Thoughts for the First Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

 

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

 

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

 

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 December 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

There is no rule for vocations, no age-limit for the call. Innocence attracts the gaze of God, deep-rooted habits of sin, provided they are not persevered in, do not always repel Him. One comes because the world disgusts him, another loves it and leaves it with regret; docility draws down more graces, while resistance often increases the force of the invitation. The little child hears God’s whisperings, while others have not been summoned till years were far advanced.

COMMENT: We all have a calling, whether that be the religious life, marriage or perhaps even to be perpetually single and without vows. And there are also “vocations”, or callings, within these vocations. One priest might be called to serve his parish with fidelity and simplicity; another might be called to a ministry in the media or to found a spiritual association. To a great extent, our sanctity depends on our perseverance and adherence to the call God makes to us.

In today’s quote, Fr Doyle is specifically referring to a religious vocation. He was a well known and effective promoter of religious vocations; some of his writings on the vocation to the priesthood and the religious life can be found by clicking on the link to Fr Doyle’s writings on the top of the page.

Jesus has given all to us – our life, our health, our family and friends, our immortal soul. He gives us everything. We owe everything to Him. Giving our entire life to Him in whatever way He asks for it, is really too small a gift to repay everything we have received. Of course, it’s one thing to say that, and it’s another thing to live it, day after day, especially when the initial enthusiasm wears off, as it almost always does. Therein lies the heroism and sanctity to which we are called. Those who fully embrace their vocation always report that it is a source of great joy and happiness for them in this life and it is also surely a source of merit and consolation in the next life.

As we prepare for Christmas it is worth remembering that this great feast contains important lessons about docility in responding to our vocation. The call to be the Mother of God, and the foster father of Jesus, was not easy for Mary or for Joseph. Yet in both of them we see a great openness to what God asks – Mary says Yes to the angel and insists that she is the “handmaid of the Lord”. Joseph, for his part, was also completely docile and prompt in responding to his vocation, willingly embracing the joys and sorrows that came with his uniquely privileged role. 

Thoughts for December 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

What must have been Mary’s thoughts when first she felt the infant child within her womb, and realised that from her pure blood He had fashioned to Himself a human form? She His Mother, He her Son! What sweet converse between the two, what words of love, of ardent, tender love, the promptings of a heart so pure and good and holy.

COMMENT: We are exactly three weeks from Christmas day. Many people wait expectantly for this feast. Some look forward to it because means a well-earned rest, others because of the food and the drink and the parties and the television…

How bland our anticipation is compared to that of Mary. What prayers must she have said; how profound her contemplation must have been in these last precious weeks of waiting before the birth of the Saviour.

But while Mary waits with anticipation, she is not spared the cross. She does not have the luxury of staying in the comfort of her own home. She must travel to Bethlehem, and encounter all of the inconveniences that travel implies, especially for one so close to a birth. That birth will take place in poverty and without the conveniences that we consider to be essential. And after birth, the Holy Family must flee into exile for their safety…

The Holy Family was not spared suffering and deprivation. Yet Mary remained calm and serene, trusting fully in the Providence of the Lord. We can rely on her intercession as we face our own difficulties in life.

Thoughts for November 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

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.

 

Thoughts for October 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Joseph the Worker

 

Fr Doyle wrote the following notes on the “hidden life” of Jesus as a young boy and man in Nazareth. These reflections from the second week of the Spiritual Exercises which Fr Doyle completed around this time in 1907  are so direct and readily applicable to our own lives that they do not require any further comment or elaboration.

During the reflection on the Hidden Life I got a light that here was something in which I could easily imitate our Lord and make my life resemble His. I felt a strong impulse to resolve to take up as one of the chief objects of my life the exact and thorough performance of each duty, trying to do it as Jesus would have done, with the same pure intention, exquisite exactness and fervour. To copy in all my actions walking, eating, praying Jesus, my model in the little house of Nazareth. This light was sudden, clear and strong. To do this perfectly will require constant, unflagging fervour. Will not this be part of my “hard life”?

