Thoughts for September 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Vincent de Paul

 

For fifteen years has Jesus been waiting for me to return to Him, to return to the fervour of my first year of religious life. During that time how many pressing and loving invitations has He not given me? What lights and inspirations, remorse of conscience, and how many good resolves which were never carried into effect. O my God, I feel now as if I cannot resist You longer. Your infinite patience and desire to bring me to You has broken the ice of my cold heart. “I will arise and go” to You, humbled and sorrowful, and for the rest of my life give You of my very best. Help me, sweet Jesus, by Your grace, for I am weak and cowardly.

COMMENT: In today’s quote we find Fr Doyle lamenting what he considered to be his unfaithfulness during his first 15 years of religious life. These lines were written during the 30 day spiritual exercises he did just after ordination in 1907.

In retrospect, it’s not immediately clear to us that Fr Doyle was lukewarm or lacking in zeal during his time studying for the priesthood. Many who knew him then considered him an excellent role model. However it is clear that Fr Doyle felt he lacked something during this time, and it is also clear that after this retreat he went about the process of serving God with a much greater efficiency and exactitude so that in comparison a very pious period of studying for the priesthood might seem lukewarm and lacking in devotion.

Fr Doyle isn’t the only great spiritual hero who felt he had much lukewarmness to account for. Today’s saint, Vincent de Paul, seems to have had very mixed motives during his early years. The desire to secure a prestigious ecclesiastical benefice and live in comfort seems to have been foremost in his mind when he was ordained a priest in his very early 20’s. In fact, he even had recourse to the courts to vindicate what he saw as his rights in the Church, and, so keen was he to protect his rights that he even chased a man who owed him money to Marseilles. It was on this expedition that he was kidnapped by Turkish pirates and sold as a slave. It is this experience, plus the importance of friendships like those with St Francis de Sales and Pierre de Berulle that gradually brought about his conversion.

There are other important similarities between St Vincent and Fr Doyle. Both were renowned for their charity. In Fr Doyle’s case this started very early in life – as a child he would take food from his family home and give it to the poor around Dalkey, his native village. He kept this habit all his life, often giving away his food and gifts to soldiers in the trenches.

Both also stand in opposition to the dreadful disease of Jansenism. For anyone unfamiliar with this heresy, here is an excellent description of it:

What type of anthropology lies behind Jansenism? There is a heightened sense of sin, sin which cannot be overcome, but only beaten into semi-containment. There is a division of humanity into the saved and the damned, with the majority being damned. There is a tendency to see the poor, the weak as being damned, or at the very least as being beyond the influence of grace. Victims are damned, abusers are damned. Grace is given so sparingly, by a God who is mean with both love and Grace, and man, he is made in the same niggardly image. God is not merciful and forgiving but full of anger and rage, swift to condemn, waiting to punish. The wounds of the Son are not salvific but condemnatory, both victims and abusers are left without hope, the hell of now is but a foretaste of the hell to come. It is in this image man is created.

In St Vincent’s case, he knew the original promoters of this heresy, and tried, through gentleness and friendship, to win them back. In the case of Fr Doyle we find a great abhorrence of Jansenism. As he said in one letter:

The wretched spirit of Jansenism has driven our dear Lord from His rightful place in our hearts. He longs for love, and familiar love, so give Him both.

It is clear that everything Fr Doyle stood for was in marked opposition to the Jansenistic spirit. Fr Doyle had a great love of the poor and the weak and a burning, passionate love of Christ. He was always gentle with others, and wrote a booklet to combat the problem of scruples. He encouraged the notion of spiritual childhood and the reliance on God’s grace to overcome our faults.

Both St Vincent and Fr Doyle are relevant to us today for another reason. It is truly shocking to read about the state of the Church in France during St Vincent’s lifetime. Priests were uneducated, slovenly, given to liturgical abuse and living lives of scandal. Bishoprics were seen as the hereditary rights of powerful families, and young boys were appointed bishops by these families in an attempt to secure their rights and benefices.

Yes the Church in Ireland, and indeed in much of the world, faces its fair share of problems today. But it also faced massive problems 350 years ago as well. Reform is always possible.

 

Thoughts for September 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

You may make the most complete and absolute offering of yourself to God to bear every pain He may wish to send. Renew this frequently and place yourself in His hands as His willing victim to be immolated on the altar of sacrifice. But it is better not to ask directly for great sufferings; few of the saints did so.

COMMENT: Today’s quote from Fr Doyle may perhaps be difficult to understand for most of us. It certainly counts as one of his “hard sayings”. He was gentle with so many people, but the person with whom he is corresponding here is clearly one who was advanced in the spiritual life and felt a call to this type of asceticism. It is not something that we are all called to do. 

