Thoughts for November 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.

COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.

The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.

Fr Doyle wrote the following notes in his diary on this day in 1914:

I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.

In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this. 

St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for November 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

We can never sufficiently thank Him for so completely showing us in the Garden that He was a man by praying to escape the storm.

COMMENT: Jesus showed us His humanity on many different occasions, but nowhere more movingly than during the Agony in the Garden. As Fr Doyle tells us in today’s quote, there is nothing wrong with asking God to relieve our sufferings and to spare us particular trials, so long as we are also ultimately resigned to God’s holy will.

18 November 1917: General Hickie’s praise for Fr Doyle

Sir William Bernard Hickie was Major General of the 16th Irish Division and knew Fr Doyle extremely well. He wrote the following in a letter to friend on 18 November 1917, 3 months after Fr Doyle’s death:

Fr Doyle was one of the best priests I have ever met, and one of the bravest men who have fought or worked out here.  He did his duty, and more than his duty, most nobly, and has left a memory and a name behind him that will never be forgotten. On the day of his death, 16th August, he had worked in the front line, and even in front of that line, and appeared to know no fatigue – he never knew fear.  He was killed by a shell towards the close of the day, and was buried on the Frezenberg Ridge… He was recommended for the Victoria Cross by his Commanding Officer, by his Brigadier, and by myself.  Superior Authority, however, has not granted it, and as no other posthumous reward is given, his name will, I believe, be mentioned in the Commander-in-Chief’s Despatch…I can say without boasting that this is a Division of brave men; and even among these, Fr Doyle stood out.

Major General Hickie

Thoughts for November 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Doyle struggled to give up butter on his bread at breakfast

Your desire for penance is an excellent sign…But have a fixed amount to be done each day and do not be doing it in fits and starts. Anything like what you call “frenzy” ought to be suspected and resisted.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s life of penance has been a stumbling block for some people. It is true that he lived a life of great personal penance. It is also true that he lived a life of great personal heroism. This shone out in the trenches, but evidence for his selflessness and courage can be seen in many other aspects of his life. Are his life of penance, and his life of heroism, related to each other? Almost certainly they are.

But Fr Doyle was also very balanced. He NEVER encouraged others to follow his own example of penance. He felt that he was given a special calling and special graces, and that such a life of penance was not appropriate for one who did not receive these graces.  In today’s quote, based on a letter of spiritual direction which he wrote to someone seeking his advice, he was clear that penance is important. But he was also clear that penance should be balanced – in one place he writes that the smaller the penance is, the better. In Fr Doyle’s life such balance and small penances can be seen in his reluctance to warm himself at the fire, his refusal to complain about little aches and pains (a favoured sport of many Irish people!), his refusal to give in to the desire to sleep during the day and, most famously, his battle to eat dry bread and to give up butter and jam.

Fr Doyle was a great tactician of the spiritual life. Once again he gives us an excellent example for us to follow.

 

 

Thoughts for November 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

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.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a practical and efficient man. In fact, if he hadn’t become a priest, he had the makings of a great businessman. He recognised that each day, each moment, should be directed towards our ultimate goal – union with God. He was constantly focused on this strategic aim.

But his method was also practical. Holiness is not some imaginary thing; it is not based on feelings and sentiment. There are a number of litmus tests of whether we are growing in holiness (none of them involve “feelings”!). One of the surest of these litmus tests is the faithful performance of our daily duties, relying as always on the grace that is always available to us.

Let us learn from the example of Fr Doyle to use our time well.

Thoughts for November 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Holiness and perfection depend on yourself, not on the actions of others.

COMMENT: How easy it is for us to blame others, or the circumstances of our lives, for our own lack of holiness. Yes, we may live or work with annoying and frustrating people, but there is always a choice on our part to control our annoyance or frustration. We may have many distractions to our work and to fulfilling our duty, but we can choose whether or not we respond to those distractions. We face numerous temptations every day, and with every temptation we always have a choice whether to yield or not. Of course, the more often we yield to annoyances and distractions and temptations, the harder and harder it becomes to resist and to exercise our capacity to choose…

Fr Doyle’s life and example shows us one way of achieving sanctity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Few of us will ever face such challenging circumstances – bombs falling, no silence or solitude, no beauty to remind one of God, want and deprivation, and death in every direction. It would be easy for Fr Doyle to blame his circumstances for lukewarmness or a tendency to take shortcuts. But he didn’t.

What was his secret? In part it was living in the constant presence of God. But it must also surely be because of all of the years of preparation before that. Fr Doyle was faithful in little things and this prepared him for faithfulness when the big challenge came.

While we need God’s grace to become holy, the choice to pursue this rests on ourselves. We must build our capacity to choose holiness by making little efforts and sacrifices each day.

Today we also commemorate the feast of the great Benedictine mystic St Gertrude the Great. St Gertrude was especially devoted to the holy souls in Purgatory. We are now in the second half of the month of November, the month of the holy souls. Let us not slacken in our prayers for our deceased relatives and friends, and indeed for all those in Purgatory, who need our prayers.

Here is the text of an audience address of Pope Emeritus Benedict on St Gertrude. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20101006_en.html

St Gertrude the Great

Thoughts for November 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

Soldiers from the 16th Irish Division. Fr Doyle was appointed chaplain 101 years ago today

 

Received my appointment from the War Office as chaplain to the 16th Division. Fiat voluntas tua. What the future has in store I know not but I have given Jesus all to dispose of as He sees best. My heart is full of gratitude to Him for giving me this chance of being really generous and of leading a life that will be truly crucified.

COMMENT: The above words were written by Fr Doyle on 15 November 1915. His long desired wish to give all for Christ was approaching, and the final heroic chapter of his life was about to open.

Anyone who has read an account of the experiences of Fr Doyle in the Great War knows just how difficult and “crucified” that life really was. None of us know what the future holds in store for us. Undoubtedly it holds a mixture of joys and sufferings. Would Fr Doyle have offered himself as a military chaplain if he knew all that it would involve? I am inclined to think that he would, although we can never know for sure. What we can know is that many of us would gladly decline such sufferings if we could. But there is an important spiritual lesson in all of this. We receive grace to cope with sufferings when we actually need it, in other words, when we are actually experiencing those sufferings. As Fr Doyle once wrote, we carry our cross bit by bit, not all in one go – we take each day as it comes. We do not receive grace to bear sufferings that are not asked of us at all, or that are not asked of us yet. That is why fear about the future is such an awful thing – the imagined problems of the future lack the divine assistance that we would receive if we were actually asked to carry that particular cross. I am always struck by the calmness of some people who face terminal illnesses and imminent death. I recently visited one such person – a neighbour of mine. He had been given only 3 months to live due to pancreatic cancer. He was poor, didn’t have much, and didn’t have many people to look out for him. When I imagine myself in such a situation I feel very distressed, yet he was calm – he had the grace to deal with these struggles precisely because he was actually facing these struggles. I, on the other hand, do not have the same problems, and thus I do not have the grace to bear those particular crosses.

Fr Doyle believed in living in the present moment – it is the only time we actually have, and the only time we can truly offer to God. By cultivating this habit, and relying on the grace God gives us in the present moment, we can learn to have the same detachment and serene acceptance that Fr Doyle exhibited 104 years ago today.