Thoughts for January 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Agnes

Even as a child I was convinced that one day God would give me the grace of martyrdom. When quite small I read and re-read every martyr’s life in the twelve volumes of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and longed and prayed to be a martyr, and I have often done so ever since. As years went on, the desire grew in intensity, and even now the sufferings of the martyrs, their pictures, and everything connected with their death, have a strange fascination for me and help me much.

COMMENT: In today’s quote, Fr Doyle tells us that he – just like St Teresa of Avila and St Catherine of Siena – was deeply influenced by the lives of the saints as a child. We should encourage devotion to the saints amongst our children; even toddlers can learn important lessons and virtues from the lives of the saints.

Undoubtedly one of the martyrs that Fr Doyle read about in Butler’s Lives of the Saints was St Agnes, whose feast it is today. St Agnes, who was just 12 or 13, reminds us that even the young can have an ardent love of God and a willingness to die rather than offend Him.

Here is the text for the feast of St Agnes from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. The writing style is somewhat old fashioned, and perhaps some aspects of the story may owe more to the hagiographical golden legends of the saints than to historical facts (we simply do not know whether absolutely every aspect of such stories are completely historically accurate, but this does not permit us to completely dismiss them out of hand). In any event, it provides some insight into the martyrdom of St Agnes and the tales of heroism and love that inspired the young Willie Doyle.

ST JEROME says that the tongues and pens of all nations are employed in the praises of this saint, who overcame both the cruelty of the tyrant and the tenderness of her age, and crowned the glory of chastity with that of martyrdom. St. Austin observes that her name signifies chaste in Greek, and a lamb in Latin. She has always been looked upon in the church as a special patroness of purity, with the Immaculate Mother of God and St. Thecla. Rome was the theatre of the triumph of St. Agnes; and Prudentius says that her tomb was shown within sight of that city. She suffered not long after the beginning of the persecution of Diocletian, whose bloody edicts appeared in March, in the year of our Lord 303.

We learn from St. Ambrose and St. Austin that she was only thirteen years of age at the time of her glorious death. Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome to vie with one another in their addresses who should gain her in marriage. Agnes answered them all that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. Her suitors, finding her resolution impregnable to all their arts and importunities, accused her to the governor as a Christian, not doubting but threats and torments would overcome her tender mind, on which allurements could make no impression. The judge at first employed the mildest expression and most inviting promises, to which Agnes paid no regard, repeating always that she could have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. He then made use of threats, but found her soul endowed with a masculine courage, and even desirous of racks and death. At last terrible fires were made, and iron hooks, racks, and other instruments of torture, displayed before her, with threats of immediate execution. The young virgin surveyed them all with an undaunted eye, and with a cheerful countenance beheld the fierce and cruel executioners surrounding her, and ready to dispatch her at the word of command. She was so far from betraying the least symptom of fear that she even expressed her joy at the sight, and offered herself to the rack. She was then dragged before the idols and commanded to offer incense, “but could by no means be compelled to move her hand, except to make the sign of the cross,” says St. Ambrose.

The governor seeing his measures ineffectual, said he would send her to a house of prostitution, where what she prized so highly should be exposed to the insults of the debauchees. Agnes answered that Jesus Christ was too jealous of the purity of his spouses to suffer it to be violated in such a manner, for he was their defender and protector. “You may,” said she, “stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.” The governor was so incensed at this that he ordered her to be immediately led to the public brothel, with liberty to all persons to abuse her person at pleasure. Many young profligates ran thither, full of the wicked desire of gratifying their lust, but were seized with such awe at the sight of the saint that they durst not approach her-one only excepted, who, attempting to be rude to her, was that very instant, by a flash’ as it were, of lightning from heaven, struck blind, and fell trembling to the ground. His companions, terrified, took him up and carried him to Agnes, who was at a distance, singing hymns of praise to Christ, her protector. The virgin by prayer restored him to his sight and health.

