Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary – Day 3: The virtue of charity in the life of Fr Doyle

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of charity:

1822 Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.

1823 Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own “to the end,” he makes manifest the Father’s love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

1824 Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandmentsof God and his Christ: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

1825 Christ died out of love for us, while we were still “enemies.” The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.

The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: “charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1826 “If I . . . have not charity,” says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, “if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing.” Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: “So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity.”

1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”; it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.

1828 The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who “first loved us”:

If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, . . . we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands . . . we are in the position of children.

Where does one start in discussing the virtue of charity in the life of Fr Doyle? An entire book would be needed to do justice to this theme. In fact, such a book does exist – it is the classic biography of Fr Doyle written by Alfred O’Rahilly and published almost 100 years ago. This book is a detailed description of Fr Doyle’s intense love of God, and the manifold ways that that love spilled over into his love for others. 

There is so much to say on this theme, but I am going to be very brief. But first, an important distinction. Loving someone is not the same as liking them. We are called to love others. This is an act of the will. We are not called to like them. Far too often we confuse the two, and we reduce Christian love to mere “niceness”. Yes, it is good to be nice to others. Courtesy is certainly an important human virtue that is sadly lacking in my quarters today. But these are not the same as love. True love wants the best for the other, even when we do not actually like them. A profoundly evil man may still love his family. Speaking loosely, even a dog may, in a certain instinctive sense, “love” his pack. But it takes the theological virtue of charity to love everyone, even those who hate us. 

Fr Doyle lived a very ordinary childhood in Dalkey, County Dublin. He loved games and sports and pranks. But there was one thing that distinguished him – he went out of his way to show kindness to his poor neighbours. He painted their houses, bought them presents, brought food from his home, assisted the lonely at the hour of death. As Alfred O’Rahilly says, he constituted himself into a one man St Vincent de Paul Conference. This charity, which distinguished him as a child, would be the hallmark of his entire life.

There are so many charitable episodes in his life that one could reflect on. His care for the boys he worked with in the Jesuit schools; his concern for souls while he was a missionary, even to the point of hunting out those who had been away from the Church for many years or waiting to find sailors coming into port late into the night; his care for the street prostitute Fanny Cranbush; his voluminous spiritual direction by mail that entailed many hours of work; his fundraising for abandoned African children; his concern for those struggling to find their vocation in life; his founding of the Poor Clare convent in Cork City; his concern for workers and his desire to establish a retreat house for them. And all of this before we get to the period of his supreme acts of love – his almost daily self-sacrifice for his soldiers in the war, culminating in his death while rescuing some fallen officers.

Fr Doyle knew what he was getting into during the war, and foresaw that he might well die as a martyr of charity, imitating Christ by offering his life to save others. As he wrote in a letter not long after volunteering to become a military chaplain:

What I am going to tell you now may pain you. I have volunteered for the Front as Military Chaplain, though perhaps I may never be sent. Naturally I have little attraction for the hardship and suffering the life would mean; but it is a glorious chance of making the ‘ould body’ bear something for Christ’s dear sake. However, what decided me in the end was a thought that flashed into my mind when in the chapel: the thought that if I get killed I shall die a martyr of charity and so the longing of my heart will be gratified. This much my offering myself as chaplain has done for me: it has made me realise that my life may be very short and that I must do all I can for Jesus now.

There is one particular episode that I want to draw attention to, for every time I think of it, I am struck speechless. Fr Doyle worked alongside a medical doctor called Dr Buchanan for many months during the war. They often shared the same quarters. On one occasion, when the doctor was sick and there were no blankets to place on the damp dug-out floor, Fr Doyle lay face down in the damp and made the doctor lie on his back, so that at least the sick doctor would get some rest.

What can one say when confronted with such selfless love of others?

Well, in fact, there is one thing that can be said, and it is this – such love, especially for strangers, is not natural. It is not natural because it is supernatural. Fr Doyle’s love for his neighbours was fundamentally based upon, and nourished by, the great love of his life – his love for Jesus Christ. And so today we will conclude with some words from Fr Doyle on loving God with our whole heart.

We must love God with our whole heart. Can He be loved otherwise? Is it too much that a finite heart should love infinite Beauty? I fail in this wholehearted love if I keep back anything from Him, if I am determined not to pass certain limits as proof of my love, if I absolutely refuse to sacrifice certain things which He asks, if I refuse to follow the grace which is impelling me on. It is not necessary to imagine extraordinary circumstances in the future; there is presumption in this; we must not count on ourselves as St. Peter did. Also there is a danger of despondency in such imaginings, when we do not feel capable of such tests of love. Examine the present.

