Thoughts for July 1 (St Oliver Plunkett) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

As a child I was convinced that one day God would give me the grace of martyrdom. When quite small I read and re-read every martyr’s life in the twelve volumes of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and longed and prayed to be a martyr, and I have often done so ever since. As years went on, the desire grew in intensity, and even now the sufferings of the martyrs, their pictures, and everything connected with their death, have a strange fascination for me and help me much.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Oliver Plunkett. St Oliver was the last Catholic martyr of Tyburn. He was Archbishop of Armagh, and returned to Ireland from Rome at a difficult time for his country. He endured great trials in his attempts to organise and reform the Church in his diocese. 

I can find no mention of St Oliver in Fr Doyle’s writings, but it is practically certain that he would have had great interest in his life, especially because Fr Doyle had a great interest in the martyrs and because St Oliver’s beatification cause was nearing completion during Fr Doyle’s life. 

While reading some of St Oliver’s letters recently, I was struck by the following excerpt, written on June 24th 1681, one week before St Oliver’s execution. This was the feast of St John the Baptist, and St Oliver reflected on St John’s sufferings and penance, despite his innocence. These are sentiments that I am sure would have appealed to Fr Doyle.

St John the Baptist shed his blood although his life was unsullied by the least sin of the tongue. The original dirt he contracted, although he was free from all dust of even venial sins. What then shall we do who have cartloads of actual mire and filthiness? He had not even venials, and suffered prison and death; we have dunghills and mortals, and what ought we to suffer? But why should I speak of St John, whereas his Master who was free from all original, venial and actual sins, suffered cold, frost, hunger, prison, stripes, thorns, and the most painful death of the Cross for others’ sins, and compared to the death of the Cross, Tyburn, as I hear the description, is but a flea biting.

On this day we should pray for the Church in Ireland which suffers so much at this time. 

For those who wish to see Fr Doyle recognised more formally by the Church, it is also consoling to remember that St Oliver, a heroic martyr, died in 1681 and was only beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975. 

Amazingly, St Oliver is the only canonised Irish person since before the Council of Trent over 500 years ago! Ireland needs more canonised saints. Let us pray and work for this, especially with respect to Fr Doyle. 

More information about St Oliver can be found at http://www.saintoliverplunkett.com/

Today is also the feast of Blessed Antonio Rosmini, the founder of the Institute of Charity. Blessed Rosmini was a renowned genius whose vast intellectual interests and writings spanned all of the natural, social and ecclesiastical sciences. Fr Doyle was a boarder in Ratcliffe College which was run by the Institute of Charity, and it is certain that he would have known about Antonio Rosmini.

Blessed Antonio Rosmini
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The anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot (Post 2 of 3 today)

Venerable Matt Talbot

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive… 

Physical mortification was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day – there was nothing unusual in it all. People were perhaps tougher then, without all of the modern comforts we have gotten used to. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion? The self inflicted “pain” Fr Doyle speaks of need not be something very big or burdensome. Getting up a little earlier, going to bed on time, reducing time wasted on television, starting work on time, biting our tongue when we want to criticise someone… There are many ways that we can practice a measured asceticism that is discreet, balanced, humble and will improve both our spiritual and temporal lives, as well as the lives of those around us…

Today is the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot – he died on this day in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know… 

Matt Talbot is a great model for lay people today. An alcoholic at an early age, he had a profound and unexpected conversion, and he suddenly “took the pledge” and gave up alcohol forever at the age of 28. This was against all expectation, and shows us that nobody is beyond help or hope. His example is important for a culture in which many people are addicted to one thing or another. If it is not alcohol or drugs, it may be food or sex or work or even the internet and social media. 

Matt is also a great model because he did his work well, and lived an ordinary life in the middle of the world. He was an ascetic and a mystic and an ordinary man who looked after others and defended the rights of workers and of the poor. He kept his feet on the ground. 

Matt became a Third Order Franciscan, regularly attending several Masses each day. As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. There is a tendency now to downplay the ascetical significance of these chains, with the suggestion that they were simple, light and non-penitential chains that signified his consecration to Mary as her slave. But in the popular imagining, the chains were most definitely penitential in nature. I remember being told, as a schoolboy in the 1980s, that the chains were so tightly wound around Matt that they were embedded in his flesh. Again, whether or not this is completely accurate is beside the point – many people believed that the chains were indeed embedded in Matt’s flesh. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm for many. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. And there was a lot more to Matt’s asceticism than chains. He lived in strict poverty, giving away most of his money. He fasted very strictly, and rose at 2am each night to pray for several hours before commencing his work as a labourer. He slept on a plank of wood and had a wooden pillow. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit.

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. There is a suggestion that Matt cut the pockets out of his trousers so he would not be able to carry money around with him. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had? 

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Prayer for the beatification of Venerable Matt Talbot. 

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. 

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. 

Amen.

 

 

The feast of 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.

Ordination Ceremony, 28 July 1907

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).

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.

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 108 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.

 

 

Thoughts for February 1 (St Brigid) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I would like you to note down in a little book the following things. Every day read each item over and put a little cross after it so that you may have constantly before your mind what you have to do and your faults.

1. Number of aspirations made. Number should be increased slowly but steadily.

2. Number of acts of self-denial. Same remark.

3. Fighting against worry, anxiety, etc.

4. Patience, gentleness, sweetness with everyone. This especially when you are busy, rushed, annoyed.

5. Absolute charity in words.

6. Quiet and calmness, exterior and above all interior.

7. Trying to see the hand of God in everything that happens to you or your work

8. Steady persevering effort to acquire interior union with God in your soul.

COMMENT: Today’s quote comes from a letter of spiritual direction that Fr Doyle wrote to one of his correspondents. This letter was specifically directed to a specific individual with specific spiritual needs. Fr Doyle was extremely balanced and flexible – he would never suggest that his advice should be adopted uniformly by everyone. Nonetheless, these 8 points provide an excellent set of tasks to aid our spiritual growth. Even taking one or two of them and attempting to follow them would be beneficial. In fact, those we live with might be especially keen that we follow this advice, especially when it comes to points 4 and 5 which urge us to have patience and to be charitable in speech!

Today is also the feast of St Brigid of Ireland, one of Ireland’s patron saints. We shall conclude today with Pope Benedict’s prayer for Ireland which specifically entrusts us to St Brigid’s protection.

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.

Amen.