I should examine all my actions, taking Jesus as my model and example. What a vast difference between my prayer and His; between my use of time, my way of speaking, walking, dealing with others, etc., and that of the child Jesus! If I could only keep Him before my eyes always, my life would be far different from what it has been.

Each fresh meditation on the life of our Lord impresses on me more and more the necessity of conforming my life to His in every detail, if I wish to please Him and become holy. To do something great and heroic may never come, but I can make my life heroic by faithfully and daily putting my best effort into each duty as it comes round. It seems to me I have failed to keep my resolutions because I have not acted from the motive of the love of God. Mortification, prayer, hard work, become sweet when done for the love of Jesus.

 

 

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.

 

 

Thoughts for October 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

As part of the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, retreatants meditate on the early life of Christ. One of these meditations is on the Nativity. Here is the text of St Ignatius:

THE SECOND CONTEMPLATION IS ON THE NATIVITY

Prayer. The usual Preparatory Prayer.

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the narrative and it will be here how Our Lady went forth from Nazareth, about nine months with child, as can be piously meditated, seated on an ass, and accompanied by Joseph and a maid, taking an ox, to go to Bethlehem to pay the tribute which Caesar imposed on all those lands.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see with the sight of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; considering the length and the breadth, and whether such road is level or through valleys or over hills; likewise looking at the place or cave of the Nativity, how large, how small, how low, how high, and how it was prepared.

Third Prelude. The third will be the same, and in the same form, as in the preceding Contemplation.

First Point. The first Point is to see the persons; that is, to see Our Lady and Joseph and the maid, and, after His Birth, the Child Jesus, I making myself a poor creature and a wretch of an unworthy slave, looking at them and serving them in their needs, with all possible respect and reverence, as if I found myself present; and then to reflect on myself in order to draw some profit.

Second Point. The second, to look, mark and contemplate what they are saying, and, reflecting on myself, to draw some profit.

Third Point. The third, to look and consider what they are doing, as going a journey and laboring, that the Lord may be born in the greatest poverty; and as a termination of so many labors–of hunger, of thirst, of heat and of cold, of injuries and affronts–that He may die on the Cross; and all this for me: then reflecting, to draw some spiritual profit.

Colloquy. I will finish with a Colloquy as in the preceding Contemplation, and with an Our Father.

Here are Fr Doyle’s notes on this meditation:

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.

By entering religion and taking my vows I have given myself over absolutely to God and His service. He, therefore, has a right to be served in the way He wishes. If thenHe asks me to enter on a hard, mortified life and spend myself working for Him, how can I resist His will and desire? “Oh my God, make me a saint, and I consent to suffer all You ask for the rest of my life.” What is God asking from me now? Shall I go back on that offering?

COMMENT: To be a saint does not necessarily mean that we must consciously deny ourselves ALL lawful pleasures and to ALWAYS seek hard and disagreeable things. However, it is also true that there are some who were called to walk that path, and Fr Doyle was one of them. At the very least, we must be open to what God wants, and detached from our own will in these matters. That is of course easier said than done. However, we will receive the grace we need if we seek the help of Mary and St Joseph, who willingly shared the deprivation and hardship of the baby Jesus in order to fulfil their own vocation.

A second point to consider today is that Christ voluntarily chose to be born in poverty. He chose to make Himself like us in all things but sin. There is no hardship or problem that Jesus does not understand.

Thoughts for October 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

“Behold I stand at the gate and knock” (Rev. 3. 20)

Jesus stands at the door of my heart, patiently, uncomplainingly. How long has He been there? A year? Ten years? I have been afraid to let Him in.

Jesus knocks: “Open to Me, My Beloved.” My heart has been closed fast in spite of His calls, His inspirations, the appeals of His grace. How long? I have heard Him knocking, I have pretended I did not, I have longed He would go away. My God, how I must have pained You; but do not go away, wait a little longer.

I look out timidly to see who is calling. Why should I be afraid to let Him in? He has come to me, I have not sought Him. What love He must have for me! Jesus, why am I afraid of You, afraid to let You come into my heart?