We must love God with our whole strength. If I love God with all the strength that grace gives me now, this grace is increased by each act of love, so that I should from day to day love Him more. Love for a creature is strongest at its commencement, it becomes weaker, it ends in weariness and disgust. It is quite the contrary with divine love. Weak in the beginning, it grows as we come to know God better, as we taste Him more, as we approach Him more familiarly and enjoy His presence more intimately.

We conclude with a prayer to Fr Doyle for private use. 

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…[Make petition.]

Teach us to imitate his love for You, his heroic devotion to Your service, his zeal for repairing the outrages done to Sacred Heart. For Your greater glory and for the salvation of souls hear our prayer and show us the credit he now enjoys in heaven so that we may soon be able to venerate him in public worship.”

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Fr Doyle’s battle against his dominant defect

Fr Doyle, like all of us, had to struggle against his defects. We see an especially vivid example of his struggle in private diary notes written on this day 104 years ago (10 August 1916 – 1 year before his death and one year before the “Behold the Man” episode reported in an earlier posting today).

For the past couple of days I have been very unhappy, in bad humour, with peace of soul quite gone, owing to certain arrangements about billets etc which I dislike. This has come from fighting against God’s will. I know He wants me to take every detail of my life as coming from His hand; and I cannot bring myself to submit. I get irritated and annoyed over trifles e.g. the server ringing the bell at Mass too long, my men coming into my room in the morning for my boots etc etc. I feel Jesus urges me to these things: (1) to take every single detail of my life as done by Him; (2) lovingly to accept it all in the spirit of immolation that my will and wishes may be annihilated; (3) never to complain or grumble even to myself; (4) to try and let everyone do with me as he pleases, looking on myself as a slave to be trampled on…If I kept these rules I should never be annoyed or upset about anything and should never lose my peace of soul.

Consider the stress of the life Fr Doyle was living and the sights he had already witnessed at this stage of the war. We can hardly blame him for feeling bit irritable! There are some lessons that we can take from this. 

Firstly, we all have to struggle. Holiness, at every stage, requires struggle, although the nature of the struggle differs from person to person.

Secondly our struggle, at least in the beginning, if not for all of our life, will primarily be against our dominant defect. We all have one particular weakness that drags us down. We will have many sins, but one particular sin that will lead us into other faults. For some it might be pride. Perhaps this was the case with St Vincent de Paul. Others struggled with sensuality – St Augustine and St Margaret of Cortona come to mind. But with Fr Doyle it seems, to my mind at least, to have been a certain tempestuousness – a quick temper and strong passions. Perhaps this was also the dominant defect of St Peter. It was certainly the case with St Francis de Sales, who, despite having this defect, is known as the gentleman saint, because he consistently fought this defect and overcome it significantly. Perhaps it is inevitable that somebody with a strong will has to fight against this defect of temper – the two probably go hand in hand. This battle against the dominant defect is fundamental to our spiritual life. If we want to be holy, and we want a practical programme for sanctity, then the battle against our own unique fault will be central to this. For those who want more information on this, see the works of the renowned expert Fr Garrigou-Lagrange on this topic

Thirdly, despite how Fr Doyle felt internally, I suspect that nobody around him knew of his interior struggle. Those who knew Fr Doyle always spoke of how gentle and meek and mild he was, despite provocations to the contrary. I quote one example from “Merry in God”, published anonymously but written by Fr Doyle’s brother, Fr Charles Doyle:

When his “genius of an orderly” at the Front, who would fry meat and pudding together, and use the water he had washed the Padre’s socks in for tea, once cleaned his master’s trench boots by dipping them in a cesspool, thereby imparting to them an unbearable odour, Fr Doyle’s only remark to a friend (Fr Frank Browne, SJ) who urged instant dismissal was “Oh, he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, I can perhaps gain something too, by keeping him”

The “something” Fr Doyle would gain, of course, was an ongoing opportunity to mortify himself and thus overcome his naturally strong temper. 

Fr Doyle was a source of strength, serenity and calm for others, especially in the most stressful situations. Tough Irish soldiers flocked to him – they would not flock to a man who was irritable and highly strung. Despite the interior trials Fr Doyle felt, he managed to surmount them. How rarely many of us manage to do this!

