Thoughts for December 14 (St John of the Cross) from Fr Willie Doyle

St John of the Cross: “Love is repaid by love alone”.

Surely you are not right in trying to keep our Lord away from you, or in thinking that He looks upon you with displeasure. When sin in the past is repented for, the poor soul who once strayed from Him has a strange attraction for His gentle Heart. You pain Him intensely if you think He does not love you now, nor wish for your affection. Give Him all you can, warmly and naturally, like a little child, and rest assured that the one longing of His Heart is to see you advance rapidly in holiness and perfection. You must try and cultivate great confidence and trust in our dear Lord’s love and mercy, driving far from you sadness and regret of all kinds. Give it no quarter, it is all from the devil and so most harmful.

COMMENT: Despite Fr Doyle’s rather muscular spirituality, he was also a great exponent of the concept of spiritual childhood. Today’s words can be read in tandem with yesterday’s quote on the danger of deliberate sin – yes, sin is destructive of our interior lives, but the solution to this is to get back up, repent and keep on trusting in God. He regularly advised others to cultivate a simple and very affectionate trust in Jesus. He himself demonstrated his affection by the way in which he would gently kiss statues and other holy images. Tenderness and childlikeness lived side by side with Fr Doyle’s abundant personal toughness.

The same can also be said of today’s saint, John of the Cross, one of the great reformers of the Carmelite Order and a Doctor of the Church. At first glance, St John can see a bit off-putting. He followed a path of great personal austerity; it was even necessary for St Teresa of Avila to intervene to mitigate some of these hardships. Here is St Teresa’s description of the very first house of reformed Carmelite friars, of which St John was a member:

As I went into the church I was amazed to see the spirit which our Lord had inspired there; and I was not the only one, for two merchants, friends of mine, who had come with me from Medina, did nothing but cry, there were so many crosses, so many skulls!

I can never forget one little cross of wood by the holy water, to which a picture of Christ on paper was fastened; it seemed to cause more devotion than if it had been made of some material most admirably fashioned. The choir was the garret, which was lofty in the centre, so that they could say the office in it, but they had to stoop very low to enter it and hear Mass. In the two corners of it next the church they had two little hermitages filled with hay, for the place was very cold, in which they must either lie down or sit; the roof almost touched their heads. There were two little openings into the church, and two stones for pillows; there were also crosses and skulls…

They used to go out to preach in many places around where the people needed instruction, and that also made me glad that the house was established there, for I was told that there was no monastery near, nor the means of supporting one, which was a great pity. They obtained so good a name in so short a time as to give me the very greatest pleasure when I heard of it. They went, as I am saying, a league and a half and two leagues bare- footed to preach — for at that time they wore no sandals, which they were afterwards ordered to wear — and that in the cold, when the snow was deep, and when they had preached and heard confessions came home every night late to their meal in the monastery: all this was as nothing because of their joy.

St John was a profound mystical writer and expert guide to the higher reaches of the spiritual life, particularly the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul, in which the soul is plunged into crisis and even doubts that God exists. Many saints have experienced this crisis; St Therese of Lisieux was so affected by this that she even had the creed stitched onto her habit so that it would always be close to her to bolster her faith.

Part of St John’s teaching can be summed up by the suggestion that we should love God for His own sake, not because of the spiritual pleasure we derive from prayer. This form of denial can make St John seem like a negative figure. Yet he was also filled with passionate love for God which spilled over into poetry and he possessed the same kind of childlike trust that Fr Doyle speaks of today. As St John wrote:

It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love.

Let us follow the example of St John of the Cross and Fr Doyle in cultivating a simple, but profound, trust in Jesus.


Thoughts for December 13 (St Lucy) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Lucy

It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life.

COMMENT: It is a well accepted principle of Catholic spirituality that we must fight against sin. Naturally we must exert all of our will in the battle against deliberate mortal sin, which utterly destroys the life of grace in our soul and puts our salvation in jeopardy. But we must also exert great efforts in the battle against venial sins and imperfections which, while they do not destroy the life of grace in our souls, weaken our spiritual life and tempt us towards tepidity. In this fight we must have recourse to the sacraments and rely heavily on God’s grace.

Today is the feast of St Lucy, whose resolve in avoiding sin should give us courage. St Lucy was an early 4th century martyr who dedicated herself to virginity and the service of the Lord. When she refused offers of marriage, she was denounced to the Roman authorities, who decided to force her into prostitution as a punishment for being Christian. When the soldiers came to take her away, they were unable to lift her, so they tied a team of oxen to her to pull her along. These too failed to move her. They then tortured her, pulling out her eyes, which is why she is often depicted carrying her eyes on a plate. An angel subsequently appeared and restored her sight, which is why she is also a patron of those suffering from eye complaints. The soldiers tried to kill her by burning her. However, the wood would not burn, no matter what they tried. They then killed her with a sword.

Completely true story or part golden legend? Ultimately it does not matter, for the story of St Lucy reminds us that we must stand firm and resist sin, and that if we do our part, then the grace of God will not be lacking.



Thoughts for December 11 (St Maravillas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Maravillas of Jesus

I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.”

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Maria Maravillas of Jesus, a Discalced Carmelite who died in 1974 and was canonised in 2003, making her canonisation one of the fastest in the Church. Despite this, she is unfortunately little known, and this is a great shame for she was a great saint and is a powerful intercessor.

St Maravillas was a latter-day Teresa of Avila, founding numerous Carmelite convents throughout Spain (and one in India) which adhere to strict enclosure and to the original rule of St Teresa. She was also sent to reform the famous convent of the Incarnation in Avila in the 1960’s, following in the footsteps of St Teresa herself who started her religious life in that convent and was herself sent there as a reformer in her later life. St Maravillas suffered much during the persecutions of the Church during the Spanish Civil War, coming close to death on some occasions. Let us not forget that there were over 7,000 Catholic martyrs from that persecution who were killed by the leftists and republicans (and sometimes tortured and raped, if they were nuns) for no other reason than the fact that they were Catholic.

The miracle accredited to her intercession as part of the canonisation process was quite extraordinary, and involved the immediate and complete recovery of an 18 month old boy who fell into a muddy pool and had stopped breathing. The account of this miracle is so extraordinary, I have included a full history of it here: St Maravillas miracle

You may also read more about her life here:

St Maravillas, just like Fr Doyle and all of the saints, had great confidence and trust in God. One of the clear indicators of growth in holiness is a total abandonment to the will of God. Here are two quotes from St Maravillas that echo Fr Doyle’s quote for today.

Holiness is very simple: let yourself go confidently and lovingly into God’s arms, wanting and doing what you believe he wants.


Lord, when You want, how You want, what You want: this is the only thing that we want and desire.

Let us pray to St Maravillas and to Fr Doyle for an increase in our own trust in God.



Thoughts for December 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

I believe strongly in corporal penance as a means to the end. But a denial of your own will often costs more than a hundred strokes of the discipline. To interior penance you must not, and need not, put any limit.

COMMENTS: The discipline is a knotted whip used for corporal penance. Its use would have been standard in Fr Doyle’s time, and still today there are many religious organisations and indeed individuals who use such an implement. Our modern world does not understand such things, but then again, few generations of the past would understand the modern obsession with punishing our bodies in a gym…

We have discussed Fr Doyle’s approach to corporal penance in the past. It is clear that he had a special calling for this type of penance. But it is also clear that he never encouraged others to follow him, and that he instead encouraged interior penances – small acts of self-denial. Indeed, he was an avid practitioner of such penances himself. Who can doubt that we would live in a much better world today if we could all control ourselves better and restrain our selfish impulses?

Many other saints have agreed with Fr Doyle’s comments on the importance of interior penance. St Philip Neri, in particular, comes to mind. He argued that holiness was three fingers deep, meaning that holiness comes from our brain or our mind (He would point to the gap between his eyes to emphasise that holiness was internal. This gap was three fingers wide, hence the expression that holiness is three fingers deep). There is no better time than Advent for trying to acquire this internal holiness.

Thoughts for December 6 (Feast of St Nicholas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Nicholas of Myra


I want you to make a greater effort to see the hand of God in everything that happens, and then to force or train yourself to rejoice in His holy will. For example, you want a fine day for some reason and it turns out wet. Don’t say, “Oh, hang it!” but give our Lord a loving smile and say: “Thank You, my God, for this disappointment.” This will help you to keep down impatience, irritability, etc., when people annoy you. Then when some hard trial is past, look back on it, see how you ought to have taken it, and resolve to act that way in future.

COMMENTS: The great spiritual writers recommend that we try to live constantly in the presence of God at all times, and see all things as coming from His hands and as a manifestation of His will for us at that moment. Such a mentality helps us to overcome passing feelings of sadness and disappointment.

Blessed Columba Marmion once wrote (unfortunately I cannot find the exact quote) that we are often sad because we think too much about ourselves, and not enough about Christ who loves us and dwells within our soul.

Today is also the feast of St Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for Santa Claus. Let us remember this great saint today. He is badly mistreated and neglected in our modern culture, and his reputation is abused in an effort to sell material things at this time of year.

St Nicholas is known as a great intercessor for material and financial concerns. In these tough times we can have recourse to him in our temporal needs. There is nothing wrong with doing this, so long as we act with detachment and do not seek his help from a selfish or materialistic motivation. Indeed, St Nicholas himself was notoriously generous with his resources (hence the development of the Santa Claus character), so we may also pray to him for the grace of detachment.

Here is a video which may help us to remember the true St Nicholas.

Thoughts for the Feast of St Francis Xavier from Fr Willie Doyle

Death of St Francis Xavier

Xavier’s hour has come, the hour of his eternal reward and never-ending bliss. In a little hut, open on all sides to the biting blast, the great Apostle lies dying. Far from home and all that makes this life pleasant, far from the quiet of his own religious house, alone upon this barren isle, our Saint will yield his soul to God. What joy fills his heart now at the thought of the sacrifices he has made, the honours he has despised, the pleasures left behind. Happy sufferings! Happy penances! He thinks of what his life might have been, the life of a gay worldling, and in gratitude he lifts his eyes to thank his God for the graces given him. What matter now the hardships he has endured? All, all, are past, for now the sweet reward of heaven is inviting him to his eternal rest.

COMMENT: While it is superseded by the First Sunday of Advent, today is the feast of St Francis Xavier, one of the greatest missionary saints of all time. He was a good man, although proud and ambitious, when Ignatius met him at the University of Paris. Just like Fr Doyle, it was the experience of the Spiritual Exercises that inflamed his soul and set him on the path to sanctity.

Ultimately St Francis Xavier gave up all human comforts and friendships, leaving Europe behind forever to evangelise in the far east. How strange that land must have seemed, and how far away from everything that he knew. Yet it mattered not to Francis – his love for God spilled over into a love for souls and a passionate desire to bring them to Heaven. So too it was with Fr Doyle. He originally wanted to become a missionary in the Congo. He ended up as a missionary in the bloody trenches instead. If he survived that experience, he had resolved to offer himself as a missionary in a leper colony.

Today we no longer have to go to India or Japan to find mission territory – there are more than enough souls who have not yet properly heard the word of God in our own families and neighbourhoods and towns. Let us pray for a share in the missionary zeal and effectiveness of St Francis Xavier and of Fr Doyle. Let us also pray especially for Ireland, which has truly become a mission territory.



Thoughts for December 1 (St Edmund Campion) from Fr Willie Doyle

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent, has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace – they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become saint – it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life ‘sacrifice always and in all things’”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these lines 103 years ago today, on 1 December 1914, during his retreat that year. They sum up a key aspect of his life and spirit – that he clearly felt that he was chosen to live a life of extra penance. He clearly saw this as his special mission, and he recognised that it was not something for others to copy. That is why he was always very tough with himself and very gentle with others. As he says – “they may meritoriously do what I cannot”.

Did Fr Doyle have an inflated ego in thinking that he had a special mission to asceticism? I don’t think so. His penances were shared with his confessor who approved of them with few changes. His penances were also private – nobody else was to know about them apart from his confessor, and we would know nothing of them today were it not decided to disobey Fr Doyle’s wishes and publish some of his personal notes. In several places in his diaries Fr Doyle mentions that he felt energised and strengthened by his penance, but on the other hand he felt sick and fatigued when he took it easier on himself. Finally, one can clearly see that the heroism of Fr Doyle in the trenches cannot really be separated from his asceticism – it is hard to imagine that one who is self-complacent and lazy could have done what Fr Doyle did during his years as a chaplain. His penances prepared him for these rigours. One cannot have the heroic Fr Doyle unless one also has the ascetical Fr Doyle – they are part of the same package. 

Today we also celebrate the feast of one of the great Jesuits, St Edmund Campion. I am not aware that Fr Doyle ever wrote about him, but it is certain that he admired him. St Edmund’s dramatic life surely appealed to Fr Doyle’s own personality.

St Edmund, like so many others, was martyred for being a Catholic at Tyburn. Here is what he had to say on this matter.

And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted; so it must be restored.

St Edmund Campion