Will it be any help to you to learn that I know many who suffer as you do? Hence I can perfectly understand what you are going through: the disgust for everything spiritual, the almost hatred of God, and the mad longing almost to leave it all behind and run away. However we know that such a step would not end the trouble or bring relief in any form; on the contrary that would simply mean playing into the devil’s hands and could only lead to one thing in the end. We know also that these trials come from God and that if one is only patient, they will pass. Hence, my dear child, you must set your teeth and hold on; spiritual life, remember, is a warfare and you will surely not run away when the real attack comes, but rather boldly face the enemy.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words to somebody (presumably a nun) who was suffering from aridity and a general malaise in her spiritual life. It is something we can all identify with to some extent. The advice is classic Fr Doyle: remember that you are at war – grit your teeth and hold on! It is advice we all need to hear at one time or another, whether it relates to spiritual issues or to some other aspect of our lives such as our job, our relationships or our health. Remaining faithful to God and to our good intentions requires effort and will-power, as well the strength of God’s grace which will surely not be lacking if we play our own part.
The saints had ever a childlike confidence and trust in God. Upon Him they cast all their anxieties and cares, under His powerful protection they sheltered themselves, and with His almighty help they were ever strong. They lived in the present day alone, striving to bear with cheerful hearts the burden of the moment; the morrow’s work would bring its stream of graces to help them on their journey.
COMMENT: Today we start the Church’s new year, and we start on our journey of preparation for Christmas. The importance of Advent is often forgotten in the West. Often it is seen as period of merriment and shopping and of Christmas parties. And when Christmas finally arrives, the consumer culture quickly turns off the lights and turns its attention towards the secular new year and the January sales…
Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and we should attempt to live it with the same enthusiasm with which we attempt to live Lent.
As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:
Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!
Let us then have the childlike confidence and trust in God to which Fr Doyle exhorts us today. We can count on many graces to help us over the coming weeks as we prepare to encounter the baby Jesus, born in poverty in a broken world, all for love of us.
It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life and even gives a loathing and disgust for its practice. It is not so evident that deliberate imperfections, and for religious repeated violation of rule, have the same result. These are the “little foxes,” attractive and apparently harmless creatures, which must be hunted down and destroyed…if the vineyard is not to perish. A soul given to sin or consciously violating the rules to which it has freely bound itself for life, will sigh in vain for the secret loving embraces of its Beloved.
COMMENT: We have, in general, lost the sense of sin in the world today. For modern culture, it seems as if anything goes. It’s hard not to become influenced by this prevailing opinion, and as a result we can end up easily yielding to sin and temptation because we no longer think it’s a big deal anymore.
We must of course avoid the other extreme of scrupulosity and obsession with sin (an affliction that seems to have been very acute with previous generations). Fr Doyle was a very effective director for those afflicted with this problem.
We are all sinners, and we must start to fight against sin where we are at. For some that will mean a struggle against habitual mortal sin; for others it is the struggle against deliberate venial sin and for others it will be a struggle against imperfections and omissions with respect to certain virtues.
Wherever we are at, we all have these “foxes” of whatever type that we must chase out of our lives. There’s no better time to start the chase than Advent and our preparation for Christmas.
Try to take your days one by one as they come to you. The hard things of yesterday are past, and you are not asked to bear what to-morrow may have in store; so that the cross is really light when you take it bit by bit.
COMMENTS: What sane advice from a man who knew a thing or two about hardship! Often we multiply our hardship when we think about ongoing future problems. When we are sick we tend not to be able to imagine what it would be like to be well again or to have our energy back. When we face economic deprivation we tend to imagine that we will not see happier days.
Fr Doyle’s words today should give comfort to all those who suffer in any way. Let us follow his advice to live life bit by bit. We are not now asked to carry tomorrow’s burden. That burden may even be lighter than we think when it arrives. And when tomorrow’s burden arrives, today’s burden will have passed already.
Let us carry our cross day by day and bit by bit, consoled by the fact that we are never abandoned by our loving God.
The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are most probably the reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.
The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and recommended to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service.
Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:
I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.
Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail – good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.
COMMENT: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.
But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.
Christmas is only one month away. If you haven’t yet bought Christmas presents, why not consider giving someone a gift relating to Fr Doyle? Books (and even DVDs) are always great gifts, but even more so if the subject matter is inspiring and spiritually uplifting. Giving a gift related to Fr Doyle is a practical act of evangelisation and a way of spreading devotion to him.
There has been a big increase in the number of items relating to Fr Doyle in the last few years (a clear sign that something is “stirring” in terms of interest in Fr Doyle, and that devotion is growing). Any one of these would be a great gift to someone. Each has its own contribution to make.
Firstly, we’ll start with the DVD of the EWTN docudrama Bravery Under Fire. It is a detailed, 80 minute long exploration of Fr Doyle’s life, featuring detailed re-enactments of aspects of Fr Doyle’s life, as well as interviews about him. You can find the DVD in the EWTN religious cataloguehere:
If you are in Britain or Ireland, you can find the relevant version of the DVD here: http://www.ewtnireland.com/bravery-under-fire/ – Remember: DVD formats are different in different regions, so make sure you order the right one!
If, for some reason, somebody would like the DVD of my hour long interview with Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ on EWTN Live, you can find it at this link, searching for the relevant date (October 24 2018).
However it is worth noting that the full programme is on YouTube, though some people might prefer a DVD, especially if giving it as a gift to an older person who is not online, and who also has an interest in Fr Doyle.
