I know I can never be happy unless I am heroically generous with Him. This I have proved time after time. A sacrifice which costs much always brings great grace, joy and interior peace.
A. M. D. G. SOLEMN VOW. After much thought and prayer, feeling myself urged strongly by grace and the ceaseless pleading of Jesus, I have resolved to lead the life of absolute crucifixion which I know He wants and which alone will please Him.
I now promise and bind myself by vow (under mortal sin) ‘ to give Him everything until next Christmas Day, with the power of dispensing myself in case of necessity on any day.
Dear Jesus, I vow, with the help of Your grace, to give You all You ask for the future.
Good Friday, March 21st, 1913.
The path of life is rough and stony. Sharp flints and hidden thorns are thickly strewn upon its surface, wounding our weary feet as we toil ever onwards and upwards towards our heavenly home. Does our courage fail, do our hearts grow faint? Do our aching eyes look sadly upon that broad and tempting way, so bright, so pleasant, so attractive to our senses but which we know would lead us on to destruction ? Then turn to Christ as He hangs upon the cruel gibbet with outstretched arms and bleeding hands.
If I have resolved to nail myself to the cross, let me bear ever in mind that our Lord is on the other side of it. When I am tempted to come down, let me stir up my courage by recalling this scene of Calvary and resolve after the example of my Lord and Master to remain fastened to it unto death. I must beware of listening, or above all of yielding, to the universal chorus of voices which will cry out to me to come down. ” Come down or you will ruin your health.” ” Come down and be like the rest of us.” ” Come down or you will render yourself unfit for your work.” ” Come down and walk in the beaten track.” ” Come down, what you are doing is an innovation and cannot be tolerated.” Alas! human respect only too often does make us relax, and down we come. Or we say to our Lord, ” The agony is too long or too distressing, I must have some relief; only just take out one of the nails, Lord, and give me a little respite.” It is the spirit of the times to relax only a little bit, but nevertheless to relax. Ah no! I will imitate our Lord, I will live on the cross and with Him I will die on the cross.
Vince teipsum – conquer yourself. This is the secret of the Spiritual Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.
COMMENT: It is appropriate for us to consider this quote from Fr Doyle today for two reasons.
Firstly, conquering ourselves is a crucial part of the Lenten experience. We aim to uproot our vices and become more like Christ during our 40 days of spiritual discipline.
The second reason relates to the person of St Francis Xavier, one of Ignatius’ first companions, one of the greatest Jesuit saints and the patron of the missions. Today is traditionally the last day of the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis. In St Francis’ day, the mission field was far away; today it is in our own cities and towns, all so badly in need of the New Evangelisation. May he enkindle in us the same passion to save souls that compelled him to travel to the other side of the world. Let us conclude with the traditional novena prayer to St Francis Xavier.
Most amiable and most loving St. Francis Xavier, in union with thee I reverently adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which God blessed thee during life, and of thy glory after death, fills me with joy. I implore thee to obtain for me, through thy powerful intercession, the inestimable blessing of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beseech thee to obtain the special favour I ask for (Make your request here…)
But, if what I ask is not for the glory of God, and the good of my soul, I pray and desire that which is the most conductive to both.
Towards the end of the retreat a light came to me that, now that I have given Jesus all the sacrifices I possibly can in the matter of food, He is now going to ask retrenchment in the quantity. So far I have not felt that He asked this, but grace now seems to urge me to it. I dread what this means, but Jesus will give me strength to do what He wants.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this note in his diary in December 1914. He was 41 years of age and had less than 3 years to live. Of course, Fr Doyle fasted, like all religious of the time, but significant extra fasting above the norm does not seem to have been one of Fr Doyle’s primary penances until after this date. For instance, during the war years he does mention fasting from food entirely, although perhaps some of this was a glad acceptance of his circumstances rather than a deliberate renunciation. On the other hand, he often practiced penance relating to the type of food consumed, for instance sugarless tea, meat without salt, dry bread without butter. For those of us who struggle with even little penances, it is surely consoling to read the following admissions from Fr Doyle:
One thing I feel Jesus asks, which I have not the courage to give Him — the promise to give up butter entirely.
The thought of a breakfast of dry bread and tea without sugar in future seemed intolerable.
In contrast, his contemporary Blessed John Sullivan SJ was well known for his tendency to fast, typically only ever eating a small portion of rice for dinner. There is a wonderful diversity of ways in which we can follow God!
Fasting and abstinence are normal parts of the Christian life. The only days in which we are strictly required to fast are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The most obvious form of mortification relating to food is to abstain from meat on Fridays. But there are many other things we can do which in no way would affect our health or wellbeing but would still fortify our spirit. Perhaps we can follow Fr Doyle’s example of giving up sugar in our tea or jam or butter on our bread or go without salt on our meals? Each individual can discern for themselves what the most appropriate penance would be for their own circumstance in life.
In this context let us consider these wise words from St Francis de Sales:
If the work that you are doing is necessary to you or very useful for God’s glory, I prefer you to suffer the burden of work than that of fasting. This is the view of the Church which dispenses even from the prescribed fasting those who are doing work useful for the service of God and the neighbour.
The tradition of Catholic spirituality allows great freedom and discretion in these matters. The important thing, especially during Lent, is not to abuse this freedom by copping out of penance altogether!
This morning during meditation I again felt that mysterious appeal from our Blessed Lord for a life of absolute, complete sacrifice of every comfort. I see and feel now, without a shadow of a doubt, as certainly if Jesus Himself appeared and spoke to me, that He wants me to give up now and for ever all self-indulgence, to look on myself as not being free in the matter. That being so how can I continue my present manner of life, of a certain amount of generosity, fervent one day and then the next day giving in to self in everything?
When a little unwell, or when I have a slight headache, I lie down, give up work, indulge myself in the refectory. I see that I lose immensdy by this, for that is the time of great merit, and Jesus sends me that pain to bear for Him.