Thoughts for June 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas More

“No evil shall come upon you”, (Jerem. 23. 17). It is a consoling thought that God watches over us with unceasing care; that no matter where we may be – alone in our humble cell or passing through the crowded streets of the feverish panting city – the hand of God is over us and sheltering us from a thousand unknown dangers, guiding us safely along the path of life. Wicked men may plot evil things against us, all the hellish horde may rage in fury round us, but harm us they cannot without His consent who directs all things for His own wise ends.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle certainly personified this tremendous trust in God throughout his own adventurous life. But we also see this abandonment to, and trust in, Divine providence in the lives of all the saints, and none more so than the great Thomas More whose feast is today.

There is something quite fascinating about lay saints. Perhaps it is my own bias as a layman that leads me to this conclusion. There are obviously many great saints who were members of religious orders, but then their entire lives – its structure and timetable and relative freedom from worldly cares – more readily orient that life towards sanctity. Yes, it takes much effort, and grace, for religious to reach heroic sanctity, but at least the external form and support of religious life offers much help in this regard. For those of us in the world, there are few such obvious supports. In fact, today there are so many temptations and structural obstacles that lead us in the opposite direction that it requires an even firmer will, and lots of grace, to even get us started on the road towards sanctity. That, however, is no excuse, for we are all called to perfection! We must grow where we are planted. This is why the many new lay movements and organisations of different types and spiritualities are a great assistance as they provide structure and support for holiness for those who must seek that holiness in the midst of daily troubles and distractions.

St Thomas More himself faced many obstacles to sanctity. It’s not spiritually easy to be the head of a large household and to be one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful countries in the world. In addition to his extensive legal, political and scholarly pursuits (any one of which would have made for a very complete life), St Thomas was a real family man who took the education of his children (and his daughters!) very seriously. He was renowned for his cheerfulness and for the depth of his spiritual life. It is said that he went to bed at 9pm and arose at 2am every morning, spending several hours in prayer before setting off for his busy public engagements at dawn. He was also known for his asceticism, and wore a hairshirt under his robes. He was a third order Franciscan and, due to his relationship with the Charterhouse, was probably the equivalent of what we would today regard as a Benedictine oblate.

When those around him compromised in order to maintain the favour of the King, St Thomas remained steadfast, and gave up everything to remain faithful to the Church. He knew the truth of Fr Doyle’s quote today – God watches over us with care no matter where we may be and no matter whether we remain powerful and respected or whether we end up in prison awaiting death simply because we upset the powers that be. As St Thomas put it himself:

Every tribulation which ever comes our way either is sent to be medicinal, if we will take it as such, or may become medicinal, if we will make it such, or is better than medicinal, unless we forsake it.

Let us pray today that we too may have faith in God’s paternal care for us; let us pray also for our political leaders, that they remain faithful to, and uphold, the natural law. St Thomas faced death for defending the Faith and the nature of marriage. Let us pray for political leaders, that they may always have the courage to do what is right.

Let us also remember that yesterday was also the feast of the heroic bishop and martyr St John Fisher. Let us pray to him for our bishops, that they will have strength when the time of trial comes.

St John Fisher

Thoughts for June 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Naploeon said “I want you to do so and so”, and I replied “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? Generous or making conditions? In easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

COMMENT: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus? It was regular reflection on these questions that shaped Fr Doyle’s will and strengthened him for the martyrdom of charity that he suffered. For Fr Doyle, Napoleon was a compelling figure. For us, 100 years on, perhaps it is a more contemporary military or political figure that attracts. How many people would go through fire and water for the current President of the United States? Or even for a sports star or a celebrity? Or for a political ideology or movement? But if we would happily serve such an “idol”, how much more willingly should we serve our Creator to Whom we owe everything? 

Fr Jean Nicolas Grou was a French Jesuit writer of the 18th century who suffered much after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Here are some words of his on this theme, taken from his book Meditations on the Love of God.

