Life in the army I find is a life of delightful and unexpected surprises. You are told that you are going to some large town and at once visions of comfortable quarters, with perhaps the luxury of a real bed loom up before you; you reach the town only to find you do not stay there but have to tramp out into the open country and fight for a corner in some ancient barn. You hear that the journey is to be done by rail, but nothing is said about ten miles march before and after reaching the station, while the crowning joy of all is to count on a month’s rest and then find yourself back in the trenches within a week. All these pleasant surprises have been mine recently.
We had a few very restful days in the place I last wrote from, a delightful spot on the banks of a wooded river, but since then we have been on the move by rail and motor lorries, and ‘Shank’s Mare’ till we found ourselves in Normandy where the boys had the time of their lives among the apple orchards.
It is indeed easy to condemn oneself to death, to make a generous offering of self-immolation; but to carry out the execution daily is more than most can do. . . . Go on bravely, don’t expect too much from yourself, for God often leaves one powerless in acts of self-conquest in order to make one humble and to have more recourse to Him. Remember above all that even one small victory makes up for a hundred defects.
COMMENT: Well, perhaps it is not quite as easy for us to condemn ourselves to death as Fr Doyle suggests! Perhaps many of us can identify with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick!”
More seriously, we can sometimes be willing to make great sacrifices, but keeping up the struggle against our selfishness day after day is what really presents the difficulty for us. And as Fr Doyle encouragingly says, we should not expect too much from ourselves: we are weak, and should accept our weakness with humility. But this doesn’t mean that we settle for mediocrity: as Fr Doyle points out, God is always with us and will sustain us. As St Pio, whose feast is today, says,
Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.
There is a temptation for the demanding message of hugely popular saints like Padre Pio to be overlooked. Too often the lives of such saints get swamped with tales of their miracles and extraordinary phenomena. Lest that happen, here is one final thought from St Pio which in many ways is very similar to the spirit and teaching of Fr Doyle:
The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self.