Thoughts for May 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

Are you not foolish in wishing to be free from these attacks of impatience, etc.? I know how violent they can be, since they sweep down on me at all hours without any provocation. You forget the many victories they furnish you with.

COMMENT: Each one of us has our own temperament. Some are timid and quiet. Some are very goal-oriented and work hard. Others are easily excited. Fr Doyle probably fell into this last category – he had a very fiery temperament. This manifested itself in his generous apostolic zeal, his appetite for mortifications and his competitiveness on the sports field. Yet throughout his life we see many examples of how he won “victories” against his natural impatience. One example will suffice – in his last few months, while he was a chaplain in the war, he had many opportunities to lose his temper with the circumstances and people around him. It seems that he rarely did. In fact, he even wanted those around him to treat him like a slave – he wanted to be subject to them and to be mistreated by them in order to learn more patience and humility. For example, Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary in October 1916:

Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g. to wait til he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange my things as he thinks fit, in a word, humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.

While this practice clearly shows a high degree of detachment, it is probably not advisable for all of us. But that does not mean that it was not desirable for Fr Doyle or for those others who were renowned for their high degree of holiness and who also followed this practice (for example, the Spanish noblewoman Luisa Carvajal, who was herself very close to the Jesuits of her day). Clearly, in adopting this practice, Fr Doyle was simply following the Jesuit ideal of going on the offensive to overcome our weaknesses and vices; in this case Fr Doyle’s desire to have things his way. While we may not go so far as to make ourselves the slave of others, it is clear that our homes and our societies would be healthier places if we were all more patient and insisted on our own way less frequently.

Today is the feast of St Rita of Cascia. She is known as the saint of the impossible due to the efficacy of her prayers. But perhaps she could also be known as a saint who personified the virtue of patience. She spent 18 years married to an abusive, violent and unfaithful husband. However, her patience and love finally converted him near the end of his life. After her husband was murdered by some of his many enemies, she successfully prevented her sons from taking revenge, and she entered an Augustinian convent where she spent the last 40 years of her life.

We may not be called to act like the slave of others like Fr Doyle, or to put up with an abusive marriage like St Rita. But we are all called to live the virtue of patience in the concrete circumstances of our own lives. Who can doubt that the world would be a better place if we were all a little more patient with each other.

One final thought today – St Rita is an extremely popular saint but she was only beatified 170 years after her death and canonised 443 years after her death. Not all of the great saints are recognised immediately after death.

St Rita of Cascia
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Thoughts for May 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Simon Stock

Are you weary of the fight already and willing to give in to the enemy? Never mind, come back, begin again, Jesus wants you. There are millions of pagans to be saved, a hundred thousand dying sinners every day to be rescued.

COMMENT: Today’s quote captures the essence of Fr Doyle’s spirit – he was a real fighter given over to spiritual combat, and he was a true missionary dedicated to saving souls, even to the point of losing his own life in the process. These two dimensions encapsulate his inner life of asceticism and his outer life of zealous apostolate.

These two concepts – spiritual combat and apostolate – are firmly rooted in the lives of the saints and indeed in the teaching of Jesus. After all, we follow Christ who told us to fight by denying ourselves, to take up our cross daily, to strive to be perfect, to sin no more. He also sent out His disciples to bring the good news to people and to save souls.

Today is the feast of St Simon Stock, the Carmelite friar to whom, according to the long standing tradition, Our Lady revealed the scapular promises. In essence, tradition tells us that those who wear the brown scapular will have the grace of final perseverance. The scapular is not a good luck charm or a piece of superstition. But it is an important sacramental. We are not obliged to believe in the promises relating to the scapular, but it has a long tradition in the Church, and many saints died wearing it. 

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

I saw many interesting places and things during my weeks of travel. But over all hung a big cloud of sadness, for I realised as I never did before how utterly the world has forgotten Jesus except to hate and outrage Him, the fearful, heart-rending amount of sin visible on all sides, and the vast work for souls that lies before us priests. My feelings at times are more than I can describe. The longing to make up to our dear Lord for all He is suffering is overwhelming, and I ask Him, since somehow my own heart seems indifferent to His pleading, to give me the power to do much and very much to console Him.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We are not obliged to believe in the authenticity of apparitions. However, the Church has approved of the Fatima apparitions; the remarkable miracle of October 1917 testifies to its authenticity, and the popes since then have shown a special interest in them. Pope John Paul was shot on this day 38 years ago, and attributed his miraculous survival to Mary’s intercession – he even had the assassin’s bullet placed in the crown of the statue of Our Lady in Fatima. Pope Benedict visited Fatima and spoke of how the message of the apparitions is still of relevance for us today. And Pope Francis canonised the two shepherd children Francisco and Jacinta Marto in Fatima in 2017.

