To Raise the Fallen was the number 3 hardback non-fiction best seller in Ireland last week

The sales figures for To Raise the Fallen place it as the Number 3* hardback non-fiction book in Ireland last week. That is a phenomenal achievement given the vast competition and the fact that this is Ireland in 2017. This is not about boasting or anything like that. I share this information because it shows that Fr Doyle is still relevant for people today. His writings have been met with a tremendous reception. Not only was he a brilliant writer, able to vividly capture the tragedy of war, but his charming personality and his spiritual insights and advice resonate with so many people today. His life and example are a good news story that need to be retold.


(*Due to a cataloguing error somewhere in the process, the book was not registered as a hardback for best seller list purposes, but as a paperback, hence the book will not officially appear on the best seller lists :-(. Nonetheless the sales figures mean that it was de facto the number 3 best selling hardback non-fiction seller last week…)

 

Reminder: Lecture about Fr Doyle this Wednesday, 1pm, Central Catholic Library, Dublin

I shall give a talk about Fr Doyle this Wednesday, August 23, at 1pm in the Central Catholic Library, Merrion Square, Dublin.

Copies of To Raise the Fallen will be available at the talk.

I am also available to give talks about Fr Doyle around Ireland (or elsewhere!). I already have some other dates for other events in my diary and will publicise them in due course. Fr Doyle’s heroism and generosity are a good news story. It’s time to tell that good news story once again!!

I hope to record the presentation and make it available online, barring unforeseen logistical difficulties in doing so…

21 August 1917: St Anthony’s Institute in Locre requests Fr Doyle’s “holy body”

During his time away from the trenches Fr Doyle often stayed in a convent in Locre. If my memory serves me correctly, he had an uninterrupted 13 hour sleep after one particularly trying period at the front, and on one occasion he got locked out and had to sleep on a bench outside. 

In any event, these nuns of St Anthony’s Institute obviously held Fr Doyle in very great esteem. They were heartbroken when they heard of his death, and on August 21 1917 they sent the following note to Fr Frank Browne, requesting that Fr Doyle’s body be buried in their convent.

What very sad news I have received! Our good brave holy Fr. Doyle has been killed! Compassionate Lord Jesus give him eternal rest! Rev. Fr Browne will accept my condolence, my feelings of sympathy in the great loss of our good Fr. Doyle, your confrere. Notre petit saint, he has now received his recompense for his holy life, his great love for God and neighbour. Oh! he was so much loved by everybody and we shall never forget him. We are all very glad to have had him with us in the convent and to have made his life as comfortable as possible. Were it not possible Rev. Fr. to bring his holy body to the convent? It were a great honour to us to have it.

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was never found, and so the “holy body” of the “petit saint” never returned to St Anthony’s Institute. 

Thoughts for August 21 (St Pius X) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Pius X

There are two patron saints to whom I have a tremendous devotion: a sheet of paper and a lead pencil. Mark down at least once a day everything you do and every time you do it. It will not make you proud to see all you do; but it will humble you by showing you all you don’t do.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was extremely methodological in his spiritual life. He kept very specific diaries and accounts of what he did and of what he failed to do, and it is largely these books that allow us to get a glimpse at his inner life.

For some people this process of meticulously recording victories over self, and also of weaknesses and sins, could seem too pedestrian and too banal (and perhaps for some it could lead to scruples…). However, it is this fighting spirit that really makes Fr Doyle very endearing for in this we see how an ordinary man fought, with God’s grace, to overcome himself and to become an inspiring hero who saved so many in the trenches. The lead pencil and the sheet of paper were essential in this process of Fr Doyle’s spiritual blossoming. While care might be needed lest we become too self-absorbed or scrupulous, we should not imagine ourselves to be above this process of self-examination.

Today is the feast of St Pius X, pope from 1903-1914; pope for most of Fr Doyle’s priesthood. He had something to say on this matter himself:

It would indeed be shameful if in this matter Christ’s saying should be verified, that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). We can observe with what diligence they look after their affairs; how often they balance their credit and debit; how accurately they make up their accounts; how they deplore their losses and so eagerly excite themselves to repair them.

Today we are not limited to a sheet of paper or a lead pencil – there are many new forms of technology, including smartphone apps, that will allow us to keep track of our use of time and to keep track of our sins. This technology makes the battle against our weakness even easier than it was for Fr Doyle.

