26 July 1916

During a visit our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once, in some things at least. I have begun to keep a book of acts done with this intention. He asked me for these sacrifices, (1) To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass. (2) At all costs to make the 50,000 aspirations. (3) To give up illustrated papers. (4) To kiss floor of churches (5) Breviary always kneeling. (6) Mass with intense devotion. The Blessed Cure d’ Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?

COMMENT: Fr Doyle noted these resolutions in his diary on July 26, 1916, 105 years ago today.

As is often the case, Fr Doyle’s resolutions probably seem rather daunting to us. This is a reflection of the difference between his religious culture a century ago and our religious culture today. It is also a reflection of the fact that he had already progressed very far in the spiritual life. Just as professional athletes amaze us with their physical prowess, so too the saints – and those renowned for their sanctity – also amaze us with their generosity and detachment.

There are perhaps three closely related points to take from Fr Doyle’s resolutions from 100 years ago, and thankfully they don’t necessarily mean having to kiss floors or interrupting our sleep at night!

The first point is that Fr Doyle was generous with God. He made specific, challenging resolutions. We do not have to match Fr Doyle’s resolutions – in almost all cases that would be imprudent and impossible. But we still need to be generous with God in whatever He asks. God will not ask us for more than we are capable of giving, and He is never outdone in His generosity. What is generous for one would not be for another; God meets us where we are at (but He does not wish us to stay there, but rather to grow from that point). He has given us everything we have, and He will give us even more in response to our own generosity to Him.

The second point is that we should look for sanctity now. Fr Doyle felt he was not to wait for the end of the war, but to make extra reparation in the present moment, even though the circumstances were not ideal. The reality is that from a purely human perspective the circumstances are never really ideal! We are called to seek God today, in the midst of its specific challenges and problems. Few of us are facing the adverse conditions that Fr Doyle faced 100 years ago. It did not stop him from following God, and serving others, with generosity.

Finally, Fr Doyle refers to the practice of St John Vianney and wonders why he could not copy his example. In this Fr Doyle shows us that he is true son of St Ignatius. While he recuperated in bed from his war injuries, Ignatius read lives of the saints, and inflamed with zeal, he wondered why he could not also do the heroic things that these saints did. They too were human and were weak, but, with the help of God, they achieved great things for Christ. It’s not advisable for us to copy all aspects of the lives of the saints – for many of us doing so would be like trying to copy the actions of an Olympic swimmer before we have even learned to swim! But we are called to be generous and to leave aside the comfortable mediocrity that can be so tempting in today’s culture. If the saints could be generous and heroic, why can’t we do the same, in our own ordinary circumstances of life?

“The Blessed Cure d’ Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?”

Thoughts for July 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: Self-inflicted pain?? It sounds so…medieval, so exaggerated! It’s 2021, surely we’ve grown out of this by this stage?

Except we haven’t. We see more self-inflicted pain in this age than in any other.  What of all the diets and self-imposed fasts people take on in order to look better? What about the self-imposed pain of body piercings or tattoos? Or the self-inflicted suffering of unnecessary cosmetic surgery to acquire the latest “look”?  Or how about the pain and discipline of work people impose on themselves to get a promotion to the next rung of the corporate ladder, or to pass an exam or to write a thesis or a book? Consider all those people who jump out of bed to jog at the crack of dawn, no matter what the weather is like. And all those who faithfully push themselves at the gym several times a week or who undergo rigorous training to play in sporting competitions. What about those who take part in Ironman competitions? These involve a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile cycle followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles) one after the other, without a break. That is surely more punishing than corporal mortification…

But for some reason, people flinch at the mention of self-imposed pain in the spiritual life. The very idea of penance is shocking and strange to us today.

But we need to recall that penance is an absolutely indispensible part of a serious Christian life. It will be impossible to find the life of any saint who did not practice it, and impossible to find any classic book on the spiritual life that does not advocate it. As St Thomas More said: “We cannot go to Heaven in feather beds”. Pope Benedict also called our attention to the importance of penance in his excellent letter to the Catholics of Irelandwho are living through a time of crisis. In this letter he specifically mentioned the importance of penance in the reform of the Church in Ireland.

But this doesn’t mean that we need to wear hairshirts (like Thomas More himself) or scourge our flesh (like St Pope John Paul II did with his leather belt). There are other small penances that we can perform that are possibly even more difficult for some people than the momentary physical pain of corporal penance but that will still be very helpful.

