Thoughts for October 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have often broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me.

I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas! too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.

For fifteen years has Jesus been waiting for me to return to Him, to return to the fervour of my first year of religious life. During that time how many pressing and loving invitations has He not given me? What lights and inspirations, remorse of conscience, and how many good resolves which were never carried into effect. O my God, I feel now as if I cannot resist You longer. Your infinite patience and desire to bring me to You has broken the ice of my cold heart. “I will arise and go” to You, humbled and sorrowful, and for the rest of my life give You of my very best. Help me, sweet Jesus, by Your grace, for I am weak and cowardly.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle reflects here on aspects of the First week of the Spiritual Exercises, and tomorrow we shall read his notes on the fruits of the First Week.

For today perhaps it will be helpful for us to reflect on Fr Doyle’s impression of himself as weak and cowardly and in need of God’s grace. If Fr Doyle, so devoted and focussed, needed God’s grace to live a life of virtue, how much more necessary is it for the rest of us to humble ourselves before Christ and beg Him for the graces we need. God gives us many means by which we may obtain these graces – prayer, penance, spiritual reading, the sacraments, spiritual direction, the example and intercession of the saints… We who so obviously need God’s grace must make sure to take advantage of all of these opportunities for grace.

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Thoughts for October 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Margaret Mary Alacoque

Meditating on the Particular Judgement, God gave me great light. I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time. To take only my seventeen years of religious life, what account could I give of the 6,000 hours of meditation, 7,000 Masses, 12,000 examinations of conscience, etc.? Then my time how have I spent every moment? I resolved not to let a day more pass without seriously trying to reform my life in the manner in which I perform my ordinary daily duties. For years I have been “going to begin,” and from time to time made some slight efforts at improvement. But now, dear Jesus, let this change be the work of Thy right hand.

To perform each action well I will try and do them: (a) with a pure intention often renewed, (b) earnestly, punctually exactly, (c) with great fervour.  How little I think of committing venial sin, and how soon I forget I have done so! Yet God hates nothing more than even the shadow of sin, nothing does more harm to my spiritual progress and hinders any real advance in holiness. My God, give me an intense hatred and dread and horror of the smallest sin. I want to please You and love You and serve You as I have never done before. Let me begin by stamping out all sin in my soul.

We could not take pleasure in living in the company of one whose body is one running, festering sore; neither can God draw us close to Himself, caress and love us, if our souls are covered with venial sin, more loathsome and horrible in His eyes than the most foul disease. To avoid mortal sin I must carefully guard against deliberate venial sin, so to avoid venial sin I must fly from the shadow of imperfection in my actions. How often in the past have I done things when I did not know if they were sins or only deliberate imperfections and how little I cared, my God!

COMMENT: Today we continue with our reflections from the notes Fr Doyle took during the Spiritual Exercises of 1907.

The particular judgement is the moment of judgement immediately after our death. Typically it is understood as a moment in which we must render an account of our lives. As Fr Doyle put it: “I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time”. And indeed, not just our actions, but our thoughts as well…

The only response we can make to this is to reform our lives, and the ideal way in which to do this is to reform our performance of our daily duties as Fr Doyle suggests. Otherwise we run the risk that our reform will be merely imaginary and superficial in nature.

Today is also the feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to her. She was chosen by the Lord to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. As we consider the particular judgement today, let us learn from the life of St Margaret Mary the reality that Jesus loves us intensely, and let us learn to see the particular judgement through the lens of this love. But let us also remember the other aspect of St Margaret Mary’s life, and that is the need for us to make reparation to the Sacred Heart for our sins. The best way for us to do this is through continuous conversion and making the sacrifice of doing our duties well.

I would also ask readers for their prayers for the repose of the soul my father who died 11 years ago today.

Here is a homily on the life and spirit of St Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Thoughts for October 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

From the Capuchin Crypt in Rome
From the Capuchin Crypt in Rome

Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21, 4.) In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more – do I really believe this?

COMMENT: It is normal to meditate on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – in any well designed retreat. The first four of these play an important part in the meditations one makes in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, and Fr Doyle wrote these reflections on death at some stage during his retreat, 111 years ago this week.

Death is a reality that we cannot escape from. The images above come from the remarkable Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto Rome. There are numerous chapels in this crypt, each with piles of thousands of bones, often arranged decoratively. Towards the exit of the crypt is an inscription with these words:

What you are
we once were,
what we are
you will be.