The final lesson here is that we must never give up! To give up is to fail. To stop advancing is to fall back. And if we fail, if we fall or are tempted, we get back up and begin again. Fr Doyle kept this struggle going always, and he kept it up with specific resolutions. He didn’t tell himself to merely be “nice” to others. Rather, like a good soldier trained in the practical spirituality of St Ignatius, he had specific resolutions that were aimed at rooting out his defect. We will always face this struggle against our passions and against our main defect. But the examples of those who, like Fr Doyle, fought tenaciously against their defects, are a source of inspiration to us.

To conclude, the words of St Benedict may be a source of comfort for all who find the struggle hard:

If a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow. For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

Thoughts for August 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Co-Patroness of Europe


Fr Doyle does not have a specific record for the events of 9 August 1917, so we will instead have one of his typical sayings, and resume his narrative tomorrow.

You must bear in mind that, if God has marked you out for very great graces and possibly a holiness of which you do not even dream, you must be ready to suffer; and the more of this comes to you, especially sufferings of soul, the happier it ought to make you. . . . Love of God is holiness, but the price of love is pain. Round the treasure-house of His love, God has set a thorny hedge; those who would force their way through must not shrink when they feel the sharpness of the thorns piercing their very soul. But alas! how many after a step or two turn sadly back in fear, and so never reach the side of Jesus.

COMMENT: This is classic Fr Doyle. But it is also utterly representative of the message of Christ Himself who tells us:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The way to holiness is hard. It is true that it may be filled with many consolations and the help of God’s grace, but the pursuit of sanctity itself is a hard road. This is seen in the life of every saint, from the martyrs to the hidden contemplatives to those living apostolic lives in the world, whether religious or lay. This suffering isn’t always physical, it can entail a suffering of the soul, similar, for instance, to that darkness experienced by St Teresa of Calcutta for most of her life. Today in the West, and very especially in Ireland, it is becoming increasingly clear that our suffering as Catholics may involve scorn and insults because of our faith. But for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere, we see a hard road that now leads to actual martyrdom.

Progress in the spiritual life requires effort, just like progress in a sport or a career requires effort. Those who win medals do not do so by accident – their success is based on many years of training and effort. But the fact that effort is required is not a sufficient excuse to shun this effort and stay still; as Fr Doyle says, we may have been marked out for a holiness of which we do not even dream. What a tragedy, for us and the world, if we do not strive to reach the level of holiness God wills for us. Imagine if Fr Doyle had settled for a life of average sanctity, if he turned “sadly back in fear”? He could have lived a comfortable life; he could have managed to get a relatively easing posting at home. But how much more difficult would life in the trenches have been for some of those soldiers as a result? The same can be said for all the saints – if they had turned back sadly in fear, how many religious orders with all their works would remain unfounded; how many works of charity or of apostolate would remain undone?

And the same can be said of us. If we turn back out of fear of suffering, how many people will be worse off? That’s why the universal call to holiness is so remarkable, and exciting, and why we must not forget the implications of this spiritual truth for all of us. 

But we must not give way to fear, for Christ has promised His grace, and this will help carry us forward, for without it we can do nothing. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He will help us. As St Benedict tells us in his Rule:

For as we advance…in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.

Finally, we can turn today to St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross for help. She is one of the patron saints of Europe, where the Church suffers so much today. St Teresa Benedicta surely did not imagine what God had in store for her – from Jew to atheist to brilliant scholar to Catholic convert to enclosed Carmelite mystic to martyr of the Nazi holocaust. She did not turn sadly back when she felt the pain of the thorns, but trusted in God each step of the way. How richer the world, and the Church, is for her holiness.

St Teresa Benedicta, pray for us.

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary. Day 2: The virtue of hope in the life of Fr Doyle

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of hope:

1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

1819 Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice.”Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations.”

1820 Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the “hope that does not disappoint.” Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: “Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” It affords us joy even under trial: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.” Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.

1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.

