Thoughts for November 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Doyle struggled to give up butter on his bread at breakfast

Your desire for penance is an excellent sign…But have a fixed amount to be done each day and do not be doing it in fits and starts. Anything like what you call “frenzy” ought to be suspected and resisted.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle’s life of penance has been a stumbling block for some people. It is true that he lived a life of great personal penance. It is also true that he lived a life of great personal heroism. This shone out in the trenches, but evidence for his selflessness and courage can be seen in many other aspects of his life. Are his life of penance, and his life of heroism, related to each other? Almost certainly they are.

But Fr Doyle was also very balanced. He NEVER encouraged others to follow his own example of penance. He felt that he was given a special calling and special graces, and that such a life of penance was not appropriate for one who did not receive these graces.  In today’s quote, based on a letter of spiritual direction which he wrote to someone seeking his advice, he was clear that penance is important. But he was also clear that penance should be balanced – in one place he writes that the smaller the penance is, the better. In Fr Doyle’s life such balance and small penances can be seen in his reluctance to warm himself at the fire, his refusal to complain about little aches and pains (a favoured sport of many Irish people!), his refusal to give in to the desire to sleep during the day and, most famously, his battle to eat dry bread and to give up butter and jam.

Fr Doyle was a great tactician of the spiritual life. Once again he gives us an excellent example for us to follow.

 

 

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Thoughts for November 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

Meditating on the Particular Judgement, God gave me great light. I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time. To take only my seventeen years of religious life, what account could I give of the 6,000 hours of meditation, 7,000 Masses, 12,000 examinations of conscience, etc.? Then my time: how have I spent every moment? I resolved not to let a day more pass without seriously trying to reform my life in the manner in which I perform my ordinary daily duties. For years I have been “going to begin,” and from time to time made some slight efforts at improvement. But now, dear Jesus, let this change be the work of Thy right hand.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a practical and efficient man. In fact, if he hadn’t become a priest, he had the makings of a great businessman. He recognised that each day, each moment, should be directed towards our ultimate goal – union with God. He was constantly focused on this strategic aim.

But his method was also practical. Holiness is not some imaginary thing; it is not based on feelings and sentiment. There are a number of litmus tests of whether we are growing in holiness (none of them involve “feelings”!). One of the surest of these litmus tests is the faithful performance of our daily duties, relying as always on the grace that is always available to us.

Let us learn from the example of Fr Doyle to use our time well.

 

Thoughts for November 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Holiness and perfection depend on yourself, not on the actions of others.

COMMENT: How easy it is for us to blame others, or the circumstances of our lives, for our own lack of holiness. Yes, we may live or work with annoying and frustrating people, but there is always a choice on our part to control our annoyance or frustration. We may have many distractions to our work and to fulfilling our duty, but we can choose whether or not we respond to those distractions. We face numerous temptations every day, and with every temptation we always have a choice whether to yield or not. Of course, the more often we yield to annoyances and distractions and temptations, the harder and harder it becomes to resist and to exercise our capacity to choose…

Fr Doyle’s life and example shows us one way of achieving sanctity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Few of us will ever face such challenging circumstances – bombs falling, no silence or solitude, no beauty to remind one of God, want and deprivation, and death in every direction. It would be easy for Fr Doyle to blame his circumstances for lukewarmness or a tendency to take shortcuts. But he didn’t.

What was his secret? In part it was living in the constant presence of God. But it must also surely be because of all of the years of preparation before that. Fr Doyle was faithful in little things and this prepared him for faithfulness when the big challenge came.

While we need God’s grace to become holy, the choice to pursue this rests on ourselves. We must build our capacity to choose holiness by making little efforts and sacrifices each day.

Today we also commemorate the feast of the great Benedictine mystic St Gertrude the Great. St Gertrude was especially devoted to the holy souls in Purgatory. We are now in the second half of the month of November, the month of the holy souls. Let us not slacken in our prayers for our deceased relatives and friends, and indeed for all those in Purgatory, who need our prayers.

Here is the text of an audience address of Pope Emeritus Benedict on St Gertrude. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20101006_en.html

St Gertrude the Great

Thoughts for November 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Our Lord is displeased only when He sees no attempt made to get rid of imperfections which, when deliberate, clog the soul and chain it to the earth. But He often purposely does not give the victory over them in order to increase our opportunities of meriting. Make an act of humility and sorrow after failure, and then never a thought more about it.

He sees what a “tiny little child” you are, and how useless even your greatest efforts are to accomplish the gigantic work of making a saint. But this longing, this stretching out of baby hands for His love, pleases Him beyond measure; and one day He will stoop down and catch you up with infinite tenderness in His divine arms and raise you to heights of sanctity you little dream of now.

