Thoughts for January 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Angelo Paoli

 

For the poor people on Dalkey Hill Willie constituted himself into a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. He raised funds by saving up his pocket-money, by numberless acts of economy and self-denial; he begged for his poor, he got the cook to make soup, he pleaded for delicacies to carry to the sick. Once he went to the family apothecary and ordered several large bottles of cod-liver oil for a poor consumptive woman, and then presented the bill to his father! He bought a store of tea with which under many pledges of secrecy he entrusted the parlourmaid. On this he used to draw when in the course of his wanderings he happened to come across some poor creature without the means of providing herself with the cup that cheers. He by no means confined himself merely to the bringing of relief. He worked for his poor, he served them, he sat down and talked familiarly with them, he read books for the sick, he helped to tidy the house, he provided snuff and tobacco for the aged. One of Willie’s cases — if such an impersonal word may be used — was a desolate old woman whose children were far away. One day noticing that the house was dirty and neglected, he went off and purchased some lime and a brush, and then returned and whitewashed the whole house from top to bottom. He then went down on his knees and scrubbed the floors, amid the poor woman’s ejaculations of protest and gratitude. No one knew of this but the cook and parlourmaid who lent him their aprons to save his clothes and kept dinner hot for him until he returned late in the evening. While thus aiding his poor friends temporally, he did not forget their souls. He contrived skilfully to remind them of their prayers and the sacraments; he also strongly advocated temperance. There was one old fellow on the Hill whom Willie had often unsuccessfully tried to reform. After years of hard drinking he lay dying, and could not be induced to see a priest. For eight hours Willie stayed praying by the bedside of the half-conscious dying sinner. Shortly before the end he came to himself, asked for the priest and made his peace with God. Only when he had breathed his last, did Willie return to Melrose. His first missionary victory!

COMMENT: These lines come from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle, and they describe his charitable activities as a young boy while living in Dalkey. It is not clear what age he started this kind of work, but given that he went to school in England at the age of 11, it must have been before this age (or else during school holidays). What a marvellous example for us! Fr Doyle’s later life shows the same charity and concern for others, even to the point of offering his own life to serve wounded soldiers.

Today is the feast of the Carmelite Blessed Angelo Paoli. He lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Rome. He was known as the father of the poor, and established hospitals and hostels to care for the poor of Rome. His motto was “Whoever loves God must go to find Him among the poor”.

In the lives of both Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle we find genuine Christian love. In effect, they followed the advice of St Francis of Assisi – to preach always, and when necessary to use words.

In a hostile climate where Catholics are viewed with such jaundiced eyes, the only way to touch people’s hearts is through love. After all, God is Love! This is the same recipe that made Catholicism so compelling 2,000 years ago. There was something about the early Christians that attracted so many converts, even at the risk of death and torture. Ultimately, this attraction was Jesus Christ, but surely it was the love that Christians had for all people that first opened the door to grace and conversion. Just as the world was evangelised through love 2,000 years ago, it can only be re-evangelised through love today.

G.K Chesterton, when asked to write an essay on what was wrong with the world, simply wrote “I am”. There is a real truth here. I am what is wrong with the Church. I am the reason why there are so may empty seats at Mass on Sunday. I am the reason that so many of my contemporaries are unaware that the Church is first and foremost about love…

Let us follow the example of Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle, by finding Christ in those around us, by loving them, and thus changing the world.

18 January 1912

I felt Jesus asking me to make a long visit and wishing to speak to me. His message was:

  1. To note down the big sacrifices of each day as this helps me to generosity.
  2. To make a spiritual Communion with each person receiving.
  3. Greater abandonment still of all comfort – ‘absolute nakedness’.
  4. To make a half-hour’s visit during the day when I am able

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his private diary on this day in 1912. He was not only an ascetic, but also a mystic, and this quote represents what he understood Jesus to be saying to him in prayer on this day. Fr Doyle was no fool. He was a well-formed Jesuit and an expert spiritual director, especially of others in religious life, and so we must assume that this words were indeed something akin to a locution. As such they form a private inspiration for Fr Doyle rather than some form of revelation for the use of others. 