Fr Doyle’s quote today is quite apt for this feast, for the apparitions at Fatima are a call to conversion and a call to reparation for the sins of the world. Perhaps some people mistakenly think of Fatima in a negative manner or as something old fashioned or no longer relevant in the 21st century. But who can doubt that the world has forgotten Jesus more now than in 1917 when the apparitions occurred and when Fr Doyle died? Isn’t there more need for penance and reparation for the awful sins that have occurred since 1917? The Russian Revolution; the horrors of the First World War; the persecution of the Church in Mexico and in Spain; the Second World War; the Communist persecution and its millions of victims; the general breakdown of public morality and sins connected to this, especially abortion; the growth of aggressive secularism that seeks to remove the Church from the public square; the growth of materialism and the pursuit of wealth at all costs which oppresses the poor and which even destroys our natural environment. And then there are the outrageous sins of those in the Church who should have loved and protected children but who instead preyed on them. And in all of this let us not forget our own sins, for none of us are innocent either…

Truly there is an even greater need for penance and reparation now than there was in 1917. Yet there is always hope and mercy and God’s grace to help us get back on the right track. So while we have much to be sorrowful for, we also have much to be thankful for. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not withstand against the Church, and at Fatima Mary promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph…

St Francisco and Jacinta, two of the three visionaries of Fatima. The seriousness of their eyes is a further testimony of the authenticity of what they saw

Thoughts for May 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

I find the temptation growing stronger every day to leave aside all work that is not absolutely necessary and to spend the time with Jesus. Why does He make me realise so much His loneliness in the Tabernacle and His longing for ‘one to console Him’ and at the same time fill my hands with so many things to do? My room here is opposite the little oratory, only a thin partition separates the two rooms; and it is hard to sleep when I fancy I can almost hear the beating of His heart of love. He is always ‘calling’ and He seems so happy and consoled when I steal in to Him when everyone else is asleep and He is left alone. These moments before Him are rich in grace, especially recently, and I find it hard to think of anything but Jesus and His love. I long to open wide my heart and to let Him hide Himself there, deep, deep down, to bend over Him with tenderest love and give Him every mark of affection, to have Him transform me into Himself, so that I can exclaim ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me!’ (Gal. 2:20).

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 12 May 1913 – 106 years ago today.

Fr Doyle was clearly something of a mystic. This is not just my own judgement – it is based on the evidence presented to us in his own diaries and it is also the opinion of the well known Jesuit spiritual writer and theologian Fr de Grandmaison. Fr Doyle’s life of action in the trenches and his austere penances can tend to obscure this mystical aspect of his spirituality. Yet his diary around this time is full of these passionate exclamations of his love for God.

This same pattern of burning love for Christ can be found in the lives of all of the saints. There are (as usual!) several interesting similarities between Fr Doyle and one of today’s saints, Leopold Mandic, a Capuchin friar from Montenegro who spent much of his life in Padua and who died in 1942. 

St Leopold was one of the great saints of the confessional, often spending 10-15 hours per day hearing confessions in his small, unheated and unventilated room. While Fr Doyle often spent similar amounts of time hearing confessions when conducting missions, it was really during his period as chaplain when his devotion to confession was obvious for all to see as he often risked his life to hear the confessions of wounded soldiers.

Fr Doyle is often remembered for his cheerful emphasis on personal austerity, although this was always of a very moderate and balanced type where other people were concerned. We can find this same emphasis in St Leopold’s life and specifically in his advice to a penitent:

It is not a question of performing extraordinary acts of penance. It suffices to patiently bear the common trials of our miserable life: misunderstandings, lack of gratitude, humiliations, sufferings caused by changes of season and the atmosphere in which we live. God wills all this as a means to work out our Redemption. But in order for these trials to be efficacious and help our soul, we must not seek to flee from them by every possible means. Excessive care for comfort and constant search for ease, have nothing to do with the Christian spirit. That is certainly not taking the cross and following Jesus. Rather it’s running from it. And whoever suffers only what he could not avoid will hardly have any merits.

