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 Jesuit 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 April 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

Whenever there is a question of choice, ask yourself, “Which would please God most?”, then, “Which will come hardest to my nature?”. It is this, then, that you will choose: and even though you may not always do so, keep your mind and will bent in the direction of doing always whatever goes against self. This is true holiness.

COMMENT: This is one of Fr Doyle’s hard sayings. Our human nature tends to values comfort, personal autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure and the easy life. To such a mindset, the idea of “going against self” seems to be bizarre.

Yet for all that, modern man does not mind going against himself when it suits him. How many today “go against themselves” in order to earn more money and gain a promotion? How many “go against themselves” by punishing themselves at the gym in pursuit of a more alluring body? It seems to suit the modern mentality to go against our easy going nature when the reward is worth it. And perhaps this indicates that, for many of us today, the love and glory of God is not a sufficient reward to make us go against our natural tendencies…

This is not how it was with the saints. St Thomas More deliberately chose the eldest sister of a family to marry, even though he found the younger sister to be more appealing to him – he felt that it would be dishonourable to leave the elder sister unmarried. This same saint wrote about how we cannot get to Heaven in a feather bed. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to destroy his lecture notes every year and start from scratch the following year, even though he was teaching the very same course again – he didn’t want to get lazy by regurgitating the same lecture. St John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, wrote on the same theme as follows:

The soul should always be inclined: not to what is easiest, but to what is more difficult; not to what is more tasty but to what is more insipid; not to what is more pleasant but to what is less pleasant.

St Therese, one of the most beloved of all saints, was dedicated to the teaching of St John of the Cross, and she sought to concoct many ways of going against herself – including, for example, not leaning on back of her chair – so as to have some small discomfort as she sat.

The idea of acting against one’s inclinations is very characteristic of Fr Doyle. But as we have seen from just a few saints (and we could multiply the examples many times over…) it was not some oddity or personality quirk on his part. Apart from having a long tradition in ascetically theology, it is a fundamentally Ignatian notion, and we find many references to it in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. It was a concept very dear to the Jesuits of Fr Doyle’s time. Consider the following, written by Blessed John Sullivan SJ, a friend of Fr Doyle’s who was ordained on the same day:

We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. Anything that denies self is an act of love.

Fr Doyle helped many people throughout his life, especially during the war. How many people – and especially how many soldiers – benefitted precisely because Fr Doyle acted against his own inclinations?

And how much our families and our society would benefit if we acted against our natural inclinations more often…

Blessed John Sullivan

31 March 1891: Young Willie enters the Jesuit novitiate

Fr Doyle entered on his career as Jesuit on this day 130 years ago. The following is as letter he wrote from Stonyhurst to his parents on the 31 March 1901, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of his entrance to the Society of Jesus.

10 years ago today I went to Tullabeg and entered on my career as a novice in the Society. Looking back on it all now, it seems hard to realise that 10 long years have gone by since that eventful day on which I took a step which has meant so much for me, and which, thank God, during all this time I have never for a moment regretted. Our Lord was very good to me at that time, smoothing away many difficulties and making that day, which, to human nature at least, was full of sorrow, one of the happiest of all my life.

I remember well my arrival at Tullabeg and the way I astonished the Father Socius (as he told me afterwards) by running up to the hall door three steps at a time. He was not accustomed, he said, to see novices coming in such a merry mood, evidently enjoying the whole thing; and, though I did not know it then, it was the best of signs of a real vocation.

Since then I’ve gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face – even a Jesuit’s life it is not all roses – but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.

I think this would be a consolation to you, dearest father and mother, for I’ve often pictured you to myself as wondering if I were really happy and content. I could not be more so, and were I to look upon religious life from the soul aspect of what makes for the greatest happiness, I would not exchange it for all the pleasures the world could offer. Thank God for all his goodness, and after him, many grateful thanks to you both, dearest father and mother, for that good example and loving care to which we all owe so much

 

Thoughts for March 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis Xavier

Vince teipsum – conquer yourself. This is the secret of the Spiritual Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.

COMMENT: It is appropriate for us to consider this quote from Fr Doyle today for two reasons.

Firstly, conquering ourselves is a crucial part of the Lenten experience. We aim to uproot our vices and become more like Christ during our 40 days of spiritual discipline.

