Thoughts for August 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

Four Dangers to be Feared after a Retreat:

1 . Dissipation: There, it is over; amuse yourself.

2. Toning Down: Too much, too many, too hard, too often, too etc.

3. Putting Off: Wait a little, rest yourself, take your time.

4. Cowardice: You’ll never do it; you’re no good; it will be the same old story.

And Four Remedies:

1. Presence of God: No, it is not over, it is only just begun.

2. Exactness: No such thing; I’ll do all I have resolved; nothing too much for God.

3. Promptitude: No, at once; here goes; I may die to-day.

4. Determination: We’ll see; I am no good, but Someone good and powerful is with me.

COMMENT: Developing resolutions for the reform of our life is an important part of a good retreat. But Fr Doyle, the expert retreat giver who himself experienced such a deep reform of his own life through his own 30 day retreat just after ordination, knew full well the traps that await people after retreats.

A retreat can be a time of great graces and generosity. But when we return to our normal life we can start to get lazy, to lose our focus and our previous generosity.

St Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, gives some advice on this point. When faced with dissipation and desolation, we must never change course, we must stick with our resolutions more firmly than ever, especially if they were developed during a retreat when we experienced consolation and God’s grace in our prayer. If, at some subsequent time when we experience consolation once more, we may be free to adapt our resolutions, but never when facing difficulties and dissipations.

It is well to remember that, as Fr Doyle tells us, we are never alone in trying to live our resolutions – Someone who is all-powerful, and who desperately wills our sanctification, is ready to help us…

St Ignatius
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Thoughts for August 1 (St Alphonsus Liguori) from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue today with Fr Doyle’s narrative of events in the days leading up to his death. Today’s account is somewhat shorter than that of other days. Even if the events of this day are less dramatic than what is to come, we can still glimpse some of the suffering Fr Doyle and the men had to endure, as well as the cheerful spirit with which he accepted it.

Morning brought a leaden sky, more rain, and no breakfast! Our cook with the rations had got lost during the night, so there was nothing for it but to tighten one’s belt… But He Who feeds the birds of the air did not forget us, and by mid-day we were sitting down before a steaming tin of tea, bully beef and biscuits, a banquet fit to set before an emperor after nearly twenty-four hours fast. Not for a moment during the whole of the day did the merciless rain cease. The men, soaked to the skin and beyond it, were standing up to their knees in a river of mud and water, and like ourselves were unable to get any hot food till the afternoon. Our only consolation was that our trenches were not shelled and we had no casualties. Someone must have had compassion on our plight, for when night fell a new Brigade came in to relieve us, much to our surprise and joy. Back to the camp we had left the previous night, one of the hardest marches I ever put in, but cheered at the thought of a rest. Once again we got through Ypres without a shell, though they fell before and after our passing; good luck was on our side for once.

Today is also the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, prolific writer of esteemed spiritual works and Founder of the Redemptorists. St Alphonsus held the Jesuits in very high esteem, and declined to take over one of the Jesuit churches in Naples following the suppression of the Jesuits in the late 18th Century.

St Alphonsus played an important role in the life of Fr Doyle – if it were not for his writings Fr Doyle may not have become a Jesuit.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography. Note by the way that Clonliffe was the diocesan seminary for priests for the Dublin diocese.

In July, 1890, Willie paid a few days visit to St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore, the Novitiate of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, where his brother, Charlie, had entered ten months previously. One day during the visit the subject of Willie’s vocation came up for discussion. Charlie knew that Willie was going to be a priest. But was it a secular priest or a religious? “I hope soon to enter Clonliffe,” said Willie. ” Did you ever think of the religious life ? ” asked his brother. “Never!” was the emphatic reply. “I have always wanted to fill the gap left by Fred’s death, and to become a secular priest.” “But do you know anything about the religious state?” persisted the zealous novice. ” No, nothing,” said Willie; “but in any case I would never come to this hole of a place!” This led to an animated discussion concerning religious Orders in general and the Society of Jesus in particular. Willie was so far shaken as to accept a copy of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s work on the Religious State, with a promise to read it and to think over it. The sequel can be told in Willie’s own words:

“On Christmas Day I was alone in the drawing-room when Father came in and asked me if I had yet made up my mind as to my future career. I answered Yes that I intended to become a Jesuit. I remember how I played my joy and happiness into the piano after thus giving myself openly to Jesus.”

On 31st March, 1891, Willie entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Tullabeg.