COMMENT: We have no notes from the Spiritual Exercises from 1907 for today, so we will take a break from the Spiritual Exercises with a gentle reflection from Fr Doyle on spiritual childhood. One might be forgiven for considering Fr Doyle to be a rather austere character if all one had to go on were his own personal retreat notes which we have been considering here for a few weeks. Yes, he was personally tough, or more accurately, he was tough on himself. However, he always was unfailing gentle on others.

We must correspond to the graces God gives us and to His call. Fr Doyle received many graces, and was called to offer great sacrifices. This is not the path that everyone – or even most people – are called to walk.

Ultimately, we are all children in the spiritual life. Just as a father delights to see his child learn to crawl and walk and mumble some words, so too God is delighted with our feeble efforts to grow and advance and pray, so long as we persevere and try our best. Yes, the day may come when we are expected to display greater personal courage and strength, but we must first inevitably learn to walk, holding God’s hand and trusting in His strength.

Thoughts for October 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

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

“Time that passeth like a shadow”(Ecclesiastes, 7. 1). Watch the shadow of the sun’s rays creep silently across the dial’s face. Slowly, irresistibly it moves on. No power of man can stay its course; the fair, the mighty, the eloquent, may plead in vain, but nought can check its onward march; ever relentlessly forward man’s destiny is hastening to its end.

COMMENT: We will not have any more reflections from Fr Doyle’s retreat for a few more days – perhaps Fr Doyle refrained from writing at the end of October 1907, or even had a day or two of a break from the retreat. In any event, we shall return to Fr Doyle’s retreat notes in a couple of days.

Today’s reflection is very timely at this time of year, as we inch towards November, a month traditionally associated with death and with the holy souls. Even the very fact of putting our clocks back (for those in my part of the world at least) reminds us that winter will soon be upon us. Our days are now increasingly shrouded in darkness here in the northern hemisphere.

None of us likes the thought of death. Yet we know that we simply cannot escape it. But instead of being morbid at the thought of death, let us be filled with a holy enthusiasm for life, cheerfully filling our days with acts of love and service, so that our hands might be full of good deeds when our final moments on earth arrive.

And let us also pray for those approaching death, that they may have the grace of final perseverance, and be accompanied by the prayers of Mary, whose assistance at the hour of death we invoke every time we say the Haily Mary. Fr Doyle himself accompanied many a poor soldier in his final moments. May he also pray for us when our time comes.

 

 

St John Paul II, Fr Doyle and penance

St John Paul II

When it was not some infirmity or other than caused him to experience pain, it was he himself who inflicted discomfort and mortification on his own body. Aside from the prescribed fasting, which he followed with great rigour, especially during Lent, when he reduced his nourishment to one complete meal per day, he also abstained from food before ordaining priests and bishops. And it was not infrequent for him to spend nights lying on the bare floor. His housekeeper in Cracow realised it, even though the archbishop crumpled his bedclothes to conceal it. But he did more. As a number of members of his closest entourage heard with their own ears, in Poland and the Vatican, Karol Wojytla flagellated himself. In his bedroom closet, among his cassocks, hanging from a hook was an unusual trouser belt that he used as a whip and always brought to Castel Gandolfo.

Today is the feast of St John Paul. The above testimony is from Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Postulator for the cause of canonisation of St John Paul II. This is the pope who attracted so many young people. Yet he lived a rigorous life of penance. So rigorous, in fact, that others heard him flagellating himself. And he used an unusual trouser belt. It’s not clear why it was unusual. Was it because it was modified in some way to make it more painful? 

Fr Doyle’s life of penance is not be something we are called to imitate in its totality today, but it was entirely in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and is mirrored in the lives and teachings of the saints, including the joyful and phenomenally popular St John Paul II.

It would be bizarre for anybody to over-emphasise the role of physical penance in the life of St John Paul II, and to reduce his personality to one aspect of his spiritual life. So, too, those who think that Fr Doyle’s penance would turn people away from him do him a disservice, and foster an unbalanced image of a very human, very joyful and very self-sacrificing war hero. 

 

Fr Doyle’s struggle against his faults

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on this day in 1916:

Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g to wait till he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange my things as he thinks fit, in a word, humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.

O’Rahilly notes that Fr Doyle took these steps as part of his Ignation spirit of taking the offensive against his faults, precisely because he was naturally inclined to want his own way with things. This was part of Fr Doyle’s dominant defect, and we see here his strategic and practical struggle to overcome it. Fr Doyle did not make a truce with his faults, but struggled right to the end to overcome them.