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 104 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.

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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!

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 many saints not only were open to suffering, they sometimes actively wanted it. 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 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.

Thoughts for December 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

My genius of an orderly fried meat and pudding together and, with a smile of triumph on his face, brought both on the same plate to the dug-out. He is a good poor chap, but I would not recommend him as a cook.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on 22nd December 1916, 102 years ago today. Fr Doyle loved his orderly (Fr Doyle had the rank of Captain, and thus had an orderly to attend to him), but he had much to suffer at his hands – he seems to have lacked a certain common sense. On one occasion he seems to have made tea from the water in which he washed Fr Doyle’s socks! On another occasion (if I recall correctly…) tea was made from water tainted with petrol. Yet, as usual, Fr Doyle offered it all up and took everything in good spirit. 

The famous Fr Frank Browne SJ was a witness to the challenges posed by Fr Doyle’s orderly. Here is his account of one tale of woe.

I rode over one morning to see Fr Doyle. I found him writing letters, which he interrupted to tell me of Murphy’s latest. Pointing to his trench boots he asked me to smell them. They were awful. Murphy, in order to prepare them for polishing, had in the orthodox way washed them, but in an unorthodox manner he had chosen a cesspool! The result was almost too much from Fr Willie. When I told him to sack Murphy on the spot, saying that it was getting a bit too much of a good joke, he laughed and said: ‘Well he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, I can perhaps gain something too.’ I must say his patience and restraint made a great impression on me.

Fr Doyle’s kindly patience in dealing with the incompetence of his orderly, and the huge inconveniences they caused him in the midst of so many other stresses and dangers, is surely a sign of great virtue.

Fr Doyle also “used” the incompetence of his orderly as a way of overcoming his own self-will. Copying the example of the Spaniard Luisa de Caravajal, a 16th century noblewoman who was close to the Jesuits and did much for the English martyrs of the Elizabethan persecution, he determined to allow himself to be “trampled on” by his orderly. Writing in his private diary in October 1916, he says:

Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant, and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g. to wait till he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange things in the way he sees fit, in a word humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.

Fr Doyle was a master of the interior struggle for virtue. His predominant weakness (in my opinion) was his strong willed temperament. This temperament is obviously not entirely bad news the way a temperament oriented towards sloth or sensuality is – we need a strong will if we are ever to achieve anything in life. But Fr Doyle knew that he could easily tip over into a hot temper if he wasn’t careful. Even near the end of his life, we see him remain vigilant – very successfully – to master this defect. 

All of this is also a further sign of Fr Doyle’s sound psychological health and that his penances were appropriate for him – a neurotic and unbalanced personality who performed penance out of an unhealthy obsession seems unlikely to be able to maintain patience and serenity in the face of the provocations and failures of his orderly. On the contrary, Fr Doyle was universally known for this sweetness and calm, even when tired, under stress and when facing grave dangers.

 

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?