Thoughts for October 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

Copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1586

Today we will start a new series of special quotations from Fr Doyle. This day 111 years ago – 10 October 1907 – Fr Doyle commenced the “Long Retreat”: 30 days immersed in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Many people – lay and religious – do the spiritual exercises but in a truncated form over 8 or so days. But St Ignatius designed the exercises to last 30 days, with particular meditations and themes for each week and each day. Jesuits do the exercises for the full 30 days twice in their life – once when they start in the novitiate and then a second time after ordination. It is this second experience of Fr Doyle in doing the 30-day exercises that we are now going to consider.

Firstly, an overview of the Exercises from O’Rahilly, who himself had been a Jesuit novice before discerning that this was not his vocation.

As we begin with his Long Retreat, it may be useful to add here by way of preface a few general ideas about the scope of the Exercises. According to St. Ignatius, “the name of spiritual exercises is applied to any method of preparing and disposing the soul to free itself from all inordinate affections, and after it has freed itself from them, to seek and find the will of God concerning the ordering of life for the salvation of one soul.” Thus a retreat is designed for earnest souls only in a very attenuated form can the Exercises be adapted to a mission for sinners; and it has a definite object to find God’s will. At the beginning St. Ignatius lays down the “first principle and foundation” which must be admitted at the outset. It is the basis of all valuation of life: Man was made for God, all other things for man to bring him to God. Thus the exercitant accepts in advance and in general the practical consequences which logically follow from this acceptance of the Creator’s sovereign rights. Then for a whole week he must seek to eliminate all sin and disorder and to examine his soul. In the second week the exercitant is brought face to face with Jesus Christ. Will he follow the invitation and enlist in the King s service? He must count up the cost, he must study Christ s standard, he must at least aspire to the highest and noblest service. Then comes the great choice, which St. Ignatius calls “the election,” and which is the culminating point of the Exercises.

In ordinary retreats, of course, there is no great decisive choice to be made, but there is always some “reformation of life,” some re-ordering of one’s life in the light of the great spiritual truths and scenes which have been marshalled before the soul. God s will is known and accepted. One more week is spent in meditating on the Passion, and a fourth and last is devoted to the contemplation of the Risen Master, in order to habituate the soul to pure love and to strengthen the resolutions taken. Such, in brief essentials, are the Exercises through which in their entirety each Jesuit passes twice in his life, once as a novice at the outset of his spiritual life, and finally as a priest at the outset of his ministry.

Fr Doyle made many notes during these 30 days and they shall be reproduced here in full over the next month. There is much in these notes – often the daily quotes from the blog have been taken from these retreat notes. I do not intend to elaborate often or in depth on these notes, both because I am inadequate to such a task and because the implications of Fr Doyle’s meditations are direct, clear and immediately practical to us. Fr Doyle did not make notes every day or on every aspect of the retreat, but I have attempted to divide them up the notes we do have so that we can consider some aspect of his retreat meditations for quite a few of the days over the next month.

This retreat was a turning point for Fr Doyle. He was clearly a devout and dedicated Jesuit before this retreat. But something stirred deep within him on these 30 days and he subsequently pursued sanctity and the fulfilment of God’s will with a much deeper dedication than before. His deeply personal notes, intended only for his private use, allow us to see some of this transformation in action. May we too experience a deepening of commitment as we follow Fr Doyle’s footsteps over the coming weeks.

Let us begin with Fr Doyle’s first diary entry on the night on which he commenced the Spiritual Exercises in Tronchiennes, Belgium, 111 years ago today.

Tronchiennes, 10th October, 1907.

I begin the Long Retreat this evening with very varied feelings. I feel a great desire and determination to make this retreat as I have never made one before, for I know this is the turning point in my life I can never be the same again. I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.” Hence I feel my cowardly and weak nature dreading this retreat, for I feel our Lord is going to ask some big sacrifice from me, that He expects much from me. He has been tugging at my heart for so many years, urging me in so many ways to give myself wholly to Him, to give all and refuse Him nothing. I dread lest now I shall again refuse Him perhaps it is the last time He will ask me to do what He wants. My loving Jesus, I will, I will be generous with You now at last. But You must aid me, it must be Your work, I am so cowardly. Make me see clearly Your holy will. Lord, what would you have me do?

 

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Thoughts on Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7) from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Lady of the Rosary

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.

