Thoughts for March 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I seemed to have lost all strength and courage, and simply hated the thought of the life. Then I ran to You in the Tabernacle, threw myself before You and begged You to do all since I could do nothing. In a moment all was sweet and easy. 

COMMENT: Courage, more commonly referred to as fortitude, is one of the cardinal virtues. It is impossible to live a holy life without it. In fact, it is also probably impossible to live a happy life in the purely worldly sense without it. As St Teresa of Avila, herself no stranger to this virtue, once said: 

To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that. 

We see many examples of courage in the life of Fr Doyle. Most obviously, his simply astounding courage during the war comes immediately to mind. If that doesn’t qualify as “heroic virtue” I don’t know what does! But Fr Doyle exhibited courage and fortitude throughout his life. Even as a student before ordination he had to confront persistent illness and fought long and hard to succeed in study. Here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit who lived with him before he was ordained: 

Viewing his character as a whole, it seems to me that the fundamental quality in it was courage — courage of a fine and generous type. When confronted with difficulties, with danger or labour or pain, instead of hesitating or weakly compromising, he was rather braced to a new and more intense resolve to see the matter out. Give in, he would not. It was this courage, supported, no doubt, by a natural liveliness of disposition, that enabled him to preserve through life his gaiety of heart and to face his troubles as they came with a smiling countenance; it was this courage, too, that steeled him to hold fast to his purpose no matter what difficulties or obstacles might arise. 

This courage was not necessarily innate within Fr Doyle; he continuously prayed for this gift. As he says in one part of his diary: 

With my arms round the cross, I begged Jesus to give me His courage and strength to do what He asks from me. 

All saints demonstrated courage to a heroic degree, but in some cases this virtue seems to shine out with special grandeur. Today the Church celebrates two such men.

The torture of St Nicholas Owen

St Nicholas Owen was a Jesuit lay brother who died in 1606. He was a carpenter by trade, and it was he who perfected the art of constructing priest-holes in Elizabethan England. His work in building protest holes was fascinating; some of them were only discovered centuries later, such was his creativity and skill in constructing them. He travelled in disguise and worked quietly at night while the household was asleep, for it was dangerous to allow others to know the nature of his work. His work was so exceptional that he undoubtedly saved the lives of many priests. As Fr John Gerard, the remarkable Jesuit missionary of that era who chronicled his exploits in a fascinating memoir noted:

I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular. 

This, of course, made St Nicholas a prime target for capture. When he was himself arrested, he was subjected to the most horrific tortures in order to make him reveal the secrets of his hiding holes. Remarkably, he withstood all attempts to break him, and he died while being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. He was literally torn asunder and died on rack, and the case was apparently something of a scandal at the time given the ferocity of the torture he was subjected to. The authorities even went as far as to allege that he committed suicide, such was their desire to cover up their crime of murdering him on the rack. Yet he revealed no secrets, preferring agonising death rather than reveal his secrets and endanger the Catholic mission in Elizabethan England. He was a true hero and a man of courage.

Blessed Clemens August von Galen

We also celebrate today the feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933-1946. He was a staunch opponent of both the Communists and Nazis, and, despite threats and violence, he preached fearlessly against the Nazi death-culture and in defence of the Church. He is popularly known as the Lion of Münster in recognition of his courage. More can be read about him here: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcgovern/vongalb.html  He is also the subject of an interesting new biography – ore can be read about that herehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/03/the-bishop-and-the-nazis

Fr Doyle showed his courage in the First World War, Blessed Clemens demonstrated his in the Second World War and St Nicholas Owen stood firm during the Elizabethan persecution. Most people reading this site do not live in the midst of such dramatic circumstances, and for that perhaps we should be thankful. But we are still called to live with heroic courage in our ordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note that all three exhibited their greatest courage in fulfilling their vocations – Fr Doyle as a military chaplain; St Nicholas Owen as a carpenter and Blessed Clemens as a bishop fearlessly proclaiming the truth, even though it was politically unpopular. 

Daily life will also provide many opportunities for us to demonstrate our own fortitude, most often in overcoming our own personal defects and weaknesses. As Fr Doyle once noted in a letter:

For your consolation remember that everyone I have ever met found the struggle for perfection hard because most of the work is done in the dark. It is a question of faith and courage, going along bravely day after day.

Thoughts for March 15 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. 

COMMENT: We cannot truly encourage others to love Jesus unless we love Him ourselves. Similarly, we know that we do not truly love Jesus unless we want others to know and love Him. 

