Thoughts for May 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

My way is sure. I think I can say now without a shade of doubt or hesitation that the path by which Jesus wants me to walk is that of absolute abandonment of all human comfort and pleasure and the embracing as far as I can of every discomfort and pain. Every time I see a picture of the crucifixion or a cross, I feel strangely affected and drawn to the life of immolation in a strange way. The heroism of Jesus appeals to me; His ‘naked crucifixion’ calls to me and it gives me great consolation and peace to offer myself to Him on the cross for this perpetual living crucifixion. How often does He not seem to say to me in prayer, ‘I would have you strip yourself of all things — every tiny particle of self-indulgence, and this ever and always? Give Me all and I will make you a great saint.’ This then is the price of my life-long yearning for sanctification. O Jesus, I am so weak, help me to give You all and to do it now.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes on 8 May 1914, 105 years ago today. Perhaps it is no surprise that he struggled long and hard with recognising this particular calling – a “perpetual living crucifixion” is not something that our weak nature feels inclined towards! 

It is clear that Fr Doyle had a very specific vocation to fight against his own personal comfort and to choose the hardest option always and everywhere. He certainly lived this reality in the war. Burying the dead day in and day out, risking his life to serve the soldiers, going days on end without sleep, eating poor meals, coping with bitter cold, regular floods, searing heat, rats, fleas, smells, shells and all other manner of “discomfort and pain”. It is true that many others lived and died in these conditions. But Fr Doyle really stands out for his cheerfulness and courage in the face of this awful list of discomfort and danger, any one of which inconveniences would probably knock the rest of us off our mental and spiritual equilibrium. Fr Doyle was universally admired for his spirit in the midst of this living hell, and one century later those of us who read his letters from the war are also struck with admiration for how he handled all he went through. 

His fortitude in the midst of these sufferings was no accident. He was fully equipped, both by grace but also by his natural training. By waging a constant war against his own comfort for years previously he was the perfect candidate to be a successful military chaplain in that awful war. There is no way that somebody who indulged their passions and comforts, who indulged their appetites and sought pleasure in all aspects of life, could have survived and thrived – mentally, spiritually or physically – as long as Fr Doyle did. 

If we admire the heroic Fr Doyle of the trenches we must also admire the Fr Doyle who made war on comfort. We cannot have one without the other. 

It is unlikely that we are called to a similar, total abandonment of all normal comforts. But it is beyond doubt that we are called to wage war against some aspects of our comfortable lives. Life with somebody who cares only about their own comfort would be intolerable and unworkable! Married relationships involve sacrifice and necessitate that we sometimes place our comforts aside. No parent would arise in the night to a crying child if their personal comfort was their highest value. Great scientific and medical discoveries require personal comfort to take a back seat as the researcher works late into the night in pursuit of a proof or a cure. Those who desire physical fitness or beauty wage war on their comfort as they restrict their diets and punish their bodies in the gym. Indeed, there can be no social justice if we each look to our own welfare and ignore that of our needy brethren. 

No, far from being old fashioned or irrelevant, the battle against self-indulgence and comfort is actually essential in building a functioning civilisation. Unfortunately many of us have forgotten this basic truth, and the sad evidence of this fact is all around us. Indeed, the wrecked economy here in Ireland is a painful reminder of how the unbridled love of comfort and instant gratification cannot underpin a functioning society or economy. 

But if we are not called to deny ourselves all comforts, we can at least make an attempt in small ways. Fr Doyle gives us some examples from his own life – no butter on bread or sugar in tea or salt on meat; not complaining when we have a minor headache; being pleasant to people who irritate us; not warming ourselves at the fire… There are numerous small ways we can all find to deny ourselves just a few of the comforts that have made us spiritually and physically enfeebled. These small sacrifices help train us to overcome ourselves when harder sacrifices are required.

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Thoughts for April 25 from Fr Willie Doyle

I think I can say with truth that I have now no desire or wish except His. I have told Him that He may do just as He pleases with me, and take all, even my life. This has brought me great peace and a sense of great security in the midst of danger, since I know I am in His hands.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in April 1916. He had just 16 months left to live. To have no wish except to do the will of God is generally indicative of a very high degree of sanctity and is somewhat akin to the very advanced stage of the spiritual life called the unitive way. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the unitive way in these terms:

The unitive way is the way of those who are in the state of the perfect, that is, those who have their minds so drawn away from all temporal things that they enjoy great peace, who are neither agitated by various desires nor moved by any great extent by passion, and who have their minds chiefly fixed on God and their attention turned, either always or very frequently, to Him. It is the union with God by love and the actual experience and exercise of that love. It is called the state of “perfect charity”, because souls who have reached that state are ever prompt in the exercise of charity by loving God habitually and by frequent and efficacious acts of that Divine virtue. It is called the “unitive” way because it is by that the soul is united to God, and the more perfect the charity, the closer and more intimate is the union…Souls thus united to God are penetrated by the highest motives of the theological and moral virtues. In every circumstance of their lives the supernatural motive which ought to guide their actions is ever present to their mind, and the actions are performed under its inspiration with a force of will which makes their accomplishment easy and even delightful.