Fr Doyle lived the virtue of hope throughout his life, but most especially during the war years. He ardently desired the Kingdom of Heaven, so much so that he even desired martyrdom. We do not hear much talk of “merit” in contemporary religious discourse, but its significance was more clear;y recognised 100 years ago. In the Gospel, Jesus says that in His Father’s house there are many mansions. In other words, even though Heaven is a place of perfect happiness, there are different degrees of glory in Heaven relative to our capacity to receive it. The greater our capacity for love, the greater is our capacity for being filled with God’s love and glory in Heaven. Thus Fr Doyle often wrote about growing in the love of God and of acquiring merit on earth so that we will be capable of being more fully filled with God’s love in Heaven:

What treasures of grace, what innumerable opportunities of merit are within my grasp if only I seize them.

It is unlikely that Fr Doyle could have functioned effectively in the war years were he not filled with hope. He also had this hope for the soldiers he risked his life to serve – he believed that by providing the sacraments to them that he was literally opening the gates of Heaven for them. They shared this belief, and were always relieved when they met the priest before death.

I don’t think you will blame me when I tell you that more than once the words of Absolution stuck in my throat, and the tears splashed down on the patient suffering faces of my poor boys as I leaned down to anoint them. One young soldier seized my two hands and covered them with kisses; another looked up and said: ‘Oh ! Father I can die happy now, sure I’m not afraid of death or anything else since I have seen you.’ Don’t you think, dear father, that the little sacrifice made in coming out here has already been more than repaid, and if you have suffered a little anxiety on my account, you have at least the consolation of knowing that I have, through God’s goodness, been able to comfort many a poor fellow and perhaps to open the gates of Heaven for them.

But Fr Doyle also had great hope for his own safety and protection. Despite his own very natural fears, he trusted in God’s loving providence over all things. He wrote the following to his father while he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx around his neck.

Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in His loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.

Fr Doyle’s hope in the face of such death and destruction is all the more remarkable when one considers that he was caught up in a fire while he was a student and had a nervous breakdown as a result. His transformation was so complete that two decades later he was a rock of strength, courage and hope, and that tough men flocked to him to be strengthened. 

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary: Day 1 – the virtue of faith in the life of Fr Doyle

Counting today, Fr Doyle’s anniversary is 9 days away. It is traditional for Catholics to reflect on specific themes, or to pray for particular favours, for 9 consecutive days. This is a very ancient tradition and dates back to the earliest days of the Church – the apostles and Mary spent 9 days in prayer between the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

So, starting today, in addition to the normal daily post, we will have a specific post on a specific virtue in the life of Fr Doyle. Readers may like to reflect on Fr Doyle’s virtues, and perhaps develop their own private “novena” based around them, perhaps praying, privately, for Fr Doyle’s intercession and help. At the end of each day’s post I will include the text the original prayer for Fr Doyle’s intercession, approved for private devotion only. 

In all of this, please bear in mind that we do not wish to pre-empt any future judgement of the Church on the virtues of Fr Doyle, and will willingly submit to the judgement of the Church.

There are numerous virtues and qualities that one could pick from the life of Fr Doyle. I have chosen to stick with the 3 theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Love) and the 4 cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance) and 2 of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Joy and Peace). So over the 9 days we will very briefly examine the evidence for one of these virtues and fruits in the life of Fr Doyle.

Please bear in mind that these reflections on Fr Doyle’s virtues are intended to be brief reflections that are necessarily incomplete in nature – a comprehensive treatment would require many many pages to complete!

Day 1: The virtue of Faith in the life of Fr Doyle

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (1814-1816):

1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.”

1815 The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it. But “faith apart from works is dead”: when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.

1816 The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

There is much that could be said about the virtue of faith in the life of Fr Doyle. He certainly committed his “entire self to God”, not only through his life as a Jesuit, but by an ardent longing for sanctity, no matter what the cost might be. If faith apart from works is dead, we can say that Fr Doyle had a vibrantly living faith, for he devoted himself to good works for those around him, both before and during the war.

The Catechism says that we must confidently bear witness to the faith and spread it. Fr Doyle did this best in his actions, and by the ways in which he interacted with others, especially during the war. It is of significance that he was greatly mourned by the Protestant soldiers with whom he interacted. This was not an era of ecumenism as we know it today. It was a time of tension, especially in Ireland. The love that these Protestant soldiers had for Fr Doyle says much about the gentle, and effective, manner in which he spread the faith.

He also exhibited this gentleness in spreading the Faith in his encounter with Fanny Cranbush, the street prostitute who was subsequently implicated in a murder and executed. He saw her on the street, and gently urged her to go home and not to offend Jesus. These words, and especially the love and gentleness with which they were spoken, had a deep impact on her and the memory of them made her seek out Fr Doyle’s help before her death.

