All my life my study has been to avoid suffering as much as possible, to make my life a comfortable one. How unlike my Jesus I have been, who sought to suffer on every occasion for me, for me. I should be glad when pain comes and welcome it, because it makes me more like Jesus.
COMMENT: How we can all identify with Fr Doyle’s words today. Our entire modern society is arranged in such a way as to maximise our comforts. Much of the technological advancement of recent decades has been oriented towards our comfort.
At one level this is not an inherently bad thing. Suffering is not good. But we must also remember that we serve a crucified Lord. If we buy into a consumerist mentality whereby the entire focus of our lives is our comfort, our appetite, our leisure and our whims, then can we really say that we are following the Master who had nowhere to lay His head? As in all areas of life, Christianity calls us to balance, and it is when we lose this balance that we run into problems.
As St Thomas More said, we cannot get to Heaven on a feather bed.
“Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to Him.” (Psalm 106: 21). Jesus during His mortal life practised many virtues; but none is more conspicuous, none appeals more strongly to us, than His infinite mercy, His tender forgiveness of all injuries. A vile sinner is brought before Him, her very mien proclaims her crime. “Have none condemned thee? Neither shall I. Go, sin no more.” Magdalen, the bye-word of the city, Magdalen whose name was sin and shame, seeks His forgiveness and finds His mercy. Peter, the favoured one, denies his Master and turns his back on Him who loved him so; and Peter’s heart is won, even in his sin, by one loving look of mercy and compassion from the Saviour whose mercy is without end.
If my resurrection is to be a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.
COMMENT: Just as Christ rose from the dead, in a sense we too must continuously rise from sin, from spiritual death. Fr Doyle makes an extremely important point in today’s quote – if the reformation of our lives is real, it should manifest itself in virtuous external acts.
St Josemaria Escriva also touches on this point:
How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.
Have our days of penance in Lent, our commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, produced any external fruit that enriches the lives of those around us?
May every Easter blessing be yours, and may our crucified Jesus, Who has certainly drawn you to Him on the cross, raise you up now in the glory of His Resurrection.
COMMENT: Christ is risen! Let us celebrate with great joy!
Fr Doyle has left us some notes which reveal to us something of his experiences on some Easter Sundays during his life. They reveal his missionary zeal and also his good cheer, even in the midst of sufferings. I have chosen just two – his first Easter Sunday as a priest and the last Easter Sunday of his life.
Easter Sunday 1908, on a mission in Yarmouth:
I had a strange experience which seemed providential. In my wanderings through the slums I came across by accident an old woman over ninety who had not entered a church for long, long years. ‘I have led a wicked life,’ she said, ‘but every day I asked God to send me a good friend before I died and I feel now my prayer is heard.’ The next day I came back and heard her Confession, and brought her Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the tears streamed down her old withered face she said, ‘Oh, Father this is the first happy day of my life, for I have never known what happiness is since I was a child.’ I could not help feeling that the opening of heaven to that poor sinner was a reward more than enough for all the long years of preparation now passed.
This second quote comes from Easter Sunday 1917, just 4 months before his death. His touching, and respectful, comments about the local French girls shows his good humour and naturalness, even in the midst of much suffering in the war.
Easter Sunday was quite a red letter day in the annals of the town (Pas de Calais, France). The regiment turned out in full strength, headed by the pipers, and crowded the sanctuary, every inch of the church, and out beyond. I had eight stalwart sergeants standing guard with fixed bayonets round the altar. At the Consecration and also at the Communion of the Mass the buglers sounded the Royal Salute which is only given to Monarchs. The guard at the word of command presented arms, and in our poor humble way we tried to do honour to the Almighty King of Kings on the day of His glorious triumph. I must not forget to add that the lassies and maidens did us the honour of coming to sing during Mass, casting many an envious glance (so rumour says) down on the handsome Irish lads praying so devoutly below.
Let us go and meet the risen Lord, sounding the Royal Salute within our own souls.
The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.
The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him. In what way shall I correspond and console my Saviour?
COMMENT: Once again, there are so many things that one could meditate on today. The Passion is a rich and inexhaustible source of meditation for us. It has converted many souls and formed great saints. St Teresa of Avila, for instance, lead a relatively mediocre religious life until one day she reflected on an image of Jesus being scourged at the pillar and was deeply transformed by the experience.
