Thoughts for the Feast of St Gemma from Fr Willie Doyle

St Gemma Galgani

 

O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.

The words they say every day at the altar, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” grant them to apply to themselves: “I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another.”

O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.

Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.

COMMENT: Today’s quote comes from Fr Doyle’s prayer for priests. Fr Doyle was deeply concerned about priests – he wrote two hugely successful booklets on the priesthood and religious life; he assisted many men (and women) in finding their vocations; he developed very innovative fundraising schemes to help young men pay for their seminary formation; he was the Director General for Ireland of the League for Priestly Sanctity. Furthermore, he offered many of his severe penances in reparation for the sins of priests. This message of priestly sanctity is always timely, but perhaps never more so than in Ireland at this time.

Today is the feast of St Gemma. She was a simple Italian lay woman who died in 1903 at the age of 25 (she was born 5 years after Fr Doyle). She was unable to join a convent, so she lived a simple and modest life in the world. She was also the recipient of numerous mystical gifts, though of course these themselves are not the reason for her canonisation.

St Gemma herself also felt that Jesus was calling her to prayer for priests, and she regularly offered her own sufferings for them. St Gemma once felt that Jesus was saying the following to her:

I have need of a great expiation specially for the sins and sacrileges by which ministers of the sanctuary are offending me.

Let us all therefore pray for our priests, and support them at this difficult time. And let us also remember that all of us are called to holiness in whatever state of life was are in!

Fr Doyle was an early devotee of St Gemma’s. Her biography was first published in English in 1913 (just 4 years before his death) and we are told that he would sometimes pick a page at random at use it as inspiration for his prayer. Recently I had the opportunity to examine some of Fr Doyle’s diaries, and flicking through one of them I found a photograph of St Gemma that had been cut from a newspaper, presumably by Fr Doyle himself – an intimate sign of Fr Doyle’s devotion to this beautiful saint. 

For those who desire more information about St Gemma, there is an excellent website dedicated to St Gemma here: http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/

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Thoughts for April 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

I want you to stick to two things: the aspirations and the tiny acts of self-conquest. Count them and mark them daily. You need nothing else to make you a saint. The weekly total, growing bigger as you persevere, will show you how fast you are growing in perfection.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle reveals his Jesuit training in today’s quote. In the Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius recommends making lists and monitoring daily progress.

The claim that “you need nothing else to make you a saint” is a rather big claim! Yet there is certainly something in it. Love shows itself in actions. As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

There is a story of a soul who, on saying to our Lord in prayer, ‘Jesus, I love you,’ heard this reply from heaven: ‘Love means deeds, not sweet words.’ Think if you also could deserve this gentle reproach.

The deeds we are called to do are normally not big deeds, but daily actions of fidelity and self-sacrifice, both in our dealings with God and in our dealings with each other. But unless we actively try to conquer ourselves and make these sacrifices we really won’t do them. We will not genuinely progress without a clear strategic objective to do so. It’s too easy for us to fail and give up if our aspirations to self-sacrifice are vague and uncommitted. Keeping a list and striving for progress can be a great help in this regard, and as we exercise our capacity for love and generosity we will inevitably love more and become progressively more generous, opening up ever more vistas for love, service and holiness. As St Benedict said in his Rule:

But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

But this approach of counting sacrifices or offerings made to God does not suit everybody’s temperament. Those who are scrupulous or anxious may not be helped by it. But it clearly suited Fr Doyle’s own militant temperament. In fact, he not only wrote down his sacrifices, he also carried a set of beads on which they would be counted. He was in good company in this practice – his contemporary St Therese (they were born 2 months apart) also used beads to count her sacrifices.

Thoughts for February 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

A habit of ejaculatory prayer is a sign of nearness to God, for our own holiness will be in proportion to our love and thought of Him all day long.

COMMENT: St Paul tells us to pray always. The great saints and mystics lived constantly in God’s presence, almost unconsciously making everything they did a prayer. Yet, unless they have received many graces, it is unlikely that they started out with this constant presence of God. For many, it required much effort and discipline to overcome their natural human tendency towards dissipation.

One technique for living more completely in God’s presence is the use of aspirations – short prayers interspersed throughout the day to help remind us that we are in the presence of God.

If we love someone with a human passion, it is normal that we think about them throughout the day. Can we really say that we love God as we ought if we only think of Him during our times of formal prayer, or when we want His help with something?

Thoughts for February 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

You seem to be a little troubled at finding yourself cold at prayer and as if our Lord had abandoned you. Were it otherwise I should feel uneasy; for this is one of the best signs that you are really pleasing to God, since He puts your fidelity to the test by sending desolation. There is no happiness to be compared to the sweets one tastes at times in prayer; but this, the greatest of all sacrifices, He will ask from you at times.

Hence in darkness and dryness, when weariness and disgust come on you, when the thousand petty worries of every day crowd upon you, raise your eyes with a glad smile to the face of Jesus, for all is well and He is sanctifying you.

