Remember the devil is a bad spiritual director, and you may always recognise his apparently good suggestions by the disturbances they cause in the soul. Our Lord would never urge you to turn away from a path which is leading you nearer to Himself, nor frighten you with the prospect of future unbearable trials. If they do come, grace will come also and make you abound with joy in all your tribulations.
COMMENT: Many spiritual writers echo the words of Fr Doyle in today’s quote. St Ignatius speaks of consolations and desolations; the former coming from God and the latter from the enemy. The devil wishes to disturb our soul, injecting fears and scruples and anxiety and a distaste for spiritual things. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, wishes to give us peace. It’s not for nothing that the risen Christ always spoke of peace when He appeared to His disciples.
Fr Doyle was not necessarily an innately heroic man. He suffered from ill health quite a lot in his life. At one stage during his seminary days he suffered what Alfred O’Rahilly describes as “a complete nervous breakdown” and had to leave the novitiate for a while. Some doctors even said that he was ill-equipped for the religious life. As one soldier said of him, he had all of the inherent characteristics of a coward. But Fr Doyle didn’t rely on himself and his own powers. He abounded with joy in all of his tribulations because he relied on God who never abandons His followers.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he promised to be with his disciples to the end of time. That was true almost two thousand years ago; it was true 100 years ago in the trenches and it remains true today.
“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.
COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.
The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.
Fr Doyle wrote the following notes in his diary on this day in 1914:
I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.
In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this.
St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr 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.
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.
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.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez is a striking example of one who, though in a lowly station in life, devoid of all that in the eyes of the world makes for greatness, yet did a mighty work for God. With a heart burning with zeal, which prayer alone could not satisfy, he saw in the young ardent Peter Claver a ready instrument for the work he longed to do. With burning words he fires the soul of the future apostle with a hunger for abandoned souls. He tells him of the wretched slaves dragging out a miserable existence in a far-off world, knowing not the name of Jesus; he pictures to him the rich and golden harvest to be reaped, the victories over sin and Satan; he whispers of the pain and suffering, the heat, the toil, the lingering death, till Claver’s heart is aflame with zeal, burning with a holy fire.
With tender love did the old saint watch the young one grow in virtue day by day; with trembling hands he begs that grace may fall upon this fresh ardent soul and make him worthy of the heavenly call. Alphonsus’ eyes soon must close in death, his time is nearly run, his hour of sweet repose is drawing near; but if he may no longer toil for God, at least he longs to leave behind him one whom by his prayers and bright example he has made a saint.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Spanish Jesuit saint of the 16th and 17th century. He was a doorkeeper in the Jesuit house on Majorca. How many saints have been doorkeepers! From the top of my head, the distinguished list includes St Faustina, St Josephine Bakhita, St Conrad of Parzham, St Martin de Porres, Venerable Consolata Betrone, Blessed Solanus Casey and St Andre Bessette, as well as numerous others. The doorkeeper plays an important role in religious houses, acting as a link with the outside world. But it is also a humble one. Perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something with the sheer number of saints who have held this humble role.
The humility of St Alphonsus’ task is one reason why Fr Doyle should have such admiration for him. After all, Fr Doyle’s constant theme of performing simple tasks well is readily applicable to the life of a humble doorkeeper. St Alphonsus also had great evangelical zeal, and he played a formative role in the life of the great apostle of the slaves, St Peter Claver. This aspect of St Alphonsus also clearly appealed to Fr Doyle, the tireless apostle.
May the example of St Alphonsus Rodriguez teach us that the simplest and most humble tasks are compatible with great sanctity.
You may read more about the spirituality of St Alphonsus Rodriguez here.
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, 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.
COMMENT: The desire to die a martyr was with Fr Doyle from his earliest days. Far from being something morbid, it is one of the ultimate expressions of love for God – the desire to offer everything, even our life, for the One who has given everything to us.
This desire was felt by many saints across the ages, through perhaps we personally may identify more closely with the character in the Flannery O’Connor story described in these words:
She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.
The Church in Ireland today celebrates the feast of Blessed Dominic Collins, one of the Irish martyrs and the only beatified Irish Jesuit. More information on Blessed Dominic is available here. He was only beatified in 1992, and there is no mention of him in any of Fr Doyle’s publicly available writings. However, it is almost certain that Fr Doyle, who was greatly interested in the lives of the saints and especially in martyrs, was aware of, and esteemed, his fellow Jesuit, especially since a book detailing the lives of the Irish martyrs was published by the Jesuit historian Fr Denis Murphy SJ during the years in which Fr Doyle was a Jesuit seminarian.
Here is an excellent video on the life of Blessed Dominic.
Fr Doyle ultimately had his wish – he did die a Jesuit martyr, albeit a martyr of charity, laying down his life to save another, as opposed to the more traditional definition of a martyr as one who dies in defence of the faith. May the example of Blessed Dominic, and of Fr Doyle, inspire us to a generous and selfless defence of truth and service of others. Let us also pray and work for a greater awareness of the many heroic examples of Irish Catholicism in a country that desperately needs positive Catholic role models. Pope Benedict’s Prayer for Ireland is appropriate:
God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation, the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal, the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland.
May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family.
To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother, and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland.
But back to Flannery O’Connor’s character who could be a martyr but only if killed quickly. Let us leave the last words today to Fr Doyle who so often gets right to the heart of the matter:
I wish to die a martyr’s death — but am I willing to live a martyr’s life?