St Leopold, like Fr Doyle, had a passionate love for Jesus. As he wrote once:

The love of Jesus is a fire which is fuelled with the wood of sacrifice and love for the cross; if it isn’t fed in that way, it goes out.

St Leopold’s description of the life and death of holy priests aptly fits both his own life and that of Fr Doyle:

A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest.

The sanctity of some individuals seems to shine out from their faces; it seems to emanate from their being, even through the medium of photography. St Leopold is one such saint. May he intercede for us who continue our pilgrimage on this earth.

St Leopold Mandic

Today is also the feast of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the first prelate of Opus Dei and successor of St Josemaria Escriva. It was he, while visiting Ireland in 1980, revealed that the following point of meditation by St Josemaria Escriva was, in fact, based on the life and spiritual struggles of Fr Doyle:

We were reading — you and I — the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. And we saw him fight whole months and years (what ‘accounts’ he kept in his particular examination!) at breakfast time: today he won, tomorrow he was beaten… He noted: ‘Didn’t take butter…; did take butter!’

May you and I too live our ‘butter tragedy’.

Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

Thoughts for May 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Damien of Molokai

O eternal Lord . . . provided it be for Thy greater service and praise . . . and if Thy most Holy Majesty be pleased to choose and receive me for such a life and state, I offer myself to Thee for the Congo Mission. Thy will be done. Amen.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had long felt a call become a missionary in the Congo. He struggled for some time with the decision to volunteer for this mission, knowing that he would probably end up as a martyr. He wanted it and didn’t want it at the same time. When he finally offered himself for this role, his offer was not accepted. However, his subsequent offer some years later to become a military chaplain was accepted, with all of the heroic and tragic consequences that amaze us to this day.

Today is the feast of St Damien of Molokai, one of the great modern missionaries of the Church. St Damien is well respected, even by those who otherwise would not know much about the Church or the saints. Like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, his selfless love of the poor and abandoned has a strange fascination for modern culture.

St Damien was a great apostle of charity. His journey far from home in Belgium to live amongst lepers, constantly facing the risk of contracting the disease himself, shows him to be a heroic imitator of Christ who laid down His life for others. But St Damien was a true apostle of charity, who cared for both body and soul. It is significant that one major aspect of his apostolate was a reformation of the morals of the lepers which, due to their despair and abandonment, had become degraded over time.

St Damien drew his energy for this remarkable mission from both prayer and penance. His spiritual notes and resolutions resemble Fr Doyle’s in places – he lived a disciplined life of prayer with many small acts of mortification. Just like in the case of Fr Doyle, we are forced to remember that heroic acts of charity do not materialise from thin air – they arise from daily, grinding faithfulness in our spiritual life.

There is one other surprising similarity between Fr Doyle and St Damien. It seems that Fr Doyle’s desire for the missionary life was not fully satisfied by his time in the trenches. Not long after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Flinn, a fellow Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter:

In the train somewhere here in France I met an officer of W.Doyle’s regiment…For one half-hour in the crowded carriage he spoke the praises of poor Billy. ‘That man was’, he said, ‘the limit’. He wound up with a word that was new, to me at least – ‘He’d have died a martyr anyway, for he had made up his mind to go, after the war, to one of the leper settlements’.

Given what we know about the outrageous sufferings and strains Fr Doyle experienced in the war we might well be forgiven in thinking that he deserved a rather comfortable and safe apostolate if he managed to survive the experience. But this great apostle had other ideas and he wanted to give of himself right to the very end.

Those interested in St Damien can find an excellent overview of his life and spirit from the Benedictine monks of Clairval here: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2010/07/31/2280710.htm

 

The feast of Blessed John Sullivan

Blessed John Sullivan

Today is the feast of Blessed John Sullivan, a contemporary of Fr Doyle. 

Blessed John had a different personality to that of Fr Doyle, but as contemporaries with the same training much of their spirituality is in common. Both were very humble, very cheerful and very ascetic. One of Fr Sullivan’s most popular maxims, very much in line with Fr Doyle’s thought, was:

Take life in instalments, this day now. At least let this be a good day. Be always beginning. Let the past go. The saints were always beginning. That is how they became saints.

