All my life my study has been to avoid suffering as much as possible, to make my life a comfortable one. How unlike my Jesus I have been, who sought to suffer on every occasion for me, for me. I should be glad when pain comes and welcome it, because it makes me more like Jesus.
COMMENT: How we can all identify with Fr Doyle’s words today. Our entire modern society is arranged in such a way as to maximise our comforts. Much of the technological advancement of recent decades has been oriented towards our comfort.
At one level this is not an inherently bad thing. Suffering is not good. But we must also remember that we serve a crucified Lord. If we buy into a consumerist mentality whereby the entire focus of our lives is our comfort, our appetite, our leisure and our whims, then can we really say that we are following the Master who had nowhere to lay His head? As in all areas of life, Christianity calls us to balance, and it is when we lose this balance that we run into problems.
As St Thomas More said, we cannot get to Heaven on a feather bed.
How sweet it is when our day is ended to find the body tired, the head heavy and jaded with work done for Jesus. The day has been a long one, bearing to us more than its share of disagreeable duties and unpleasant tasks; unexpected troubles have met us … but through it all we have unflinchingly plodded on, doing the Master’s work for love of Him.
Kneeling on the altar steps Jesus told me to devote one day of each week to the work of sanctification and reparation for His priests in each part of the world, e.g. Monday for the priests of Europe etc.
COMMENT: Today’s quote was written in Fr Doyle’s diary on this day in 1917.
Fr Doyle was something of a mystic. Again and again he reports in his diaries the messages he felt he received in prayer. These messages were private and normally referred to his own spiritual life. It is not up to us to judge the authenticity of such private messages, though we should recall that prayer is not a monologue in which we rattle off words in God’s direction, but rather an intimate conversation with our Father. A conversation implies a two way flow of communication, and this communication can of course take the form of impressions, insights and perhaps even locutions from time to time.
In any event, it is clear that Fr Doyle did feel that he received heavenly inspirations and that his directors seem not to have disagreed with him on this point. Indeed, as the famous French Jesuit spiritual writer Fr de Grandmaison once declared:
We must unhesitatingly say that the life of Fr Doyle was that of a great mystic, as indeed it seems to have been that of a saint.
Today’s words carry on the theme of yesterday’s commentary on Fr Doyle’s care for priests and their sanctification. Without priests the Church withers and suffers. Saying this does not undermine the serious call to holiness of lay people. But how can lay people grow in holiness without ready access to the nourishment of the sacraments and the formation that comes from holy priests? I am reminded of St John Vianney who, while trying to find the way to Ars on his first journey there, asked a local boy, and remarked that, while the boy had shown the priest the way to Ars, the priest would show the boy the way to Heaven.
Today’s quote also shows us the universal nature of Fr Doyle’s concerns – he felt that he was called to work for the sanctification of all priests, not just Jesuits or not just Irish priests.
One final concluding through for today… It seems that Fr Doyle was not the only one to dedicate his prayers and work for a different intention each day of the week. Blessed Columba Marmion offered each day of the week as follows:
Monday: Souls in Purgatory
Tuesday: Order of St Benedict
Wednesday: Relations and those to whom I am under any obligation
Thursday: Sovereign Pontiff, bishops, clergy, religious Orders
Friday: Missionaries, sinners, heretics, infidels
Saturday: Spiritual children
Sunday: Abbot, Community, my own perfection
Perhaps there is something that we can learn from this for our own lives. We all face challenges each day – our duties and work, as well as inconveniences, weaknesses and illnesses common to all of humanity. We can choose to waste these, or else to “offer them up”. To use St Paul’s phrase, in some mysterious way we can make up for whatever is lacking in the suffering of Christ. Let us not waste these precious opportunities for merit.
I want you to stick to two things: the aspirations and the tiny acts of self-conquest. Count them and mark them daily. You need nothing else to make you a saint. The weekly total, growing bigger as you persevere, will show you how fast you are growing in perfection.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle reveals his Jesuit training in today’s quote. In the Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius recommends making lists and monitoring daily progress.
The claim that “you need nothing else to make you a saint” is a rather big claim! Yet there is certainly something in it. Love shows itself in actions. As St Josemaria Escriva wrote:
There is a story of a soul who, on saying to our Lord in prayer, ‘Jesus, I love you,’ heard this reply from heaven: ‘Love means deeds, not sweet words.’ Think if you also could deserve this gentle reproach.
The deeds we are called to do are normally not big deeds, but daily actions of fidelity and self-sacrifice, both in our dealings with God and in our dealings with each other. But unless we actively try to conquer ourselves and make these sacrifices we really won’t do them. We will not genuinely progress without a clear strategic objective to do so. It’s too easy for us to fail and give up if our aspirations to self-sacrifice are vague and uncommitted. Keeping a list and striving for progress can be a great help in this regard, and as we exercise our capacity for love and generosity we will inevitably love more and become progressively more generous, opening up ever more vistas for love, service and holiness. As St Benedict said in his Rule:
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.
