Thoughts for September 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

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

COMMENT: Devotion to the Holy Spirit is not just something of relevance for religious; it helps all of us, for we all need inspiration and we all need to be transformed in faith and fortitude.

The example of St John Houghton comes to mind in this regard. St John Houghton was a Carthusian priest who was one of the very first to oppose King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts, hence the picture of him with a noose around his neck and his heart in his hand.

Originally the Carthusian monks did not know whether to support the Act or not, and it was after saying the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit that the monks received the strength to oppose King Henry and the courage to follow through with their position despite its grizzly implications.

Fr Doyle, too, followed the inspirations of the Holy Spirit by volunteering as a military chaplain, and the grace of the Holy Spirit saw him through many tough times, allowing his cheerfulness to shine out to those around him.

Both St John Houghton and Fr Doyle trusted in the Holy Spirit and, to use Fr Doyle’s phrase, “were changed …from skulking cowards” and became “afire with the love of God”. That very same grace that was available to the Apostles and early Christians, to St John Houghton and Fr Doyle, remains available to us today.

St John Houghton
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Thoughts for September 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

Try and remember that sanctification means daily, hourly, hard work, and this unflinchingly, when weariness comes.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle engaged in this daily, hourly hard work in his ceaseless quest for sanctity, always knowing, however, that God loved him and supplied him with the grace he needed.

Fr Doyle’s quote today brings to mind the famous prayer that St Pius X wrote to honour St Joseph. 

O Glorious St Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honour to employ and to develop by labour the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty; to work above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so destructive to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch St Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity. Amen

Thoughts for September 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

A deadly pitfall lies hidden in the desire of some to pour themselves out in works of zeal for God’s glory, to which the evil spirit not uncommonly urges those whom he sees full of zeal. It is evident even to one little versed in the way of the spiritual life that a multiplicity of external occupations, even though good and meritorious in themselves, must by their very nature hinder that calm peace of soul which is essential for interior union with God.

For one who has advanced in the way of interior union, no life, no matter how occupied or full of distracting work, will prove much of a hindrance; such a one has learned how to ride on the waves of worldly care and not to be engulfed by them, he refuses to put himself out or be totally absorbed in things which have only a fleeting interest; but it is not so with the beginner in the spiritual life. Overwork has broken down not a few weakly bodies but has ruined far more souls, drying up if not destroying all love for prayer and the things of God, leaving the wreck of many a “spoiled saint” strewn on the road of life.

COMMENT: This is an interesting quote from Fr Doyle who so often advocates hard work. Yes, hard work is important, but we must always be balanced and recognise the potential danger of overwork. We must always make time for rest and avoid mere activism which is very dangerous to the spiritual life.

St Teresa of Avila also recognised this danger in writing to a priest:

Will Your reverence please remember that you aren’t made of iron. Just think of all the good brains in our Order that have been ruined from overwork.

Today is also the feast of the Jesuit St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church. St Robert was a famous theologian and cardinal. He had a special interest in England and the sufferings of Catholics there; his works were considered so effective that Queen Elizabeth I banned them in her realm due to their impact.

St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for September 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

Our Blessed Lord loves me, with all my faults and failings, and has marked me out for the special graces which will make me a saint, a big one if I like.

COMMENT: Three points are worth reflecting on today.

Firstly, Fr Doyle’s words may, at first glance, seem arrogant or proud. “God loves ME. He has marked ME out for special graces. They could make ME a BIG saint.” And yet, what Fr Doyle says is true. Fr Doyle was marked out for special graces that could make him a big saint. But not just Fr Doyle – all of us. We are all marked out for special graces. We can all become great saints. We are all called to be perfect, no matter what our temporal circumstances are like, and we are all given the opportunity to obtain the grace to achieve that, even if that path will be very hard.

And that leads us to the second point. “If I like”…What telling words from Fr Doyle today. God loves us, and He wants us to imitate Him more closely and to be perfect, to be a big saint. But He will not force us. We are called to be saints and to co-operate with His will for us. But we have to want to do so and to dispose ourselves to receive those graces. God will not make us holy against our will. We must co-operate.

Thirdly, then, perhaps we, too, can learn from this in our relations with others. Even though He wants us to be better, God does not force us to become saints. Similarly, we cannot force others to believe or to practice their faith. Fr Doyle knew this and always approached others with gentleness and kindness, despite his burning zeal for their salvation. He did not force or condemn. As St Francis de Sales used to say, a spoon of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar. 