In terms of books, there is my own modest contribution – To Raise the Fallen. This is 200 page book is a broad overview of Fr Doyle’s life – both military and spiritual – mostly in his own words, with some commentary from me. It would be a great gift for someone who knows a little about Fr Doyle and wants to know more, or even for anyone with a passing interest in history or World War 1. Fr Doyle’s letters are sure to grip people, and they might even gain from his fascinating spiritual notes. It is a useful tool of apostolate – it is a credible gift to give someone who is indifferent to – or alienated from – the Church. It also contains several prayers and meditations from Fr Doyle that have never been published before. For readers in the United States it is available here from Ignatius Press: https://www.ignatius.com/To-Raise-the-Fallen-P3056.aspx
Worshipper and Worshipped has the distinction of being the largest (700+ pages) and most detailed book about Fr Doyle, and the first book published about him in approximately 75 years. It is the definitive account of Fr Doyle’s war service. It would be a great gift for any World War 1 buffs and for those who already know Fr Doyle but who want probably the most complete assessment of his war years possible. It is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipper-Worshipped-Across-Chaplain-1915-1917/dp/1908336862
Man of the People is the first children’s book about Fr Doyle that I am aware of. One of there greatest gifts we can give children is a love of books, and especially when they are inspiring and uplifting from a human and spiritual perspective. This 35 page book is available here: http://www.alanhannas.com/shopexd.asp?id=7115014
And let’s not forget the classics! The original book from the 1920’s that started it all, the biography by O’Rahilly is a spiritual masterpiece. It may not be as spiritually or theologically accessible to everyone 100 years later, but it remains the definitive overall biography of all of Fr Doyle’s life. The very detailed spiritual notes mean that it will be of most interest to those who appreciate Fr Doyle because of his spiritual brilliance, though the final two chapters about the war will be of interest to anyone of good will. The second edition is available as a reprint here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/professor-alfred-orahilly/father-william-doyle-sj/paperback/product-15463211.html It is also available in kindle versions.
Merry in God, published in 1939, is perhaps the most intimate book about Fr Doyle. That’s because it was written (anonymously) by his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ. Currently out of print, it was (largely) republished (with some minor editing) as a magazine called Trench Priest. The content is, of course brilliant, although the production values are not exceptional. The significant upside of this is that the book is tremendous value. Once again a brilliant present for those with an interest in Fr Doyle’s life as a whole. Available here: http://www.papastronsay.com/bookshop/product.php?ID=21
If you appreciate and admire Fr Doyle, do not keep him to yourself; spread devotion to him – get a book or a DVD as a gift for others this Christmas.
The life of Jesus was a continual prayer. Even during His public life He began, continued and ended everything He did by prayer, besides devoting whole nights and days to communing with His Father.
If we want our work for souls to be fruitful, we must bring prayer into it. If our children are not all that they ought to be, the cause may not be far to seek. Let us examine if we are praying enough for them, if our aspirations are ever ascending to the throne of God, to bless our work amongst those children and amongst others with whom we have to deal.
COMMENT: The only elaboration that Fr Doyle’s words require today is that of his own example. He was constantly immersed in prayer, often reciting thousands of aspiration each day, and regularly spending entire nights in prayer. It’s not coincidental that his own ministry as a writer, retreat master, preacher, spiritual director and military chaplain was marked by success and fruitfulness.
Even as a child I longed and prayed to be a saint. But somehow it always seemed to me as if that longing could never be realised, for I felt there was some kind of a barrier like a high wall between myself and God. What it was, I cannot say even now. But recently this obstacle appears to me to have been removed, the way is open, and I feel I love Jesus now as I never did before, or even hoped to. With this comes the conviction, so strong and consoling with so much peace and happiness, that Jesus will grant my heart’s desire before I die. I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me, until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle may be referring here to a mystical experience, though perhaps he is writing only in a symbolic fashion
Many saints have described mystical experiences involving spiritual delights and physical pain. Here is St Teresa of Avila describing one of her experiences:
It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
The later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography contain a letter from an unnamed nun who knew Fr Doyle well. Perhaps it was his sister – we do not know. In any event, this nun knew something of the “sweet wounding” to which Fr Doyle referred and said that it was “a grace like to that received by St Teresa”. If this is correct, it is remarkable. But, alas, we cannot say for certain based on the information to hand…
St Teresa reached such mystical heights despite the fact that she only truly reformed her life at 40, having even given up prayer altogether for a whole year at one stage. We should have confidence that, if we continue to progress towards God, no matter what setbacks or diversions we encounter, the Lord will continue to give us all the graces we need to reach Heaven.
Do not try to run till you can walk well. Draw up a list of certain little sacrifices which you feel God is asking from you and which you know you will be able to give Him without very much difficulty: better be cowardly than too generous. Then, come what may, be faithful to your list and shake it in the face of the tempter when he suggests that you should give it up.
COMMENT: As always, Fr Doyle presents a sane and balanced spirituality to us. Constancy leads to success in all areas of life, whether it be in acquiring a new skill, in studying for exams or in the spiritual life. It was by constant effort that Fr Doyle grew spiritually to become the hero of the trenches.
His advice is also very relevant as we approach Advent. Often we forget that Advent is a time of penance and preparation. Here in Ireland – and elsewhere I am sure – there is great hype in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and as soon as we reach the 26th or 27th of December (when Christmas is just starting) – it is forgotten about and the focus becomes the New Year. This is not the way we should live as Christians – Advent is a time of preparation to allow us to live the spirit of Christmas with greater joy and intimacy with the Lord. Perhaps it would be good to take Fr Doyle’s advice, and prepare a short list of small, specific sacrifices that we wish to make in preparation for Christmas? The threat of lockdowns and further restrictions on public worship is no barrier to this – these trials provide an excellent opportunity for us all to grow more in the spirit of sacrifice.