Death is the one thing we all have in common, and each time we attend a funeral we should reflect that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we shall end up in a coffin ourselves. That is why funerals are an important evangelical opportunity which priests should take full advantage of.

Of course, constantly thinking of death is not a great idea, but neither is the habit of ignoring it altogether. As always we need a balanced approach. Our occasional reflections on death should fill us with a ready determination to live our lives with fervour and utilise every moment in God’s service. Our ultimate destination after death depends on our use of time.

Let us pray for the grace of final perseverance for ourselves and for all those facing an imminent, and unprepared, death.

And speaking of death, may I also ask readers to say a prayer for the soul of my own father whose 11th anniversary occurs this coming Tuesday, October 16th.

 

 

Thoughts for October 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

We continue with the meditations of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, and in particular with the meditation on Hell.

Here are the thoughts suggested by St Ignatius:

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the composition, which is here to see with the sight of the imagination the length, breadth and depth of Hell.

Second Prelude. The second, to ask for what I want: it will be here to ask for interior sense of the pain which the damned suffer, in order that, if, through my faults, I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of the pains may help me not to come into sin.

First Point. The first Point will be to see with the sight of the imagination the great fires, and the souls as in bodies of fire.

Second Point. The second, to hear with the ears wailings, howlings, cries, blasphemies against Christ our Lord and against all His Saints.

Third Point. The third, to smell with the smell smoke, sulphur, dregs and putrid things.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to taste with the taste bitter things, like tears, sadness and the worm of conscience.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to touch with the touch; that is to say, how the fires touch and burn the souls.

Colloquy. Making a Colloquy to Christ our Lord, I will bring to memory the souls that are in Hell, some because they did not believe the Coming, others because, believing, they did not act according to His Commandments; making three divisions:

First, Second, and Third Divisions. The first, before the Coming; the second, during His life; the third, after His life in this world; and with this I will give Him thanks that He has not let me fall into any of these divisions, ending my life.

Likewise, I will consider how up to now He has always had so great pity and mercy on me.

I will end with an Our Father.

Hell is real, and we must avoid it at all costs. Christ speaks many times about Hell in the Gospel. Perhaps previous generations focussed too much on Hell; today our tendency is to ignore it altogether. However, we cannot do this without distorting the Gospel and doing a great disservice to souls. People deserve to hear the truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable.

Here are Fr Doyle’s comments on the meditation on Hell:

I can imagine I am a soul in hell, and God in His mercy is saying to me, “Return to the world for this year and on your manner of life during the year will depend your returning to hell or not.” What a life I should lead! How little I should think of suffering, of mortification! How I would rejoice in suffering! How perfectly each moment would be spent! If God treated me as I deserved, I should be in hell now. Shall I ever again have cause for grumbling or complaining, no matter what may happen? My habit of constantly speaking uncharitably of others, and, in general, faults of the tongue, seem to me the chief reason why I derive so little fruit from my Mass and spiritual duties. Nothing dries up the fountains of grace so much as an affection for sin.

COMMENT: What a fruitful topic for meditation – to consider how we would change our lives if we were given a reprieve from Hell with one more year on earth.

Perhaps some people reading this blog will have less than a year to make amends and reform their life before facing their judgement…

Many saints and mystics have been given the great grace of a vision of Hell. This is a great grace because it brings home in a very real way the horror of sin and how we must love souls. We don’t have to believe these visions, although we would do well to pay attention to them, especially when they have been given to canonised saints and Doctors of the Church. The visions may tell us something about the nature of Hell, although its reality may be somewhat different; as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out when it released the Third Secret of Fatima, visions are often shaped by the culture of those who receive them and in any event the human capacity to verbalise and explain a vision is always limited.

Too much interest in visions and such matters can lead to distortions and they should be approached with caution. However, here is St Teresa of Avila’s vision of Hell in her own words; she is a wise and no-nonsense guide…

A long time after the Lord had granted me many of the favours which I have described, together with other very great ones, I was at prayer one day when suddenly, without knowing how, I found myself, as I thought, plunged right into hell. I realized that it was the Lord’s will that I should see the place which the devils had prepared for me there and which I had merited for my sins. This happened in the briefest space of time, but, even if I were to live for many years, I believe it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage, like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall, like a cupboard, and it was here that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison with what I felt there. What I have said is in no way an exaggeration.