Fr Doyle lived at a time when societal trends were turning against faith and religion. While the faith held strong in Ireland for several decades longer than other countries, Fr Doyle was well aware of the challenges to faith that were growing in other countries. When he speaks of socialism here he is surely speaking of the most extreme forms, which has always attacked and persecuted religious faith. If his words below seem alarmist, consider the results of the October Revolution in 1917, or two decades later the consequences of the leftist persecution of the Church in Spain which saw literally thousands killed for no reason other than their faith. 

To the anxious watcher signs are not wanting that we shall not be long secure from the attacks of those who, on the Continent, have worked such havoc in the Church. The voice of the Socialist is heard in the land. The tide of infidel literature – cheap, clever, attractive – is slowly gaining ground, carrying with it the foul poison of doubt and incredulity, sparing nothing, however sacred or holy. 
How to save our dear land from such dangers is a problem which must interest every man and woman who has the interests of their country at heart. This was the problem which Catholics in other lands had to face. They saw the efforts made to draw the toiler from allegiance to his Church, the harm done to home and State by socialistic doctrines, and irresistible onward march of modern infidelity.

Fr Doyle’s faith was not merely abstract or intellectual – it was living and vibrant and fundamentally rooted in the person of Christ. We will end today with a quote from Fr Doyle on this very point.

The wretched spirit of Jansenism has driven our dear Lord from His rightful place in our hearts. He longs for love, and familiar love, so give Him both.

We conclude with a prayer to Fr Doyle for private use. 

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…[Make petition.]

Teach us to imitate his love for You, his heroic devotion to Your service, his zeal for repairing the outrages done to Sacred Heart. For Your greater glory and for the salvation of souls hear our prayer and show us the credit he now enjoys in heaven so that we may soon be able to venerate him in public worship.”

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Thoughts for August 4 (St John Vianney) from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Vianney

Today is the feast of St John Vianney. Fr Doyle had a great devotion to him and visited Ars in 1907.

From O’Rahilly’s biography:

In spite of missing a train, and after an adventurous journey on a very primitive steam-tram, he found himself in the spot hallowed by the Curé of Ars. Fr. Doyle insisted on seeing everything: the room in which the saint died, the half-burnt curtains said to have been damaged by the devil, the little pan in which the holy man cooked the flour-lumps which he called cakes. He was allowed as a special privilege to sit in the Curé’s confessional, and above all he was able to say Mass at his shrine, using the saint’s chalice. Just above the altar reposed the Curé’s body in a case of glass and gold. “It gave one a strange feeling,” wrote Fr. Doyle, “to see the holy old man lying before one during Mass, calm and peaceful, with a heavenly smile on his face, just as he died fifty years ago…I shall never forget my visit to Ars,” he concluded; “I knew all about the Blessed Curé’s life, so that each spot had an interest and charm for me.”

Writing in his pamphlet on the priesthood, Fr Doyle described St John Vianney in this way:

In the little village Ars, near Lyons, lived and died, some fifty years ago, a simple French Curé. He had none of the great gifts which the world looks for in her famous men; so deficient was he in learning, that his Bishop hesitated about ordaining him, and he could call neither talent nor eloquence to his aid. But the Blessed Curé d’Ars possessed a marvellous, secret power over men, the power of personal holiness. For the last thirty years his life never varied. At midnight, after a broken sleep of only three hours, he entered his confessional, where for eighteen hours he absolved and consoled the hundred thousand pilgrims who annually came to Ars. He revelled in austerities and humiliations, he hungered for prayer, winning souls to God and converting the most hardened sinners by the example of his heroic life as much as by the graces of his sanctity.

Some further reflections from Fr Doyle on St Vianney may be helpful today. Writing in his diary on this day in 1913, he said:

Making my meditation before the picture of the Blessed (John Vianney), he seemed to say to me with an interior voice: “The secret of my life was that I lived for the moment. I did not say, I must pray here for the next hour, but only for this moment. I did not say, I have a hundred confessions to hear, I but looked upon this one as the first and last. I did not say, I must deny myself everything and always, but only just this once. By this means I was able always to do everything perfectly, quietly and in great peace. Try and live this life of the present moment. Pray as if you had nothing else whatever to do; say your Office slowly as if for the last time; do not look forward and think you must often repeat this act of self-denial. This will make all things much easier.”