For those who are interested, St Alphonsus’ book on the religious vocation can be found here:

St Alphonsus Vocation to the Religious State

Meditations and spiritual reading for each day of the year (organised according to the traditional calendar) by St Alphonsus can be found here: http://www.religiousbookshelf.com/meditations-and-readings/

St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for July 31 (St Ignatius) from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue Fr Doyle’s account of July 31, 1917 directly after he left off yesterday. Again what is most noticeable is Fr Doyle’s good humour and cheerfulness, even in the midst of this awful war.

It was 1.30 a.m. when our first halting place was reached, and as we march again at three, little time was wasted getting to sleep. It was the morning of July 31st, the Feast of St. Ignatius, a day dear to every Jesuit, but doubly so to the soldier sons of the soldier saint. Was it to be Mass or sleep? Nature said sleep, but grace won the day, and while the weary soldiers slumbered the Adorable Sacrifice was offered for them, that God would bless them in the coming fight and, if it were His Holy Will, bring them safely through it. Mass and thanksgiving over, a few precious moments of rest on the floor of the hut, and we have fallen into line once more.

As we do, the dark clouds are lit up with red and golden flashes of light, the earth quivers with the simultaneous crash of thousands of guns and in imagination we can picture the miles of our trenches spring to life as the living stream of men pours over the top: the Fourth Battle of Ypres has begun.

Men’s hearts beat faster, and nerves seem to stretch and vibrate like harp strings as we march steadily on ever nearer and nearer towards the raging fight, on past battery after battery of huge guns and howitzers belching forth shells which ten men could scarcely lift, on past the growing streams of motor ambulances, each with its sad burden of broken bodies, the first drops of that torrent of wounded which will pour along the road. I fancy not a few were wondering how long would it be till they were carried past in the same way, or was this the last march they would ever make till the final Roll Call on the Great Review Day.

We were to be held in reserve for the opening stages of the battle, so we lay all that day (the 31st) in the open fields ready to march at a moment’s notice should things go badly at the Front. Bit by bit news of the fight came trickling in. The Jocks (15th Scottish Division) in front of us, had taken the first and second objective with little opposition, and were pushing on to their final goal. All was going well, and the steady stream of prisoners showed that for once Dame Rumour was not playing false. Our spirits rose rapidly in spite of the falling rain, for word reached us that we were to return to the camp for the night as our services would not be required. Then the sun of good news began to set, and ugly rumours to float about.

Whether it was the impetuous Celtic dash that won the ground, or part of German strategy, the enemy centre gave way while the wings held firm. This trick has been played so often and so successfully one would imagine we should not have been caught napping again, but the temptation for victorious troops to rush into an opening is almost too strong to be resisted, and probably the real state of affairs on the wings was not known. The Scotties reached their objective, only to find they were the centre of a murderous fire from three sides, and having beaten off repeated counter-attacks of the demoralized enemy were obliged to retire some distance. So far the Germans had not done too badly.

It was nearly eight o’clock, and our dinner was simmering in the pot with a tempting odour, when the fatal telegram came: the battalion will move forward in support at once. I was quite prepared for this little change of plans having experienced such surprises before, and had taken the precaution of laying in a solid lunch early in the day. I did not hear a single growl from anyone, though it meant we had to set out for another march hungry and dinnerless, with the prospect of passing a second night without sleep. When I give my next nuns retreat I think I shall try the experiment of a few supperless and bedless nights on them, just to see what they would say, and compare notes with the soldiers. The only disadvantage would be that I should be inundated with applications to give similar retreats in other convents, everyone being so delighted with the experiment, especially the good Mother Bursar who would simply coin money!

On the road once more in strict fighting kit, the clothes we stood in, a rain coat, and a stout heart. A miserable night with a cold wind driving the drizzling rain into our faces and the ground underfoot being rapidly churned into a quagmire of slush and mud. I hope the Recording Angel will not be afraid of the weather and will not get as tired of counting the steps as I did: Ten thousand and one, ten thousand and two – a bit monotonous even with the memory of the old hermit to help one.

The road was a sight never to be forgotten. On one side marched our column in close formation, on the other galloped by an endless line of ammunition wagons, extra guns hurrying up to the Front, and motor lorries packed with stores of all kinds, while between the two flowed back the stream of empties and ambulance after ambulance filled with wounded and dying.

