14 September 1912

Having again indulged my appetite, I made this resolution, that whenever I do so, no matter for what reason (health, feasts etc) I will enter it in the other book. I think this will be a check and a help to me to do what Jesus has asked so long – no indulgence whatever in food.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was renowned for keeping “books” – little notebooks where he noted his spiritual victories, and his failures. Some people might find this strange. But in doing so he was merely following the advice of St Ignatius of Loyola and the example of many Jesuits across the centuries. Indeed, many people today keep a track of their exercise or their diets on their smartphones, and, unlike Fr Doyle who kept all of this as a secret to himself, many people broadcast their own “successes” and “failures” in their exercise regime with social media posts that draw attention to themselves.

So long as one doesn’t end up being scrupulous as a result, the practice of noting successes and failures each day can help us to see where we should make our stand and fight the next day. It helped Fr Doyle to steadily grow in virtue, and it can help us too if we are faithful to it. 

Thoughts for September 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

My intense desire and longing is to make others love Jesus and to draw them to His Sacred Heart. Recently at Mass I have found myself at the Dominus Vobiscum opening my arms wide with the intention of embracing every soul present and drawing them in spite of themselves into that Heart which longs for their love. “Compel them to come in,” Jesus said. Yes, compel them to dive into that abyss of love. Sometimes, I might say nearly always, when speaking to people I am seized with an extraordinary desire to draw their hearts to God. I could go down on my knees before them and beg them to be pure and holy, so strong do I feel the longing of Jesus for sanctity in everyone, and since I may not do this, I try to do what I find hard to describe in words: to pour out of my heart any grace or love of God there may be in it, and then with all the force of my will to draw their hearts into that of Jesus.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a great zeal for souls. It was this zeal that compelled him to travel around Ireland (and occasionally in Scotland and England) preaching missions and giving retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to try to establish a retreat house for laypeople in the face of opposition from those who did not see the point of laypeople doing retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to walk the streets at dawn to carry out apostolate with the working class on their way to work and to walk around ports at night to carry out apostolate with sailors. It was this zeal that compelled him to gently and kindly tell a street prostitute to go home and to stop hurting Jesus, ultimately converting her. It was this zeal that compelled him to mortify himself so that the sins of others, and especially of priests, might be expiated. It was this zeal that compelled him to volunteer for the missions in Congo, even though his offer was not accepted by his superiors. It was this zeal which compelled him to volunteer as a military chaplain and to face the probability of death time after time as he rushed into danger to anoint a fallen soldier. And it was this zeal which made him resolve to volunteer to work in leper colony if he survived the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Charles Spinola, an Italian Jesuit saint whose zeal compelled him to leave the comfortable life of a 16th Century noble and volunteer for the missions in Japan. It took him three years to get there, and after working for 18 years, he was imprisoned in a cage for four years, tortured and finally burned to death.

We are unlikely to be called to such remarkable acts. But if the saints and other holy men and women can exhibit such heroism and zeal for souls, we can surely live the daily tasks of each day with more fortitude and heroism.

Thoughts for September 9 (St Peter Claver) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Peter Claver SJ

 

St. Peter Claver was one of those generous heroic souls whom God sends upon this earth to serve as a stimulus to our zeal, to urge us on to dare and do great things for His glory. Alone he stood upon the beach of that reeking haunt of sin, Cartagena, and saw the galley-ship vomit forth its human living burden of slaves. He saw these poor wretches dazed with their long confinement, sick in body and weary of soul, cast on the burning sand, their eyes wild with terror at the vision of the nameless death they thought awaited them. Here was scope for his zeal. Was not the image of Jesus stamped deep upon the souls of each of them? Did they not bear the likeness of the sacred Humanity in their tortured limbs? Was this goodly harvest to be left ungathered and hell alone to reap the fruit of man’s cupidity?

