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.

 

 

Pray the Novena of Grace from 4-12 March for the cessation of the corona virus

The Miracles of St Francis Xavier by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1617.
On the left hand side you can see plague victims being blessed by St Francis.

 

The Novena of Grace, to the great Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier starts on March 4 and runs until March 12. This novena has a long history. It originated in Naples, Italy in 1643, when a Jesuit, Matteo Mastrilli, was cured through the intercession of St Francis Xavier, who promised that those who made the nine days of prayer in preparation for the anniversary of his canonisation would receive many graces and favours.

St Francis is the patron of the missions, and greatly loved Asia. He especially loved China and longed to reach that land to bring the light of the Gospel, though he died before got there.

St Francis was also a miracle worker, both during his life and after his death. One area where there are reported miracles relates to the plague. In his early life St Francis worked with plague victims in Venice, working intimately with them and yet never becoming infected; his contemporaries viewed his ongoing heath as a sign of Divine protection. After his death off the coast of China, his body was brought Malacca (Malaysia). At that time the city was in the grip of a deadly plague, with many people dying on a daily basis. Apparently the plague – and the deaths – stopped instantly when his body arrived.

The Novena of Grace is very timely this year as our 21st century plague – the corona virus – is spreading rapidly around the world. Of particular note is that China and so many Asian countries are afflicted, as is Venice and surrounding areas where Francis worked with plague victims in 1537. His concern for the sick of these areas, and indeed worldwide, is surely even greater now that he is in Heaven.

Let us all pray to St Francis Xavier for the cessation of this pestilence, for healing of the sick, for comfort for the bereaved and for protection for those of us who are as yet unaffected.

O most kind and loving saint, in union with you I adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which God blessed you during life, and of your glory after death, fills me with joy;
and I unite with you in offering to Him
my humble tribute of thanksgiving and of praise,
I implore of you to secure for me through your powerful intercession
the all-important blessing of living and dying in the state of grace.
I also beseech you to obtain the favour I ask in this Novena
(here ask for the favour you wish to obtain),
but if what I ask is not for the glory of God or for the good of my soul, obtain for me what is most conducive to both. Amen.

Let us pray,
O God, who was pleased to gather into your Church the peoples of the East by the preaching and miracles of blessed Francis,
mercifully grant that we, who honour his glorious merits,
may also imitate the example of his virtues,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father)

 

Thoughts for December 21 (St Peter Canisius) 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.

1 December 1914

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent, has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace – they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become saint – it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life ‘sacrifice always and in all things’”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these lines 105 years ago today, on 1 December 1914, during his retreat that year. They sum up a key aspect of his life and spirit – that he clearly felt that he was chosen to live a life of extra penance. He clearly saw this as his special mission, and he recognised that it was not something for others to copy. That is why he was always very tough with himself and very gentle with others. As he says – “they may meritoriously do what I cannot”.

Did Fr Doyle have an inflated ego in thinking that he had a special mission to asceticism? I don’t think so. His penances were shared with his confessor who approved of them with few changes. His penances were also private – nobody else was to know about them apart from his confessor, and we would know nothing of them today were it not decided to disobey Fr Doyle’s wishes and publish some of his personal notes. In several places in his diaries Fr Doyle mentions that he felt energised and strengthened by his penance, but on the other hand he felt sick and fatigued when he took it easier on himself. Finally, one can clearly see that the heroism of Fr Doyle in the trenches cannot really be separated from his asceticism – it is hard to imagine that one who is self-complacent and lazy could have done what Fr Doyle did during his years as a chaplain. His penances prepared him for these rigours. One cannot have the heroic Fr Doyle unless one also has the ascetical Fr Doyle – they are part of the same package. 

Today we also celebrate the feast of one of the great Jesuits, St Edmund Campion. I am not aware that Fr Doyle ever wrote about him, but it is certain that he admired him. St Edmund’s dramatic life surely appealed to Fr Doyle’s own personality.

St Edmund, like so many others, was martyred for being a Catholic at Tyburn. Here is what he had to say on this matter.

And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted; so it must be restored.

St Edmund Campion

St John Berchmans, Fr Doyle and ordinary life

st-john-berchmans
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 encouraged 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 here: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_015.htm

Thoughts for November 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

Saint_Francis_Xavier
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.