Thoughts for May 26 (St Philip Neri) from Fr Willie Doyle

Dear Sir — One is often struck, on glancing over the papers, at the numerous appeals made to provide ‘comforts for our troops,’ but no one ever seems to think that the souls of those who have fallen in battle may possibly be in need of much greater comfort than the bodies of their comrades who survive.

With all the spiritual help now at their disposal, even in the very firing line, we may be fairly confident that few, if any, of our Catholic men are unprepared to meet Almighty God. That does not mean they are fit for Heaven. God’s justice must be fully satisfied, and the debt of forgiven sin fully atoned for in Purgatory. Hence I venture to appeal to the great charity of your readers to provide ‘comforts for our dead soldiers’ by having Masses offered for their souls. Remembrance of our dead and gratitude are virtues dear to every Irish heart. Our brave lads have suffered and fought and died for us. They have nobly given their lives for God and country. It is now our turn to make some slight sacrifice, so that they may soon enter into the joy of eternal rest. — Very faithfully yours, NEMO.

COMMENT: This letter appeared in the Irish Catholic on this day in 1917. The author was, of course, Fr Doyle himself, who, due to his characteristic humility, wished to disguise his identity and wrote under a pseudonym.

Was there any limit to his care for the soldiers? He looked after their physical needs, he shared his meagre food with them, he gave up all comfort and even life itself in order to bring the sacraments to them. And here, in the midst of all his other activities, he found time to write a letter back home to encourage Masses for the dead. What a simple, yet loving, act this was. He was willing to sacrifice his time to provide aid for the souls of Irish soldiers in purgatory.

Perhaps we can examine our conscience on this issue today. Do we pray for the dead? Do we remember our deceased loved ones? Do we take time out of our busy lives to write letters or emails to those who would appreciate it? Do we write letters to newspapers to defend the Church in the midst of the persecutions she faces in these times? If Fr Doyle, facing death every day, found time to do this, do we have any real excuse? 

Today is also the feast of St Philip Neri, who died in 1595. St Philip is one of those remarkable, lovable saints. There are many aspects of St Philip’s life that are similar to that of Fr Doyle’s. Both were renowned for their cheerfulness and love of practical jokes; both had a very affectionate and passionate love for Christ which revealed itself with the tenderness with which they greeted religious items and statues; both longed to go on the missions but could not – St Philip understood that Rome was to be his Indies. Both were devoted to the ministry of the Confessional. In fact, St Philip was one of the truly great confessors who was given the mystical gift of reading souls. In relation to today’s quote from Fr Doyle about the souls in Purgatory, we can recall that St Philip was always concerned about these departed souls, and when he approached death he begged those whose confessions he heard to say a rosary for his own soul after death. St Philip is one of those very lovable saints who is perhaps not as widely known today as he should be, especially in English speaking countries.

Remarkably, St Philip also has a military connection – he is the patron saint of the US Special Forces, a remarkable fact about an Italian saint who died over 400 years ago and who, as far as I am aware. never had any connection with the military during his earthly life.

St Philip Neri

Thoughts for May 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

I did not write because I had nothing but disappointment, opposition, cold shower-baths and crosses to chronicle…Your news about the success in England is glorious, and yet I am assured that mine will come in Dublin if ever a house is opened. … I am confident the real difficulty will be to keep the men out. I never realised till I got on the mission staff the immense amount of faith and love for holy things there is everywhere still in Ireland. … It has been a four years’ Calvary, but yesterday the Resurrection, I hope, began, for I heard that Rathfarnham Castle with 53 acres has been purchased at last, and I have the Provincial’s promise (when that took place) to allow me to make a start in the stables. Ye Gods! Fancy the mighty Doyle preaching in a stable! Very like the Master is it not?’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 107 years ago today, on May 20 1913, in a letter to Fr Charles Plater SJ. Fr Plater had founded a retreat house for working men, and Fr Doyle was a supporter of this initiative, and expended much energy in his attempts to establish a similar house for workers in Ireland. He traveled around Europe researching the idea and wrote a booklet on the issue. Fr Doyle saw such retreats as an essential outreach to lay people and to ordinary workers in general at a time when worker’s rights were a burning issue of the day – the Dublin Lockout also occurred in late 1913, and the rights of labour were central to the political and philosophical debates of the day.

Fr Doyle did not live to see his cherished workers retreat, but eventually a house for this purpose was built in Rathfarnham after Fr Doyle’s death. It evolved into the Lay Retreat Association which continued in operation until it sadly closed down in 2016.

Fr Charles Plater SJ

Thoughts on Blessed John Sullivan

Blessed John Sullivan

 

Today is the feast of Blessed John Sullivan, a contemporary of Fr Doyle. 