St Pius X was a great pope and saint who was greatly loved in his own day. He was a deeply humble man with a special place in his heart for children. It was of course St Pius who lowered the age at which children can receive Holy Communion, from about 12-14 down to 7. In fact, it was a little Irish girl, Ellen Organ, affectionately known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who was instrumental in this. Little Nellie ended up living with some nuns after her mother died. She was diagnosed with TB, but had a great longing to receive Holy Communion, so her local bishop in County Cork gave extraordinary permission for her to receive the Eucharist at just four and a half years of age. She received the Eucharist 32 times before her death in February 1908. She was a remarkable mystic, spending hours in thanksgiving after receiving Communion.

St Pius was deeply edified by this story, and on hearing about it he declared that this was the sign he was waiting for. It was after this event that he allowed younger children to receive Communion. St Pius even asked for a relic of Little Nellie after her death. Imagine – the great Pontiff asking for a relic of a four and a half year old girl in County Cork! Thus he illustrates for us his own child like heart and his concern for the little ones.

When Nellie’s coffin was opened 18 months after her death, her body was apparently found to be incorrupt.

Of course, Fr Doyle had an interest in the life of Little Nellie, and he visited her grave after giving a retreat in County Cork just three years after her death. He records his experience as follows:

Kneeling there I asked her what God wanted from me, when I heard an interior voice clearly repeating, “Love Him, love Him”. The following day she seemed to rebuke me, when leaving the cemetery, for the careless way I performed most of my spiritual duties, and to say that God was displeased with this and wanted great fervour and perfection in them.

Let us pray to St Pius, who had such care for the little ones, that the Church will finally rid itself of that awful sin of abuse which has damaged so many children and families, which has besmirched the priesthood and which has wounded the credibility of the Church in the eyes of the world.

Let us also pray that the cause of Ellen Organ may finally be opened and that she will be canonised. Ireland needs its own saints, even very little ones! In fact, if she was to be canonised, Nellie would be the youngest non-martyred saint in history.

Little Nellie of Holy God

20 August 1917: Fr Frank Browne’s praise for Fr Doyle

On this day in 1917, 4 days after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Frank Browne, the famous photographer and Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter expressing his esteem for Fr Doyle. Fr Browne worked closely with Fr Doyle, and these words come from the pen of one who knew Fr Doyle intimately. 

All during these last months he was my greatest help, and to his saintly advice, and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything I felt and did. With him, as with others of us, his bravery was no mere physical show-off. He was afraid and felt fear deeply, how deeply few can realise. And yet the last word said of him to me by the Adjutant of the Royal Irish Rifles in answer to my question, ‘I hope you are taking care of Fr. Doyle?’, was, ‘He is as fond of the shells as ever.’ His one idea was to do God’s work with the men, to make them saints. How he worked and how he prayed for this! Fine weather and foul he was always thinking of them and what he could do for them. In the cold winter he would not use the stove I bought for our dug-out. He scoffed at the idea as making it ‘stuffy’ – and that when the thermometer was fifteen to twenty degrees below zero, the coldest ever known in living memory here.

And how he loathed it all, the life and everything it implied! And yet nobody suspected it. God’s Will was his law. And to all who remonstrated, ‘Must I not be about the Lord’s business?’ was his laughing answer in act and deed and not merely in word. May he rest in peace — it seems superfluous to pray for him.

Thoughts for August 20 (St Bernard) from Fr Willie Doyle

How many deceive themselves in thinking sanctity consists in the holy follies of the saints! How many look upon holiness as something beyond their reach or capability, and think that it is to be found only in the performance of extraordinary actions. Satisfied that they have not the strength for great austerities, the time for much prayer, or the courage for painful humiliations, they silence their conscience with the thought that great sanctity is not for them, that they have not been called to be saints. With their eyes fixed on the heroic deeds of the few, they miss the daily little sacrifices God asks them to make; and while waiting for something great to prove their love, they lose the countless little opportunities of sanctification each day bears with it in its bosom.

COMMENTS: Today is the feast of St Bernard, although we do not celebrate it liturgically as it is a Sunday. It seems as good a day as any to address some of the controversies that seem to surround Fr Doyle’s life of penance.

In today’s quotation, Fr Doyle is clear that sanctity does not necessitate severe penances. Yes, a few are called by that path, but we are all called along the path of embracing the tasks and challenges of each day. We are all called to some form of penance, but for the most part it will be moderate and focused on doing our duties well. This is not easy but it is ultimately within our reach, if we will it and if we rely on God’s grace.

Fr Doyle certainly embraced the mundane tasks of each day. But he also went much further and lived a life of austerity. This caused something of a scandal for a very small number of people when it was revealed in O’Rahilly’s biography (though it is noteworthy that in his later editions, O’Rahilly mentions a number of Protestant clerics who admired Fr Doyle’s example in this area). 

