I see more and more each day how different the world would be if we had more really holy priests. With this object I have started a crusade of prayer.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on this day in 1913. His was right when he wrote this a century ago, and hindsight has shown us that he was even more correct about the importance of holy priests than he probably realised himself.
Yes, it is popular to talk about green shoots of growth in the Church today, and such shoots do exist, in places. But one cannot escape the reality that the Faith is in decline across the West, especially in Ireland…
One of the key drivers of this decline is the unfaithfulness of some priests. It is absolutely true that there are many loyal, faithful and holy priests. But it is beyond doubt that the criminal actions, or negligence, of some priests and bishops has had a devastating impact on the spiritual lives and faith of millions of people.
We are all called to be holy, and holy lay people can do things that a priest simply cannot. But without holy priests who sanctify and support lay people the progress of the Church is limited. Fr Doyle knew this – he worked hard to promote vocations and to support priests, urging them not to settle for mediocrity, but to be ambitious in their pursuit of sanctity.
Fr Doyle himself was a holy priest who loved others so much that he sacrificed himself and died to save non-Catholic soldiers in World War 1. At a time when the priesthood is held in low regard, the example of his heroism and holiness is needed now more than ever.
I awoke in the middle of the night with the feeling that Jesus wanted me. I resisted, but at last got out of bed. At the foot of the altar I was thinking of something else, when suddenly He seemed to remind me of my prayer, ‘Jesus come and dwell within my heart as in a tabernacle’. I felt Him urging me to this close union and He seemed to promise me that He would remain with me ‘from Communion to Communion’ if only I was recollected, but that I would easily drive Him away by unfaithfulness especially in want of guard over my eyes.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these very personal and intimate reflections in his diary 108 years ago today, on 10 July 1912. Two days later, he described the same incident in a letter, and recounted that he struggled against what he perceived to be the call to go to the chapel because “I did not want the trouble of walking down to the chapel in the early hours of the morning”. Sometimes we can imagine that Fr Doyle was not quite like us, given the austerities that he voluntarily endured and embraced throughout his life, and it is consoling to see that he too struggled, just as we all do.
Interestingly, exactly one year later, on 10 July 1913, Fr Doyle had another call to nocturnal prayer, and what seemed to be another mystical experience:
Last night I rose at two o’clock, very much against my will, and went down to the domestic chapel. Jesus seemed to want me to come before Him as a victim of His divine anger on behalf of sinners … Then He spoke in my soul clearly and forcibly: ‘You must be your own executioner. I want you to sacrifice all, which you have never done yet though you often promised. From this hour you must never give yourself one grain of human comfort or self-indulgence even at the times you have been accustomed to do so, e.g. when very tired, not well, travelling, etc. I want from you a suffering love always, always, always. The feasts and relaxations of others are not for you. Give Me this courageously and I will grant the desires of your heart.’
Jesus seemed to ask the following: (i) perfect denial of the eyes, (2) the bearing of little pains, (3) much prayer for strength, (4) a review of each half day at examen to see if this resolution has been kept.
My whole soul shrank from this life—‘no human comfort ever’. But with His grace, for I know my own weakness too well, I promised to do all He asked, and lying on the ground, I asked Him to nail me to my cross and never again permit me to come down from it.
Fr Doyle was a mystic. His diary – never intended for public consumption – reveals this mystical side of him. He often felt that God was speaking directly to him. This does not seem to have been the result of visions or apparitions, but rather from internal inspirations and perhaps locutions. Fr Doyle was a well trained Jesuit who spent 16 years in preparation for his ordination. He was no sentimental or gullible fool, and on the balance of probability we must trust that he discerned these matters correctly.
In any event, we cannot fully know what happened on those nights more than a century ago, and we have to take what Fr Doyle says on face value. But what we can do is to focus on the last line of today’s first quote, which is very applicable for all of us living in the nitty gritty of the daily grind: I would easily drive Him away by unfaithfulness especially in want of guard over my eyes.
Fr Doyle was concerned that he might drive God away through unfaithfulness, especially by not maintaining custody of his eyes. This could sound very pietistic or simplistic. But Fr Doyle is correct – we do drive away the spirit of recollection if we are too greedy with our eyes, always looking at things, feeding our imagination and curiosity. We must guard our eyes, our heart, and our imagination. St Teresa of Avila described the imagination as the “mad woman of the house” who will upset everything and destroy the order of the house. St Josemaria Escriva wrote:
Custody of the heart. That priest used to pray: “Jesus, may my poor heart be an enclosed garden; may my poor heart be a paradise where you live; may my Guardian Angel watch over it with a sword of fire and use it to purify every affection before it comes into me. Jesus, with the divine seal of your Cross, seal my poor heart.”
St John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. Such eyes are glued to earthly things and, consequently, they are blind to supernatural realities. We can, then, use this expression of sacred Scripture to indicate that disordered desire for material things, as well as that deformation which views everything around us — other people, the circumstances of our life and of our age — with just human vision.
Then the eyes of our soul grow dull. Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the centre of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that “you shall be like gods.” So filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God.
We all probably recognise this from ordinary human experience. When trying to study, if we give way to curiosity on the internet, on the radio etc, then we lose our recollection and focus. In conversations with others, if we spend our time looking around or at our phone and not focusing on those we are speaking with, we can easily lose focus on the conversation, and in the process display a lack of respect to others.
This doesn’t mean that we have to go around with our eyes downcast, ignoring the beauty of creation around us (although, while some saints took delight in the beauty of creation, others did keep their eyes downcast and deny themselves this please – there is a great variety in the lives of the saints!) but rather that we always try to avoid seeing things that may be sinful to watch, and secondly, that we focus on what we are meant to be doing and not lose our focus and recollection by looking around at distractions too much.
This, of course, is easier said than done, especially in an era with smartphones and social media, when many of us have become accustomed to always consume information and have shortened our concentration spans. Even Fr Doyle struggled, and this is a consolation for us. But who can doubt that the world would be a better place if we all focused on what we are meant to be doing at the time we are doing it, and fostered a greater spirit of recollection and internal peace?
It was a memorable six days for us all, living day and night literally face to face with death at any moment. When I left my dug-out to go up or down the street, which I had to do scores of times daily, I never knew if I should reach the end of it without being hit by a bullet or piece of shell, and in the comparative safety of the cellar at meals, or in bed, there was always the pleasant prospect of being blown to bits, or buried alive, if a large shell came in a certain direction. The life was a big strain on the nerves, for it does make one ‘creepy’ to hear (as happened to myself yesterday) the rattle of shell splinters on the walls, on either side of the road: almost to feel the thud of a nice jagged lump right behind, and see another fragment go hopping off the road a few yards in front. Why, Daniel in the Lion’s Den had a gay and festive time compared to a walk through the main street of Loos.
I have seen very clearly since I came out here that Jesus wanted to teach me one lesson at least. I think the want of absolute submission to His will has been the cause of much I have suffered. He asked me to make the sacrifice of my life, but I was unwilling. Not indeed that in any sense I fear death – would not heaven be a welcome exchange? – but knowing what I do about the state of the world, the millions to be saved, and how little he is known and loved or thought about, I felt it hard, very hard, to leave all that work there and go and to enjoy the happiness of His company. Then, too, my mind is full of plans for His glory; and perhaps more than all, I know very well I have not done the work He gave me to do, that is, I have never fully lived the life He has so often asked for and make clearly known to me; I was too ungenerous and cowardly. That life, to put it in a word, was to be one in which I should ‘refuse Him no sacrifice He asked’. However grace has won the day. I think I can say with truth that I have now no desire or wish except his. I have told Him He may do just as He pleases with me, and take all, even my life. This has brought me great peace and a sense of great security in the midst of danger, since I know I am in His hands. In return He has made me see that without this absolute abandonment to His pleasure, without the breaking of my own will, a life of immolation as His victim is a farce. The ‘perfect renunciation’ may be easy, but ‘without murmur of complaint’ is the real test of the true lover.
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.
COMMENT: How we can all identify with Fr Doyle’s words today. Our entire modern society is arranged in such a way as to maximise our comforts. Much of the technological advancement of recent decades has been oriented towards our comfort.
At one level this is not an inherently bad thing. Suffering is not good. But we must also remember that we serve a crucified Lord. If we buy into a consumerist mentality whereby the entire focus of our lives is our comfort, our appetite, our leisure and our whims, then can we really say that we are following the Master who had nowhere to lay His head? As in all areas of life, Christianity calls us to balance, and it is when we lose this balance that we run into problems.
As St Thomas More said, we cannot get to Heaven on a feather bed.
The Eighth Station of the Cross: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
The disciples of Jesus have deserted their Master, and fearful for their own safety, have abandoned Him to His fate. Peter who would die for Him, Matthew who left all to follow Him, are far from Him now and dread to be pointed to as His friends. Yet Jesus is not alone. A few, a faithful few, remain beside Him still, poor, weak women, but strong with the courage of love. The brutal crowd surge round, inflamed with hate and lust for blood; but they offer Him the tribute of a woman’s heart – the silent tears of sympathy.
“Weep not for Me,” He says, “weep rather for those who unlike these My executioners will one day crucify Me again with full knowledge of what they do.”
In recent weeks we have published the request for prayers for the unborn baby Eloise Azélie Holt, who is suffering ill health in utero.
Her mother has sent a new message. Medically, things are looking worse. The family urgently want prayers through the intercession of Fr Doyle for a miracle. Here is the latest message:
We had another ultrasound today and Eloise is unfortunately getting worse. Her heart is working too hard and her fluid levels have increased. Our doctor has prepared us for her to not live much longer, so we are in more desperate need of a miracle. Her body is failing her and if it continues we will not get to meet her alive or baptize her. Our most fervent prayer is to to able to do so, and this would be a miracle enough for us at this point.
