Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.

COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. Even this small glimpse of His Divinity is enough to dumbfound the apostles and fill them with fear, but also courage and hope to face the hard days to come. While the earthly transfiguration, as such, was obviously unique to Christ because of His Divinity, it remains true that we are all meant to be “transformed” in some spiritual way by grace.

However, this transformation can also be physical in some way in the lives of the saints. There is a temptation to discount such phenomena as part of as mythical “Golden Legend” of the saints. Sometimes it can be good to be a little sceptical about mystical phenomena, but it is surely not the Christian position to completely and automatically dismiss such phemonena out of hand entirely.

We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. The Book of Exodus tells us how the face of Moses was shining and radiant after he came down from the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of St John Paul II perceived that his face also shone on occasion. Those who were present at the apparitions at Lourdes also reported a radiant look on the face of St Bernadette during her visions, and it was the power of this radiance that convinced them of the authenticity of the visions. Similarly, those present when St Pio said Mass could also perceive a radiance in his face.

Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, holiness can sometimes manifest itself externally in some fashion. Here is some similar testimony from a soldier who knew Fr Doyle in the Great War:

Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’

We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:

Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.

Thoughts for the First Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

 

A fierce temptation during Mass and thanksgiving to break my resolution and indulge my appetite at breakfast…Jesus urged me to pray for strength though I could scarcely bring myself to do so. But the temptation left me in the refectory, and joy filled my heart with the victory. I see now that I need never yield if only I pray for strength.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this reflection in his diary in September 1913. It is most appropriate for us to consider these words today, the First Sunday of Lent, on which we read in the Gospel an account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. 

Jesus is like us in all things but sin. He has been tempted, and not just tempted like us, but with even greater ferocity and power. In today’s quote, and in many other places in his diaries and letters, Fr Doyle speaks of the absolute necessity of trusting in God and seeking his help in moments of temptation. We cannot succeed alone, but we have a God who fully understands the nature of temptation. If we are tempted to give up our Lenten resolutions already, or if we are tempted not to start again if we have already fallen, we should turn with confidence to Christ who understands our weakness and will assist us with his grace.

Let us conclude today with these words from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD, the author of Divine Intimacy, a classic text of Carmelite meditations.

Let us learn from Jesus how to conduct ourselves in temptations. Primarily, He teaches us to have a great confidence in God. Jesus would not satisfy His hunger, nor impress men by means of a brilliant miracle, nor accept kingdoms and wealth because, in a spirit of perfect filial confidence, He had entrusted everything to the Father’s care — His life, His mission, and His glory. Those who will fully trust in God and who rely on His divine Providence, will not be easily enticed by the vain flattery of the devil, the world, or the flesh, because they know that only God can give true blessings and real happiness.

We should extend the practice of this confidence to the moment of temptation. If God permits us to be tempted, He does not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, and, accompanying every temptation, there is always a special actual grace sufficient to overcome it. Therefore, instead of being disturbed by the violence of the struggle, let us use faithfully the grace God always gives and turn to Him in humble, confident prayer.

Thoughts for February 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

As the moth is attracted to the light, is drawn ever nearer to the warmth and brightness, until at length with irresistible longing it casts itself into the flame, so the Sacred Heart draws us to Itself by Its love. We are warm by the fervour of Its affection, dazzled by Its brilliancy. We come to realize the extent of that love, its foolish excesses; it bursts upon us that all this is a personal love for me.

5 February 1911

To-day while praying in the Chapel, suddenly it seemed to me as if I were standing before a narrow path all choked with briars and sharp thorns. Jesus was beside me with a large cross and I heard Him ask me would I strip myself of all things, and naked as He was on Calvary, take that cross on my bare shoulders and bravely fight my way to the end of the road. I realised clearly that this would mean much suffering and that very soon my flesh would be torn and bleeding from the thorns. All the same, humbly I promised Him, that, relying on His grace, I would not shrink from what He asked, and even begged Him to drag me through these briars since I am so cowardly. This inspiration, coming so soon after the ardent desire really to crucify myself, shows me clearly what kind of life Jesus is asking from me. I felt impelled to resolve as far as possible never to be without some slight bodily suffering, e.g. chain on arm, etc. I have also made a vow twice (binding for one day) to refuse on that day no sacrifice which I really feel my Jesus asks from me. All this has given me great interior peace and happiness, with fresh courage and determination to become a saint. Life is too short for a truce.