Blessed John had a different personality to that of Fr Doyle, but as contemporaries with the same training much of their spirituality is in common. Both were very humble, very cheerful and very ascetic. One of Fr Sullivan’s most popular maxims, very much in line with Fr Doyle’s thought, was:

Take life in instalments, this day now. At least let this be a good day. Be always beginning. Let the past go. The saints were always beginning. That is how they became saints.

Blessed John was born into considerable wealth and privilege, and after some years of travel and study became a barrister. His father was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was brought up in the Church of Ireland, although his mother was a Catholic. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits 4 years later. He was ordained on July 28, 1907 in the same ceremony as Fr Doyle. Fr Sullivan was 46, Fr Doyle was 34.

Blessed John spent most of his life in Clongowes, a Jesuit school not too far from Dublin where Fr Doyle had also spent some time prior to his ordination. He was known for his gentle kindness towards the boys there. He lived an ascetic life, eating very little. Like Fr Doyle, he was no stranger to physical mortification, often spending entire nights in prayer, or sleeping on the floor or performing other physical acts of penance. And, in common with Fr Doyle, there is no evidence that these penances ever interfered with his work. Both priests kept them hidden, and neither ever encouraged others to follow in their own footsteps.

It seems that Blessed John had great regard for Fr Doyle; after his death some of Fr Doyle’s sayings were found transcribed in Blessed John’s writings amongst his private papers.

While there are some similarities between the two contemporary Jesuits, there are also some differences. Two in particular spring to mind. The first is that Blessed John was given the grace of physical healing. He would regularly travel – on bike or by foot – for miles to visit the sick and dying in the countryside around Clongowes.

There are many instances of healings recorded through Blessed John’s intercession, even during his own lifetime. These graces of healing have continued after his death.

The second great difference is that we know relatively little about his interior life. What we know comes from eye witness accounts. If he ever wrote detailed notes about himself, they no longer exist. Perhaps this was Professor Alfred O’Rahilly’s fault! After he published so many extracts from Fr Doyle’s private notes, it is possible that other priests ensured that their own diaries were destroyed, although given Blessed John’s profound humility it is likely that he never thought anyone would be interested in his interior life anyway.

Blessed John was beatified in May 2017. Cardinal Amato’s wonderful homily at that beatification can be found here: https://frjohnsullivan.ie/2017/05/faithful-disciple-christ/

Here is a prayer to seek the intercession of Blessed John Sullivan:

God, you honour those who honour you. 
Make sacred the memory of your servant John Sullivan, by granting through his intercession the petition we now make (name the petition) and hastening the day when his name will be numbered among those of your saints. 
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thoughts for May 5 (Blessed Edmund Rice) from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Edmund Rice

 

Having completed his course of philosophy, Willie returned to Clongowes in 1901 for another period of prefecting. Here he remained for two years, and he was then transferred to the teaching staff of Belvedere College, Dublin, where he spent a fruitful year of labour. For, as the immediate preparation for the priesthood drew near, zeal for souls that was afterwards to become so strong and ardent, began now to show itself more markedly in his life. He did much good work for the Apostleship of Prayer and for temperance among the boys in Belvedere, with whom he was even more popular than among those he had left behind in Clongowes. The stirring little talks he gave occasionally to his class made an impression which some of his pupils still recall. Especially was he insistent on the spirit of self-sacrifice and on Holy Communion. His attractive character and kindness led many of the boys to give him their confidence and seek help and counsel in their difficulties and doubts; and more than one vocation was discussed and decided at these interviews.

COMMENTS: These words about Fr Doyle are taken from O’Rahilly’s biography of his life. Fr Doyle seems to have been a conscientious and popular teacher in the two Jesuit schools in which he was stationed during his years of formation. He realised that the task of Catholic education is not just to train children for jobs, but to shape and mould their character and to equip them for a future of personal virtue and civic service.

Today is the feast of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of both the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. These congregations were formed to provide a specifically Catholic education for boys during the period immediately after the Penal Laws when there was little or no Catholic schooling in Ireland. Blessed Edmund’s contribution to Irish life is incalculable. Numerous generations of men were educated and formed by those who followed in Blessed Edmund’s footsteps.

Yet one wonders what Edmund makes of things today. The wonderful work of Edmund and his faithful followers has been undermined by a small number of unfaithful Brothers who damaged the children in their care. The details of this evil are well known. It is hard to imagine a more treacherous repudiation of the legacy of a saintly educator like Edmund.

And yet, this is not Edmund’s fault, nor indeed the fault of the many very loyal and faithful Brothers who continue to serve children with generosity and who still keep Edmund’s legacy alive. We should pray for these faithful disciples of Edmund in both the Presentation and Christian Brothers, and especially pray for vocations. We should also pray for the canonisation of Edmund Rice.