Thou shalt love. What kind of love? With the love of preference to all other objects whatever, and to thine own self; thy love for God shall surpass, if it can, all other affection, in that same degree that the Object of it surpasses all else; thou shalt be ready, if occasion requires, to sacrifice all to Him, even thine own life, rather than to offend Him; thou shalt fear to displease Him beyond and before all else; and thou shalt consider the smallest sin as an evil infinitely greater than all other evils of any other kind; thou shalt put the advantage of pleasing Him before any other advantage of what value soever; and shalt be more jealous of His friendship than that of the greatest and dearest on earth. Not His will merely, but His good pleasure shall be thy law, rule and standard; thou shalt trample underfoot all human respect, thou shalt despise all promises, all threats and overcome all obstacles to follow it…Thou shalt wish and desire that every creature may render to Him all the glory that is due to Him and which He expects from them; thou shalt be zealous for His honour, and procure and further it by every means in thy power, at the least by thy wishes and thy prayers desiring ardently that all men may know, adore, love and obey Him; thou shalt be grieved in the depths of thy heart at the sight of the crimes which deluge the world; and thy zeal shall equal that of David who said “Fainting hath laid hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law”. (Psalm 119: 53)

This is a stirring call to arms. It is the kind of thing that motivates and encourages the young, and the young at heart. Perhaps that’s why those young people who remain in the Church are deeply committed to their faith and to evangelisation, and they sometimes frighten older people by their zeal. Both generations can learn from each other – zeal and prudence and balance have to go hand in hand. But the doubt and timidity and (dare one say it?) the embarrassment that seems to infect the Church in the western world, and especially in Ireland, does little to attract young people who search for meaning and challenge. If one looks at the ideological movements and campaigns to which many young people are attracted one sees energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to go (figuratively) through fire and water on behalf of their favoured cause. 

The saints went through literal fire and water for Christ – to serve Him and to save souls. Our Christian brothers and sisters are forced to do this in the East in the face of real physical persecutions. 

And we in the West? What have we done for Jesus? What are we doing for Jesus? What shall we do for Jesus?

Thoughts for June 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

I will strive ever to perform each action as perfectly as possible, paying special attention to small duties e.g. saying grace, odd Hail Marys, etc. It seems to me God is asking this particularly from me, and by this means I am to find the chief road to sanctity.

COMMENT: As Fr Doyle tells us today, the chief road to sanctity for all of us is found through the careful performance of our daily duties. Perhaps, like Fr Doyle, some people are called to extraordinary things, but for most of us holiness will be entirely found within our ordinary life.

Does this mean that we are not called to be great saints, and can instead live a life of mediocrity? Not at all! Jesus tell us that we should strive to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. Far from a life of mediocrity, this is a life of great holiness. Anyone with a busy job or with a family or other commitments knows just how difficult it is to perform all of our duties as perfectly as possible.

The secret is to inject all of our actions with love. The value of our actions lies in love. Thus, simple household duties performed with love are of greater value than heroic deeds performed with lukewarmness.

St Francis de Sales tells us:

A very small virtue may be of greater value in a soul where divine love fervently reigns, than martyrdom itself in a soul where love is languishing, feeble, and dull.

Fr Doyle lived this simple life for many years prior to his heroism in the trenches. Without his simple daily faithfulness it is doubtful that he would have been capable of the heroism he displayed during the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. She was one of the most remarkable lay mystics in the history of the Church. Despite being favoured with many extraordinary mystical gifts, and consulted by bishops, popes and even other saints, she kept her feet on the ground, and lived the life of a busy mother in Rome in the 1800′s. In fact, she was so focused on properly fulfilling her duties that she was known to ask God to stop favouring her with ecstacies and other spiritual gifts so that she would not be distracted from her work!

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

The anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot (Post 2 of 3 today)

Venerable Matt Talbot

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive… 

Physical mortification was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day – there was nothing unusual in it all. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion? The self inflicted “pain” Fr Doyle speaks of need not be something very big or burdensome. Getting up a little earlier, going to bed on time, reducing time wasted on television, starting work on time, biting our tongue when we want to criticise someone, not taking salt on our dinner… There are many ways that we can practice a measured asceticism that is discreet, balanced, humble and will improve both our spiritual and temporal lives.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot – he died on this day in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know… 

Matt Talbot is a great model for lay people today. An alcoholic at an early age, he had a profound and unexpected conversion, and he suddenly “took the pledge” and gave up alcohol forever at the age of 28. This was against all expectation, and shows us that nobody is beyond help or hope. His example is important for a culture in which many people are addicted to one thing or another. If it is not alcohol or drugs, it may be food or sex or work or even the internet and social media. 

Matt is also a great model because he did his work well, and lived an ordinary life in the middle of the world. He was an ascetic and a mystic and an ordinary man who looked after others and defended the rights of workers and of the poor. He kept his feet on the ground. 