The second reason relates to the person of St Francis Xavier, one of Ignatius’ first companions, one of the greatest Jesuit saints and the patron of the missions. Today is traditionally the last day of the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis. In St Francis’ day, the mission field was far away; today it is in our own cities and towns, all so badly in need of the New Evangelisation. May he enkindle in us the same passion to save souls that compelled him to travel to the other side of the world. Let us conclude with the traditional novena prayer to St Francis Xavier.

Most amiable and most loving St. Francis Xavier, in union with thee I reverently adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which God blessed thee during life, and of thy glory after death, fills me with joy. I implore thee to obtain for me, through thy powerful intercession, the inestimable blessing of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beseech thee to obtain the special favour I ask for (Make your request here…)

But, if what I ask is not for the glory of God, and the good of my soul, I pray and desire that which is the most conductive to both.

Amen.

 

 

10 January: Anniversary of Fr Paul Ginhac SJ

Fr Paul Ginhac SJ

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Fr Paul Ginhac SJ who died on this day in 1895. Fr Ginhac was a French Jesuit whose life and example seems to have had an impact on the spirituality of Fr Doyle. At any rate, he was sufficiently impressed with Fr Ginhac’s virtues that he translated a 380 page official biography of Fr Ginhac from French into English and organised its publication and distribution. He also distributed relics and prayer cards of Fr Ginhac in order to support the cause for his beatification. We can be sure that the spirituality of Fr Ginhac was of great personal importance for Fr Doyle if he went to this trouble in the midst of an already busy life – he had more than enough to do without taking on the task of translating a large book like this!

Fr Ginhac’s cause does not seem to have progressed much since the 1920’s. Perhaps future generations will take a renewed interest in this holy priest who so strongly inspired the heroism of Fr Doyle. After all, sometimes sainthood causes take centuries to progress.

Below is the relevant section of O’Rahilly’s biography dealing with Fr Doyle’s translation of Fr Ginhac’s biography. At the end of this post I have included a scan of some pages from the book, including Fr Doyle’s Foreword.

It will be convenient to mention here Fr. Doyle’s translation of the Life of Pere Ginhac by A. Calvet, S.J. “Printer after printer refused to have anything to do with the book,” he wrote, “though I staked Fr. Ginhac’s reputation that it would prove a financial success.” Finally Messrs. R. and T. Washbourne undertook to produce the work, and it appeared in 1914 as A Man after God’s Own Heart: Life of Father Paul Ginhac, S.J. When Fr. Doyle heard that the price was fixed at 8/6 net, he thought that the sale was killed for “not many people would care to invest such a sum in the life of a man no one had ever heard of.” But to his astonishment 900 copies went through in the first year, and up to December 1916 altogether 1,244 copies had been sold. “Pere Ginhac,” he wrote to his father, “has certainly worked this miracle if he never did anything else; and I am beginning to think he is not a bad sort of an old chap, even though he looked so desperately in need of a square meal!” Fr. Ginhac’s portrait certainly represents him as cadaverous and grim-visaged, a contrast with his admirer and translator, whose mortified life was never allowed to interfere with his buoyant naturalness and irrepressible spirit of fun. The book seems to have impressed and helped many readers, for Fr. Doyle continues: “I have had a pile of letters from all parts of the world — Alaska, Ceylon, South Africa, etc. — asking for relics and mentioning many favours received through the holy father’s intercession; so that the labour of getting out the volume (and it was not light) has brought its own reward.” Thus wrote Fr. Doyle a month before his death. Little did he dream that his own life would be written, and that his influence would be mingled with that of his fellow-religious whom he helped to make known to others.

Some pages from the book translated by Fr DoyleFr Ginhac

The full text of the book can be found here: https://archive.org/details/ManAfterGodsOwnHeart

 

 

Christmas Day 1890: Young Willie decides to become a Jesuit

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.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words about Christmas Day 1890, on which he told his father that he would become a Jesuit. He was 17. This decision followed several months of discernment. He originally intended to become a diocesan priest and was rather scornful of the idea of entering a religious congregation. However, the influence of his brother, and a book on the religious life by St Alphonsus Liguori, were central to him changing his mind. 

Two things jump out here. Firstly that played his “joy and happiness into the piano” – how many of us have a similar joy about our Faith and about our own vocation, whatever it may be? If we lack this joy, how do we recover it? It’s also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems never to have lost this joy, even in tough times. 

