Thoughts for September 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the apostle St Matthew. St Matthew followed, giving up his comfort and mammon to follow a prophet who had not even anywhere to lay his head. Matthew continued following him, even unto death.

But both Fr Doyle and St Matthew grew in intimacy with Christ, and in turn gave more and more to Him. Tradition has it that St Matthew was martyred, possibly in Ethiopia. By the time Fr Doyle was sent to the trenches, he seems to have reached a level of detachment where he gladly shared the deprivations of his “poor brave boys”, and was even hoping to go to a leper colony if he survived the war.

Neither man started out so heroically, but responding to grace day by day transformed them in ways they never imagined. We too can be transformed if we rely on grace. It doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom or great suffering for us, but it will mean that we will render great service to God and man if we just follow where God leads.

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Thoughts for August 29 (Beheading of St John the Baptist) from Fr Willie Doyle

The beheading of St John the Baptist

There is one thing we need never be afraid of, namely, that the devil will ever tempt us to be humble. He may delude us in the practice of other virtues; indiscreet zeal, for instance, or the desire to devote our time solely to prayer.  But we need never be in doubt as to whether it would be better to humble ourselves or not. There can be no doubt about it. It is always safe to do so.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle makes a very important point in today’s quote which we can easily overlook when focusing on the main theme of humility. Sometimes, good people can be tempted to devote their time solely to prayer. Of course, a more common temptation today is to devote no time to prayer, but the temptation to “overdo it” can still present itself. By this, Fr Doyle clearly means that we have to have regard to our duties in life. 

Fr Doyle’s more substantive point today relates to humility. Recalling the importance of humility is very apt today, the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, for St John always pointed to Christ and recognised his own unworthiness to even tie His sandals.

St John has two feasts in the Church calendar – his birth and his beheading. There are very few who are recognised by the universal Church in this way. This is an acknowledgement of St John’s greatness and thus we may take him as a trustworthy model, especially in terms of his detachment from the world, his zeal for souls, his dedication to the truth, and his humility before Christ.

The feast of John’s beheading, and the circumstances that surrounded it, are also a timely reminder that the disciples of Christ must remain faithful and not neglect their duty to proclaim the truth in charity in the public square.

Thoughts for August 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

Look upon the grace God gives you as a talent you must work with and increase. The Master in the Gospel gave his profitable servants twice as many talents. In like manner will God double your grace if you make good use of it. He will give you “grace for grace”. (John 1. 16)

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was most certainly a profitable servant, who carefully “invested” the grace God gave him. He set out to be faithful in little things, always striving to perform each task with love and perfection. In the end he was faithful in much, even when it came to offering his own life to save a wounded soldier. This heroism in the trenches finds its foundation in daily faithfulness. In the ordinary ways of life, barring a miracle of grace, it is hard to imagine someone who was slovenly and careless in his daily life of work and relationships and ordinary duty suddenly becoming a hero in the trenches. Really great achievements are built on daily fidelity to duty and preparation.

Today is also the feast of St Rose of Lima, the first canonised saint of the Americas who died at the age of 31. Like Fr Doyle, she was noted for her life of great penance which she offered for sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. 

St Rose of Lima

Thoughts for the Feast of St James from Fr Willie Doyle

St James

You ask how to pray well. The answer is, Pray often, in season and out of season, against yourself, in spite of yourself. There is no other way. What a man of prayer St. James, the Apostle must have been since his knees became like those of a camel! When shall we religious realize the power for good that prayer, constant, unflagging prayer, puts into our hands Did it ever strike you that when our Lord pointed out the ”fields white for the harvest”, He did not urge His Apostle to go and reap it, but to pray?

COMMENT: One thing really jumps out from Fr Doyle’s comment today – “there is no other way” for us than to pray. This doesn’t mean that we don’t work, or use our human talents, but that there is no other way for us to be successful in the use of these gifts than to pray and beg for God’s grace. If we are not united to God, no matter what activism we may be engaged in, we will achieve little or nothing.

The reference Fr Doyle makes to St James is of note as today is his feast day, and it is an especially important day in Spain, so greetings to the Spanish visitors to the site.

St James’ knees are reputed to have become as hard as camel’s from his many hours of kneeling in prayer. Whether they did in fact become calloused in this way is of course not hugely important, what matters is the example of this great Apostle in relying on God’s grace in prayer for his work.

Today also marks the date of Fr Doyle’s second last letter home from the Front before his death just a few weeks later. In this letter he tells his father:

We shall have desperate fighting soon but I have not the least fear, on the contrary a great joy in the thought that I shall be able to make a real offering of my life to God, even if He does not think that poor life worth taking.

Over the coming couple of weeks, as we approach the 100th anniversary of that date on which God accepted the offering of Fr Doyle’s life, we will recount details of that “desperate fighting” and remember Fr Doyle’s steadfastness and dedication to duty under fire.