Friends, let us pray even more for this intention. Here is the prayer through Fr Doyle’s intercession:
O Jesus, who has given us the example of Your servant, Father William Doyle, graciously grant us the favours we ask You through his intercession…[Pray here for the miraculous healing of Eloise Azélie Holt]
Teach us to imitate his love for You, his heroic devotion to Your service, his zeal for repairing the outrages done to Your Sacred Heart. And, for Your greater glory and the salvation of souls, hear our prayer and grant that the credit we believe He enjoys in Heaven may be recognised solemnly by the Church, so that we may soon be able to venerate him in public worship.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
Please encourage your family, friends, prayer group and parish to pray through Fr Doyle’s intercession for this miracle. Spread this story on social media and in your various networks. Let us storm Heaven, and pray for this miracle.
The effect of fervour may be likened to that of fire on water. When cold, water is motionless and chills all that comes in contact with it, but as soon as heat is applied to it, it becomes transformed, grows active, gives off warmth and steam, is capable of doing immense work.
COMMENT: Are our souls cold and motionless? Do we fail to provide warmth to those around us? If so, we need to move closer to the source of heat. We need to know Christ in prayer, by spending time with Him, to enkindle in our souls the fire of His love.
If, in some countries or parishes, the Church seems insipid, lifeless, and in decline, is it merely because of “social trends”? Or is it because we have allowed our souls to grow cold and motionless?
Christ tells us that:
I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
St Catherine of Siena develops that theme:
Be who God meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.
This is what the saints did, every single one of them. Some of them achieved extraordinary things through this flame of God’s love burning in their hearts. Catherine herself is a great example: despite being a young, uneducated woman she had a remarkable impact on the world of her day, all because her soul was a blazing furnace of love for God. Priests had to accompany her on her travels to hear the confessions of those who converted merely through having contact with her. Her letters – whether to popes or princes or ordinary men – are full of ardent love and faith and fortitude. She tended to that flame of love and grace that drove her through her prayer and mortification, the only fuel that can kindle the fire of God’s love in our heart.
If we are not what we are meant to be, if we are cold and motionless, it is because we have allowed the flame of God’s love to grow dim in our souls.
I want you to know what I went through by volunteering for the Front. God made me feel with absolute certainty – I suppose to increase the merit of the offering – that I shall be killed. The struggle was hard, for I did not want to die; not indeed that i am afraid of death, but the thought that I could never again do more for God or suffer for Him in heaven made the sacrifice too bitter for words.
A want of will is the chief obstacle to our becoming saints. We are not holy because we do not really wish to become so. We would indeed gladly possess the virtues of the saints – their humility and patience, their love of suffering, their penance and zeal. But we are unwilling to embrace all that goes to make a saint and to enter on the narrow path which leads to sanctity. A strong will, a resolute will, is needed; a will which is not to be broken by difficulties or turned aside by trifling obstacles; a determination to be a saint and not to faint and falter because the way seems long and hard and narrow. A big heart, a courageous heart, is needed for sanctification, to fight our worst enemy – our own self-love.
COMMENT: If one was to pick a handful of quotes that summed up Fr Doyle’s spirit and life, this would definitely be on that list. He is correct – we are not holy because we do not really want to be holy. We are all called to holiness – every single one of us. And we are actually all capable of it – the grace is there for us to be holy if we really want it. Our holiness doesn’t depend on the actions of others or on the circumstances in which we live – holiness is as readily available now as it was for our ancestors during the 16th century or the 1st century. It is as obtainable for the wealthy as it is for the poor. But that doesn’t make it easy. We have to make many sacrifices to correspond to the graces we have received. We can do this if we want to – moral and spiritual perfection is an option for everyone.
St Ignatius recognised this reality. While he recuperated from his battle wounds, he was stirred up while reading the lives of the saints. Reflecting on their heroism, he realised that these spiritual heroes were still flesh and blood like he, and that he too could follow in their footsteps.
Yes, we have to want to be holy. But thankfully our holiness does not depend entirely on us – if it did we would get nowhere. We rely on God’s free gift of grace to us to transform us and make us holy. The discipline comes into play in terms of truly corresponding to that grace and making the sacrifices that it demands. But the grace is there for us if we want it, here, now, in the 21st Century just as much as it was in the lives of any saint in history.
As Blessed Columba Marmion said:
Now let us remind ourselves that, in these our days, the Heart of Jesus is not less loving nor His arm less powerful. God is ready to shed His graces upon us…as abundant and as useful as those he shed upon the first Christians. He does not love us less than he loved them.
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However I am aware that the number of ads seems to have increased in recent times. From some feedback received I have also learned that some of the ads are becoming objectionable. Someone has told me that an ad for Planned Parenthood has appeared on the site, and it seems that New Age style ads for “angel readings” have begun to appear.
All of this is unacceptable to me and is against the spirit of this site.
The only way I can stop this is to pay the site hosts to block ads. Effectively I have to replace the revenue that the ads currently generate for the site hosts. I intend to do this in the coming days, and hopefully we will be finished with obtrusive and offensive ads once and for all.