Thoughts for June 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel also a great longing to love Jesus very, very much, to draw very close to His Sacred Heart, and to be ever united to Him, always thinking of Him and praying. I long ardently to do something now to make up for my neglect in the past to give myself heart and soul to the service of God, to toil for Him, to wear myself out for Him. I wish to be able never to seek rest or amusement outside of what obedience imposes, so that every moment may be spent for Jesus. I have not a moment to lose, I cannot afford to refuse Him a single sacrifice if I wish to do anything for Jesus and become a saint before I die. If I go to the Congo, I certainly shall not live long. In any case can I promise myself even one day more? I must try to look upon this day as my last on earth and do all I can and suffer all I can for these few hours. It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. 

If I am faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”, I shall effectually cut away the numerous faults in all my actions. By working hard at the Third Degree I shall best correct those things to which my attention has been drawn. I know all this is going to cost me much, that I shall have a fierce battle to fight with the devil and myself. But I begin with great hope and confidence, for since Jesus has inspired me to make these resolutions and urged me on till I did so, His grace will not be wanting to aid me at every step. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity, walking bravely on in imitation of my Jesus who is by my side carrying His cross. To imitate Him and make my life resemble His in some small degree will be all my life’s work, so that I may be worthy to die for Him.

COMMENT: There is much that one could reflect about in these retreat notes from Fr Doyle. Three points, out of many possibilities, suffice. 

It is not a question of keeping up full steam for years, but only for to-day. This idea is a recurring one in the thought of Fr Doyle. All we have to offer God is the present moment. Living in that present moment, and sanctifying it, is the essence of sanctity. This is especially important if we suffer or are offering up some penance. We don’t know if we will have to suffer tomorrow, or next month or next year. But even if we do, we don’t have to bear those sufferings right now. We have only the sufferings or duties or work of this moment. When this moment is over, we will never have to bear its sufferings again. Elsewhere in his notes, Fr Doyle relates this principle to dryness in prayer. If we struggle in prayer, well we needn’t worry about the fact that we have to stay still and pray for an hour. All we have to do is to pray for this one minute. After that, we pray for another minute, and so on, step by step. 

Faithful to the resolution of “doing all things perfectly”. We will never succeed in doing all things perfectly, but we must at least try, and keep beginning again and again when we fail. Faithfulness in little duties sounds easy, but is incredibly hard in practice, and it is the ordinary path to sanctity for all of us. 

In the name of God, then, I enter upon the Narrow Path which leads to sanctity.Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

The choice of the narrow path is not a once-off decision but rather one to be made each moment of each day. It is the decision to adhere to our duty when we would rather ignore it. It was this constant, moment by moment adherence to the narrow path in little things that created the selfless hero of the trenches.

Thoughts for June 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

One of the obstacles to my leading a fervent life is the thought of what others may think. I would often wish to do some act of mortification, but I am prevented because I know others will see it. Again, I desire to keep certain rules which I have broken (e.g. Latin conversation), but a false shame, a fear of what others may say, stops me. I know this is a foolish, mean and small spirit; but it is alas too true in my case. I must pray to overcome it and make some generous acts against this false shame and pride.

COMMENT: If Fr Doyle suffered from the problem of human respect – an untoward concern for what others think of us – then there is little surprise that we ourselves might fall prey to it as well. This is especially challenging for us who live in a culture where religious faith is scoffed at and where those who practice it are viewed as being intellectually challenged and uneducated. This is especially acute on social media, and represents a huge challenge for younger people. In some respects, the prevailing norms in Europe make living the faith almost like a “social martyrdom”. 

If we shrink from living our faith for fear of human respect, then we cannot hope to effectively shape the culture in which we live. We must be coherent Christians. Yes, we should practice our faith with discretion and balance, but we should do so without fear. Perhaps the words of St Jean-Marie Vianney, to whom Fr Doyle was especially devoted, might help on this point:

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. If the Devil cannot get him back through human respect, he will induce an extraordinary fear to possess him that his confessions are not good, that his confessor does not understand him, that whatever he does will be all in vain, that he will be damned just the same, that he will achieve the same result in the end by letting everything slide as by continuing to fight, because the occasions of sin will prove too many for him.

Thoughts for June 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Naploeon said “I want you to do so and so”, and I replied “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? Generous or making conditions? In easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

COMMENT: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus? It was regular reflection on these questions that shaped Fr Doyle’s will and strengthened him for the martyrdom of charity that he suffered. For Fr Doyle, Napoleon was a compelling figure. For us, 100 years on, perhaps it is a more contemporary military or political figure that attracts. How many people would go through fire and water for a political leader? Or even for a sports star or a celebrity? Or for a political ideology or movement? But if we would happily serve such an “idol”, how much more willingly should we serve our Creator to Whom we owe everything? 