The chief prosecutor of the saint, who at first sought to gratify- his lust and avarice, now laboured to satiate his revenge by incensing the judge against her, his passionate fondness being changed into anger and rage. The governor wanted not others to spur him on, for he was highly exasperated to see himself baffled and set at defiance by one of her tender age and sex. Therefore, resolved upon her death, he condemned her to be beheaded. Agnes, transported with joy on hearing this sentence, and still more at the sight of the executioner, “went to the place of execution more cheerfully,” says St. Ambrose, “than others go to their wedding.” The executioner had secret instructions to use all means to induce her to a compliance, but Agnes always answered she could never offer so great an injury to her heavenly spouse, and, having made a short prayer, bowed down her neck to adore God, and received the stroke of death. The spectators wept to see so beautiful and tender a virgin loaded with fetters, and to behold her fearless under the very sword of the executioner, who with a trembling hand cut off her head at one stroke. Her body was buried at a small distance from Rome, near the Nomentan Road. A church was built on the spot in the time of Constantine the Great, and was repaired by Pope Honorius in the seventh century. It is now in the hands of Canon-Regulars, standing without the walls of Rome, and is honoured with her relics in a-very rich silver shrine, the gift of Pope Paul V, in whose-time they were found in this church, together with those of St. Emerentiana. The other beautiful rich church of St. Agnes, within the city, built by Pope Innocent X (the right of patronage being vested in the family of Pamphili), stands on the place where her chastity was exposed. The feast of St. Agnes is mentioned in all Martyrologies, both of the East and West, though on different days. It was formerly a holyday for the women in England, as appears from the Council of Worcester, held in the year 1240. St. Ambrose, St. Austin, and other fathers have wrote her panegyric. St. Martin of Tours was singularly devout to her. Thomas a Kempis honoured her as his special patroness, as his works declare in many places. He relates many miracles wrought and graces received through her intercession.

 

 

Thoughts for January 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Angelo Paoli

 

For the poor people on Dalkey Hill Willie constituted himself into a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. He raised funds by saving up his pocket-money, by numberless acts of economy and self-denial; he begged for his poor, he got the cook to make soup, he pleaded for delicacies to carry to the sick. Once he went to the family apothecary and ordered several large bottles of cod-liver oil for a poor consumptive woman, and then presented the bill to his father! He bought a store of tea with which under many pledges of secrecy he entrusted the parlourmaid. On this he used to draw when in the course of his wanderings he happened to come across some poor creature without the means of providing herself with the cup that cheers. He by no means confined himself merely to the bringing of relief. He worked for his poor, he served them, he sat down and talked familiarly with them, he read books for the sick, he helped to tidy the house, he provided snuff and tobacco for the aged. One of Willie’s cases — if such an impersonal word may be used — was a desolate old woman whose children were far away. One day noticing that the house was dirty and neglected, he went off and purchased some lime and a brush, and then returned and whitewashed the whole house from top to bottom. He then went down on his knees and scrubbed the floors, amid the poor woman’s ejaculations of protest and gratitude. No one knew of this but the cook and parlourmaid who lent him their aprons to save his clothes and kept dinner hot for him until he returned late in the evening. While thus aiding his poor friends temporally, he did not forget their souls. He contrived skilfully to remind them of their prayers and the sacraments; he also strongly advocated temperance. There was one old fellow on the Hill whom Willie had often unsuccessfully tried to reform. After years of hard drinking he lay dying, and could not be induced to see a priest. For eight hours Willie stayed praying by the bedside of the half-conscious dying sinner. Shortly before the end he came to himself, asked for the priest and made his peace with God. Only when he had breathed his last, did Willie return to Melrose. His first missionary victory!

COMMENT: These lines come from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle, and they describe his charitable activities as a young boy while living in Dalkey. It is not clear what age he started this kind of work, but given that he went to school in England at the age of 11, it must have been before this age (or else during school holidays). What a marvellous example for us! Fr Doyle’s later life shows the same charity and concern for others, even to the point of offering his own life to serve wounded soldiers.

Today is the feast of the Carmelite Blessed Angelo Paoli. He lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Rome. He was known as the father of the poor, and established hospitals and hostels to care for the poor of Rome. His motto was “Whoever loves God must go to find Him among the poor”.

