Thoughts about Fr Doyle for January 20

Blessed Angelo Paoli
Blessed Angelo Paoli

For the poor people on Dalkey Hill Willie constituted himself into a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. He raised funds by saving up his pocket-money, by numberless acts of economy and self-denial; he begged for his poor, he got the cook to make soup, he pleaded for delicacies to carry to the sick. Once he went to the family apothecary and ordered several large bottles of cod-liver oil for a poor consumptive woman, and then presented the bill to his father! He bought a store of tea with which under many pledges of secrecy he entrusted the parlourmaid. On this he used to draw when in the course of his wanderings he happened to come across some poor creature without the means of providing herself with the cup that cheers. He by no means confined himself merely to the bringing of relief. He worked for his poor, he served them, he sat down and talked familiarly with them, he read books for the sick, he helped to tidy the house, he provided snuff and tobacco for the aged. One of Willie’s cases — if such an impersonal word may be used — was a desolate old woman whose children were far away. One day noticing that the house was dirty and neglected, he went off and purchased some lime and a brush, and then returned and whitewashed the whole house from top to bottom. He then went down on his knees and scrubbed the floors, amid the poor woman’s ejaculations of protest and gratitude. No one knew of this but the cook and parlourmaid who lent him their aprons to save his clothes and kept dinner hot for him until he returned late in the evening. While thus aiding his poor friends temporally, he did not forget their souls. He contrived skilfully to remind them of their prayers and the sacraments; he also strongly advocated temperance. There was one old fellow on the Hill whom Willie had often unsuccessfully tried to reform. After years of hard drinking he lay dying, and could not be induced to see a priest. For eight hours Willie stayed praying by the bedside of the half-conscious dying sinner. Shortly before the end he came to himself, asked for the priest and made his peace with God. Only when he had breathed his last, did Willie return to Melrose. His first missionary victory!

COMMENT: These lines come from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle, and they describe his charitable activities as a young boy while living in Dalkey. It is not clear what age he started this kind of work, but given that he went to school in England at the age of 11, it must have been before this age (or else during school holidays). What a marvellous example for us! Fr Doyle’s later life shows the same charity and concern for others, even to the point of offering his own life to serve wounded soldiers.

Today is the feast of the Carmelite Blessed Angelo Paoli. He lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Rome. He was known as the father of the poor, and established hospitals and hostels to care for the poor of Rome. His motto was “Whoever loves God must go to find Him among the poor”.

In the lives of both Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle we find genuine Christian love. In effect, they followed the advice of St Francis of Assisi – to preach always, and when necessary to use words. And is this not the message of Pope Francis to the Church today?

This is of absolutely crucial importance in our world today, and very especially in Ireland (although it is probable that what I am about to say also applies to many other countries). Many Irish people (especially those under about 40) have an astoundingly negative view of the Church. For many of them, the Catholic Church is obsessed with power and money and control and it is populated with hypocrites who prey on children and operate an institutional policy of cover-up and deception. If you think I am exaggerating, go and visit the many social media sites and discussion forums which regularly debate Catholicism in Ireland. It is deeply distressing to find so many people with such a distorted view of the Church, especially since most of them have experienced 12 or more years of Catholic schooling.

Of course, much of the motivation for this criticism stems from the abuse of children. This entire episode in the Church has been appalling, and the mishandling of abuse has been the undoing of the Church in Ireland and elsewhere.

Despite these outrageous crimes (which necessarily mirrors society as a whole), most Catholics – clerical and lay alike – live lives of quiet charity and generosity. They do so with humility, without calling attention to themselves. In a hostile climate where Catholics are viewed with such jaundiced eyes, the only way to touch people’s hearts is through love. After all, God is Love! This is the same recipe that made Catholicism so compelling 2,000 years ago. There was something about the early Christians that attracted so many converts, even at the risk of death and torture. Ultimately, this attraction was Jesus Christ, but surely it was the love that Christians had for all people that first opened the door to grace and conversion. Just as the world was evangelised through love 2,000 years ago, it can only be re-evangelised through love today.

G.K Chesterton, when asked to write an essay on what was wrong with the world, simply wrote “I am”. There is a real truth here. I am what is wrong with the Church. I am the reason why there are so may empty seats at Mass on Sunday. I am the reason that so many of my contemporaries are unaware that the Church is first and foremost about love…

Let us follow the example of Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle, by finding Christ in those around us, by loving them, and thus changing the world.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Innocents from Fr Willie Doyle

Feast of the Holy Innocents
Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power and hatred of Christ. It is a feast of great relevance for us today, for there are still plenty of those who hate Christ and who persecute those who follow Him. The century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and even today, in the West, those who follow Christ face a dry martyrdom of scorn and insults and damaged careers. And of course in our own day we have our own holy innocents who die by the millions each year before they get to take their first breath.

