There are two patron saints to whom I have a tremendous devotion: a sheet of paper and a lead pencil. Mark down at least once a day everything you do and every time you do it. It will not make you proud to see all you do; but it will humble you by showing you all you don’t do.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was extremely methodological in his spiritual life. He kept very specific diaries and accounts of what he did and of what he failed to do, and it is largely these books that allow us to get a glimpse at his inner life.
For some people this process of meticulously recording victories over self, and also of weaknesses and sins, could seem too pedestrian and too banal (and perhaps for some it could lead to scruples…). However, it is this fighting spirit that really makes Fr Doyle very endearing for in this we see how an ordinary man fought, with God’s grace, to overcome himself and to become an inspiring hero who saved so many in the trenches. The lead pencil and the sheet of paper were essential in this process of Fr Doyle’s spiritual blossoming. While care might be needed lest we become too self-absorbed or scrupulous, we should not imagine ourselves to be above this process of self-examination.
Today is the feast of St Pius X, pope from 1903-1914; pope for most of Fr Doyle’s priesthood. He had something to say on this matter himself:
It would indeed be shameful if in this matter Christ’s saying should be verified, that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). We can observe with what diligence they look after their affairs; how often they balance their credit and debit; how accurately they make up their accounts; how they deplore their losses and so eagerly excite themselves to repair them.
Today we are not limited to a sheet of paper or a lead pencil – there are many new forms of technology, including smartphone apps, that will allow us to keep track of our use of time and to keep track of our sins. This technology makes the battle against our weakness even easier than it was for Fr Doyle.
St Pius X was a great pope and saint who was greatly loved in his own day. He was a deeply humble man with a special place in his heart for children. It was of course St Pius who lowered the age at which children can receive Holy Communion, from about 12-14 down to 7. In fact, it was a little Irish girl, Ellen Organ, affectionately known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who was instrumental in this. Little Nellie ended up living with some nuns after her mother died. She was diagnosed with TB, but had a great longing to receive Holy Communion, so her local bishop in County Cork gave extraordinary permission for her to receive the Eucharist at just four and a half years of age. She received the Eucharist 32 times before her death in February 1908. She was a remarkable mystic, spending hours in thanksgiving after receiving Communion.
St Pius was deeply edified by this story, and on hearing about it he declared that this was the sign he was waiting for. It was after this event that he allowed younger children to receive Communion. St Pius even asked for a relic of Little Nellie after her death. Imagine – the great Pontiff asking for a relic of a four and a half year old girl in County Cork! Thus he illustrates for us his own child like heart and his concern for the little ones.
When Nellie’s coffin was opened 18 months after her death, her body was apparently found to be incorrupt.
Of course, Fr Doyle had an interest in the life of Little Nellie, and he visited her grave after giving a retreat in County Cork just three years after her death. He records his experience as follows:
Kneeling there I asked her what God wanted from me, when I heard an interior voice clearly repeating, “Love Him, love Him”. The following day she seemed to rebuke me, when leaving the cemetery, for the careless way I performed most of my spiritual duties, and to say that God was displeased with this and wanted great fervour and perfection in them.
Let us pray to St Pius, who had such care for the little ones, that the Church will finally rid itself of that awful sin of abuse which has damaged so many children and families, which has besmirched the priesthood and which has wounded the credibility of the Church in the eyes of the world.
Let us also pray that the cause of Ellen Organ may finally be opened and that she will be canonised. Ireland needs its own saints, even very little ones! In fact, if she was to be canonised, Nellie would be the youngest non-martyred saint in history.