It is very far beyond my competence to comment further on such advanced matters in ascetical theology. However, I will instead refer to the famous French Jesuit writer and theologian Fr de Grandmaison:

We must unhesitatingly say that the life of Fr Doyle was that of a great mystic, as indeed it seems to have been that of a saint.

There are some lessons today for those of us who struggle with our own mediocrity.

In the first instance, barring a miracle, such holiness is not acquired in a short time frame – it is the result of struggle and co-operation with God’s grace over many years. The remarkable thing about Fr Doyle’s life is that this struggle is laid bare before us in his diaries and notes. Fr Doyle was not necessarily a great theologian of the spiritual life, but he was an expert tactician of the spiritual life. His diaries reveal his numerous attempts to go against himself and empty himself of self-love so that God’s grace could more readily sanctify him. While it would not be recommended for most of us to follow Fr Doyle’s particular spiritual tactics, nonetheless the general principle of daily examination and slow steady efforts towards virtue hold true for us all.

The second lesson is the great serenity and peace that Fr Doyle felt even in the midst of grave dangers. Often we can be afraid to let go of our own will and to abandon ourselves to God. Fr Doyle’s witness shows us that we find great peace, the greatest gift of all, even in objectively horrific human circumstances.

Jesuit theologian Fr de Grandmaison

Thoughts for Monday of Holy Week from Fr Willie Doyle

 

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment: recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s insight shows us a straightforward way in which we can imitate Jesus in His passion. Pretty much all of us have some duties that attach to our state of life – as priests or as parents or as children or as employees. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about our life, there will be times when we find our duties onerous and would rather do something else. Being faithful to our duty, doing things we do not actually want to do, is a great (but difficult!) way of offering up some small penance and imitating Christ who was “bound and dragged from place to place”.

Fr Doyle exemplified this approach throughout his entire life, but one specific example comes to mind today. Here is how Alfred O’Rahilly describes it:

Fr Doyle was once saying goodbye to his brother at Cork railway station, promising himself a feast of the breviary and some hours of quiet prayer during the journey to Dublin, when to his horror he saw a lady acquaintance coming towards him. “Are you going to Dublin, Father?” Won’t you come into my carriage? My sister is with me and we can travel up together”. Fr Doyle murmured “Damn!” under his breath – which fortunately for our consolation was distinctly audible to his brother; but the next instant he was all smiles and amiability, he put his baggage into the indicated compartment, and talked and joked as if he was having the pleasantest experience of his life.

Perhaps some might consider this reaction of Fr Doyle to have been insincere. This is a mistaken interpretation. In this instance Fr Doyle shows us an excellent spirit of mortification and of charity. He could have made some excuse to get away from the woman; he could have sulked when he felt trapped by having to travel with her. But by embracing this particular inconvenience, by showing kindness to his unwanted travelling companion, he exercised great charity and self-control. In contrast, how many of us are guilty of hiding to avoid someone we find inconvenient or distasteful? Perhaps we could have helped them in their problems, but we preferred our own convenience…

As St Josemaria Escriva said:

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

And also:

Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’

In some cultures on Good Friday individuals have themselves nailed to a cross or walk through the streets flagellating themselves. Such public displays are not the normal path by which we are generally called. 

By submitting ourselves to daily inconveniences, and by fulfilling the duty of the moment when we would rather do something else, we can imitate Jesus and acquire the virtue of patience. Best of all, by doing this we can be of help to others without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Thoughts for 30 March from Fr Willie Doyle

It is easy for me to test my love for jesus. Do I love what He loved and came down from heaven to find – suffering, humiliation, contempt, want of all things, inconveniences, hunger, weariness, cold? The more I seek for and embrace these things, the nearer am I drawing to Jesus and the deeper is my love for Him.

21 March 1913

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.

Three o’clock.

Thoughts for March 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

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.