Nonetheless, there is surely one lesson we can take from this message, and it is a message that one finds again and again in the writings of Fr Doyle – a call to greater generosity with God, and by extension, with others. This is something applicable to us all. The precise implementation of this generosity will surely suffer from person to person, but the fact that we are all called to an ever increasing generosity is surely a basic element of the Christian spiritual life.

17 January 1912

Our Lord wants me to give Him all I can give cheerfully, not repining or regretting any sacrifice; not saying, ‘I wish I had not to do this or suffer this cold or pain, etc’, but rather, “I wish I could do more for You Jesus, I wish it were colder’.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a true Jesuit. In these comments, written on this day in 1912, he shows his desire to follow the Third Degree of Humility in St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. Here is what St Ignatius says about this:

The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when — including the first and second, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equal — in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.

For the worldly this may seem extreme. But many saints not only were open to suffering, they sometimes actively wanted it. They wanted suffering not only to perform penance for their sins, but also to expiate for the sins of the world; to console Jesus for the coldness, indifference and, indeed, hatred, of others.

We are obviously not all called to this. But it appears Fr Doyle was, and specifically that he was called to make reparation for the sins of priests, and it was for this very intention that he offered up his life.

Thoughts for January 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

The temptation of St Anthony the Abbot

 

Are you not foolish in wishing to be free from these attacks of impatience, etc.? I know how violent they can be, since they sweep down on me at all hours without any provocation. You forget the many victories they furnish you with, the hours perhaps of hard fighting, and only fix your eyes on the little tiny word of anger, or the small fault, which is gone with one “Jesus forgive me.”

COMMENT: We cannot totally avoid temptation. It is true that we should seek to avoid occasions of sin and not place ourselves in the path of temptation. But temptation will come to us nonetheless. Today’s quote is somewhat consoling for us, for it reveals that Fr Doyle, just like the rest of us, suffered from temptations. But temptations, despite the distress the may cause, are an occasion for demonstrating our love of God by the efforts we make to overcome them. Fr Doyle himself struggled with impatience, but he brought the same methodological efficiency to bear in eradicting it that he brought to all aspects of his spiritual life.

Today is the feast of St Anthony the Abbot. St Athanasius, Doctor of the Church, was one of his disciples and tells us that Anthony was sorely tempted on numerous occasions throughout his time of solitude as a hermit in the desert. We may turn with confidence to him in our trials and temptations.

Many great spiritual writers have outlined ways in which temptation should be faced and how we can profit from them. The following is from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis:

So long as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation. Whence it is written in Job: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer lest the devil, who never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour, find occasion to deceive him. No one is so perfect or so holy but he is sometimes tempted; man cannot be altogether free from temptation.

Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed. The saints all passed through many temptations and trials to profit by them, while those who could not resist became reprobate and fell away. There is no state so holy, no place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us — in sin we were born. When one temptation or trial passes, another comes; we shall always have something to suffer because we have lost the state of original blessedness…

When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.

16 January 1917

‘Pork & Beans’ is quite a standing joke, though not a pleasant one, at the Front.

A committee of food experts, having discovered that lentil beans contain one and a half times more nourishment and flesh forming properties, than a corresponding weight of meat, promptly decided that, from time to time, Tommy should be fed on this delicious product of Mother Earth, and thereupon, I am sure, promptly sat themselves down to a roast leg of mutton, to show that if they were experts they were no means faddists.

The method of procedure is this: fill a can with a pound of small beans; on top place a piece of fat, not larger than a shilling; seal up carefully and wrap in a coloured label on which is printed (and so must be true) the startling intelligence that ‘five beans are of more value than a piece of meat.’ Then allow a pig to rub his sides against the packing case, and vóila, you have a sustaining dinner ration of ‘Pork & Beans.’

The first time you sit down to this repast you experience the most frightful temptation to vain-glory and pride as being the equals of the ancient hermits, and then you feel ‘orrible empty, so that even granting that a tin of beans is of greater value than a rib of beef, we are all ready to vote, and vote solid every time, for the old fashioned steak.