My feelings, I think, could not possibly be exaggerated, nor can anyone understand them. I felt a fire within my soul the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing. My bodily sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind — the worst it is possible to endure, the doctors say, such as the shrinking of the nerves during my paralysis [251] and many and divers more, some of them, as I have said, caused by the devil — none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never-ceasing. And even these are nothing by comparison with the agony of my soul, an oppression, a suffocation and an affliction so deeply felt, and accompanied by such hopeless and distressing misery, that I cannot too forcibly describe it. To say that it is as if the soul were continually being torn from the body is very little, for that would mean that one’s life was being taken by another; whereas in this case it is the soul itself that is tearing itself to pieces. The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair, which is greater than the most grievous tortures and pains. I could not see who was the cause of them, but I felt, I think, as if I were being both burned and dismembered; and I repeat that that interior fire and despair are the worst things of all.

In that pestilential spot, where I was quite powerless to hope for comfort, it was impossible to sit or lie, for there was no room to do so. I had been put in this place which looked like a hole in the wall, and those very walls, so terrible to the sight, bore down upon me and completely stifled me. There was no light and everything was in the blackest darkness. I do not understand how this can be, but, although there was no light, it was possible to see everything the sight of which can cause affliction. At that time it was not the Lord’s will that I should see more of hell itself, but I have since seen another vision of frightful things, which are the punishment of certain vices.

To look at, they seemed to me much more dreadful; but, as I felt no pain, they caused me less fear. In the earlier vision the Lord was pleased that I should really feel those torments and that affliction of spirit, just as if my body had been suffering them. I do not know how it was, but I realized quite clearly that it was a great favour and that it was the Lord’s will that I should see with my own eyes the place from which His mercy had delivered me. It is nothing to read a description of it, or to think of different kinds of torture (as I have sometimes done, though rarely, as my soul made little progress by the road of fear): of how the devils tear the flesh with their pincers or of the various other tortures that I have read about — none of these are anything by comparison with this affliction, which is quite another matter. In fact, it is like a picture set against reality, and any burning on earth is a small matter compared with that fire.

I was terrified by all this, and, though it happened nearly six years ago, I still am as I write: even as I sit here, fear seems to be depriving my body of its natural warmth. I never recall any time when I have been suffering trials or pains and when everything that we can suffer on earth has seemed to me of the slightest importance by comparison with this; so, in a way, I think we complain without reason. I repeat, then, that this vision was one of the most signal favours which the Lord has bestowed upon me: it has been of the greatest benefit to me, both in taking from me all fear of the tribulations and disappointments of this life and also in strengthening me to suffer them and to give thanks to the Lord, Who, as I now believe, has delivered me from such terrible and never-ending torments.

Since that time, as I say, everything has seemed light to me by comparison with a single moment of such suffering as I had to bear during that vision. I am shocked at myself when I think that, after having so often read books which give some idea of the pains of hell, I was neither afraid of them nor rated them at what they are. What could I have been thinking of? How could anything give me satisfaction which was driving me to so awful a place? Blessed be Thou, my God, for ever! How plain it has become that Thou didst love me, much more than I love myself! How often, Lord, didst Thou deliver me from that gloomy prison and how I would make straight for it again, in face of Thy will!

This vision, too, was the cause of the very deep distress which I experience because of the great number of souls who are bringing damnation upon themselves — especially of those Lutherans, for they were made members of the Church through baptism. It also inspired me with fervent impulses for the good of souls: for I really believe that, to deliver a single one of them from such dreadful tortures, I would willingly die many deaths. After all, if we see anyone on earth who is especially dear to us suffering great trial or pain, our very nature seems to move us to compassion, and if his sufferings are severe they oppress us too. Who, then, could bear to look upon a soul’s endless sufferings in that most terrible trial of all? No heart could possibly endure it without great affliction. For even earthly suffering, which after all, as we know, has a limit and will end with death, moves us to deep compassion. And that other suffering has no limit: I do not know how we can look on so calmly and see the devil carrying off as many souls as he does daily.

