Vince teipsum – conquer yourself. This is the secret of the Spiritual Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.
COMMENT: It is appropriate for us to consider this quote from Fr Doyle today for two reasons.
Firstly, conquering ourselves is a crucial part of the Lenten experience. We aim to uproot our vices and become more like Christ during our 40 days of spiritual discipline.
The second reason relates to the person of St Francis Xavier, one of Ignatius’ first companions, one of the greatest Jesuit saints and the patron of the missions. Today is traditionally the last day of the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis. In St Francis’ day, the mission field was far away; today it is in our own cities and towns, all so badly in need of the New Evangelisation. May he enkindle in us the same passion to save souls that compelled him to travel to the other side of the world. Let us conclude with the traditional novena prayer to St Francis Xavier.
Most amiable and most loving St. Francis Xavier, in union with thee I reverently adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which God blessed thee during life, and of thy glory after death, fills me with joy. I implore thee to obtain for me, through thy powerful intercession, the inestimable blessing of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beseech thee to obtain the special favour I ask for (Make your request here…)
But, if what I ask is not for the glory of God, and the good of my soul, I pray and desire that which is the most conductive to both.
Passion of Christ, comfort me! Comfort me, for the day is long and weary; comfort me as I fight my way up the path of life safe to the haven of Thy Sacred Heart, comfort me in sorrow, in pain, in sickness. Comfort me when temptation rages around me and every hope seems lost, and when the last dread hour has sounded and my eyes are closing on this world of sin, Oh, Passion of Christ! comfort me then, and lead me gently to Thy wounded Sacred Feet above.
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?
Today, instead of a comment from Fr Doyle, I have a prayer request. I don’t normally do this, but this is a worthy case.
There is a lady in the US whose initials are EC who has a great devotion to Fr Doyle (I am omitting her name at her request to facilitate her anonymity). She has even named her recently born fifth child after him. EC’s parents have a number of serious health problems, but she herself is struggling with a serious eye disease which carries a high risk of blindness. She has already had to give up driving and reading books. She is due to have eye surgery tomorrow (February 13) and again in two weeks (Feb 27), and the surgery itself is obviously risky.
EC has requested prayers for her family and also for her own healing. Let us ask Fr Willie, to whom EC is devoted, to intercede for her health and for her family. Remember – in the first 14 years after his death, the Irish Jesuits received reports of 6,426 alleged favours from all around the world through Fr Doyle’s intercession. Some of them even relate to healing of the eye. You may read more about them here:
Here is the prayer (for private use) that was written and approved in the 1920’s for Fr Doyle’s intercession:
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…[Make petition.]
Teach us to imitate his love for You, his heroic devotion to Your service, his zeal for repairing the outrages done to Your glory and for the salvation of souls. Hear our prayer and show us the credit he now enjoys in heaven so that we may soon be able to venerate him in public worship.”
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.
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.