It is clear that Fr Doyle lived a most vigorous life of action during the war and that his health was in no way compromised as a result of his penances; in fact he even reported that he felt more energetic and healthy following penance. If the test of prudence in penance is that it does not interfere with our daily duties and tasks, then he most certainly passed that test.

It is also clear, from today’s quotation and from many others, that he never advised others to adopt hard physical penances and in fact he often forbade others to do so. Everything Fr Doyle did had a precedent in the lives of the saints, including some of the most popular, modern saints. It also appears that he had, or at least he thought he had, a specific calling to austerity of this type. It is also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems to have given up the hard physical penances for the last years of his life in the trenches, instead cheerfully embracing the hardships of that most awful life as his penance.

Fr Doyle also acted with the approval of his superiors. From one of his letters:

The Provincial told me to make known my devotions, penances etc to Father X…and to do whatever he told me. My heart fell, for perhaps of all the Jesuits in Ireland he would be the last I should care to consult on these things, I knew it was not his line and I felt if I got permission for one discipline a month I would do well. He was just the opposite to what I expected, was most kind and encouraging and ended by telling me to do whatever I thought God wanted, so I had the reward of being obedient.

This would seem to be the definitive seal of approval on Fr Doyle’s spiritual life.

 

We must not forget the context in which Fr Doyle lived. It is also important to remember that people – even the very holy – are influenced by their surrounding culture. Corporal penance was the norm in religious life right up to a few decades ago. Some well known Jesuits destroyed their private notes before death precisely because of the way the secrets of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life became public following the discovery of his diaries. Perhaps Fr Doyle’s penances were more common than we imagine. It is also worth remembering that penance – moderate and appropriate for our condition – is a normal part of the Christian life, so much so that the ever popular St John XXIII wrote an entire encyclical on penance and urged Catholics to offer penances for the success of the Second Vatican Council. Penance is not something obscure or disturbing in the Christian life. Indeed, it is odd for anyone to consider penance to be an anachronism given that we now live in a culture where hard, pressured work is seen as the norm, and where many people punish their bodies in a gym – this work, and these workouts, are probably much harsher than the penances normally practiced in the past. In fact, this very day there is a half Ironman competition in Dublin. 2000 people will start the morning with a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56 mile cycle and concluding with a 13.1 mile running race. And this is only a half Ironman, not the full thing. And we dare to look down our noses at the hardships that some people practiced a few decades ago???!!!

Yes, corporal penance was an aspect of Fr Doyle’s life, as with almost all canonised saints. But these hard penances were only one aspect of Fr Doyle’s spirituality. It would be a mistake to sum up a charming personality like that of St Pope John Paul II only by reference to the modified leather belt with which he scourged himself (it has never been made clear in what way the belt was modified – did it perhaps have something sharp or heavy embedded within it to make it a penitential item?) or St Therese of Lisieux only by reference to the hairshirt which she wore, or Blessed John Sullivan by the floor on which he slept and the chains which he wore. We can keep multiplying the examples – Venerable Matt Talbot, St Pio of Pietrelcina, St Francis of Assisi, St Dominic, St Ignatius, St Martin de Porres and on and on. There is so much more to the remarkable personalities of the saints than the physical penance they practiced. We should not ignore this aspect of the lives of the saints, but neither should we allow it to overshadow the rest of their lives and certainly we should not allow it to influence us to copy their example imprudently.

And this brings us to today’s feast of St Bernard, who admitted that he ruined his health through imprudent penance, and repented of his folly. This revelation of his imprudence does not make St Bernard any less of a role model for the rest of us, nor did it ever prevent him from being canonised or declared a Doctor of the Church. 

By the way, it is often said that St Bernard exerted more influence during his own life than any other saint in history. Some of this was probably due to his own magnetic personality and to the gifts God gave him, and some of it is almost certainly due to the era in which he lived – Christendom in the West was not yet divided and the Church was organised and very powerful.

Here is an interesting homily on St Bernard which elaborates on St Bernard’s incredible influence on those around him, and which also touches on the topic of his imprudent penance.

 

A note on To Raise the Fallen from the blog Vultus Christi

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, the founder and prior of Silverstream Priory in County Meath, has kindly written a nice note about To Raise the Fallen. He describes Fr Doyle very poetically as an incandescent figure of holiness – high praise from one who has an intimate knowledge of many of the canonised saints.

Silverstream Priory is one of the hidden good news stories of the church in Ireland. There is no longer room in the monastery for the many young men seeking a vocation there.

The Church in Ireland needs more good news stories like this!

Dom Marks’s comments herehttp://vultuschristi.org/index.php/2017/08/a-new-book-on-father-willie-doyle-s-j/