Thoughts for March 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy. 

COMMENT: Courage, more commonly referred to as fortitude, is one of the cardinal virtues. It is impossible to live a holy life without it. In fact, it is also probably impossible to live a happy life in the purely worldly sense without it. As St Teresa of Avila, herself no stranger to this virtue, once said: 

To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that. 

We see many examples of courage in the life of Fr Doyle. Most obviously, his simply astounding courage during the war comes immediately to mind. If that doesn’t qualify as “heroic virtue” I don’t know what does! But Fr Doyle exhibited courage and fortitude throughout his life. Even as a student before ordination he had to confront persistent illness and fought long and hard to succeed in study. Here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit who lived with him before he was ordained: 

Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise. 

This courage was not necessarily innate within Fr Doyle; he continuously prayed for this gift. As he says in one part of his diary: 

With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me. 

All saints demonstrated courage to a heroic degree, but in some cases this virtue seems to shine out with special grandeur. Today the Church celebrates two such men.

The torture of St Nicholas Owen

St Nicholas Owen was a Jesuit lay brother who died in 1606. He was a carpenter by trade, and it was he who perfected the art of constructing priest-holes in Elizabethan England. His work in building protest holes was fascinating; some of them were only discovered centuries later, such was his creativity and skill in constructing them. He travelled in disguise and worked quietly at night while the household was asleep, for it was dangerous to allow others to know the nature of his work. His work was so exceptional that he undoubtedly saved the lives of many priests. As Fr John Gerard, the remarkable Jesuit missionary of that era who chronicled his exploits in a fascinating memoir noted:

I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular. 

This, of course, made St Nicholas a prime target for capture. When he was himself arrested, he was subjected to the most horrific tortures in order to make him reveal the secrets of his hiding holes. Remarkably, he withstood all attempts to break him, and he died while being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. He was literally torn asunder and died on rack, and the case was apparently something of a scandal at the time given the ferocity of the torture he was subjected to. The authorities even went as far as to allege that he committed suicide, such was their desire to cover up their crime of murdering him on the rack. Yet he revealed no secrets, preferring agonising death rather than reveal his secrets and endanger the Catholic mission in Elizabethan England. He was a true hero and a man of courage.

Blessed Clemens August von Galen

We also celebrate today the feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933-1946. He was a staunch opponent of both the Communists and Nazis, and, despite threats and violence, he preached fearlessly against the Nazi death-culture and in defence of the Church. He is popularly known as the Lion of Münster in recognition of his courage. More can be read about him here: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcgovern/vongalb.html  He is also the subject of an interesting new biography – ore can be read about that herehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/03/the-bishop-and-the-nazis

Fr Doyle showed his courage in the First World War, Blessed Clemens demonstrated his in the Second World War and St Nicholas Owen stood firm during the Elizabethan persecution. Most people reading this site do not live in the midst of such dramatic circumstances, and for that perhaps we should be thankful. But we are still called to live with heroic courage in our ordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note that all three exhibited their greatest courage in fulfilling their vocations – Fr Doyle as a military chaplain; St Nicholas Owen as a carpenter and Blessed Clemens as a bishop fearlessly proclaiming the truth, even though it was politically unpopular. 

Daily life will also provide many opportunities for us to demonstrate our own fortitude, most often in overcoming our own personal defects and weaknesses. As Fr Doyle once noted in a letter:

For your consolation remember that everyone I have ever met found the struggle for perfection hard because most of the work is done in the dark. It is a question of faith and courage, going along bravely day after day.

Thoughts for March 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more do I really believe this?

COMMENT: Today is the anniversary of the death of St Benedict, and in the older calendar it is his feast day. St Benedict, like St Joseph, is the patron of a happy death. Much of what we know about St Benedict comes from the writings of St Gregory the Great. Here is his description of the death of St Benedict on this day in 543.

Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.

St Benedict’s death was a peaceful one. Fr Doyle spent himself tirelessly to try to bring a peaceful death to many fallen soldiers. His was the last face many of them saw, as he brought the consolation of his priestly presence in their last moments. It was in this cause that he died, when he ran into no man’s land to rescue two wounded officers and was himself killed in the process.

Death of St Benedict

Thoughts for the Feast of St Joseph from Fr Willie Doyle

With great earnestness recommend to His mercy the poor souls who are in their agony. What a dreadful hour, an hour tremendously decisive, is the hour of our death! Surround with your love these souls going to appear before God, and defend them by your prayers.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Joseph, transferred from the 19th this year because it was a Sunday. We traditionally pray to St Joseph for many things – work, fidelity to one’s vocation, purity, the protection of the Church, even selling a house. But St Joseph is also regarded as the patron saint of a happy death, because tradition tells us that he died with Jesus and Mary at his side – a happy death indeed!

