Thoughts for January 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

A kind word goes far. I stopped to say a few words to a group of men at a street corner in Kinsale, and as I walked away, I heard one of the men say to his companions: “Wasn’t it kind of him to speak to us? He’s a grand man entirely!”

COMMENT: Jesus tells us that we shall be known as His disciples by the love we have for one another. He didn’t say that we would be known as disciples by the orthodoxy of our doctrine or by our evangelical zeal or by our fervent prayer. Yes, all of these are vital in the Christian life. But love is the unmistakeable sign of discipleship. It was this love that allowed the small, impoverished, persecuted Christian sect to grow and flourish in the Roman Empire and gradually transform and enrich the entire world. We rarely find dramatic ways to demonstrate this love, but there are innumerable small ways of doing so, one of the most effective of which is through normal human kindness and politeness. How sad it is to find people who are filled with righteous zeal but yet lack that basic quality of love. Without this, we are nothing.

“He’s a grand man entirely”. Is this what people in general say today about faithful Catholics? Is it what people would say about each of us individually? If it is not, then we need to examine our conscience…

Fr Doyle wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him from any egotistical motive. Rather, his concern was clearly apostolic in nature. Through our kindness we open avenues for apostolate that might otherwise remain closed to us.

Fr Doyle himself demonstrated this in a most dramatic way in the case of “Fanny Cranbush”. This young lady was a prostitute who was sentenced to death for her involvement in a murder in England. A few days before her death she requested the Fr Doyle be found and brought to her cell to instruct her in the Faith, and all because Fr Doyle once saw her on the street and spoke kindly to her about Jesus.

A more complete account of the story can be read starting at page 16 of the pamphlet “Stories of Father Willie” which can be found below. The pamphlet was published in 1932 and reflects the writing style of the period; nonetheless it is the content and message of the story that counts.

Stories of Fr Willie

Thoughts for November 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.

COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.

The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.

Fr Doyle wrote the following notes around this time in 1914:

I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.

In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this. 

St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.

Today is also the memorial of the Mexican Jesuit martyr Miguel Pro. Fr Doyle and he are kindred spirits, nit just in the common Jesuit vocation and the fact that they were near contemporaries, but because their personalities were so similar. Both loved adventure and faced innumerable dangers in their apostolates, and both were practical jokers with a deep spirituality that was clothed in joy.

Blessed Miguel Pro just before his execution
Blessed Miguel Pro just before his execution

Thoughts for May 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in his loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in early May 1916. When he referred to Jesus resting over his heart, he was referring to the fact that he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament with him in a pyx.

Fr Doyle’s confidence in the midst of war was one of the most remarkable aspects of his life. His very presence filled the soldiers with courage and cheerfulness. As one of his officers said about him:

We cannot get him away from the line while the men are there, he is with his own and he is with us. The men couldn’t stick it half so well if he weren’t there.

Yet, this courage was not necessarily innate to him. His diaries reveal the fear he felt; they show that at times he shivered while he hid in a shallow hole, seeking protection from the shells falling around him. As a missionary priest he also suffered from fear, and describes sweating from every pore with the stress of preaching. It was so bad he was determined to quit his preaching ministry. Yet, curiously, despite his fear and stress, his ministry was fruitful and he was always in high demand. As a novice he had what is described as “a complete nervous breakdown” following a fire in his building. He had to leave his formation for a while and there was even talk of his not being fit enough to return to the Jesuits.

From a nervous breakdown to a fearless hero who was a source of inspiration to his soldiers – such is the transformation that Christ can work in us if we let Him.

But we must remember that grace builds upon nature. The grace of God will transform us, but we must dispose ourselves to receive this grace. This means saying no to ourselves, and fighting to overcome sin in our lives. Without this death to sin, we do not remain in Christ and He does not remain in us.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno. She is little known in the English speaking world, but she deserves our attention. She lived a very full life as a wife and mother. But as a widow in her thirties she felt a call to found a religious order, and having received confirmation of this from several ecclesiastics, including Blessed Pius IX, she founded the Daughters of St Anne, Mother of Mary Immaculate. When she died 34 years later, there were 368 houses of this congregation containing over 3,500 sisters in 6 countries, along with numerous hostels and schools. What an incredible rate of growth!

Truly, if we remain in Christ, we will be transformed and bear fruit in plenty.

Ana Rosa Gattorno
Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno

Thoughts for May 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

At the community Mass this morning I again felt an overpowering 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.

Fr Doyle and the Hulloch gas attack

Carole Hope is an expert on Fr Doyle’s military career and is the author of the superb biography Worshipper and Worshipped.

Worshipper and Worshipped

She recently gave a lecture in Dublin on Fr Doyle’s experience in this gas attack 100 years ago this week. Below you will find two videos on this lecture courtesy of Ronan McGreevy, a journalist in the Irish Times whose book Wherever the Firing Line Extends: An Irish Journey Along the Western Front will be published shortly.

 

April 28 – 100th anniversary of the Hulloch gas attack

WW1 gas attack 4

We continue today with an excerpt from the original letter detailing some of the work Fr Doyle had to undertake towards the end of April, 1916. After these stressful days were ended, Fr Doyle was given a few days rest, and he was able to remove and change his clothes for the first time in over two weeks! Such was his exhaustion from serving the soldiers that he slept for 13 hours straight on his first night of rest!

On paper every man with a helmet was as safe as I was from gas poisoning. But now it is evident many of the men despised the ‘old German gas,’ some did not bother putting on their helmets, others had torn theirs, and others like myself had thrown them aside or lost them. From early morning till late at night I worked my way from trench to trench single handed the first day, with three regiments to look after, and could get no help. Many men died before I could reach them; others seemed just to live till I anointed them, and were gone before I passed back. There they lay, scores of them (we lost 800, nearly all from gas) in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony: the clothes torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe; while from end to end of that valley of death came one low unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life.

I don’t think you will blame me when I tell you that more than once the words of Absolution stuck in my throat, and the tears splashed down on the patient suffering faces of my poor boys as I leant down to anoint them. One young soldier seized my two hands and covered them with kisses; another looked up and said: ‘Oh! Father I can die happy now, sure I’m not afraid of death or anything else since I have seen you.’ Don’t you think, dear father, that the little sacrifice made in coming out here has already been more than repaid, and if you have suffered a little anxiety on my account, you have at least the consolation of knowing that I have, through God’s goodness, been able to comfort many a poor fellow and perhaps to open the gates of Heaven for them.

Venerable Fr John Sullivan to be beatified

Fr John Sullivan SJ 2
Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ

Pope Francis has approved a miracle through the intercession of Fr John Sullivan, clearing the way for his imminent beatification. Fr Sullivan was a convert to Catholicism who was known for his humility, simplicity and charism of healing. He was a friend of Fr Doyle, admired his spirit, and they were ordained together.

This is great news for the Church in Ireland.

 

Fr Doyle ordination
Ordination of John Sullivan and Willie Doyle 28 July 1907, Miltown Park, Dublin. Fr Doyle is marked with an X.