Fr Doyle and reparation for the sins of priests

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle clearly perceived that he had a special calling to make reparation for the sins of priests. In fact, he reiterated this calling in the very last entry that he ever made in his diary, on July 28 1917, the 10th anniversary of his ordination and just two weeks before his death:

I have again offered myself to Jesus…to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy…in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all “little pains” in this spirit. A strong urging to this.

We don’t hear very much about reparation these days but this idea is entirely scriptural. St Paul tells us:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.

In some mysterious way, our own sacrifices strengthen the Church and win grace for others.

Fr Doyle specifically focuses on the sins of priests. Priests were held in very high esteem 100 years ago, yet here we have Fr Doyle recognising the reality of priestly sinfulness. It was a desire to atone for these sins that drove him to some of his severe penances.

How much more we know about the sinfulness of some priests now than we did 100 years ago! The Church in Ireland has been especially badly hit by the scandal – the crime! – of child abuse. It is no exaggeration to say that the moral credibility of the Church has been dreadfully undermined by these scandals, and especially by their mishandling. Those in the United States who have seen the fallout of clerical abuse in dioceses like Boston have some sense of the implications of clerical scandals on the credibility and life of the Church. But it must be stressed – the fallout for the Church in Ireland has been vastly more serious than anywhere else, and that includes places like Boston.

Today we celebrate the feast of St Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church. St Peter Damian is not one of the better known Doctors, but he is of great significance for his zealous work in reforming the Church, and in particular the clergy, of his time. And what was the main focus of his reform? Yes, that’s right, sexual corruption amongst the clergy, and in particular the abuse of teenage boys by priests and monks. Remarkably, St Peter Damian was born over 1,000 years ago, and died in 1072. His extensive writings on this problem cite with approval the works of another Doctor of the Church, St Basil the Great, who died over 1,600 years ago in 379. It is clear that neither saint took the matter lightly. Their prescription for abusers included public flogging, imprisonment, bad food and constant supervision to ensure that the guilty party never again had contact with children.

This is not to suggest that the crime of abuse is disproportionately acute in the Church; we know from authoritative statistics that this is not the case. But we do know that the way in which the problem was handled in recent decades was gravely deficient. Perhaps the Church leaned too heavily on psychologists, or was too strongly influenced by the prevailing secular social norms which, in that period, trivialised this activity.

The point remains that the Church has, within its own tradition, a strong response to the problem of clerical abuse. If the Church in Ireland had adopted the zero tolerance approach of St Peter Damian the Church would have underlined its seriousness in eradicating this crime and would have protected children.

And so we come back to Fr Doyle and reparation for the sins of priests…

Once again we find that Fr Doyle is a very fitting model for us today. Here is a priest who died for others, even those who did not share his faith. Here is a man who literally offered his life to God in reparation for the sins of other priests. True, we must not follow his own personal style of penance – he makes it clear that he had a special calling for hard penance that others did not have – but the principle is there for us to follow nonetheless. And it now officially forms part of the Church’s response to the abuse crisis. Pope Benedict, in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland, urged us to offer our Friday penances essentially in reparation for the sins of priests and for healing and renewal.

Let us pray to St Peter Damian for reform within the Church – and most importantly within ourselves – and to Fr Doyle that we may make adequate reparation for sin through our own small penances.

Here is the text of an address by Pope Benedict XVI on St Peter Damian:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20090909_en.html

St Peter Damian
St Peter Damian

Thoughts for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes from Fr Willie Doyle

Lourdes 2

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.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr Doyle visited the shrine in November 1912, and today’s quote summarises his spiritual experience there.

This reflection on Lourdes is utterly characteristic of Fr Doyle, who had such a horror for sin and combined this with a special vocation for reparation for sin.

In almost all approved Marian apparitions, Our Lady urges us to prayer and penance. Yes, she also comes to tell us of the love of God, and often reveals this love through miraculous healings and other graces. But just like in the Gospel, penance remains central to the message.

Thoughts for February 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Christian abnegation is not composed merely of renunciation: it leads to something tangible and definite. We abandon what is false to cling to what is true. We empty our hearts of earthly things to make room for eternal. We lose ourselves to gain Christ.

COMMENT: Those who punish their bodies by lifting weights in a gym or by jogging in the bleak early hours, do not do so for its own sake – they push themselves to achieve something else such as fitness or weight loss or greater physical attractiveness. It is this same mentality that we need when considering the penances of Fr Doyle, and indeed of all the saints. These penitential lives were not an end in themselves, but were instead an attempt to remove self-will so that God could occupy a more central role in their lives. By losing themselves, they truly found Christ.

We see something similar in the life of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich whose feast it is today. She suffered greatly through illness, and was confined to bed for much of her life. But despite, or perhaps because of, her sufferings she attracted many who sought her counsel and spiritual support, including many priests and bishops. Blessed Pope John Paul said that “her special mystical vocation shows us the value of sacrifice and suffering with the crucified Lord”. She is one of those special victim souls whose complete self-abnegation allows them to be more completely filled with grace.

We do not have to confined to bed with illness for many years like Blessed Anne Catherine, and many others, were. By struggling to overcome our faults bit by bit we can remove obstacles to the more effective operation of grace in our souls. The more filled with grace we become, the more we will change the world.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

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.

Jesus on cross

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 102 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.

18 January 1912

I felt Jesus asking me to make a long visit and wishing to speak to me. His message was:

  1. To note down the big sacrifices of each day as this helps me to generosity.
  2. To make a spiritual Communion with each person receiving.
  3. Greater abandonment still of all comfort – ‘absolute nakedness’.
  4. To make a half-hour’s visit during the day when I am able

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his private diary on this day in 1912. He was not only an ascetic, but also a mystic, and this quote represents what he understood Jesus to be saying to him in prayer on this day. Fr Doyle was no fool. He was a well-formed Jesuit and an expert spiritual director, especially of others in religious life, and so we must assume that this words were indeed something akin to a locution. As such they form a private inspiration for Fr Doyle rather than some form of revelation for the use of others. 

Nonetheless, there is surely one lesson we can take from this message, and it is a message that one finds again and again in the writings of Fr Doyle – a call to greater generosity with God, and by extension, with others. This is something applicable to us all. The precise implementation of this generosity will surely suffer from person to person, but the fact that we are all called to an ever increasing generosity is surely a basic element of the Christian spiritual life.

Thoughts for January 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

I see more and more that self-indulgence even in lawful things brings only unhappiness; and I realise I can never be truly content or at peace till I make my life a crucified one, and this always.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1914. His was advice was not for everyone – he was specifically writing about himself in his private diary. Counter-intuitively, he found that whenever he indulged himself (presumably in little ways, such as taking butter on his bread or having a full night’s sleep), that he was less happy. Elsewhere he reported that not performing penance left him tired and lethargic but that penance invigorated him. This is surely an important sign that Fr Doyle truly had a specific calling to a life of asceticism.