Fr Doyle offered his life to rescue wounded soldiers 100 years ago today.

In memory of Fr William Doyle SJ          3 March 1873 – 16 August 1917

My Martyrdom for Mary’s Sake.

Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, on this the first day of thy month, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.

May 1st, 1893.

May God’s will, not mine, be done! Amen.

These words were written in Fr Doyle’s private diary. He kept his part of the bargain – the remaining 24 years of his life were literally a slow martyrdom of “earnest hard work and constant self-denial”. Mary kept her part of the bargain, and won for him the grace of “martyrdom” on August 16, 1917: 100 years ago today. Of course, Fr Doyle is not a martyr in the formal, classical sense of the term – he was not killed out of hatred for the Faith. The concept of being a “martyr of charity” – one who dies while serving others or administering the sacraments – can be traced back to heroic Christians who died after nursing plague victims in the 3rd century. Some background on the concept of a “martyr of charity” can be found here: http://newsaints.faithweb.com/new_martyrs/martyrs_charity.htm 

Interestingly, since July if this year, there is a specific pathway towards canonisation for martyrs of charity. More on this in a later post today.

This is O’Rahilly’s brief account of Fr Doyle’s death:

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

The book The Cross on the Sword: Catholic Chaplains in the Armed Forces claims that another military chaplain by the name of Fr Fitzmaurice heard Fr Doyle’s confession 15 minutes before his death. If this is true, then Fr Doyle himself had the great grace of confession just moments before death – this is a great gift to one who lost his own life while bringing this sacrament to others.

Those who wish to know more about Fr Doyle’s service as a military chaplain, and who wish to know the identity of the officers that Fr Doyle ran to help when he was killed, should purchase a copy of Carole Hope’s Worshipper and Worshipped. Other books focus on different aspects of Fr Doyle’s life, and all include extensive treatment of the war (including KV Turley’s CTS booklet and my own To Raise the Fallen which includes about 60 pages of war letters); but it is Worshipper and Worshipped that is the definitive scholarly guide to the specific military aspect of Fr Doyle’s life.

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was not properly buried and preserved. There are various suggestions that he was hastily buried under rocks, and that soldiers who found his body removed some of his uniform buttons and his Pioneer pin and gave them to Fr Frank Browne for safe keeping. There are other suggestions that the location of Fr Doyle’s body was noted, and when men returned to bury him, that it was no longer to be found, presumably having been hit by another shell. Ultimately, we don’t know where his body is so we have no physical remains or monuments to him. In this regard, one of the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography quotes the words of St Ignatius of Antioch which are very fitting:

Entice the wild beasts to become my tomb and leave no trace of my body so that in falling asleep I may be a burden to no one. Then shall I be really a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world will not even see my body.

St Patrick wrote in a similar vein: 

I beg of God whom I love to grant me that I may shed my blood with those strangers and captives for His name’s sake, even though I be without burial itself, or my corpse be most miserably divided, limb by limb, amongst dogs and fierce beasts, or the birds of the air devour it. I think it most certain that if this happens to me, I shall have gained my soul with my body.

And so it was with Fr Doyle.

How does one sum up someone who lived such a varied and remarkable life as Fr Doyle on this, his anniversary? Perhaps only the words of Christ Himself would do him justice:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Thank you Fr Willie for this love that you showed to the wounded soldiers in the Great War and for the example of your struggle to grow in virtue throughout your life.

A song featuring Fr Doyle

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 9: The gift of peace

Today, the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s heroic death, we shall consider the role of serenity and peace in Fr Doyle’s life.

One of the remarkable things about Fr Doyle was his profound interior peace, even in the midst of objectively horrific circumstances. This is something that we can also identify in the lives of canonised saints – they all had a rare serenity, even when facing death. St Thomas More joked with his executioner, while St Lawrence the Deacon joked with those who were burning him to death that they should turn him over on the griddle, because he was already well cooked on one side already! And it wasn’t just martyrs who remained peaceful – saints like Gerard Majella and Vincent de Paul remained calm when falsely accused of crimes, while others like Teresa of Avila and Maravillas remained peaceful in the face of grave financial worries related to their foundations.