In the lives of both Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle we find genuine Christian love. In effect, they followed the advice of St Francis of Assisi – to preach always, and when necessary to use words.

In a hostile climate where Catholics are viewed with such jaundiced eyes, the only way to touch people’s hearts is through love. After all, God is Love! This is the same recipe that made Catholicism so compelling 2,000 years ago. There was something about the early Christians that attracted so many converts, even at the risk of death and torture. Ultimately, this attraction was Jesus Christ, but surely it was the love that Christians had for all people that first opened the door to grace and conversion. Just as the world was evangelised through love 2,000 years ago, it can only be re-evangelised through love today.

G.K Chesterton, when asked to write an essay on what was wrong with the world, simply wrote “I am”. There is a real truth here. I am what is wrong with the Church. I am the reason why there are so may empty seats at Mass on Sunday. I am the reason that so many of my contemporaries are unaware that the Church is first and foremost about love…

Let us follow the example of Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle, by finding Christ in those around us, by loving them, and thus changing the world.

Thoughts for January 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

The temptation of St Anthony the Abbot

 

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, the hours perhaps of hard fighting, and only fix your eyes on the little tiny word of anger, or the small fault, which is gone with one “Jesus forgive me.”

COMMENT: We cannot totally avoid temptation. It is true that we should seek to avoid occasions of sin and not place ourselves in the path of temptation. But temptation will come to us nonetheless. Today’s quote is somewhat consoling for us, for it reveals that Fr Doyle, just like the rest of us, suffered from temptations. But temptations, despite the distress the may cause, are an occasion for demonstrating our love of God by the efforts we make to overcome them. Fr Doyle himself struggled with impatience, but he brought the same methodological efficiency to bear in eradicting it that he brought to all aspects of his spiritual life.

Today is the feast of St Anthony the Abbot. St Athanasius, Doctor of the Church, was one of his disciples and tells us that Anthony was sorely tempted on numerous occasions throughout his time of solitude as a hermit in the desert. We may turn with confidence to him in our trials and temptations.

Many great spiritual writers have outlined ways in which temptation should be faced and how we can profit from them. The following is from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis:

So long as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation. Whence it is written in Job: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer lest the devil, who never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour, find occasion to deceive him. No one is so perfect or so holy but he is sometimes tempted; man cannot be altogether free from temptation.

Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed. The saints all passed through many temptations and trials to profit by them, while those who could not resist became reprobate and fell away. There is no state so holy, no place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us — in sin we were born. When one temptation or trial passes, another comes; we shall always have something to suffer because we have lost the state of original blessedness…

When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.

Thoughts for January 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano

Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world: to love Him and Him alone. For the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving hands, and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly – sufferings, wounds, death if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.

COMMENT: The confident embrace of God’s will, even if this means suffering and difficulties, is the hallmark of high sanctity. In today’s quote, Fr Doyle shows us his complete acceptance of God’s will. Every time we say the Our Father, we express our willingness that God’s will be done on earth. Most of us think very little about what this means. So often we really mean that we want our will to be done; so often we can automatically assume that God’s will coincides nicely with our own. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Some of the most difficult moments in life occur when God’s will fundamentally differs from our own. In such circumstances we must learn to trust in God, and remember that He is a loving Father who directs everything to our ultimate good, even if it means suffering in the short term. Yes, this may be hard to accept, but we see the truth of this again and again in the lives of the saints. We see the serenity of victim souls like St Therese or St Gemma Galgani despite their illness; we see the cheerfulness of martyrs as they face death; we see the joy of St Francis or St Teresa or St John of the Cross as they embraced radical poverty. We see a particularly striking example of this in the life of the recently beatified Chiara Luce Badano who died at the age of 18 in 1990 from bone cancer. Her parents report that she went through a short struggle to accept the cross of cancer, but having once accepted it, she radiated peace and serenity. And of course we see the good humour of Fr Doyle himself so eloquently expressed in all of his letters sent home from the trenches. None of this is easy to do. It is certainly easy to write and to theorise about the life of the saints when all is going well, but it is surely more difficult to embrace God’s will with complete joy and abandonment when we truly face great difficulties. Yet that is what sanctity ultimately means. While we should not pretend that it is easily acquired, ultimately there is a peace to be found in abandoning ourselves into God’s loving hands. The challenge is to learn how to willingly find this abandonment and peace at all times of life, not just when we have run out of options and have no choice but to accept the finality of God’s will.

Fr Doyle’s prayer today is very similar to the Suscipe of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Here is the full text of St Ignatius’ prayer:

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

 

 

Thoughts for January 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

Each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus, with all the love and fervour you can, to enter into your heart and dwell there during the day as in a tabernacle, making of your heart a living tabernacle which will be very dear to Him.

COMMENT: All of the saints and great spiritual writers have been devoted to the Eucharist. We see this devotion also in the life of Fr Doyle – some of the most moving scenes of his life are those where he offers the Mass in the trenches. Here is his description of one such Mass:

By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God’s angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice – but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.

Many saints have written beautifully on the Eucharist. Here is a quote from St Francis de Sales on why we should regularly receive the Eucharist. May we follow his advice, and receive the strength and nourishment we need from the worthy reception of the Lord.

If men of the world ask why you communicate so often, tell them that it is that you may learn to love God; that you may be cleansed from imperfections, set free from trouble, comforted in affliction, strengthened in weakness. Tell them that there are two manner of men who need frequent Communion — those who are perfect, since being ready they were much to blame did they not come to the Source and Fountain of all perfection; and the imperfect, that they may learn how to become perfect; the strong, lest they become weak, and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick that they may be healed, and the sound lest they sicken. Tell them that you, imperfect, weak and ailing, need frequently to communicate with your Perfection, your Strength, your Physician. Tell them that those who are but little engaged in worldly affairs should communicate often, because they have leisure; and those who are heavily pressed with business, because they stand so much in need of help; and he who is hard worked needs frequent and substantial food. Tell them that you receive the Blessed Sacrament that you may learn to receive it better; one rarely does that well which one seldom does. Therefore, my child, communicate frequently,–as often as you can, subject to the advice of your spiritual Father.

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for January 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

Live for the day, but let it be a generous day. Have you ever tried giving God one day in which you refused him nothing, a day of absolute generosity?

COMMENT: One theme that arises frequently in Fr Doyle’s writing is that of generosity. He felt he was called to greater generosity with God. What does this mean? Obviously it means an even more determined battle against sin. Can we say that we are really generous with God if we wilfully persist in sin, without a conscious battle to fight against it? But there is more, for not only are we called to the “negative” battle against sin, we are called to a “positive” battle to acquire the virtues, to love God and others more, and to show this love in needs and not merely in sweet words or good intentions that never go anywhere…

God has given us everything we have. Our body. Our mind. Our will. Our talents. Our time on this earth. And He wishes to give us an eternity of union with Him in unimaginable joy. And in response He wants our generosity. 

We are sinners, with inherent weaknesses and defects that require much effort and grace to overcome. A day of “absolute generosity”, as suggested by Fr Doyle, is surely beyond most, if not all, humans, except perhaps for those who have reached the the very highest stages of the spiritual life in the unitive way. But still we should struggle each day to be a little bit more generous with God and with others. We should not fear being generous with God, as can sometimes happen. St Josemaria Escriva puts us at ease on this point:

God does not let himself be outdone in generosity. 

January 10: The anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Fr Paul Ginhac SJ

Fr Paul Ginhac

 

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Fr Paul Ginhac SJ who died on this day in 1895. Fr Ginhac was a French Jesuit whose life and example had an impact on the spirituality of Fr Doyle. At any rate, he was sufficiently impressed with Fr Ginhac’s virtues that he translated a 380 page official biography of Fr Ginhac from French into English and organised its publication and distribution. He also distributed relics and prayer cards of Fr Ginhac in order to support the cause for his beatification. We can be sure that the spirituality of Fr Ginhac was of great personal importance for Fr Doyle if he went to this trouble in the midst of an already busy life – he had more than enough to do without taking on the task of translating a large book like this!

