Thoughts for 16 February from Fr Willie Doyle

We should call a man a fool who wasted his wealth warming himself before a fire made of banknotes. Do we act less madly in seeking gratification by consuming our precious day in frivolities?

COMMENT: Fr Doyle often wrote about how each day is a precious opportunity to grow in holiness and today’s quote is no exception. We never stand still in the spiritual life – we either move forward towards sanctity, or we regress. How many of us live wasteful lives of frivolity? Even if we are basically “good” people, we can still be consumed with frivolous habits that distract us from our families or friends or our duties in life. Essentially these frivolities draw us away from the holiness and good works with which we should be busy. Of course, we need a balanced asceticism. We all need legitimate leisure pursuits and relaxation. Such activities are both good and necessary in a balanced life. Fr Doyle himself was noted for his robust enjoyment of sport. But even if we do try to live balanced lives, there will probably be some form of frivolity with which we are tempted. In today’s world it is likely to revolve around the internet or the new phenomenon of social media. These technologies are not inherently bad. But many of us may need to examine ourselves to see if we have acquired the habit of using these new technologies in a wasteful or frivolous manner.

When Venerable Matt Talbot died, his room contained many spiritual books and it was partly through these books that we have been able to get a glimpse into his spiritual life (with Fr Doyle this process is easier due to the copious notes he left behind). One of the books in Matt Talbot’s room was a book entitled “On Reading” by Bishop Hedley. The following passage was underlined for emphasis by Matt Talbot:

Even when the newspaper is free from objection, it is easy to lose a good deal of time over it. It may be necessary and convenient to know what is going on in the world. But there can be no need of our absorbing all the rumours, all the guesses and gossip, all the petty incidents, all the innumerable paragraphs in which the solid news appears half-drowned…This is idle and it is absolutely bad for brain and character. There is a kind of attraction towards petty and desultory reading of this kind which is sure to leave its mark on the present generation…Immoderate newspaper reading leads, therefore, to much loss of time, and does no good, either to the mind or the heart.

Perhaps these words could more aptly apply today to our contemporary love of gossip, and especially the modern fascination with celebrities and their intimate lives, as well as to the inordinate use of other distracting social media. And if we are not distracted with news and gossip, there is undoubtedly some other frivolity that may need to be cut out from our lives…

Venerable Matt Talbot

Thoughts for February 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

What I intended to imply was that I thought God had special designs on your soul and very great graces in store for you if only you will co-operate with Him in the work of your sanctification. With the record of much want of courage and generosity, there is running through your life an undercurrent of earnest desire to be a saint. Not that desires alone will do the work – barren desires are most dangerous to a soul, making one content with intentions only; yet without a big ardent desire nothing will be done. “If thou wilt be perfect,” our Lord once said, implying that sanctification is largely a question of good will. This, then, is the first grace you must pray for: the desire to be a saint.

COMMENT: The central theme of Fr Doyle’s quote today is the importance of the will. We must want to be saints. If we don’t want it, it won’t happen. The same principle applies in every aspect of life. If we don’t want to lose weight, it won’t happen. If we don’t want to work hard and progress in our career, it won’t happen. The Book of Ecclesiasticus tells us:

If you wish, you can keep the commandments; to behave faithfully is within your power. He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer. Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.

Whichever we prefer will be given to us. Either holiness or apathy or sinfulness. Which is it to be?

Today is the anniversary of the death of Sr Lucia, one of the 3 visionaries at Fatima. These three children had a great desire for holiness and a great abhorrence for sin. Even as little children they offered great penances for sinners. We can learn much from their desire for holiness.

Fr Doyle himself occasionally felt a lack of desire for holiness. Referring to the Three Classes of men in the Spiritual Exercises, Fr Doyle wrote in 1907:

The example of men of the Third Class in the world should shame me. What determination, what prolonged effort, what deadly earnestness, in the man who has determined to succeed in his profession! No sacrifice is too great for him, he wants to succeed, he will succeed. My desire, so far, to be a saint is only the desire of the man of the First Class. It gratifies my pride, but I make no real progress in perfection — I do not really will it.

Fr Doyle’s response was to trust in God’s grace, and to take determined, small steps to overcome his weakness day by day. With God’s grace, we can follow in his footsteps.

The Fatima visionaries – Blessed Jacinta, Sr Lucia and Blessed Francisco

Thoughts for February 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

The effect of fervour may be likened to that of fire on water. When cold, water is motionless and chills all that comes in contact with it, but as soon as heat is applied to it, it becomes transformed, grows active, gives off warmth and steam, is capable of doing immense work.

COMMENT: Are our souls cold and motionless? Do we fail to provide warmth to those around us? If so, we need to move closer to the source of heat. We need to know Christ in prayer, by spending time with Him, to enkindle in our souls the fire of His love. 

If, in some countries or parishes, the Church seems insipid, lifeless, and in decline, is it merely because of “social trends”? Or is it because we have allowed our souls to grow cold and motionless?

Christ tells us that:

I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

St Catherine of Siena develops that theme:

Be who God meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.