Many people noticed a special peace that emanated from Fr Doyle. His brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ noted:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

The soldiers felt a certain “something” about Fr Doyle as well, and some of this peace seemed to communicate itself to them. An Irish soldier recounts the following incident:

You need not worry any longer about my soul. I came across a Jesuit, a Fr Willie Doyle, out here, and he settled up my accounts with the Lord. Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’  

What did Fr Doyle himself have to say about his peace of soul, and its true source? We learn a lot from his letters home:

In some ways I have found life out here much easier than I expected and in other respects a good deal more trying. Still if I get only a little bit of holiness out of it all, will it not be well worth it all? Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world — to love Him and Him alone — for the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving Hands and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

And elsewhere

God’s will is everything to me now. . . . True, nature rebels at times, for He has filled me with such a longing to labour for Him, to live and suffer for His dear sake, that the thought of death is very bitter. I can only call it a living martyrdom. But I conquer the feeling by saying this little prayer: ‘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 — suffering, wounds, death — if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.’ That always brings back peace, even when a bullet grazing my head drives home the reality of the offering.

Fr Doyle also felt this peace even as a young man preparing for the priesthood. He wrote the following in a letter to his mother:

Since then I have gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face — even a Jesuit’s life is not all roses — but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.

We will conclude today with some of Fr Doyle’s advice for finding holiness and inner peace:

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy.

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 8: Joy

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

1832 The fruitof the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity”.

We have considered the 3 theological virtues and the 4 cardinal virtues in the life of Fr Doyle over the last week. We have two days left until his anniversary tomorrow, and my intention is to discuss two other characteristics of Fr Doyle – joy and peace. As we see from the Catechism, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, but one hesitates somewhat in specifying that joy and peace in the life of Fr Doyle are specific “gifts” of the Holy Spirit in every case. This is a determination for the Church, and not for me. So bearing in mind the decree of Pope Urban VIII, everything I say rests only on my own human interpretation, and refers to the human characteristics of joy and peace in the life of Fr Doyle.

Today we will discuss joy in the life of Fr Doyle, and tomorrow, the anniversary of his death, we will examine peace and serenity in his life.

Fr Doyle was a joyful and happy man. It is crucial to remember this, and Alfred O’Rahilly goes to great lengths to emphasise this in his detailed biography. However, this joy comes across even more wonderfully in Carole Hope’s new biography “Worshipper and Worshipped” – by reproducing the entire text of all of Fr Doyle’s war letters we see even more of his wonderful, joyful humanity. He was truly down to earth, and was not an abstract pious sentimentalist. I have also tried to show this in Chapter 3 of To Raise the Fallen with a selection of spiritual quotes that help to round out Fr Doyle’s character.

Remembering the reality of this joy is specifically important in the life of Fr Doyle because of the intensely ascetical life that he lived. Perhaps we imagine that one who lived such a strict life would end up being morose, boring and poor company. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Fr Doyle! Those who knew him always reported that he had a great sense of fun, that he was a great companion and source of entertainment, notwithstanding his personally tough life or the distressing conditions during the war. Nor was this joyfulness a mere act or show. And it is this fact of Fr Doyle’s joyfulness, amongst others, which should put to rest all concerns about his penances.

One aspect of Fr Doyle’s cheerfulness and joy that I find most touching is how he would include humourous stories and jokes in his letters home to his father. He knew that his father would worry about him, so he was always unfailingly cheerful in these letters in order to ensure that his father’s mind was at ease. He could have rested instead, but he remained faithful to these letters which were surely such a consolation to his father.

An aside from one of his last letters home illustrates this aspect of Fr Doyle’s character. He is describing a march in which he fell into a shell hole:

I was chuckling over the disappearance of the officer in front of me into a friendly trench from which he emerged, if possible, a little more muddy than he was, when I felt my two legs shoot from under me, and I vanished down the sides of a shell-hole which I had not noticed. As I am not making a confession of my whole life, I shall not tell you what I said, but it was something different from the exclamation of the pious old gentleman who used to mutter ‘Tut, tut’ every time he missed the golf ball.

Others often commented on Fr Doyle’s naturalness and cheerfulness. The Servant of God, Monsignor Joseph Quinn of Brooklyn, himself a surviving chaplain of the war, read the O’Rahilly biography and was deeply impressed. He met a nun who had know Fr Doyle, and she had a wonderful way of describing his naturalness and cheerfulness in life:

One day, not long ago, I met a Good Shepherd nun who had known Father Doyle very intimately in Ireland.  I asked her if she could tell me anything about the secret of his holiness.  She told me that holiness was as natural to Father Doyle as wings are to a bird. 

