Thoughts for the First Sunday of Advent from Fr Willie Doyle

The saints had ever a childlike confidence and trust in God. Upon Him they cast all their anxieties and cares, under His powerful protection they sheltered themselves, and with His almighty help they were ever strong. They lived in the present day alone, striving to bear with cheerful hearts the burden of the moment; the morrow’s work would bring its stream of graces to help them on their journey.

COMMENT: Today we start the Church’s new year, and we start on our journey of preparation for Christmas. The importance of Advent is often forgotten in the West. Often it is seen as period of merriment and shopping and of Christmas parties. And when Christmas finally arrives, the consumer culture quickly turns off the lights and turns its attention towards the secular new year and the January sales…

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and we should attempt to live it with the same enthusiasm with which we attempt to live Lent.

As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!

Let us then have the childlike confidence and trust in God to which Fr Doyle exhorts us today. We can count on many graces to help us over the coming weeks as we prepare to encounter the baby Jesus, born in poverty in a broken world, all for love of us.

St John Berchmans, Fr Doyle and ordinary life

St John Berchmans

The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are most probably the reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.  

The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and recommended to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service. 

Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:

I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.  

More information on the life and spirit of St John Berchmans can be found herehttp://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_015.htm

 

 

Thoughts for November 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis Xavier

Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the 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: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.

But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.

 

 

Thoughts for November 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

Even as a child I longed and prayed to be a saint. But somehow it always seemed to me as if that longing could never be realised, for I felt there was some kind of a barrier like a high wall between myself and God. What it was, I cannot say even now. But recently this obstacle appears to me to have been removed, the way is open, and I feel I love Jesus now as I never did before, or even hoped to. With this comes the conviction, so strong and consoling with so much peace and happiness, that Jesus will grant my heart’s desire before I die. I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me, until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle may be referring here to a mystical experience, though perhaps he is writing only in a symbolic fashion

Many saints have described mystical experiences involving spiritual delights and physical pain. Here is St Teresa of Avila describing one of her experiences:

It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

The later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography contain a letter from an unnamed nun who knew Fr Doyle well. Perhaps it was his sister – we do not know. In any event, this nun knew something of the “sweet wounding” to which Fr Doyle referred and said that it was “a grace like to that received by St Teresa”. If this is correct, it is remarkable. But, alas, we cannot say for certain based on the information to hand…

St Teresa reached such mystical heights despite the fact that she only truly reformed her life at 40, having even given up prayer altogether for a whole year at one stage. We should have confidence that, if we continue to progress towards God, no matter what setbacks or diversions we encounter, the Lord will continue to give us all the graces we need to reach Heaven.

Thoughts for November 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.

COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.

The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.

Fr Doyle wrote the following notes in his diary on this day in 1914:

I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.

In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this. 

St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for November 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Holiness and perfection depend on yourself, not on the actions of others.

COMMENT: How easy it is for us to blame others, or the circumstances of our lives, for our own lack of holiness. Yes, we may live or work with annoying and frustrating people, but there is always a choice on our part to control our annoyance or frustration. We may have many distractions to our work and to fulfilling our duty, but we can choose whether or not we respond to those distractions. We face numerous temptations every day, and with every temptation we always have a choice whether to yield or not. Of course, the more often we yield to annoyances and distractions and temptations, the harder and harder it becomes to resist and to exercise our capacity to choose…

Fr Doyle’s life and example shows us one way of achieving sanctity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Few of us will ever face such challenging circumstances – bombs falling, no silence or solitude, no beauty to remind one of God, want and deprivation, and death in every direction. It would be easy for Fr Doyle to blame his circumstances for lukewarmness or a tendency to take shortcuts. But he didn’t.

What was his secret? In part it was living in the constant presence of God. But it must also surely be because of all of the years of preparation before that. Fr Doyle was faithful in little things and this prepared him for faithfulness when the big challenge came.

While we need God’s grace to become holy, the choice to pursue this rests on ourselves. We must build our capacity to choose holiness by making little efforts and sacrifices each day.

Today we also commemorate the feast of the great Benedictine mystic St Gertrude the Great. St Gertrude was especially devoted to the holy souls in Purgatory. We are now in the second half of the month of November, the month of the holy souls. Let us not slacken in our prayers for our deceased relatives and friends, and indeed for all those in Purgatory, who need our prayers.

Here is the text of an audience address of Pope Emeritus Benedict on St Gertrude. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20101006_en.html

St Gertrude the Great

Thoughts for November 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

You certainly put your finger on the weak spot in most priestly lives – the want of prayer. The connection between prayer and zeal never struck me so forcibly before, though holy David says so truly, “In my meditation a fire shall flame out.” Psalm 38. 4. As for personal holiness, you know my views on that, and how convinced I am that all work for God must in the main be barren without it.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a man of prayer who lived constantly in the presence of God. He had his own ways of cultivating an awareness of this presence with his numerous aspirations and spiritual practices throughout the day. But prayer is not only essential for priests; all need it, lay and clerical alike. In a busy world with many distractions, it can be tempting to push prayer aside and leave it until everything else is done. In practice, this is a recipe for neglecting prayer altogether. God wants generous souls and will give His grace to them. In fact, we can be sure of one thing – God will not be outdone in generosity. This is the lesson we learn from the life of Fr Doyle and indeed from all of the saints. How appropriate therefore to remember the importance of prayer today when the Church celebrates the feast of all the saints of the Carmelite order. The Carmelites, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, prioritise the life of prayer. May they intercede for us, and help us follow their holy example.