Thoughts for January 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano

Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world: to love Him and Him alone. For the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving hands, and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly – sufferings, wounds, death if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.

COMMENT: The confident embrace of God’s will, even if this means suffering and difficulties, is the hallmark of high sanctity. In today’s quote, Fr Doyle shows us his complete acceptance of God’s will. Every time we say the Our Father, we express our willingness that God’s will be done on earth. Most of us think very little about what this means. So often we really mean that we want our will to be done; so often we can automatically assume that God’s will coincides nicely with our own. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Some of the most difficult moments in life occur when God’s will fundamentally differs from our own. In such circumstances we must learn to trust in God, and remember that He is a loving Father who directs everything to our ultimate good, even if it means suffering in the short term. Yes, this may be hard to accept, but we see the truth of this again and again in the lives of the saints. We see the serenity of victim souls like St Therese or St Gemma Galgani despite their illness; we see the cheerfulness of martyrs as they face death; we see the joy of St Francis or St Teresa or St John of the Cross as they embraced radical poverty. We see a particularly striking example of this in the life of the recently beatified Chiara Luce Badano who died at the age of 18 in 1990 from bone cancer. Her parents report that she went through a short struggle to accept the cross of cancer, but having once accepted it, she radiated peace and serenity. And of course we see the good humour of Fr Doyle himself so eloquently expressed in all of his letters sent home from the trenches. None of this is easy to do. It is certainly easy to write and to theorise about the life of the saints when all is going well, but it is surely more difficult to embrace God’s will with complete joy and abandonment when we truly face great difficulties. Yet that is what sanctity ultimately means. While we should not pretend that it is easily acquired, ultimately there is a peace to be found in abandoning ourselves into God’s loving hands. The challenge is to learn how to willingly find this abandonment and peace at all times of life, not just when we have run out of options and have no choice but to accept the finality of God’s will.

Fr Doyle’s prayer today is very similar to the Suscipe of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Here is the full text of St Ignatius’ prayer:

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

 

 

Thoughts for January 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

I see more and more that self-indulgence even in lawful things brings only unhappiness; and I realise I can never be truly content or at peace till I make my life a crucified one, and this always.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1914. His was advice was not for everyone – he was specifically writing about himself in his private diary. Counter-intuitively, he found that whenever he indulged himself (presumably in little ways, such as taking butter on his bread or having a full night’s sleep), that he was less happy. Elsewhere he reported that not performing penance left him tired and lethargic but that penance invigorated him. This is surely an important sign that Fr Doyle truly had a specific calling to a life of asceticism.

14 January 1916

I want you to know what I went through by volunteering for the Front. God made me feel with absolute certainty – I suppose to increase the merit of the offering – that I shall be killed. The struggle was hard, for I did not want to die; not indeed that i am afraid of death, but the thought that I could never again do more for God or suffer for Him in heaven made the sacrifice too bitter for words. 

Thoughts for January 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

Worries? Of course; and thank God. How else are you going to be a saint? “When thou comest to the service of God, prepare thy soul for temptation” – which means trials and worries of all kinds.

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy. 

13 January 1917: Fr Doyle give the last rites to dying soldiers

104 years ago tonight Fr Doyle was awoken to absolve some dying soldiers. This is his description of the event, sent home in one of his regular updates to his family. Two things really stick out. Firstly, his dedication to his family, and to keeping them informed and easing their fears. This would have taken some time to write, and probably not in very comfortable circumstances. He could easily have taken some much needed rest instead of writing this letter. Secondly we see his dedication to his priestly duty. He faced some danger in trying to reach the soldiers and came under significant fire as he tried to reach them, but for him that danger was of no consequence, for as he said himself: “what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench”.

‘Two men badly wounded in the firing line, Sir.’ I was fast asleep, snugly tucked up in my blankets, dreaming a pleasant dream of something ‘hot.’ One always dreams of lovely hot things at night in the trenches, sitting at a warm fire at home, or of huge piles of food and drink, but always steaming hot.

