Vince teipsum – conquer yourself. This is the secret of the Spiritual 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: It is appropriate for us to consider this quote from Fr Doyle today for two reasons.
Firstly, conquering ourselves is a crucial part of the Lenten experience. We aim to uproot our vices and become more like Christ during our 40 days of spiritual discipline.
The second reason relates to the person of St Francis Xavier, one of Ignatius’ first companions, one of the greatest Jesuit saints and the patron of the missions. Today is traditionally the last day of the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis. In St Francis’ day, the mission field was far away; today it is in our own cities and towns, all so badly in need of the New Evangelisation. May he enkindle in us the same passion to save souls that compelled him to travel to the other side of the world. Let us conclude with the traditional novena prayer to St Francis Xavier.
Most amiable and most loving St. Francis Xavier, in union with thee I reverently adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which God blessed thee during life, and of thy glory after death, fills me with joy. I implore thee to obtain for me, through thy powerful intercession, the inestimable blessing of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beseech thee to obtain the special favour I ask for (Make your request here…)
But, if what I ask is not for the glory of God, and the good of my soul, I pray and desire that which is the most conductive to both.
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 113 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.
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.
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.
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 113 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.
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.
During all these long years Jesus has been standing bound at the pillar, while I have cruelly scourged Him by my ingratitude and neglect of my vocation. Each action carelessly done, the hours spent in sleep, each moment wasted, have been so many stripes on my Saviour’s bleeding body. He has been bearing all this to save me from His Father’s just anger. And all the while I have heard His gentle voice, “My child, will you not love Me? I want your heart. I want you to strive and become a saint, to be generous with Me and refuse Me nothing.” Can I now turn away again as before and refuse to listen?
With Jesus naked and shivering with bitter cold at the pillar, I will try joyfully to bear the effects of cold. With Jesus covered with wounds, I, too, will try to endure little sufferings without relief.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle continued his 1907 retreat with this reflection on the scourging at the pillar. His words are so direct that they do not need any further comment or elaboration.
Today is also the feast of all of the Jesuits saints. Not only do we celebrate All Saints day on November 1st, but throughout the month of November, each religious order, and indeed each country, celebrates its saints in a special way. Today it is the turn of the Jesuits. We thank God for the graces given to St Ignatius Loyola, and through him to the Jesuit order, and, ultimately, to the world. We also pray that more Jesuit saints will be formally recognised through canonisation, and that Fr Doyle, and his friend Blessed John Sullivan, will soon be counted in their number.
All my life my study has been to avoid suffering as much as possible, to make my life a comfortable one How unlike my Jesus I have been, who sought to suffer on every occasion for me, for me. I should be glad when pain comes and welcome it, because it makes me more like Jesus.
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.
My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St. Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society, the time I have squandered, the little good done, and the awful amount of harm by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! What a saint I might have been now! Dear Jesus, You forgave St. Peter, forgive me also for I will serve You now.
At the community Mass this morning I again felt an over-powering desire to become a saint. It came suddenly filling my soul with consolation. Surely God has an object in inspiring me so often with this desire and has great graces for me if I will only cooperate with Him.
Reflecting on this inspiration afterwards, I saw more clearly that the chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St. John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.
The fruit of the Third Week, says Fr. Petit, is great compassion and increase of fortitude. To suffer with Jesus, to long for sufferings, must be my aim and prayer.
Since my “Promise” I have been doing ten acts of self-denial — why not try to make it thirty a day? I have so much to atone for, so much time wasted in the past, so little of life left. Ceaseless war on your comfort, no rest now, eternity is long enough.
COMMENT: With these thoughts, Fr Doyle began the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises during his long retreat in 1907.
There is something here in these piercing thoughts that is of immediate relevance to every one of us no matter who we are. God wants us to perform our duties well, no matter what they are. We are all part of the body of Christ and we all have a specific task entrusted to us. The health of a body depends on the health of each organ, each cell, doing what it is meant to do. Even if our task is very small and humble (in reality, almost everyone’s task is ultimately small and humble) it is still of immense value to the Church and in particular to the souls that God has placed on our path in life. Perhaps there are people who, through God’s providence, will only ever be able encounter Christ through us and through the performance of our duty. Much may depend upon our faithfulness. Indeed, we have only to look at the Church in the English speaking world, and very especially in Ireland, to see the damage wrought by those who were not faithful in their specific duty to protect children from those who would damage them.