Fr Jean Nicolas Grou was a French Jesuit writer of the 18th century who suffered much after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Here are some words of his on this theme, taken from his book Meditations on the Love of God.

Thou shalt love. What kind of love? With the love of preference to all other objects whatever, and to thine own self; thy love for God shall surpass, if it can, all other affection, in that same degree that the Object of it surpasses all else; thou shalt be ready, if occasion requires, to sacrifice all to Him, even thine own life, rather than to offend Him; thou shalt fear to displease Him beyond and before all else; and thou shalt consider the smallest sin as an evil infinitely greater than all other evils of any other kind; thou shalt put the advantage of pleasing Him before any other advantage of what value soever; and shalt be more jealous of His friendship than that of the greatest and dearest on earth. Not His will merely, but His good pleasure shall be thy law, rule and standard; thou shalt trample underfoot all human respect, thou shalt despise all promises, all threats and overcome all obstacles to follow it…Thou shalt wish and desire that every creature may render to Him all the glory that is due to Him and which He expects from them; thou shalt be zealous for His honour, and procure and further it by every means in thy power, at the least by thy wishes and thy prayers desiring ardently that all men may know, adore, love and obey Him; thou shalt be grieved in the depths of thy heart at the sight of the crimes which deluge the world; and thy zeal shall equal that of David who said “Fainting hath laid hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law”. (Psalm 119: 53)

This is a stirring call to arms. It is the kind of thing that motivates and encourages the young, and the young at heart. Perhaps that’s why those young people who remain in the Church are deeply committed to their faith and to evangelisation, and they sometimes disturb older people by their zeal. Both generations can learn from each other – zeal must go hand in hand with prudence and balance. But the doubt and timidity does little to attract young people who search for meaning and challenge. If one looks at the ideological movements and campaigns to which many young people are attracted one sees energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to go (figuratively) through fire and water on behalf of their favoured cause. 

The saints went through literal fire and water for Christ – to serve Him and to save souls. And us? What have we done for Jesus? What are we doing for Jesus? What shall we do for Jesus?

Thoughts for June 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

I will strive ever to perform each action as perfectly as possible, paying special attention to small duties e.g. saying grace, odd Hail Marys, etc. It seems to me God is asking this particularly from me, and by this means I am to find the chief road to sanctity.

COMMENT: As Fr Doyle tells us today, the chief road to sanctity for all of us is found through the careful performance of our daily duties. Perhaps, like Fr Doyle, some people are called to extraordinary things, but for most of us holiness will be entirely found within our ordinary life.

Does this mean that we are not called to be great saints, and can instead live a life of mediocrity? Not at all! Jesus tell us that we should strive to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. Far from a life of mediocrity, this is a life of great holiness. Anyone with a busy job or with a family or other commitments knows just how difficult it is to perform all of our duties as perfectly as possible.

The secret is to inject all of our actions with love. The value of our actions lies in love. Thus, simple household duties performed with love are of greater value than heroic deeds performed with lukewarmness.

St Francis de Sales tells us:

A very small virtue may be of greater value in a soul where divine love fervently reigns, than martyrdom itself in a soul where love is languishing, feeble, and dull.

Fr Doyle lived this simple life for many years prior to his heroism in the trenches. Without his simple daily faithfulness it is doubtful that he would have been capable of the heroism he displayed during the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. She was one of the most remarkable lay mystics in the history of the Church. Despite being favoured with many extraordinary mystical gifts, and consulted by bishops, popes and even other saints, she kept her feet on the ground, and lived the life of a busy mother in Rome in the 1800′s. In fact, she was so focused on properly fulfilling her duties that she was known to ask God to stop favouring her with ecstacies and other spiritual gifts so that she would not be distracted from her work!

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

7 June – the anniversary of Venerable Matt Talbot (Post 2 of 3 today)

Venerable Matt Talbot

 

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive…

Physical mortification on the part of religious was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day – there was nothing unusual in it all. People were perhaps tougher then, without all of the modern comforts we have gotten used to. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. When he encouraged others to take on acts of mortification, he often did so by encouraging them to do very little things, but to do them with great love. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion? The self inflicted “pain” Fr Doyle speaks of need not be something very big or burdensome. Getting up a little earlier, going to bed on time, reducing time wasted on television, starting work on time, biting our tongue when we want to criticise someone… There are many ways that we can practice a measured asceticism that is discreet, balanced, humble and will improve both our spiritual and temporal lives, as well as the lives of those around us…

Today is the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot – he died on this day in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know…

Matt Talbot is a great model for lay people today. An alcoholic at an early age, he had a profound and unexpected conversion, and he suddenly “took the pledge” and gave up alcohol forever at the age of 28. This was against all expectation, and shows us that nobody is beyond help or hope. His example is important for a culture in which many people are addicted to one thing or another. If it is not alcohol or drugs, it may be food or sex or work or even the internet and social media.

