Thoughts for March 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

He loves your soul dearly, cling to Him, and trust Him, He so longs to be trusted.

COMMENT: There is something of an unfortunate stereotype about the Catholicism of 100 years ago in Ireland. It suggests that God’s love was ignored or downplayed and that there was an excessive emphasis on morality and on Catholicism as a set of rules rather than as a relationship with Jesus. 

There is perhaps a small amount of truth in this simplistic generalisation, and sadly the evident sins of those in the Church who should have known better sadly makes this very evident. I was struck by something Fr Doyle once wrote (disapprovingly) in his diary:

People say it is very hard to love God.

What an odd idea that is for us today, who have grown up with the idea of a God of love. There was certainly something amiss with a vision of Catholicism in which love did not play the central role.

But this negative view of the past is far from the whole picture. There is absolutely no evidence that Fr Doyle overemphasised sin and downplayed love – his letters of spiritual direction and his private notes reveal very clearly his own passionate love for God. This love overflowed into a life of zealous service for others.

Most of us have a very weak trust in God. The saints were not like us. Their faith and trust in God’s Providence was simple and profound and it was this reliance on God that allowed them to achieve so much.

Lent is a time for spiritual discipline. This discipline is not driven by an adherence to an abstract or arbitrary set of rules. Rather, we follow the discipline of Lent because we love Christ and because we want to show this love, because we want to follow Christ’s command to perfect ourselves and because we want to strengthen ourselves to avoid sin.

Fr Doyle, referring to his then spiritual director Venerable Adolphe Petit SJ, wrote the following in his diary:

The reason, said Fr Petit, why we find our life so hard, mortification difficult, and why we are inclined to avoid all that we dislike, is because we have no real love for Jesus.

As we journey through Lent, let us remember that our penances are really about loving Christ and not just “giving things up” out of habit.

Venerable Adolphe Petit (1822-1914), Fr Doyle’s spiritual director during his year in Belgium (1907-1908)

Thoughts for March 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

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

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 March 1 from Fr Willie Doyle

Surely, my child, you are not surprised to find that you have broken your resolution, or rather, that the devil has gained a victory over you. I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it, since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble. Besides, to expect to keep any resolution, till repeated acts have made it solid in the soul, is like expecting to learn skating, for example, without ever falling. The more falls; the better (that is if you do not mind bumps), for every fall means that we have begun again, have made another effort and so have made progress. I mention this because I know that you like myself are given to discouragement and tempted to give up all when failure comes.

COMMENT: So the New Year of 2018 is not so new anymore. We are two months into it; 1/6th of the year is gone and will never return.

Have we stuck with our new year’s resolutions? Do we even remember what they were? And what about our Lenten resolutions?

If we have failed, never mind. Fr Doyle reassures us today that the spiritual life is about always beginning again. It is consoling to read that one who was so hard on himself was so gentle on others. In today’s quote Fr Doyle once again reveals his own remarkable spiritual balance and gentleness.

Thoughts for February 24 from Fr Willie Doyle

When you commit a fault which humbles you and for which you are really sorry, it is a gain instead of a loss. 

COMMENT: Here we see the great balance and humanity of Fr Doyle, which was also the great balance and humanity of many of Fr Doyle’s generation. 

It is easy to fall into the prejudice that Catholics of previous generations were narrowly obsessed with sin and that they lacked mercy and balance. It was simply not so! 

As Fr Doyle suggests, we truly can gain from our faults when we repent and humble ourselves and adhere more closely to Christ. The bitter experience of our weakness teaches us how little we are. It is those who are little, who know their limitations, who are most secure from temptation. On the contrary it is those who feel most secure in their own merits and virtues who are most likely to fall. Pride goes before the fall, as the saying goes.

The experience of our sins also fosters a great spirit of repentance – or compunction – in our soul. As the Imitation of Christ declares, 

No man is worthy of Heavenly comfort who has not diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.

Thoughts for February 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

“The power of the Most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke, 1:35). Light comes with this blessed over-shadowing,. and before God’s power difficulties disappear. It is ever so. With God’s grace mine, I face the difficulty and find it has vanished: I take up the heavy cross and discover it most light; I put my hand to the work and it proves easy. 

22 February 1914

Jesus taught me a simple way today of conquering the temptation to break resolutions. When, for example, I want to take sugar in my tea etc I will make a vow not to do so for that one occasion, which will compel me to do it, no matter what it may cost. I know often I shall have to force myself total this little vow; but I realise that if only I can bring myself to say “I vow” then all the conflict raging in my soul about that particular thing will cease at once. This will be invaluable to me in the future.