Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr Doyle visited the shrine in November 1912, and today’s quote summarises his spiritual experience there.
This reflection on Lourdes is utterly characteristic of Fr Doyle, who had such a horror for sin and combined this with a special vocation for reparation for sin.
In almost all approved Marian apparitions, Our Lady urges us to prayer and penance. Yes, she also comes to tell us of the love of God, and often reveals this love through miraculous healings and other graces. But just like in the Gospel, penance remains central to the message.
And you, wives and bread-winners, have you no task within the fold, no little flock to tend and guard? Has not God committed to your care the innocent lambs, the little ones of your household? Within the pasture of your own family are you the good shepherd, or the thief and the hireling? . . . Jesus does not ask from His shepherds now the shedding of their life-blood But He does ask from them a death more hard, more lingering, a life-long death of sacrifice for His flock, . . . the daily crucifying of every evil passion, the stamping out of sloth, of anger, of drunkenness, the constant striving after the holiness of your state of life. . . . Look upon the great Christ, the Good Shepherd, hanging on the Cross. He is our model, our hero. Gaze well upon His bleeding wounds, His mangled limbs, that sad agony-stricken face. Look well, and pray with generous heart that he may make you in word and deed heroes in His service.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Fr Doyle has some rather direct words for mothers and fathers in today’s quote. Parents have a flock to guard. Children have immortal souls and they have been entrusted to their parents for a time. Parents have a serious obligation to put their children on the right path in life. Naturally, parents are not responsible if their children abandon their Faith in later life. But if their spiritual life was not nourished in the first place, if they were never provided with formation, if their innocence was never protected to begin with, then the day will come when parents will have to provide an account of their stewardship…
St Benedict gives us exactly this message in his Rule. Referring to the responsibility that an Abbot has towards his monks (which is the exact same responsibility a parent has towards their children), he says:
Let the Abbot always bear in mind that at the dread Judgment of God there will be an examination of these two matters: his teaching and the obedience of his disciples. And let the Abbot be sure that any lack of profit the master of the house may find in the sheep will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. On the other hand, if the shepherd has bestowed all his pastoral diligence on a restless, unruly flock and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behaviour, then he will be acquitted at the Lord’s Judgment.
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.