Today’s quote from Fr Doyle focuses on the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Reflecting on this thirst has had a powerful effect on many saints, and specifically on the life and spirituality of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. As St John Paul II said at her beatification:
The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God’s longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa’s soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa’s existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.
Certainly it was a physical thirst, after all of the exertions and torture and loss of blood of the preceding several hours. But the thirst was also spiritual in nature. St Josemaria Escriva tells us:
He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him, along the way of the Cross which is the way to immortality and heavenly glory.
The Jesuit writer Luis de la Palma (1559- 1641) suggests that the thirst of Jesus was both a thirst for us, but also a thirst for more suffering:
What you did, Lord, was crazy; it was as if someone, having drunk the water of an entire river, claimed to be still thirsty. So surprising and marvellous is your desire to suffer for love of us.
From the 19th century book “The School of Jesus Crucified” by Fr Ignatius, an Italian Passionist priest, we find the following reflections on the thirst of Jesus:
Besides this corporal thirst, Jesus suffers from another spiritual species of thirst, which cannot be so easily assuaged.
Jesus thirsts for our eternal salvation, He thirsts for souls. This is the thirst of which he complains, and which is consuming His very life’s Blood. Jesus most passionately desires that the Blood He has shed should benefit mankind by saving them from Hell; and yet He foreknows that there will be many eternally lost, notwithstanding all His love and all His sufferings. Oh, truly does this thirst consume the loving Heart of Jesus, and its sacred heat slowly but surely deprives Him of life!
If thou hadst been present on Mount Calvary, and hadst heard our Redeemer saying ‘I thirst’ wouldst thou not have relieved His sufferings by giving Him a little water? Know that even at the present moment it is in thy power to relieve His burning thirst. He says to thee from the Cross, ‘My son, I thirst for thy soul.’
We will conclude today with the following private reflection from Fr Doyle’s notes. This very personal record was not meant to be seen by others, and it is all the more significant because of the slight tinge of Jansenism affecting the Church, including the Church in Ireland, at that time. One of the effects of the Jansenist heresy is to diminish our love for God, to make us feel unworthy of His love, and to make us overly austere and focussed on rules. Aspects of this error worked itself out in very damaging ways as the 20th Century progressed. Of course, it is also possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction as an excessive reaction against the errors of the past… In any event, it is clear from this reflection that Fr Doyle was not affected by this error
I…once more had an opportunity of a quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.
Pain and privation are only momentary, they quickly pass and become even delightfully sweet, if only borne in the spirit with which many of my grand boys take these things: ‘Sure, Father, it’s not worth talking about; after all, is it not well to have some little thing to suffer for God and His Blessed Mother?’ But the craven fear which at times clutches the heart, the involuntary shrinking and dread of human nature at danger and even death, are things which cannot be expressed in words. An officer, who had gone through a good deal himself, said to me recently: ‘I never realized before what our Lord must have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He began to fear and grow sorrowful.’ Yet His grace is always there to help one when most needed.
COMMENT: There are so many scenes one could meditate on during Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood; the washing of the feet; the betrayal and despair of Judas; the denial of Peter and the abandonment of the apostles; the laziness of the apostles sleeping in the Garden; the arrest of Jesus; His ill treatment and mock-trial; His night spent in prison; the anguish of Mary…
Yet the fear of our Lord in the Garden is one of the richest sources of meditation precisely because almost everyone can identify somewhat with Jesus’ acute mental anguish.
Yet we can only really guess at the full weight of Jesus’ agony. His soul was sorrowful even unto death – His anguish was so great that it almost killed Him. He even shed drops of blood. And all of this because He bore the weight of all the sins of the world – those that happened before that moment in the garden, those occurring at that time, and those that would occur into the future until the end of the world.
As Fr Doyle tells us, sometimes fear and dread are so great that it cannot be fully expressed in words. In fact, sometimes fear is so devastating that it is even worse than the very thing (pain, loneliness, death…) that made us frightened in the first place..