We shall conclude today with some appropriate consoling words from Blessed Edmund Rice:

Be intent on prayer and whatever may happen will turn to our good.

Thoughts for St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick

 

I beg of God whom I love to grant me that I may shed my blood with those strangers and captives for His name’s sake, even though I be without burial itself, or my corpse be most miserably divided, limb by limb, amongst dogs and fierce beasts, or the birds of the air devour it. I think it most certain that if this happens to me, I shall have gained my soul with my body.

COMMENT: These thoughts are not in fact from Fr Doyle, but instead are from St Patrick. 

But even though Fr Doyle did not write these words, they could so easily apply to him. Fr Doyle did shed his blood with his men in the battle field, and his corpse, which was never discovered, was probably “miserably divided”, whether through the action of a German shell or some other process.

There are many other similarities between Fr Doyle and St Patrick, not the least of which was the zeal and originality with which they both evangelised their respective cultures, their nocturnal vigils and their tendency to “count” their prayers – St Patrick tells us that he used to say a hundred prayers during the day and almost as many at night while Fr Doyle’s remarkable “spiritual accountancy” by which he counted his thousands of daily aspirations remains a source of mystery to us today.

Both also had a strong urging towards reparation. Consider the following from St Patrick:

Today I may confidently offer Him a sacrifice – my soul as a living victim to Christ my Lord.

Fr Doyle made a similar offering in 1913:

I offer myself to You to be Your Victim in the fullest sense of the word. I deliver to You my body, my soul, my heart, all that I have, that You may dispose of and immolate them according to Your good pleasure. Do with me as You please, without consulting my desires, my repugnances, my wishes.

Today is a great day for the Irish. But we must remember that it is NOT a day for celebrating Irishness per se. It is a day for celebrating the gift of the Catholic Faith in Ireland. It is a day of thanksgiving for the courage and fortitude of St Patrick in bringing us this priceless gift. It is also a day of thanksgiving for all of those countries who received the light of faith indirectly through St Patrick, by means of the many selfless Irish missionaries over the centuries. In particular we think of the many European countries that were evangelised by Irish monks, and in recent centuries those parts of America, Australia, Africa and Asia that were so well served by Irish missionaries, even up to this day (including some regular readers of this site!).

But in addition to our celebrations, perhaps today should also contain a certain element of penance. Not only did Irish priests and religious export the genuine Faith to many countries, but a number of them exported vice and corruption as well. Some of the abuses in America, Australia and Canada can unfortunately be traced back to Irish priests and religious…

Let us consider then this verse from one of the Epistles approved for use at Mass for the feast of St Patrick:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

We see these itching ears in the drift towards an aggressive secularism in some quarters and the refusal of a vocal minority to recognise any good in the Church, accompanied by a desire to see its destruction. We also see these itching ears in the growth of superstition and New Age spirituality. And most damningly we saw it in the moral relativism and/or cowardice that failed to recognise, or act against, the evils of abuse, preferring the advice of secular therapists rather than the advice of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  For all of this, reparation is needed.

But we should avoid pessimism, for there is still life and holiness in the Church in this country.

Let us turn to our great patron St Patrick, asking him for holiness in our land, perhaps even echoing the words he heard in his dream, calling him back to Ireland: “We beseech thee, O holy youth, to come and walk once more among us”. We should also pray to him for more Irish beatifications and canonisations so that we can have modern heroes to emulate in our own lives and to aid our evangelisation. Ireland has a poor record in this regard. And perhaps you might say a prayer for the writer of this blog, for St Patrick is my name saint (in some countries this is more significant than one’s birthday).

Finally, we should turn to St Patrick and seek his protection for Ireland in the growing corona virus crisis spreading across this land.

We shall conclude today with Pope Benedict’s prayer for Ireland:

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.

John McGuinness: One of the forgotten holy men and women of Ireland

John McGuinness

Contrary to popular perception, there was an extraordinary flourishing of holiness in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th Century. Yes, there were problems in the Church and in the country at that time, but this does not take away from the inspiring witness of so many in that period.

Many of the men and women of this period are well known and loved, including figures such as Blessed John Sullivan, Blessed Columba Marmion, Venerable Matt Talbot, Venerable Nano Nagle and Venerable Edel Quinn. Their causes are opened, and we await their happy conclusion. 

Fr Doyle, of course, stands out as one of those who, despite his remarkable fame after his death, and the widespread acknowledgement of his evident sanctity, still does not have an active Cause for his canonisation. There are others in this category – Ellen Organ (Little Nellie) is one obvious name that springs to mind. We hope and pray that their Causes will soon be opened.