Fr Doyle was severe with himself physically (although, one might add, no more severe than the most popular saints, and also always with the approval of his superiors) but he was always gentle with others, moderating and even restricting their use of physical penances. Here is some advice he gave to another correspondent:

I want you to give up all corporal penance and to take for your particular examen “self-denial in little things”. Make ten acts for each examen, and the more trivial they are the better.

His advice here is especially relevant to the modern age. This self-denial in little things makes our will stronger and probably makes us easier to live with. It can be very simple, such as cleaning up after ourselves, getting out of bed (or going to bed!) on time, not saying a sharp or impatient word etc etc. Each day presents numerous opportunities for following this path that will strengthen our will, build our character and make us easier to live with.

For Fr Doyle these little things included not complaining to others when he had a headache or even giving up butter on this bread. 

In doing these little things we are merely following the command of Jesus that we take up our cross daily and follow Him.

Thoughts for July 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

I gave way today to indulgence, with the usual result. Jesus seemed to reproach me bitterly, reminding me that He seeks a perpetual crucifixion from me.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on 18 July 1914: 107 years ago today. It’s not clear what Fr Doyle had in mind by the word “indulgence”, nor is it clear what he means by the “usual result”. But an educated guess, based on all we know about him, would tell us that he went a little easier on himself by having butter on bread or perhaps a bit too much desert or even an afternoon nap. And the “usual result” of this was probably a sense of lethargy or tiredness or regret. According to the spirituality of the St Ignatius, this sadness is a sign of desolation, a sign perhaps that Fr Doyle did not do what God wanted of him in that moment. While he lay sick and wounded in his bed, St Ignatius read different kinds of books – some were chivalrous romance stories while others were books about saints and the life of Christ. While Ignatius enjoyed each kind of book, he was left with a feeling of emptiness or sadness after finishing the romance stories, while the books about Jesus and the saints left him full of peace and joy. It was this experience that lead St Ignatius to develop his rules for the discernment of spirits. Assuming he was not scrupulous (he wrote a booklet on how to tackle scruples, so we can assume that he wasn’t..) Fr Doyle’s sense of desolation after going a little easier on himself is, according to St Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits, further proof that this personal austerity was truly God’s will for him.

Fr Doyle is one of those curious individuals who was energised by austerity. It made him stronger and fitter and healthier. Conversely, any type of indulgence left him feeling sad and dry. 

Part of this may be due to his temperament, but also by his special calling to a life of “perpetual crucifixion”. There is something consoling for us in this – if Fr Doyle could yield occasionally, should we be surprised if we, too, sometimes slip up and fail to keep our resolutions? Such little falls can humble us, and allow us to see just how much we have to constantly rely on God’s grace for everything. 

As for Fr Doyle’s life of “perpetual crucifixion”, as stated before here, if we admire his heroism in the war, we also have to admire (but perhaps not imitate!) his joyful life of strict discipline, for it was the training ground for his heroism in the war. We cannot have the Fr Doyle who was a hero of the trenches without also having the Fr Doyle who was a cheerful ascetic.

Thoughts for July 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

This morning at Mass, our Blessed Lord gave me grace to see what a fool I am to let my life slip from me without really doing what he has asked and implored so long – the complete sacrifice of everything. Forty one years of my life have gone, very little more may yet remain; and still I go on living a life of much self-indulgence, always promising myself to do better in the future. O Jesus, there is no need to ask You what You want from me or what I ought to do. You ask for the sacrifice of all and always. Give me grace and strength and courage now at last to begin, and to lay at Your feet days of absolute sacrifice, in which I can honestly say that I have refused nothing. My Jesus, I do want to be generous, to suffer much for Your love; but I am so weak, I give in constantly to myself. You have tried long enough to show me my misery and how much I depend on You. O, help me now at last, in honour of Your Precious Blood, to lead that life of crucifixion which alone will please You.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 107 years ago today on July 5, 1914. 

We can surely identify with Fr Doyle’s feeling that he was weak and that he gave in constantly to himself. Such is the human condition. Yet it is not enough for us to shrug our shoulders and just accept our limitations. God asks much from us, and He has the perfect right to do so because He has given us everything that we have. But we should not serve Him out of mere obligation or fear, but out of pure love. 

Fr Doyle had a burning love of Christ which drove him to offer his life as a sacrifice to God in service to others. We too should pray for some share in this personal love of Christ.

