Thoughts for January 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis de Sales

There is nothing better than the practice of aspirations, steadily growing in number. Keep a little book and enter them once a day. . . . I would like you to keep count of these little acts like the aspirations, but don’t go too fast; build up and do not pull down.

COMMENT: The use of spiritual aspirations – short heartfelt prayers which remind us that we are in the presence of God – were an extremely important part of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life. His diaries record how, at certain points in his life, he repeated tens of thousands of aspirations each day. Nobody quite knows how he managed to say (and count!) so many.

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. St Francis is one of the most efficacious guides to the spiritual life. His advice is eminently practical, especially for lay people, and one doesn’t need to be a great mystic to follow it. One of the key elements of St Francis’ teaching was that we do not need to do great tings to be holy, we just need to do out own work, even if it is very little, but do it with great love. We find the same theme in the advice Fr Doyle gave to others.

Fr Doyle referred to St Francis quite a few times in his letters of spiritual direction. Incidentally, like Fr Doyle, St Francis was naturally very hot tempered and impatient, and he knew that he needed to conquer this particular vice in order to reach holiness. He was so successful at this that everyone who knew him viewed him as the sweetest, most gentle and patient man they knew. This practice of deliberately targeting one’s dominant defect and focusing one’s spiritual energies on this specific point is a central part of the Spiritual Exercises which of course formed such an important part of the spiritual formation of Fr Doyle himself.

Back to the issue of aspirations… The following is a quote from St Francis’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life on the issue of aspirations. As we can see, Fr Doyle was not alone in his devotion to the practice. St Francis’ analogy of how lovers constantly think of their beloved is especially apt in explaining this practice.

Do you then, my daughter, aspire continually to God, by brief, ardent upliftings of heart; praise His Excellence, invoke His Aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of His Cross, adore His Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix your inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a little child to its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant nosegay, upraise Him in your soul as a standard. In short, kindle by every possible act your love for God, your tender, passionate desire for the Heavenly Bridegroom of souls. Such is ejaculatory prayer, as it was so earnestly inculcated by St. Augustine upon the devout Proba; and be sure, my daughter, that if you seek such nearness and intimacy with God your whole soul will imbibe the perfume of His Perfections. Neither is this a difficult practice,–it may be interwoven with all our duties and occupations, without hindering any; for neither the spiritual retreat of which I have spoken, nor these inward upliftings of the heart, cause more than a very brief distraction, which, so far from being any hindrance, will rather promote whatever you have in hand. When a pilgrim pauses an instant to take a draught of wine, which refreshes his lips and revives his heart, his onward journey is nowise hindered by the brief delay, but rather it is shortened and lightened, and he brings it all the sooner to a happy end, pausing but to advance the better.

Sundry collections of ejaculatory prayer have been put forth, which are doubtless very useful, but I should advise you not to tie yourself to any formal words, but rather to speak with heart or mouth whatever springs forth from the love within you, which is sure to supply you with all abundance. There are certain utterances which have special force, such as the ejaculatory prayers of which the Psalms are so full, and the numerous loving invocations of Jesus which we find in the Song of Songs. Many hymns too may be used with the like intention, provided they are sung attentively. In short, just as those who are full of some earthly, natural love are ever turning in thought to the beloved one, their hearts overflowing with tenderness, and their lips ever ready to praise that beloved object; comforting themselves in absence by letters, carving the treasured name on every tree;–so those who love God cannot cease thinking of Him, living for Him, longing after Him, speaking of Him, and fain would they grave the Holy Name of Jesus in the hearts of every living creature they behold. And to such an outpour of love all creation bids us–nothing that He has made but is filled with the praise of God, and, as says St. Augustine, everything in the world speaks silently but clearly to the lovers of God of their love, exciting them to holy desires, whence gush forth aspirations and loving cries to God.

 

 

22 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 my 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.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s nocturnal prayer 106 years ago is a classic example of his asceticism. He did not find it easy or pleasant, but he strongly felt that God was calling him to such acts of penance. We are not called to copy Fr Doyle’s penances, but neither do we have the right to stand in judgement over them, adopting a critical or superior attitude to one who was called by this special path. While Fr Doyle’s call was unique, there is still one thing we can all learn from today’s quote: we are capable of many hard things, perhaps even more than we imagine, with the help of prayer.

Thoughts for November 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

The life of Jesus was a continual prayer. Even during His public life He began, continued and ended everything He did by prayer, besides devoting whole nights and days to communing with His Father.

If we want our work for souls to be fruitful, we must bring prayer into it. If our children are not all that they ought to be, the cause may not be far to seek. Let us examine if we are praying enough for them, if our aspirations are ever ascending to the throne of God, to bless our work amongst those children and amongst others with whom we have to deal.

COMMENT: The only elaboration that Fr Doyle’s words require today is that of his own example. He was constantly immersed in prayer, often reciting thousands of aspiration each day, and regularly spending entire nights in prayer. It’s not coincidental that his own ministry as a writer, retreat master, preacher, spiritual director and military chaplain was marked by success and fruitfulness.

 

Thoughts for November 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

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: Fr Doyle may be referring here to a mystical experience, though perhaps he is writing only in a symbolic fashion

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…

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.

Thoughts for November 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

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. 

Thoughts for November 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Lord is displeased only when He sees no attempt made to get rid of imperfections which, when deliberate, clog the soul and chain it to the earth. But He often purposely does not give the victory over them in order to increase our opportunities of meriting. Make an act of humility and sorrow after failure, and then never a thought more about it.