In silence, save for the never ceasing roar of the guns and the rumble of cart wheels, we marched on through the city of the dead, Ypres, not a little anxious, for a shower of shells might come at any minute. Ruin and desolation, desolation and ruin, is the only description I can give of a spot once the pride and glory of Belgium. The hand of war has fallen heavy on the city of Ypres; scarce a stone remains of the glorious Cathedral and equally famous Cloth Hall; the churches, a dozen of them, are piles of rubbish, gone are the convents, the hospitals and public buildings, and though many of the inhabitants are still there, their bodies lie buried in the ruins of their homes, and the smell of rotting corpses poisons the air. I have seen strange sights in the last two years, but this was the worst of all. Out again by the opposite gate of this stricken spot, which people say was not undeserving of God’s chastisement, across the moat and along the road pitted all over with half filled in shell-holes. Broken carts and dead horses, with human bodies too if one looked, lie on all sides, but one is too weary to think of anything except how many more miles must be covered.

A welcome halt at last with, perhaps, an hour or more delay. The men were already stretched by the side of the road, and I was not slow to follow their example. I often used to wonder how anyone could sleep lying in mud or water, but at that moment the place for sleep, as far as I was concerned, did not matter two straws, a thorn bush, the bed of a stream, anywhere would do to satisfy the longing for even a few moments slumber after nearly two days and nights of marching without sleep. I picked out a soft spot on the ruins of a home, lay down with a sigh of relief, and then, for all I cared, all the King’s guns and the Kaiser’s combined might roar till they were hoarse, and all the rain in the heavens might fall, as it was falling then, I was too tired and happy to bother.

I was chuckling over the disappearance of the officer in front of me into a friendly trench from which he emerged if possible a little more muddy than he was, when I felt my two legs shoot from under me, and I vanished down the sides of a shell-hole which I had not noticed. As I am not making a confession of my whole life, I shall not tell you what I said, but it was something different from the exclamation of the pious old gentleman who used to mutter Tut, tut every time he missed the golf ball.

The Head Quarters Staff found shelter in an old mine- shaft, dark, foul-smelling, and dripping water which promised soon to flood us out. Still it was some protection from the down-pour outside, and I slept like a top for some hours in a dry corner sitting on a coil of wire.

Today is the feast of St Ignatius, the spiritual father of Fr Doyle. As a true Jesuit, Fr Doyle was moulded by Ignatius’s spirituality, especially by the spiritual exercises. Those who are interested in the life and spirit of St Ignatius may wish to read the following two presentations from the great Jesuit writer Fr John Hardon:

Ignatian Spirituality Today

St Ignatius: Jesuit Saint

St Ignatius

Thoughts for July 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

But remember the devil will spoil the work if he can and by every means in his power turn you from your life of immolation.

COMMENT: In today’s snippet, Fr Doyle reminds us that we are contending not only against our own weakness in the spiritual life, but that the devil also wishes to distract us from closer intimacy with God, and that he will use “every means in his power” to turn us aside. Lucifer was the most brilliant of the angels and he has many means in his power. Perhaps most of all, he will use the defects in our own characters, which he knows so well, to turn us from the path of virtue. 

When we are tempted, when the devil tries “by every means in his power” to turn us away from our good resolutions, we should proceed as we had planned, with generosity and trusting in God’s help. 

Today it is somewhat unfashionable to refer to the Enemy, but if we wish to remove him from our life of faith, we shall be forced to erase a lot of the Gospel as well. True, perhaps previous generations were too focussed on the issues of evil influences, but perhaps we have allowed the pendulum to swing far too much in the other direction in recent decades. If we prefer to ignore the existence of our Enemy, we surely give a major advantage to him. 

The efforts of the Enemy should spur us on to greater efforts, not cause us to shrink with fear. As Fr Doyle wrote in his diary 103 years ago today (12 July 1915):

Not feeling well, I gave up the intention of sleeping on boards, but overcame self and did so. I rose this morning, quite fresh and none the worse for it, proving once more how our Lord would help me if I was generous.

Fr Doyle, as a good disciple of St Ignatius, knew that a fundamental principle of our spiritual combat is to act against temptation, not to meekly yield when tempted. Consider the words of St Ignatius:

It is the way of the enemy to weaken and lose heart, his temptations taking flight, when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things opposes a bold front against the temptations of the enemy, doing diametrically the opposite. And on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself commences to have fear and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so wild on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with so great malice.