27 June 1915

The misery of the past few days has proved to me that I can be happy only by doing what Jesus wants, letting not a single sacrifice escape me.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle felt called to a hard life. He discerned, along with his superiors, that he had a calling to a specific pathway – a calling to a hard life of continual sacrifice, specifically offered in reparation for the sins of priests. 

Fr Doyle knew that most people are not called to the same hard path. Nonetheless, his advice to everyone was to live each day, with its ordinary activities and ups and downs, with a spirit of sacrifice in simple, little things. 

Thoughts for June 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

You need not fear whatever He may send you to bear, since His grace will come with it; but you should always try to keep in mind your offering, living up to the spirit of it. Hence endeavour to see the hand of God in everything that happens to you now; e.g. if you rise in the morning with a headache, thank Him for sending it, since a victim is one who must be immolated and crucified. Again, look upon all humiliations and crosses, failure and disappointment in your work, in a word, everything that is hard, as His seal upon your offering, and rouse yourself to bear all cheerfully and lovingly, remembering that you are to be His “suffering love”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers here to the practice of some rare individuals who offer themselves as so-called “victim souls”, willing to accept great sufferings in reparation for the sins of mankind. This is a path he himself followed, and the Lord accepted his sacrifice as he endeavoured to save some wounded soldiers in August 1917. 

For the rest of us who are not called to such a life of suffering, there is still much to learn from Fr Doyle today, especially with respect to “offering up” little problems, frustrations and pains to God. In some mysterious way that we cannot understand, these offerings enrich the entire Church. As St Paul says: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24) 

Seen in this way, the headaches of everyday life, borne with patience and fortitude, are an excellent source of grace and merit.

Thoughts for June 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

A great desire to know our Lord better, His attractive character, His personal love for me, the resolve to read the life of Christ and study the Gospels. 

I feel also a longing to love Jesus passionately, to try my very best to please Him, and to do all I think will please Him. I see nothing will be dearer to Him than my sanctification, chiefly attained by the perfection with which I perform even the smallest action. “All for love of Jesus.” 

The reason, said Fr. Petit, why we find life so hard, mortification difficult, and why we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike, is because we have no real love for Jesus.

COMMENT: Venerable Adolphus Petit was Fr Doyle’s spiritual director during his year of tertianship, the final year of formation for Jesuits before they take their final vows. He had a great respect for Fr Doyle – he is yet another “saint” who approved of Fr Doyle’s spirit and life. It is known that Fr Doyle consulted with him on a trip to Belgium in 1912, 5 years after his ordination. A biography of Fr Petit, written by an anonymous nun in 1932, has the following to say about Fr Doyle’s relationship with Fr Petit:

Overjoyed at the unusual graces bestowed on the young priest (Fr Doyle), the Spiritual Father (Fr Petit) encouraged whole-heartedly his desire for closer union with God, his passionate love of our Lord and his eager zeal for souls. He approved his attraction for mortification, but insisted at the same time that perfections consists much less in the practice of austerities than in abnegation of one’s will and judgement, and in self-forgetfulness and humility.

Here is Fr Doyle’s description of Fr Petit:

There is a wonderful little old priest here, named Fr. Petit, small in name and small in size – he is about three feet high. He is eighty-five, but as active as a man of thirty, being constantly away giving retreats. I have tried several times to get down to the chapel at four o’ clock in the morning before him, but he is always there when I come in. He is a dear saintly old man with wonderful faith and simplicity. In the middle of an exhortation in the chapel, he will turn round to the Tabernacle and say: Is not that true, my Jesus? He is giving a retreat here this moment to a hundred and ten gentlemen.

In relation to the main quote at the top of this posting, once again, there is much that one can reflect on here. The last line is key: we find life so hard, mortification difficult, and…we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike…because we have no real love for Jesus. 

Most people have family and/or friends that they love in life, and are generally willing to make great, even heroic efforts, to serve them because of this love. Can the same be said about our service of Christ?

16 June 1912

I felt the presence of Jesus very near to me while praying in the chapel at Ramsgrange. He seemed to want me to write down what He said: ‘I want you, my child, to abandon every gratification, generously, absolutely, for the love of Me. Each time you give in to yourself you suffer an enormous loss. Do not deceive yourself by thinking that certain relaxations are necessary or will help your work. My grace is sufficient for you. Give Me all at all times; never come down from the cross to which I have nailed you. Be generous, go on blindly, accepting all, denying yourself all. Trust in Me, I will sustain you, but only if you are really generous. Begin this moment and mortify every look, action, desire. No gratification, no relaxation, no yielding to self. Surrender yourself to Me as My victim and let Me make you a saint.’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recorded this message 109 years ago today, on June 16, 1912. 