This is what the saints did, every single one of them. Some of them achieved extraordinary things through this flame of God’s love burning in their hearts. Catherine herself is a great example: despite being a young, uneducated woman she had a remarkable impact on the world of her day, all because her soul was a blazing furnace of love for God. Priests had to accompany her on her travels to hear the confessions of those who converted merely through having contact with her. Her letters – whether to popes or princes or ordinary men – are full of ardent love and faith and fortitude. She tended to that flame of love and grace that drove her through her prayer and mortification, the only fuel that can kindle the fire of God’s love in our heart. 

If we are not what we are meant to be, if we are cold and motionless, it is because we have allowed the flame of God’s love to grow dim in our souls.

Thoughts for February 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Christian abnegation is not composed merely of renunciation: it leads to something tangible and definite. We abandon what is false to cling to what is true. We empty our hearts of earthly things to make room for eternal. We lose ourselves to gain Christ.

COMMENT: Those who punish their bodies by lifting weights in a gym or by jogging in the bleak early hours, do not do so for its own sake – they push themselves to achieve something else such as fitness or weight loss or greater physical attractiveness. It is this same mentality that we need when considering the penances of Fr Doyle, and indeed of all the saints. These penitential lives were not an end in themselves, but were instead an attempt to remove self-will so that God could occupy a more central role in their lives. By losing themselves, they truly found Christ.

We see something similar in the life of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich whose feast it is today. She suffered greatly through illness, and was confined to bed for much of her life. But despite, or perhaps because of, her sufferings she attracted many who sought her counsel and spiritual support, including many priests and bishops. Blessed Pope John Paul said that “her special mystical vocation shows us the value of sacrifice and suffering with the crucified Lord”. She is one of those special victim souls whose complete self-abnegation allows them to be more completely filled with grace.

We do not have to confined to bed with illness for many years like Blessed Anne Catherine, and many others, were. By struggling to overcome our faults bit by bit we can remove obstacles to the more effective operation of grace in our souls. The more filled with grace we become, the more we will change the world.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

Thoughts for February 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: One of the greatest hallmarks of holiness is complete abandonment to God’s will. It does not come easily. That is why martyrs are remembered with special reverence – they have literally given everything to God, without reserve.

For most of us there is some area where we would prefer to be left alone. Some vice, some habit, some attachment that we cherish. We can readily give up certain less important things, but this one thing is not so readily handed over to God. God has given us everything – He has a right to expect that we give everything back to Him in return.

Thoughts for February 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Agatha

I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”?

My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.

A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.

COMMENT: Martyrdom is no joke. It is the ultimate expression of detachment and love; a willingness to give up life itself for the truth and love of Christ. Martyrdom can seem fine in the abstract, but when faced with the pressing reality of this sacrifice, our human nature easily rebels. This tension between religious ideals and the weakness of human nature is wonderfully portrayed in the movie Of Gods and Men which was released a number of years ago. It follows the experience of the seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria in 1996. The movie brilliantly shows the tension within the community between the desire to stand firm against the Islamic extremists who were threatening the monastery and the human desire for self-preservation.

There is some truth in the Flannery O’Connor line “she could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”. If one is going to be a martyr, it is better that the martyrdom be a quick one. But yet, there are few martyrs whose martyrdoms were quick. St Thomas More had a long time to contemplate his impending death in London Tower; so too did St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Auschwitz starvation bunker. Fr Doyle had much time to contemplate his own probable death during his 18 months as a military chaplain.

And this shows us the wisdom of Fr Doyle’s quote today. Unless we toughen ourselves up by small sacrifices each day, we will never be capable of bigger sacrifices if the occasion arises. It is only by learning to deny ourselves now that we will be able to cope with the even more difficult circumstances that are likely to come in the future.

St Agatha, whose feast it is today, also lived this reality, remaining faithful to Christ despite torture and imprisonment. Tradition tells us that her persecutors mutilated her by cutting off her breasts. It is certain that the story of St Agatha is one of those that inspired the young Willie Doyle to desire martyrdom as a boy.

May St Agatha, Fr Doyle and all the martyrs intercede for us so that we may live our daily martyrdom of fidelity to daily sacrifices so that we may be found ready if something more is asked of us.

 

 

Thoughts for February 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church

It seems to me that the best and most practical resolution I can make is to determine to perform each action with the greatest perfection. This will mean a constant going against self, ever agendo contra, at every moment and every single day. I have a vast field to cover in my ordinary daily actions e.g. to say the Angelus always with the utmost attention and fervour. I feel too that Jesus asks this from me as without it there can be no real holiness.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle here presents to us the “little way” of holiness in ordinary life which is the hallmark of real sanctity. Many great saints have advocated this realistic path to sanctity; St Therese and St Josemaria Escriva immediately come to mind. It is perhaps no surprise that Fr Doyle was greatly devoted to St Therese and that St Josemaria read, and was inspired by, Fr Doyle’s life story and spirit.

Yet, for all its apparent simplicity, this little way of constantly going against ourselves is a tough road. Yet it is the only road for most of us. The opportunity of doing great things may not come to us, but we have the opportunity of doing our daily tasks well every single day. Let us also remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Luke 16:10):

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.