This also makes me wish that in so urgent a matter we were not ourselves satisfied with anything short of doing all that we can. Let us leave nothing undone; and to this end may the Lord be pleased to grant us His grace. I recall that, wicked creature though I was, I used to take some trouble to serve God and refrain from doing certain things which I see tolerated and considered quite legitimate in the world; that I had serious illnesses, and bore them with great patience, which the Lord bestowed on me; that I was not given to murmuring or speaking ill of anyone, nor, I think, could I ever have wished anyone ill; that I was not covetous and never remember having been envious in such a way as grievously to offend the Lord; and that I abstained from certain other faults, and, despicable though I was, lived in the most constant fear of God. And yet look at the place where the devils had prepared a lodging for me! It is true, I think, that my faults had merited a much heavier punishment; but none the less, I repeat, the torture was terrible, and it is a perilous thing for a soul to indulge in its own pleasure or to be placid and contented when at every step it is falling into mortal sin. For the love of God, let us keep free from occasions of sin and the Lord will help us as He has helped me. May it please His Majesty not to let me out of His hand lest I fall once more, now that I have seen the place to which that would lead me. May the Lord forbid this, for His Majesty’s sake. Amen.

It is also worth remembering that today is the anniversary of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, which occurred on this day in 1917. The children of Fatima were also shown hell. The authenticity of that vision was underlined by the astounding miracle of the sun, seen by tens of thousand of people, even some many miles away (and not subject therefore to mass hallucination) and testified to by atheistic and cynical journalists who attended Fatima on that day to scoff at the children and to disprove the authenticity of the events unfolding there.

Thoughts for October 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Today we consider one of the first exercises from the first week – the meditation on sin.

The first week of the Spiritual Exercises is tough – it includes meditations on sin, death, judgement, hell and so forth. Later on the Exercises consider the Resurrection and happier subjects for meditation. But the purpose of the first week is to purify the soul.

St Ignatius proposes a set formula for the meditations including an act of presence of God, a composition of place. These can easily be looked up online and I don’t intend to reproduce them here.

Here is the text of the Exercises dealing with the sin, followed by Fr Doyle’s notes on this meditation.

Second Prelude. The second is to ask God our Lord for what I want and desire.

Here it will be to ask shame and confusion at myself, seeing how many have been damned for only one mortal sin, and how many times I deserved to be condemned forever for my so many sins.

First Point. The first Point will be to bring the memory on the First Sin, which was that of the Angels, and then to bring the intellect on the same, discussing it; then the will, wanting to recall and understand all this in order to make me more ashamed and confound me more, bringing into comparison with the one sin of the Angels my so many sins, and reflecting, while they for one sin were cast into Hell, how often I have deserved it for so many.

I say to bring to memory the sin of the Angels, how they, being created in grace, not wanting to help themselves with their liberty to reverence and obey their Creator and Lord, coming to pride, were changed from grace to malice, and hurled from Heaven to Hell; and so then to discuss more in detail with the intellect: and then to move the feelings more with the will.

Second Point. The second is to do the same–that is, to bring the Three Powers–on the sin of Adam and Eve, bringing to memory how on account of that sin they did penance for so long a time, and how much corruption came on the human race, so many people going the way to Hell.

I say to bring to memory the Second Sin, that of our First Parents; how after Adam was created in the field of Damascus and placed in the Terrestrial Paradise, and Eve was created from his rib, being forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, they ate and so sinned, and afterwards clothed in tunics of skins and cast from Paradise, they lived, all their life, without the original justice which they had lost, and in many labors and much penance. And then to discuss with the understanding more in detail; and to use the will as has been said.

Third Point. The third is likewise to do the same on the Third particular Sin of any one who for one mortal sin is gone to Hell–and many others without number, for fewer sins than I have committed.

I say to do the same on the Third particular Sin, bringing to memory the gravity and malice of the sin against one’s Creator and Lord; to discuss with the understanding how in sinning and acting against the Infinite Goodness, he has been justly condemned forever; and to finish with the will as has been said.

Colloquy. Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me make a Colloquy, how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins.

Likewise, looking at myself, what I have done for Christ, what I am doing for Christ, what I ought to do for Christ.

And so, seeing Him such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself.

The Colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice in them.

St Ignatius presents three images – the sin of the fallen angels who rebelled against God, the sin of our first parents and the sin of a person who committed only one mortal sin in their life, and went to Hell because this was not repented.

This meditation should fill us with great gratitude for the mercy of God who has given us every opportunity to repent.

Here are Fr Doyle’s thoughts:

I can say with all truth that only for the great mercy of God I should now have been in hell. I deserved it for my years of tepidity in Clongowes. Never did the good God show His goodness to me more than in saving me from grievous sin. I have here a second motive of gratitude to urge me to do all He wants.

