Do we realise the infinite possibilities of grace which lie hidden in the Tabernacle? Jesus only awaits our coming: and even before we have begun to beg His help, He has opened the treasures of His Sacred Heart and filled our hands with precious gifts. What monarch ever rewarded his subjects as Jesus repays us for the little trouble it costs us to visit Him even for one short moment.
I feel ashamed at times that I do not profit more by His nearness, but I know that he makes allowances for weak, inconstant nature.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle occasionally wrote about what he called the “abuse of grace” – the idea that we fail to profit from all of the graces that God gives us. We are all almost certainly guilty of this failing to one degree or another.
In Ireland, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, May is the month in which children traditionally receive Holy Communion for the first time. In this part of the world it is a very big deal, but not always in the best way – it can become a secular rite of passage with little spiritual meaning for the child and the family. In Ireland, the worrying thing about First Holy Communion is that it may be years before some children will receive the their Second Holy Communion…
But those of us who do attend the sacraments, and have been doing so for some years, have no cause for complacency. How many times have we received the Eucharist since our First Holy Communion? Most adults will have attended Mass at least hundreds, and probably thousands, of times since receiving the Lord for the first time. Have we profited by His nearness during all of these years? Many of us have already received the Eucharist more frequently than many of the saints did. Is there interior and exterior fruit in our lives that gives testimony to all of that grace that was on offer for us?
If we are concerned about the state of the world or the state of the Church, we really need look no further than this very point – our failure to profit from the nearness of Christ in the Eucharist. We are called to holiness and to perfection. We simply cannot reach this by ourselves, but we can make strides in that direction by relying on God’s grace and removing obstacles to the workings of that grace in our souls. Those who are holy really impact the world around them for the better. The lives of the saints prove this for us beyond doubt. If we are dismayed at the state of the world, or the state of the Church, or the sad reality that many of the young children who receive the Lord this month may not do so again until they next attend a wedding or a funeral, then we need to examine ourselves on our efforts to correspond to God’s graces.
Thankfully it’s never too late. As Fr Doyle says, Jesus “makes allowances for weak, inconstant nature”. If we try to profit more from His nearness, we will slowly begin to reform ourselves, and our world.
I find the temptation growing stronger every day to leave aside all work that is not absolutely necessary and to spend the time with Jesus. Why does He make me realise so much His loneliness in the Tabernacle and His longing for ‘one to console Him’ and at the same time fill my hands with so many things to do? My room here is opposite the little oratory, only a thin partition separates the two rooms; and it is hard to sleep when I fancy I can almost hear the beating of His heart of love. He is always ‘calling’ and He seems so happy and consoled when I steal in to Him when everyone else is asleep and He is left alone. These moments before Him are rich in grace, especially recently, and I find it hard to think of anything but Jesus and His love. I long to open wide my heart and to let Him hide Himself there, deep, deep down, to bend over Him with tenderest love and give Him every mark of affection, to have Him transform me into Himself, so that I can exclaim ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me!’ (Gal. 2:20).
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 12 May 1913 – 106 years ago today.
Fr Doyle was clearly something of a mystic. This is not just my own judgement – it is based on the evidence presented to us in his own diaries and it is also the opinion of the well known Jesuit spiritual writer and theologian Fr de Grandmaison. Fr Doyle’s life of action in the trenches and his austere penances can tend to obscure this mystical aspect of his spirituality. Yet his diary around this time is full of these passionate exclamations of his love for God.
This same pattern of burning love for Christ can be found in the lives of all of the saints. There are (as usual!) several interesting similarities between Fr Doyle and one of today’s saints, Leopold Mandic, a Capuchin friar from Montenegro who spent much of his life in Padua and who died in 1942.
St Leopold was one of the great saints of the confessional, often spending 10-15 hours per day hearing confessions in his small, unheated and unventilated room. While Fr Doyle often spent similar amounts of time hearing confessions when conducting missions, it was really during his period as chaplain when his devotion to confession was obvious for all to see as he often risked his life to hear the confessions of wounded soldiers.
