Thoughts for June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past to give myself heart and soul to the service of God, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and suffer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. 

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”, I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be wanting to aid me at every step. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree will be all my life’s work, so that I may be worthy to die for Him.

COMMENT: There is much that one could reflect about in these retreat notes from Fr Doyle. Three points, out of many possibilities, suffice. 

It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. This idea is a recurring one in the thought of Fr Doyle. All we have to offer God is the present moment. Living in that present moment, and sanctifying it, is the essence of sanctity. This is especially important if we suffer or are offering up some penance. We don’t know if we will have to suffer tomorrow, or next month or next year. But even if we do, we don’t have to bear those sufferings right now. We have only the sufferings or duties or work of this moment. When this moment is over, we will never have to bear its sufferings again. Elsewhere in his notes, Fr Doyle relates this principle to dryness in prayer. If we struggle in prayer, well we needn’t worry about the fact that we have to stay still and pray for an hour. All we have to do is to pray for this one minute. After that, we pray for another minute, and so on, step by step. 

Faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”. We will never succeed in doing all things perfectly, but we must at least try, and keep beginning again and again when we fail. Faithfulness in little duties sounds easy, but is incredibly hard in practice, and it is the ordinary path to sanctity for all of us. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity.Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

The choice of the narrow path is not a once off decision but rather one to be made each moment of each day. It is the decision to adhere to our duty when we would rather ignore it. It was this constant, moment by moment adherence to the narrow path in little things that created the selfless hero of the trenches.

Thoughts for November 13 (Feast of all the Benedictine saints) from Fr Willie Doyle

At the close of the retreat my soul is full of many emotions. God has been more than good to me, has given me great lights and wonderful graces. During the whole month my eyes have been opening more and more to the disorder of my past life. I have been simply amazed and astounded how I could possibly have lived the life I did, especially my years in college, such abuse of grace, such awful waste of time, neglect of opportunities of learning, of becoming holy, and above all the harm this careless tepid life has done others. I have realised how little I thought about committing sin and far less, of deliberate breaches of rule. Now, through God’s great mercy, I feel an intense hatred of such a life, and as if it would be impossible ever again to live so. I feel that indeed the retreat has worked a marvellous change in me. I feel I am not the same in my views, sentiments, and way of looking at things, that I am a different man. I have never felt as I do now after any other retreat before God must indeed have poured His grace abundantly into my soul, for it seems to me that a deep lasting impression has been made, which I trust will ever remain. My soul is in great peace. I feel as if at last I have given God all He wanted from me during so many years by making the resolutions which I have made; that I could now die content, for at last I have really begun to try and serve the good God with all my heart. I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past — to give myself heart and soul to the service of Cod, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and surfer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day.

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly,” I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be anting to aid me at every step.

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus Who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree, will be my life’s work, that so I may be worthy to die for Him.

Thank You, O my God, for all the graces of this retreat, above all for bringing me at last to Your sacred feet. Grant me grace to keep these resolutions and never to forget my determination to strive might and main to become a saint.

13 Nov., 1907.

COMMENT: The retreat of 1907 had a profound effect on Fr Doyle. In this passage he summarises his reflections as the retreat came to an end 109 years ago today. Despite the impression given in his personal notes, Fr Doyle did not live a bad life prior to this retreat, although the experience of the retreat did highlight for him the areas of his life where he lacked fervour and dedication.

Many people have radically reformed their lives following the experience of a retreat, and especially after the experience of the Spiritual Exercises. In the case of Fr Doyle it is clear that a radical deepening of his commitment to Christ took place.

Perhaps this is a good occasion to make a resolution to attend a retreat at some stage this year.

Today is also the feast of all the saints of the Benedictine Order, or more specifically, the feast of all the saints who lived under the Rule of St Benedict. This is an extremely extensive list. I think it is probably the case that there are more Benedictine saints than from any other order, although perhaps that is not too surprising since the order has been around for many centuries longer than others have! Let us be thankful today for all of those saints who, inspired by St Benedict, evangelised the West and preserved learning and culture in a dark period of history, not too unlike our own in some respects. May we follow their example, especially by incorporating Fr Doyle’s methodology of faithfulness in the little things of life.

St Benedict 4

Thoughts for November 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus suffering 7

Lord, You know I love You less than any others, but I long and desire to love You more than all the rest. Take my heart, dear Lord, and hide it in Your own, so that I may only love what You love and desire what You desire. May I find no pleasure in the things of this world, its pleasures and amusement; but may my one delight be in thinking of You, working for You, loving You and staying in Your sweet presence before the Tabernacle. Why do You want my love, dear Jesus, and why have You left me no rest all these years till I gave You at last my poor heart to love You, and You alone? This ceaseless pleading for my love fills me with hope and confidence that, sinful as my life has been in the past, You have forgiven and forgotten it all.

Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve You now till death. Amen.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this prayer in his notes as he reached the end of his long retreat in 1907. It’s simple and direct sentiments require no elaboration.

Thoughts for November 11 (Armistice Day) from Fr Willie Doyle

From the Tabernacle Jesus seems to say, “Stay with Me for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent”. This should urge me to come to visit Him often.

If my resurrection is a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes while contemplating the scene in which the disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus during the 4th week of the Spiritual Exercises in 1907. He poses a question that we may fruitfully ask ourselves – can people perceive that my life has been changed in Christ? Or, as St Josemaria Escriva once put it:

How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.