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for September 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

I realise in a way I never did before that God created me for His service, that He has a strict right that I should serve Him perfectly, and that every moment of my life is His and given to me for the one end of praising and serving Him. I recall with horror how often I have wandered from this my end, what an appalling amount of time I have wasted, and how few of my actions were done for God or worthy of being offered to Him. I see what I should have been and what I am. But the thought of Jesus waiting and eagerly looking out for me, the prodigal, during fifteen years, has filled me with hope and confidence and new resolve to turn to my dearest Jesus and give Him all He asks.

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness, having as my aim to get back the fervour of my first year’s novitiate.

COMMENT: In today’s comments Fr Doyle touches on one of the fundamental facts of life: we are made to know, love and serve God. St Ignatius expresses it this way in the Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

St Josemaria Escriva put it slightly differently:

Our Lord has given us as a present our very lives, our senses, our faculties, and countless graces. We have no right to forget that each of us is a worker.

Once we see this fact, everything changes. For Fr Doyle, recognising this had a profound effect, unleashing all of his efforts towards loving God and those around him.

But as has been said before on this site, recognising this doesn’t mean that we have to necessarily undertake dangerous missions or become a military chaplain. As Fr Doyle put it:

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness.

St Josemaria Escriva

Thoughts for September 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

If I do not begin to serve God as I ought now, when shall I do so? Shall I ever? This retreat is a time of special grace, and if my cooperation is wanting, Jesus may pass by and not return. The devil has made me put off my thorough conversion for seventeen years, making me content myself with the resolution of “later on really beginning in earnest and becoming a saint”. What might not have been done in that time!

COMMENT: These notes were taken in 1907 during the 30-day spiritual exercises which had such a deep and long lasting impact on Fr Doyle.

Fr Doyle had a deep insight into the human condition, into his own condition. He recognised the tendency we all have to postpone our reform, to imagine that some future time will allow us to serve God better and that in some other mythical future we will set about the task of becoming saints.

But as the Imitation of Christ says:

The place avails little, if the spirit of fervour be wanting…if you do not establish yourself in Me, you can change dwelling, but you will not better yourself

The reality is that the time to set about our conversion is now and the place is here. We should not rely on some future ideal state that really will never occur.

As for the lost time, well, Fr Doyle certainly made up for that! So too did St Teresa of Avila, who only definitively placed herself on the right path after many years of religious life. She had received many graces in her early life, but even after receiving these graces she gave up prayer altogether for a full year. Here is her prayer to redeem lost time:

O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in “wedding garments.”

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for September 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

My intense desire and longing is to make others love Jesus and to draw them to His Sacred Heart. Recently at Mass I have found myself at the Dominus Vobiscum opening my arms wide with the intention of embracing every soul present and drawing them in spite of themselves into that Heart which longs for their love. “Compel them to come in,” Jesus said. Yes, compel them to dive into that abyss of love. Sometimes, I might say nearly always, when speaking to people I am seized with an extraordinary desire to draw their hearts to God. I could go down on my knees before them and beg them to be pure and holy, so strong do I feel the longing of Jesus for sanctity in everyone, and since I may not do this, I try to do what I find hard to describe in words: to pour out of my heart any grace or love of God there may be in it, and then with all the force of my will to draw their hearts into that of Jesus.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a great zeal for souls. It was this zeal that compelled him to travel around Ireland (and occasionally in Scotland and England) preaching missions and giving retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to try to establish a retreat house for laypeople in the face of opposition from those who did not see the point of laypeople doing retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to walk the streets at dawn to carry out apostolate with the working class on their way to work and to walk around ports at night to carry out apostolate with sailors. It was this zeal that compelled him to gently and kindly tell a street prostitute to go home and to stop hurting Jesus, ultimately converting her. It was this zeal that compelled him to mortify himself so that the sins of others, and especially of priests, might be expiated. It was this zeal that compelled him to volunteer for the missions in Congo, even though his offer was not accepted by his superiors. It was this zeal which compelled him to volunteer as a military chaplain and to face the probability of death time after time as he rushed into danger to anoint a fallen soldier. And it was this zeal which made him resolve to volunteer to work in leper colony if he survived the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Charles Spinola, an Italian Jesuit saint whose zeal compelled him to leave the comfortable life of a 16th Century noble and volunteer for the missions in Japan. It took him three years to get there, and after working for 18 years, he was imprisoned in a cage for four years, tortured and finally burned to death.

We are unlikely to be called to such remarkable acts. But if the saints and other holy men and women can exhibit such heroism and zeal for souls, we can surely live the daily tasks of each day with more fortitude and heroism.

Blessed Charles Spinola SJ