Thoughts for August 31 from Fr Willie Doyle

By entering religion and taking my vows I have given myself over absolutely to God and His service. He, therefore, has a right to be served in the way He wishes. If then He asks me to enter on a hard, mortified life and spend myself working for Him, how can I resist His will and desire? What is God asking from me now? Shall I go back on that offering?

COMMENT: The principle that we should serve God as he wishes and without reserve is not only confined to religious – it applies to lay people as well. However, for lay people it will normally involve doing our duties well rather than “going” somewhere else as it might with a religious.

Fr Doyle lived this total dedication in the trenches, going far out of his “comfort zone” to serve God.

Today’s saint, Raymond of Nonnatus, also gave himself completely to God. He was a Mercardian priest from the 13th century. The apostolate of this order was to ransom slaves captured by the Moors. He raised much money for this apostolate, and when the money ran out, he offered himself in exchange for some slaves. Tradition tells us that his captives made holes in his lips and locked them together to stop him from preaching.

We are unlikely to be asked to live in trenches with soldiers like Fr Doyle was, or to offer ourselves as a ransom to free slaves like St Raymond Nonnatus. But each day still provides many opportunities for us to practice the virtue of generosity towards God and others, even in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. 

St Raymond Nonnatus

Thoughts for August 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Why are we not saints? Want of courage and want of patience. We give up, we have not the strength of will and determination to succeed which the saints had. Another point is that our notion of sanctity is adding on, instead of making perfect what we already do.

COMMENT: There are two points worth considering in today’s quote from Fr Doyle. Firstly is the fact that we are not saints, that we are not holy, because we do not want it enough or have not the courage to strive for sanctity. Sanctity does not mean have great mystical experiences or being able to heal people or perform miracles. It means living the virtues heroically, and this capacity is always within our reach if we correspond with the graces God gives us. For sure, reaching holiness is a lifelong task and not something we achieve in one day. Indeed, at one level it is not even something WE achieve, for holiness comes about through God’s operation in our soul. Our task is to get out of the way, to identify the obstacles to God’s grace and remove them, and to co-operate with the grace that God gives us. Expressed in terms of the teaching of Blessed Columba Marmion (who ultimately derived it from the teaching of St Paul), we must put sin to death in our lives, so that we can live for God. I recently heard a homily in which the priest said that we are not saints because God has not given us the particular grace to be saints, and He has not given us that grace because we have not been faithful to the graces that he already gave us. Why would God give us special graces if we have squandered the ones already given to us?  There is much to think about here.

The important thing is that we begin, and keep striving. Many saints, including St Ignatius, were motivated to strive for sanctity by the thought that other ordinary men and women had become saints, and if they could do it, then so could Ignatius.

Perhaps more interestingly, Fr Doyle points out that holiness is not adding on, but making perfect what we already do. This of course presumes that we are already living a stable Catholic life. We do not have to go anywhere to become saints, we do not have to wait for the ideal circumstances to become saints (these ideal circumstances do not exists anyway). By doing our duties perfectly we will have achieved a high degree of holiness. Fr Doyle once again shows himself to be an excellent guide for ordinary lay people in the world.

 

Thoughts for August 29 (St John the Baptist) from Fr Willie Doyle

The beheading of St John the Baptist

 

There is one thing we need never be afraid of, namely, that the devil will ever tempt us to be humble. He may delude us in the practice of other virtues; indiscreet zeal, for instance, or the desire to devote our time solely to prayer.  But we need never be in doubt as to whether it would be better to humble ourselves or not. There can be no doubt about it. It is always safe to do so.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle makes a very important point in today’s quote which we can easily overlook when focusing on the main theme of humility. Sometimes, good people can be tempted to devote their time solely to prayer. Of course, a more common temptation today is to devote no time to prayer, but the temptation to “overdo it” can still present itself. By this, Fr Doyle clearly means that we have to have regard to our duties in life. 

Fr Doyle’s more substantive point today relates to humility. Recalling the importance of humility is very apt today, the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, for St John always pointed to Christ and recognised his own unworthiness to even tie His sandals.

St John has two feasts in the Church calendar – his birth and his beheading. The feast of John’s beheading, and the circumstances that surrounded it, are also a timely reminder that the disciples of Christ must remain faithful and not neglect their duty to proclaim the truth in charity in the public square.

Thoughts for August 28 (St Augustine) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Augustine

 

How many wish to belong entirely to Jesus without reserve or restriction? Most want to serve two masters, to be under two standards. A union of wordliness and devotion; a perpetual succession of sins and repentance; something given to grace, more to nature; fervour and tepidity by turns. Such is the state of many religious. Obligations are whittled down; rules are interpreted laxly; all kinds of excuses are invented for self-indulgence, health, greater glory of God in the end, etc. No service is so hard as the half-and-half; what is given to God costs more; His yoke is heavy; the cross is dragged, not cheerfully carried; the thought of what is refused to grace causes remorse and sadness; there is no pleasure from the world and little from the service of Christ.