Matt is also a great model because he did his work well, and lived an ordinary life in the middle of the world. He was an ascetic and a mystic and an ordinary man who looked after others and defended the rights of workers and of the poor. He kept his feet on the ground.

Matt became a Third Order Franciscan, regularly attending several Masses each day. As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. There is a tendency now to downplay the ascetical significance of these chains, with the suggestion that they were simple, light and non-penitential chains that signified his consecration to Mary as her slave. But in the popular imagining, the chains were most definitely penitential in nature. I remember being told, as a schoolboy in the 1980s, that the chains were so tightly wound around Matt that they were embedded in his flesh. Again, whether or not this is completely accurate is beside the point – many people believed that the chains were indeed embedded in Matt’s flesh. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm for many. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. And there was a lot more to Matt’s asceticism than chains. He lived in strict poverty, giving away most of his money. He fasted very strictly, and rose at 2am each night to pray for several hours before commencing his work as a labourer. He slept on a plank of wood and had a wooden pillow. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit.

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. There is a suggestion that Matt cut the pockets out of his trousers so he would not be able to carry money around with him. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had?

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Prayer for the beatification of Venerable Matt Talbot. 

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. 

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. 

Amen.

Thoughts for June 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

I had not the heart to wake up the poor nuns, and after all when one is fast asleep, is not a hard plank just as soft as a feather bed? You see I am becoming a bit of a philosopher! The next morning, I had Mass in a field close to the camp. I wish you could have seen the men as they knelt in a hollow square round the improvised altar, brilliant sunshine overhead, and the soft green of spring about them. They looked so happy, poor lads, as I went down one line and up the other, giving them the Bread of the Strong, and I could not help thinking of another scene long ago when our Lord made the multitude sit down on the grass, and fed them miraculously with the seven loaves. Before I got to the end of my 700 Communions I felt wondrous pity for the twelve Apostles, for they must have been jolly tired also.

COMMENT: The incident described here took place in the early days of June 1917. Fr Doyle was meant to sleep in a convent (he was looking forward to what he described as “an unblushing gluttonous feast of blankets” after 16 days in the front line), but due to a mistake on the part of his orderly, he arrived late at the convent and the nuns were already asleep. Fr Doyle seems to have reached a point where everything is seen as coming from the hand of God – he was happy with the hard plank of wood, because when you’re asleep, it’s all the same really! How many of us would take this setback with such calm acceptance, especially after 16 days of intense pressure and danger at the front line? This incident reminds uf of another, even more heroic one: on one occasion, when the medical doctor was ill, and there was no dry ground to sleep on in the dig out, Fr Doyle lay face down on the damp ground and made the doctor sleep on his back….

In today’s quote we also see Fr Doyle’s simple, cheerful humanity. This quote comes from one of Fr Doyle’s letters home to his father. His humorous comment at how tired the Apostles must have been when Jesus fed the five thousand is so typical of him – these little asides must surely have brought a smile to his father’s face. His constant solicitude for his father so many miles away, when he himself thought so little of his own extreme danger, is one of Fr Doyle’s most charming characteristics.

Thoughts for June 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

I think it is evident that, in these days of awful sin and hatred of God, our Blessed Lord wants to gather round Him a legion of chosen souls who will be devoted, heart and soul, to Him and His interests, and upon whom He may always count for help and consolation. Souls who will not ask “How much must I do?” but rather “How much can I do for His love?” A legion of souls who will give and not count the cost, whose only pain will be that they cannot do more and give more and suffer more for Him who has done so much for them. In a word souls who are not as the rest of men, fools perhaps in the eyes of the world, for their watchword is sacrifice and not self-comfort.

COMMENT: If the early 1900’s were “days of awful sin and hatred of God” as Fr Doyle claimed, things would appear to be worse 100 years later.

But God is faithful. Whenever there is a crisis, God raises up a “legion of chosen souls” to respond. The history of the Church has always shown this to be the case. God still calls for loyal followers. But are we ready to respond?

 

 

Thoughts for May 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

“One thing is wanting to thee” (Luke 18:22). How many souls there are upon whom Jesus looks would love, souls who are very dear to his Sacred Heart, for they have done much and sacrificed much for Him. Yet He asks for more, He wants that last sacrifice, the surrender of that secret clinging to some trifling attachment, that their lives may be a perfect holocaust. How many souls hear this little voice, “One thing is wanting to you, that you may be perfect”, one generous effort to break away from the almost severed ties of self-love, and yet they heed it not.”