In another place in his diary Fr Doyle writes in a similar vein:

No sacrifice would be great if looked at in this way. I do not feel now the pain which has past, I have not yet to bear what is coming; hence I have only to endure the suffering of this one moment, which is quickly over and cannot return.

This practical and wise advice can be applied by every person, no matter what our state in life might be.

We shall conclude with some short sayings from St John Vianney.

There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God.

A Christian either rules his inclinations or his inclinations rule him.

God has given each of us our work to do. It is for us to pursue our road, that is to say, our vocation…When God gives such and such a vocation, He bestows upon us at the same time His grace to fulfil it. 

Very few people invite Jesus Christ to their wedding; on the contrary they seem to do all they can to keep him away.

The way to destroy bad habits is by watchfulness and by doing often those things which are the opposite one’s besetting sins.

We all make wonderful promises to God so long as nobody says anything to us, and all goes well

All soldiers are good in garrison. On the field of battle we see the difference between the brave and cowardly.

We must be like the shepherds in the fields during the winter. They have a fire, but from time to time they search about for sticks to keep it alive. If we knew how to keep up the fire of the love of God in our heart by prayers and good works, it would not go out.

In the soul which is united to God it is always spring.



31 July 1916

My poor orderly has nearly emptied the well, of course leaving the six dead Germans behind, in his efforts to make enough tea.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle suffered many inconveniences because of his orderly in the trenches. On this occasion, he is suggesting that the orderly made tea from water in which 6 dead Germans were to be found. He may have been exaggerating a little, but perhaps not too much. As he said on another occasion:

Don’t ask me where the water came from, for I am certainly not anxious to learn. The men hold that, if you boil water, you need not bother about its source or how many dead beasties is has washed on its journey. I have had tea of the most wonderful shades of brown and black; but, barring the taste at times, I am not a whit the worse for this mysterious beverage.

And at another time:

I hear Michael, my orderly, hard at work frying onions for my dinner, what a time we are going to have … I am hoping for great things and that he won’t wash my socks again in the water with which he makes the tea. After all as the farmer says ‘pigs is pigs and war is war’ and fresh water is scarce, so hurrah for the laundry tea!

But what was most interesting about Fr Doyle was how he joyfully accepted all of these inconveniences and distasteful experiences as mortifications. Consider the following testimony from his fellow chaplain Fr Frank Browne SJ:

I rode over one morning to see Fr Doyle. I found him writing letters, which he interrupted to tell me of Murphy’s latest. Pointing to his trench boots he asked me to smell them. They were awful. Murphy, in order to prepare them for polishing, had in the orthodox way washed them, but in an unorthodox manner he had chosen a cesspool! The result was almost too much for Fr Willie. When I told him to sack Murphy on the spot, saying that it was getting a bit too much of a good joke, he laughed and said: ‘Well, he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, perhaps I can gain something too’.

Fr Doyle’s natural temperament was impatient and fiery. I suspect that this was probably his dominant defect. But by the end of his life it would appear that he had mastered it. This cheerful acceptance of inconveniences would seem to suggest that he had acquired a high degree of virtue. All of his mortifications and self-denial would seem to have been entirely justified and to have achieved their desired result.

Thoughts for July 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Titus Brandsma


I assure you that you have my entire sympathy as well as my prayers in the trial you are going through. There are few things more painful than to long to know the Will of God and not be able to see it, though it may be quite clear to others. From all that has passed between us I have no doubt that you have a religious vocation. Look at it in this way. Our Lord makes known His willingness to receive anyone into religion by giving them the necessary qualifications and the wish to do this work there. If I have these qualifications – “aptitude,” it is called – and this wish, all I need is the will to take the step. What you have to do is to pray for strength to be brave. Then go ahead, trust in the Sacred Heart, and you will never regret it.