COMMENT: This is perhaps an uncharacteristically harsh saying from Fr Doyle. But he seems to be on to something here in his analysis of our human tendency to be half-hearted, and it is very appropriate for our feast today. St Augustine wanted to serve God, but not yet. He wanted to be good, but did not want to give up his easy going life. Perhaps counter-intuitively to our purely human eyes, it is this half-hearted commitment that is most difficult and that tears us apart. We can recognise this in many aspects of life. Any half-hearted commitment – to work, to relationships, to exercise, to study – makes the task itself so much harder. It is when we give ourselves with full commitment that we prosper and the road seems easier.

Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. But we have to embrace the yoke and the burden, always knowing that God’s grace is there to help us. So often we can make the mistake of thinking that being fully committed to our faith will make us morose or sad or diminish our personality in some way. But the opposite is the case. In the life of Fr Doyle, to take just one example, we see a man who did not opt for the half-and-half solution, but who gave himself fully to God. Yet he was also a tremendous practical joker and was a man who was renowned for his kindness and his warm personal qualities, precisely because of his whole-hearted commitment which filled his soul with such joy. His soldiers loved him dearly. No dour, plaster saint could win that kind of affection from Irish soldiers in the trenches.

As St Augustine says in one of his famous quotes:

Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you

We were made for God. We should not fear Him.

Thoughts for August 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Don’t be stingy in giving praise, particularly with the young.

If in a community there is some sister not as edifying as she might be, but who after a retreat makes an effort to rise, be ever the one to encourage and to hold out a helping hand. Many a first attempt has been crushed in the bud by the contemptuous look or sneering remark as to how long it will last.

COMMENT: How appropriate Fr Doyle’s advice is today on the feast of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine who prayed so long and so hard for his conversion.

Monica was married to a pagan who beat her. She cultivated the virtue of patience, ultimately winning her husband’s conversion before he died. So too with her son Augustine – her prayers and patience had an effect that bitterness or nagging could never have.

Like Monica, the early Christians were known for the love they had for one another, and it was this love that helped create the conditions which allowed the Christian faith to spread so far in such a short space of time. Fr Doyle, too, was known for his gentleness and love towards all, including “outsiders” like the street prostitute Fanny Cranbush and captured German soldiers.

Thoughts for August 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am truly glad you are looking to the perfection of your daily actions; it is the simplest, yet perhaps hardest, way of sanctification, with little fear of deception. It is the certain following of Christ: “He hath done all things well.” (Mark 7:37)

COMMENT: Performing all of our daily actions well, and doing so with love, was a constant theme of Fr Doyle’s advice to others. He recognised that this daily fidelity to duty required great discipline and was in itself a great penance.

There are numerous saints whose feasts are celebrated each day of the year. Three saints whose feasts occur today present three very different paths to sanctity, but each of them shows us that holiness is to be found precisely in our daily actions.

Firstly, St Louis IX of France, was the King of France who lived from 1214-1270. He was a third order Franciscan who wore a hairshirt under his royal clothing and who prioritised the spiritual and temporal welfare of his subjects. He was the father of 11 children. He was also greatly devoted to the collection and preservation of relics. He lead two crusades to liberate the Holy Land and was killed on his second crusade.

St Louis IX of France

St Genesius of Rome was an actor who wanted to win the favour of the emperor Diocletian who at that time was persecuting Christians. He infiltrated the Christian community in order to do research for a comedy play mocking Christianity that he wished to perform for the emperor. During the play itself he was struck forcefully by the grace and love of God, converted on the spot, and professed his faith in front of the emperor, urging him also to convert. He was subsequently tortured and martyred for his faith. (Those interested in St Genesius may wish to visit the Fraternity of St Genesius).

St Genesius

St Joseph Calasanz was a Spanish priest who founded a religious order in Rome (the Piarists) dedicated to teaching young boys in that city. He was a dedicated and holy priest, but was subsequently undermined and replaced as head of the order by a cabal of criminal perverts who lived an immoral community life and who preyed on the young boys. St Joseph had to live through the suppression of the order in 1646 and was dead before it was re-established in 1656.

St Joseph Calasanz

Fr Doyle, St Louis, St Genesius and St Joseph Calasanz – four very different paths to sanctity in four very different ages and sets of circumstances. No matter what our role in life is we can still find holiness there if we perform our duties with fidelity.

