Thoughts for May 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

My way is sure. I think I can say now without a shade of doubt or hesitation that the path by which Jesus wants me to walk is that of absolute abandonment of all human comfort and pleasure and the embracing as far as I can of every discomfort and pain. Every time I see a picture of the crucifixion or a cross, I feel strangely affected and drawn to the life of immolation in a strange way. The heroism of Jesus appeals to me; His ‘naked crucifixion’ calls to me and it gives me great consolation and peace to offer myself to Him on the cross for this perpetual living crucifixion. How often does He not seem to say to me in prayer, ‘I would have you strip yourself of all things — every tiny particle of self-indulgence, and this ever and always? Give Me all and I will make you a great saint.’ This then is the price of my life-long yearning for sanctification. O Jesus, I am so weak, help me to give You all and to do it now.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 8 May 1914, 107 years ago today. Perhaps it is no surprise that he struggled long and hard with recognising this particular calling – a “perpetual living crucifixion” is not something that our weak nature feels inclined towards! 

It is clear that Fr Doyle had a very specific vocation to fight against his own personal comfort and to choose the hardest option always and everywhere. He certainly lived this reality in the war. Burying the dead day in and day out, risking his life to serve the soldiers, going days on end without sleep, eating poor meals, coping with bitter cold, regular floods, searing heat, rats, fleas, smells, shells and all other manner of “discomfort and pain”. It is true that many others lived and died in these conditions. But Fr Doyle really stands out for his cheerfulness and courage in the face of this awful list of discomfort and danger, any one of which inconveniences would probably knock the rest of us off our mental and spiritual equilibrium. Fr Doyle was universally admired for his spirit in the midst of this living hell, and one century later those of us who read his letters from the war are also struck with admiration for how he handled all he went through. 

His fortitude in the midst of these sufferings was no accident. He was fully equipped, both by grace but also by his natural training. By waging a constant war against his own comfort for years previously he was the perfect candidate to be a successful military chaplain in that awful war. There is no way that somebody who indulged their passions and comforts, who indulged their appetites and sought pleasure in all aspects of life, could have survived and thrived – mentally, spiritually or physically – as long as Fr Doyle did. 

If we admire the heroic Fr Doyle of the trenches we must also admire the Fr Doyle who made war on comfort. We cannot have one without the other. 

It is unlikely that we are called to a similar, total abandonment of all normal comforts. But it is beyond doubt that we are called to wage war against some aspects of our comfortable lives. Life with somebody who cares only about their own comfort would be intolerable and unworkable! Married relationships involve sacrifice and necessitate that we sometimes place our comforts aside. No parent would arise in the night to a crying child if their personal comfort was their highest value. Great scientific and medical discoveries require personal comfort to take a back seat as the researcher works late into the night in pursuit of a proof or a cure. Those who desire physical fitness or beauty wage war on their comfort as they restrict their diets and punish their bodies in the gym. Indeed, there can be no social justice if we each look to our own welfare and ignore that of our needy brethren. 

No, far from being old fashioned or irrelevant, the battle against self-indulgence and comfort is actually essential in building a functioning civilisation.

But if we are not called to deny ourselves all comforts, we can at least make an attempt in small ways. Fr Doyle gives us some examples from his own life – no butter on bread or sugar in tea or salt on meat; not complaining when we have a minor headache; being pleasant to people who irritate us; not warming ourselves at the fire… There are numerous small ways we can all find to deny ourselves just a few of the comforts that have made us spiritually and physically enfeebled. These small sacrifices help train us to overcome ourselves when harder sacrifices are required.

Thoughts for April 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Bernadette

Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me. 

In addition to being the feast of St Benedict Joseph Labre, yesterday was also the feast of St Bernadette, but I decided to hold over discussion of St Bernadette until today as there were so many other posts yesterday.

Fr Doyle recorded the above reflections after a trip to Lourdes, the spot where Mary appeared to St Bernadette. The message Fr Doyle took away from Lourdes is the very same as the message he took away from Amettes, the birthplace of St Benedict Joseph Labre – penance and austerity.