Fr Doyle was something of a mystic; the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography make this much clearer than the earlier editions do. Fr Doyle seems to have received several messages similar to this one around this particular period of his life. Perhaps these messages or inspirations continued right to the end of his life, we do not know. 

What are we to make of such inspirations? Well, ultimately they matter little. While various kinds of inspirations and messages are not uncommon in the lives of saints and other holy people, they are neither necessary for sanctity nor are they are a guarantee that the person practiced heroic sanctity. In general, this website has tended to avoid discussion of the mystical graces that Fr Doyle seems to have received. There is a good reason for this – they are unnecessary for our own progress and, 100 years removed from the event, we cannot be sure whether they were truly divinely inspired. Indeed, we should avoid too much curiosity about such mystical phenomena in general, especially when they have not been approved by the Church. Even St Pio, surely one of the saints most closely associated with extraordinary mystical phenomena in recent centuries, used to become impatient with those who were too curious about such things, insisting that it is better to live by faith alone without seeking “proof” of the supernatural in this way. 

Clearly the core of this message – that of denying oneself always and in everything – is not of immediate, universal application. This was a particular call that Fr Doyle felt within himself, and it seems to have been approved by his confessor. It is not the road that most people are expected to follow. 

Nonetheless, there are three particular messages that we may take from today’s quote and apply to our own lives. 

Firstly, the idea that every time we yield, we suffer a loss. Obviously this is true of mortal sin. We suffer whenever we freely consent to such sin. We lose the life of grace in our soul, we lose all of the merit we have accumulated in our life to date and we would end up losing eternal life if we were to die without repenting. However, we also lose to an extent by giving in to venial sin. We may not lose the state of grace, but we also lose out on acquiring extra graces as a result of our struggle against sin. The same also applies to our purely temporal affairs. Every time we yield to the desire to eat chocolate we lose in our battle to stick to a diet; every time we yield to the temptation to stay in bed longer we lose in our battle to be more effective in our working day. The principle has many applications which we can easily apply to our own lives. 

Secondly, we see in today’s quote the importance of trusting in Jesus. According to Fr Doyle’s perception, Jesus indicated that His grace was sufficient for him. This echoes the famous prayer of St Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing dismay thee, all things pass. 

God never changes, patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing. 

God alone suffices.

Finally, Fr Doyle felt that Jesus said to him: “Let Me make you a saint”. We have to make serious efforts ourselves through various acts of piety and asceticism, but ultimately these are never enough on their own and they always require the addition of grace. If we do what we are meant to do, we can be assured that Jesus will provide the grace that we need to reach the sanctity He has in mind for us.

Ramsgrange Church in County Wexford. Completed in 1843. This is presumably the chapel Fr Doyle referred to.

13 June 1915

Slept on the floor. No relief in small sufferings. Put on chain in bad humour. Violent temptations to eat cake and resisted several times. Two hours prayer when weary. Rose for visit at two. Unkind story kept back. Overcame desire to lie in bed. 

COMMENT: This is the list of penances Fr Doyle records for this day in 1915. He kept these lists in order to monitor his progress – this organised approach to the spiritual life was typical of the Ignatian spirituality of his day – Jesuit priests of Fr Doyle’s era were trained in this methodical spiritual programme. Many people today track all of their steps and their calories with sophisticated apps and wearable fitness bands; for Fr Doyle, and for many of his generation, it was far more important to track their pursuit of virtue.

Despite this programmatic approach to the spiritual life, Fr Doyle remained joyful and full of mirth when in the company of others – his daily practice of self-denial helped him to forget himself in order to love others more. Fr Doyle does not appear to have been an expert scholar or theologian, but he was a master tactician of the spiritual life. His daily records show that he fought day after day, with God’s grace, to acquire the self-masery and detachment to which he perceived he had a special calling. We may not be called to imitate the actual penances that Fr Doyle practiced, but we can nonetheless learn from his daily pursuit of holiness and virtue. It is a day by day battle, mostly based around small and seemingly insignificant things, in which those who stand still fall back. As Fr Doyle said elsewhere: “Life is too short for a truce”.