But this approach of counting sacrifices or offerings made to God does not suit everybody’s temperament. Those who are scrupulous or anxious may not be helped by it. But it clearly suited Fr Doyle’s own militant temperament. In fact, he not only wrote down his sacrifices, he also carried a set of beads on which they would be counted. He was in good company in this practice – his contemporary St Therese (they were born 2 months apart) also used beads to count her sacrifices.
If you are not yet strong enough to seek humiliations, just accept the little reverses that come. When you say or do awkward things, give them to our Lord and tell Him you are glad of them. Say: “All these are humiliations, so they must be good for me.”
I wish I could write to you at length about grace. It is a fascinating subject. You are quite right in calling it “a participation of the divine nature,” since Scripture uses almost the same words to describe it. A comparison of the Fathers of the Church helps to explain things a little. A piece of iron, they say, placed in a fire does not in reality change its nature, yet it seems to do so; it burns and glows like the fire around it, it cannot be distinguished from the fire. In similar wise a soul clad in grace borrows beauty and magnificence from God’s beauty and magnificence; it seems to partake of the nature of God. What joy to remember that every tiny thing done for God, an act, a word, a glance even, brings fresh grace to the soul, makes it partake more and more of the nature of God, until St. Paul has to exclaim: “I have said you are gods! ” and no longer mortals. Our Lord longs for this transformation, and so He sends many hard trials to hasten the day of this perfect union. Let Him, then, have His way. You can have perfect confidence that He is doing the right thing ever and always. Holiness is really nothing more than perfect conformity to God’s will, and so every step in this direction must please him immensely.
If my resurrection is to be a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.
COMMENT: Just as Christ rose from the dead, in a sense we too must continuously rise from sin, from spiritual death. Fr Doyle makes an extremely important point in today’s quote – if the reformation of our lives is real, it should manifest itself in virtuous external acts.
St Josemaria Escriva also touches on this point:
How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.
Have our days of penance in Lent, our commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, produced any external fruit that enriches the lives of those around us?
I think He would like you to pay more attention to little things, looking on nothing as small, if connected with His service and worship. Also try to remember that nothing is too small to offer to Him — that is, the tiniest act of self-conquest is of immense value in His eyes, and even lifting one’s eyes as an act of love brings great grace.
COMMENT: Despite the fact that Fr Doyle lived a very dramatic life that involved many big sacrifices, he consistently preached that holiness is normally to be found in little things. In fact, without having strived for holiness in little things, it is doubtful that Fr Doyle would have been capable of his heroism in the trenches.
At first glance, it seems that reflecting on little things during this most momentous Holy Week is a bit a strange. But today’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form calendar contains a subtle reference to the value of little sacrifices and offerings. Given the drama of the Passion, it is easy to miss it.
Go ye into the city to a certain man and say to him: The master says, My time is near at hand. With thee I make the pasch with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them: and they prepared the pasch.
Who was this “certain man” who provided the room for the Last Supper? We do not know. He is not named. An old tradition suggests that the room was owned by the family of St Mark. In any event, the owner did an important service for our Lord by providing the room for the Last Supper. What an honour it would be to have provided the room for the Last Supper! This unknown owner of the room provided a humble service to Jesus. He obviously knew Jesus and was ready to serve Him however he was asked. Yet he remains unknown to us. This is the secret of holiness in little things – providing humble and unknown service, without seeking any attention or fame.
As Fr Doyle tells us, nothing is too small to offer to Him.
In conclusion it might be appropriate today to include Fr Doyle’s “parable” of the hermit and the “recording angel”. He included this little parable in one of his very last letters home to his father, and it tells us of the value of little things by way of an amusing story.
In the good old days of yore a holy hermit built him a cell in a spot a few miles from the well, so that he might have a little act of penance to offer to Almighty God each day by tramping across the hot sand and back again with his pitcher. All went gaily for a while, and if the holy man did lose many a drop of honest sweat he knew he was piling up sacks of treasure in Heaven, and his heart was light. But though the spirit was willing, the sun was very warm, the sand most provokingly hot, the pitcher the devil and all of a weight, and the road seemingly longer each day. It is a bit too much of a good joke, thought the man of God, to tramp these miles day in and day out, with my old bones, clanking like a traction engine. Why not move the cell to the edge of the water, save time (and much bad language probably) and have cool water in abundance, and a dry hair shirt on my back?
Away home he faced for the last time with his brimming water jar, kicking the sand about in sheer delight, for the morrow would see him on the trek, and an end to his weary trudging, when suddenly he heard a voice, an angel’s voice he knew it to be, counting slowly One, two, three, four. The hermit stopped in wonder and so did the voice, but at the next steps he took the counting began again, Five, six, seven. Falling on his knees the old man prayed that he might know the meaning of this wonder. ‘I am the angel of God’, came the answer, ‘counting up each step which long ago you offered up to my Lord and Master, so that not a single one may lose its reward. Don’t be so foolish as to throw away the immense merit you are gaining, by moving your cell to the water’s edge, for know that in the eyes of the heavenly court nothing is small which is done or borne for the love of God.’
That very night down came the hermit’s hut, and before morning broke he had built it again five miles further from the well. For all I know he is merrily tramping still backwards and forwards across the burning sand, very hot and tired no doubt, but happy in the thought that the recording angel is busy counting each step.
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.
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.