My God, this morning I was in despair. After some days of relaxation owing partly to sickness, I resolved to begin my life of crucifixion once more, but found I could not. I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy. What help and grace You gave me, making me see clearly that I must never again give up this life or omit to mark my book.
When it was not some infirmity or other than caused him to experience pain, it was he himself who inflicted discomfort and mortification on his own body. Aside from the prescribed fasting, which he followed with great rigour, especially during Lent, when he reduced his nourishment to one complete meal per day, he also abstained from food before ordaining priests and bishops. And it was not infrequent for him to spend nights lying on the bare floor. His housekeeper in Cracow realised it, even though the archbishop crumpled his bedclothes to conceal it. But he did more. As a number of members of his closest entourage heard with their own ears, in Poland and the Vatican, Karol Wojytla flagellated himself. In his bedroom closet, among his cassocks, hanging from a hook was an unusual trouser belt that he used as a whip and always brought to Castel Gandolfo.
Today is the feast of St John Paul. The above testimony is from Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Postulator for the cause of canonisation of St John Paul II. This is the pope who attracted so many young people. Yet he lived a rigorous life of penance. So rigorous, in fact, that others heard him flagellating himself. And he used an unusual trouser belt. It’s not clear why it was unusual. Was it because it was modified in some way to make it more painful?
Fr Doyle’s life of penance is not be something we are called to imitate in its totality today, but it was entirely in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and is mirrored in the lives and teachings of the saints, including the joyful and phenomenally popular St John Paul II.
It would be bizarre for anybody to over-emphasise the role of physical penance in the life of St John Paul II, and to reduce his personality to one aspect of his spiritual life. So, too, those who think that Fr Doyle’s penance would turn people away from him do him a disservice, and foster an unbalanced image of a very human, very joyful and very self-sacrificing war hero.
Fr Doyle wrote the following notes on the “hidden life” of Jesus as a young boy and man in Nazareth. These reflections from the second week of the Spiritual Exercises which Fr Doyle completed around this time in 1907 are so direct and readily applicable to our own lives that they do not require any further comment or elaboration.
During the reflection on the Hidden Life I got a light that here was something in which I could easily imitate our Lord and make my life resemble His. I felt a strong impulse to resolve to take up as one of the chief objects of my life the exact and thorough performance of each duty, trying to do it as Jesus would have done, with the same pure intention, exquisite exactness and fervour. To copy in all my actions walking, eating, praying Jesus, my model in the little house of Nazareth. This light was sudden, clear and strong. To do this perfectly will require constant, unflagging fervour. Will not this be part of my “hard life”?
I should examine all my actions, taking Jesus as my model and example. What a vast difference between my prayer and His; between my use of time, my way of speaking, walking, dealing with others, etc., and that of the child Jesus! If I could only keep Him before my eyes always, my life would be far different from what it has been.
Each fresh meditation on the life of our Lord impresses on me more and more the necessity of conforming my life to His in every detail, if I wish to please Him and become holy. To do something great and heroic may never come, but I can make my life heroic by faithfully and daily putting my best effort into each duty as it comes round. It seems to me I have failed to keep my resolutions because I have not acted from the motive of the love of God. Mortification, prayer, hard work, become sweet when done for the love of Jesus.