Thoughts for May 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

Are you not foolish in wishing to be free from these attacks of impatience, etc.? I know how violent they can be, since they sweep down on me at all hours without any provocation. You forget the many victories they furnish you with.

COMMENT: Each one of us has our own temperament. Some are timid and quiet. Some are very goal-oriented and work hard. Others are easily excited. Fr Doyle probably fell into this last category – he had a very fiery temperament. This manifested itself in his generous apostolic zeal, his appetite for mortifications and his competitiveness on the sports field. Yet throughout his life we see many examples of how he won “victories” against his natural impatience. One example will suffice – in his last few months, while he was a chaplain in the war, he had many opportunities to lose his temper with the circumstances and people around him. It seems that he rarely did. In fact, he even wanted those around him to treat him like a slave – he wanted to be subject to them and to be mistreated by them in order to learn more patience and humility. For example, Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary in October 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 til 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.

While this practice clearly shows a high degree of detachment, it is probably not advisable for all of us. But that does not mean that it was not desirable for Fr Doyle or for those others who were renowned for their high degree of holiness and who also followed this practice (for example, the Spanish noblewoman Luisa Carvajal, who was herself very close to the Jesuits of her day). Clearly, in adopting this practice, Fr Doyle was simply following the Jesuit ideal of going on the offensive to overcome our weaknesses and vices; in this case Fr Doyle’s desire to have things his way. While we may not go so far as to make ourselves the slave of others, it is clear that our homes and our societies would be healthier places if we were all more patient and insisted on our own way less frequently.

Today is the feast of St Rita of Cascia. She is known as the saint of the impossible due to the efficacy of her prayers. But perhaps she could also be known as a saint who personified the virtue of patience. She spent 18 years married to an abusive, violent and unfaithful husband. However, her patience and love finally converted him near the end of his life. After her husband was murdered by some of his many enemies, she successfully prevented her sons from taking revenge, and she entered an Augustinian convent where she spent the last 40 years of her life.

We may not be called to act like the slave of others like Fr Doyle, or to put up with an abusive marriage like St Rita. But we are all called to live the virtue of patience in the concrete circumstances of our own lives. Who can doubt that the world would be a better place if we were all a little more patient with each other.

One final thought today – St Rita is an extremely popular saint but she was only beatified 170 years after her death and canonised 443 years after her death. Not all of the great saints are recognised immediately after death.

St Rita of Cascia
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Thoughts for May 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

A sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows sharper with use.

COMMENT: How correct Fr Doyle’s assessment is! The more we criticise others, the more critical we can become ourselves. Like all vices, the more we engage in them, the easier and easier it becomes to keep engaging in them, and to grow worse over time. That is why big sins don’t normally arise out of thin air – they are normally preceded by smaller infidelities that weaken our resolve and undermine our spiritual lives. On the other hand, just like with exercise, the gradual pursuit of virtue strengthens us, and equips us for ever greater acts of virtue and charity. If our sins become “sharper” with use, then so too do our virtues. And that is precisely why Fr Doyle’s methodical pursuit of holiness is so important. It may seem old fashioned or pedantic, but it is the safe and sure path that the saints followed, and it is the path that Jesus Himself recommended when He told his disciples that those who are faithful in little things will also be faithful in greater things. 

Thoughts for May 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

How often have we murmured against the good God because He has refused our petitions or frustrated our plans. Can we look into the future as God can do? Can we see now and realise to the full the effect our request would have had if granted? God loves us, He loves us too dearly to leave us to the guidance of our poor judgements; and when He turns a deaf ear to our entreaties it is as a tender Father would treat the longings of a child for what would work him harm.

Thoughts for May 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

If there is any certain mark of the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, if there is any visible pledge of future happiness destined for man, assuredly it is lightness of heart and joy of spirit.

COMMENT: One of the most striking things about O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle was the level of detail he revealed about Fr Doyle’s asceticism. It is debateable whether it was good to publish these intimate details of Fr Doyle’s life. But what is not up for debate is that the details of Fr Doyle’s penances were a complete surprise to everyone who knew him, with the probable exception of his confessor, who seems to have generally approved of his penances and recommended very few amendments to them. 

Fr Doyle’s penances were such a surprise precisely because he was a thoroughly normal, healthy, fun loving, joyful and energetic man who did not indiscriminately advertise the secrets of his spiritual life. Apart from a nervous breakdown around the age of 20, he fully possessed the lightness of heart and joy of spirit to which he refers in today’s quote. Fr Doyle had a winning personality – not everyone can attract the hard pressed soldiers who absolutely loved him and who flocked to him in moments of extreme danger. He was renowned for his practical jokes, good cheer and concern for all. To read his unabridged letters home from the trenches reveals an astounding joy and lightness of spirit in the midst of the most dreadful scenes of carnage, loss and danger. It is this joyful spirit in the face of death and despair that is one of the strongest arguments for Fr Doyle’s sanctity. 

