Thoughts for December 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

God has many gifts to bestow upon us, but none more precious than time. Yet how we abuse this royal gift! How little we think of it! How we despise these golden moments, moments whose true value we shall not really prize till alas! too late – when time shall be no more to us.

COMMENT: Time is a precious gift. When it comes to time, every one is, in a sense equal. Some will have longer lives than others, but for each of us our individual days are the same – rich and poor alike all have 24 hours in the day. We can use it well, or we can squander it. Each day is a precious opportunity to fill our time with service and love, seeking the glory of God and increasing our own merit in Heaven. But however many days we have, and however we choose to use each of those hours God has given us, one thing is clear – when we die we shall have to render an account of how we have used our time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this very clear:

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ…Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation.

In Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus describes the Last Judgement and the separation of the sheep and the goats. The “goats” are those who did not practice the works of mercy. It’s not necessarily the case that they did bad things, but rather that they failed to do good things. They failed to feed and clothe the poor, to do the good that was expected of them. In a sense, they squandered the precious gift of time that they were given, they failed to use it to do good things. And in the Lord’s own words, their punishment is eternal separation from God in Hell. 

The parable of the talents shows us how we should live: always trying to produce fruit with the gifts – including the time – God has given us. St Benedict also wants us to use our gifts well:

For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that he will never as an angry father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory. 

Foremost amongst these “good things” St Benedict speaks of is the gift of time. Few of us consistently use our time well – it is a hard battle, especially in a world with so many distractions. But we shall have to render an account of our misuse of time. Yes, we shall give our account to a merciful God who loves us and understands our weakness. But our merciful and understanding judge may well also be a disappointed judge at our failure to correspond to the graces we have received…

We are weak, We will fail. But the key thing is that we try, and that we turn to the mercy of God when we fail in our efforts, and then get up and fight again, and never get tired of beginning again.

Detail showing a soul condemned to Hell in Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgement (Sistine Chapel)
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Thoughts for December 14 (St John of the Cross) from Fr Willie Doyle

St John of the Cross: “Love is repaid by love alone”.

Surely you are not right in trying to keep our Lord away from you, or in thinking that He looks upon you with displeasure. When sin in the past is repented for, the poor soul who once strayed from Him has a strange attraction for His gentle Heart. You pain Him intensely if you think He does not love you now, nor wish for your affection. Give Him all you can, warmly and naturally, like a little child, and rest assured that the one longing of His Heart is to see you advance rapidly in holiness and perfection. You must try and cultivate great confidence and trust in our dear Lord’s love and mercy, driving far from you sadness and regret of all kinds. Give it no quarter, it is all from the devil and so most harmful.

COMMENT: Despite Fr Doyle’s rather muscular spirituality, he was also a great exponent of the concept of spiritual childhood. Today’s words can be read in tandem with yesterday’s quote on the danger of deliberate sin – yes, sin is destructive of our interior lives, but the solution to this is to get back up, repent and keep on trusting in God. He regularly advised others to cultivate a simple and very affectionate trust in Jesus. He himself demonstrated his affection by the way in which he would gently kiss statues and other holy images. Tenderness and childlikeness lived side by side with Fr Doyle’s abundant personal toughness.

The same can also be said of today’s saint, John of the Cross, one of the great reformers of the Carmelite Order and a Doctor of the Church. At first glance, St John can see a bit off-putting. He followed a path of great personal austerity; it was even necessary for St Teresa of Avila to intervene to mitigate some of these hardships. Here is St Teresa’s description of the very first house of reformed Carmelite friars, of which St John was a member:

As I went into the church I was amazed to see the spirit which our Lord had inspired there; and I was not the only one, for two merchants, friends of mine, who had come with me from Medina, did nothing but cry, there were so many crosses, so many skulls!

