Thoughts for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord from Fr Willie Doyle

 

It is useful from time to time to pause and ask ourselves if we are, like the child Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace. Does each evening see us farther on the path of perfection, holier in the eyes of the heavenly court, more pleasing and dearer to God?

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, and it gives us an opportunity to consider the grace of our own baptism and its implications for us. Our Lord did not need to be baptised, but we do. Baptism is a sacrament of extraordinary importance. Unfortunately today it can be often seen as a naming ceremony, a day out and a day of welcoming a child into a local community. Yes, these things are good, and they are all a part of what baptism is, but they are not the important part of baptism, and we somewhat miss the point if this is where it all begins and ends for us.

Baptism is the sacrament in which we become the adopted sons and daughters of God. It is, in fact, the sacrament in which the seed of all the graces of our life has been planted in our soul. Our entire life, then, is a campaign to cultivate that grace and to eradicate those faults that would seek to strangle it.

The great Irish spiritual writer Blessed Columba Marmion has written beautifully on this theme. The following excerpts come from his classic book Christ the Life of the Soul:

We lost everything at once by a single fault of Adam, but in baptism God does not give us back at once all the integrity of the Divine gift. In order that it may be a source of merit because of the effort it calls forth, He leaves us in concupiscence, the source of sin, which tends to diminish or destroy the Divine life. Therefore our whole existence ought to be the realisation of what baptism inaugurates…Grace is the principle of life in us, but it is a germ we must cultivate; it is that kingdom of God within us that Our Lord Himself compares to a grain of mustard seed which becomes a great tree. So it is with the Divine life in us…

Let us often renew the virtue of this sacrament of adoption and initiation by renewing the promises made in baptism, so that Christ, born in our souls in faith upon that day, may grow more and more in us. That is a very useful practice of piety…stir up in yourselves the grace received at baptism, by renewing the promises then made. For example, when after Communion, while Our Lord is really present in our hearts, we renew with faith and love our dispositions of repentance, of renunciation of Satan, sin and the world, so as to attach ourselves only to Christ and His Church, then the grace of baptism springs up from the depth of our souls, where the character of baptism remains indelibly engraved. And this grace produces, through the virtue of Christ, Who dwells in us with His Spirit, as it were a new death to sin, a new inflowing of Divine life, a new intensity of union with Jesus Christ.

So often we forget the magnificence of the sacrament of baptism. Indeed, how many know that the Church grants a plenary indulgence if we renew our baptismal promises on the anniversary of our baptism? How many of us even know the date of our baptism?

As Fr Doyle suggests, each evening should see us having cultivated the grace of baptism just a little bit more that day.

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Thoughts for the Feast of the Epiphany from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I contrast the obedience of St. Joseph with my obedience. His so prompt, unquestioning, uncomplaining, perfect; mine given so grudgingly; perhaps exterior without interior conformity with the will of the Superior. I realise my faults in this matter, and for the future will try to practise the most perfect obedience, even and especially in little things. “An obedient man shall speak of victory.” (Proverbs 21, 28.)

COMMENT: Joseph was a model of obedience. He was told not to abandon Mary, he was told to name the baby Jesus and he was told to flee to Egypt. Joseph’s obedience was always prompt and full.

We find the same obedience on the part of the Magi in today’s Gospel. They followed the star, even though they did not know where it was going, and they went home a different way, following the inspiration of their dream not to tell Herod where Christ was to be found. We can learn much from the obedience of the Magi and of St Joseph.

However, we are not called to necessarily follow what our dreams tell us to do!! But we are called to be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit or of our Guardian Angel. The most basic way in which we show this obedience is by being faithful to our vocation and the duties of our state in life. But there are also other times when we may feel a certain stirring in our soul. Perhaps this is a call to prayer. Or it may be an urge to speak to a person we meet somewhere on our travels, opening up a subtle opportunity for evangelisation. It may even be an inspiration to act with greater generosity and charity towards somebody in need.

With time and the help of grace, we can more easily distinguish between those genuine promptings of the Holy Spirit, and other random thoughts, figments of our imagination or even temptations.