If one knew nothing else of Fr Doyle, one could form a very erroneous impression of him. It would be easy to misperceive him as harsh and narrow minded. The opposite was the case – he was joyful and happy and full of practical jokes. Yet, underneath this joy, he lived a very harsh personal life. Paradoxically, this may be why he was so joyful. We see the same in so many other saints known for their happiness and joy. All of the saints were happy, but some were especially known for their jokes and happiness – St Francis and St Philip Neri in particular come to mind. We see the same spirit in the life of Sr. Clare Crockett. Yet these saints all lived very austere personal lives. 

St Francis de Sales says that:

To receive the grace of God into our own hearts, they must be void of our own glory.

Self-love and love of God do not happily live side by side. People who tire themselves out with exercise paradoxically end up with more energy. In the same way, people who live with a spirit of service, generosity and self-denial (so long as it is suited to their strength and station in life) are often more joyful than those who indulge their every whim. 

 

 

Thoughts for April 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

All my life my study has been to avoid suffering as much as possible, to make my life a comfortable one. How unlike my Jesus I have been, who sought to suffer on every occasion for me, for me. I should be glad when pain comes and welcome it, because it makes me more like Jesus.

COMMENT: How we can all identify with Fr Doyle’s words today. Our entire modern society is arranged in such a way as to maximise our comforts. Much of the technological advancement of recent decades has been oriented towards our comfort.

At one level this is not an inherently bad thing. Suffering is not good. But we must also remember that we serve a crucified Lord. If we buy into a consumerist mentality whereby the entire focus of our lives is our comfort, our appetite, our leisure and our whims, then can we really say that we are following the Master who had nowhere to lay His head? As in all areas of life, Christianity calls us to balance, and it is when we lose this balance that we run into problems. 

As St Thomas More said, we cannot get to Heaven on a feather bed.

St Gemma Galgani and Fr 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: When it doesn’t fall on a Sunday, April 11 is normally the feast of St Gemma Galgani, who died on this day in 1903 at the age of 25. 

Gemma was a simple Italian lay woman who 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. 

The quote above 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.

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/

 

Thoughts for April 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

Whenever there is a question of choice, ask yourself, “Which would please God most?”, then, “Which will come hardest to my nature?”. It is this, then, that you will choose: and even though you may not always do so, keep your mind and will bent in the direction of doing always whatever goes against self. This is true holiness.

COMMENT: This is one of Fr Doyle’s hard sayings. Our human nature tends to values comfort, personal autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure and the easy life. To such a mindset, the idea of “going against self” seems to be bizarre.

Yet for all that, modern man does not mind going against himself when it suits him. How many today “go against themselves” in order to earn more money and gain a promotion? How many “go against themselves” by punishing themselves at the gym in pursuit of a more alluring body? It seems to suit the modern mentality to go against our easy going nature when the reward is worth it. And perhaps this indicates that, for many of us today, the love and glory of God is not a sufficient reward to make us go against our natural tendencies…

This is not how it was with the saints. St Thomas More deliberately chose the eldest sister of a family to marry, even though he found the younger sister to be more appealing to him – he felt that it would be dishonourable to leave the elder sister unmarried. This same saint wrote about how we cannot get to Heaven in a feather bed. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to destroy his lecture notes every year and start from scratch the following year, even though he was teaching the very same course again – he didn’t want to get lazy by regurgitating the same lecture. St John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, wrote on the same theme as follows:

The soul should always be inclined: not to what is easiest, but to what is more difficult; not to what is more tasty but to what is more insipid; not to what is more pleasant but to what is less pleasant.

St Therese, one of the most beloved of all saints, was dedicated to the teaching of St John of the Cross, and she sought to concoct many ways of going against herself – including, for example, not leaning on back of her chair – so as to have some small discomfort as she sat.

The idea of acting against one’s inclinations is very characteristic of Fr Doyle. But as we have seen from just a few saints (and we could multiply the examples many times over…) it was not some oddity or personality quirk on his part. Apart from having a long tradition in ascetically theology, it is a fundamentally Ignatian notion, and we find many references to it in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. It was a concept very dear to the Jesuits of Fr Doyle’s time. Consider the following, written by Blessed John Sullivan SJ, a friend of Fr Doyle’s who was ordained on the same day:

We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. Anything that denies self is an act of love.

