Let us love silence and recollection. When we are at home with silence we are at home with God. Silence seems impossible to busy people. But “silence of the heart”, interior silence, is always possible.
COMMENT: We live in a noisy world. And that “noise” is made all the louder by the ever present reality of smartphones and social media. This is especially problematic for young people whose concentration spans are radically shortened by their ongoing exposure to the fast moving world of computers, games and social media.
But silence is necessary for us. It was in the stillness of a gentle breeze that Elijah encountered God on Horeb – it was not in the violent wind or in the fire or in the earthquake, but in the silence. And it was in the silence of a cave that the Saviour was born for us. As St Josemaria Escriva said:
Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life.
Advent should be a time for silence as we prepare for Christmas but so often today it is a time of noise and parties and excess. As Fr Doyle tells us, silence of the heart is always possible for us, but we have to make an effort. For those of us living in the middle of the world, the first step will be unplugging the TV, removing the headphones and turning off the smartphone…
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: Is Fr Doyle referring here to a mystical experience? Perhaps he is writing in a symbolic fashion, but if he is describing an actual mystical experience that involved some form of “sweet wounding”, then it is clear that he was a very great mystic indeed.
Many saints have described mystical experiences involving spiritual delights and physical pain. Here is St Teresa of Avila describing one of her experiences:
It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. 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.
The later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography contain a letter from an unnamed nun who knew Fr Doyle well. Perhaps it was his sister – we do not know. In any event, this nun knew something of the “sweet wounding” to which Fr Doyle referred and said that it was “a grace like to that received by St Teresa”. If this is correct, it is remarkable. But, alas, we cannot say for certain based on the information to hand. Perhaps it is even better not to speculate.
St Teresa reached such 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. We should have confidence that, if we continue to progress towards God, no matter what setbacks or diversions we encounter, the Lord will continue to give us all the graces we need to reach Heaven.
I felt strongly urged to rise and make the Holy Hour every night.In there past twelve months I have gone down to the chapel about fifty times though often only for a few moments; this does not include the weekly Holy Hour on Thursday. Now I feel impelled to rise each night, when at home, at least for a quarter of an hour.
You certainly put your finger on the weak spot in most priestly lives – the want of prayer. The connection between prayer and zeal never struck me so forcibly before, though holy David says so truly, “In my meditation a fire shall flame out.” Psalm 38. 4. As for personal holiness, you know my views on that, and how convinced I am that all work for God must in the main be barren without it.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a man of prayer who lived constantly in the presence of God. He had his own ways of cultivating an awareness of this presence with his numerous aspirations and spiritual practices throughout the day. But prayer is not only essential for priests; all need it, lay and clerical alike. In a busy world with many distractions, it can be tempting to push prayer aside and leave it until everything else is done. In practice, this is a recipe for neglecting prayer altogether. God wants generous souls and will give His grace to them. In fact, we can be sure of one thing – God will not be outdone in generosity. This is the lesson we learn from the life of Fr Doyle and indeed from all of the saints. How appropriate therefore to remember the importance of prayer today when the Church celebrates the feast of all the saints of the Carmelite order. The Carmelites, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, prioritise the life of prayer. May they intercede for us, and help us follow their holy example.
Today in Dublin we also commemorate the feast of St Laurence O’Toole, the former Archbishop of Dublin and patron of the archdiocese. St Laurence lived in the 12th century. He was a successful and effective archbishop precisely because of the prominence he gave to prayer – a former abbot of the monastery at Glendalough, he retained close monastic links, making a 40 day retreat there each year.
Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on October 25 1916. It refers to the previous night, in other words, this evening and night 102 years ago. It is worth remembering that at this time Fr Doyle was at the Front. His prayer was conducted in a dug out, not in the relative comfort of a Jesuit house far from violence and death. He obviously found it hard, hence his use of the old strategy of making a vow not to give in to tiredness. We know that he spent a night of prayer at the Front for the Poor Clares in Cork which he was instrumental in founding – they were experiencing some difficulties at the time. I am not sure if this was that same occasion or not.
Jesus has long urged me to give Him a whole night of prayer and reparation. Last night I prayed in my dug-out at Kemmel from 9 till 5 (eight hours), most of the time on my knees. I bound myself beforehand to do so by vow in order not to let myself off. Though I had only two hours’ sleep, I am not very tired or weary today. Jesus wants more of these nights of prayer, adoration and atonement.
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?
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.