I can never forget one little cross of wood by the holy water, to which a picture of Christ on paper was fastened; it seemed to cause more devotion than if it had been made of some material most admirably fashioned. The choir was the garret, which was lofty in the centre, so that they could say the office in it, but they had to stoop very low to enter it and hear Mass. In the two corners of it next the church they had two little hermitages filled with hay, for the place was very cold, in which they must either lie down or sit; the roof almost touched their heads. There were two little openings into the church, and two stones for pillows; there were also crosses and skulls…

They used to go out to preach in many places around where the people needed instruction, and that also made me glad that the house was established there, for I was told that there was no monastery near, nor the means of supporting one, which was a great pity. They obtained so good a name in so short a time as to give me the very greatest pleasure when I heard of it. They went, as I am saying, a league and a half and two leagues bare- footed to preach — for at that time they wore no sandals, which they were afterwards ordered to wear — and that in the cold, when the snow was deep, and when they had preached and heard confessions came home every night late to their meal in the monastery: all this was as nothing because of their joy.

St John was a profound mystical writer and expert guide to the higher reaches of the spiritual life, particularly the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul, in which the soul is plunged into crisis and even doubts that God exists. Many saints have experienced this crisis; St Therese of Lisieux was so affected by this that she even had the creed stitched onto her habit so that it would always be close to her to bolster her faith.

Part of St John’s teaching can be summed up by the suggestion that we should love God for His own sake, not because of the spiritual pleasure we derive from prayer. This form of denial can make St John seem like a negative figure. Yet he was also filled with passionate love for God which spilled over into poetry and he possessed the same kind of childlike trust that Fr Doyle speaks of today. As St John wrote:

It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love.

Let us follow the example of St John of the Cross and Fr Doyle in cultivating a simple, but profound, trust in Jesus.

Thoughts for December 13 (St Lucy) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Lucy

It is scarcely necessary to state that deliberate sin in any shape or form utterly destroys the interior life.

COMMENT: It is a well accepted principle of Catholic spirituality that we must fight against sin. Naturally we must exert all of our will in the battle against deliberate mortal sin, which utterly destroys the life of grace in our soul and puts our salvation in jeopardy. But we must also exert great efforts in the battle against venial sins and imperfections which, while they do not destroy the life of grace in our souls, weaken our spiritual life and tempt us towards tepidity. In this fight we must have recourse to the sacraments and rely heavily on God’s grace.

Today is the feast of St Lucy, whose resolve in avoiding sin should give us courage. St Lucy was an early 4th century martyr who dedicated herself to virginity and the service of the Lord. When she refused offers of marriage, she was denounced to the Roman authorities, who decided to force her into prostitution as a punishment for being Christian. When the soldiers came to take her away, they were unable to lift her, so they tied a team of oxen to her to pull her along. These too failed to move her. They then tortured her, pulling out her eyes, which is why she is often depicted carrying her eyes on a plate. An angel subsequently appeared and restored her sight, which is why she is also a patron of those suffering from eye complaints. The soldiers tried to kill her by burning her. However, the wood would not burn, no matter what they tried. They then killed her with a sword.

Completely true story or part golden legend? Ultimately it does not matter, for the story of St Lucy reminds us that we must stand firm and resist sin, and that if we do our part, then the grace of God will not be lacking.

 

 

Thoughts for December 12 (Our Lady of Guadalupe) from Fr Willie Doyle

I am sorry to see you suffer and yet glad that the cross is your portion. If I had at this moment the gift of miracles, I would not cure you, I should be afraid – the cross is far too precious to take away from anyone. Do not seek to rid yourself of it, rather love it, embrace it, and will to have it, because God wills it for you.

COMMENT: These are tough words from Fr Doyle. For the most part, we do not like the cross. We generally desire to avoid it and to have a comfortable life where things by and large turn out as we want them to.