Thoughts for the Feast of St Mary Magdalene from Fr Willie Doyle

Mary Magdalene meditating on the Crucifixion. Pedro de Mena (1664)

Jesus allowed her to wash His feet but knew well what those eyes had looked on. He allowed her lips to kiss His feet knowing what sinful words had fallen from them. He did not shrink from the touch of hands which had served Satan so long. He even welcomed the love of a heart so long filled with unholy desires. Mary, penitent as she is, could not fully know the depth of her guilt, she had forgotten many sins; but Jesus saw all… 

In those few moments Mary had learnt a precious lesson: that peace, contentment, holiness are to be found at the feet of Jesus and there alone, that the delights of contemplation far outweighs the empty joys which the world offers.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was of great significance in the early Church. There is some confusion as to some aspects of her exact identity; traditionally she is identified with the sinful adulteress or prostitute who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair, although other scholars dispute that this was Mary Magdalene. We know that Jesus cast seven devils from her (Luke Chapter 8), and that she followed Him closely and loved Him dearly; that she stayed by the foot of the cross while many others (including almost all of the Apostles) abandoned Him. She prepared His sacred body for the tomb, and after the Sabbath, even before dawn, she rushed to the tomb to anoint the body. Jesus rewarded her love – she was the second person He appeared to after His resurrection (tradition tells us that He surely appeared first to His mother Mary, even though this is not described in the Gospels). Jesus had a special mission for Mary Magdalene – He told her to go and tell His Apostles about His resurrection! Here is a woman who had been possessed by seven devils (and who may or may not have been a prostitute) and Jesus gave her the job of telling His specially chosen ones about His resurrection! 

There is a profound message here. Jesus loves all of us, and everyone is given a special task, irrespective of our past sins, irrespective of whether we are male or female, irrespective of our position in the hierarchy of the Church and irrespective of whether we are ordained or not. The converted St Mary Magdalene, the model of penitents, was given a special mission to announce the resurrection to others. Significantly, she didn’t need to be ordained to do this…

Thoughts for June 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Gaspar de Crayer

Do nothing without consulting Him in the Tabernacle. But then act fearlessly, if you see it is for His honour and glory, never minding what others may think or say. Above all, “cast your care upon the Lord and He shall sustain you”, (Psalm 54. 23). Peace and calm in your soul, prayer ever on your lips, and a big love in your heart for Him and His interests, will carry you very far.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a tremendous devotion to the Eucharist which sustained his austere life of hard work, both in and out of the trenches. His advice to us today reflects the story of Jesus telling the apostles to let down their nets for a catch even though the task seems pointless (Luke 5:4-7):

And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

Do we act fearlessly today when the Holy Spirit inspires us? Or are we still too concerned about “what others may think or say”?

Thoughts for the Feast of Pentecost from Fr Willie Doyle

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God…For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of the Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come, O Holy Ghost, into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Yes, see how the Holy Spirit changed the Apostles from cowards into heroes who travelled the earth to preach the Gospel without fear of imprisonment, shipwreck or death. See also how the Holy Spirit changed Fr Doyle from a young nervous Jesuit who had a complete nervous breakdown after being involved in a fire, to a hero of the trenches whose powerful presence was enough to give renewed courage to tough Irish soldiers.

The Feast of Pentecost is really one of the great feasts of the liturgical year, but unfortunately we can tend to treat it like any other day…Truly we need the Holy Spirit today, and nowhere more so than in Ireland, where morale within the Church is low and where the sins of yesterday hold us back from proclaiming the Gospel today. The Holy Spirit can transform us and equip us for the challenge of apostolate in this generation. His presence is available to us today, just as much as it was for the Apostles and the early Christians. Let us conclude today with some words from the great Irish Benedictine Blessed Columba Marmion:

This action of the Holy Spirit in the Church is varied and manifold…In the first days of the Church’s existence, this action was much more visible than in our own days; it entered into the designs of Providence, for it was necessary that the Church should be firmly established by manifesting, in the sight of the pagan world, striking signs of the Divinity of her Founder, of her origin and mission. These signs, the fruits of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit, were wonderful. We marvel when we read the account of the beginnings of the Church. The Holy Spirit descended upon those who through baptism were made Christ’s disciples. He filled them with “charismata” as numerous as they were astonishing; graces of miracles, gifts of prophecy, gifts of tongues and many other extraordinary favours granted to the first Christians in order that the Church, adorned with such an abundance of eminent gifts, might be recognised as the true Church of Jesus…If the visible and extraordinary character of the effects of the workings of the Holy Spirit have in great part disappeared, the action of this Divine Spirit ever continues in souls and is not the less wonderful for now being chiefly interior.

Blessed Columba Marmion