, perhaps sooner than we would like. Ignoring this fact does not make it any less true.
It has traditionally been a common feature of Catholic spirituality to meditate on the Four Last Things: death, judgement, Heaven and Hell. Many saints had the habit of keeping skulls with them in order to remind them of death.
This focus on death need not necessarily make us morose, and in fact can encourage us to joyfully make the most of the time that we do have on earth. And, as Christians, we must also remember that death is not the end, but, if we die in a state of grace, ultimately leads to a joyful eternity. Fr Doyle lived with death for almost two years during the Great War. Despite being surrounded with death, and facing the real possibility of his own demise, he retained his constant joy and cheerfulness.
Remembering the fact of our death allows us to make the most of our lives. We are alive for a purpose; our human life is vitally important as it is the training ground for eternity. How easy it could be to waste days listlessly if we ignored the shortness of our time on earth.
Time is a great gift, the existence of which allows us to change and to grow closer to God. When we consider the sins of our lives, we should, as Fr Doyle says, use the opportunities of each day “to heap them high with noble deeds and victories bravely won”. These deeds will normally be composed of the ordinary activities of the moment and hidden faithfulness to our duty that is hardly discerned by any passer-by. But this faithfulness day by day can allow us to face the prospect of death with the cheerfulness that characterised Fr Doyle’s apostolate in the killing fields of World War I.
Perhaps it is worth concluding today with two lines from The Imitation of Christ:
Always remember your end and do not forget that lost time never returns.
If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide.