One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have often broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me.
I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas! too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.
For fifteen years has Jesus been waiting for me to return to Him, to return to the fervour of my first year of religious life. During that time how many pressing and loving invitations has He not given me? What lights and inspirations, remorse of conscience, and how many good resolves which were never carried into effect. O my God, I feel now as if I cannot resist You longer. Your infinite patience and desire to bring me to You has broken the ice of my cold heart. “I will arise and go” to You, humbled and sorrowful, and for the rest of my life give You of my very best. Help me, sweet Jesus, by Your grace, for I am weak and cowardly.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle reflects here on aspects of the First week of the Spiritual Exercises, and tomorrow we shall read his notes on the fruits of the First Week.
For today perhaps it will be helpful for us to reflect on Fr Doyle’s impression of himself as weak and cowardly and in need of God’s grace. If Fr Doyle, so devoted and focussed, needed God’s grace to live a life of virtue, how much more necessary is it for the rest of us to humble ourselves before Christ and beg Him for the graces we need. God gives us many means by which we may obtain these graces – prayer, penance, spiritual reading, the sacraments, spiritual direction, the example and intercession of the saints… We who so obviously need God’s grace must make sure to take advantage of all of these opportunities for grace.
Meditating on the Particular Judgement, God gave me great light. I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time. To take only my seventeen years of religious life, what account could I give of the 6,000 hours of meditation, 7,000 Masses, 12,000 examinations of conscience, etc.? Then my time how have I spent every moment? I resolved not to let a day more pass without seriously trying to reform my life in the manner in which I perform my ordinary daily duties. For years I have been “going to begin,” and from time to time made some slight efforts at improvement. But now, dear Jesus, let this change be the work of Thy right hand.
To perform each action well I will try and do them: (a) with a pure intention often renewed, (b) earnestly, punctually exactly, (c) with great fervour. How little I think of committing venial sin, and how soon I forget I have done so! Yet God hates nothing more than even the shadow of sin, nothing does more harm to my spiritual progress and hinders any real advance in holiness. My God, give me an intense hatred and dread and horror of the smallest sin. I want to please You and love You and serve You as I have never done before. Let me begin by stamping out all sin in my soul.
We could not take pleasure in living in the company of one whose body is one running, festering sore; neither can God draw us close to Himself, caress and love us, if our souls are covered with venial sin, more loathsome and horrible in His eyes than the most foul disease. To avoid mortal sin I must carefully guard against deliberate venial sin, so to avoid venial sin I must fly from the shadow of imperfection in my actions. How often in the past have I done things when I did not know if they were sins or only deliberate imperfections and how little I cared, my God!
COMMENT: Today we continue with our reflections from the notes Fr Doyle took during the Spiritual Exercises of 1907.
The particular judgement is the moment of judgement immediately after our death. Typically it is understood as a moment in which we must render an account of our lives. As Fr Doyle put it: “I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time”. And indeed, not just our actions, but our thoughts as well…
The only response we can make to this is to reform our lives, and the ideal way in which to do this is to reform our performance of our daily duties as Fr Doyle suggests. Otherwise we run the risk that our reform will be merely imaginary and superficial in nature.
Today is also the feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to her. She was chosen by the Lord to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. As we consider the particular judgement today, let us learn from the life of St Margaret Mary the reality that Jesus loves us intensely, and let us learn to see the particular judgement through the lens of this love. But let us also remember the other aspect of St Margaret Mary’s life, and that is the need for us to make reparation to the Sacred Heart for our sins. The best way for us to do this is through continuous conversion and making the sacrifice of doing our duties well.
I would also ask readers for their prayers for the repose of the soul my father who died 11 years ago today.
Here is a homily on the life and spirit of St Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles barefooted in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel of Murrough (Co. Clare), where I made the Holy Hour. God made me realise the merit of each step, and I understood better how much I gain by not reading the paper; each picture, each sentence sacrificed mean additional merit. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more “little things”.
The life of St. Teresa teaches us that we should never despair of becoming saints. As a child she was filled with a strange mysterious longing for martyrdom. But the early years of her religious life found her cold or tepid in the service of God, indifferent to the sacred duties of her state. The call came. Sweetly in her ear sounded that little voice which too often in other souls has been hushed and stifled. Teresa rose. The past was gone and no lamenting could recall its ill-spent days, but the present was hers, and the future lay before her. Ungenerous in the past, generosity would be her darling virtue; cold and careless, no one would now equal her burning love for her patient outraged Saviour.
COMMENT: We do not have notes from Fr Doyle’s 1907 retreat for today, which is really quite handy as it allows us to give some time to St Teresa of Avila, whose feast it is today.
Teresa’s personality was remarkable and communicates itself so readily through her writings. She had a wonderful biting wit and holy impatience that really got to the bottom of things, and sometimes it is hard not to laugh out loud when reading the psychologically astute observations in her writings.
Few saints have shown more courage, fortitude and leadership than she did.
Many saints had a great devotion to Teresa and Fr Doyle was no different. He regularly gave retreats to Carmelite convents, and he referred to her several times throughout his letters, and even fasted at meals on one occasions in her honour. Here is his record of this experience:
I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.
Finally for today; here is an excellent homily on the life and spirit of St Teresa:
Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21, 4.) In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more – do I really believe this?
COMMENT: It is normal to meditate on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – in any well designed retreat. The first four of these play an important part in the meditations one makes in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, and Fr Doyle wrote these reflections on death at some stage during his retreat, 111 years ago this week.
Death is a reality that we cannot escape from. The images above come from the remarkable Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto Rome. There are numerous chapels in this crypt, each with piles of thousands of bones, often arranged decoratively. Towards the exit of the crypt is an inscription with these words:
What you are we once were, what we are you will be.
Death is the one thing we all have in common, and each time we attend a funeral we should reflect that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we shall end up in a coffin ourselves. That is why funerals are an important evangelical opportunity which priests should take full advantage of.
Of course, constantly thinking of death is not a great idea, but neither is the habit of ignoring it altogether. As always we need a balanced approach. Our occasional reflections on death should fill us with a ready determination to live our lives with fervour and utilise every moment in God’s service. Our ultimate destination after death depends on our use of time.
Let us pray for the grace of final perseverance for ourselves and for all those facing an imminent, and unprepared, death.
And speaking of death, may I also ask readers to say a prayer for the soul of my own father whose 12th anniversary occurs this coming Wednesday, October 16th.
Today’s canonisation of John Henry Newman is not just important for the Church in England. Newman is also important for Dublin and indeed for Dalkey, Fr Doyle’s home parish. Saint John Henry Newman lived in Dublin for 7 years and founded what is now known as University College Dublin. For a time he lived in Dalkey, quite near the Doyle family home. So, while I have been unable to find any of Fr Doyle’s writings which refer to Newman, there is still some tenuous link.
Indeed, there are similarities between the writings of Fr Doyle and St John Henry Newman. I wish to identify two such themes – the importance of daily duties, and the importance of self-denial.
The main emphasis of Fr Doyle’s advice to others was to do their duty well – that holiness for most is found in those daily obligations that make up our vocations.
For St John Henry Newman, this was of the very essence of perfection:
It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.
I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
Regarding self-denial, for some, Fr Doyle’s personal austerity was controversial, so for perspective it might be interesting to see what the newest saint in the Church has to say about all of this.