I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent products of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerably less captive to his own culture than many others – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

Christmas Day 1890: Fr Doyle’s vocation to become a Jesuit (Post 3 of 3)

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. 

Christmas at Melrose (Post 2 of 3)

O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, it was published anonymously, and was in fact written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother.

Below is a link to a scan of a section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family home, Melrose. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s. It conjures up images of innocence and of a tranquil time that many today sadly do not know. But there is also an astounding fact that one could easily miss…The Doyle family gave gifts and money to the poor of the neighbourhood at Christmas time. Willie and his brother Charlie used to shine the coins so that they would look like new. Just think about this for a moment. Let the kindness and attention to detail sink in…

What a hidden, but remarkable, act of kindness! The money was still worth the same amount. Yet the intention behind this small, hidden act, was to give greater dignity to the poor, to show them greater respect. 

Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!

Christmas at Melrose

An imagined Victorian Christmas scene
An imagined Victorian Christmas scene

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema 103 years ago

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 103 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 that 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 Quop 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 Fr Doyle which is presumably the one Fr Doyle went to see.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Archangels (September 29) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Michael the Archangel
St Michael the Archangel

Today is the feast of St Michael, St Gabriel and St Raphael, the archangels.

This feast was significant in Fr Doyle’s spiritual life, for he made a vow to the Sacred Heart on this very day 106 years ago. He made the vow during one of his late night vigils, and signed the vow in his blood (this was not uncommon at the time; St Therese is known to have done something similar, and Fr Doyle was an early devotee of this saint, so he may have copied the practice from her). Here is the text of the vow:

“Most loving Jesus, kneeling before You in the Blessed Sacrament, I solemnly consecrate myself to Your Sacred Heart by vow. I vow always to be Your faithful lover and to strive every day to grow in Your love. In imitation of the oblation which B. Margaret Mary made of herself, I now wish to give myself up absolutely and entirely, without any reserve whatever, to Your most Sacred Heart, that You may be free to do with me, to treat me, as You wish, to send me whatever suffering or humiliation You wish. I desire to put no obstacle to the action of grace upon my soul, to be a perfect instrument in Your divine hands, to be Your victim should You so desire. I want to make this oblation and immolation of myself to Your Sacred Heart as completely as possible, and in the manner which You wish me to make it, O my Jesus. Therefore, again, by this vow, I make a complete surrender of myself and all I have to You. Do with me as You will, for from this hour I am wholly Yours. Amen.

Feast of St. Michael, Friday, Sept. 29th, 1910.

Made at Midnight. Signed W. J. DOYLE, S J.”

One year later, while on retreat, he added to this vow as follows:

MY VOW.

I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me. Amen.

CONDITIONS.

(1) Until I get permission to make it permanently, this will only bind from day to day, to be renewed each morning at Mass.

(2) To avoid scrupulosity, I am quite free unless I honestly believe the sacrifice is asked.

(3) Any confessor may dispense me from the vow at any time.

Feast of St. Michael, Tullabeg. September 29th, 1911.

Though not coming under the matter of the vow, my aim will be :

(a) Never to avoid suffering e.g. heat or cold, unpleasant people etc.

(b) Of two alternatives, to choose the harder e.g. ordinary or arm chair.

(c) To try and let absolutely no occasion of self-denial pass: they are too precious.

(d) As far as possible, not to omit my ordinary penances when a little unwell.

(e) My constant question to be: What other sacrifice can I make? What more can I ive up for Jesus? How can I do this action more perfectly ?

REASONS FOR MAKING VOW.

(1) The immense help it will be to become fervent.

(2) Additional great merit from doing the acts under vow.

(3) I see now what was the strange want which I have felt so often in my life. I have been urged by grace for years to take some such step, but only recently clearly saw what I should do.

(4) My sanctification depends on doing this.

(5) I wish to do my utmost to please my dear Jesus.

(6) I feel simply I must make this vow as if I had no power to refuse, which shows me that all this is the work of grace, and not my doing in the least.

(7) Since Jesus, out of pure love for me, has always lived this life, and since I have promised to imitate Him, how can I now refuse to do so?

(8) I shall gain immensely by this vow, my work for others will be blessed, more souls will be saved and greater glory given to God.

(9) What shall I lose? A little gratification which brings no real pleasure but always leaves me unhappy, for I feel I am resisting grace.

I make this vow with immense distrust of myself and my power to keep it, but place all my confidence and trust in Thee, O most loving Heart of Jesus.”

By the time Fr Doyle made this second vow 106 years ago today, he had advanced far in the spiritual life and was actively seeking daily sacrifices to offer to the Lord for others. We can learn a lot from his spirit of generosity, even if the way we live this generosity is different from the ways open to Fr Doyle. 

