Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.

COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. Even this small glimpse of His Divinity is enough to dumbfound the apostles and fill them with fear. While the earthly transfiguration, as such, was obviously unique to Christ because of His Divinity, it remains true that we are all meant to be “transformed” in some spiritual way by grace.

However, this transformation can also be physical in some way in the lives of the saints. There is a temptation to discount such phenomena as part of as mythical “Golden Legend” of the saints. Sometimes it can be good to be a little sceptical about mystical phenomena, but it is surely not the Christian position to completely and automatically dismiss such phemonena out of hand entirely.

We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. The Book of Exodus tells us how the face of Moses was shining and radiant after he came down from the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of St John Paul II perceived that his face also shone on occasion. Those who were present at the apparitions at Lourdes also reported a radiant look on the face of St Bernadette during her visions, and it was the power of this radiance that convinced them of the authenticity of the visions. Similarly, those present when St Pio said Mass could also perceive a radiance in his face.

Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, internal holiness manifests itself externally in some fashion. Here is some similar testimony from a soldier who knew Fr Doyle in the Great War:

Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’

We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:

Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.

Thoughts for the First Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle (Post 1 of 3)

Jesus tempted in desert

A fierce temptation during Mass and thanksgiving to break my resolution and indulge my appetite at breakfast…Jesus urged me to pray for strength though I could scarcely bring myself to do so. But the temptation left me in the refectory, and joy filled my heart with the victory. I see now that I need never yield if only I pray for strength.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this reflection in his diary in September 1913. It is most appropriate for us to consider these words today, the First Sunday of Lent, on which we read in the Gospel an account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. 

Jesus is like us in all things but sin. He has been tempted, and not just tempted like us, but with even greater ferocity and power. In today’s quote, and in many other places in his diaries and letters, Fr Doyle speaks of the absolute necessity of trusting in God and seeking his help in moments of temptation. We cannot succeed alone, but we have a God who fully understands the nature of temptation. If we are tempted to give up our Lenten resolutions already, or if we are tempted not to start again if we have already fallen, we should turn with confidence to Christ who understands our weakness and will assist us with his grace.

Let us conclude today with these words from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD, the author of Divine Intimacy, a classic text of Carmelite meditations.

Let us learn from Jesus how to conduct ourselves in temptations. Primarily, He teaches us to have a great confidence in God. Jesus would not satisfy His hunger, nor impress men by means of a brilliant miracle, nor accept kingdoms and wealth because, in a spirit of perfect filial confidence, He had entrusted everything to the Father’s care — His life, His mission, and His glory. Those who will fully trust in God and who rely on His divine Providence, will not be easily enticed by the vain flattery of the devil, the world, or the flesh, because they know that only God can give true blessings and real happiness.

We should extend the practice of this confidence to the moment of temptation. If God permits us to be tempted, He does not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, and, accompanying every temptation, there is always a special actual grace sufficient to overcome it. Therefore, instead of being disturbed by the violence of the struggle, let us use faithfully the grace God always gives and turn to Him in humble, confident prayer.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Epiphany from Fr Willie Doyle

Epiphany 2

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 St John from Fr Willie Doyle

St John

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. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, at the heart of Christianity is the love and service of Christ, from which all other moral and charitable works flow. 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 (Post 1 of 3)

Nativity

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.

Christmas 2010

Thoughts for December 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

God has many gifts to bestow upon us, but none more precious than time. Yet how we abuse this royal gift! How little we think of it! How we despise these golden moments, moments whose true value we shall not really prize till alas! too late – when time shall be no more to us.

COMMENT: Time is a precious gift. When it comes to time, every one is, in a sense equal. Some will have longer lives than others, but for each of us our individual days are the same – rich and poor alike all have 24 hours in the day. We can use it well, or we can squander it. Each day is a precious opportunity to fill our time with service and love, seeking the glory of God and increasing our own merit in Heaven. But however many days we have, and however we choose to use each of those hours God has given us, one thing is clear – when we die we shall have to render an account of how we have used our time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this very clear:

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ…Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation.

In Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus describes the Last Judgement and the separation of the sheep and the goats. The “goats” are those who did not practice the works of mercy. It’s not necessarily the case that they did bad things, but rather that they failed to do good things. They failed to feed and clothe the poor, to do the good that was expected of them. In a sense, they squandered the precious gift of time that they were given, they failed to use it to do good things. And in the Lord’s own words, their punishment is eternal separation from God in Hell. 

The parable of the talents shows us how we should live: always trying to produce fruit with the gifts – including the time – God has given us. St Benedict also wants us to use our gifts well:

For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that he will never as an angry father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory. 

Foremost amongst these “good things” St Benedict speaks of is the gift of time. Few of us consistently use our time well – it is a hard battle, especially in a world with so many distractions. But we shall have to render an account of our misuse of time. Yes, we shall give our account to a merciful God who loves us and understands our weakness. But our merciful and understanding judge may well also be a disappointed judge at our failure to correspond to the graces we have received…

We are weak, We will fail. But the key thing is that we try, and that we turn to the mercy of God when we fail in our efforts, and then get up and fight again, and never get tired of beginning again.

Detail showing a soul condemned to Hell in Michaelangelo's The Last Judgement (Sistine Chapel)
Detail showing a soul condemned to Hell in Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgement (Sistine Chapel)

Thoughts for November 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus agony

The life of Jesus was a continual prayer. Even during His public life He began, continued and ended everything He did by prayer, besides devoting whole nights and days to communing with His Father.

If we want our work for souls to be fruitful, we must bring prayer into it. If our children are not all that they ought to be, the cause may not be far to seek. Let us examine if we are praying enough for them, if our aspirations are ever ascending to the throne of God, to bless our work amongst those children and amongst others with whom we have to deal.

COMMENT: The only elaboration that Fr Doyle’s words require today is that of his own example. He was constantly immersed in prayer, often reciting thousands of aspiration each day, and regularly spending entire nights in prayer. It’s not coincidental that his own ministry as a writer, retreat master, preacher, spiritual director and military chaplain was marked by success and fruitfulness.