Fr Doyle helped many people throughout his life, especially during the war. How many people – and especially how many soldiers – benefitted precisely because Fr Doyle acted against his own inclinations?

And how much our families and our society would benefit if we acted against our natural inclinations more often…

Blessed John Sullivan

Thoughts for Monday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

 

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself. 

COMMENT: For those of us in the Republic of Ireland, this will be an extraordinary Holy Week, for all the wrong reasons. We are prohibited, under pain of penal sanction, from attending public Mass, and from availing of the sacraments. Priests, too, are prohibited from leaving their houses to celebrate a public Mass. This is a painful experience this week, above all others. 

God has foreseen all of this. Even if this is not all part of His active will, it is at least permitted by God. He is allowing us, this Holy Week, to be without the sacraments, without our freedoms, and facing serious social and economic upheavals. He has also allowed this strange virus, which is deadly to some and of little consequence to others, to circulate the globe and upend all our lives. St Francis de Sales tells us that the cross that God has prepared for us is always the best one for us. It may not be the one chosen by us, but it is the one chosen by Him to bring forth the most fruit for our souls. Our path has to be to accept these current difficulties with a spirit of faith and serenity, knowing that it is in fact a time of tremendous grace, because whenever there is suffering, there is enough grace to embrace it and to profit from it. We have to strive to emerge from this crisis spiritually stronger than when it started. In particular, we have to exercise ourselves in a spirit of charity, especially for those in our households that we are “confined” with, but also for those in our communities who are in need. 

Fr Doyle’s quote today may help us with this. Jesus was bound and had His freedom denied to Him. So too with us this year.  

Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.

Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:

Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.

Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…

As St Josemaria Escriva said:

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

And also:

Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’

In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called. 

By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Thoughts for March 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

If I have resolved to nail myself to the cross, let me bear ever in mind that our Lord is on the other side of it. When I am tempted to come down, let me stir up my courage by recalling this scene of Calvary and resolve after the example of my Lord and Master to remain fastened to it unto death. I must beware of listening, or above all of yielding, to the universal chorus of voices which will cry out to me to come down. ” Come down or you will ruin your health.” ” Come down and be like the rest of us.” ” Come down or you will render yourself unfit for your work.” ” Come down and walk in the beaten track.” ” Come down, what you are doing is an innovation and cannot be tolerated.” Alas! human respect only too often does make us relax, and down we come. Or we say to our Lord, ” The agony is too long or too distressing, I must have some relief; only just take out one of the nails, Lord, and give me a little respite.” It is the spirit of the times to relax only a little bit, but nevertheless to relax. Ah no! I will imitate our Lord, I will live on the cross and with Him I will die on the cross.

Thoughts for March 1 from Fr Willie Doyle

Surely, my child, you are not surprised to find that you have broken your resolution, or rather, that the devil has gained a victory over you. I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it, since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble. Besides, to expect to keep any resolution, till repeated acts have made it solid in the soul, is like expecting to learn skating, for example, without ever falling. The more falls; the better (that is if you do not mind bumps), for every fall means that we have begun again, have made another effort and so have made progress. I mention this because I know that you like myself are given to discouragement and tempted to give up all when failure comes.

COMMENT: So the New Year of 2021 is not so new anymore. We are two months into it; 1/6th of the year is gone and will never return.

Have we stuck with our new year’s resolutions? Do we even remember what they were? And our Lenten resolutions – is our commitment wavering?

If we have failed, never mind. Fr Doyle reassures us today that the spiritual life is about always beginning again. It is consoling to read that one who was so hard on himself was so gentle on others. In today’s quote Fr Doyle once again reveals his own remarkable spiritual balance and gentleness.

Thoughts for February 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am convinced that generally we reach sanctity of life only through a long series of falls from which we get up.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a very realistic understanding of our human nature. He too struggled with temptations and with his own defects, but like the saints he realised that we do not battle alone, but rather with the help of our loving God, of our guardian angel and of the entire communion of saints.

Perhaps many of us have already forgotten what our new year’s resolutions were. Perhaps we have already failed in some of our Lenten resolutions. No matter, we can pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. The most important thing is never to give up.