May we all learn this lesson in our own lives!
Today is also the feast of St Charles Borromeo, the great 16th century reformer. St Charles was a hard and tough man with a great zeal for the reform of the Church. But St Charles knew that reform always starts with ourselves – we cannot give what we do not have. The death of his brother in the prime of his life had a strong impact upon him, and as a young cardinal in his 20’s he caused something of a stir in the Roman Curia with his personal austerity and single minded pursuit of holiness. In all of this he was utterly devoted to his duties in life, which were indeed very significant for a young man – he was Papal Secretary of State in his early and mid twenties, and had a decisive role in overseeing the Council of Trent and publishing its decrees. He was also involved in all aspects of papal diplomacy. All of this involved a massive amount of work – thousands of important, handwritten letters over the space of a few years. On his return to Milan as archbishop he was utterly dedicated to his duties as bishop, and regularly visited the outlying parts of his diocese which had not seen a bishop in many generations. But he was not only an austere reformer – he also exhibited heroic charity and courage in tending to the sick and dying during an outbreak of plague which ravaged Milan for over an entire year during 1576/1577. He went days and nights without food and sleep as he sought out the dying and by the end of the plague he had emptied the bishop’s palace of all its valuables in order to provide food for the poor. He even took down all of the wall hangings and curtains and had them made into clothes to help his flock. Like all saints, he was balanced, combining action with contemplation and fiery zeal with gentleness and compassion.
May St Charles intercede for us in our imitation of Christ as we cheerfully go to the duty of the present moment, and may he pray for our personal reform and for the reform of the Church at every level.
I was greatly struck and helped yesterday by these words of the Imitation (of Christ): My child: let me do with you what I will: I know what is good for you”. They gave me courage to place myself without reserve in God’s hands. How happy I feel now that I have done so and made my sacrifice.
COMMENT: These brief notes were written during Fr Doyle’s retreat and immediately after he had wrestled against his fears and decided to offer himself for the mission in Congo. They teach us an important lesson – great peace comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s will. Despite our concerns, we have nothing to fear from God’s loving providence.
Today is also the feast of St Martin de Porres. St Martin is greatly loved in Ireland – there is an Irish Dominican magazine named in his honour, and I understand that the Irish defrayed a large amount of the costs associated with his canonisation in 1962. St Martin was a humble Dominican lay brother in Peru in the 16th and 17th centuries. He was renowned for his love of the poor and for animals. Significantly, he lived a life of hard penance – his life was more austere than that of Fr Doyle. In adopting this lifestyle, he conformed to the religious culture of his era when physical asceticism was very much the norm. Whenever we consider the penances of the saints, we must remember that they were probably tougher and stronger than we are (modern comforts have made us soft!) and that such penances were absolutely normal in religious life until very very recently.
Here are some excerpts from an official biography of St Martin by Giuliana Cavillini. This biography was published around the time of his canonisation and was explicitly approved by the Dominican Postulator General as an official biography based on authentic sources used during the canonisation process…
It seems that St Martin scourged himself three times every night:
It was Martin’s custom to take the discipline the first time in his cell…There he prayed and flogged himself for three-quarters of an hour with a triple iron chain encrusted with points of iron. He offered his entire body, naked, to the blows because he wished to undergo what Jesus Christ had suffered when he was bound to a pillar, stripped and scourged. Martin’s skin became swollen, broke open under the blows and the blood flowed.
A quarter of an hour after midnight Martin scourged himself a second time. The instrument was a knotted cord. This second scourging was for sinners, to make reparation for the offences committed against God, to implore grace so that sinners far from God might return to Him.
Finally, near dawn, Martin began the third and most painful scourging….
It seems that this third scourging required the assistance of others. Martin was often so worn out from the other acts of mortification that enlisted the help of servants in the monastery to help. They beat him with branches, and this was offered for the souls in purgatory.