Matt became a Third Order Franciscan and was utterly devoted to the Mass, regularly attending several Masses each day. As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. There is a tendency now to downplay the ascetical significance of these chains, with the suggestion that they were simple, light and non-penitential chains that signified his consecration to Mary as her slave. That may well be accurate. But in the popular imagining, the chains were most definitely penitential in nature. I remember being told, as a schoolboy in the 1980s, that the chains were so tightly wound around Matt that they were embedded in his flesh. Again, whether or not this is completely accurate is not relevant to the point I am making today – many people believed that the chains were indeed embedded in Matt’s flesh. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm for many. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. And there was a lot more to Matt’s asceticism than chains. He lived in strict poverty, giving away most of his money. He fasted very strictly, and rose at 2am each night to pray for several hours before commencing his work as a labourer. He slept on a plank of wood and had a wooden pillow. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit.

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. There is a suggestion that Matt cut the pockets out of his trousers so he would not be able to carry money around with him. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had? 

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Prayer for the beatification of Venerable Matt Talbot. 

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. 

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. 

Amen.

Thoughts for the Feast of Pentecost from Fr Willie Doyle

A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God…For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of the Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. When we are deliberately deaf to His voice, which is no other than the small voice of conscience, we grieve instead of honouring the Holy Spirit of God. So let us often say: Come, O Holy Ghost, into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint. See what the Holy Spirit made of the Apostles – changed them from skulking cowards into great saints afire with the love of God.

COMMENT: Yes, see how the Holy Spirit changed the Apostles from cowards into heroes who travelled the earth to preach the Gospel without fear of imprisonment, shipwreck or death. See also how the Holy Spirit changed Fr Doyle from a young nervous Jesuit who had a complete nervous breakdown after being involved in a fire, to a hero of the trenches whose powerful presence was enough to give renewed courage to tough Irish soldiers.

The Feast of Pentecost is really one of the great feasts of the liturgical year, but unfortunately we can tend to treat it like any other day…Truly we need the Holy Spirit today, and nowhere more so than in Ireland, where morale within the Church is low and where the sins of yesterday hold us back from proclaiming the Gospel today. The Holy Spirit can transform us and equip us for the challenge of apostolate in this generation. His presence is available to us today, just as much as it was for the Apostles and the early Christians. Let us conclude today with some words from the great Irish Benedictine Blessed Columba Marmion:

This action of the Holy Spirit in the Church is varied and manifold…In the first days of the Church’s existence, this action was much more visible than in our own days; it entered into the designs of Providence, for it was necessary that the Church should be firmly established by manifesting, in the sight of the pagan world, striking signs of the Divinity of her Founder, of her origin and mission. These signs, the fruits of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit, were wonderful. We marvel when we read the account of the beginnings of the Church. The Holy Spirit descended upon those who through baptism were made Christ’s disciples. He filled them with “charismata” as numerous as they were astonishing; graces of miracles, gifts of prophecy, gifts of tongues and many other extraordinary favours granted to the first Christians in order that the Church, adorned with such an abundance of eminent gifts, might be recognised as the true Church of Jesus…If the visible and extraordinary character of the effects of the workings of the Holy Spirit have in great part disappeared, the action of this Divine Spirit ever continues in souls and is not the less wonderful for now being chiefly interior.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Thoughts for June 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

I think it is evident that, in these days of awful sin and hatred of God, our Blessed Lord wants to gather round Him a legion of chosen souls who will be devoted, heart and soul, to Him and His interests, and upon whom He may always count for help and consolation. Souls who will not ask “How much must I do?” but rather “How much can I do for His love?” A legion of souls who will give and not count the cost, whose only pain will be that they cannot do more and give more and suffer more for Him who has done so much for them. In a word souls who are not as the rest of men, fools perhaps in the eyes of the world, for their watchword is sacrifice and not self-comfort.

COMMENT: If the early 1900’s were “days of awful sin and hatred of God” as Fr Doyle claimed, things would appear to be worse 100 years later.

But God is faithful. Whenever there is a crisis, God raises up a “legion of chosen souls” to respond. The history of the Church has always shown this to be the case. God still calls for loyal followers. But are we ready to respond?

Today’s saints – Charles Lwanga and his companions from Uganda – are a perfect example of this. These young men were pages in the court of King Mwanga of Buganda. Because of their Catholic faith, they resisted the sexual advances of the King. They died cruel and violent deaths because of their fidelity to Christ and the king’s hatred of their faith. St Charles, like many others, was burned to death, but some had even crueler torment. St Matthias Mulumba Kalemba, for example, was tortured in a most vicious fashion and took three days to die.

Here is an excellent short video about the martyrs, and about their contemporary cultural relevance.