Thoughts for June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past to give myself heart and soul to the service of God, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and suffer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. 

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”, I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be wanting to aid me at every step. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree will be all my life’s work, so that I may be worthy to die for Him.

COMMENT: There is much that one could reflect about in these retreat notes from Fr Doyle. Three points, out of many possibilities, suffice. 

It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. This idea is a recurring one in the thought of Fr Doyle. All we have to offer God is the present moment. Living in that present moment, and sanctifying it, is the essence of sanctity. This is especially important if we suffer or are offering up some penance. We don’t know if we will have to suffer tomorrow, or next month or next year. But even if we do, we don’t have to bear those sufferings right now. We have only the sufferings or duties or work of this moment. When this moment is over, we will never have to bear its sufferings again. Elsewhere in his notes, Fr Doyle relates this principle to dryness in prayer. If we struggle in prayer, well we needn’t worry about the fact that we have to stay still and pray for an hour. All we have to do is to pray for this one minute. After that, we pray for another minute, and so on, step by step. 

Faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”. We will never succeed in doing all things perfectly, but we must at least try, and keep beginning again and again when we fail. Faithfulness in little duties sounds easy, but is incredibly hard in practice, and it is the ordinary path to sanctity for all of us. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity.Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

The choice of the narrow path is not a once off decision but rather one to be made each moment of each day. It is the decision to adhere to our duty when we would rather ignore it. It was this constant, moment by moment adherence to the narrow path in little things that created the selfless hero of the trenches.

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Thoughts for June 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

I felt the presence of Jesus very near to me while praying in the chapel at Ramsgrange. He seemed to want me to write down what He said: ‘I want you, my child, to abandon every gratification, generously, absolutely, for the love of Me. Each time you give in to yourself you suffer an enormous loss. Do not deceive yourself by thinking that certain relaxations are necessary or will help your work. My grace is sufficient for you. Give Me all at all times; never come down from the cross to which I have nailed you. Be generous, go on blindly, accepting all, denying yourself all. Trust in Me, I will sustain you, but only if you are really generous. Begin this moment and mortify every look, action, desire. No gratification, no relaxation, no yielding to self. Surrender yourself to Me as My victim and let Me make you a saint.’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recorded this message 106 years ago today, on June 16, 1912. 

Fr Doyle was something of a mystic; the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography make this much clearer than the earlier editions do. Fr Doyle seems to have received several messages similar to this one around this particular period of his life. Perhaps these messages or inspirations continued right to the end of his life, we do not know. 

What are we to make of such inspirations? Well, ultimately they matter little. While various kinds of inspirations and messages are not uncommon in the lives of saints and other holy people, they are neither necessary for sanctity nor are they are a guarantee that the person practiced heroic sanctity. In general, this website has tended to avoid discussion of the mystical graces that Fr Doyle seems to have received. There is a good reason for this – they are unnecessary for our own progress and, 100 years removed from the event, we cannot be sure whether they were truly divinely inspired. Indeed, we should avoid too much curiosity about such mystical phenomena in general, especially when they have not been approved by the Church. Even St Pio, surely one of the saints most closely associated with extraordinary mystical phenomena in recent centuries, used to become impatient with those who were too curious about such things, insisting that it is better to live by faith alone without seeking “proof” of the supernatural in this way. 

Clearly the core of this message – that of denying oneself always and in everything – is not of immediate, universal application. This was a particular call that Fr Doyle felt within himself, and it seems to have been approved by his confessor. It is not the road that most people are expected to follow. 

Nonetheless, there are three particular messages that we may take from today’s quote and apply to our own lives. 

Firstly, the idea that every time we yield, we suffer a loss. Obviously this is true of mortal sin. We suffer an incalculable loss whenever we freely consent to such sin. We lose the life of grace in our soul, we lose all of the merit we have accumulated in our life to date and we would end up losing eternal life if we were to die without repenting. However, we also lose even by giving in to venial sin. We may not lose the state of grace, but we also lose out on acquiring extra graces as a result of our struggle against sin. The same also applies to our purely temporal affairs. Every time we yield to the desire to eat chocolate we lose in our battle to stick to a diet; every time we yield to the temptation to stay in bed longer we lose in our battle to be more effective in our working day. The principle has many applications which we can easily apply to our own lives. 