Fr Ginhac’s cause does not seem to have progressed much since the 1920’s. Perhaps future generations will take a renewed interest in this holy priest who so strongly inspired the heroism of Fr Doyle. After all, sometimes sainthood causes take centuries to progress.

Below is the relevant section of O’Rahilly’s biography dealing with Fr Doyle’s translation of Fr Ginhac’s biography. At the end of this post I have included a scan of some pages from the book, including Fr Doyle’s Foreword.

It will be convenient to mention here Fr. Doyle’s translation of the Life of Pere Ginhac by A. Calvet, S.J. “Printer after printer refused to have anything to do with the book,” he wrote, “though I staked Fr. Ginhac’s reputation that it would prove a financial success.” Finally Messrs. R. and T. Washbourne undertook to produce the work, and it appeared in 1914 as A Man after God’s Own Heart: Life of Father Paul Ginhac, S.J. When Fr. Doyle heard that the price was fixed at 8/6 net, he thought that the sale was killed for “not many people would care to invest such a sum in the life of a man no one had ever heard of.” But to his astonishment 900 copies went through in the first year, and up to December 1916 altogether 1,244 copies had been sold. “Pere Ginhac,” he wrote to his father, “has certainly worked this miracle if he never did anything else; and I am beginning to think he is not a bad sort of an old chap, even though he looked so desperately in need of a square meal!” Fr. Ginhac’s portrait certainly represents him as cadaverous and grim-visaged, a contrast with his admirer and translator, whose mortified life was never allowed to interfere with his buoyant naturalness and irrepressible spirit of fun. The book seems to have impressed and helped many readers, for Fr. Doyle continues: “I have had a pile of letters from all parts of the world — Alaska, Ceylon, South Africa, etc. — asking for relics and mentioning many favours received through the holy father’s intercession; so that the labour of getting out the volume (and it was not light) has brought its own reward.” Thus wrote Fr. Doyle a month before his death. Little did he dream that his own life would be written, and that his influence would be mingled with that of his fellow-religious whom he helped to make known to others.

Some pages from the book translated by Fr DoyleFr Ginhac

The full text of the book can be found here: https://archive.org/details/ManAfterGodsOwnHeart

 

 

Thoughts for January 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Eurosia Fabris Barban

 

It is a mother whose gentle care was ever round you, whose arms were open wide that you might nestle on her bosom and tell a mother’s heart your joys and childish sorrows. Well now do you recall the thousand little ways that love for you was shown, the welcome smile, the kindly word, the soft kiss implanted on your cheek.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle clearly loved his own mother and he recognised the importance of this motherly love in his own life. Today is the memorial of Blessed Eurosia Fabris Barban who reached great holiness through her vocation as a mother.

Mamma Rosa, as she was called, was born in Italy 1866 and died in 1932. She was from a humble and poor family, and had only 2 years of formal schooling. When she was 20 years old, one of her neighbours died, leaving behind 2 small children under 2 years old. Mamma Rosa took them in and raised her as her own. Soon after this she got married and had 9 children of her own. Her home became a gathering place for the children of her town. In addition to raising 11 children, she became a Franciscan tertiary and was renowned for her care of the poor and sick of the region and through it all managed to maintain a deep prayer life.

There is something refreshing about Blessed Eurosia, as there is about Fr Doyle and many of the other modern examples of holiness – they found their holiness in the midst of ordinary activities. Blessed Eurosia simply served God as a mother. Fr Doyle simply served God as a preacher and spiritual director and in the last years of his life as a military chaplain. In both cases, the fulfilment of the duties that God placed before them gave ample scope for them to strive for perfection. Their lives do not exhibit the physical miracles that we often associate with some saints. As such, it becomes easier for us to imagine that we follow their example, even in very small ways.

Let us pray today in a special way to Blessed Eurosia for mothers, that they may be faithful to their calling to create loving homes in the midst of a world that increasingly devalues the importance of their role.

The feast day of St Charles of Mount Argus. We need more Irish saints.