Thoughts for August 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

All these trials, snubs, unpleasantnesses, etc., do not come to you by chance, they are precious jewels from the hand of God, and, if you could only bring yourself to look upon them in the right light, would make you a really big saint. Here is how you are to do it. Do you remember a story told of a certain saint who searched the whole city to find the most troublesome, cranky, sick woman in it and then took her into her house and lavished every care upon the wretched creature, who repaid her with curses and in gratitude? The saint bore it all without a murmur and even with joy, because this ill- treatment was the very thing she was in search of, and could she have found a more cross-grained old hag she would have exchanged her with pleasure. Have you learned your lesson? Try and love the “hard thing,” wish for it, ask for it provided that God wishes to send it to you, and then when it comes in the shape of an unjust, stinging word, force yourself to say (dryly), “Thank God, now I am holier.”

COMMENT: The saint Fr Doyle was referring to here is, if I am not mistaken, St Catherine of Siena, one of his favourites (I am open to correction in the comments box below if anybody knows better). 

Some people may think this is a bit crazy – to love the hard thing, to seek the hard thing. We live in a culture that generally seeks indulgence and comfort and a pill for every ill. although one might add  the exception of many of those who frequent gyms specifically seek out the heaviest weights and toughest exercises (the hard things) in order to prove their physical prowess.

But imagine how much more pleasant our families would be if people disciplined themselves to accept “hard things”. How much more peace there would be if people could hold their own tongues in the face of unjust and stinging words. How much better our society and economy would be if people embraced the “hard thing” by doing their job properly. Perhaps Fr Doyle and those like him who urge us to embrace hard things as an act of discipline were onto something after all. 

Blessed John Sullivan, ordained with Fr Doyle, urged a similar approach. We shall conclude today with his thoughts.

We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. God is jealous of our love. Anything that denies self is an act of love.

Blessed John Sullivan

Thoughts for August 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

Look upon the grace God gives you as a talent you must work with and increase. The Master in the Gospel gave his profitable servants twice as many talents. In like manner will God double your grace if you make good use of it. He will give you “grace for grace”. (John 1. 16)

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was most certainly a profitable servant, who carefully “invested” the grace God gave him. He set out to be faithful in little things, always striving to perform each task with love and perfection. In the end he was faithful in much, even when it came to offering his own life to save a wounded soldier. This heroism in the trenches finds its foundation in daily faithfulness. In the ordinary ways of life, barring a miracle of grace, it is hard to imagine someone who was slovenly and careless in his daily life of work and relationships and ordinary duty suddenly becoming a hero in the trenches. Really great achievements are built on daily fidelity to duty and preparation.

Today is also the feast of St Rose of Lima, the first canonised saint of the Americas who died at the age of 31. Like Fr Doyle, she was noted for her life of extraordinary penance which she offered for sinners and for the souls in Purgatory.

St Rose of Lima

22 August 1917: Fr Doyle mentioned in the Daily Express and in The Times

The following was written about Fr Doyle by Sir Percival Phillips, the famous war correspondent, and appeared in the Daily Express on this day in 1917.

The Orangemen will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battle field with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint — they speak his name with tears.

The Times also included this note on the same day. The chaplain in question was Fr Doyle.

Many tales of individual gallantry are told; two instances especially which should be recorded; one being that of an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Leinsters, who spent five hours in circumstances of the greatest danger tending the wounded, and behaving in all ways with consummate heroism; and the other that of a Roman Catholic chaplain who went up with the men, sustained and cheered them to the last, till he was killed.

21 August 1917: St Anthony’s Institute in Locre requests Fr Doyle’s “holy body”

During his time away from the trenches Fr Doyle often stayed in a convent in Locre. If my memory serves me correctly, he had an uninterrupted 13 hour sleep after one particularly trying period at the front, and on one occasion he got locked out and had to sleep on a bench outside. 

In any event, these nuns of St Anthony’s Institute obviously held Fr Doyle in very great esteem. They were heartbroken when they heard of his death, and on August 21 1917 they sent the following note to Fr Frank Browne, requesting that Fr Doyle’s body be buried in their convent.

What very sad news I have received! Our good brave holy Fr. Doyle has been killed! Compassionate Lord Jesus give him eternal rest! Rev. Fr Browne will accept my condolence, my feelings of sympathy in the great loss of our good Fr. Doyle, your confrere. Notre petit saint, he has now received his recompense for his holy life, his great love for God and neighbour. Oh! he was so much loved by everybody and we shall never forget him. We are all very glad to have had him with us in the convent and to have made his life as comfortable as possible. Were it not possible Rev. Fr. to bring his holy body to the convent? It were a great honour to us to have it.

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was never found, and so the “holy body” of the “petit saint” never returned to St Anthony’s Institute.