‘You will need to be quick, Father, to find them alive.’ By this time I had grasped the fact that someone was calling me, that some poor dying man needed help, that perhaps a soul was in danger. In a few seconds I had pulled on my big boots, I know I should want them in the mud and wet, jumped into my waterproof and darted down the trench.

It was just 2 a.m., bitterly cold and snowing hard. God help the poor fellows holding the tumbled in ditch which is called the Front Line, standing there wet and more than frozen, hour after hour; but more than all God help and strengthen the victims of this war, the wounded soldier with his torn and bleeding body lying out in this awful biting cold, praying for the help that seems so slow in coming.

The first part of my journey was easy enough, except that the snow made it difficult to keep one’s feet, and I began to realise that one cannot run as easily at 44 as one could at 24.

All went well till I reached a certain part of the trench, which rejoices in the attractive name of ‘Suicide Corner,’ from the fact that the Germans have a machine gun trained on it and at intervals during the night pump a shower of lead on that spot in the hope of knocking out some chance passer-by.

It was just my luck that as I came near this place I heard the ‘Rat-tat- tat’ of the beastly gun and the whiz of the passing bullets. It was not a pleasant prospect to run the gauntlet and skip through the bullets ‘made in Germany’ but what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench? I ducked my head and ‘chivvied’ down that trench. (I do not know what this word means, but I believe it implies terrific speed and breathless excitement.)

In the dark and at that distance I was quite invisible to the German gunner, but I think the Old Boy himself was turning the handle that night, but luckily for me was out of practice; the cold I expect upset his aim. Away on my left as I ran I could hear in the stillness of the night the grinding ‘Rat-tat-tat’ of the machine gun, for all the world as if a hundred German carpenters were driving nails into my coffin, while overhead ‘crack, crack, whiz, whiz’ went the bullets tearing one after another for fear they would be too late.

It was a novel experience to have a whole machine gun all to yourself, but it is a pleasure I am not particularly anxious to repeat. At the same time I do not think I was really in any great danger as judging by the sound the leaden shower was going too high.

The guns make all movement by night very unpleasant. Both sides have any number of them firing all night, from time to time at fixed points, for example cross-roads, ‘dumps,’ light railways etc., everywhere in fact where men are likely to be. Yet in spite of the fact that each fires about 10,000 rounds each night and bullets are flying about like mosquitos, it is very rare indeed that anyone is hit, weeks at a time without a casualty and scarcely never if one takes the ordinary precautions.

The first man was ‘in extremis’ when I reached him. I did all I could for him, commended his soul to the merciful God as he had only a few minutes to live, and hurried on to find the other wounded boy.

A journey along the Firing Line in the day time is not an easy matter, but in the darkness of the night it baffles description. A star shell from time to time gave me light and I made good progress, only to end in blackness and a pool or a shell hole full of mud and water.

I found the dying lad, he was not much more, so tightly jammed into a corner of the trench it was almost impossible to get him out. Both legs were smashed, one in two or three places, so his chances of life were small as there were other injuries as well. What a harrowing picture that scene would have made. A splendid young soldier, married only a month they told me, lying there pale and motionless in the mud and water with the life crushed out of him by a cruel shell. The stretcher bearers hard at work binding up as well as they may his broken limbs; round about a group of silent Tommies looking on and wondering when will their turn come. Peace for a moment seems to have taken possession of the battlefield; not a sound save the deep boom of some far off gun and the stifled moans of the dying boy, while as if anxious to hide the scene, nature drops her soft mantle of snow on the living and dead alike. Then while every head is bared come the solemn words of absolution, ‘Ego te absolve,’ I absolve thee from thy sins. Depart Christian soul and may the Lord Jesus Christ receive thee with a smiling and benign countenance. Amen.

Oh! surely the gentle Saviour did receive with open arms the brave lad who had laid down his life for Him, and as I turned away I felt happy in the thought that his soul was already safe in that land where ‘God will wipe away all sorrow from our eyes, for weeping and mourning shall be no more’.