Secondly, we see in today’s quote the importance of trusting in Jesus. According to Fr Doyle’s perception, Jesus indicated that His grace was sufficient for him. This echoes the famous prayer of St Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing dismay thee, all things pass. 

God never changes, patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing. 

God alone suffices.

Finally, Fr Doyle felt that Jesus said to him: “Let Me make you a saint”. We have to make serious efforts ourselves through various acts of piety and asceticism, but ultimately these are never enough on their own and they always require the addition of grace. If we do what we are meant to do, we can be assured that Jesus will provide the grace that we need to reach the sanctity He has in mind for us.

Ramsgrange Church in County Wexford. Completed in 1843. This may be the chapel Fr Doyle referred to.

Thoughts for June 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me. I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.

COMMENT: If Fr Doyle suffered from the problem of human respect – an untoward concern for what others think of us – then there is little surprise that we ourselves might fall prey to it as well. This is especially challenging for us who live in a culture where religious faith is scoffed at and where those who practice it are viewed as being intellectually challenged and uneducated. In some respects, the prevailing norms in Europe make living the faith almost like a “social martyrdom”. 

If we shrink from living our faith for fear of human respect, then we cannot hope to effectively shape the culture in which we live. We must be coherent Christians. Yes, we should practice our faith with discretion and balance, but we should do so without fear. Perhaps the words of St Jean-Marie Vianney, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, might help on this point:

The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people. If the Devil cannot get him back through human respect, he will induce an extraordinary fear to possess him that his confessions are not good, that his confessor does not understand him, that whatever he does will be all in vain, that he will be damned just the same, that he will achieve the same result in the end by letting everything slide as by continuing to fight, because the occasions of sin will prove too many for him.

St John Vianney

Thoughts for June 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Naploeon said “I want you to do so and so”, and I replied “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? Generous or making conditions? In easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

COMMENT: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus? It was regular reflection on these questions that shaped Fr Doyle’s will and strengthened him for the martyrdom of charity that he suffered. For Fr Doyle, Napoleon was a compelling figure. For us, 100 years on, perhaps it is a more contemporary military or political figure that attracts. How many people would go through fire and water for a political leader? Or even for a sports star or a celebrity? Or for a political ideology or movement? But if we would happily serve such an “idol”, how much more willingly should we serve our Creator to Whom we owe everything? 

Fr Jean Nicolas Grou was a French Jesuit writer of the 18th century who suffered much after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Here are some words of his on this theme, taken from his book Meditations on the Love of God.

Thou shalt love. What kind of love? With the love of preference to all other objects whatever, and to thine own self; thy love for God shall surpass, if it can, all other affection, in that same degree that the Object of it surpasses all else; thou shalt be ready, if occasion requires, to sacrifice all to Him, even thine own life, rather than to offend Him; thou shalt fear to displease Him beyond and before all else; and thou shalt consider the smallest sin as an evil infinitely greater than all other evils of any other kind; thou shalt put the advantage of pleasing Him before any other advantage of what value soever; and shalt be more jealous of His friendship than that of the greatest and dearest on earth. Not His will merely, but His good pleasure shall be thy law, rule and standard; thou shalt trample underfoot all human respect, thou shalt despise all promises, all threats and overcome all obstacles to follow it…Thou shalt wish and desire that every creature may render to Him all the glory that is due to Him and which He expects from them; thou shalt be zealous for His honour, and procure and further it by every means in thy power, at the least by thy wishes and thy prayers desiring ardently that all men may know, adore, love and obey Him; thou shalt be grieved in the depths of thy heart at the sight of the crimes which deluge the world; and thy zeal shall equal that of David who said “Fainting hath laid hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law”. (Psalm 119: 53)

This is a stirring call to arms. It is the kind of thing that motivates and encourages the young, and the young at heart. Perhaps that’s why those young people who remain in the Church are deeply committed to their faith and to evangelisation, and they sometimes frighten older people by their zeal. Both generations can learn from each other – zeal and prudence and balance have to go hand in hand. But the doubt and timidity and (dare one say it?) the embarrassment that seems to infect the Church in the western world, and especially in Ireland, does little to attract young people who search for meaning and challenge. If one looks at the ideological movements and campaigns to which many young people are attracted one sees energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to go (figuratively) through fire and water on behalf of their favoured cause. 