Also today we honour the archangels. In a particular way in our own time we pray for the protection and help of St Michael, protector of the Church, and of all Christians, against the attacks the enemy. How sad when people think that angels are merely nice imaginary friends for children, and how sad when they are co-opted into a New Age fad. Scripture s very clear about the existence and role of angels, and also very explicit about the role of St Michael in the battle against Satan. Exorcists, and exorcisms, have received a lot more publicity in recent years. There is a danger of being too superstitious and curious about these matters, but also an even greater danger of dismissing them altogether. Instead we should approach these matters with a sober realism. Exorcists are very clear now in speaking about the increased demands for their ministry. They suggest that dabbling with new age activities and the occult, and in particular an engagement with online pornography, have opened doors to the demonic in many people’s lives. Consider the words of St John Paul II from some addresses in 1987:

The continuous struggle against the devil that characterises Michael the Archangel is still going on since the devil who seeks to take advantage of every situation is still living and operative in the world.

And also:

There are periods in which the existence of evil among men becomes singularly apparent. We have the impression today that people do not want to see the problem. Everything possible is done to remove from public awareness the existence of the “cunning attacks of the devil” who “holds dominion over the underworld…Nevertheless there are historical periods when the profound truth of this revelation of faith is expressed with greater force and is almost tangibly perceived.

We are surely in one of those times now. As Blessed Paul VI famously stated in a homily in 1972:

From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

And Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima seers, spoke on several occasions of a contemporary “diabolical disorientation”.

We conclude with a prayer from Lauds:

Send Michael, the prince of the heavenly hosts, to the aid of your people. May he defend them against Satan and his angels on the day of battle.

Thoughts for August 1 (St Alphonsus Liguori) from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue today with Fr Doyle’s narrative of events in the days leading up to his death. Today’s account is somewhat shorter than that of other days. Even if the events of this day are less dramatic than what is to come, we can still glimpse some of the suffering Fr Doyle and the men had to endure, as well as the cheerful spirit with which he accepted it.

Morning brought a leaden sky, more rain, and no breakfast! Our cook with the rations had got lost during the night, so there was nothing for it but to tighten one’s belt… But He Who feeds the birds of the air did not forget us, and by mid-day we were sitting down before a steaming tin of tea, bully beef and biscuits, a banquet fit to set before an emperor after nearly twenty-four hours fast. Not for a moment during the whole of the day did the merciless rain cease. The men, soaked to the skin and beyond it, were standing up to their knees in a river of mud and water, and like ourselves were unable to get any hot food till the afternoon. Our only consolation was that our trenches were not shelled and we had no casualties. Someone must have had compassion on our plight, for when night fell a new Brigade came in to relieve us, much to our surprise and joy. Back to the camp we had left the previous night, one of the hardest marches I ever put in, but cheered at the thought of a rest. Once again we got through Ypres without a shell, though they fell before and after our passing; good luck was on our side for once.

Today is also the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, prolific writer of esteemed spiritual works and Founder of the Redemptorists. St Alphonsus held the Jesuits in very high esteem, and declined to take over one of the Jesuit churches in Naples following the suppression of the Jesuits in the late 18th Century.

St Alphonsus played an important role in the life of Fr Doyle – if it were not for his writings Fr Doyle may not have become a Jesuit.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography. Note by the way that Clonliffe was the diocesan seminary for priests for the Dublin diocese.

In July, 1890, Willie paid a few days visit to St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore, the Novitiate of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, where his brother, Charlie, had entered ten months previously. One day during the visit the subject of Willie’s vocation came up for discussion. Charlie knew that Willie was going to be a priest. But was it a secular priest or a religious? “I hope soon to enter Clonliffe,” said Willie. ” Did you ever think of the religious life ? ” asked his brother. “Never!” was the emphatic reply. “I have always wanted to fill the gap left by Fred’s death, and to become a secular priest.” “But do you know anything about the religious state?” persisted the zealous novice. ” No, nothing,” said Willie; “but in any case I would never come to this hole of a place!” This led to an animated discussion concerning religious Orders in general and the Society of Jesus in particular. Willie was so far shaken as to accept a copy of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s work on the Religious State, with a promise to read it and to think over it. The sequel can be told in Willie’s own words:

“On Christmas Day 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.”

On 31st March, 1891, Willie entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Tullabeg.

For those who are interested, St Alphonsus’ book on the religious vocation can be found here:

St Alphonsus Vocation to the Religious State

Meditations and spiritual reading for each day of the year (organised according to the traditional calendar) by St Alphonsus can be found here: http://www.religiousbookshelf.com/meditations-and-readings/

St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church
St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church