Thoughts for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Peter, the favoured one, denies his Master and turns his back on Him who loved him so; and Peter’s heart is won, even in his sin, by one loving look of mercy and compassion from the Saviour whose mercy is without end.

COMMENT: The denial of St Peter, and Christ’s subsequent forgiveness, was a frequent theme in Fr Doyle’s notes. The image of a favoured apostle denying his Master seemed to resonate deeply with him.

As for St Paul, Fr Doyle doesn’t seem to write much about him directly, although he obviously quotes him frequently in his letters. Fr Doyle resembles St Paul in his great missionary zeal. Just as Paul underwent shipwreck and imprisonment and deprivation to bring the Gospel to others, Fr Doyle underwent life in the trenches, and all of its dangers, to bring the sacraments to others.

Peter, Paul and Fr Doyle could all have stayed at home and lived relatively comfortable, safe lives. But they sacrificed this comfort because of their love of Christ, offering their own lives in the process.

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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 June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past to give myself heart and soul to the service of God, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and suffer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. 

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”, I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be wanting to aid me at every step. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree will be all my life’s work, so that I may be worthy to die for Him.

COMMENT: There is much that one could reflect about in these retreat notes from Fr Doyle. Three points, out of many possibilities, suffice. 

It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. This idea is a recurring one in the thought of Fr Doyle. All we have to offer God is the present moment. Living in that present moment, and sanctifying it, is the essence of sanctity. This is especially important if we suffer or are offering up some penance. We don’t know if we will have to suffer tomorrow, or next month or next year. But even if we do, we don’t have to bear those sufferings right now. We have only the sufferings or duties or work of this moment. When this moment is over, we will never have to bear its sufferings again. Elsewhere in his notes, Fr Doyle relates this principle to dryness in prayer. If we struggle in prayer, well we needn’t worry about the fact that we have to stay still and pray for an hour. All we have to do is to pray for this one minute. After that, we pray for another minute, and so on, step by step. 

Faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”. We will never succeed in doing all things perfectly, but we must at least try, and keep beginning again and again when we fail. Faithfulness in little duties sounds easy, but is incredibly hard in practice, and it is the ordinary path to sanctity for all of us. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity.Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

The choice of the narrow path is not a once off decision but rather one to be made each moment of each day. It is the decision to adhere to our duty when we would rather ignore it. It was this constant, moment by moment adherence to the narrow path in little things that created the selfless hero of the trenches.

Thoughts for April 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

What more insignificant than the ordinary daily duties of religious life! Each succeeding hour brings with it some allotted task, yet in the faithful performance of these trifling acts of our everyday life lies the secret of true sanctity. Too often the constant repetition of the same acts, though in themselves they be of the holiest nature, makes us go through them in a mechanical way We meditate, we assist at holy Mass, more from a sense of duty than from any affection to prayer. Our domestic duties, our hours of labour, of teaching, are faithfully discharged — but what motive has animated us in their performance? Have we not worked because we must, or unconsciously because the bell has rung, rather than from the motive of pleasing God and doing His will?

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1905. While he writes about religious life, the point he makes is equally applicable to all of us. We have duties to perform in both the temporal and spiritual realm. Faithful adherence to our duty is a road to, and a hallmark of, sanctity. But are we merely adhering to our duty out of a sense of duty or even because we have no choice, or are we joyfully performing our duty out of love for God and for His glory? It is certainly meritorious to doggedly stick to our duty out of a sense of fidelity to our duty, but joyfully embracing to for love of God is a more perfect act. 

Some people are called to do great things, but generally most of us are called to fidelity in small matters. What matters to God is not the magnitude to the task He gives us, but rather our faithfulness and love in performing it. The widow with her mite was more generous than those who donated far greater sums of money.

22.4.2010: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Thoughts for Holy Saturday from Fr Willie Doyle

 

The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.

Thoughts for Good Friday from Fr Willie Doyle

The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?

COMMENT: Once again, there are so many things that one could meditate on today. The Passion is a rich and inexhaustible source of meditation for us. It has converted many souls and formed great saints. St Teresa of Avila, for instance, lead a relatively mediocre religious life until one day she reflected on an image of Jesus being scourged at the pillar and was deeply transformed by the experience. 

Today’s quote from Fr Doyle focuses on the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Reflecting on this thirst has had a powerful effect on many saints, and specifically on the life and spirituality of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As St John Paul II said at her beatification: 

The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God’s longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa’s soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.

Certainly it was a physical thirst, after all of the exertions and torture and loss of blood of the preceding several hours. But the thirst was also spiritual in nature. St Josemaria Escriva tells us:

He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him, along the way of the Cross which is the way to immortality and heavenly glory.