COMMENT: St Peter Claver SJ lived a remarkable life. He was a slave to the slaves who were captured and brought to Cartagena. He looked after their temporal and spiritual needs, catechising and baptising up to 300,000, and defended their rights and welfare when occasion arose. Normally a third or more of the slaves who were brought to Cartagena died en route from disease and ill treatment. Numerous contemporary accounts report that the smell of the diseased slaves who arrived on the slave ships was overwhelming, and practically nobody else was physically able enter their cramped, sweltering huts where they were left to die. But Peter Claver braved the disease and the horrors and often fed and washed to the sick and dying, and could often be found burying the dead himself. One biographer said that Peter Claver encompassed in one life the missionary zeal of St Francis Xavier, the dedication to the confessional of St John Vianney and the care for the sick and the lepers of St Damien of Molokai. Pope Leo XIII, who canonised St Peter, said that no other life, except the life of Christ, had as much impact on him personally.

From today’s quote it is clear that Fr Doyle had much regard for this great Jesuit saint. Indeed, in their spiritual lives and in their heroic service of others they had much in common. Incidentally, Peter Claver lived a frightful life of penance right to the very end of his days and he far exceeded Fr Doyle’s own austerities. 

More on St Peter Claver can be found here:

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_020.htm

 

Thoughts for September 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Ignatius

To be indifferent does not mean to desire things which are hard to nature, but a readiness and determination to embrace them when once the will of God is known. In this sense I think I am indifferent about going to the Congo. But I must force myself to be willing to accept the way of life which God seems to be leading me to and wants me to adopt. My God, I dread it, but “not my will but Thine”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle, as a Jesuit was well schooled in the spiritual exercises. Indifference plays a big role in the teaching of St Ignatius. As the saint says in the first week of the spiritual exercises:

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Fr Doyle did not personally want to live through the horrors of the Great War. He did not personally want to live a life of self-denial in both little and big things. But he gave himself to all of these things – with enthusiasm – because he thought it was the will of God and that it would lead him to sanctity.

It is somewhat consoling that Fr Doyle dreaded being open to God’s will, rather than his own personal will. Even those who were very holy have their fears.

 

 

August 18: St Alberto Hurtado and Fr Doyle

St Alberto Hurtado

Today is the feast of St Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit saint from Chile. He was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and is renowned for his social work and love of the poor.

Contacts in Chile also tell me that he is remembered among the Jesuits there as a devotee of Fr Doyle. He apparently distributed literature relating to Fr Doyle and encouraged others to learn about his life. I understand that he came to Ireland as a young Jesuit to learn English, so it was probably on this occasion that he heard about Fr Doyle. Here we have a joyful, cheerful modern saint who was devoted to social justice and who also presumably derived personal spiritual benefits from the example, and words, of Fr Doyle.

St Alberto is not alone – we know that St Josemaria Escriva, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Raphael Arnaiz Baron, Blessed John Sullivan, Venerable Adolphus Petit and the Servant of God Bernard Quinn all admired Fr Doyle. I have also recently learned that the Servant of God Mother Adele Garner, the foundress of Tyburn Convent, knew Fr Doyle in life and was devoted to him after his death.  There may well be other well known saints who were also devoted to him that I am unaware of, and indeed there are many thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who have been inspired by Fr Doyle’s love of God and of neighbour.

I am not aware of a specific reference to Fr Doyle in St Alberto’s writings, but there may well be something there: if anybody knows anything please let me know.

There is a list of some meditations in English from St Alberto hereInterestingly, St Alberto refers to the Venerable Matt Talbot (we have no direct evidence, but also surely a devotee of Fr Doyle??) in this meditation.

 

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

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

28 July 1907: Fr Doyle is ordained alongside Blessed John Sullivan

28 July 1907, Miltown Park, Dublin. Fr Doyle is marked with an X.

 

My loving Jesus, on this the morning of my Ordination to the priesthood, I wish to place in Your Sacred Heart, in gratitude for all that You have done for me, the resolution from this day forward to go straight to holiness. My earnest wish and firm resolve is to strive with might and main to become a saint.

COMMENT: These words were written 113 years ago today, on July 28, 1907, on the morning of Fr Doyle’s ordination to the priesthood in Miltown Park, County Dublin.