COMMENT: Context is important, and Fr Doyle’s words for today take on entirely different meanings depending on their context. Fr Doyle was presumably writing to somebody who was faithfully living their spiritual life and who was undergoing a period of spiritual darkness. Sometimes God does indeed test us in these situations. We have to show that we love the God of consolations, not the consolations of God.

But there are times when we go through coldness and repugnance for spiritual things, and it is entirely our own fault. Our negligence and laziness and sinfulness bring about this coldness. It is not God who has abandoned us, but we who have abandoned Him. But the remedy is always near – contrition, the sacraments and a more ardent renewal and fidelity are the medicine we need to rekindle the love of God in our hearts. 

Thoughts for February 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Some of Fr Doyle’s favourite aspirations:

l. My Crucified Jesus, help me to crucify myself.

2. Lord, teach me how to pray and pray always.

3. Jesus, Thou Saint of saints, make me a saint.

4. Blessed be God for all things.

5. My loving Jesus within my heart unite my heart to Thee.

6. Heart of Jesus, give me Your zeal for souls.

7. My God, Thou art omnipotent, make me a saint.

Thoughts for January 28 (St Thomas Aquinas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas Aquinas

 

As to any practice of piety there is a double danger: recommending it as infallible, or condemning it as useless. I always make a point of saying that all things are not for all people. Characters differ so much.

COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful balance of Fr Doyle. He was a man of very definite personal devotion, but he was equally convinced that his way was not the only way, and that there are many other spiritual paths along which people are called. It is true that there are those who are not attracted by Fr Doyle’s acts of mortification (even though everything Fr Doyle did can be found in the lives of the most popular and beloved of saints). But it is perfectly normal not to feel called to follow in Fr Doyle’s personal footsteps in this regard; as he himself says, characters differ so much. But even if our characters are different, we can still marvel at, and admire, Fr Doyle’s own unique character.

The same extraordinary balance is found in the life and writings of today’s saint, Thomas Aquinas. To take just one example relating to the life of prayer, he tells us in the Summa:

The quantity of anything should be proportioned to the end in view, as the quantity of drink should be proportioned to health. Hence it is fitting that prayer should continue only for so long as is useful to excite the fervour of interior desire. But when prayer goes beyond this measure so that it cannot be continued without weariness, then it should not be further prolonged.

St Thomas was one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. His learning was vast. He once declared that he never read anything that he didn’t understand – what a great gift this is for any scholar to possess! St Thomas’ learning was aided by his own deep life of prayer and especially his own purity of life. Jesus tells us that the pure of heart shall see God. St Thomas certainly possessed this purity of heart. When he announced that he wanted to become a Dominican (at that time a new Order of beggar friars) his powerful family were very unimpressed. They arranged for him to be locked up in a castle in order to force him to change his mind. When this wasn’t working his brother arranged for an immodestly dressed prostitute to visit him in the hope that he would fall into sin and give up his vocation. However, Thomas had a different idea – he grabbed a burning firebrand and chased the prostitute from the room. In this episode St Thomas, known as the Angelic Doctor, shows us how to handle temptations against purity – we don’t dialogue with them or entertain them, but instead flee from the temptation immediately. Towards the end of his life St Thomas was granted a vision, after which he declared that all his writing was but straw compared to what God had shown him.

Many people live in ignorance regarding the work of St Thomas. In part this may be due to what might be called chronological snobbery – there is a certain attitude that thinks that only recent thinkers are enlightened and that no intellectual work from other eras is of any value, and especially not if it is Medieval in origin! This attitude is especially acute in Ireland. It is frustrating to hear recent university graduates (most of whom have spent over a decade in Catholic schooling) dismiss the existence of God as a mere fairy tale for weak sentimentalists. For the most part they are completely oblivious to the great intellects within the Church.

St Thomas is rightly renowned for his learning. But he was also obviously a man of great holiness. He was especially devoted to the Eucharist, and wrote many hymns and prayers to honour our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. To conclude our commentary on today’s feast, here are St Thomas’ prayers for before and after Mass.

Prayer before Mass.

Almighty and ever-lasting God, I approach the sacrament of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Therefore, I implore Thee in Thy great generosity, to heal my sickness, to wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the bread of angels, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords with reverence and humility, with contrition and devotion, with purity and faith, and with such purpose and determination that will be expedient to the salvation of my soul.

Grant me, I beseech Thee, that I may not only receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also the reality and power of the Sacrament.

O most kind God, grant that I may receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so received that I may be worthy to be incorporated into His mystical body, and numbered among His members.

O most loving Father, grant me Thy beloved Son, which I now receive under the veil of a sacrament, that I may one day behold Him face to face in glory, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever. Amen.

Prayer after Mass.

Lord, Father all-powerful, and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thy unprofitable servant, not because of my worth, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee. And I pray that Thou willest lead me, a sinner to the banquet where Thou with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to Thy saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

27 January 1914

Last night I rose at 1am and went down to the church, renewing before the crucifix my desire and promise absolutely to surrender all human comfort and embrace instead every possible pain and discomfort. With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me. I realised that if I prayed when tempted to give in, grace would come to my help.