22 January 1915

Last night I rose at twelve and knelt in the cellar for an hour to suffer from the cold. It was a hard fight to do so, but Jesus helped me. I said my rosary with my arms extended. At the third mystery the pain was so great that I felt I could not possibly continue; but at each Ave I prayed for strength and was able to finish it. This has given me great consolation by showing the many hard things I could do with the help of prayer.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s nocturnal prayer 105 years ago is a classic example of his asceticism. He did not find it easy or pleasant, but he strongly felt that God was calling him to such acts of penance. We are not called to copy Fr Doyle’s penances, but neither do we have the right to stand in judgement over them, adopting a critical or superior attitude to one who was called by this special path. While Fr Doyle’s call was unique, there is still one thing we can all learn from today’s quote: we are capable of many hard things, perhaps even more than we imagine, with the help of prayer.

22 January 1911

My dear loving Jesus, what do you want from me? You never seem to leave me alone – thank you ever so much for that – but keep on asking, asking, asking. I have tried to do a good deal lately for you and have made many little sacrifices which have cost me a good deal, but you do not seem to be satisfied with me yet and want more.

The same thought is ever haunting me, coming back again and again; fight as I will, I cannot get away from it or conceal from myself what it is you really want. I realise it more and more every day. But, my sweet Jesus, I am so afraid, I am so cowardly, so fond of myself and my own comfort, that I keep hesitating and refusing to give in to you and to do what you want.

Let me tell you what I think this is. You want me to immolate myself to your pleasure; to become your victim by self-inflicted suffering; to crucify myself in every way I can think of; never if possible to be without some pain or discomfort; to die to myself and to my love of ease and comfort; to give myself the necessaries of life but no more (and I think these could be largely reduced without injury to my health); to crucify my body in every way I can think of, bearing heat, cold, little sufferings, without relief, constantly, if possible always, wearing some instrument of penance; to crucify my appetite by trying to take as little delicacies as possible; to crucify my eyes by a vigilant guard over them; to crucify my will by submitting it to others; to give up all comfort, all self-indulgence; to sacrifice my love of ease, love for sleep at unusual times; to work, to toil for souls, to suffer, to pray always. My Jesus, am I not right, is not this what you want from me and have asked so long?

For the thought of such a life, so naturally terrifying, fills me with joy, for I know I could not do one bit of it myself but that it will all be the work of your grace and love. I have found, too, that the more I give, the more I do, the more I suffer, the greater becomes this longing.

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!

Thoughts for January 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

I see more and more that self-indulgence even in lawful things brings only unhappiness; and I realise I can never be truly content or at peace till I make my life a crucified one, and this always.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1914. His was advice was not for everyone – he was specifically writing about himself in his private diary. Counter-intuitively, he found that whenever he indulged himself (presumably in little ways, such as taking butter on his bread or having a full night’s sleep), that he was less happy. Elsewhere he reported that not performing penance left him tired and lethargic but that penance invigorated him. This is surely an important sign that Fr Doyle truly had a specific calling to a life of asceticism.

23 December 1916

I was very much annoyed because someone burnt the floor of my dug-out and also on finding my candles had been taken. On arriving at Locre I found a second bed in my room and heard that X was coming. This upset and worried me terribly till I realised that all these things were God’s doing and that He wished to annihilate my will, so that I should never feel even the smallest interior disturbance no matter what might happen. I have secretly given permission to everyone to treat me as he wishes and to trample on me; why then should I not try and live up to this life?

COMMENT: Fr Doyle, like all of us, experienced many temptations. His particular defect seems to have been that he was somewhat highly strung – he had a strong will and a short temper. We all have some defects; it is not a sign of evil on our part, but rather a core dimension of our human condition after the fall. In some respects we could not be holy if we didn’t have defects of this nature, as it is these defects that exercise us in the struggle for holiness. They are, in a sense, like the thorn in the flesh described by St Paul – our journey to holiness necessitates that we overcome them to some degree, or at least that we constantly battle against them.

Fr Doyle fought against his defects, and we see here one of these battles – some inconveniences that generated annoyance that was soon mastered and overcome, with the help of God’s grace. 

 

20 December 1914

During the last three nights of the retreat I slept on the floor without feeling any inconvenience after, though I woke very often on account of the pain. This is the first time I have slept this way on more than one successive night.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was just one of the many holy men and women – including saints – who slept on the floor at night. For example, we know that his friend Blessed John Sullivan also very often slept on the floor, sometimes hiding the fact by ruffling up his blankets to make it look like he slept in the bed.

The retreat Fr Doyle speaks of was not his own, but rather a retreat he was giving, presumably in a convent. It was by these means – prayer and self-denial – that Fr Doyle prepared himself to be a pure instrument of God’s grace for others. It has always been this way with the saints. For example, the liturgy of Advent has many references to St John the Baptist. He was a stranger to comfort – he lived on locusts and honey; he was not dressed in “soft garments”, as Jesus noted. John the Baptist knew that he must decrease, so that the life of grace could increase in his soul. 

There is no other way. We have to deny ourselves (in a way appropriate to our stage and state of life), so that we can leave space for God and His grace in our souls, for if our souls are so full of ourselves, how can there be space for 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). Advent is a great time to try to acquire this internal holiness.