Thoughts in a time of pandemic

God sometimes seems to ask the impossible, a sorrow, a cross. Oh! it would crush me! How can this be! How? Lord, I do not know, but You do. I will trust you always.

COMMENT: The world seems to be going through unprecedented times. If you think this is all hype, all I can say is please prepare and wait a few weeks until you see what happens when there is a big outbreak in your area. It appears that about 20% of confirmed cases require hospitalisation and 5% of cases require ventilation in intensive care. No country in the world can sustain the burden of a large outbreak of this disease. 

Many face possible illness, possible death and/or bereavement; almost certain restriction of our freedoms, and probable loss of access to the sacraments for some period of time. We all watched the sufferings of China, and Wuhan in particular. Now we see what has happened to Europe, and in particular to beautiful Italy. Now the crisis is just starting to bite elsewhere, including here in Ireland. 

What would Fr Doyle say to us if he were to speak to us today?

I think he would base his advice to us along the lines of his prayer above. Fr Doyle lived through an awful crisis of his own in World War 1. He lived with death day after day. He too had to go sometimes without the sacraments. Through it all he remained strong and peaceful. Soldiers flocked to him, as he was a source of reassurance. Whenever he wrote about troubles he always wrote about trusting in God, and abandoning ourselves into His loving arms. God is our loving Father, and we can trust in Him.

Some further quotes on this theme:

Take O Lord and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish, I embrace all lovingly – sufferings, wounds, death – if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.

 

“Let him act” much be your motto. Jesus will bring all things right in the end. The more I get to know God, the more inclined I feel to let Him work out things in His own way and time, and go on peacefully not troubling about anything.

To trust in God we must get to know God, and to do this we must pray. If we have spent more time preparing physically, by gathering food and supplies, than we have by preparing spiritually through prayer and “stockpiling” grace, we may need to reorient ourselves a little. 

I think Fr Doyle would also speak to us about the spiritual opportunities that this pandemic presents to us. In every crisis there are opportunities for holiness, for self-denial, for reparation, and perhaps in some cases for heroism. Fr Doyle often wrote about how the soldiers embraced their hardships with a spirit of faith and cheerfulness. We may even see martyrs of charity emerge from this pandemic. We may not be called to such heroism, but we are certainly called to embrace this period of self-denial and gain graces from it. 

There is a lot of other advice I could give that is beyond our scope here, except for this one, last crucial thing which I think Fr Doyle would give us: pray for priests. Pray that they may be protected. In Bergamo in Italy just this past week 6 priests have died from the virus and 20 more have been hospitalised. Given the age profile of priests, especially in Europe, we all may have much reduced access to the sacraments in the coming years if the virus is not stamped out. So please, pray for your priests and do not put them at unnecessary risk of infection. 

We will conclude today with Fr Doyle’s prayer for priests:

O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.

The words they say every day at the altar, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” grant them to apply to themselves: “I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another.”

O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.

Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.

 

Thoughts for March 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

He loves your soul dearly, cling to Him, and trust Him, He so longs to be trusted.

COMMENT: There is something of an unfortunate stereotype about the Catholicism of 100 years ago in Ireland. It suggests that God’s love was ignored or downplayed and that there was an excessive emphasis on morality and on Catholicism as a set of rules rather than as a relationship with Jesus. 

There is perhaps a small amount of truth in this simplistic generalisation, and sadly the evident sins of those in the Church who should have known better sadly makes this very evident. I was struck by something Fr Doyle once wrote (disapprovingly) in his diary:

People say it is very hard to love God.

What an odd idea that is for us today, who have grown up with the idea of a God of love. There was certainly something amiss with a vision of Catholicism in which love did not play the central role.

But this negative view of the past is far from the whole picture. There is absolutely no evidence that Fr Doyle overemphasised sin and downplayed love – his letters of spiritual direction and his private notes reveal very clearly his own passionate love for God. This love overflowed into a life of zealous service for others.

Most of us have a very weak trust in God. The saints were not like us. Their faith and trust in God’s Providence was simple and profound and it was this reliance on God that allowed them to achieve so much.

Lent is a time for spiritual discipline. This discipline is not driven by an adherence to an abstract or arbitrary set of rules. Rather, we follow the discipline of Lent because we love Christ and because we want to show this love, because we want to follow Christ’s command to perfect ourselves and because we want to strengthen ourselves to avoid sin.

Fr Doyle, referring to his then spiritual director Venerable Adolphe Petit SJ, wrote the following in his diary:

The reason, said Fr Petit, why we find our life so hard, mortification difficult, and why we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike, is because we have no real love for Jesus.

As we journey through Lent, let us remember that our penances are really about loving Christ and not just “giving things up” out of habit.

 

Letter 1: 5 March 1916

I am suffering much in every way, most of all, perhaps, from sheer fatigue. As regards food and lodging I am not badly off, but the discomforts of the life would be long to tell. However, like St. Paul I can say that I superabound with joy in all my tribulations; for I know that they come from God’s hand and that they are working out some plan of His in my soul. What a joy to be able to offer oneself entirely, even life itself, each morning at Mass, and to think that perhaps before evening He may have accepted the offering!

Thoughts for March 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

St. John Vianney small
St John Vianney

 

Press on bravely and don’t mind the scratches, even when they come from human nails!