Fr Doyle’s mother – Christina Doyle – died at 7am on the feast of St Joseph 1915. Fr Doyle had just returned from a mission in Glasgow and was with her when she died, and was able to say Mass immediately for her soul. Fr Doyle’s parents are buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, very near Dalkey where they lived. Below is a photo of their grave.

Fr Doyle’s parent’s grave. His mother died on 19 March 1915.

St Joseph is a powerful patron; many saints were greatly devoted to him. St Teresa of Avila tells us that he always answered her prayers. Blessed Pius IX proclaimed St Joseph as the patron of the Universal Church. We should have recourse to him for the needs of the Church, which are very great at this time. 

Thoughts for St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick

I beg of God whom I love to grant me that I may shed my blood with those strangers and captives for His name’s sake, even though I be without burial itself, or my corpse be most miserably divided, limb by limb, amongst dogs and fierce beasts, or the birds of the air devour it. I think it most certain that if this happens to me, I shall have gained my soul with my body.

COMMENT: These thoughts are not in fact from Fr Doyle, but instead are from St Patrick. Given the importance of today’s great feast for the Church in Ireland it seems appropriate to lead with a quote from our national patron saint instead of from Fr Doyle.

But even though Fr Doyle did not write these words, they could so easily apply to him. Fr Doyle did shed his blood with his men in the battle field, and his corpse was probably “miserably divided”, whether through the action of a German shell or some other process.

There are many other similarities between Fr Doyle and St Patrick, not the least of which was the zeal and originality with which they both evangelised their respective cultures, their nocturnal vigils and their tendency to “count” their prayers – St Patrick tells us that he used to say a hundred prayers during the day and almost as many at night while Fr Doyle’s remarkable “spiritual accountancy” by which he counted his thousands of daily aspirations remains a source of mystery to us today.

Both also had a strong urging towards reparation. Consider the following from St Patrick:

Today I may confidently offer Him a sacrifice – my soul as a living victim to Christ my Lord.

Fr Doyle made a similar offering in 1913:

I offer myself to You to be Your Victim in the fullest sense of the word. I deliver to You my body, my soul, my heart, all that I have, that You may dispose of and immolate them according to Your good pleasure. Do with me as You please, without consulting my desires, my repugnances, my wishes.

Today is a great day for the Irish. But we must remember that it is NOT a day for celebrating Irishness per se. It is a day for celebrating the gift of the Catholic Faith in Ireland. It is a day of thanksgiving for the courage and fortitude of St Patrick in bringing us this priceless gift. It is also a day of thanksgiving for all of those countries who received the light of faith indirectly through St Patrick, by means of the many selfless Irish missionaries over the centuries. In particular we think of the many European countries that were evangelised by Irish monks, and in recent centuries those parts of America, Australia, Africa and Asia that were so well served by Irish missionaries, even up to this day (including some regular readers of this site!).

But in addition to our celebrations, perhaps today should also contain a certain element of penance. Not only did Irish priests and religious export the genuine Faith to many countries, but a number of them exported vice and corruption as well. Some of the abuses in America, Australia and Canada can unfortunately be traced back to Irish priests and religious…

Let us consider then this verse from one of the Epistles approved for use at Mass for the feast of St Patrick:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

We see these itching ears in the drift towards an aggressive secularism in some quarters and the refusal of a vocal minority to recognise any good in the Church, accompanied by a desire to see its destruction. We also see these itching ears in the growth of superstition and New Age “spirituality”. And most damningly we saw it in the moral relativism and/or cowardice that failed to recognise, or act against, the evils of abuse, preferring the advice of secular therapists rather than the advice of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  For all of this, reparation is needed.

But we should avoid pessimism, for there is still life and holiness in the Church in this country.

Let us turn to our great patron St Patrick, asking him for holiness in our land. We should also pray to him for more Irish beatifications and canonisations so that we can have modern heroes to emulate in our own lives and to aid our evangelisation. Ireland has a poor record in this regard. And perhaps you might say a prayer for the writer of this blog, for St Patrick is my name saint (in some countries this is more significant than one’s birthday).

We shall conclude today with our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict’s prayer for Ireland:

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.

Thoughts for March 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

My intense desire and longing is to make others love Jesus and to draw them to His Sacred Heart. Recently at Mass I have found myself at the Dominus Vobiscum opening my arms wide with the intention of embracing every soul present and drawing them in spite of themselves into that Heart which longs for their love. 