St Charles of Mount Argus

 

Today is the feast of St Charles of Mount Argus, a Dutch Passionist priest who spent about 30 years of his life in Dublin, dying here in 1893 at the age of 71. He greatly loved by the people of Dublin, primarily because of his humility and simplicity. He was not a great preacher, but he was extremely gentle in the confessional. Like many of those who excel in the virtue of humility, he received many graces from God, including many graces within his own spiritual life as well as the grace of healing. Each day hundreds of people would flock to the monastery at Mount Argus to receive his blessing and those with means from far away would often send carriages to collect him and bring him to someone who was sick or dying. There were many reports of wonderful healings and these reports continue to this day, now that his power of intercession is even greater in Heaven. For an eye witness account of the life and virtues of St Charles click here.

There is no mention that I can find of St Charles in the writings of Fr Doyle, but it is certain that Fr Doyle would have been aware of him. Fr Doyle was 20 when St Charles died, and his reputation for holiness was alive and well, so Fr Doyle must have been aware of St Charles and his holy life.

The feast of St Charles gives us a good excuse to consider the following important question which is relevant to Fr Doyle: Why are there so few recent Irish saints? St Charles is the only canonised saint of modern times (within the last 500 years at least) to have died in Ireland. And he wasn’t even Irish; he was Dutch! When one compares Ireland to other countries with strong Catholic heritage – Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, France, even parts of Germany, we perform very poorly when it comes to canonisations. Of course, it’s not a contest and the numbers themselves don’t really matter. Yet, at another level, the numbers are a kind of barometer that tell us something about the spiritual climate of a country. After all, a vibrant Catholic culture will foster holiness. This holiness will be recognised by others, who will then be motivated to promote these examples of holiness in an effective and professional manner. Other people will join in this process by praying for miracles. All of this needs institutional support from the religious orders, dioceses and parishes. Thus, a healthy, properly functioning Catholic culture will steadily produce canonised saints. The dearth of Irish saints since the Council of Trent points to something amiss about Irish Catholicism, especially when we consider the increased frequencies of beatifications and canonisations within the Church over the past 4 decades.

Let us look at the Irish situation. St Charles of course stands out, but while we have adopted him as our own, he was Dutch, and interestingly both of the miracles for his beatification and canonisation were worked in the Netherlands. St Oliver Plunkett is of course Irish through and through, but his situation was slightly different as he was a martyr which makes his canonisation a little easier. He died in London and his canonisation miracle occurred in Italy by the way. Blessed Edmund Rice also lived and died in Ireland, and his beatification miracle was worked for a man in Newry in Northern Ireland. Then of course there is Blessed Columba Marmion who was a Dubliner but who became renowned as the abbot of a Belgian monastery. He is not widely known in Ireland. His beatification miracle was worked in the United States. Then there are the 17 Irish martyrs who were beatified in 1992. Most unfortunately they are even less well known in Ireland than Columba Marmion. Most recently, John Sullivan SJ was beatified in May of 2017, the first Irish beatification in almost 2 decades.

And that’s it. Of course, it’s not for the lack of good candidates. There were dozens of other martyrs from the penal times that deserve recognition, in addition to candidates like Venerable Matt Talbot, Mary Aitkenhead, Catherine McCauley, Nano Nagle, the three Legion of Mary candidates Edel Quinn, Alfie Lambe and Frank Duff and of course Fr Doyle himself. There are of course, many other worthy causes besides these that have yet to be considered. One thinks immediately of Fr James Cullen SJ, founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (Fr Doyle was a friend of his who served on the Council of the Pioneers) and Archdeacon Cavanagh, the parish priest of Knock at the time of the apparitions there, as well as Fr Henry Young, a holy priest who served the poor in Dublin who is now sadly all but forgotten. There are other worthy causes for holy lay people that deserve consideration also. As an Irish poem says:

Why are saints so difficult to recognise, 

In these days, not like in olden times,

When we had a resident saint in each oak-grove,

A holy well in each townland, miracles galore?

