Thoughts for December 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Let us love silence and recollection. When we are at home with silence we are at home with God. Silence seems impossible to busy people. But “silence of the heart”, interior silence, is always possible. 

COMMENT: We live in a noisy world. And that “noise” is made all the louder by the ever present reality of smartphones and social media. This is especially problematic for young people whose concentration spans are radically shortened by their ongoing exposure to the fast moving world of computers, games and social media. 

But silence is necessary for us. It was in the stillness of a gentle breeze that Elijah encountered God on Horeb – it was not in the violent wind or in the fire or in the earthquake, but in the silence. And it was in the silence of a cave that the Saviour was born for us. As St Josemaria Escriva said:

Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life. 

Advent should be a time for silence as we prepare for Christmas but so often today it is a time of noise and parties and excess. As Fr Doyle tells us, silence of the heart is always possible for us, but we have to make an effort. For those of us living in the middle of the world, the first step will be unplugging the TV, removing the headphones and turning off the smartphone…


Thoughts for November 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Holiness and perfection depend on yourself, not on the actions of others.

COMMENT: How easy it is for us to blame others, or the circumstances of our lives, for our own lack of holiness. Yes, we may live or work with annoying and frustrating people, but there is always a choice on our part to control our annoyance or frustration. We may have many distractions to our work and to fulfilling our duty, but we can choose whether or not we respond to those distractions. We face numerous temptations every day, and with every temptation we always have a choice whether to yield or not. Of course, the more often we yield to annoyances and distractions and temptations, the harder and harder it becomes to resist and to exercise our capacity to choose…

Fr Doyle’s life and example shows us one way of achieving sanctity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Few of us will ever face such challenging circumstances – bombs falling, no silence or solitude, no beauty to remind one of God, want and deprivation, and death in every direction. It would be easy for Fr Doyle to blame his circumstances for lukewarmness or a tendency to take shortcuts. But he didn’t.

What was his secret? In part it was living in the constant presence of God. But it must also surely be because of all of the years of preparation before that. Fr Doyle was faithful in little things and this prepared him for faithfulness when the big challenge came.

While we need God’s grace to become holy, the choice to pursue this rests on ourselves. We must build our capacity to choose holiness by making little efforts and sacrifices each day.

Today we also commemorate the feast of the great Benedictine mystic St Gertrude the Great. St Gertrude was especially devoted to the holy souls in Purgatory. We are now in the second half of the month of November, the month of the holy souls. Let us not slacken in our prayers for our deceased relatives and friends, and indeed for all those in Purgatory, who need our prayers.

Here is the text of an audience address of Pope Emeritus Benedict on St Gertrude.

St Gertrude the Great

Thoughts for October 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Fruit of the First Week: I realise in a way I never did before that God created me for His service, that He has a strict right that I should serve Him perfectly, and that every moment of my life is  His and given to me for the one end of praising and serving Him. I recalled with horror how often I have wandered from this my end, what an appalling amount of time I have wasted, and how few of my actions were done for God, or worthy of being offered to Him. I see what I should have been and what I am. But the thought of Jesus waiting and eagerly looking out for me, the prodigal, during fifteen years, has filled me with hope and confidence and new resolve to turn to my dearest Jesus and give Him all He asks.

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness, having as my aim to get back the fervour of my first year’s novitiate.

Lord, what would you have me do? I am ready to do Your will, no matter how hard it may seem to me.

COMMENT: The aim of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises is to purify the soul so that it is better disposed to meditate on the service of Christ and to discern God’s will in the later stages of the Exercises.

It is clear that Fr Doyle was open to God’s will even when it was hard. His promise wasn’t just idle chatter. He followed it up with action and with total abandonment, even to the extent of offering his own life for his soldiers.

Let us pray that we too can be fully committed to doing God’s will, instead of just daydreaming about it…

Article about Fr Doyle in today’s Irish Times

Ronan McGreevy writes today’s Irishman’s Diary column about Fr Doyle. It is an excellent tribute to Fr Doyle. Ronan launched my book To Raise the Fallen last night. I am very grateful to him for this. I shall post his speech later.

Photo of the article below, and below that a link to a more reader-friendly online version. One small point – while Alfred O’Rahilly was an ex-Jesuit, he was not an ex-Jesuit priest. He left the Jesuits prior to ordination. He was however ordained as a Holy Ghost priest later in life, following the death of his wife.