But there is a third category of holy men and women from this era – those whose sanctity burned brightly before their contemporaries but who, for unknown reasons, are almost entirely forgotten today.

One of these individuals is John McGuinness, who died on this day in 1947. John was a civil servant by day, and the servant of the poor by night. He lived a life of constant prayer and self-denial and was a Third Order Franciscan who explicitly modelled his entire life on that of Matt Talbot. Despite his great personal success – he was a high ranking official in the Revenue Commissioners with a very large salary – he died of malnutrition in his mid 40s because he literally gave everything away to the poor. 

He was involved in numerous charitable activities across the city of Dublin, but to this day the full extent of his service to the poor remains unknown, as he always acted with discretion, never drawing attention to himself. 

When he died he was mourned as a second Matt Talbot, who opted against the life of a priest so that he could live holiness as a professional in the middle of the world. There was extensive media interest in his life In the years after his death and speculation that he would be canonised, but today, sadly, he is mostly forgotten. It’s not hard to imagine that, were he an Italian, he could well have been canonised by now. 

Catholics have much to be proud of in Ireland, and we forget our heritage to our own cost. 

Later this year a new book will be published, edited by Fr John Hogan of the Diocese of Meath and by myself, on the lives of the many holy Irish men and women like John McGuinness, Fr Doyle and a range of others, some of whom are well known and some who are less known.

Ireland needs more saints. Our recent history is full of inspiring examples. It’s time we remembered them.

Thoughts for February 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

Little Nellie of Holy God

Kneeling there I asked her what God wanted from me, when I heard an interior voice clearly repeating, “Love Him, love Him.” The following day she seemed to rebuke me, when leaving the cemetery, for the careless way I performed most of my spiritual duties, and to say that God was displeased with this and wanted great fervour and perfection in them.

COMMENT: Today’s quote recounts Fr Doyle’s experience of visiting the grave of Ellen Organ, otherwise known as Little Nellie of Holy God. Little Nellie died on this day in 1908 in County Cork. Fr Doyle visited her grave in February 1911. We don’t know the exact date, but perhaps it was even 112 years ago on this day, her anniversary.

Little Nellie was only four and a half years old when she died. She was sent to live with the Good Shepherd sisters when her own mother died. She was diagnosed with TB and fell gravely ill. She was known even at that young age for her intense love of “Holy God”. She had a great longing to receive the Eucharist, and received extraordinary permission to do so at the age of four and a quarter. She seems to have reached the age of reason very quickly, and experienced several mystical graces. Her thanksgivings after Communion lasted until the late afternoon, and the smell of her rotting jaws and gums allegedly ceased after she had received her First Communion. She was unafraid of death, looking forward to being united with Jesus in Heaven. She died on this day in 1908.

Her fame soon spread, and her body was found to be incorrupt when examined 18 months after death. St Pius X was greatly moved by her story, and she helped inspire him to reduce the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age. In fact, St Pius was so moved that he asked for a relic of Little Nellie. How remarkable and humble – the great Pontiff requesting the relic of an unknown 4 year old girl!!

Fr Doyle obviously felt a particular affinity with Little Nellie. Did he have a mystical experience when he visited the grave? Did Little Nellie really chide him for his lack of fervour and perfection? We shall never know; such matters are hard to discern, and impossible 100 years removed from the event.

Little Nellie’s story is charming and edifying. Her example helped change Church practice on the age of First Holy Communion. The great St Pius X recognised her sanctity. Books are still published about her and significant interest in her life remains. Given the prevailing situation for too many Irish children of First Communion age – for many it is a day out when they receive lots of cash – her example is sorely needed, and her cause should be opened and promoted. Many children have already been raised to the altars and many more are on their way. One thinks immediately of Nennolina from Rome who died at six and a half in the 1930’s and whose story is similar to that of Little Nellie. She has already been declared Venerable, and an alleged miracle is apparently being investigated.

Pope Benedict tells us in his Letter to the Irish Church to remember the rock from which we have been hewn. We need contemporary Irish saints!!! This is not a pious, niche interest. Jesus Himself used everyday examples that were familiar to His listeners to illustrate His teachings. Missionaries in far away lands do the same today, utilising aspects of local culture to teach people about Christianity. Ireland is now mission territory once again, and we need to use our very own examples of holiness to reintroduce people to the Truth, Goodness and Beauty of Christianity. We have many worthy candidates, including, but not limited to, Fr Doyle and Little Nellie. Let us continue to pray for the day when we will see more Irish candidates recognised and held up as worthy models for the new evangelisation. But let us also work for this end, by writing and speaking about them and respectfully encouraging the relevant ecclesiastical authorities to open and pursue their causes.