Fr Doyle loved being a priest. He gives us some hint of his esteem for the priesthood in letters that he wrote to his sister.

This one was sent to his sister a few weeks before the event:

As you may imagine, all my thoughts at present are centred on the Great Day, July 28th. The various events of the year have helped keep it before my mind, learning to say Mass, the Divine Office etc; but now that such a short time remains, I find it hard to realise that I shall be a priest so very soon. Were it not for all the good prayers, especially yours, sister mine, which are being offered up daily for me, I should almost feel in despair, because these long years of waiting (nearly 17 now) have only brought home to me how unworthy I am of such an honour and such a dignity.

On the day of his ordination he wrote the following lines to this same sister:

I know that you will be glad to receive a few lines from the hands which a few hours ago have been consecrated with the holy oil. Thank God a thousand thousand times, I can say at long last, I am a priest, even though I be so unworthy of all that holy name implies. How can I tell you all that my heart feels at this moment? It is full to overflowing with joy and peace and gratitude to the good God for all that He has done for me, and with heartfelt thankfulness to the dear old Missionary for all her prayers. . . . I say my first Mass to-morrow at nine at Hampton for the dear Parents, the second (also at nine) at Terenure will be for you. . . . Thank you for all you have done for me; but above all thank the dear Sacred Heart for this crowning grace imparted to your little brother who loves you so dearly.

And on 28th July 1914, the 7th anniversary of his ordination, he wrote:

At Exposition Jesus spoke clearly in my soul, ‘Do the hard thing for my sake BECAUSE it is hard’. I also felt urged to perform all my priestly duties with great fervour to obtain grace for other priests to do the same, e.g. the Office, that priests may say theirs well.

Fr Doyle’s last ever entry in his diary was made on the 10th anniversary of his ordination (and 3 weeks prior to his death) on 28 July 1917:

I have again offered myself to Jesus as His Victim to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy as part of my immolation, in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all little pains in this spirit. A strong urging to this.

For Fr Doyle, his vocation was inseparable from his call to do penance for the sins of priests. How increasingly relevant Fr Doyle’s example is for us now in Ireland…

Here is a prayer for priests composed by Fr Doyle:

O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.

The words they say every day at the altar, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” grant them to apply to themselves: “I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another.”

O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.

Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.

Fr Doyle was not the only remarkable Irish Jesuit ordained on July 28, 1907. His friend, Blessed John Sullivan was also ordained at the same time. 

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

Thoughts for May 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

I did not write because I had nothing but disappointment, opposition, cold shower-baths and crosses to chronicle…Your news about the success in England is glorious, and yet I am assured that mine will come in Dublin if ever a house is opened. … I am confident the real difficulty will be to keep the men out. I never realised till I got on the mission staff the immense amount of faith and love for holy things there is everywhere still in Ireland. … It has been a four years’ Calvary, but yesterday the Resurrection, I hope, began, for I heard that Rathfarnham Castle with 53 acres has been purchased at last, and I have the Provincial’s promise (when that took place) to allow me to make a start in the stables. Ye Gods! Fancy the mighty Doyle preaching in a stable! Very like the Master is it not?’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 107 years ago today, on May 20 1913, in a letter to Fr Charles Plater SJ. Fr Plater had founded a retreat house for working men, and Fr Doyle was a supporter of this initiative, and expended much energy in his attempts to establish a similar house for workers in Ireland. He traveled around Europe researching the idea and wrote a booklet on the issue. Fr Doyle saw such retreats as an essential outreach to lay people and to ordinary workers in general at a time when worker’s rights were a burning issue of the day – the Dublin Lockout also occurred in late 1913, and the rights of labour were central to the political and philosophical debates of the day.

Fr Doyle did not live to see his cherished workers retreat, but eventually a house for this purpose was built in Rathfarnham after Fr Doyle’s death. It evolved into the Lay Retreat Association which continued in operation until it sadly closed down in 2016.

Fr Charles Plater SJ