The saints went through literal fire and water for Christ – to serve Him and to save souls. Our Christian brothers and sisters are forced to do this in the East in the face of real physical persecutions. 

And we in the West? What have we done for Jesus? What are we doing for Jesus? What shall we do for Jesus?

 

13 June 1915

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 and methodical approach to the spiritual life was typical of the Ignatian spirituality in which he was trained. Fr Doyle was not an original or 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 dogged pursuit of perfection. 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”.

Thoughts for June 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Moment of Benediction.

The priest turns and raises aloft the Sacred Host. In loving adoration, in reverent awe, the invisible angels fall prostrate. The bell tinkles softly, fragrant clouds of sweet-smelling incense ascend on high, and in the remotest corner of the vast church every head is bowed in adoration. It is a solemn moment, a moment when the silent streams of grace pour down upon our souls. God’s hands are lifted up to bless us; His sacred face is turned upon us, and He waits oh ! so eagerly for us to ask some favour that He may win our hearts by His generosity. Let us ask, then, confidently and show our trust in God’s great goodness by the boldness of our requests.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recommends that we be bold in our requests. This comes from a priest who knew the power of God, for he saw it at work firsthand in his own life. 

God wants to give us His blessings and His graces. It is true that he doesn’t want to be treated like a heavenly ATM machine, and there is surely something defective in our spiritual life if we only call on Him when we are in trouble. But none of this changes the fundamental generosity of God. He wants to help us, and sometimes He will even work real miracles to assist us. If we do not ask for miracles we will not receive them! 

Today is the feast of one of the great miracle workers in the Church – St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church. In many churches, St Anthony’s statue is one of the most popular ones; it is not unusual across Europe to find an overflowing pile of papers stuck into the statue’s hands. These requests for favours come from all sorts of people of every age. Perhaps there are those who might be tempted to sneer at this simple piety and devotion. It is surely not to everyone’s taste, but that does not mean that it is not to God’s taste. St Anthony’s enduring popularity surely indicates that he is an effective intercessor for those of us who still journey on this earth. 

Let us be bold in our requests, both to God Himself, and also through the intercession of Mary, our guardian angel, the souls in Purgatory and the saints. 

St Anthony

Great News!!! Coming in August: Bravery Under Fire

I am delighted to announce that EWTN will broadcast a major docudrama about Fr Doyle later this summer! Titled Bravery Under Fire, the programme is 80 minutes long, and features a number of interviews about Fr Doyle, along with re-enactments of many scenes from his life, all the way from his childhood in Dublin, his ministry as a priest, aspects of his spiritual life, and ultimately his service and death during World War 1. Fr Doyle is played by the Irish actor Brian Milligan. Many people, including myself, with an interest in Fr Doyle’s life were interviewed as part of the programme. I also had the extraordinary privilege of travelling to Belgium with the film crew to conduct more interviews and capture more footage in the area where Fr Doyle served and, ultimately, died. It was a deeply moving experience for me to visit these areas for the first time – to see Fr Doyle’s name at the memorial in Tyne Cot cemetery; to see the field where he probably died; to walk around reconstructed trenches. It brought the suffering of these soldiers to life, and it even increased my admiration for Fr Doyle’s sacrifice.

In recent years there have been several books about Fr Doyle (and a further new announcement on that score very soon…). Now there is a major docudrama. This is a sign that people are interested in his life and spirit. Campbell Miller, the producer and director of the programme, says that his hope is that Bravery Under Fire will spark renewed interest in Fr Doyle’s canonisation. May it be so!

You can read more about the docudrama here: https://insideewtn.com/2018/06/10/bravery-under-fire-the-heroic-story-of-irish-army-chaplain-father-willie-doyle/

The programme was directed and produced by the award winning film maker Campbell Miller. I have seen an initial version of the trailer for the programme, and it looks wonderful, and I will link to it here when it is publicly available. Campbell’s award-winning short film about World War II – Respite at Christmas – is below. It gives a sense of the type of war scenes we can expect to find in Bravery Under Fire.