Secondly is Fr Doyle’s love of music. He played the piano, and we also know that he played the organ in the church in Dalkey. He also directed the first musical in Clongowes Wood College for some considerable time, and it appears that he took on this task in the face of some scepticism.  Interestingly, we hear little of music in Fr Doyle’s later life as a priest, despite his obvious interest in it. Was it that he saw no particular need for it in the apostolic tasks assigned to him? If so, his abandonment of music was just one in a long list of sacrifices he made in the fuilfillment of the duties assigned to him.

Thoughts for December 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

21 December: A day I always like because the turning point of the year and from this on the evenings will be longer, the mornings brighter and, best of all, the sun hotter. I can quite understand now why the missioners when preaching to the Eskimos tell them that Hell is the devil and all of a cold place, otherwise every man Jack would just be longing to get there as soon as possible.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter to his father in 1916. He had already lived through some rough conditions and seen a lot of suffering in the previous 12 months as a military chaplain, yet once again we see his joyful and light-hearted spirit on display. Those of us who dislike the intense darkness of this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere can also surely identify with how much he looked forward to spring, though in Fr Doyle’s case, writing in December 1916, he had a intensely cold few weeks ahead of him through January 1917. But of course, he approached them with the same cheerful spirit.

It’s hard not to love Fr Doyle’s sense of humour and cheerful optimism. Fr Doyle was always joyful, always looking to put the best foot forward in every situation. Christians should be filled with the joy of the Gospel. In fact, it is Fr Doyle’s cheerful spirit, abundantly testified to by so many who knew him, that is one of his most appealing characteristics.

Today is the feast of the great Jesuit saint and Doctor of the Church St Peter Canisius. His remarkable life of hard work, preaching and teaching, always with charity and respect, did so much to promote the faith in northern and central Europe during the Catholic Reformation. Like all those who serve Him, Jesus guided this great saint and provided for him the graces needed to make his work bear fruit.

Despite St Peter’s undoubted sanctity and importance in the Catholic Reformation, he wasn’t beatified until more than 250 years after his death. Sometimes it just takes time for these things to work themselves out. Perhaps Fr Doyle’s time will also come one day…

You may be interested in reading more about St Peter Canisius here: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_019.htm

St Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for December 3 (St Francis Xavier) from Fr Willie Doyle

Death of St Francis Xavier

Xavier’s hour has come, the hour of his eternal reward and never-ending bliss. In a little hut, open on all sides to the biting blast, the great Apostle lies dying. Far from home and all that makes this life pleasant, far from the quiet of his own religious house, alone upon this barren isle, our Saint will yield his soul to God. What joy fills his heart now at the thought of the sacrifices he has made, the honours he has despised, the pleasures left behind. Happy sufferings! Happy penances! He thinks of what his life might have been, the life of a gay worldling, and in gratitude he lifts his eyes to thank his God for the graces given him. What matter now the hardships he has endured? All, all, are past, for now the sweet reward of heaven is inviting him to his eternal rest.

COMMENT: St Francis Xavier was one of the greatest missionary saints of all time. He was a good man, although proud and ambitious, when Ignatius met him at the University of Paris. Just like Fr Doyle, it was the experience of the Spiritual Exercises that inflamed his soul and set him on the path to sanctity.

Ultimately St Francis Xavier gave up all human comforts and friendships, leaving Europe behind forever to evangelise in the far east. How strange that land must have seemed, and how far away from everything that he knew. Yet it mattered not to Francis – his love for God spilled over into a love for souls and a passionate desire to bring them to Heaven. So too it was with Fr Doyle. He originally wanted to become a missionary in the Congo. He ended up as a missionary in the bloody trenches instead. If he survived that experience, he had resolved to offer himself as a missionary in a leper colony.

Today we no longer have to go to India or Japan to find mission territory – there are more than enough souls who have not yet properly heard the word of God in our own families and neighbourhoods and towns. Let us pray for a share in the missionary zeal and effectiveness of St Francis Xavier and of Fr Doyle. Let us also pray especially for Ireland, which has truly become a mission territory.

St John Berchmans, Fr Doyle and ordinary life

St John Berchmans

The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are most probably the reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.  

The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and recommended to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service. 

Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:

I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.  

More information on the life and spirit of St John Berchmans can be found herehttp://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_015.htm

 

 

Thoughts for November 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis Xavier

Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail – good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.

COMMENT: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.

But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.