Today is of course of great significance, for 98 years ago today the First World War came to an end. It was a dreadful war fuelled by stubbornness and nationalism. As Fr Doyle once wrote:

This is a sad, sad war, of which you at home have but the faintest idea.May the good God end it soon.

Yet sanctity still shines through in the midst of the horrors. Apart from the case of Fr Doyle, the heroic examples of Blessed Rupert Mayer SJ and of Blessed Charles of Austria, both on the “other side,” also come to mind. Even in the midst of horror and bloodshed, the Holy Spirit continues to inspire many to acts of heroism and sanctity.

Traditionally this is a day on which all those who have died in war are remembered. It is thus a special day for remembering Fr Doyle and his own special sacrifice in giving up all worldly comforts, and laying down his own life, in order to bring comfort and the sacraments to those dying on the field of battle. He was dedicated to dying soldiers, and lost his own life while rushing into danger to assist them. In remembering Fr Doyle, it is thus right that we remember and pray for those for whom he offered his own life.

remembrance day

Thoughts for November 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, based on the writings of St John Climacus
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, based on the writings of St John Climacus

The reason I find it so hard to love God, why I have so little affection for Him, is because of my attachment to venial sin and my constant deliberate imperfections. I have, as it were, been trying to run with an immense weight round my feet; I have tried to reach the unitive way without passing through the purgative, to jump to the top of the ladder without climbing up the steps; so that after all these years I am still as barren of real love of God as when first I entered religion. No, I must work earnestly now to remove the very shadow of sin from my life, then to imitate the humble suffering life of Jesus and thus win His love.

I look upon it as a great grace that in spite of my tepid life Jesus has given me an ardent desire to love Him. I long eagerly to love my Jesus passionately, with an intense ardent love such as the saints had; and yet I remain cold and indifferent with little zeal for His glory.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 109 years ago today, during the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises.

Back then, reasonably educated Catholics would have understood what Fr Doyle referred to when he wrote about the unitive and purgative way; we hear much less about this idea today than in the past, but it remains a fundamentally important aspect of Catholic spirituality. The idea is that we are called to union with God, not just in heaven, but also in a sense in this life as well. However, we cannot “jump to the top of the ladder without climbing up the steps”; thus we must pass through the purgative and illuminative way first. The first stage involves the fight against mortal and deliberate venial sin, and necessitates the development of personal discipline. This is precisely why Fr Doyle is such a great example for us. His personal notes and reflections, detailed so well in Alfred O’Rahilly’s biography (which is available by clicking on the link in the right hand column) provide a tremendously detailed tactical guide for the spiritual life. Certainly there are aspects of Fr Doyle’s life that should not be copied by others – he received many great graces and much was asked of him. But in many other respects his life and teaching is of very great relevance for us today, especially with respect to performing our duties with love and making small penitential sacrifices.

Fr Doyle’s simple spiritual tactics are an excellent guide to help us climb the ladder of the spiritual life.

Thoughts for November 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

"Jesus has suffered so much for me to atone for my sins"
“Jesus has suffered so much for me to atone for my sins”

The Fruit of the Third Week

The thought that Jesus has suffered so much for me to atone for my sins and past careless life in religion, has filled me with a great desire to love Him in return with all my heart, I feel, too, a growing hunger and thirst for suffering and mortification, because it makes me more like to my suffering Jesus, suffering all with joy for me.

Every day has deepened my shame, sorrow and hatred for my negligent tepid life since I entered the Society, and strengthened my resolve and desire to make amends by a life of great fervour. I feel my past sinful life will be a spur for me to aim at great holiness.

COMMENT: In these notes, Fr Doyle reflects on a desire for mortification and for personal reform as fruits of the Third Week of his Spiritual Exercises in 1907. The desire for mortification tends to strike those who are already advanced in the spiritual life, so we should not be unduly worried if we do not desire penance. But whether we desire it or not, we still need it, especially as we set out on the path of personal reform. However, we need not copy the penances of Fr Doyle, but instead we should follow his advice, which is to pursue penances in the ordinary circumstances of our life, fulfilling our duties as best we can.

Thoughts for November 7 (Feast of all the Dominican saints) from Fr Willie Doyle

My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr’s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.

A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.

COMMENT: In this way Fr Doyle brought an end to his notes on the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises during these days in 1907.

We should we seek martyrdom carelessly or indiscriminately, although we should be open to this if it be God’s will. But we should attempt to live with a spirit of martyrdom – a spirit of detachment – in everyday life. We can most readily do this in our everyday tasks by being faithful to them, especially when we don’t want to be.

Today is also the feast of all of the Saints of the Dominican Order, many of whom were martyrs. What an amazing list of saints there are attached to this blessed Order! They include 3 Doctors of the Church, one of whom is one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church (St Thomas Aquinas), one of whom is the patron of science and scientists (St Albert the Great) and one of whom is one of the very greatest women in history and a co-patron saint of Europe (St Catherine of Siena). Included in the extensive list of Dominican saints are many martyrs, including two Irish martyrs who have been beatified (Terence O’Brien and Peter O’Higgins) as well as over 90 other Irish Dominican martyrs who will hopefully be canonised one day.

Dominican saints