One of the characteristics of a growth in sanctity is a complete abandonment to the will of God, and an acceptance of sufferings if these should be His will. At the very least, according to St Ignatius, we should be indifferent to sickness and health, poverty or riches, popularity or rejection…

Today is the feast of St Pacificus of San Severino, a Franciscan from the 17th/18th century. He was a renowned preacher who became lame and had to abandon his preaching apostolate. He then dedicated himself to the confessional, but eventually became deaf and had to abandon this work. He then, eventually, became blind. Lame, deaf and blind – what suffering. And yet he accepted his suffering, and through this he found sanctity. 

20031013

Thoughts for September 23 (St Pio of Pietrelcina) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Pio of Pietrelcina

 

It is indeed easy to condemn oneself to death, to make a generous offering of self-immolation; but to carry out the execution daily is more than most can do. . . . Go on bravely, don’t expect too much from yourself, for God often leaves one powerless in acts of self-conquest in order to make one humble and to have more recourse to Him. Remember above all that even one small victory makes up for a hundred defects.

COMMENT: Well, perhaps it is not quite as easy for us to condemn ourselves to death as Fr Doyle suggests! Perhaps many of us can identify with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick!”

More seriously, we can sometimes be willing to make great sacrifices, but keeping up the struggle against our selfishness day after day is what really presents the difficulty for us. And as Fr Doyle encouragingly says, we should not expect too much from ourselves: we are weak, and should accept our weakness with humility. But this doesn’t mean that we settle for mediocrity: as Fr Doyle points out, God is always with us and will sustain us. As St Pio, whose feast is today, says,

Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.

There is a temptation for the demanding message of hugely popular saints like Padre Pio to be overlooked. Too often the lives of such saints get swamped with tales of their miracles and extraordinary phenomena. Lest that happen, here is one final thought from St Pio which in many ways is very similar to the spirit and teaching of Fr Doyle:

The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self.

Thoughts for September 21 (St Matthew) from Fr Willie Doyle

The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio

 

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the apostle St Matthew. St Matthew followed, giving up his comfort and mammon to follow a prophet who had not even anywhere to lay his head. Matthew continued following him, even unto death.

But both Fr Doyle and St Matthew grew in intimacy with Christ, and in turn gave more and more to Him. Tradition has it that St Matthew was martyred, possibly in Ethiopia. By the time Fr Doyle was sent to the trenches, he seems to have reached a level of detachment where he gladly shared the deprivations of his “poor brave boys”, and was even hoping to go to a leper colony if he survived the war.

Neither man started out so heroically, but responding to grace day by day transformed them in ways they never imagined. We too can be transformed if we rely on grace. It doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom or great suffering for us, but it will mean that we will render great service to God and man if we just follow where God leads.

Thoughts for September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. 

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for 18 September from Fr Willie Doyle

Without constant union with our Lord there cannot be any real holiness, one reason being that without recollection the inspirations of the Holy Spirit are missed and with them a host of opportunities of little sacrifices and a shower of graces. As a means of gaining greater recollection, each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus to dwell in your heart during the day as in a Tabernacle. Try all day to imagine even His bodily presence within you and often turn your thoughts inwards and adore Him as He nestles next your heart in a very real manner, quite different from His presence in all creation. This habit is not easily acquired, especially in a busy life like yours, but much may be done by constant effort. At times you will have to leave Him alone entirely, but as soon as you can, get back to His presence again.

COMMENT: The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an inexhaustible source of grace. Yet, while the same amount of grace is available to everyone, in practice we do not all obtain the same graces from the sacraments. Those who are more well disposed to the sacraments, and who approach them with greater purity, humility and love, will obtain more grace. This was the secret of the saints. As that other great Irish priest of the last century, Blessed Columba Marmion, tells us:

Enlarge by faith, confidence, and love the capacity of your souls and grace will abound in you. For if the grace of the sacraments is substantially the same for all, it varies in degree, in intensity, according to the dispositions of those who receive it after having removed the obstacles; it is measured, certainly not in its entity but in its fruitfulness and extent of action, according to the dispositions of the soul. Let us then open wide the avenues of our souls to Divine grace; let us bring for our part all possible charity and purity so that Christ may make His Divine life superabound in us.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Thoughts for September 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Blessed Lord loves me, with all my faults and failings, and has marked me out for the special graces which will make me a saint, a big one if I like.

COMMENT: “If I like”…What telling words from Fr Doyle today. God loves us, and He wants us to imitate Him more closely. But he will not force us. We are called to be saints and to co-operate with His will for us. But we have to want to do so. God will not force us – He will not make us holy against our will. We must co-operate.

Perhaps we, too, can learn from this. Even though He wants us to be better, God does not force us to become saints. Similarly, we cannot force others to believe or to practice their faith. Fr Doyle knew this and always approached others with gentleness and kindness, despite his burning zeal for their salvation. He did not force or condemn. As St Francis de Sales used to say, a spoon of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar. 