Thoughts for May 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Simon Stock

Are you weary of the fight already and willing to give in to the enemy? Never mind, come back, begin again, Jesus wants you. There are millions of pagans to be saved, a hundred thousand dying sinners every day to be rescued.

COMMENT: Today’s quote captures the essence of Fr Doyle’s spirit – he was a real fighter given over to spiritual combat, and he was a true missionary dedicated to saving souls, even to the point of losing his own life in the process. These two dimensions encapsulate his inner life of asceticism and his outer life of zealous apostolate.

These two concepts – spiritual combat and apostolate – are firmly rooted in the lives of the saints and indeed in the teaching of Jesus. After all, we follow Christ who told us to fight by denying ourselves, to take up our cross daily, to strive to be perfect, to sin no more. He also sent out His disciples to bring the good news to people and to save souls.

Today is the feast of St Simon Stock, the Carmelite friar to whom, according to the long standing tradition, Our Lady revealed the scapular promises. In essence, tradition tells us that those who wear the brown scapular will have the grace of final perseverance. The scapular is not a good luck charm or a piece of superstition. But it is an important sacramental. We are not obliged to believe in the promises relating to the scapular, but it has a long tradition in the Church, and many saints died wearing it. 

Thoughts for May 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

I think our Lord wants your whole day to be one continued act of love and union with Him in your heart, which has no need of words to express it. Your attitude ought to be that of the mother beside the cot of her babe, lost in love and tenderness, but saying nothing, just letting the heart speak, though the wee one cannot know it as Jesus does. There is nothing more sanctifying than this life, which few, I fear, reach to, since it means a constant effort to bring back our wandering imagination.

Thoughts for May 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Damien of Molokai

O eternal Lord . . . provided it be for Thy greater service and praise . . . and if Thy most Holy Majesty be pleased to choose and receive me for such a life and state, I offer myself to Thee for the Congo Mission. Thy will be done. Amen.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had long felt a call become a missionary in the Congo. He struggled for some time with the decision to volunteer for this mission, knowing that he would probably end up as a martyr. He wanted it and didn’t want it at the same time. When he finally offered himself for this role, his offer was not accepted. However, his subsequent offer some years later to become a military chaplain was accepted, with all of the heroic and tragic consequences that amaze us to this day.

Today is the feast of St Damien of Molokai, one of the great modern missionaries of the Church. St Damien is well respected, even by those who otherwise would not know much about the Church or the saints. Like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, his selfless love of the poor and abandoned has a strange fascination for modern culture.

St Damien was a great apostle of charity. His journey far from home in Belgium to live amongst lepers, constantly facing the risk of contracting the disease himself, shows him to be a heroic imitator of Christ who laid down His life for others. But St Damien was a true apostle of charity, who cared for both body and soul. It is significant that one major aspect of his apostolate was a reformation of the morals of the lepers which, due to their despair and abandonment, had become degraded over time.

St Damien drew his energy for this remarkable mission from both prayer and penance. His spiritual notes and resolutions resemble Fr Doyle’s in places – he lived a disciplined life of prayer with many small acts of mortification. Just like in the case of Fr Doyle, we are forced to remember that heroic acts of charity do not materialise from thin air – they arise from daily, grinding faithfulness in our spiritual life.

There is one other surprising similarity between Fr Doyle and St Damien. It seems that Fr Doyle’s desire for the missionary life was not fully satisfied by his time in the trenches. Not long after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Flinn, a fellow Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter:

In the train somewhere here in France I met an officer of W.Doyle’s regiment…For one half-hour in the crowded carriage he spoke the praises of poor Billy. ‘That man was’, he said, ‘the limit’. He wound up with a word that was new, to me at least – ‘He’d have died a martyr anyway, for he had made up his mind to go, after the war, to one of the leper settlements’.

Given what we know about the outrageous sufferings and strains Fr Doyle experienced in the war we might well be forgiven in thinking that he deserved a rather comfortable and safe apostolate if he managed to survive the experience. But this great apostle had other ideas and he wanted to give of himself right to the very end.

Those interested in St Damien can find an excellent overview of his life and spirit from the Benedictine monks of Clairval here: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2010/07/31/2280710.htm