I am sorry to see you suffer and yet glad that the cross is your portion. If I had at this moment the gift of miracles, I would not cure you, I should be afraid – the cross is far too precious to take away from anyone. Do not seek to rid yourself of it, rather love it, embrace it, and will to have it, because God wills it for you.
COMMENT: These are tough words from Fr Doyle. For the most part, we do not like the cross. We generally desire to avoid it and to have a comfortable life where things by and large turn out as we want them to.
Yet the saints were always open to the cross. They knew that the road to sanctity was narrow, and that those who profess to follow a crucified Lord must also be open to walking the path that their master did. They recognised that God has designed our cross just for us. As St Francis de Sales wrote:
The everlasting God has in his wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross he now presents to you as a gift from his inmost heart. This cross he now sends you he has gazed at with his all-knowing eyes, understood with his divine mind, tested with his divine justice, warmed with his loving arms, and weighed with his own hands, to see that it be not one inch too large, not one ounce too heavy for you, He has blessed it with his holy name, anointed it with his grace, perfumed it with his consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven – a special greeting from God to you – an alms of the all-merciful love of God.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We can always turn with confidence to Mary who will win for us the grace we need to carry our cross.
God delights to honour His saints by bestowing upon them special graces which mark them off from the rest of mankind. To one He gives a burning zeal for souls; to another the thirst for suffering and humiliation, but on Mary alone He bestowed the supreme privilege of freedom from the taint of sin.
From the first moment of her conception till she closed her eyes forever on this world, Mary was undefiled, unspotted by the least taint of sin. Never for an instant did the fierce and fiery burst of temptation ruffle the calm of her holy soul; for her the forbidden pleasures of this life, for which man will barter his priceless soul, had no false attraction. Sin might rage around her, hell might move its mighty depths, but nought could tarnish the spotless beauty of her who was to be the Mother of God.
What must have been Mary’s thoughts when first she felt the infant child within her womb, and realised that from her pure blood He had fashioned to Himself a human form? She His Mother, He her Son! What sweet converse between the two, what words of love, of ardent, tender love, the promptings of a heart so pure and good and holy.
COMMENT: We are exactly three weeks from Christmas day. Many people wait expectantly for this feast. Some look forward to it because means a well-earned rest, others because of the food and the drink and the parties and the television…
How bland our anticipation is compared to that of Mary. What prayers must she have said; how profound her contemplation must have been in these last precious weeks of waiting before the birth of the Saviour.
But while Mary waits with anticipation, she is not spared the cross. She does not have the luxury of staying in the comfort of her own home. She must travel to Bethlehem, and encounter all of the inconveniences that travel implies, especially for one so close to a birth. That birth will take place in poverty and without the conveniences that we consider to be essential. And after birth, the Holy Family must flee into exile for their safety…
The Holy Family was not spared suffering and deprivation. Yet Mary remained calm and serene, trusting fully in the Providence of the Lord. We can rely on her intercession as we face our own difficulties in life.
To Mary’s feet in heaven today the angels come in never-ending stream to lay before her the offerings of her loving earthly children. To their Queen they bear fair wreaths of lovely roses. In many a lonely cottage or amid the bustle of the great city have these crowns been formed. Little ones and old folk, the pious nun and holy priest, the sinner too and many a wandering soul, have added to the glory of the Queen of Heaven; and from every corner of this earth to-day has risen the joyous praise of her who is Queen of the Holy Rosary. On earth she was the lowly handmaid of the Lord, and now all generations proclaim the greatness of her name.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Fr Doyle was of course very devoted to the rosary, and it formed an important part of his spiritual life.
He wrote the following in his diary on 22nd January 1915:
Last night I rose at twelve and knelt in the cellar for an hour to suffer from the cold. It was a hard fight to do so, but Jesus helped me. I said my rosary with arms extended. At the third mystery the pain was so great that I felt I could not possibly continue; but at each Ave I prayed for strength and was able to finish it. This has given me great consolation by showing the many hard things I could do with the help of prayer.
Fr Doyle was renowned for encouraging the soldiers to say the rosary, especially during the May devotions when he organised Marian processions. He makes the following touching observation in a letter to his father:
There were many little touching incidents during these days; one especially I shall not easily forget. When the men had left the field after the evening devotions, I noticed a group of three young boys, brothers I think, still kneeling saying another rosary. They knew it was probably their last meeting on earth and they seemed to cling to one another for mutual comfort and strength, and instinctively turned to the Blessed Mother to help them in their hour of need. There they knelt as if they were alone and unobserved, their hands clasped and faces turned towards heaven, with such a look of beseeching earnestness that the Mother of Mercy surely must have heard their prayer: Holy Mary pray for us now at the hour of our death. Amen.