St Martin also fasted continuously, more or less constantly living on bread and water, slept on boards and constantly wore a hair shirt and other penitential instruments, and when he died he was found with an iron chain tightly wound around his waist.
Why have I reported this acts? After all, holiness and intimacy with Christ absolutely do not necessitate extreme mortifications of this nature, and, to paraphrase Fr Doyle, “do not try this at home” – Fr Doyle was very explicit in his prohibition of others adopting extreme ascetical practices. Fr Doyle, while tough on himself, always urged others to tenderness, and to very simple and moderate mortifications. I have repeated these details from the official Dominican biography of St Martin because Fr Doyle’s penance was mild compared to this daily penance in the life of St Martin de Porres. Martin is absolutely loved by ordinary, simple people around the world. His penance was not a stumbling block to his canonisation, nor a barrier between him and the love and devotion of the faithful.
May the example and prayers of both St Martin and Fr Doyle teach us the selfless love of others that they both embodied in their lives.
To-day the…Feast of All Saints, I made my election about offering myself for the Congo Mission. During the retreat I have been praying and thinking over this, asking for light to know God’s holy will which alone I seek. The reasons for offering myself are overwhelming, but one thought troubled and upset me — I see in this that it came from the evil one. “By remaining in Ireland and working zealously for many years could I not do far more for God’s glory than by going on the mission where almost certainly I shall not live long?”
(1) I got light to see that this was only a delusion of sell-love, seeking, under pretext of good, a life gratifying to human nature and my pride.
(2) Would this life be pleasing to God, if He wanted me to work for Him among the negroes?
(3) God is able to open up a vast field for my zeal if He wishes it, no matter where I may be.
(4) What I lose by rejecting the glorious opportunity of the foreign mission to become like to Jesus, the help to sanctity, the possibility of martyrdom.
(5) Lastly I simply felt I was powerless to refuse Jesus this sacrifice which He has been asking for over twenty years. I could not refuse and live and die in peace. Howafter such clear lights and inspirations could I face Jesus at my judgement, knowing I did not do what He wanted?
During Benediction I resolved to confirm the resolution already made at Milltown: to offer my life for the Congo mission. In doing so I choose nothing myself but place myself without reserve in the hands of my Superiors that they may declare God’s holy will to me. An interior voice seemed to say, “You will never regret this resolution and offering.”
I offered my resolution to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, praying Him to accept me for this life. Since then my soul has been filled with joy and consolation. I am quite happy and content, for I feel God has given me grace to do what He wants.
Feast of All Saints, 1907.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle made these notes 113 years ago today at the end of the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises. We can see here his total abandonment to God’s will. In the end he wasn’t accepted for the Congo mission, but spent many years as a missionary in Ireland, in some ways pre-figuring the New Evangelisation that is now so necessary in the West. In the end, of course, Fr Doyle was sent abroad to an even more challenging mission post where he laid down his life in service of the troops.
Today is a great feast in the Church. We celebrate not only all of those canonised saints, but also all of those who are in Heaven, often unheralded and unrecognised by others. Perhaps some of them were in our families, or were work colleagues or friends. And it is probable that this great multitude of saints includes many of those whose canonisation causes are in process or have fallen into silence… All of those in Heaven are powerful intercessors, even if they have not been canonised. They have passed through the same temptations and trails that we have experienced, and we benefit from their prayers.
Today is also an important target date for us. Perhaps there is someone reading this who will end up being canonised. Who knows? Statistically it is an extremely remote possibility. But we are still called to be saints in Heaven, whether we are canonised or not. Thus we must live in such a way that this day will, in the future, be our very own feast day!
Some concluding thoughts today from Blessed Columba Marmion:
There is a great variety among the Saints; each according to his or her vocation…In some, strength has dominated; in others prudence; again in others, zeal for God’s glory; in one, faith has especially shone out, in another, purity. But whether they be Apostles, Martyrs or Pontiffs, whether it concerns Virgins or Confessors, one common character is to be found in them all. This character is stability in seeking after God and in love of Him. Whatever the circumstances wherein they were placed, the temptations with which they were buffeted, the difficulties they encountered, the seductions that surrounded them, the Saints all remained steadfast and faithful.