The meditation on the barren fig-tree (5. Luke 13.) recalled to my mind this gospel which I read in the Mass at Paray- le-Monial. For sixteen years has Jesus been seeking fruit from my soul, and especially in these last three years of preparation for the priesthood. I have no excuse for He has told me how to produce that fruit, especially by the exact discharge of each little duty of the moment. “Spare it for this year,” Never shall I have this opportunity again of becoming holy; and if now I do not “dig round” this unfruitful tree so that it bear much fruit, Jesus will surely “cut it down” by withdrawing His graces and loving invitations.

Truly I have ever been in the community “a running sore” of harm and evil example. My Jesus, can I ever make amends for all the harm I have done? Help me from this instant to try and do so by my fervent earnest life. Help me to become thoroughly changed and to do all You want of me.

This thought came to me. If Jesus wants me to go to the Congo, I shall do more for souls there than by remaining at home. Besides, my sacrifice will obtain grace for others to do more good than I ever could.

“Because you have sinned, cursed be the earth in your work.” (Genesis 3. 17.) I see here the reason why my work for souls must be unfruitful God will never bless it while I have an affection for sin or lead a careless life.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers to Clongowes; this is a Jesuit school in Ireland where he worked for a while as a Jesuit seminarian. He felt that he was tepid while he worked there, although his colleagues at the time considered him an exemplary Jesuit. Perhaps he felt he had been tepid compared with the ardent love and desire for holiness that he felt in his soul. Perhaps his tepidity was relative in nature; even a very devout Jesuit would be tepid relative to the incredible holiness Fr Doyle pursued, and exhibited, in the remaining 10 years of his life.

Interestingly, Fr Doyle felt great gratitude that he was preserved from grievous sin. St Therese also felt this gratitude, and once commented that it is not the great sinner who has been forgiven that has the greatest motive for thanks, but the one who has been protected from sin, for this grace is a pure gift from God that our own meagre efforts are not capable of.

Finally, we may all gain from Fr Doyle’s reflection on the fruitlessness of our work if we live in sin and lukewarmness.

Thoughts for October 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Ignatius

 

The Spiritual Exercises begin with a meditation on the Principle and Foundation of our existence. Any serious Christian should be able to concur with the principles St Ignatius outlines at the beginning of the Exercises. However, accepting these principles brings home to us the full extent of our obligations before Almighty God. It is one thing to accept them, quite another to wholeheartedly live our lives in accordance with these Principles. If we ever managed to fully live these principles we would, undoubtedly, become saints.

Here is what St Ignatius has to say:

PRINCIPLE AND FOUNDATION

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on this part of the Spiritual Exercises:

God had some special end in creating me, some particular part in His great plan. I was not created as it were one of a great number who came into the world on the same day; but God had a particular object in giving me life. Why did He create me ?

How miserable has been my service of God since I entered religion! A bit fervent one day, the next dissipated and careless, even since my ordination. I have fallen away from the fervent way in which I had resolved to live hence forth. I feel inclined to despond ; but with God’s help I will go on, trying now at last to make some little progress in serving Him worthily. My true service of God consists in performing the ordinary actions of the day as perfectly and as fervently as I can, with a pure intention for love of my Jesus. It is a mistake to think that I can only serve Him by preaching, saving souls, etc. What would have become of me if I had treated an earthly master as I have served God?

To be indifferent does not mean to desire things which are hard to nature, but a readiness and determination to embrace them when once the will of God is known. In this sense I think I am indifferent about going to the Congo. But I must force myself to be willing to accept the way of life which God seems to be leading me to and wants me to adopt. My God, I dread it but “not my will but Thine”.

God has a perfect right to ask from me what He wills; I am His servant. How then can I be free to do or not whatever He may ask?

I close the Fundamentum (meditation on the Principle and Foundation) with feelings of humility and sorrow at the thought of my past service of God. How little reverence! Thank God, I have still time to make up for it. One thing alone can repair the lost years a life of great fervour.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle here refers to the Congo. Perhaps there are readers who are unfamiliar with Fr Doyle so some commentary may be in order. Fr Doyle felt that the Lord may have been asking him to volunteer for missionary work in the Congo. Fr Doyle was at once attracted to, and repulsed by, this idea. Throughout this retreat he discerns whether he should volunteer for this tough missionary assignment. In the end he decided that it was what God wanted. However, his superiors decided against sending him, and 8 years later he volunteered as a chaplain in World War 1 and faced deprivation that was surely equal to, if not greater than, anything the Congo had to offer.