As has been mentioned many times in the past, Fr Doyle had a great sense of humour and cheerfulness, so the following humorous anecdote deserves mention on this feast (bearing in mind the courage it must have taken to even summon up this cheerfulness when faced with the horrors of war):
When night fell, I made my way up to a part of the Line which could not be approached in daylight, to bury an officer and some men. A couple of grimy, unwashed figures emerged from the bowels of the earth to help me, but first knelt down and asked for Absolution. They then leisurely set to work to fill in the grave. “Hurry up, boys”, I said, “I don’t want to have to bury you as well”, for the spot was a hot one. They both stopped working much to my disgust, for I was just longing to get away. “Be gobs, Father”, replied one, “I haven’t the divil a bit of fear in me now after the holy Absolution”. “Nor I”, chimed in the other, “I am as happy as a king”. The poor Padre who had been keeping his eye on a row of crumps (German shells) which were coming unpleasantly near felt anything but happy; however there was nothing for it but to stick it out as the men were in a pious mood; and he escaped at last, grateful that he was not asked to say the rosary.
Today was previously known as the feast of Our Lady of Victory. It origin commemorates the famous, and historically significant, victory of Christendom against the Turkish forces in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pope St Pius V had urged Christians to pray the rosary for the success of the Christian forces, and despite the superiority of the Turkish navy, Christendom had a famous victory in this crucial naval battle in over 1,500.
We may not be called to military victories at this precise moment, but we are still called to victories against the enemy of our soul and the vices and defects he inspires within us. Many the Queen of the Rosary, the mediatrix of grace, procure for us the victory we need.
To sensitive souls the pain they cause others is far worse than any sufferings they may endure themselves. They may have much to endure, but to see others in pain causes them deeper grief. Jesus and Mary meet. Alone He could have suffered with joy so that she, His dearest Mother, might have been spared the agony of seeing all He must endure. With one look of pity Jesus reads the anguish of that cruelly lacerated heart; with one long gaze of infinite love and pity Mary sees the depth of her Son’s woe, His long hours of torture, His utter weariness, His sorrow, His grief, His anguish. May she not help Him? At least lift for one moment that cross?
COMMENT: Mary longed to help Jesus with His cross. So too she wants to help us, and will obtain for us the graces we need to assist us with our difficulties.
The feast of the Assumption was an important date for Fr Doyle. He made his religious vows on this day in 1893, and always felt that that Our Lady obtained special graces for him on this day. Perhaps our Blessed Mother will have special graces in store for us as well today?
Here is his account of Mary’s protection on August 15th, 1916 (a year before his death) during one German shell attack:
Knowing there were a good number of my boys about I hurried back as quickly as I could, and made my way up the long, narrow street. The shells were all coming in one direction, across the road, not down it, so that by keeping close to the houses on the shady side there was little danger, though occasional thrills of excitement enough to satisfy Don Quixote himself. I reached the village cross-roads in time to lift up the poor sentry who had been badly hit, and with the help of a couple of men carried him to the side of the road. He was unconscious, but I gave him absolution and was half way through the anointing when with a scream and a roar which made our hearts jump a shell whizzed over our heads and crashed into the wall directly opposite on the other side of the street, covering us with brick dust and dirt. Bits of shrapnel came thud, thud, on the ground and wall around us, but neither I nor the men were touched.
“Begorra, Father, that was a near one, anyhow”, said one of them, as he brushed the dust off his tunic, and started to fill his pipe. “It was well we had your Reverence with us when Jerry (a nickname for German) sent that one across”.
“You must not thank me, boys” I said, “don’t you know it is our Lady s feast, and Mary had her mantle spread over us to save us from all harm?
“True for you, Father”, came the answer. But I could see by their faces that they were by no means convinced that I had not worked the miracle.