Fr Doyle himself exhibited this obedience to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. On at least one occasion his life was saved when he followed a forceful inspiration to take his gas mask with him on his travels at the front. Soon after, the Germans launched an unexpected gas attack which would have certainly killed Fr Doyle had he not been equipped with his mask.

The book Merry in God, written anonymously by Fr Doyle’s brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ, contains a charming account of how Fr Doyle saw a street prostitute in an unnamed English town and gently told her to go home and to avoid hurting Jesus. Some time later he was summoned to this same girl’s prison cell the night before she was due to be executed for her role in a murder plot. The girl herself was utterly ignorant of the faith, but she insisted that the gentle Irish priest who spoke so kindly to her years before be found and brought to her cell to help her. Perhaps the inner prompting to gently speak with this girl of the love of Jesus was the cause for the salvation of her soul. Much hangs on our discernment of, and obedience to, the will of God.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Innocents from Fr Willie Doyle

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power and hatred of Christ. It is a feast of great relevance for us today, for there are still plenty of those who hate Christ and who persecute those who follow Him. The century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and even today, in the West, those who follow Christ face a dry martyrdom of scorn and insults and damaged careers. And of course in our own day we have our own holy innocents who die by the millions each year before they get to take their first breath. On that score, 2018 has been a black year in Irish history…

I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent products of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerably less captive to his own culture than many others – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

 

Thoughts for the Feast of St John from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Try to get down low and follow out what He Himself taught: “Unless you become as little children.” This will make you more confiding, more trustful and more naturally loving, which sometimes we are not, our love for Him being much too formal and prim.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John the Apostle, often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There was a particular closeness between Jesus and St John; John alone amongst the male followers of Jesus remained steadfast even up to the crucifixion, and it was to St John that Jesus entrusted Mary.

In the lives of both Fr Doyle and St John we see two men who were not afraid to love Jesus with a deep personal love. It is this personal love that counteracts the stereotype of Christianity being a mere system of rules and morality. The feast of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is a good day to remember the primacy of the love of Christ in our spiritual lives. We shall conclude with some notes from Fr Doyle’s diary which clearly show his abiding and deeply personal love for the person of Jesus.

I once more had the opportunity for some quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. 

 

Thoughts for Christmas Day from Fr Willie Doyle

 

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

Thoughts for November 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

We can never sufficiently thank Him for so completely showing us in the Garden that He was a man by praying to escape the storm.

COMMENT: Jesus showed us His humanity on many different occasions, but nowhere more movingly than during the Agony in the Garden. As Fr Doyle tells us in today’s quote, there is nothing wrong with asking God to relieve our sufferings and to spare us particular trials, so long as we are also ultimately resigned to God’s holy will.

Thoughts for October 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

As part of the Second week, St Ignatius recommends a meditation on the early life of Christ. Here are his points for meditation on the Flight to Egypt.

OF THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT

First Point. First: Herod wanted to kill the Child Jesus, and so killed the Innocents, and before their death the Angel warned Joseph to fly into Egypt: “Arise and take the Child and His Mother, and fly to Egypt.”

Second Point. Second: He departed for Egypt. “Who arising by night departed to Egypt.”

Third Point. Third: He was there until the death of Herod.

Here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on this meditation:

Great as was the poverty of Jesus in the cave at Bethlehem, it was nothing compared to His destitution during the Flight into Egypt. Again this was voluntary and chosen and borne for my sake.

I contrast the obedience of St. Joseph with my obedience. His so prompt, unquestioning, uncomplaining, perfect; mine given so grudgingly, perhaps exterior, but not interior conformity with the will of the Superior. I realise my faults in this matter, and for the future will try to practise the most perfect obedience, even and especially in little things. “The obedient man will speak of victory.” (Proverbs 21, 28.)

COMMENT: Most lay people do not live under “obedience” in the strict sense of the term. But we all have obligations and duties that flow from our place in the world. Holiness is not a nice, abstract idea. It is based on the hard reality of fulfilling our everyday duties, especially when we don’t want to do them. In both Fr Doyle and St Joseph we have the examples of strong, but humble, men who consistently put others before them in the fulfilment of their vocation.