Thoughts about Fr John Sullivan. Day 3: Friend of the suffering

Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ, who will be beatified on Saturday

We continue our reflections on the life of Fr John Sullivan who will be beatified this coming Saturday in Dublin. He was ordained with Fr Doyle on 28 July 1907 and his beatification is of direct relevance to this blog. His beatification is an important good news story for all of the Church here in Ireland which has suffered so much from (often self-inflicted) bad news for the past several decades. The beatification and canonisation of Irish people has the potential to be a morale boost – it highlights the important example of those who truly followed the compassionate and merciful path Jesus asked His disciples to walk. Local, and recent, examples are an important component of the new evangelisation. They give us models that instruct and inspire. And, if we cannot imitate the special gifts of Fr Sullivan, we can at least be inspired by the example of his intense love of God and the fruits that love bore in his life for the benefit of all those around him.

On Monday we gave an overview of Fr Sullivan’s life. Yesterday we looked at his life of asceticism. Today we will look at his service of the afflicted.

If there was one characteristic note about Fr Sullivan’s life, it would be his care for those who suffered.

Even before he entered the Jesuits he adopted the habit of visiting the sick in hospitals around Dublin. He was especially well known in hospitals for sick children and in what was called the hospital for “incurables”, which seems mostly to have been occupied by patients with cancer for whom there was little hope of recovery. He spent a long time in prayer with those who were sick, and, occasionally, they made almost inexplicable recoveries. Over time his fame as a “healer” began to grow.

Fr Sullivan spent most of his life as a priest in Clongowes Wood College in Kildare, and the locals developed a deep and enduring devotion to him. Not only did they come to visit him at Clongowes, but they also requested that he visit them in their houses and pray over them. It became a common sight to see Fr Sullivan trotting along or even cycling to visit the sick in the area – no distance or trouble was too much if it meant that he could help someone.

The following are just a few examples, of many, of cures attributed to him during his life. Note that these cures are not the reason for his beatification, nor is there always hard scientific evidence relating to most of them, as there always is when it comes to miracles for beatification and canonisation. But they are well attested by eye witnesses, and they show the mutual respect and devotion between Fr Sullivan and those who suffered.

Jeremiah Hooks was 12 years old and was afflicted with St Vitus’ Dance. he was unable to hold a knife or fork or even drink from a cup. Fr Sullivan prayed over him, and he was cured. However some time later he was frightened by a bull, and the symptoms returned. His father brought him back to Fr Sullivan, who, after praying over him a second time, told the father that he would be better and would never be afflicted again. When the boy returned home he was perfectly cured, and the disease never returned and was able to work on the railway for many years.

There was the case of a woman in Carlow with a long term swelling on her breast, which the doctors advised had to be surgically removed. Fr Sullivan said Mass for her; the next morning when she awoke the swelling had disappeared.

A Mrs Williams in Monkstown was told that she was going blind from cataracts. Fr Sullivan visited her and blessed her with a relic of Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Irish Sisters of Charity. The cataracts disappeared and she had no more sight problems. A similar case happened in Rathfarnham in Dublin where a person had ulcers on the eyes for three years and was told that they would go blind. Fr Sullivan authoritatively told the patient that the doctors were wrong and to make a novena to our Lady of Lourdes and that a cure would happen on her feast. His prediction came true.

This was not the only example of his having a strange spiritual insight or intuition. There were many cases when he visited a person and predicted that they would not get better and that they would die, even in some cases that did not seem very serious at the time. There is also some evidence that he even had certain spiritual intuitions about those who came to him for confession.

Of course, much of this is obviously very specific to Fr Sullivan. We cannot copy his specific spiritual gifts. But we can imitate his practice of the virtue of charity and kindness towards others. He lived a simple and poor life, one that was simpler and poorer than it strictly needed to be, even with his vow of poverty. He gave any excess money, or any gifts of new clothing that he received, to the poor. He used to say that any friend of the poor is a friend of Christ. This is one of his great lessons for us.

Prayer through Fr Sullivan’s intercession:

God, you honour those who honour you. 
Make sacred the memory of your servant John Sullivan, by granting through his intercession the petition we now make (name the petition) and hastening the day when his name will be numbered among those of your saints. 
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.