Though it was the 15th of August I was taking no risks, especially with this reputation to maintain ! So, the poor boy being dead, I bundled the rest of them down a cellar out of harm’s way, and started off again. Heavy as the shelling was, little damage was done thanks to the fact that the sports had emptied the town. One man was beyond my aid, a few slightly wounded, and that was all. As I came round the corner of the Church I met four of my boys calmly strolling along in the middle of the street as if they were walking on Kingstown pier. I won t record what I said, but my words helped by the opportune arrival of an unpleasantly near H.E. (high explosive) had the desired effect, and we all took cover in the church. It was only then I realised my mistake, for it soon became evident the Germans were firing at the church itself. One after another the shells came in rapid succession, first on one side then on the other, dropping in front and behind the building, which was a target with its tall, white tower. It was madness to go out, and I do not think the men, some score of them, knew of their danger, nor did I tell them, but man of little faith, as I was, I cast anxious eyes at the roof and wished it were stronger. All’s well that ends well, they say. Not a shot hit the church, though the houses and road got it hot. Our fiery ordeal ended at last, safely and happily for all of us. And August 15th, 1916, went down on my list as another day of special grace and favour at Mary’s hands.
I have come back from the missions with feelings of joy and gratitude, for these last three missions have been blessed in a wonderful way. God seems to take a special delight in seconding my efforts, just because I have hurt Him so much in the past and have been so really ungrateful. It is one of the big humiliations of my life and makes me thoroughly ashamed of myself that our Blessed Lord for His own wise ends conceals my shortcomings from others and allows me to do a little good. But He does not hide the wretched state of my soul from myself. I am not speaking in a false humble strain, but serious truth. If you, or anyone else, could only see the way I have acted towards Jesus all my life, you would turn away from me in disgust.
I have had much consolation in my work recently. The last mission was the hardest I have given, yet it seems to have been singularly blessed. All this love and goodness on the part of Jesus only fills me with a deep sorrow that I can do so little for Him. I am getting afraid of Him, just because He is so generous to me and blesses all I do. I feel ashamed when people praise me for my work, the sort of shame a piano might feel if someone complimented it on the beautiful melody that came from its keys. I am realizing more and more that all success is entirely God’s work, and that self does not count at all. I have this strange feeling that when I get to heaven I shall have little merit for anything I have done for God’s glory, since all has been the work of His Hands.
COMMENT: One of the things that we must accept in our life of faith is our own inability to do good apart from God’s grace. So often we start out with grand plans of what we will do for God. But time, and many failings, teach us that really the spiritual life is largely about what God will do for us. Without Him we are nothing.
Fr Doyle recognised that he was just the tool in God’s hands and was always aware of his own sinfulness and likelihood to fail.
But this reliance on God should not lead us into some form of apathy or quietism. We rely on grace, so we must want that grace and we must strive to obtain that grace in order that we may more fully imitate, and serve, the Lord.
How? Through prayer, mortification, sacrifices, the struggle to acquire virtue and detachment from the things of this world. As St Paul says: “Train yourselves in godliness”.
And when we receive the grace, we must use it, relying on it to perform good works. The work and service we undertake may still be hard, but with God’s grace we can accomplish it.
This was the secret of the saints. This was the secret of Fr Doyle. The heroism of the trenches is simply inexplicable apart from God’s grace, and lots of it.
We shall finish today with a quote from Scuploi’s Spiritual Combat:
Think first upon thine own weakness, next turn, full of self-distrust, to the wisdom, the power and the goodness of God; and in reliance on these, resolve to fight generously.
Finally, today is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Fr Doyle was very devoted to the Carmelites and gave many retreats to Carmelite nuns around the country. Let us pray for the Carmelite order today.
Are you weary of the fight already and willing to give in to the enemy? Never mind, come back, begin again, Jesus wants you. There are millions of pagans to be saved, a hundred thousand dying sinners every day to be rescued.
COMMENT: Today’s quote captures the essence of Fr Doyle’s spirit – he was a real fighter given over to spiritual combat, and he was a true missionary dedicated to saving souls, even to the point of losing his own life in the process. These two dimensions encapsulate his inner life of asceticism and his outer life of zealous apostolate.
These two concepts – spiritual combat and apostolate – are firmly rooted in the lives of the saints and indeed in the teaching of Jesus. After all, we follow Christ who told us to fight by denying ourselves, to take up our cross daily, to strive to be perfect, to sin no more. He also sent out His disciples to bring the good news to people and to save souls.
Today is the feast of St Simon Stock, the Carmelite friar to whom, according to the long standing tradition, Our Lady revealed the scapular promises. In essence, tradition tells us that those who wear the brown scapular will have the grace of final perseverance. The scapular is not a good luck charm or a piece of superstition. But it is an important sacramental. We are not obliged to believe in the promises relating to the scapular, but it has a long tradition in the Church, and many saints died wearing it.