Finally, today is the feast (and wedding wedding anniversary) of the married couple Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese. Fr Doyle was an early and enthusiastic devotee of St Therese. I have recently read a remarkable book about the family of St Therese, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is by St Stephane-Joseph Piat OFM, originally published in the 1940s under the title “The Story of a Family: The Home of the Little Flower”, but more recently published by Ignatius Press (https://www.amazon.com/Family-Saints-Martins-Lisieux-Saints-Thérèse-ebook/dp/B01H2ISD74/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1531391961&sr=8-1&keywords=family+of+saints) and by TAN (https://www.amazon.com/Story-Family-Home-Therese-Lisieux-ebook/dp/B015EPNGGA/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1531392032&sr=1-1) under slightly different titles. I must admit that, despite having read her autobiography and several other biographies of her, I have been in that (small?) number of Catholics who have an objective appreciation for St Therese, without having a personal, subjective devotion to her. But this book has given me a fresh perspective, and I was highly impressed at the holiness and devotion of the entire family, and especially her parents, both of whom are now rightfully recognised as saints. The bourgeois atmosphere of late 19th Century France may seem foreign to us now. But we can all identify with the Martin family at some level. They worked (both of them!), they had bills to pay, they knew loss and they knew suffering. But they trusted in God, and they put Him first. They were no strangers to criticism, or to being called Pharisees for their adherence to their religion. At a time when debates about marriage and the family are very central to the concerns of the Church, and at a time when the Church in Ireland prepares for the World Meeting of Families, the example of St Louis and St Zelie Martin should stand as a beacon of light and inspiration for all.

Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, parents of St Therese of Lisieux

Thoughts for June 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Aloysius Gonzaga SJ

Jesus told me today that the work of regeneration and sanctification is to be done by leading souls to Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes in his diary on June 21, 1917, slightly less than two months before his death. Was this based on an actual vision or a locution or just a simply inspiration? We do not know, but ultimately it does not matter for the truth of what Fr Doyle writes is plain for us to see. 

Today is also the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, a young Jesuit who died at the age of 23 in 1591. St Aloysius was – like pretty much every saint – deeply devoted to the Eucharist. He begged the Lord that he would die within the Octave of Corpus Christi and received his first Holy Communion from the great St Charles Borromeo.

Let us pray to St Aloysius that we may acquire some small taste of the devotion that both he and Fr Doyle both had for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. 

Those interested in learning more about the life and spirituality of St Aloysius may find more information here:http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_008.htm

Thoughts for June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts for June 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Third Degree of Humility. 

1. Accepto. I will receive with joy all unpleasant things which I must bear : (a) pain, sickness, heat, cold, food; (b) house, employment, rules, customs; (c) trials of religious life, companions; (d) reprimands, humiliations; (e) anything which is a cross. 

2. Volo et desidero. I will wish and desire that these things may happen to me, that so I may resemble my Jesus more. 

3. Eligo. Wtih all my might I will strive every day agere contra in omnibus: (a) against my faults; (b) against my my own will; (c) against my ease and comfort; (d) against the desires of the body; (e) against my habit and inclination of performing my duties negligently and without fervour.

COMMENT: Today’s text from Fr Doyle comes from his notes on the Long Retreat in the autumn of 1907. This retreat was to have a profound influence on his life; everything that came after, including his sacrifices in the trenches, seem to be fruits of the seeds that were planted on this retreat.

In these notes, Fr Doyle reflects on St Ignatius’ meditation on the three types of humility, which is placed during the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. The full text from Ignatius is as follows:

Third Humility. The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when…in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want to choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobium with Christ replete with it rather than honours; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.

Fr Doyle shows us a way in which we can attempt to reach this degree of humility, namely by acting agere contra in omnibus – against myself in all things. This was fundamental in Fr Doyle’s spirituality, and it is crucial to remember that the hero of the trenches was not born that way – he made himself strong and courageous, with God’s grace, by acting against himself in small things every day. We do not need to act against ourselves in ALL things – Fr Doyle had a special calling that is different from ours. But if we do not act against ourselves in SOME things we become spiritually weak and flabby, we become selfish and unattractive to live with in our families and communities.

The benefits of this spiritual discipline can help us not only in spiritual terms but in human terms as well. The Jesuit priest, Fr Walter Ciszek, who suffered greatly for the faith in prison camps in Siberia and elsewhere in Russia, reports in his own memoirs that it was his own daily discipline in denying himself that helped him prepare for long years of deprivation, solitude and hard work.

Fr Doyle, Fr Ciszek and so many saints show us in their lives that traditional ascetical practices not only train us for the next world, but they also equip us to face challenges in this life as well.

Fr Walter Ciszek SJ