Fr Doyle is often remembered for his cheerful emphasis on personal austerity, although this was always of a very moderate and balanced type where other people were concerned. We can find this same emphasis in St Leopold’s life and specifically in his advice to a penitent:
It is not a question of performing extraordinary acts of penance. It suffices to patiently bear the common trials of our miserable life: misunderstandings, lack of gratitude, humiliations, sufferings caused by changes of season and the atmosphere in which we live. God wills all this as a means to work out our Redemption. But in order for these trials to be efficacious and help our soul, we must not seek to flee from them by every possible means. Excessive care for comfort and constant search for ease, have nothing to do with the Christian spirit. That is certainly not taking the cross and following Jesus. Rather it’s running from it. And whoever suffers only what he could not avoid will hardly have any merits.
St Leopold, like Fr Doyle, had a passionate love for Jesus. As he wrote once:
The love of Jesus is a fire which is fuelled with the wood of sacrifice and love for the cross; if it isn’t fed in that way, it goes out.
St Leopold’s description of the life and death of holy priests aptly fits both his own life and that of Fr Doyle:
A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest.
The sanctity of some individuals seems to shine out from their faces; it seems to emanate from their being, even through the medium of photography. St Leopold is one such saint. May he intercede for us who continue our pilgrimage on this earth.
Today is also the feast of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the first prelate of Opus Dei and successor of St Josemaria Escriva. It was he, while visiting Ireland in 1980, revealed that the following point of meditation by St Josemaria Escriva was, in fact, based on the life and spiritual struggles of Fr Doyle:
We were reading — you and I — the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. And we saw him fight whole months and years (what ‘accounts’ he kept in his particular examination!) at breakfast time: today he won, tomorrow he was beaten… He noted: ‘Didn’t take butter…; did take butter!’
Then in addition there is the great privilege and joy of carrying our dear Lord next my heart day and night. Long ago when reading that Pius IX carried the Pyx around his neck, I felt a foolish desire, as it seemed to me, for the same privilege. Little did I think then that the God of holiness would stoop so low as to make me His resting-place. Why this favour alone would be worth going through twenty wars for! I feel ashamed at times that I do not profit more by His nearness, but I know that He makes allowances for weak inconstant nature, and that even when I do not directly think of Him, He is silently working in my soul. Do you not think that Jesus must have done very much for Mary during the nine months she bore Him within her? I feel that He will do much, very much, for me too whilst I carry Him about with me.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of Blessed Pius IX. He was pope for almost 32 years, the second longest reigning pope after St Peter. Pius IX unfortunately gets pretty shoddy treatment in the media today. He was pope at a very difficult time in the history of the Church.
Blessed Pius IX was known as a humble and zealous priest who dedicated himself to the care of the poor and sick in Rome. He was a man of deep piety, and as we see from today’s quote from Fr Doyle, he occasionally carried a pyx containing the Eucharist around his neck. Yet despite his charitable and pious disposition, he was also a strong leader of the Church.
Today we can ask Blessed Pius IX and Fr Doyle to pray that we too can have some of their simple, child-like faith and piety, combined with the fortitude and courage which they both displayed throughout their lives.
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.
COMMENT: Today’s quote recounts Fr Doyle’s experience of visiting the grave of Ellen Organ, otherwise known as Little Nellie of Holy God. Little Nellie died on this day in 1908 in County Cork. Fr Doyle visited her grave in February 1911. We don’t know the exact date, but perhaps it was even 108 years ago on this day, her anniversary.
Little Nellie was only four and a half years old when she died. She was sent to live with the Good Shepherd sisters when her own mother died. She was diagnosed with TB and fell gravely ill. She was known even at that young age for her intense love of “Holy God”. She had a great longing to receive the Eucharist, and received extraordinary permission to do so at the age of four and a quarter. She seems to have reached the age of reason very quickly, and experienced several mystical graces. Her thanksgivings after Communion lasted until the late afternoon, and the smell of her rotting jaws and gums allegedly ceased after she had received her First Communion. She was unafraid of death, looking forward to being united with Jesus in Heaven. She died on this day in 1908.
Her fame soon spread, and her body was found to be incorrupt when examined 18 months after death. St Pius X was greatly moved by her story, and she helped inspire him to reduce the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age. In fact, St Pius was so moved that he asked for a relic of Little Nellie. How remarkable and humble – the great Pontiff requesting the relic of an unknown 4 year old girl!!
Fr Doyle obviously felt a particular affinity with Little Nellie. Did he have a mystical experience when he visited the grave? Did Little Nellie really chide him for his lack of fervour and perfection? We shall never know; such matters are hard to discern, and impossible 100 years removed from the event.