Fr Doyle was also known for his good cheer while still a seminarian. A Jesuit had the following to say about his character while he worked in the Jesuit schools as a young man:

Fr. Doyle’s example worked good. His cheerfulness, his energy, his enthusiasm were infectious and inspiring. His whole conduct was marked by gentleness and a kindly thoughtfulness that gained him loyalty and affection. In the playing fields he was a tower of strength. I can still recall the admiration with which I watched him play full-back, or stump a batsman who had his toe barely off the ground. But above all he gave the impression to us boys of one who lived much in the presence of God. I know one boy, at least, who entered the Society of Jesus, partly, at any rate, because Fr. Doyle was such a splendid man and splendid Jesuit.

And of course, the soldiers were fulsome in their praise of this aspect of his character:

Which of the men do not recall with a tear and a smile how he went ‘over the top’ at Wytschaete? He lived with us in our newly- won position, and endured our hardships with unfailing cheerfulness. In billets he was an ever welcome visitor to the companies, and our only trouble was that he could not always live with whatever company he might be visiting.

The fact that he maintained his joy in the war, and so impressed the soldiers, says much, for it would be difficult to impress such hardened men with a mere superficial act.

We will conclude today with Fr Doyle’s own humourous description of his harsh conditions and his joyful acceptance of his hardships.

I wonder is there a happier man in France than I am. Just now Jesus is giving me great joy in tribulation, though conditions of living are about as uncomfortable as even St. Teresa could wish — perpetual rain, oceans of mud, damp, cold and a plague of rats. Yet I feel that all this is a preparation for the future and that God is labouring in my soul for ends I do not clearly see as yet. Sometimes I kneel down with outstretched arms and pray God, if it is a part of His divine plan, to rain down fresh privations and sufferings. But I stopped when the mud wall of my little hut fell in upon me — that was too much of a good joke!

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 7: The virtue of temperance

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of temperance.

1809 Temperanceis the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honourable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).

Temperance was certainly one of Fr Doyle’s characteristic virtues. He had a very hearty appetite, but he restrained it, both as a penance and as a form of self-mastery. Circumstances in the war also meant that, like many of the soldiers, he sometimes had to go without food. But on other occasions he also gave his food away to the troops.

Fr Doyle was also a friend and supporter of Fr James Cullen SJ, the founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. This movement, which is still going strong, was established to help combat excessive alcohol consumption, a real social problem in Ireland, both then and now. Fr Doyle was on the governing council of the Pioneers, and Fr Cullen was even thinking of him as a potential successor as leader of the Pioneers. Fr Doyle was wearing his pioneer pin when he was killed and he is known to have urged men to “take the pledge” to become Pioneers in order to combat the spread of alcoholism in Ireland. 

Fr Doyle was certainly temperate in his use of the bed (he would sometimes sleep on the floor, and even that for only a short amount of time), and temperate in his use of heat, often refusing to a fire in his room. But it is in the matter of food, and the control of his appetite, that he really showed his capacity for the virtue of temperance. We will conclude today with Alfred O’Rahilly’s description of Fr Doyle’s temperance with respect to food. As always, Fr Doyle’s ascetism is, for most of us, more to be admired than imitated…

Moreover, between sugarless tea, butterless bread and saltless meat, he converted his meals into a continuous series of mortifications. Naturally he had, in fact, a very hearty appetite and a keen appreciation of sweets and delicacies; all of which he converted into an arena for self-denial…

We find him pencilling this resolution on the first page of the little private notebook he kept with him at the Front: “No blackberries. Give away all chocolates. Give away box of biscuits. No jam, breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

…Just after giving a retreat in a Carmelite convent, he records: “I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.” That he by no means found this mortification easy we have many indications. Thus on 5th Jan., 1912, he writes: “During Exposition Jesus asked me if I would give up taking second course at dinner. This would be a very great sacrifice; but I promised Him at least to try to do so and begged for grace and generosity.”

“A fierce temptation during Mass and thanksgiving,” he records a year later (18th Sept., 1913), “to break my resolution and indulge my appetite at breakfast. The thought of a breakfast of dry bread and tea without sugar in future seemed intolerable. 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.”

On the subject of butter there are many resolutions in the diary. Materially the subject may seem trivial, but psychologically it represents a great struggle and victory…It is in such little acts that man rises above the beast and fosters his human heritage of a rational will. So Fr. Doyle’s butter-resolutions are not at all so unimportant or whimsical as they who have ever thoughtlessly eaten and drunk may be inclined to fancy. “God has been urging me strongly all during this retreat,” he writes in September 1913, “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. If they do, what harm? I have noticed that X takes none for lunch; that has helped me. Would not I help others if I did the same?” “One thing,” he continues, “I feel Jesus asks, which I have not the courage to give Him: the promise to give up butter entirely.” On 29th July, 1914, we find this resolution: “For the present I will take butter on two mouthfuls of bread at breakfast but none at other meals.” To this decision he seems to have adhered.