By the law of averages, if, as philosophers maintain,

And common sense agrees, human nature doesn’t change,

And we are the mixture as before, there must be

Saints somewhere, if only we had eyes to see

We should celebrate those who have already been raised to the altars, and today is a great day of celebration for our own adopted St Charles of Mount Argus. But we should not forget those who have yet to be recognised formally, and the best way to do this is by actually promoting their cause and making them well known, and in particular by asking their help in prayer. If we do not ask for miracles, they will not be granted! And in fairness, we should also celebrate recent positive moves in terms of Irish saints – Mary Aitkenhead was declared Venerable in 2015 as was Nano Nagle in 2013; the cause for canonisation of 7 Columban priests from Ireland or of Irish heritage was also opened. These priests were martyred in Korea in the middle of the last century. More on them here http://fatherdirector.blogspot.ie/2013/08/new-irish-martyrs-cause-just-opened.html This is all very positive news. 

Some people may mistakenly believe that having local saints is an irrelevancy or of low priority. With respect, I think they are gravely mistaken. If we truly believe in the Communion of Saints, then we want people to know about Irish saints and as a consequence to have recourse to their help in prayer. Local saints also give us a closer and more contemporary model to follow. The saints all reflect some particular aspect of God. While we should always strive to imitate Christ above all, it can be easier for some people to imitate a saint who was closer to them in time and culture and state of life. Pope Benedict wisely recognised this reality. Speaking on this very theme at the Chrism Mass for Holy Thursday in 2012, Pope Benedict said:

Dear friends, it is clear that configuration to Christ is the precondition and the basis for all renewal. But perhaps at times the figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided “translations” on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us. For this same reason, Saint Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. For his disciples, he was a “translation” of Christ’s manner of life that they could see and identify with. Ever since Paul’s time, history has furnished a constant flow of other such “translations” of Jesus’ way into historical figures.

It is true that many people have abandoned the Church in dismay in recent decades. Scandals and crimes have alienated many. Well, let us then promote models of love and selflessness who encapsulate the beauty of our Faith! Surely we should show people what Catholics are meant to be – we are all called to be saints, so let us show people real men and women who lived in a time and place like our own and whose lives reflect the love of Christ for humanity. Finally, the recognition of local sanctity gives a morale boost to a local Church, and we all know how badly that is needed today.

In conclusion, let us thus remember the beautiful words of Pope Benedict in his letter to the Church in Ireland a number of years ago in which he also calls on us to remember our local saints:

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for January 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Recognise God’s graces to you, and instead of thinking of yourself and your faults, try to do all you can for God, and love Him more.

COMMENT: One danger in the spiritual life is that we become self-absorbed with our own sins and weaknesses and progress. Of course, in all things balance is needed. We must be aware of our faults and strive to overcome them, but we must always keep the primary focus on Christ rather than on ourselves.

Today the Church presents to us the lives of two interesting women of very different backgrounds whose feasts occur today.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton was a convert from Episcopalianism. She had married into a wealthy family and had five children, although she was left impoverished when her husband died. On her conversion to Catholicism, which scandalised some of her Episcopalian friends, she established a school in Boston. She was then invited to establish a school in Baltimore and ultimately ended up founding a religious community which is today known as the Sisters of Charity of New York.

Today is also the feast of Saint Angela of Foligno who lived in the 13th century, and was canonised by Pope Francis in 2013 (although without a public ceremony). She too was married, and described the first 30 years of her life as mortally sinful and adulterous. She was very attached to the pleasures of the world, and seems to have even made bad Confessions and received sacrilegious Communions. She reformed her life, and after the death of her husband and children, became a Franciscan tertiary and great mystic who also provided for the poor and the destitute.

Instead of thinking of themselves and their faults, both St Elizabeth Ann Seton and St Angela of Foligno experienced the healing power of Christ and completely changed their lives and in the process transformed the lives of those around them. Surely the Episcopalian Elizabeth Ann Seton never imagined herself founding Catholic schools and a religious community; surely the adulterous Angela of Foligno never imagined herself a mystic who would still be remembered 700 years after her death. Similarly, the young Willie Doyle, with his constant stomach sicknesses and nervous breakdown probably never imagined that his heroism would be remembered and admired a century after his death.

God has his plans; if we correspond with the graces He gives us He will lead us in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Saint Angela of Foligno