Thoughts for January 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I should examine all my actions, taking Jesus as my model and example. What a vast difference between my prayer and His; between my use of time, my way of speaking, walking, dealing with others, etc., and that of the child Jesus! If I could only keep Him before my eyes always, my life would be far different from what it has been.

COMMENT: The incarnation was one of the central moments of history, and the reality that the Word was made flesh is central to Catholicism. God has taken on human form. We can know Him. God is revealed to us in the sacred Humanity of Christ. Jesus should be our model and guide; we should seek to know Him through scripture, through prayer and through the Eucharist.

The Humanity of Christ was central to the spiritual life of many of the saints. St Teresa of Avila is particularly known for her devotion to the Humanity of Christ. It was while meditating in front of an image of Christ being scourged at the pillar that she experienced her deeper conversion to Christ.

Here are some words from St Teresa:

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.
Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example. 
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Thoughts for January 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

It seems to me I have failed to keep my resolutions because I have not acted from the motive of the love of God. Mortification, prayer, hard work, become sweet when done for the love of Jesus.

COMMENT: We are now 1 week into the year 2021. How have we kept our resolutions for the year? Most of us will have lived them imperfectly. Some may even have already abandoned them altogether. We are not alone. Fr Doyle struggled to stick to his resolutions, and so too did all the saints. But it was the constant struggle, despite failures, that made them so great. Don’t give up – start again!

Thoughts for Christmas Day from Fr Willie Doyle

 

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema 107 years ago today

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 107 years ago today. It relates to a recent trip to the cinema – it’s not clear what date he went to the cinema, but presumably it was the same day or at most a few days beforehand. 

At the end of the performance of “Quo Vadis?” the words of our Lord seemed to go through my soul. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified for thee.’ Jesus must have given me a big grace, for I walked home stunned, with these words ringing in my ears: ‘crucified for thee.’ Oh, Jesus, Jesus, why cannot I be crucified for You? I long for it with all my heart, and yet I remain a coward. Thank you at least for the dear light You have given me about the life You ask from me, namely, ‘to give up every comfort and gratification, to embrace lovingly every possible pain and suffering.’

As O’Rahilly wryly comments on this passage of Fr Doyle’s diary, this was ‘a devout conclusion not always deducible from cinema shows!’

Quo Vadis? is an excellent and gripping novel written in the late 19th century – I highly highly recommend it. It tells the story of the early Christians and the persecutions they had to endure. Fr Doyle was always attracted by the lives of the early martyrs, and it is this no surprise that the story in Quo Vadis? would really appeal to him. 

So, here we have the “modern” Fr Doyle, enjoying a trip to the cinema!

Incidentally, this is the 1912 version of Quo Vadis?, which is presumably the one Fr Doyle went to see.

Thoughts for December 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

“I have called upon Thee in the day of my trouble” (Psalm 85. 7). Jesus is our comforter. What burden is there which He cannot lighten? What cross that He cannot make sweet? Be our troubles what they may, if only we will call on Jesus and implore His aid, we shall find our sufferings lessened and the rough ways smoothed for our bleeding feet.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle knew what he was talking about; he lived the reality of suffering in a way that few of us can ever realise. Whether we face only minor inconveniences and frustrations or major, life-altering problems, we will find help if we turn to Christ.

In one week we shall celebrate the birth of Christ. It was an incredible intervention in human history. God became man in order that we might be saved. Jesus has experienced poverty, pain, loneliness, betrayal, tiredness, hunger, temptation, and all for love of us. 

Thoughts for November 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

The life of Jesus was a continual prayer. Even during His public life He began, continued and ended everything He did by prayer, besides devoting whole nights and days to communing with His Father.

If we want our work for souls to be fruitful, we must bring prayer into it. If our children are not all that they ought to be, the cause may not be far to seek. Let us examine if we are praying enough for them, if our aspirations are ever ascending to the throne of God, to bless our work amongst those children and amongst others with whom we have to deal.

COMMENT: The only elaboration that Fr Doyle’s words require today is that of his own example. He was constantly immersed in prayer, often reciting thousands of aspiration each day, and regularly spending entire nights in prayer. It’s not coincidental that his own ministry as a writer, retreat master, preacher, spiritual director and military chaplain was marked by success and fruitfulness.