He sees what a “tiny little child” you are, and how useless even your greatest efforts are to accomplish the gigantic work of making a saint. But this longing, this stretching out of baby hands for His love, pleases Him beyond measure; and one day He will stoop down and catch you up with infinite tenderness in His divine arms and raise you to heights of sanctity you little dream of now.

COMMENT: We have no notes from the Spiritual Exercises from 1907 for today, so we will take a break from the Spiritual Exercises with a gentle reflection from Fr Doyle on spiritual childhood. One might be forgiven for considering Fr Doyle to be a rather austere character if all one had to go on were his own personal retreat notes which we have been considering here for a few weeks. Yes, he was personally tough, or more accurately, he was tough on himself. However, he always was unfailing gentle on others.

We must correspond to the graces God gives us and to His call. Fr Doyle received many graces, and was called to offer great sacrifices. This is not the path that everyone – or even most people – are called to walk.

Ultimately, we are all children in the spiritual life. Just as a father delights to see his child learn to crawl and walk and mumble some words, so too God is delighted with our feeble efforts to grow and advance and pray, so long as we persevere and try our best. Yes, the day may come when we are expected to display greater personal courage and strength, but we must first inevitably learn to walk, holding God’s hand and trusting in His strength.

5 November 1911

Today, the Feast of all the Saints of the Society, while praying in the Chapel at Donnybrook (Poor Clares), our Lord seemed to ask me these questions :—

(1) When are you going to do what I have so often urged you and begged from you — a life of absolute sacrifice ?

(2) You have promised Me to begin this life earnestly, — why not do so at once ?

(3) You have vowed to give Me any sacrifice I want. I ask this from you :

(a) the most absolute surrender of all gratification,

(b) to embrace every possible suffering,

(c) this, every day and always.’

My Jesus, I shrink from such a life, but will bravely begin this moment since You wish it.”

Thoughts for the Feast of All Souls from Fr Willie Doyle

 

From their cleansing prison of fire the holy souls cry to us for help. With joy indeed they bear the pain which cleanses them from the foul marks of sin, for now at last they know the awful purity of Him against whom on earth they dared to sin. Upon their souls they see the hideous taint of what was once their joy; and even were heaven’s gates thrown open wide, they would not enter and stand with spotted robe before Him in whose eyes the heavens themselves are not pure. Still they sigh and long for the happiness of their eternal home, for the company of the blessed saints, for Jesus whom at last they know. To be separated from Him is now their most grievous pain, exceeding far the torture of the cleansing fires.

COMMENT: We take a short break today from the Spiritual Exercises to consider today’s feast – the feast of All Souls.

The reality of Purgatory makes a lot of sense – if somebody invited us to meet the an important person we would want to ensure that we were dressed in our best clothing for the occasion. Even more so when it comes to contemplating the Trinity in heaven – our souls must be cleansed from the many sins which have besmirched them. As Fr Doyle says, even if they could enter Heaven to see Jesus they would not, until they have been cleansed.

Here is a description of St Faustina’s vision of Purgatory:

I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames, which were burning them, did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call Her “The Star of the Sea”. She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice which said] ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.

We must pray for the holy souls in Purgatory. They cannot help themselves, but they can assist us. Remember – they know they will enter Heaven. They are good souls who have avoided damnation. They can and do help us. As St Catherine of Bologna said:

I received many and very great favours from the Saints, but still greater favours from the Holy Souls.

We can assist these souls by obtaining indulgences for them. We can do this on any day of the year, but especially during this first week of November when the Church urges us to consider our faithful departed friends and family.

Here is a guide for obtaining indulgences this week. This year, because of the pandemic and associated restrictions, the indulgences can be gained on any 8 days in November. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-10/decree-plenary-indulgence-faithful-departed-november.html

Remember – if we are to get to Heaven, it is probable that we too shall desire the prayers and indulgences of the living after we have died.

24 October 1916: Fr Doyle’s night of prayer at the Front

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 104 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 at least one full 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. Perhaps this was the occasion on which he prayed through the night for this convent and its difficulties?

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.

Prayers for Liam in Ontario, Canada through Fr Willie Doyle’s intercession

We have a new prayer request, this time for a 12 year old boy in Canada called Liam (the Irish for William). Liam has wanted to be a priest since he was 4; in fact he wants to be a military chaplain. I am reminded of how Fr Willie worked to help so many young people find their vocations in life, including those who suffered ill health. Indeed his own vocation was once in doubt due to his own health challenges. 
Liam has both neurofibromatosis and scoliosis. He was supposed to go into a body cast at the end of March but that did not happen because of Covid. His spine has now gone from 67 degrees of curvature to 97. Apparently the spine has collapsed part of his lower right lung. Liam now needs critical spinal surgery to fuse metal rods to parts of the spine, which will impede his growth. The scheduling of this surgery is challenging because of Covid.
Let us all pray through Fr Doyle’s intercession for the healing of Liam and his complete restoration to good health.

Prayer through the intercession of Fr Willie Doyle (for private use)

O Jesus, who has given us the example of Your servant, Father William Doyle, graciously grant us the favours we ask You through his intercession…(Pray here for the healing and cure of Liam in Ontario.)

Teach us to imitate his love for You, his heroic devotion to Your service, his zeal for repairing the outrages done to Your Sacred Heart. And, for Your greater glory and the salvation of souls, hear our prayer and grant that the credit we believe He enjoys in Heaven may be recognised solemnly by the Church, so that we may soon be able to venerate him in public worship.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be