Fr Doyle tells us that when we experience such fear Jesus is there by our side to help us. Fr Doyle should know – his diaries reveal the many times when he had to hide in a hole and shook with fear under heavy shelling during his years as a military chaplain. Yet, with God’s grace, he always overcame his deeply felt fear, and went on to encourage the soldiers who were faltering.
Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it Himself. As St Thomas More tells us:
It seems that Christ is making use of His own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation. Be brave, He seems to say…Do not give up hope…You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was much more afraid and appalled…Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxiety.
The Jesuit spiritual writer Archbishop Alban Goodier also comments on the transformation that overcomes Our Lord after His agony in the garden.
What a transformation takes place after this third prayer! To the end of the Passion, no matter what men may do to Him, we shall never see Him falter or broken anymore. Always henceforth He is Master. He has strength for Himself, except such as many depend on His poor worn body, and He has strength for everyone about Him…We look on amazed; we wonder whether we have understood aright; and yet around us we see the same illustrated in those who seek their own support in prayer.
May we too, through prayer, transform our anxieties and worries into confidence and strength.
I think He would like you to pay more attention to little things, looking on nothing as small, if connected with His service and worship. Also try to remember that nothing is too small to offer to Him — that is, the tiniest act of self-conquest is of immense value in His eyes, and even lifting one’s eyes as an act of love brings great grace.
COMMENT: Despite the fact that Fr Doyle lived a very dramatic life that involved many big sacrifices, he consistently preached that holiness is normally to be found in little things. In fact, without having strived for holiness in little things, it is doubtful that Fr Doyle would have been capable of his heroism in the trenches.
At first glance, it seems that reflecting on little things during this most momentous Holy Week is a bit a strange. But today’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form calendar contains a subtle reference to the value of little sacrifices and offerings. Given the drama of the Passion, it is easy to miss it.
Go ye into the city to a certain man and say to him: The master says, My time is near at hand. With thee I make the pasch with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them: and they prepared the pasch.
Who was this “certain man” who provided the room for the Last Supper? We do not know. He is not named. An old tradition suggests that the room was owned by the family of St Mark. In any event, the owner did an important service for our Lord by providing the room for the Last Supper. What an honour it would be to have provided the room for the Last Supper! This unknown owner of the room provided a humble service to Jesus. He obviously knew Jesus and was ready to serve Him however he was asked. Yet he remains unknown to us. This is the secret of holiness in little things – providing humble and unknown service, without seeking any attention or fame.
As Fr Doyle tells us, nothing is too small to offer to Him.
In conclusion it might be appropriate today to include Fr Doyle’s “parable” of the hermit and the “recording angel”. He included this little parable in one of his very last letters home to his father, and it tells us of the value of little things by way of an amusing story.
In the good old days of yore a holy hermit built him a cell in a spot a few miles from the well, so that he might have a little act of penance to offer to Almighty God each day by tramping across the hot sand and back again with his pitcher. All went gaily for a while, and if the holy man did lose many a drop of honest sweat he knew he was piling up sacks of treasure in Heaven, and his heart was light. But though the spirit was willing, the sun was very warm, the sand most provokingly hot, the pitcher the devil and all of a weight, and the road seemingly longer each day. It is a bit too much of a good joke, thought the man of God, to tramp these miles day in and day out, with my old bones, clanking like a traction engine. Why not move the cell to the edge of the water, save time (and much bad language probably) and have cool water in abundance, and a dry hair shirt on my back?
Away home he faced for the last time with his brimming water jar, kicking the sand about in sheer delight, for the morrow would see him on the trek, and an end to his weary trudging, when suddenly he heard a voice, an angel’s voice he knew it to be, counting slowly One, two, three, four. The hermit stopped in wonder and so did the voice, but at the next steps he took the counting began again, Five, six, seven. Falling on his knees the old man prayed that he might know the meaning of this wonder. ‘I am the angel of God’, came the answer, ‘counting up each step which long ago you offered up to my Lord and Master, so that not a single one may lose its reward. Don’t be so foolish as to throw away the immense merit you are gaining, by moving your cell to the water’s edge, for know that in the eyes of the heavenly court nothing is small which is done or borne for the love of God.’