Blessed John was born into considerable wealth and privilege, and after some years of travel and study became a barrister. His father was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was brought up in the Church of Ireland, although his mother was a Catholic. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits 4 years later. He was ordained on July 28, 1907 in the same ceremony as Fr Doyle. Fr Sullivan was 46, Fr Doyle was 34.

Ordination Ceremony, 28 July 1907

Blessed John spent most of his life in Clongowes, a Jesuit school not too far from Dublin where Fr Doyle had also spent some time prior to his ordination. He was known for his gentle kindness towards the boys there. He lived an ascetic life, eating very little. Like Fr Doyle, he was no stranger to physical mortification, often spending entire nights in prayer, or sleeping on the floor or performing other physical acts of penance. And, in common with Fr Doyle, there is no evidence that these penances ever interfered with his work. Both priests kept them hidden, and neither ever encouraged others to follow in their own footsteps.

It seems that Blessed John had great regard for Fr Doyle; after his death some of Fr Doyle’s sayings were found transcribed in Blessed John’s writings amongst his private papers.

While there are some similarities between the two contemporary Jesuits, there are also some differences. Two in particular spring to mind. The first is that Blessed John was given the grace of physical healing. He would regularly travel – on bike or by foot – for miles to visit the sick and dying in the countryside around Clongowes.

There are many instances of healings recorded through Blessed John’s intercession, even during his own lifetime. These graces of healing have continued after his death.

The second great difference is that we know relatively little about his interior life. What we know comes from eye witness accounts. If he ever wrote detailed notes about himself, they no longer exist. Perhaps this was Professor Alfred O’Rahilly’s fault! After he published so many extracts from Fr Doyle’s private notes, it is possible that other priests ensured that their own diaries were destroyed, although given Blessed John’s profound humility it is likely that he never thought anyone would be interested in his interior life anyway.

Blessed John was beatified in May 2017. Cardinal Amato’s wonderful homily at that beatification can be found here: https://frjohnsullivan.ie/2017/05/faithful-disciple-christ/

Here is a prayer to seek the intercession of Blessed John Sullivan:

God, you honour those who honour you. 
Make sacred the memory of your servant John Sullivan, by granting through his intercession the petition we now make (name the petition) and hastening the day when his name will be numbered among those of your saints. 
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Thoughts for May 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in his loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in early May 1916. When he referred to Jesus resting over his heart, he was referring to the fact that he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament with him in a pyx.

Fr Doyle’s confidence in the midst of war was one of the most remarkable aspects of his life. His very presence filled the soldiers with courage and cheerfulness. As one of his officers said about him:

We cannot get him away from the line while the men are there, he is with his own and he is with us. The men couldn’t stick it half so well if he weren’t there.

Yet, this courage was not necessarily innate to him. His diaries reveal the fear he felt; they show that at times he shivered while he hid in a shallow hole, seeking protection from the shells falling around him. As a missionary priest he also suffered from fear, and describes sweating from every pore with the stress of preaching. It was so bad he was determined to quit his preaching ministry. Yet, curiously, despite his fear and stress, his ministry was fruitful and he was always in high demand. As a novice he had what is described as “a complete nervous breakdown” following a fire in his building. He had to leave his formation for a while and there was even talk of his not being fit enough to return to the Jesuits.

From a nervous breakdown to a fearless hero who was a source of inspiration to his soldiers – such is the transformation that Christ can work in us if we let Him.

But we must remember that grace builds upon nature. The grace of God will transform us, but we must dispose ourselves to receive this grace. This means saying no to ourselves, and fighting to overcome sin in our lives. Without this death to sin, we do not remain in Christ and He does not remain in us.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno. She is little known in the English speaking world, but she deserves our attention. She lived a very full life as a wife and mother. But as a widow in her thirties she felt a call to found a religious order, and having received confirmation of this from several ecclesiastics, including Blessed Pius IX, she founded the Daughters of St Anne, Mother of Mary Immaculate. When she died 34 years later, there were 368 houses of this congregation containing over 3,500 sisters in 6 countries, along with numerous hostels and schools. What an incredible rate of growth!

Truly, if we remain in Christ, we will be transformed and bear fruit in plenty.

Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno