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?
The thought has been very much in my mind during this week that Jesus asks from me the sacrifice of all the pleasures of the world — such as summer vacation, plays, concerts, football-matches, cinematograph, etc,; that I am to seek my recreation and find my pleasure in Him alone. Life is indeed too short now for me to waste a moment in such things. May God give me a great disgust for all these things in which formerly I took such delight!
This morning I had a great struggle not to sleep. Then God rewarded me with much light and generous resolve. I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”.
COMMENT: Jesus died for souls. He died for my soul, and would have done so were I the only person in existence. He also died for all of those who never heard of Him, and for those who, having being brought up in faith, have abandoned Him in favour of sensuality, pleasure, comfort, human respect…
Today is also the day on which the Church in Ireland commemorates the feast of All the Saints of Ireland. How many of them spent their entire lives to satisfy Jesus’ thirst for souls? We don’t really appreciate the saints enough in Ireland today, despite being called the land of saints and scholars. There are so many worthy causes for canonisation out there, both those that have been formally introduced and those that should be introduced. Yet, it remains an astonishing fact that only 1 Irish person (St Oliver Plunkett) has been canonised since the Council of Trent over 400 years ago. If we want to boost our statistics we can add in St Charles of Mount Argus who, although Dutch, lived in Ireland for many years. But even still, it must be admitted that we punch well below our weight when it comes to recognising and celebrating the sanctity within our own heritage. We will return to this topic on another occasion…
St Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, came back to the land where he had been a slave to bring the Faith to the country that had enslaved him. Over the centuries, many Irish missionaries brought the faith all over the Europe, and indeed the world, with this one same desire to quench Christ’s thirst for souls. Fr Doyle himself offered to go to the Congo as a missionary. He spent many years travelling as a preacher and missionary in Ireland to satisfy that thirst. He shed his own blood on the field of battle to win souls and ease Jesus’ thirst. If he had survived, it was his intention to spend the rest of his life ministering to lepers in a leper colony.
Jesus still thirsts for souls today. What are we doing to help him?
Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.
COMMENT: The desire to die a martyr was with Fr Doyle from his earliest days. Far from being something morbid, it is one of the ultimate expressions of love for God – the desire to offer everything, even our life, for the One who has given everything to us.
This desire was felt by many saints across the ages, through perhaps we personally may identify more closely with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story described in these words:
She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.
The Church in Ireland today celebrates the feast of Blessed Dominic Collins, one of the Irish martyrs and the only beatified Irish Jesuit. More information on Blessed Dominic is available here. He was only beatified in 1992, and there is no mention of him in any of Fr Doyle’s publicly available writings. However, it is almost certain that Fr Doyle, who was greatly interested in the lives of the saints and especially in martyrs, was aware of, and esteemed, his fellow Jesuit, especially since a book detailing the lives of the Irish martyrs was published by the Jesuit historian Fr Denis Murphy SJ during the years in which Fr Doyle was a Jesuit seminarian.
Here is an excellent video on the life of Blessed Dominic.
Fr Doyle ultimately had his wish – he did die a Jesuit martyr, albeit a martyr of charity, laying down his life to save another, as opposed to the more traditional definition of a martyr as one who dies in defence of the faith. May the example of Blessed Dominic, and of Fr Doyle, inspire us to a generous and selfless defence of truth and service of others. Let us also pray and work for a greater awareness of the many heroic examples of Irish Catholicism in a country that desperately needs positive Catholic role models. Pope Benedict’s Prayer for Ireland is appropriate:
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.
But back to Flannery O’Connor’s character who could be a martyr but only if killed quickly. Let us leave the last words today to Fr Doyle who so often gets right to the heart of the matter:
I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life?
I cannot deny that I love Jesus, love Him passionately, love Him with every fibre of my heart. He knows it, too, since He has asked me to do many things for Him, which have cost me more than I should like to say, yet which with His grace were sweet and easy in a sense. He knows that my longing, at least, even if the strength and courage are wanting, is to do and suffer much more for Him, and that were He tomorrow to ask for the sacrifice of every living friend, I would not refuse Him. Yet with all that, with the intense longing to make Him known and loved, I have never yet been able to speak of Him to others as I want to.
COMMENT: The intense love of Christ was a central aspect of the spirit of Fr Doyle. The centrality of Christ was also central to another Irishman whose feast we celebrate today.
Blessed Columba Marmion was born in Dublin and was a priest of the Dublin diocese, acting as a seminary professor, chaplain to the Redemptoristine Convent in Drumcondra and as a curate in the parish of Dundrum in the south of Dublin. However, he felt the call to the monastic life and entered the Benedictine monastery of Maredsous in Belgium, ending up as abbot. He was a renowned spiritual writer and spiritual director. The love of Christ, and our divine adoption as children of God were central to his teaching and spirituality. He emphasised that Christ must be central to our spiritual life, and that holiness ultimately comes about through God’s grace acting in the soul. Our job is to dispose ourselves to receive that grace. His formula for growth in holiness, based on the writings of St Paul, is that we must die to sin, and then live for God – the more we remove the roots of sin from our soul, the greater the liberty God will have to work there.
As he wrote in his classic book Christ in His Mysteries:
It is, then, upon Christ that all our gaze ought to be concentrated. Open the Gospel: you will there see that three times only does the Eternal Father cause His Voice to be heard by the world. And what does this Divine Voice say to us? Each time the Eternal Father tells us to contemplate His Son, to listen to Him, that He may be thereby glorified: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him”. All that the Father asks of us is to contemplate Jesus, His Son, to listen to Him, so as to love and imitate Him, because Jesus, Being His Son, is equally God.
Like Fr Doyle, Blessed Columba suffered greatly in the First World War. He was concerned that his monks would be called up for the war effort, so he placed them in other monasteries, and travelled extensively during the war years to raise funds to support his monks in Belgium. During this period he was disguised as a cattle dealer – on one occasion he turned up in this disguise at Tyburn Convent in London where he was well known, but he was initially turned away because they didn’t recognise him in his disguise. He had no papers or passport during these dangerous travels. When trying to cross the border into England, he was challenged for not having a passport. He responded by saying: “I’m Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it’s not to hell that I’m going!” He was then allowed to enter England without the necessary papers!
During this period, he commented on his sufferings in a letter:
I have seldom suffered more in every way, than for some time past. I feel we have to take our part in the general expiation which is being offered to God’s justice and sanctity. My soul, my body, my senses, God Himself, all things seem combine to make me suffer. May His holy name be blessed.
Very few Irish people who were not martyred have been beatified or canonised since the Council of Trent, despite many excellent candidates, of which both Columba Marmion and Fr Doyle surely stand in the first rank.
Let us continue to pray and work that more Irish examples of holiness may be recognised in order to act as positive examples for the much needed renewal of this country.
There are two patron saints to whom I have a tremendous devotion: a sheet of paper and a lead pencil. Mark down at least once a day everything you do and every time you do it. It will not make you proud to see all you do; but it will humble you by showing you all you don’t do.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was extremely methodological in his spiritual life. He kept very specific diaries and accounts of what he did and of what he failed to do, and it is largely these books that allow us to get a glimpse at his inner life.
For some people this process of meticulously recording victories over self, and also of weaknesses and sins, could seem too pedestrian and too banal (and perhaps for some it could lead to scruples…). However, it is this fighting spirit that really makes Fr Doyle very endearing for in this we see how an ordinary man fought, with God’s grace, to overcome himself and to become an inspiring hero who saved so many in the trenches. The lead pencil and the sheet of paper were essential in this process of Fr Doyle’s spiritual blossoming. While care might be needed lest we become too self-absorbed or scrupulous, we should not imagine ourselves to be above this process of self-examination.
Today is the feast of St Pius X, pope from 1903-1914; pope for most of Fr Doyle’s priesthood. He had something to say on this matter himself:
It would indeed be shameful if in this matter Christ’s saying should be verified, that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). We can observe with what diligence they look after their affairs; how often they balance their credit and debit; how accurately they make up their accounts; how they deplore their losses and so eagerly excite themselves to repair them.
Today we are not limited to a sheet of paper or a lead pencil – there are many new forms of technology, including smartphone apps, that will allow us to keep track of our use of time and to keep track of our sins. This technology makes the battle against our weakness even easier than it was for Fr Doyle.
St Pius X was a great pope and saint who was greatly loved in his own day. He was a deeply humble man with a special place in his heart for children. It was of course St Pius who lowered the age at which children can receive Holy Communion, from about 12-14 down to 7. In fact, it was a little Irish girl, Ellen Organ, affectionately known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who was instrumental in this. Little Nellie ended up living with some nuns after her mother died. She was diagnosed with TB, but had a great longing to receive Holy Communion, so her local bishop in County Cork gave extraordinary permission for her to receive the Eucharist at just four and a half years of age. She received the Eucharist 32 times before her death in February 1908. She was a remarkable mystic, spending hours in thanksgiving after receiving Communion.
St Pius was deeply edified by this story, and on hearing about it he declared that this was the sign he was waiting for. It was after this event that he allowed younger children to receive Communion. St Pius even asked for a relic of Little Nellie after her death. Imagine – the great Pontiff asking for a relic of a four and a half year old girl in County Cork! Thus he illustrates for us his own child like heart and his concern for the little ones.
When Nellie’s coffin was opened 18 months after her death, her body was apparently found to be incorrupt.
Of course, Fr Doyle had an interest in the life of Little Nellie, and he visited her grave after giving a retreat in County Cork just three years after her death. He records his experience as follows:
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.
Let us pray to St Pius, who had such care for the little ones, that the Church will finally rid itself of that awful sin of abuse which has damaged so many children and families, which has besmirched the priesthood and which has wounded the credibility of the Church in the eyes of the world.
Let us also pray that the cause of Ellen Organ may finally be opened and that she will be canonised. Ireland needs its own saints, even very little ones! In fact, if she was to be canonised, Nellie would be the youngest non-martyred saint in history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.