That very night down came the hermit’s hut, and before morning broke he had built it again five miles further from the well. For all I know he is merrily tramping still backwards and forwards across the burning sand, very hot and tired no doubt, but happy in the thought that the recording angel is busy counting each step.
My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.
COMMENT: The denial of our Lord by St Peter contains many powerful lessons for us. St Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus. He witnessed the miracles. He saw the dead rise to life, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He saw devils cast out and the paralysed get up and walk. He saw Jesus calm a storm and walk on water. He was there are the Transfiguration. Jesus taught him how to pray. He had left everything and followed the Master. He urged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and risk death. He didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus wash his feet, and promised him that he would die for him. When the guards came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out his sword to defend him. Peter was the Rock, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. He had just been at the Last Supper, and was ordained a priest in the process of that event.
And then he failed. The man who would die for Jesus denied him when a maid and some other random bystanders said that he was a friend of Jesus. And all on the night of his “ordination”.
Then Jesus looked at him. How low he must have felt.
We may not have physically lived in Jesus’ presence the same way Peter did, but we have received His grace and we have seen the effects of that grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have received many gifts from Him. We have the examples of countless holy lives over the past two thousand years to give us an example of how we should live. We have received the sacraments. Depending on our age, we may well have received the Lord in the Eucharist thousands of times. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church, by undermining the teaching of the Gospels, or by staying silent when we could defend it.
Like Fr Doyle, we may feel that we have gone on for years denying Jesus. Well, let us then learn some lessons from St Peter who was so contrite after his fall that he thought it nothing to suffer imprisonment and death for the One he had denied. St Peter repented. He did not despair like Judas did. Judas, too, could have repented. Jesus would have forgiven him. We would today know him as St Judas, perhaps the greatest convert in history. He could have been an extraordinary witness to the mercy of Christ. But alas…
There are other important lessons we can take from this episode. We are told that Peter was warming himself at a fire when he denied Jesus. Was it the lack of a spirit of mortification that weakened his will and lead to his fall? We are told that he followed Jesus “from afar”. Was it his lack of closeness with Jesus that undermined his resolve and fortitude? We are told that his first denial came after a maid asked him if he knew Jesus. Was he more fearful of the judgement of the maid (the judgement of the world?) than the judgement of God? Did he fall because of what is termed “human respect” – a fear of the opinion of others? We are also told that instead of watching and praying with Jesus in the Garden, Peter slept. Not only once, but three times. Perhaps he failed because he did not watch and pray that he would not be put to the test.
And Peter was not alone. Apart from the newly ordained Judas betraying Jesus for silver coins and then committing suicide and probably losing his soul, the other Apostles ran away and abandoned Him, with only John eventually returning to the foot of the Cross, with those women who had enough love and devotion to remain faithful.
But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force, all while his friends slept and abandoned Him. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…
During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself.
COMMENT: For those of us in the Republic of Ireland, this will be an extraordinary Holy Week, for all the wrong reasons. We are prohibited, under pain of penal sanction, from attending public Mass, and from availing of the sacraments. Priests, too, are prohibited from leaving their houses to celebrate a public Mass. This is a painful experience this week, above all others.
God has foreseen all of this. Even if this is not all part of His active will, it is at least permitted by God. He is allowing us, this Holy Week, to be without the sacraments, without our freedoms, and facing serious social and economic upheavals. He has also allowed this strange virus, which is deadly to some and of little consequence to others, to circulate the globe and upend all our lives. St Francis de Sales tells us that the cross that God has prepared for us is always the best one for us. It may not be the one chosen by us, but it is the one chosen by Him to bring forth the most fruit for our souls. Our path has to be to accept these current difficulties with a spirit of faith and serenity, knowing that it is in fact a time of tremendous grace, because whenever there is suffering, there is enough grace to embrace it and to profit from it. We have to strive to emerge from this crisis spiritually stronger than when it started. In particular, we have to exercise ourselves in a spirit of charity, especially for those in our households that we are “confined” with, but also for those in our communities who are in need.
Fr Doyle’s quote today may help us with this. Jesus was bound and had His freedom denied to Him. So too with us this year.
Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.
Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:
Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.
Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…
As St Josemaria Escriva said:
That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.
Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’
In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called.
By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.