I saw many interesting places and things during my weeks of travel. But over all hung a big cloud of sadness, for I realised as I never did before how utterly the world has forgotten Jesus except to hate and outrage Him, the fearful, heart-rending amount of sin visible on all sides, and the vast work for souls that lies before us priests. My feelings at times are more than I can describe. The longing to make up to our dear Lord for all He is suffering is overwhelming, and I ask Him, since somehow my own heart seems indifferent to His pleading, to give me the power to do much and very much to console Him.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We are not obliged to believe in the authenticity of apparitions. However, the Church has approved of the Fatima apparitions; the remarkable miracle of October 1917 testifies to its authenticity, and the popes since then have shown a special interest in them. Pope John Paul was shot on this day 39 years ago, and attributed his miraculous survival to Mary’s intercession – he even had the assassin’s bullet placed in the crown of the statue of Our Lady in Fatima. Pope Benedict visited Fatima and spoke of how the message of the apparitions is still of relevance for us today. And Pope Francis canonised the two shepherd children Francisco and Jacinta Marto in Fatima in 2017.
Fr Doyle’s quote today is quite apt for this feast, for the apparitions at Fatima are a call to conversion and a call to reparation for the sins of the world. Perhaps some people mistakenly think of Fatima in a negative manner or as something old fashioned or no longer relevant in the 21st century. But who can doubt that the world has forgotten Jesus more now than in 1917 when the apparitions occurred and when Fr Doyle died? Isn’t there more need for penance and reparation for the awful sins that have occurred since 1917? The Russian Revolution; the horrors of the First World War; the persecution of the Church in Mexico and in Spain; the Second World War; the Communist persecution and its millions of victims; the general breakdown of morality and sins connected to this, especially abortion; the growth of aggressive secularism that seeks to remove the Church from the public square; the growth of materialism and the pursuit of wealth at all costs which oppresses the poor and which even destroys our natural environment. And then there are the outrageous sins of those in the Church who should have loved and protected children but who instead preyed on them. And in all of this let us not forget our own sins, for none of us are innocent either…
Truly there is an even greater need for penance and reparation now than there was in 1917. Yet there is always hope and mercy and God’s grace to help us get back on the right track. So while we have much to be sorrowful for, we also have much to be thankful for. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not withstand against the Church, and at Fatima Mary promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph…
I said my rosary with arms extended. At the third mystery the pain was so great that I felt I could not possibly continue; but at each Ave (Hail Mary) I prayed for strength and was able to finish it. This has given me great consolation by showing the many hard things I could do with the help of prayer.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to the rosary. It is interesting to read accounts of how the rosary consoled worried soldiers who were facing probable death. He regularly arranged the public recitation of the rosary for the troops, and I have read private accounts of how he would personally say the rosary with soldiers suffering from particularly severe fear, sometimes giving them his own rosary beads as a gift. I have received emails from families who have treasured the rosaries that were given by Fr Doyle to their ancestors who fought in World War 1.
Here is a particularly touching account of a scene he witnessed just a few weeks before his death in the summer of 1917:
There were many little touching incidents during these days; one especially I shall not easily forget. When the men had left the field after the evening devotions, I noticed a group of three young boys, brothers I think, still kneeling saying another rosary. They knew it was probably their last meeting on earth and they seemed to cling to one another for mutual comfort and strength, and instinctively turned to the Blessed Mother to help them in their hour of need. There they knelt as if they were alone and unobserved, their hands clasped and faces turned towards heaven, with such a look of beseeching earnestness that the Mother of Mercy surely must have heard their prayer: ‘Holy Mary pray for us now — at the hour of our death. Amen.’
Today is the feast of Pope St Pius V. He was a zealous Dominican friar and reformer at a tough time in the life of the Church. He was the Pope who encouraged the formation of the “Holy League” to defend Europe from the Ottoman Empire – this resulted in the Battle of Lepanto in which the forces of Christendom were successful. It was a major turning point in European history.
St Pius V is known as the Pope of the Rosary because he encouraged Catholics to pray the rosary for the success of the Holy League. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary now falls on October 7, the date of the Battle of Lepanto, and it was originally instituted by St Pius V as the feast of Our Lady of Victories.
St Pius V lived at a very difficult time in the life of the Church: he had to deal with grave threats to the unity of Christendom, with the challenge of the Ottoman Empire and with the urgent need for internal reform and renewal within the Church. Perhaps his time was not so different from our own. and had to make many difficult decisions. Let us also remember the importance of the rosary in our own lives as we prepare to commence the month of May, traditionally dedicated to Mary.