The Jesuit writer Luis de la Palma (1559- 1641) suggests that the thirst of Jesus was both a thirst for us, but also a thirst for more suffering:

What you did, Lord, was crazy; it was as if someone, having drunk the water of an entire river, claimed to be still thirsty. So surprising and marvellous is your desire to suffer for love of us.

From the 19th century book “The School of Jesus Crucified” by Fr Ignatius, an Italian Passionist priest, we find the following reflections on the thirst of Jesus:

Besides this corporal thirst, Jesus suffers from another spiritual species of thirst, which cannot be so easily assuaged.

Jesus thirsts for our eternal salvation, He thirsts for souls. This is the thirst of which he complains, and which is consuming His very life’s Blood. Jesus most passionately desires that the Blood He has shed should benefit mankind by saving them from Hell; and yet He foreknows that there will be many eternally lost, notwithstanding all His love and all His sufferings. Oh, truly does this thirst consume the loving Heart of Jesus, and its sacred heat slowly but surely deprives Him of life! 

If thou hadst been present on Mount Calvary, and hadst heard our Redeemer saying ‘I thirst’ wouldst thou not have relieved His sufferings by giving Him a little water? Know that even at the present moment it is in thy power to relieve His burning thirst. He says to thee from the Cross, ‘My son, I thirst for thy soul.’

We will conclude today with the following private reflection from Fr Doyle’s notes. This very personal record was not meant to be seen by others, and it is all the more significant because of the slight tinge of Jansenism affecting the Church, including the Church in Ireland, at that time. One of the effects of the Jansenist heresy is to diminish our love for God, to make us feel unworthy of His love, and to make us overly austere and focussed on rules. Aspects of this error worked itself out in very damaging ways as the 20th Century progressed. Of course, it is also possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction as an excessive reaction against the errors of the past… In any event, it is clear from this reflection that Fr Doyle was not affected by this error

I…once more had an opportunity of a 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. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.

Perhaps today we may find this outpouring of love to be a bit excessive. But then again, Fr Doyle was called to an excessive love; to that greatest of loves which involves laying down one’s life for others. In this, he imitated his Master to the very end.

 

Thoughts for Holy Thursday from Fr Willie Doyle

Pain and privation are only momentary, they quickly pass and become even delightfully sweet, if only borne in the spirit with which many of my grand boys take these things: ‘Sure, Father, it’s not worth talking about; after all, is it not well to have some little thing to suffer for God and His Blessed Mother?’ But the craven fear which at times clutches the heart, the involuntary shrinking and dread of human nature at danger and even death, are things which cannot be expressed in words. An officer, who had gone through a good deal himself, said to me recently: ‘I never realized before what our Lord must have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He began to fear and grow sorrowful.’ Yet His grace is always there to help one when most needed. 

COMMENT: There are so many scenes one could meditate on during Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood; the washing of the feet; the betrayal and despair of Judas; the denial of Peter and the abandonment of the apostles; the laziness of the apostles sleeping in the Garden; the arrest of Jesus; His ill treatment and mock-trial; His night spent in prison; the anguish of Mary…

Yet the fear of our Lord in the Garden is one of the richest sources of meditation precisely because almost everyone can identify somewhat with Jesus’ acute mental anguish, especially in these uncertain and stressed times. 

Yet we can only really guess at the full weight of Jesus’ agony. His soul was sorrowful even unto death – His anguish was so great that it almost killed Him. He even shed drops of blood. As Fr Doyle tells us, sometimes fear and dread are so great that it cannot be fully expressed in words. In fact, sometimes fear is so devastating that it is even worse than the very thing (pain, loneliness, death…) that made us frightened in the first place.. 

Fr Doyle tells us that when we experience such fear Jesus is there by our side to help us. Fr Doyle should know – his diaries reveal the many times when he had to hide in a hole and shook with fear under heavy shelling during his years as a military chaplain. Yet, with God’s grace, he always overcame his deeply felt fear, and went on to encourage the soldiers who were faltering.

Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it Himself. As St Thomas More tells us: 

It seems that Christ is making use of His own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation. Be brave, He seems to say…Do not give up hope…You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was much more afraid and appalled…Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxiety.

The Jesuit spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier also comments on the transformation that overcomes Our Lord after His agony in the garden.

What a transformation takes place after this third prayer! To the end of the Passion, no matter what men may do to Him, we shall never see Him falter or broken anymore. Always henceforth He is Master. He has strength for Himself, except such as many depend on His poor worn body, and He has strength for everyone about Him…We look on amazed; we wonder whether we have understood aright; and yet around us we see the same illustrated in those who seek their own support in prayer.

May we too, through prayer, transform our anxieties and worries into confidence and strength.