…This relentless concentration of will on matters of food must not lead us to suppose that Fr. Doyle was in any way morbidly absorbed or morosely affected thereby. For one less trained in will or less sure in spiritual perspective there might easily be danger of entanglement in minutiae and over-attention to what is secondary. All this apparatus of mortification is but a means to an end, it should not be made an end in itself…This persistent and systematic thwarting of appetite helped Fr. Doyle to strengthen his will and to fix it on God. He never lost himself in a maze of petty resolutions, he never became anxious or distracted.

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 6: The virtue of fortitude

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of fortitude.

1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defence of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Fortitude was one of the characteristic virtues of Fr Doyle. He had a very strong will, and he generously oriented that will towards the service of God and others. 

Fr Doyle had much to overcome in life. It is incredible to consider that this hero of the trenches actually suffered a complete nervous breakdown while training to be a priest. What a remarkable development of fortitude in his soul that he who suffered greatly from being exposed to a fire in his college could, a couple of decades later, serenely face the nearly constant risk of death during the war.

His illness during his studies also caused many setbacks for him. He was certainly intelligent, but was more of a practical man than a natural scholar, and it was by dint of hard work and fortitude that he caught up on the work that he missed due to his illness.

A Jesuit who knew Fr Doyle as a young man prior to his ordination gave the following testimony on this aspect of Fr Doyle’s moral character:

Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise.

This courage also showed itself while he worked in the Jesuit schools – he produced musicals and plays with the boys when others thought that it would be impossible and was not worth the effort.

The same fortitude was on display in his zeal for souls as a missioner, and also in his determination to found a retreat house for working men, despite the many difficulties.

His interior life of constant prayer and asceticism also required considerable fortitude.

But it is of course during the war years that Fr Doyle displays his fortitude to the full. The very fact that he volunteered as a chaplain, despite his fears, says much. He also continued to suffer from his intestinal complaint throughout the war. This had been a particular problem in his youth, but it never really left him. We are not sure how this stomach illness manifested itself, but surely life in the trenches made this illness significantly more intense and inconvenient for him. Yet, still he worked, and impressed all those around him with his courage.

Dr Buchanan, a medical doctor with whom he worked in the trenches, gave this testimony:

Fr. Doyle and I worked together out here, generally sharing the same dug-outs and billets, so we became fast friends, I acting as medical officer to his first Battalion. Often I envied him his coolness and courage in the face of danger: for this alone his men would have loved him.

Sergeant Flynn of the Dublin Fusiliers also spoke of Fr Doyle’s fortitude in glowing terms:

We had the misfortune to lose our chaplain, Fr. Doyle, the other day. He was a real saint and would never leave his men, and it was really marvellous to see him burying dead soldiers under terrible shell fire. He did not know what fear was, and everybody in the battalion, Catholic and Protestant alike, idolised him.

Such testimonies could be multiplied many times over.

Yet, Fr Doyle never considered himself to be courageous. He knew his weaknesses and he felt his own fears deeply. In fact, he very frequently described himself as a coward in his private diary, and he knew that all of his courage and fortitude came from God. Without the assistance of grace, he would shake with fear:

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear.

But the memory of Christ’s closeness gave him renewed strength.

On we hurried in the hope of reaching cover which was close at hand, when right before us the enemy started to put down a heavy barrage, literally a curtain of shells, to prevent reinforcements coming up. There was no getting through that alive and, to make matters worse, the barrage was creeping nearer and nearer, only fifty yards away, while shell fragments hummed uncomfortably close. Old shell holes there were in abundance, but every one of them was brim full of water, and one would only float on top. Here was a fix! Yet somehow I felt that though the boat seemed in a bad way, the Master was watching even while He seemed to sleep, and help would surely come. In the darkness I stumbled across a huge shell-hole crater, recently made, with no water. Into it we rolled and lay on our faces, while the tempest howled around and angry shells hissed overhead and burst on every side. For a few moments I shivered with fear, for we were now right in the middle of the barrage and the danger was very great, but my courage came back when I remembered how easily He Who had raised the tempest saved His Apostles from it, and I never doubted He would do the same for us. Not a man was touched, though one had his rifle smashed to bits.

We will conclude today with Fr Doyle’s advice to us on the importance of fortitude in our spiritual life.

