Thoughts for January 8 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 of the older, more well known 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.

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January 5: On the need for more Irish canonisations

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! This points to an interesting thing about this so-called land of saints and scholars – we are pretty poor at having worthy candidates beatified and canonised. 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 3 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 2017, the first Irish beatification in almost 2 decades.

And that’s it. That’s the sum total of Ireland’s effectiveness to date in promoting Irish models of sanctity since the Council of Trent. And much of this success – the canonisation of St Oliver and the beatification of the 17 martyrs – are down to one priest who was postulator for both sets of causes. 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 and Fr Matthew Theobald who did so much to encourage temperance in the 19th Century. 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 four 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. And most significantly of all the beatification of John Sullivan in 2017. Yet, one has to ask – how many of those who practice their faith in Ireland know this news? How many even know of the heroic virtue of any of these people I have mentioned? The promotion of local heroes has always been a core part of the evangelising efforts of the Church. Why are such local heroes not mentioned more often in our churches? 

Of course, neither Fr Doyle nor Matt Talbot nor any of the others are in the least bit insulted or upset that they have not yet been beatified or canonised! But it is we, and our country, that lose out. 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.

So many people have rejected the Church out of disgust at what they perceive to be the sins of priests and religious. 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 love Him with all our heart He will lead us in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Saint Angela of Foligno

Thoughts for January 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi

He seems to me to want a year of great devotedness, intense sympathy and passionate love…Even one year of such a life would help a little, would help much to heal the wounds so many and so deep in His tender Heart. We must love Him and make Him loved more and more. He seems chiefly to ask complete abandonment to His pleasure, not lifting a finger to hinder His holy Will, but letting Him do with us exactly as He pleases.

COMMENT: Our new year’s resolutions should ultimately orient us towards serving God and others with greater dedication. Of course, a resolution written in such a manner would achieve very little as it if far too vague and is not capable of being measured. Instead we should try to develop resolutions based on particular areas of life where we are weak, for example resolutions to be more patient or to avoid gossip or to be more cheerful or to get up (and go to bed!) on time each day.

Today is the feast of St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi, a great reforming saint who lived in Rome in the 17th Century. His example seems to be an appropriate one to try to emulate for the year ahead. He was born into wealth and power, and his father was Prince of Lampedusa. St Giuseppe gave up his life of wealth and privilege to become a priest. He was noted for his learning and his scholarship and was made a cardinal. However, having been placed once more in a position of power, he strove to live with humility and poverty, teaching children their catechism and remaining dedicated to his studies. He is particularly noted for his work in the reform of the liturgy, in particular by being faithful to the ancient traditions of the Church.

In the lives of both St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi and Fr Doyle, we see shining examples of apostolic zeal and dedication to the duties of life. May they both pray for us as we attempt to emulate their virtues in the year ahead.

More information on St Giuseppe Maria Tomasi can be found here.

 

 

Thoughts for the last day of the year from Fr Willie Doyle

 

“All our days are spent.” (Psalm 89. 9). The hour will come for each of us when we shall echo these words of the Psalmist, when with anxious eyes we shall watch the last few sands of our life run out for ever. What avail then will be our useless regrets that we have made such little use of those precious days? Will our bitter sorrow and biting remorse bring back even one of the moments we have so uselessly squandered in idle pleasure or consumed in sinful deeds?

COMMENT: The last day of the year is actually a very important one. Even those with no faith tend to take stock of their lives and develop resolutions to improve themselves. We don’t have to confine our formation of resolutions to New Year’s Eve, although it is an excellent time to start. In addition to traditional resolutions like eating more healthily, exercising more, working harder and so forth, we must remember the importance of spiritual resolutions. These can include being more faithful to our prayer, adopting certain regular acts of penance or attempting to root out a particular vice or weakness.

The end of the year also reminds us that we are closer to death. It is a simple fact that we are one year closer to death than we were at the start of 2018. Perhaps we, or one that we love, may not live to see beyond 2019. We should not become morbid or depressed with these thoughts of the approach of death, and it would be unhelpful to fixate too much on this, but it is similarly unhelpful – and unrealistic – to ignore the thought altogether. Instead, let us be prepared to meet Christ whenever He may call us, whether it is in 2019 or several decades away.

The end of the year is also a time to be thankful. For many people 2018 may have been a tough year. But no matter how hard it has been, there are always things to be thankful for. There may have been many dangers from which we have been spared that we are not even aware of. Let us give thanks to God for all of His blessings, both those we remember and those we will only see when we die. The last day of the year is also a good day on which to obtain a plenary indulgence. The Church grants this indulgence, under the usual conditions, to all those who publicly sing the Te Deum on this last day of the year.

Time is a great treasure given to us. Along with our talents and our love, it is really all that we can give to God. According to Fr Francisco Fernandez Carvajal:

Time represents the separation between the present and that moment when we stand before God with our hands either empty or full. Only now in this life can we obtain merit for the next. In fact, each single day of ours is a period given us by God, so that we may fill it with love for him, with love for those around us, with work well done, with putting the virtues into practice.

And as St Alphonsus Liguori tells us:

Time is a treasure of inestimable value because in every moment of time we can gain an increase of grace and eternal glory. If the Blessed in Heaven could grieve they would do so for having lost so much time, and in hell the lost souls are tormented with the thought that there us now no more time for them. 

Have we filled 2018 with love for God and others and acquire more eternal glory? If not, then 2019 presents a new opportunity to grow in love…

Finally, here is a worthwhile meditation for New Year’s Eve by Bishop Richard Challoner of London who died in 1781, and whose cause for beatification is an extremely worthy one. As a child, Fr Doyle used to read Challoner’s meditations to his father, and perhaps this is one of the ones that he read and meditated on himself. These daily meditations nourished (at least in part) the early piety of Fr Doyle and they are now available on kindle for a very reasonable price here Amazon.com and here Amazon.co.uk

Consider first, that the year is now come to a conclusion: it is just upon the point of expiring: all these twelve months that are now past, have flown away into the gulf of eternity; they are now no more; they shall return to us no more. All our years pass in this manner, they all hasten away one after another and hurry us along with them, till they bring us also into an endless and unchangeable eternity. Our years will all be soon over; we shall find ourselves at the end of our lives much sooner than we imagine. O let us not then set our hearts upon any of these transitory things. Let us despise all that pass away with this short life, and learn to adhere to God alone, who never passes away, because he is eternal. Let us always be prepared for our departure hence.

Consider 2ndly, that as the year is now past and gone, so are all the pleasures of it: all our diversions, all our amusements, in which we have spent our time this year, are now no more: the remembrance of them is but like that of a dream. O, such is the condition of all things that pass with time! Why then do we set our esteem or affection upon any of them? Why are we not practically and feelingly convinced of the emptiness and vanity of them all; and that nothing deserves our love or attention but God and eternity? And as the pleasures of the year are all past, so are all the displeasures and uneasinesses, pains and mortifications of it: they are also now no more than like a dream: and so will all temporal evils appear to us a little while hence when we shall see ourselves upon the brink of eternity. Let us learn, then, only to fear those evils which will have no end, and the evil of sin, which leads to these never-ending evils.

Consider 3rdly, how you have spent your time this year. It was all given you by your Creator, in order to bring you forward to Him, and to a happy eternity. O how many favours and blessings have you received from him every day of the year! How many graces and invitations to good! And what use have you made of these favours? What virtue have you acquired this year? What vice have you rooted out? What passions have you overcome? Have you made any improvement at all in virtue, since the beginning of the year? Instead of going forward to God, have you not rather gone backward? Alas! what an account will you have to give one day for all this precious time, and for all these graces and blessings, spiritual or corporal, which you have so ungratefully abused and perverted during the course of this year. Then as to your sins, whether of omission or commission against God, your neighbours, or yourselves – which you have been guilty of this year, either by thought, word, or deed – what a dreadful scene will open itself to your eyes upon a little examination! And little have you done during the course of this year to cancel them by penance. O, how melancholy would your case be, if your eternal lot were to be determined by your performances of the past year!

Conclude by giving thanks to God for all his blessings of this year; and especially for his patience and forbearance with you in your sins. Return now at least to him with your whole heart; begging mercy and pardon of all the sins of the year, and for all the sins of your life. And resolve, with God’s grace, if he is pleased to give you another year, to spend it in such a manner as to secure to your souls the never-ending year of a happy eternity.

 

Thoughts for December 29 (St Thomas Becket) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Jesus, you know my longing to become a saint. You know how much I thirst to die a martyr. Help me to prove that I am really in earnest by living this life of martyrdom.

O loving Jesus, help me now not to fight any longer against You. I really long to do what You want, but I know my weakness so well and my inconstancy. I have made so many generous resolutions which I have never kept that I feel it is almost a mockery to promise more. This record of my feelings and desire at this moment will be a spur to my generosity; and if I cannot live up to the perfection of what You want, at least I am now determined to do more than I have ever done before. Help me, Jesus!

COMMENT: The cross is always at the centre of the Christian life, in one way or another. It was present in Bethlehem with its poverty and lack of comfort. The very first day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St Stephen. Two days later we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. Today we celebrate the feast of the great martyr St Thomas Becket. 

St Thomas is the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed because he defended the freedom of the Church against the dictates of the State. St Thomas’ example is very relevant for us today. A form of aggressive secularism seeks to squeeze the Church from the public square. Amazingly, there are now some, even in influential positions, who question the right of Christians to comment on matters of public policy. Those who propose Christian values in the public square, even when doing so with meekness and humility, are subjected to intense pressure and scorn and even a very real and palpable hatred, including, in some cases, death threats. And all of this in a culture that prides itself on its so-called “tolerance”. 

We may not have to face physical martyrdom like St Thomas, but we are called to stand firm and defend the Church against unjust restrictions on its freedom. Sometimes this may mean a kind of dry martyrdom which may lead to a loss of career opportunities or public scorn and abuse. For some people this dry martyrdom may be harder to bear than the loss of one’s life. Indeed, the well known 19th century spiritual writer Father Faber, writing on this very point, says:

Learn from St. Thomas to fight the good fight even to the shedding of blood, or, to what men find harder, the shedding of their good name by pouring it out to waste on the earth.

St Josemaria Escriva has useful advice on this point:

Don’t behave like someone frightened by an enemy whose only strength is his “aggressive voice”.

If we find it hard to stand firm, we are in good company. St Thomas himself was proud and aggressive in his earlier days, and it was only over time, as Archbishop of Canterbury, that he slowly grew into his role with God’s grace. Fr Doyle himself recounts in his diary how he himself struggled with “human respect” – a fear of what others thought of him. When we find the going hard, let us copy the example of the saints, and cry out with Fr Doyle: “Help me, Jesus!”

Thoughts for the Feast of St John from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Try to get down low and follow out what He Himself taught: “Unless you become as little children.” This will make you more confiding, more trustful and more naturally loving, which sometimes we are not, our love for Him being much too formal and prim.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John the Apostle, often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There was a particular closeness between Jesus and St John; John alone amongst the male followers of Jesus remained steadfast even up to the crucifixion, and it was to St John that Jesus entrusted Mary.

In the lives of both Fr Doyle and St John we see two men who were not afraid to love Jesus with a deep personal love. It is this personal love that counteracts the stereotype of Christianity being a mere system of rules and morality. The feast of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is a good day to remember the primacy of the love of Christ in our spiritual lives. We shall conclude with some notes from Fr Doyle’s diary which clearly show his abiding and deeply personal love for the person of Jesus.

I once more had the opportunity for some quiet prayer before the life-size crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but climbed up until both arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was.