Thoughts for July 6 (St Maria Goretti) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Maria Goretti


As a boy He gave me something of the kind, so that a passing glance at an immodest picture used to make me shudder; and until I began my theology at 31 I was quite ignorant of most sexual matters. That was His goodness, not mine.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti, the great champion of purity. She died at age 11 in defence of the virtue of purity and as such her intercession is often sought by those with struggles in this area. 

Fr Doyle seems to have had an unusual purity. In addition to the above quote, here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit on the issue of Fr Doyle’s purity:

I knew from many talks with him on the subject that Willie found it hard to realise the difficulties of those struggling with impurity and the awful fascination of this sin, just as those who have never taken strong drink fail to appreciate the difficulties and temptations of the drunkard.

This does not mean that Fr Doyle was never subject to temptations, but rather that through God’s grace his major temptations related to others aspects of the moral life, mostly relating to his temper and tendency towards impetuousness.

It is fascinating for us to consider that a normal, well adjusted young man 100 years ago could be largely unaware of sexual matters until his thirties. But then again, we live in an age which has lost the innocence of times past. 

The words of St Josemaria Escriva on purity are relevant for us to consider today:

Never speak of impure things or events, not even to lament them. Remember that such matter is stickier than pitch. Change the subject or, if that is not possible, continue with it, speaking of the need and the beauty of purity — a virtue of men who know the value of their souls.

Having said all of that, we do not want to fall into a Jansenistic trap of obsessing about sin and about impurity. Sadly, some strains of Catholicism, especially in Ireland, seem to have fallen into this trap in the past. Such an approach was far from that of Fr Doyle. We must resist the temptation, but if we fail, we pick ourselves up and go forward, without scruples, nostalgia or curiosity. 

Fr Doyle seems not to have written or spoken much about sex and purity, except in his booklet on scruples (this booklet was composed from his notes after he died). The following brief excerpt from the full booklet (available here: SCRUPLES AND THEIR TREATMENT) shows how gentle Fr Doyle’s approach was, and how far it was how we are often encouraged to perceive that era in the Church. 

Scruples regarding Holy Purity

As the scruples of pious persons are often concerned with the virtue of purity, many may find it useful and consoling to recall the following.

Mortal Sin not Probable.

In order that a mortal sin against purity be committed, it is necessary (as for every mortal sin) that there be at the time and at the same moment full consent and full actual attention to the grave malice of the thought, word or action.

In other words, in order to sin mortally, there must be perfect knowledge and full consent, the one clearly perceiving, the other fully accepting, the grave sin.

Besides this it is necessary that both acts be simultaneous.

Is this what happens in the thoughts or liberties of pious souls against the angelic virtue? Certainly not.

Nearly always they do not realise they are doing wrong; they completely forget their thought or act is sinful, even though a moment before they may have clearly perceived its malice.

In all such cases they do not commit sin, since they are not conscious of wrong while thinking or acting. Or they only see the malice of their thought or act in a confused way, and though there may be full consent of will, the fault is no more than venial, since the knowledge of the wrong is imperfect.

Two Principles of Security.

Should souls that have been tempted against purity examine whether they have consented?

They must not think of doing so.

These examinations are imprudent and dangerous, their only result being to upset one’s peace of mind, or bring back the temptation with renewed force.

Besides they are quite unnecessary, because a scrupulous soul may take for rule the two following principles.

Firstly, every time mortal sin is committed, the soul knows it clearly before any examination.

Secondly, on the other hand, the soul is certain that mortal sin has not been committed when there is any doubt on the matter.

Utility of these Temptations.

Instead of being discouraged, souls strongly tempted against holy purity should look on themselves as highly privileged.
It is a truth of Christianity that God only permits trials for our greater good.

The Holy Spirit assures us of this by the mouth of St. Paul: “To them that love God all things (even the vilest temptations) work together unto good” (Rom. 8:28).

An excellent article on the life of St Maria Goretti can be found here:

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