COMMENT: We cannot truly encourage others to love Jesus unless we love Him ourselves. Similarly, we know that we do not truly love Jesus unless we want others to know and love Him. 

Fr Doyle was a most effective mission preacher and retreat master who longed to make Jesus known and loved. O’Rahilly reports that during some missions, Fr Doyle could be found at the docks at midnight searching out sailors arriving into port, urging them to come to the church and occasionally hearing their confessions on the spot. He could also be found the next day before 6.00am, searching out those on their way to work in factories. Fr Doyle was an indefatigable apostle, seeking out the lost sheep wherever they may be. We could do well to learn from his approach… 

Fr Doyle’s efforts found much success. As he wrote once in a letter: 

I have not met a single refusal to come to the mission or to confession so far during my missionary career. Why should there be one because Jesus for some mysterious reason seems to delight in using perhaps the most wretched of all His priests as the channel of His grace? When I go to see a hard hopeless case, I cannot describe what happens exactly, but I seem to be able to lift up my heart like a cup and pour grace and the love of God upon that poor soul. I can see the result instantly, almost like the melting of snow. 

Today the Church commemorates St Clement Mary Hofbauer, the great Redemptorist preacher and Apostle of Vienna who died in 1820. As the bull of St Clement’s canonisation (1909) pointed out: 

He used every effort to bring sinners to penance and confession…He sought this from God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the saints; to obtain this he afflicted his body. 

Fr Doyle seems to have adopted a similar methodology. As O’Rahilly reports: 

After an arduous day’s work in pulpit and confessional he would often spenda good part of the night before the Tabernacle, cutting his sleep down to three or four hours. Thus during a mission in Drogheda, the curate observed that Fr. Doyle, on emerging from his confessional at eleven o’clock at night, used to retire to the little oratory and remain on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament until the clock struck two; yet he was always up and out of the house before any one else was astir. 

In applying these ideas to our own lives, perhaps we should consider the apostolic opportunities that present themselves to us every day. For many of us there will be several opportunities to discuss the faith or to defend the Church in conversations in friends and colleagues. And of course there is the permanent apostolate of good example that we can exercise all day everyday. 

We should not absolve ourselves of our apostolic obligations, thinking it to be the job of others. Those of us who are lay people have an important role in this regard. Let us look to the example of Fr Doyle, St Clement and all of the other great apostles of the Church for examples of creativity and effectiveness in bringing the good news of salvation to others.

photo-clement
St Clement Mary Hofbauer

Thoughts for March 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis Xavier

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.

Amen.

Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods!” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s Will, and so every step in this direction must please Him immensely.

COMMENT: In today’s Gospel we read about the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus shows just a small glimpse of His Divine glory. Even this small glimpse of His Divinity is enough to dumbfound the apostles and fill them with fear. While the earthly transfiguration, as such, was obviously unique to Christ because of His Divinity, it remains true that we are all meant to be “transformed” in some spiritual way by grace.

However, this transformation can also be physical in some way in the lives of the saints. There is a temptation to discount such phenomena as part of as mythical “Golden Legend” of the saints. Sometimes it can be good to be a little sceptical about mystical phenomena, but it is surely not the Christian position to completely and automatically dismiss such phemonena out of hand entirely.

We read in the lives of many saints about how, on occasion, others thought that they could perceive a certain radiance around them. The Book of Exodus tells us how the face of Moses was shining and radiant after he came down from the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai. These tales are not confined to the distant past; for instance there have been reports of how acquaintances of St John Paul II perceived that his face also shone on occasion. Those who were present at the apparitions at Lourdes also reported a radiant look on the face of St Bernadette during her visions, and it was the power of this radiance that convinced them of the authenticity of the visions. Similarly, those present when St Pio said Mass could also perceive a radiance in his face.

Perhaps the same internal transformation through grace was at work in Fr Doyle’s soul at times. Here is the testimony of his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

Was Fr Charles mistaken? Did he imagine it? We shall never know. But our instinct surely tells us that, sometimes, internal holiness manifests itself externally in some fashion. Here is some similar testimony from a soldier who knew Fr Doyle in the Great War:

Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’

We shall conclude today with this reflection from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, the Carmelite Spiritual writer:

Glory is the fruit of grace; the grace possessed by Jesus in an infinite degree is reflected in an infinite glory transfiguring Him entirely. Something similar happens to us; grace will transform us “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) until one day it will bring us to the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. But while grace transfigures, sin, on the other hand, darkens and disfigures whoever becomes its victim.