Fr Doyle revealed himself to be indifferent to health, riches, honour, comfort and life itself in his quest to praise, reverence and serve his Master.

Thoughts for October 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

Copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1586

Today we will start a new series of special quotations from Fr Doyle. This day 111 years ago – 10 October 1907 – Fr Doyle commenced the “Long Retreat”: 30 days immersed in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Many people – lay and religious – do the spiritual exercises but in a truncated form over 8 or so days. But St Ignatius designed the exercises to last 30 days, with particular meditations and themes for each week and each day. Jesuits do the exercises for the full 30 days twice in their life – once when they start in the novitiate and then a second time after ordination. It is this second experience of Fr Doyle in doing the 30-day exercises that we are now going to consider.

Firstly, an overview of the Exercises from O’Rahilly, who himself had been a Jesuit novice before discerning that this was not his vocation.

As we begin with his Long Retreat, it may be useful to add here by way of preface a few general ideas about the scope of the Exercises. According to St. Ignatius, “the name of spiritual exercises is applied to any method of preparing and disposing the soul to free itself from all inordinate affections, and after it has freed itself from them, to seek and find the will of God concerning the ordering of life for the salvation of one soul.” Thus a retreat is designed for earnest souls only in a very attenuated form can the Exercises be adapted to a mission for sinners; and it has a definite object to find God’s will. At the beginning St. Ignatius lays down the “first principle and foundation” which must be admitted at the outset. It is the basis of all valuation of life: Man was made for God, all other things for man to bring him to God. Thus the exercitant accepts in advance and in general the practical consequences which logically follow from this acceptance of the Creator’s sovereign rights. Then for a whole week he must seek to eliminate all sin and disorder and to examine his soul. In the second week the exercitant is brought face to face with Jesus Christ. Will he follow the invitation and enlist in the King s service? He must count up the cost, he must study Christ s standard, he must at least aspire to the highest and noblest service. Then comes the great choice, which St. Ignatius calls “the election,” and which is the culminating point of the Exercises.

In ordinary retreats, of course, there is no great decisive choice to be made, but there is always some “reformation of life,” some re-ordering of one’s life in the light of the great spiritual truths and scenes which have been marshalled before the soul. God s will is known and accepted. One more week is spent in meditating on the Passion, and a fourth and last is devoted to the contemplation of the Risen Master, in order to habituate the soul to pure love and to strengthen the resolutions taken. Such, in brief essentials, are the Exercises through which in their entirety each Jesuit passes twice in his life, once as a novice at the outset of his spiritual life, and finally as a priest at the outset of his ministry.

Fr Doyle made many notes during these 30 days and they shall be reproduced here in full over the next month. There is much in these notes – often the daily quotes from the blog have been taken from these retreat notes. I do not intend to elaborate often or in depth on these notes, both because I am inadequate to such a task and because the implications of Fr Doyle’s meditations are direct, clear and immediately practical to us. Fr Doyle did not make notes every day or on every aspect of the retreat, but I have attempted to divide them up the notes we do have so that we can consider some aspect of his retreat meditations for quite a few of the days over the next month.

This retreat was a turning point for Fr Doyle. He was clearly a devout and dedicated Jesuit before this retreat. But something stirred deep within him on these 30 days and he subsequently pursued sanctity and the fulfilment of God’s will with a much deeper dedication than before. His deeply personal notes, intended only for his private use, allow us to see some of this transformation in action. May we too experience a deepening of commitment as we follow Fr Doyle’s footsteps over the coming weeks.

Let us begin with Fr Doyle’s first diary entry on the night on which he commenced the Spiritual Exercises in Tronchiennes, Belgium, 111 years ago today.

Tronchiennes, 10th October, 1907.

I begin the Long Retreat this evening with very varied feelings. I feel a great desire and determination to make this retreat as I have never made one before, for I know this is the turning point in my life I can never be the same again. I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.” Hence I feel my cowardly and weak nature dreading this retreat, for I feel our Lord is going to ask some big sacrifice from me, that He expects much from me. He has been tugging at my heart for so many years, urging me in so many ways to give myself wholly to Him, to give all and refuse Him nothing. I dread lest now I shall again refuse Him perhaps it is the last time He will ask me to do what He wants. My loving Jesus, I will, I will be generous with You now at last. But You must aid me, it must be Your work, I am so cowardly. Make me see clearly Your holy will. Lord, what would you have me do?