Fr Doyle was a most effective mission preacher and retreat master who longed to make Jesus known and loved. O’Rahilly reports that during some missions, Fr Doyle could be found at the docks at midnight searching out sailors arriving into port, urging them to come to the church and occasionally hearing their confessions on the spot. He could also be found the next day before 6.00am, searching out those on their way to work in factories. Fr Doyle was an indefatigable apostle, seeking out the lost sheep wherever they may be. We could do well to learn from his approach… 

Fr Doyle’s efforts found much success. As he wrote once in a letter: 

I have not met a single refusal to come to the mission or to confession so far during my missionary career. Why should there be one because Jesus for some mysterious reason seems to delight in using perhaps the most wretched of all His priests as the channel of His grace? When I go to see a hard hopeless case, I cannot describe what happens exactly, but I seem to be able to lift up my heart like a cup and pour grace and the love of God upon that poor soul. I can see the result instantly, almost like the melting of snow. 

Today the Church commemorates St Clement Mary Hofbauer, the great Redemptorist preacher and Apostle of Vienna who died in 1820. As the bull of St Clement’s canonisation (1909) pointed out: 

He used every effort to bring sinners to penance and confession…He sought this from God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the saints; to obtain this he afflicted his body. 

Fr Doyle seems to have adopted a similar methodology. As O’Rahilly reports: 

After an arduous day’s work in pulpit and confessional he would often spenda good part of the night before the Tabernacle, cutting his sleep down to three or four hours. Thus during a mission in Drogheda, the curate observed that Fr. Doyle, on emerging from his confessional at eleven o’clock at night, used to retire to the little oratory and remain on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament until the clock struck two; yet he was always up and out of the house before any one else was astir. 

In applying these ideas to our own lives, perhaps we should consider the apostolic opportunities that present themselves to us every day. For many of us there will be several opportunities to discuss the faith or to defend the Church in conversations in friends and colleagues. And of course there is the permanent apostolate of good example that we can exercise all day everyday. 

We should not absolve ourselves of our apostolic obligations, thinking it to be the job of others. Those of us who are lay people have an important role in this regard. Let us look to the example of Fr Doyle, St Clement and all of the other great apostles of the Church for examples of creativity and effectiveness in bringing the good news of salvation to others.

photo-clement
St Clement Mary Hofbauer

Thoughts for March 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

Don’t be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: “Trespassers not allowed.”

COMMENT: Perhaps Fr Doyle’s lines today get to the heart of the difference between the saints and the rest of us. We may want to love God and we may try our best, albeit with many falls and weaknesses. Yet somewhere or other there is something that we want to hold onto and that we don’t want God interfering with. Perhaps it is our health or our financial security or perhaps some sin or even a little weakness or temptation that we enjoy flirting with. We may love God to a certain extent, but too many of us do not love Him enough to hand over everything, unconditionally. In the Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for today, Jesus warns that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. We cannot grow to the holiness to which we are called if we do not want it. As Fr Doyle said elsewhere, there is nothing as hard as the half a half – a bit given to God and another bit given over to selfishness. It is this lack of generosity – this desire for God not to trespass – that makes Christian life more difficult than it ought to be. 

Fr Doyle was different. Yes, he struggled, and he had failings. But what is very clear from his diaries is that he really did want to give everything to God; there were no warnings against Divine trespassers in his soul. This did not come about automatically but rather was the result of his constant striving to go against his self-will, even in small things and even in things that were not bad in and of themselves. We are all called to this battle against our love of comfort. Perhaps we are not all called to use the methods employed by Fr Doyle (who seems to have had a special calling to a hard life of penance) but we shall never be able to give ourselves entirely to God if we don’t make a start in disciplining ourselves even in little ways.

The saints were also fully open to God’s will in their lives. Today is the feast of St John of God. He was so totally overcome by love of God and neighbour that he became a shining beacon of charity for the poor and abandoned of Granada in Spain. He did not consider God a trespasser in his soul, and he placed no limits on his own charity.

There is also another similarity between Fr Doyle and Saint John of God. Fr Doyle died when trying to assist some fallen soldiers; St John died from an illness he contracted after he jumped into a river to save a drowning boy.

Today we can pray to both of these “martyrs of charity” for the generosity to which Christ calls during Lent.

St John of God

Thoughts for March 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

St John Vianney
St John Vianney

Press on bravely and don’t mind the scratches, even when they come from human nails!

COMMENT: We must always push on in our spiritual lives. Often this will involve some difficulty, not least difficulty in overcoming ourselves! But there is also a particular kind of difficulty that comes from others, namely criticism or jokes about religious zeal. Naturally an indiscreet or unbalanced zeal must be controlled and it is right that others might engage in fraternal correction to moderate this type of zeal. But very often a well balanced spiritual zeal can result in scorn and rejection by others. Perhaps these are the types of scratches from “human nails” to which Fr Doyle refers.

This “human respect”, as the spiritual writers call it, can be a major source of temptation. St John Vianney wrote about it in the following terms:

The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people.