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for September 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

I realise in a way I never did before that God created me for His service, that He has a strict right that I should serve Him perfectly, and that every moment of my life is His and given to me for the one end of praising and serving Him. I recall with horror how often I have wandered from this my end, what an appalling amount of time I have wasted, and how few of my actions were done for God or worthy of being offered to Him. I see what I should have been and what I am. But the thought of Jesus waiting and eagerly looking out for me, the prodigal, during fifteen years, has filled me with hope and confidence and new resolve to turn to my dearest Jesus and give Him all He asks.

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness, having as my aim to get back the fervour of my first year’s novitiate.

COMMENT: In today’s comments Fr Doyle touches on one of the fundamental facts of life: we are made to know, love and serve God. St Ignatius expresses it this way in the Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

St Josemaria Escriva put it slightly differently:

Our Lord has given us as a present our very lives, our senses, our faculties, and countless graces. We have no right to forget that each of us is a worker.

Once we srecognise this fact, everything changes in our life. 

St Josemaria Escriva

Thoughts for September 11 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. “Compel them to come in,” Jesus said. Yes, compel them to dive into that abyss of love. Sometimes, I might say nearly always, when speaking to people I am seized with an extraordinary desire to draw their hearts to God. I could go down on my knees before them and beg them to be pure and holy, so strong do I feel the longing of Jesus for sanctity in everyone, and since I may not do this, I try to do what I find hard to describe in words: to pour out of my heart any grace or love of God there may be in it, and then with all the force of my will to draw their hearts into that of Jesus.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a great zeal for souls. It was this zeal that compelled him to travel around Ireland (and occasionally in Scotland and England) preaching missions and giving retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to try to establish a retreat house for laypeople in the face of opposition from those who did not see the point of laypeople doing retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to walk the streets at dawn to carry out apostolate with the working class on their way to work and to walk around ports at night to carry out apostolate with sailors. It was this zeal that compelled him to gently and kindly tell a street prostitute to go home and to stop hurting Jesus, ultimately converting her. It was this zeal that compelled him to mortify himself so that the sins of others, and especially of priests, might be expiated. It was this zeal that compelled him to volunteer for the missions in Congo, even though his offer was not accepted by his superiors. It was this zeal which compelled him to volunteer as a military chaplain and to face the probability of death time after time as he rushed into danger to anoint a fallen soldier. And it was this zeal which made him resolve to volunteer to work in leper colony if he survived the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Charles Spinola, an Italian Jesuit saint whose zeal compelled him to leave the comfortable life of a 16th Century noble and volunteer for the missions in Japan. It took him three years to get there, and after working for 18 years, he was imprisoned in a cage for four years, tortured and finally burned to death.

We are unlikely to be called to such remarkable acts. But if the saints and other holy men and women can exhibit such heroism and zeal for souls, we can surely live the daily tasks of each day with more fortitude and heroism.

Thoughts for September 9 (St Peter Claver) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Peter Claver SJ

 

St. Peter Claver was one of those generous heroic souls whom God sends upon this earth to serve as a stimulus to our zeal, to urge us on to dare and do great things for His glory. Alone he stood upon the beach of that reeking haunt of sin, Cartagena, and saw the galley-ship vomit forth its human living burden of slaves. He saw these poor wretches dazed with their long confinement, sick in body and weary of soul, cast on the burning sand, their eyes wild with terror at the vision of the nameless death they thought awaited them. Here was scope for his zeal. Was not the image of Jesus stamped deep upon the souls of each of them? Did they not bear the likeness of the sacred Humanity in their tortured limbs? Was this goodly harvest to be left ungathered and hell alone to reap the fruit of man’s cupidity?

COMMENT: St Peter Claver SJ lived a remarkable life. He was a slave to the slaves who were captured and brought to Cartagena. He looked after their temporal and spiritual needs, catechising and baptising up to 300,000, and defended their rights and welfare when occasion arose. Normally a third or more of the slaves who were brought to Cartagena died en route from disease and ill treatment. Numerous contemporary accounts report that the smell of the diseased slaves who arrived on the slave ships was overwhelming, and practically nobody else was physically able enter their cramped, sweltering huts where they were left to die. But Peter Claver braved the disease and the horrors and often fed and washed to the sick and dying, and could often be found burying the dead himself. One biographer said that Peter Claver encompassed in one life the missionary zeal of St Francis Xavier, the dedication to the confessional of St John Vianney and the care for the sick and the lepers of St Damien of Molokai. Pope Leo XIII, who canonised St Peter, said that no other life, except the life of Christ, had as much impact on him personally.

From today’s quote it is clear that Fr Doyle had much regard for this great Jesuit saint. Indeed, in their spiritual lives and in their heroic service of others they had much in common. Incidentally, Peter Claver lived a frightful life of penance right to the very end of his days and he far exceeded Fr Doyle’s own austerities. 

More on St Peter Claver can be found here:

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_020.htm