COMMENT: If there is anybody reading this who is contemplating a religious vocation I recommend reading the section of the site on Fr Doyle’s writings where there are two excellent pamphlets on the subject. One has also recently been republished by Os Justi Press and is available here:

As for the rest of us, his point for today remains relevant. There are always extra steps that God is asking of us. Perhaps they are not as dramatic as entering a convent or becoming a priest. Perhaps it will mean getting involved in a charity or engaging in political campaigning for just causes. Maybe it will even involve joining one of the many movements within the Church that can help deepen our commitment to Christ. The lesson remains that we need the will, and the grace, to follow that path. If we follow God’s will, no matter what it is, with complete commitment and trust, then it is true that we will not regret it.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Titus Brandsma, a great Carmelite martyr of the Second World War. Blessed Titus remained faithful to his vocation to the end, opposing the Nazis even if it meant imprisonment and death. It was this faithfulness to his Carmelite vocation that encouraged him to live an ordered life of prayer and activity in the concentration camp at Dachau, spreading cheerfulness and encouragement to others in their sufferings. In many ways his ability to bring joy and to serve others in the midst of his own misery resembles the activities of Fr Doyle in the trenches.

Blessed Titus was eventually killed as a result of Nazi medical experiments in July 1942. A short biography can be found here:

25 July 1917: A soldier shows his gratitude to Fr Doyle (Post 5 of 5 today)

In today’s FIFTH post (I think this is a record!) Fr Doyle recounts a touching scene in which a soldier shows him his gratitude.

One of my men, belonging to the Irish Rifles, of which I have charge also, passed by. We chatted for a few minutes and then he went on, but came back shortly with a steaming bowl of coffee which he had bought for me. ‘ I am not one of your flock, Father,’ he said, ‘ but we have all a great liking for you.’ And then he added: ‘If all the officers treated us as you do, our lives would be different.’ I was greatly touched by the poor lad’s thoughtfulness, and impressed by what he said: a kind word often goes further than one thinks, and one loses nothing by remembering that even soldiers are human beings and have feelings like anyone else.

Thoughts for July 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

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: Self-inflicted pain?? It sounds so…medieval, so exaggerated! It’s 2020, surely we’ve grown out of this by this stage?

Except we haven’t. We see more self-inflicted pain in this age than in any other.  What of all the diets and self-imposed fasts people take on in order to look better? What about the self-imposed pain of body piercings or tattoos? Or the self-inflicted suffering of unnecessary cosmetic surgery to acquire the latest “look”?  Or how about the pain and discipline of work people impose on themselves to get a promotion to the next rung of the corporate ladder, or to pass an exam or to write a thesis or a book? Consider all those people who jump out of bed to jog at the crack of dawn, no matter what the weather is like. And all those who faithfully push themselves at the gym several times a week or who undergo rigorous training to play in sporting competitions. What about those who take part in Ironman competitions? These involve a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile cycle followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles) one after the other, without a break. That is surely more punishing than corporal mortification…

But for some reason, people flinch at the mention of self-imposed pain in the spiritual life. The very idea of penance is shocking and strange to us today.

But we need to recall that penance is an absolutely indispensible part of a serious Christian life. It will be impossible to find the life of any saint who did not practice it, and impossible to find any classic book on the spiritual life that does not advocate it. As St Thomas More said: “We cannot go to Heaven in feather beds”. Pope Benedict also called our attention to the importance of penance in his excellent letter to the Catholics of Irelandwho are living through a time of crisis. In this letter he specifically mentioned the importance of penance in the reform of the Church in Ireland.

But this doesn’t mean that we need to wear hairshirts (like Thomas More himself) or scourge our flesh (like St Pope John Paul II did with his leather belt). There are other small penances that we can perform that are possibly even more difficult for some people than the momentary physical pain of corporal penance but that will still be very helpful.

Here is a link to an excellent pamphlet discussing Christian mortification by the saintly Belgian Cardinal Mercier.. 

Fr Doyle was severe with himself physically (although, one might add, no more severe than the most popular saints, and also always with the approval of his superiors) but he was always gentle with others, moderating and even restricting their use of physical penances. Here is some advice he gave to another correspondent:

I want you to give up all corporal penance and to take for your particular examen “self-denial in little things”. Make ten acts for each examen, and the more trivial they are the better.

His advice here is especially relevant to the modern age. This self-denial in little things makes our will stronger and probably makes us easier to live with. It can be very simple, such as cleaning up after ourselves, getting out of bed (or going to bed!) on time, not saying a sharp or impatient word etc etc. Each day presents numerous opportunities for following this path that will strengthen our will, build our character and make us easier to live with.

For Fr Doyle these little things included not complaining to others when he had a headache or even giving up butter on this bread. 

In doing these little things we are merely following the command of Jesus that we take up our cross daily and follow Him.