Fr Doyle often felt inspired after prayer; whether these inspirations had a Divine or human origin we cannot know for sure, but they do tell us something of Fr Doyle’s spiritual life and his temptations. On one occasion after praying before the Tabernacle he felt that Jesus communicated the following message to him:

You must work for Me as you have never done before, especially by prayer and aspirations, boldly urging souls to heroic sanctity, not minding what people may say of you. Human respect is one of your faults still.

On another occasion he noted the following in his diary when reflecting on his difficulty in giving up butter on his bread:

God has been urging me strongly all during this retreat to give up butter entirely. I have done so at many meals without any serious inconvenience; but I am partly held back through human respect, fearing others may notice it.

While we should be careful about unbalanced and indiscreet zeal, we must also be careful that the temptation of human respect does not hold us back. We can take consolation from the fact that one so advanced as Fr Doyle still suffered in this way, and look to his example and intercession in overcoming this temptation.

Thoughts for March 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sunset at Dalkey Island, a scene which would have been very familiar to Fr Doyle
Sunset at Dalkey Island, a scene which would have been very familiar to Fr Doyle

It is useful from time to time to pause and ask ourselves if we are, like the child Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace. Does each evening see us farther on the path of perfection? When we lie down to rest, is it with the feeling that the day just passed has been one of progress in the spiritual life, of merit and victory over self? Have we crushed the promptings of self-will and trampled on our pride? Have we spent ourselves for God and wearied ourselves in works for Him? Have we been a help to the weak, the comfort of the needy, a light to the wandering one? If so, thank God for His goodness and resolve on nobler things.

COMMENT: It is highly recommended that we examine our conscience each evening. In doing so, if we can answer yes to these questions posed by Fr Doyle then we can be sure that we have lived a good and fruitful day. There is much truth in what the Imitation of Christ tells us:

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide.

Almost invariably we will have to accept that our day could have been better. We could have been kinder, we could have been more patient, we could have worked harder or taken more advantage of opportunities for apostolate or lived more consciously in the presence of God.

In such a situation we do what Fr Doyle would suggest – thank God for what was good, ask pardon for our failings, and resolve with God’s help to improve tomorrow.

Thoughts for February 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

The merit of living under religious rule may be gathered from the difficulty of always and faithfully keeping that rule. Holiness and deliberate violation of our rules are a contradiction.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was known for his close adherence to the Jesuit rule, and the faithful fulfilment of its precepts is a recurring theme in his resolutions and notes. Adhering to a religious rule is tough, and because of this it is a sign of sanctity. St Teresa of Avila said that her nuns would not need miracles to prove their sanctity – if they faithfully followed the rule she established it would be enough for them to reach holiness.

Normally it is only members of a religious order to have rules that they have to formally live by. However, it would be a mistake for the rest of us, especially for lay people, to attempt to live without some rule of life. Many people establish rules or guidelines in order to help them get through their work each day. When people join a gym they are given set exercises to follow. If we are to take our spiritual life seriously we will also establish some rules or guidelines which we should aim to follow. Otherwise we run the risk of following particular spiritual exercises only when we feel like it, and as anybody who has ever achieved anything will testify, this is a sure way to fail! It is not necessary for the rule to be very detailed or to minutely programme every moment of our day – indeed, such an approach is almost impossible for lay people living in the world. But it is essential to have some basic rules about when and how we will pray, as well as small sacrifices that we will try to offer up each day. There is no better time to develop such a rule of life than Lent.

Fr Wilfrid Upson, who was Abbot of Prinknash Abbey in England in the 1940’s, laid out the importance of having our own rule of life in the middle of the world in the following words:

Human nature is the same whether we respond to the monastic cell or whether we live out our lives in a normal worldly environment. Few are so spiritually minded that they can afford to neglect the help of some sort of rule of life and standard of spirituality to which they can endeavour to conform themselves when faced with the many problems of a world where even moral standards have ceased to exist.

Wilfrid Upson
Abbot Wilfrid Upson OSB

Thoughts for February 27 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Marie de Jesus
Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny

Over and over again I asked myself, when reading that book, was it not strange that I should come across the very ideas which had been in my mind so long: namely, the longing of our Lord for more souls who would be absolutely at His mercy, His pleasure and disposal; souls in whom He could work at will, knowing that they would never resist Him, even by praying to Him to lessen the trials He was sending; souls who were willing and longing to be sacrificed and immolated in spite of all the shrinking of weak human nature.

Now I have long thought He wants that from you. And everything that is happening seems to point that way. If you make such a surrender of yourself absolutely into His hands, I know not what humiliations, trials and even sufferings may come upon you, though you must not ask for them. But He will send you grace in abundance to bear them, He will draw immense glory out of your loving crucifixion, and in spite of yourself He will make you a saint. . . This must be chiefly an act of the will, for it would be unnatural not to feel trials or humiliations; but even when the tears of pain are falling, the higher nature can rejoice. You can see this is high perfection, but it will bring great peace to your soul. Our Lord will take the work of your sanctification into His own hands, if you keep the words of the Imitation (iii. 17. i) ever before you: ‘Child, suffer Me to do with thee whatever I will.’ Do not be afraid for He would not ask this if He did not intend to find you the grace.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in February 1912 to a religious to whom he was giving spiritual direction, and the book to which he was referring was a biography of Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny whose feast is commemorated today.