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

Thoughts for August 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed John Henry Newman

While praying for light to know what God wants from me in the matter of mortifying my appetite, a voice seemed to say: “There are other things besides food in which you can be generous with Me, other hard things which I want you to do.” I thought of all the secret self-denial contained in constant hard work, not giving up when a bit tired, not yielding to desire for sleep, not running off to bed if a bit unwell, bearing little sufferings without relief, cold and heat without complaint, and, above all, the constant never-ending mortification to do each action perfectly. This light has given me a good deal of consolation, for I see I can do much for Jesus that is hard without being singular or departing from common life.

COMMENT: Despite his joyfulness, there is no doubt that Fr Doyle lived an austere life. It is true that he performed some remarkable penances from time to time. But to focus only on these singularities is to miss the wonderful simplicity of Fr Doyle’s example for us.

We can see this simplicity in his message today. For most lay people, penance does not mean hairshirts and disciplines and extraordinary things, but rather willingly accepting the burdens of each day. The penance of getting up out of bed on time, or of not complaining if we have a headache, or as Fr Doyle describes it “the constant never-ending mortification to do each action perfectly” presents a simple, but extremely challenging road for all of us.

This is reminiscent of some words of Blessed John Henry Newman:

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.

I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.

We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

These are indeed useful thoughts for all of us – both Fr Doyle and Blessed John Henry Newman, today show us a way to fulfil Christ’s command by staying right where we are.

Finally, today is the feast of Blessed Mark of Aviano, a remarkable Capuchin military chaplain who played a pivotal role in preserving what was left of Christendom by supporting the army at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. If it were not for him, the history of Europe may well have turned out very differently indeed. He died in 1699 and was beatified in 2003. Once again, another long wait for beatification, and again a consolation for those devoted to Fr Doyle. It is said that he was the inventor of cappuccino – have one in his honour!

You may read more about Blessed Mark at the link below:

http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20030427_d-aviano_en.html

Blessed Mark of Aviano

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 5: The virtue of justice

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of justice.

1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.” “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

Giving to God and to our neighbour what is rightfully due to them…Seen in this light, Fr Doyle lived a life filled with justice. He was faithful in fulfilling his spiritual duties – he was faithful to his breviary when possible (obviously it wouldn’t always be possible in the war) and often resolved to recite the breviary on his knees, in imitation of St John Vianney. During the war years he sometimes faced a choice between eating and saying Mass – he naturally always chose to say Mass rather than break his fast. And, when he found some of his spiritual duties hard to complete, he would follow the example of St Alphonsus by binding himself by vow to complete them.

But Fr Doyle was also renowned for his social justice – his care to render service to his fellow men. We see this clearly throughout his life, from, his charitable works for his poor neighbours in Dalkey to his care for ordinary working men right through to his care for the soldiers (including captured German soldiers), even to the point of dying for them.

The virtue of justice is closely connected with the virtue of obedience, and this is of special significance for members of religious orders who take a vow of obedience. Some quote from Fr Doyle on this point:

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheer fully to the duty of the moment recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself.

And elsewhere:

I contrast the obedience of St. Joseph with my obedience. His so prompt, unquestioning, uncomplaining, perfect; mine given so grudgingly; perhaps exterior without interior conformity with the will of the Superior. I realise my faults in this matter, and for the future will try to practise the most perfect obedience, even and especially in little things.

Fr Doyle’s concept of obedience touches on an issue where we can perhaps all examine our conscience – our performance of our daily duties. Our employers have a strict right, in justice, that we perform our jobs well, and work for the hours for which we are paid. Our spouses have the strict right, in justice, to our love and fidelity. Our children have the strict right, in justice, to our time, love and formation. 

The loving fulfilment of duties in life was a constant theme of Fr Doyle. We could multiply numerous quotes from Fr Doyle on this important aspect of duty, but a few will suffice.

I felt a strong impulse to resolve to take up as one of the chief objects of my life the exact and thorough performance of each duty, trying to do it as Jesus would have done, with the same pure intention, exquisite exactness and fervour. To copy in all my actions walking, eating, praying Jesus, my model in the little house of Nazareth. This light was sudden, clear and strong. To do this perfectly will require constant, unflagging fervour.

Also

Have a fixed duty for each moment and not depart from it; never waste a moment.

And elsewhere

While making the Holy Hour to-day, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I felt inspired to make this resolution: Sweet Jesus, as a first step towards my becoming a saint, which You desire so much, I will try to do each duty, each little action, as perfectly and fervently as I possibly can.

How different the world, the economy and our families, would look if we all tried to live the virtue of justice by being faithful to our duties in this way.