Yet the saints were always open to the cross. They knew that the road to sanctity was narrow, and that those who profess to follow a crucified Lord must also be open to walking the path that their master did. They recognised that God has designed our cross just for us. As St Francis de Sales wrote:

The everlasting God has in his wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross he now presents to you as a gift from his inmost heart. This cross he now sends you he has gazed at with his all-knowing eyes, understood with his divine mind, tested with his divine justice, warmed with his loving arms, and weighed with his own hands, to see that it be not one inch too large, not one ounce too heavy for you, He has blessed it with his holy name, anointed it with his grace, perfumed it with his consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven – a special greeting from God to you – an alms of the all-merciful love of God.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We can always turn with confidence to Mary who will win for us the grace we need to carry our cross.

Thoughts for December 11 (St Maravillas) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Maravillas of Jesus

I want to be generous with God and to refuse Him nothing. I do not want to say, “I will go just so far and no farther.”

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Maria Maravillas of Jesus, a Discalced Carmelite who died in 1974 and was canonised in 2003, making her canonisation one of the fastest in the Church. Despite this, she is unfortunately little known, and this is a great shame for she was a great saint and is a powerful intercessor.

St Maravillas was a latter-day Teresa of Avila, founding numerous Carmelite convents throughout Spain (and one in India) which adhere to strict enclosure and to the original rule of St Teresa. She was also sent to reform the famous convent of the Incarnation in Avila in the 1960’s, following in the footsteps of St Teresa herself who started her religious life in that convent and was herself sent there as a reformer in her later life. St Maravillas suffered much during the persecutions of the Church during the Spanish Civil War, coming close to death on some occasions. Let us not forget that there were over 7,000 Catholic martyrs from that persecution who were killed by the leftists and republicans (and sometimes tortured and raped, if they were nuns) for no other reason than the fact that they were Catholic.

The miracle accredited to her intercession as part of the canonisation process was quite extraordinary, and involved the immediate and complete recovery of an 18 month old boy who fell into a muddy pool and had stopped breathing. The account of this miracle is so extraordinary, I have included a full history of it here: St Maravillas miracle

You may also read more about her life here:http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2000/10/18/2181000.htm

St Maravillas, just like Fr Doyle and all of the saints, had great confidence and trust in God. One of the clear indicators of growth in holiness is a total abandonment to the will of God. Here are two quotes from St Maravillas that echo Fr Doyle’s quote for today.

Holiness is very simple: let yourself go confidently and lovingly into God’s arms, wanting and doing what you believe he wants.

And

Lord, when You want, how You want, what You want: this is the only thing that we want and desire.

Let us pray to St Maravillas and to Fr Doyle for an increase in our own trust in God.

 

 

Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Advent from Fr Willie Doyle

He has been tugging at my heart for so many years, urging me in so many ways to give myself wholly to Him, to give all and refuse Him nothing. I dread lest now I shall again refuse Him – perhaps it is the last time He will ask me to do what He wants.

COMMENT: Perhaps this will be our last Advent. Perhaps some of us will not even live to see Christmas. Jesus is always tugging at our hearts, and waiting for us to repay His great love with our own small love. Advent is a time of great spiritual preparation. Let us not waste it.

Thoughts for December 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Let us love silence and recollection. When we are at home with silence we are at home with God. Silence seems impossible to busy people. But “silence of the heart”, interior silence, is always possible. 

COMMENT: We live in a noisy world. And that “noise” is made all the louder by the ever present reality of smartphones and social media. This is especially problematic for young people whose concentration spans are radically shortened by their ongoing exposure to the fast moving world of computers, games and social media. 

But silence is necessary for us. It was in the stillness of a gentle breeze that Elijah encountered God on Horeb – it was not in the violent wind or in the fire or in the earthquake, but in the silence. And it was in the silence of a cave that the Saviour was born for us. As St Josemaria Escriva said:

Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life. 

Advent should be a time for silence as we prepare for Christmas but so often today it is a time of noise and parties and excess. As Fr Doyle tells us, silence of the heart is always possible for us, but we have to make an effort. For those of us living in the middle of the world, the first step will be unplugging the TV, removing the headphones and turning off the smartphone…