Blessed Marie de Jésus was the French foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, a congregation especially founded to pray for priests and to offer reparation for the sins of priests. This is how Fr Doyle’s biographer, Alfred O’Rahilly, describes the charism of this congregation:

This ideal (prayer for priests) is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are “to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders.” In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. “It is not without consolation of heart,” said the Pope, “that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity.”

Here is how Blessed Marie de Jésus described her calling in her own words:

To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times. . . . I would gladly give my life if only Christ could find in priests what he is expecting from them. I would gladly give it even if just one of them could perfectly realize God’s divine plan for him.

There are a number of references to Blessed Marie de Jésus in Fr Doyle’s notes and letters, and we know from much else in his life how important the ideal of priestly sanctity was for him – not only did Fr Doyle strive with all of his energy towards his own personal sanctification, but he was also the Director-General for Ireland of the League for Priestly Sanctity and he also offered up many of his great austerities for priests and in reparation for the sins of priests.

So let us copy the example of both Blessed Marie de Jésus and of Fr Doyle, and pray for our priests who face so many challenges and difficulties today, especially in Ireland.

Today is also the feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a young Passionist who died of tuberculosis before his ordination. I can find no reference to St Gabriel in Fr Doyle’s writings, but he was most certainly aware of St Gabriel – he was beatified during Fr Doyle’s lifetime, and St Gabriel features prominently in the life of St Gemma Galgani to whom Fr Doyle was devoted. That both had somewhat similar personalities: St Gabriel was apparently the life and soul of the party and was also a good shot with a gun. Fr Doyle was of course renowned for his own sense of adventure and fun, so I’m sure that the very human, and very fervent, St Gabriel would have appealed to him. The spiritual outlook was also somewhat similar. Both believed in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well and both struggled with great industry to grow in holiness through self-denial and a war on comfort and self-love.

Here are some of St Gabriel’s resolutions which are very similar in tone to those of Fr Doyle:

I will keep my rule, even the smallest thing.
I will not neglect any of my spiritual exercises.
I will shun idleness.
I will be punctual.
I will obey the sound of the bell as though it were the voice of God.
I will receive all things from the hand of God, as being sent by Him for my own personal benefit.
I will profit by every occasion for mortification that may occur.
I will fulfil exactly my ordinary duties, mortifying self in whatever would prove an obstacle to perfect obedience.
I will mortify my eyes and my tongue.
I will not leave my cell without necessity.
I will not inquire after anything through curiosity.
I will check my desire to talk.
I will increase the number of such like acts daily.
I will not take any food outside of mealtime.
I am poor and I should act accordingly.
I should be willing to put up with any inconvenience gladly.
I will not eat with avidity, but rather with reserve and with modesty, subjecting my appetite to reason.
I will mortify myself in ordinary things and whatever I feel inclined to do, saying in my heart: “O my God, I will not do this thing through mere inclination, but because it is thy will”.
I will be reserved toward those to whom I feel most inclined, prudently avoiding their presence and conversation.
I will not utter a word that might, in the least, turn to my praise.
I will not take pleasure in any praise bestowed upon me.
I will never excuse myself when I am blamed or corrected, nor even resent it interiorly, much less put the blame upon others.
I will never speak of the faults of others, even though they may be public, nor will I ever show want of esteem for others, whether in their presence or in their absence.
I will not judge ill of anyone.
I will show the good opinion I have of each one by covering up his faults.
I will consider everyone my superior, treating all with humility and reverence.
I will rejoice at the good done by others.
I will not permit myself to become interested in vain and useless things.
I will rejoice at the success of others.
I will practice charity and kindness, assisting, serving and pleasing all.
I will shun particular friendships, so as to offend no one.
Every morning and evening I will practice some act of humility, and gradually increase the number.
I will close my heart against disquiet of any kind.
I will suppress immediately all emotions of impetuosity and all affections that might cloud my mind, even lightly.
I will obey the voice of the Superior as if it were the voice of God himself.
In my obedience I will neither examine the why nor the wherefore.
I will conform my judgment to that of my Superior.
I will not employ time in conversing about purely worldly matters.
“Faithfulness in little things” is the motto I will always follow in my efforts to reach holiness.
I will try to reproduce in myself whatever I see edifying and virtuous in the conduct of others.
I will give to God the best that I have — the entire affection of my heart.

St Gabriel Possenti
St Gabriel Possenti