29 September 1915

Meditating on the words of our Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary: “I seek for My Heart a victim willing to sacrifice itself for the accomplishment of My desires,” I begged Jesus to tell me the meaning of these words. This seemed to be His answer, written as I knelt before the Tabernacle:

(1) “The victim whom I seek for must place himself in My hands that I may do absolutely what I will with him. Only in this way can My secret plans and designs be carried out. If the victim deliberately refuses to do what I want, all My plans may be spoiled.

(2) “The victim must surrender his body for any suffering or disease I may please to send, (but not asked for). There must be no holding back in this surrender through fear of any sickness whatever. This includes the joyful acceptance of all little bodily pains and the not seeking remedies for them, except when absolutely necessary.

(3) “The victim must give Me his soul that I may try it by temptation, plunge it in sadness, purify it by interior trials. In this state its prayer must be, ‘Fiat, Thy will be done’

(4) “Perfect abandonment to My will in every detail must be the very life of My victim, the most absolute humble submission to My pleasure his constant aim. Every little thing that happens must be recognized and welcomed as coming straight from My hand. The victim will wait till the voice of obedience speaks and then do exactly what I have made known, this promptly, earnestly, gladly because it is My will. There must be no likes or dislikes; no wishing for this thing to end or the other to begin, to be sent here or there, not to have this work to do, etc. My victim must have only one wish, one aim, one desire, — to do what I want in all things; this I shall make known from moment to moment.

(5) “The victim should strive to carry out what I seem to ask, fearless of the pain involved, regardless of the possible consequences, only trusting in My all-powerful help and protection. In this way, using My victim as an instrument, I shall secretly accomplish my desires in souls. My child, do you accept this office with its conditions?”

Jesus, most humbly I offer myself as Thy victim. Amen.

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

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 108 years ago during one of his late night vigils 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 107 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 is very clear about the existence and role of angels, and also very explicit about the role of St Michael in the battle against Satan. 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 September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the famous prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. 

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for August 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

Transverberation of the heart of St Teresa of Avila

 

Even as a child I longed and prayed to be a saint. But somehow it always seemed to me as if that longing could never be realised, for I felt there was some kind of a barrier like a high wall between myself and God. What it was, I cannot say even now. But recently this obstacle appears to me to have been removed, the way is open, and I feel I love Jesus now as I never did before, or even hoped to. With this comes the conviction, so strong and consoling with so much peace and happiness, that Jesus will grant my heart’s desire before I die. I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me, until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.

COMMENT: When Fr Doyle refers to a “sweet wounding”, is he referring to a specific mystical experience? Perhaps he is writing in a symbolic fashion, but there is a possibility that he is describing an extraordinary mystical phenomenon that we find in the lives of some of the greatest saints.

Here is an excerpt from another one of Fr Doyle’s letters in which he speaks about a kind of spiritual wounding:

What you say is indeed true. Jesus has been “hunting” me during these past days, trying to wound my heart with His arrows of love. He has been so gentle, so patient, tender, loving, I do not know at times where to turn, and yet I somehow feel that much of this grace is given me for others, I know it has helped souls and lifted them close to Jesus.

I long to get back to my little room at night, to calm and quiet, and yet I dread it, for He is often so loving there. I feel He is near because I cannot go to Him in the Tabernacle. It is such a helpless feeling to be tossed about as it were on the waves of love, to feel the ardent, burning love of His Heart, to know He asks for love, and then to realise one human heart is so tiny.

Many saints have described mystical experiences involving both spiritual delights and physical pain, especially a kind of mystical wounding of the heart. Saints such as Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Pio of Pietrelcina and Philip Neri come to mind, including many others. The most famous of all is St Teresa of Avila, and today Carmelites celebrate the feast of the Transverberation of the Heart of St Teresa. Here is St Teresa’s description of her experience:

It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this way. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Are Fr Doyle and St Teresa speaking of a similar mystical experience, albeit using different terminology?

It seems far fetched and unlikely. And yet, in the later editions of his biography, Alfred O’Rahilly included some information not found in the earlier editions. Fr Doyle gave spiritual direction to an unnamed nun who O’Rahilly described as a “privileged penitent”. By this he presumably means that she received many graces herself from God. It seems that as well as directing her, Fr Doyle also spoke to her of his own spiritual life. This nun sent the following in a letter to O’Rahilly, presumably in an attempt to explain Fr Doyle’s “wounding”.