Little Nellie’s story is charming and edifying. Her example helped change Church practice on the age of First Holy Communion. The great St Pius X recognised her sanctity. Books are still published about her and significant interest in her life remains. Given the prevailing situation for too many Irish children of First Communion age – for many it is a day out when they receive lots of cash – her example is sorely needed, and her cause should be opened and promoted. Many children have already been raised to the altars and many more are on their way. One thinks immediately of Nennolina from Rome who died at six and a half in the 1930’s and whose story is similar to that of Little Nellie. She has already been declared Venerable, and an alleged miracle is apparently being investigated.
Pope Benedict tells us in his Letter to the Irish Church to remember the rock from which we have been hewn. We need contemporary Irish saints!!! This is not a pious, niche interest. Jesus Himself used everyday examples that were familiar to His listeners to illustrate His teachings. Missionaries in far away lands do the same today, utilising aspects of local culture to teach people about Christianity. Ireland is now mission territory once again, and we need to use our very own examples of holiness to reintroduce people to the Truth, Goodness and Beauty of Christianity. We have many worthy candidates, including, but not limited to, Fr Doyle and Little Nellie. Let us continue to pray for the day when we will see more Irish candidates recognised and held up as worthy models for the new evangelisation. But let us also work for this end, by writing and speaking about them and respectfully encouraging the relevant ecclesiastical authorities to open and pursue their causes.
Each look of love to the Tabernacle causes a beat of grace-laden love in the Sacred Heart.
COMMENT: The Lord awaits us in the Tabernacle. Fr Doyle drew much strength from regular prayer before the Lord – often he could be found in prayer right through the night, especially when he was busy preaching a retreat. It seems that the busier he was, the more he approached the Lord in the Tabernacle and the more strength he gained for his work.
Fr Doyle also urged others to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He was one of the first to introduce Eucharistic holy hours in Ireland and he also one of the first in Ireland to advocate night vigils every Thursday in honour of the Agony in the Garden. Even during the war he spent entire nights in prayer, and often carried the Blessed Sacrament with him.
Each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus, with all the love and fervour you can, to enter into your heart and dwell there during the day as in a tabernacle, making of your heart a living tabernacle which will be very dear to Him.
COMMENT: All of the saints and great spiritual writers have been devoted to the Eucharist. We see this devotion also in the life of Fr Doyle – some of the most moving scenes of his life are those where he offers the Mass in the trenches. Here is his description of one such Mass:
By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God’s angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice – but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.
Most of the readers of this blog are fortunate to live in a time and place in which it is relatively easy to attend Mass. It was not always so in our history. During penal times in Ireland, during Elizabethan times in England and at various times during the last century in different parts of Europe, it was impossible to attend Mass and impossible for Christians to nourish themselves on the Bread of Life. Even today, in parts of the Middle East and in China, that freedom and privilege is not available to persecuted Christians. And what of tomorrow? Just because Christ can now readily enter our hearts “and dwell there during the day as in a tabernacle” doesn’t mean that it will always be so. Will we always have the priests necessary for this Sacrifice? Will religious freedom always be ours in the country in which we live?
Christ promises us that the Church will prevail. But He never promised that it would prevail everywhere. We only have to look at the Middle East, North Africa and indeed many parts of north-central Europe to see what the future could hold.
Many saints have written beautifully on the Eucharist. Here is a quote from St Francis de Sales on why we should regularly receive the Eucharist. May we follow his advice, and receive the strength and nourishment we need from the worthy reception of the Lord.
If men of the world ask why you communicate so often, tell them that it is that you may learn to love God; that you may be cleansed from imperfections, set free from trouble, comforted in affliction, strengthened in weakness. Tell them that there are two manner of men who need frequent Communion — those who are perfect, since being ready they were much to blame did they not come to the Source and Fountain of all perfection; and the imperfect, that they may learn how to become perfect; the strong, lest they become weak, and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick that they may be healed, and the sound lest they sicken. Tell them that you, imperfect, weak and ailing, need frequently to communicate with your Perfection, your Strength, your Physician. Tell them that those who are but little engaged in worldly affairs should communicate often, because they have leisure; and those who are heavily pressed with business, because they stand so much in need of help; and he who is hard worked needs frequent and substantial food. Tell them that you receive the Blessed Sacrament that you may learn to receive it better; one rarely does that well which one seldom does. Therefore, my child, communicate frequently,–as often as you can, subject to the advice of your spiritual Father.