Slept on the floor. No relief in small sufferings. Put on chain in bad humour. Violent temptations to eat cake and resisted several times. Two hours prayer when weary. Rose for visit at two. Unkind story kept back. Overcame desire to lie in bed.
COMMENT: This is the list of penances Fr Doyle records for this day in 1915. He kept these lists in order to monitor his progress – this organised approach to the spiritual life was typical of the Ignatian spirituality of his day – Jesuit priests of Fr Doyle’s era were trained in this methodical spiritual programme. Many people today track all of their steps and their calories with sophisticated apps and wearable fitness bands; for Fr Doyle, and for many of his generation, it was far more important to track their pursuit of virtue.
Despite this programmatic approach to the spiritual life, Fr Doyle remained joyful and full of mirth when in the company of others – his daily practice of self-denial helped him to forget himself in order to love others more. Fr Doyle does not appear to have been an expert scholar or theologian, but he was a master tactician of the spiritual life. His daily records show that he fought day after day, with God’s grace, to acquire the self-masery and detachment to which he perceived he had a special calling. We may not be called to imitate the actual penances that Fr Doyle practiced, but we can nonetheless learn from his daily pursuit of holiness and virtue. It is a day by day battle, mostly based around small and seemingly insignificant things, in which those who stand still fall back. As Fr Doyle said elsewhere: “Life is too short for a truce”.