In response to inspirations received directly and indirectly from Jesus, he strove, notably for seven or eight years before he died, to ‘put on Jesus Christ’, to model his life on the Priest-Christ, to be, as far as it was humanly possible, ‘another Christ’. This was the secret spring of his holiness. It was not a simple attraction, not a mere fad, but a forming of a life of priestly holiness, distinctly asked for and expressed by Christ. He heard with attention the first invitation: ‘Model your life on Mine, lead a perfect life’. And as if to secure a faithful response, Jesus seemed in the year 1910 to have planted in his heart a spark of divine love. This was the ‘sweet wounding’, a grace like to that received by St Teresa, of which he complained…Jesus infused into his souls some of his own passionate love for souls; and it was this passion that made him seem to do rash things. It was the ‘charity of Christ’ that urged him, and he did nothing through mere caprice or impulse.

Such lofty heights in the spiritual life are hard for most of us to appreciate and understand. There may be extraordinary phenomena in the advanced stages of the spiritual life, and it is surely difficult for our ordinary language to explain them and even more difficult for us to begin to understand them. And perhaps, in this age of doubt and confusion, it may even sometimes be difficult to believe them.

What we can at least say about Fr Doyle is that he received many graces from God (how else could he do what he did?) and that there is evidence which suggests that some of these were very great graces. Anything beyond that is, as far as I am aware, speculation to a greater or lesser extent. But if those great graces did actually involve a mystical wounding of his heart, then he is in good company with many of the greatest saints and mystics in the history of the Church. But we may never actually know the truth of the matter. Such a determination is of course not mine to make – it rests with the Church. 

Some final, consoling thoughts for those of us who plod along as best we can: St Teresa reached incredible mystical heights despite the fact that she only truly reformed her life at 40, having even given up prayer altogether for a whole year at one stage. Special mystical experiences are not necessary for holiness; just think of the darkness that St Teresa of Calcutta lived in for decades. We should have confidence that, if we continue to progress towards God, no matter what setbacks or diversions we encounter, He will continue to give us all the graces we need to reach Heaven.

Thoughts for August 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Eudes

Two wings by which we can fly to God and become saints: the habit of little tiny acts of self-denial and the habit of making a definite fixed number of aspirations every day.

COMMENT: The use of aspirations was an important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. Those under a certain age may be unfamiliar with aspirations and may even be unaware of what they mean. Aspirations are simple, short prayers of just a sentence or even a few words. They can be repeated in times of trial or temptation, or like many of the saints, on a regular or indeed constant basis in order to deepen our union with Christ.

In his diary Fr Doyle writes that constantly repeating aspirations was the penance of his life. Those who know something about Fr Doyle’s inner life will realise what a big claim that is!

Amazingly his diary records him saying tens of thousands of aspirations each day. It’s not quite clear how he managed this; in practice it probably means that his mind was always continually focused on God and that he lived St Paul’s recommendation that we pray without ceasing. He also records how saying some aspirations helped him in moments of temptation and weakness; he also used to pray aspirations to give him the strength to get out of bed on time. Perhaps we can all learn from that!

While we hear much less about the use of aspirations than in previous generations, the practice was very important to the saints.

St Josemaria Escriva writes:

There will be other occasions on which all we’ll need will be two or three words, said with the quickness of a dart — ejaculatory prayers, aspirations that we learn from a careful reading of Christ’s life: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” ”Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” ”Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief,” strengthen my faith. “Lord, I am not worthy.” ”My Lord and my God!”… or other short phrases, full of affection, that spring from the soul’s intimate fervour and correspond to the different circumstances of each day.

Today’s saint, John Eudes, was also much devoted to the use of aspirations. Writing about himself in the third person, he says that he knows a person

…who by the frequent use of (aspirations) has arrived at such a stage that it is easy for him, even when taking his meals, to make actually almost as many acts of love for Jesus as he places morsels in his mouth. This he does not only without strain or trouble of inconvenience, but he is not thereby prevented from talking and taking recreation. I say this, not that you should do the same, for there would immediately be an outcry that I was asking things too difficult, but that you may know how much power there is in a holy habit, and how wrong the world is in imagining so much difficulty and bitterness where there is merely every kind of sweetness and delight.