Thoughts for December 3 (St Francis Xavier) from Fr Willie Doyle

Death of St Francis Xavier

Xavier’s hour has come, the hour of his eternal reward and never-ending bliss. In a little hut, open on all sides to the biting blast, the great Apostle lies dying. Far from home and all that makes this life pleasant, far from the quiet of his own religious house, alone upon this barren isle, our Saint will yield his soul to God. What joy fills his heart now at the thought of the sacrifices he has made, the honours he has despised, the pleasures left behind. Happy sufferings! Happy penances! He thinks of what his life might have been, the life of a gay worldling, and in gratitude he lifts his eyes to thank his God for the graces given him. What matter now the hardships he has endured? All, all, are past, for now the sweet reward of heaven is inviting him to his eternal rest.

COMMENT: St Francis Xavier was one of the greatest missionary saints of all time. He was a good man, although proud and ambitious, when Ignatius met him at the University of Paris. Just like Fr Doyle, it was the experience of the Spiritual Exercises that inflamed his soul and set him on the path to sanctity.

Ultimately St Francis Xavier gave up all human comforts and friendships, leaving Europe behind forever to evangelise in the far east. How strange that land must have seemed, and how far away from everything that he knew. Yet it mattered not to Francis – his love for God spilled over into a love for souls and a passionate desire to bring them to Heaven. So too it was with Fr Doyle. He originally wanted to become a missionary in the Congo. He ended up as a missionary in the bloody trenches instead. If he survived that experience, he had resolved to offer himself as a missionary in a leper colony.

Today we no longer have to go to India or Japan to find mission territory – there are more than enough souls who have not yet properly heard the word of God in our own families and neighbourhoods and towns. Let us pray for a share in the missionary zeal and effectiveness of St Francis Xavier and of Fr Doyle. Let us also pray especially for Ireland, which has truly become a mission territory.

 

Thoughts for November 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Will it be any help to you to learn that I know many who suffer as you do? Hence I can perfectly understand what you are going through: the disgust for everything spiritual, the almost hatred of God, and the mad longing almost to leave it all behind and run away. However we know that such a step would not end the trouble or bring relief in any form; on the contrary that would simply mean playing into the devil’s hands and could only lead to one thing in the end. We know also that these trials come from God and that if one is only patient, they will pass. Hence, my dear child, you must set your teeth and hold on; spiritual life, remember, is a warfare and you will surely not run away when the real attack comes, but rather boldly face the enemy. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words to somebody (presumably a nun) who was suffering from aridity and a general malaise in her spiritual life. It is something we can all identify with to some extent. The advice is classic Fr Doyle: remember that you are at war – grit your teeth and hold on! It is advice we all need to hear at one time or another, whether it relates to spiritual issues or to some other aspect of our lives such as our job, our relationships or our health. Remaining faithful to God and to our good intentions requires effort and will-power, as well the strength of God’s grace which will surely not be lacking if we play our own part.  

Thoughts for November 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life and even gives a loathing and disgust for its practice. It is not so evident that deliberate imperfections, and for religious repeated violation of rule, have the same result. These are the “little foxes,” attractive and apparently harmless creatures, which must be hunted down and destroyed…if the vineyard is not to perish. A soul given to sin or consciously violating the rules to which it has freely bound itself for life, will sigh in vain for the secret loving embraces of its Beloved.

COMMENT: We have, in general, lost the sense of sin in the world today. For modern culture, it seems as if anything goes. It’s hard not to become influenced by this prevailing opinion, and as a result we can end up easily yielding to sin and temptation because we no longer think it’s a big deal anymore.

We must of course avoid the other extreme of scrupulosity and obsession with sin (an affliction that seems to have been very acute with previous generations). Fr Doyle was a very effective director for those afflicted with this problem.

We are all sinners, and we must start to fight against sin where we are at. For some that will mean a struggle against habitual mortal sin; for others it is the struggle against deliberate venial sin and for others it will be a struggle against imperfections and omissions with respect to certain virtues.

Wherever we are at, we all have these “foxes” of whatever type that we must chase out of our lives. There’s no better time to start the chase than Advent and our preparation for Christmas.

Thoughts for the First Sunday of Advent from Fr Willie Doyle

The saints had ever a childlike confidence and trust in God. Upon Him they cast all their anxieties and cares, under His powerful protection they sheltered themselves, and with His almighty help they were ever strong. They lived in the present day alone, striving to bear with cheerful hearts the burden of the moment; the morrow’s work would bring its stream of graces to help them on their journey.

COMMENT: Today we start the Church’s new year, and we start on our journey of preparation for Christmas. The importance of Advent is often forgotten in the West. Often it is seen as period of merriment and shopping and of Christmas parties. And when Christmas finally arrives, the consumer culture quickly turns off the lights and turns its attention towards the secular new year and the January sales…

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and we should attempt to live it with the same enthusiasm with which we attempt to live Lent.

As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:

Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!

Let us then have the childlike confidence and trust in God to which Fr Doyle exhorts us today. We can count on many graces to help us over the coming weeks as we prepare to encounter the baby Jesus, born in poverty in a broken world, all for love of us.

St John Berchmans, Fr Doyle and ordinary life

St John Berchmans

The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are most probably the reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.

The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and recommended to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service.

Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:

I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.  

More information on the life and spirit of St John Berchmans can be found here: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_015.htm

 

Thoughts for November 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

“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.

St Francis de Sales

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.