Today in Dublin we also commemorate the feast of St Laurence O’Toole, the former Archbishop of Dublin and patron of the archdiocese. St Laurence lived in the 12th century. He was a successful and effective archbishop precisely because of the prominence he gave to prayer – a former abbot of the monastery at Glendalough, he retained close monastic links, making a 40 day retreat there each year. 

Thoughts for November 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

At the close of the retreat my soul is full of many emotions. God has been more than good to me, has given me great lights and wonderful graces. During the whole month my eyes have been opening more and more to the disorder of my past life. I have been simply amazed and astounded how I could possibly have lived the life I did, especially my years in college, such abuse of grace, such awful waste of time, neglect of opportunities of learning, of becoming holy, and above all the harm this careless tepid life has done others. I have realised how little I thought about committing sin and far less, of deliberate breaches of rule. Now, through God’s great mercy, I feel an intense hatred of such a life, and as if it would be impossible ever again to live so. I feel that indeed the retreat has worked a marvellous change in me. I feel I am not the same in my views, sentiments, and way of looking at things, that I am a different man. I have never felt as I do now after any other retreat before God must indeed have poured His grace abundantly into my soul, for it seems to me that a deep lasting impression has been made, which I trust will ever remain. My soul is in great peace. I feel as if at last I have given God all He wanted from me during so many years by making the resolutions which I have made; that I could now die content, for at last I have really begun to try and serve the good God with all my heart. I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past — to give myself heart and soul to the service of Cod, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and surfer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day.

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly,” I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be anting to aid me at every step.

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus Who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree, will be my life’s work, that so I may be worthy to die for Him.

Thank You, O my God, for all the graces of this retreat, above all for bringing me at last to Your sacred feet. Grant me grace to keep these resolutions and never to forget my determination to strive might and main to become a saint.

13 Nov., 1907.

COMMENT: The retreat of 1907 had a profound effect on Fr Doyle. In this passage he summarises his reflections as the retreat came to an end 113 years ago today. Despite the impression given in his personal notes, Fr Doyle did not live a bad life prior to this retreat, although the experience of the retreat did highlight for him the areas of his life where he lacked fervour and dedication.

Many people have radically reformed their lives following the experience of a retreat, and especially after the experience of the Spiritual Exercises. In the case of Fr Doyle it is clear that a radical deepening of his commitment to Christ took place.

Perhaps this is a good occasion to make a resolution to attend a retreat at some stage this year.

Today is also the feast of all the saints of the Benedictine Order, or more specifically, the feast of all the saints who lived under the Rule of St Benedict. This is an extremely extensive list. I think it is probably the case that there are more Benedictine saints than from any other order, although perhaps that is not too surprising since the order has been around for many centuries longer than others have! Let us be thankful today for all of those saints who, inspired by St Benedict, evangelised the West and preserved learning and culture in a dark period of history, not too unlike our own in some respects. May we follow their example, especially by incorporating Fr Doyle’s methodology of faithfulness in the little things of life.

Thoughts for November 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

From the Tabernacle Jesus seems to say, “Stay with Me for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent”. This should urge me to come to visit Him often.

If my resurrection is a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes while contemplating the scene in which the disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus during the 4th week of the Spiritual Exercises in 1907. He poses a question that we may fruitfully ask ourselves – can people perceive that my life has been changed in Christ? Or, as St Josemaria Escriva once put it:

How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for November 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr’s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.

A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.

COMMENT: In this way Fr Doyle brought an end to his notes on the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises during these days in 1907.

We should we seek martyrdom carelessly or indiscriminately, although we should be open to this if it be God’s will. But we should attempt to live with a spirit of martyrdom – a spirit of detachment – in everyday life. We can most readily do this in our everyday tasks by being faithful to them, especially when we don’t want to be.

Today is also the feast of all of the Saints of the Dominican Order, many of whom were martyrs. What an amazing list of saints there are attached to this blessed Order! They include 3 Doctors of the Church, one of whom is one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church (St Thomas Aquinas), one of whom is the patron of science and scientists (St Albert the Great) and one of whom is one of the very greatest women in history and a co-patron saint of Europe (St Catherine of Siena). Included in the extensive list of Dominican saints are many martyrs, including two Irish martyrs who have been beatified (Terence O’Brien and Peter O’Higgins) as well as over 90 other Irish Dominican martyrs who will hopefully be canonised one day.