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 107 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!

18 January 1912

I felt Jesus asking me to make a long visit and wishing to speak to me. His message was:

  1. To note down the big sacrifices of each day as this helps me to generosity.
  2. To make a spiritual Communion with each person receiving.
  3. Greater abandonment still of all comfort – ‘absolute nakedness’.
  4. To make a half-hour’s visit during the day when I am able

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in his private diary on this day in 1912. He was not only an ascetic, but also a mystic, and this quote represents what he understood Jesus to be saying to him in prayer on this day. Fr Doyle was no fool. He was a well-formed Jesuit and an expert spiritual director, especially of others in religious life, and so we must assume that this words were indeed something akin to a locution. As such they form a private inspiration for Fr Doyle rather than some form of revelation for the use of others. 

Nonetheless, there is surely one lesson we can take from this message, and it is a message that one finds again and again in the writings of Fr Doyle – a call to greater generosity with God, and by extension, with others. This is something applicable to us all. The precise implementation of this generosity will surely suffer from person to person, but the fact that we are all called to an ever increasing generosity is surely a basic element of the Christian spiritual life.

17 January 1912

Our Lord wants me to give Him all I can give cheerfully, not repining or regretting any sacrifice; not saying, ‘I wish I had not to do this or suffer this cold or pain, etc’, but rather, “I wish I could do more for You Jesus, I wish it were colder’.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a true Jesuit. In these comments, written on this day in 1912, he shows his desire to follow the Third Degree of Humility in St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. Here is what St Ignatius says about this:

The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when — including the first and second, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equal — in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.

For the worldly this may seem extreme. But the saints were open to suffering. They wanted suffering not only to perform penance for their sins, but also to expiate for the sins of the world; to console Jesus for the coldness, indifference and, indeed, hatred, of others.

We are obviously not all called to this. But it appears Fr Doyle was, and specifically that he was called to make reparation for the sins of priests, and it was for this very intention that he offered up his life.

Thoughts for January 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

It seems to me I have failed to keep my resolutions because I have not acted from the motive of the love of God. Mortification, prayer, hard work, become sweet when done for the love of Jesus.

COMMENT: We are now 1 week into the year 2022. How have we kept our resolutions for the year? Most of us will have lived them imperfectly. Some may even have already abandoned them altogether. We are not alone. Fr Doyle struggled to stick to his resolutions, and so too did all the saints. But it was the constant struggle, despite failures, that made them so great. Don’t give up – start again!

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?

13 December 1916

Since I became chaplain I’ve grown very lazy and on mortified, the cause of much unhappiness and remorse to me. My excuse is that my present life is so hard and repugnant that I need these little indulgences. Then I think of Blessed Charles Spinola, for example, amid the horrors of his prison, practicing great austerities, fasting, etc which make me ashamed of my cowardice. The Holy Spirit is constantly urging me not to let this precious time slip by, when even a small sacrifice is worth many a big one at other times. I see the only chance is to mark down the special acts I do, for though I hate doing so, I know it is an immense help, and otherwise nothing is done. I’ve begun the “Book of Little Sacrifices” again today.

3 December 1914

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. 

Thoughts for November 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Francis Xavier

Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the 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: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.

But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.