It is our duty, not only to deny ourselves in what is sinful, but even, in a certain measure, in lawful things, to keep a restraint over ourselves even in innocent pleasures and enjoyments…
…I hope I have made it clear, by these instances, what is meant by Christian self-denial. If we have good health, and are in easy circumstances, let us beware of high-mindedness, self-sufficiency, self-conceit, arrogance; of delicacy of living, indulgences, luxuries, comforts. Nothing is so likely to corrupt our heart, and to seduce us from God, as to surround ourselves with comforts,—to have things our own way,—to be the centre of a sort of world, whether of things animate or inanimate, which minister to us. For then, in turn, we shall depend on them; they will become necessary to us; their very service and adulation will lead us to trust ourselves to them, and to idolize them. What examples are there in Scripture of soft luxurious men! Was it Abraham before the Law, who wandered through his days, without a home? or Moses, who gave the Law, and died in the wilderness? or David under the Law, who “had no proud looks,” and was “as a weaned child?” or the Prophets, in the latter days of the Law, who wandered in sheepskins and goatskins? or the Baptist, when the Gospel was superseding it, who was clad in raiment of camel’s hair, and ate the food of the wilderness? or the Apostles, who were “the offscouring of all things”? or our blessed Saviour, who “had not a place to lay His head”? Who are the soft luxurious men in Scripture? There was the rich man, who “fared sumptuously every day,” and then “lifted up his eyes in hell, being in torments.” There was that other, whose “ground brought forth plentifully,” and who said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years;” and his soul was required of him that night. There was Demas, who forsook St. Paul, “having loved this present world.” And, alas! there was that highly-favoured, that divinely-inspired king, rich and wise Solomon, whom it availed nothing to have measured the earth, and numbered its inhabitants, when in his old age he “loved many strange women,” and worshipped their gods.
Far be it from us, soldiers of Christ, thus to perplex ourselves with this world, who are making our way towards the world to come. “No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” This is St. Paul’s rule, as has already been referred to: accordingly, in another place, he bears witness of himself that he “died daily.” Day by day he got more and more dead to this world; he had fewer ties to earth, a larger treasure in heaven. Nor let us think that it is over-difficult to imitate him, though we be not Apostles, nor are called to any extraordinary work, nor are enriched with any miraculous gifts: he would have all men like himself, and all may be like him, according to their place and measure of grace. If we would be followers of the great Apostle, first let us with him fix our eyes upon Christ our Saviour; consider the splendour and glory of His holiness, and try to love it. Let us strive and pray that the love of holiness may be created within our hearts; and then acts will follow, such as befit us and our circumstances, in due time, without our distressing ourselves to find what they should be. You need not attempt to draw any precise line between what is sinful and what is only allowable: look up to Christ, and deny yourselves every thing, whatever its character, which you think He would have you relinquish. You need not calculate and measure, if you love much: you need not perplex yourselves with points of curiosity, if you have a heart to venture after Him. True, difficulties will sometimes arise, but they will be seldom. He bids you take up your cross; therefore accept the daily opportunities which occur of yielding to others, when you need not yield, and of doing unpleasant services, which you might avoid. He bids those who would be highest, live as the lowest: therefore, turn from ambitious thoughts, and (as far as you religiously may) make resolves against taking on you authority and rule. He bids you sell and give alms; therefore, hate to spend money on yourself. Shut your ears to praise, when it grows loud: set your face like a flint, when the world ridicules, and smile at its threats. Learn to master your heart, when it would burst forth into vehemence, or prolong a barren sorrow, or dissolve into unseasonable tenderness. Curb your tongue, and turn away your eye, lest you fall into temptation. Avoid the dangerous air which relaxes you, and brace yourself upon the heights. Be up at prayer “a great while before day,” and seek the true, your only Bridegroom, “by night on your bed.” So shall self-denial become natural to you, and a change come over you, gently and imperceptibly; and, like Jacob, you will lie down in the waste, and will soon see Angels, and a way opened for you into heaven.
Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on this day in 1916:
Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g to wait till he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange my things as he thinks fit, in a word, humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.
O’Rahilly notes that Fr Doyle took these steps as part of his Ignation spirit of taking the offensive against his faults, precisely because he was naturally inclined to want his own way with things. This was part of Fr Doyle’s dominant defect, and we see here his strategic and practical struggle to overcome it. Fr Doyle did not make a truce with his faults, but struggled right to the end to overcome them.