COMMENT: We must always push on in our spiritual lives. Often this will involve some difficulty, not least difficulty in overcoming ourselves! But there is also a particular kind of difficulty that comes from others, namely criticism or jokes about religious zeal. Naturally an indiscreet or unbalanced zeal must be controlled and it is right that others might engage in fraternal correction to moderate this type of zeal. But very often a well balanced spiritual zeal can result in scorn and rejection by others. Perhaps these are the types of scratches from “human nails” to which Fr Doyle refers.

This “human respect”, as the spiritual writers call it, can be a major source of temptation. St John Vianney wrote about it in the following terms:

The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people.

Fr Doyle often felt inspired after prayer; whether these inspirations had a Divine or human origin we cannot know for sure, but they do tell us something of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life and his temptations. On one occasion after praying before the Tabernacle he felt that Jesus communicated the following message to him:

You must work for Me as you have never done before, especially by prayer and aspirations, boldly urging souls to heroic sanctity, not minding what people may say of you. Human respect is one of your faults still.

On another occasion he noted the following in his diary when reflecting on his difficulty in giving up butter on his bread:

God has been urging me strongly all during this retreat to give up butter entirely. I have done so at many meals without any serious inconvenience; but I am partly held back through human respect, fearing others may notice it.

While we should be careful about unbalanced and indiscreet zeal, we must also be careful that the temptation of human respect does not hold us back. We can take consolation from the fact that one so advanced as Fr Doyle still suffered in this way, and look to his example and intercession in overcoming this temptation.

Thoughts for March 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sunset at Dalkey Island, a scene which would have been very familiar to Fr Doyle

It is useful from time to time to pause and ask ourselves if we are, like the child Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace. Does each evening see us farther on the path of perfection? When we lie down to rest, is it with the feeling that the day just passed has been one of progress in the spiritual life, of merit and victory over self? Have we crushed the promptings of self-will and trampled on our pride? Have we spent ourselves for God and wearied ourselves in works for Him? Have we been a help to the weak, the comfort of the needy, a light to the wandering one? If so, thank God for His goodness and resolve on nobler things.

COMMENT: It is highly recommended that we examine our conscience each evening. In doing so, if we can answer yes to these questions posed by Fr Doyle then we can be sure that we have lived a good and fruitful day. There is much truth in what the Imitation of Christ tells us:

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide.

Almost invariably we will have to accept that our day could have been better. We could have been kinder, we could have been more patient, we could have worked harder or taken more advantage of opportunities for apostolate or lived more consciously in the presence of God.

In such a situation we do what Fr Doyle would suggest – thank God for what was good, ask pardon for our failings, and resolve with God’s help to improve tomorrow.

 

 

 

Thoughts for the First Sunday in Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

 

A fierce temptation during Mass and thanksgiving to break my resolution and indulge my appetite at breakfast…Jesus urged me to pray for strength though I could scarcely bring myself to do so. But the temptation left me in the refectory, and joy filled my heart with the victory. I see now that I need never yield if only I pray for strength.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this reflection in his diary in September 1913. It is most appropriate for us to consider these words today, the First Sunday of Lent, on which we read in the Gospel an account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. 

Jesus is like us in all things but sin. He has been tempted, and not just tempted like us, but with even greater ferocity and power. In today’s quote, and in many other places in his diaries and letters, Fr Doyle speaks of the absolute necessity of trusting in God and seeking his help in moments of temptation. We cannot succeed alone, but we have a God who fully understands the nature of temptation. If we are tempted to give up our Lenten resolutions already, or if we are tempted not to start again if we have already fallen, we should turn with confidence to Christ who understands our weakness and will assist us with his grace.

Let us conclude today with these words from Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD, the author of Divine Intimacy, a classic text of Carmelite meditations.

Let us learn from Jesus how to conduct ourselves in temptations. Primarily, He teaches us to have a great confidence in God. Jesus would not satisfy His hunger, nor impress men by means of a brilliant miracle, nor accept kingdoms and wealth because, in a spirit of perfect filial confidence, He had entrusted everything to the Father’s care — His life, His mission, and His glory. Those who will fully trust in God and who rely on His divine Providence, will not be easily enticed by the vain flattery of the devil, the world, or the flesh, because they know that only God can give true blessings and real happiness.

We should extend the practice of this confidence to the moment of temptation. If God permits us to be tempted, He does not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, and, accompanying every temptation, there is always a special actual grace sufficient to overcome it. Therefore, instead of being disturbed by the violence of the struggle, let us use faithfully the grace God always gives and turn to Him in humble, confident prayer.

Thoughts for February 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

Abandon yourself completely into the hands of God, and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable, or disagreeable. Only then can God make you really holy.

COMMENT: We love to stay in control. We find it hard to no longer be in charge of our own affairs. This is part of the natural human condition. But we are called to go beyond the natural level and to live supernaturally, and this involves a level of no longer being in control of every aspect of our lives.

Fr Doyle always practiced what he preached. By volunteering to become a missionary in the Congo, even though he wasn’t eventually chosen to go, he showed his abandonment to God’s will. He lived this abandonment to its fullest as a military chaplain – he could easily have lessened his own hardships if he wanted, but he shared the privations of the soldiers.

Fr Doyle described his abandonment to God’s will in the following way to his sister in a letter he wrote to her in 1916:

Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me…The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before.

Let us conclude with a short reflection on abandonment to God from Jean Pierre de Caussade, the Jesuit author of the classic book Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”