Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve You now till death.
COMMENT: Thanksgiving is not celebrated outside of the United States, but today we think of our American friends who celebrate this holiday and wish them all well.
Even those who face troubles and woes of various types have much to be thankful for. The Lord has given us life and faith and many other blessings and graces all throughout our lives. He has protected us from problems and difficulties that we may not even be aware of. Most importantly of all, He desires union with us for eternity and designs all things to this end. We just need to co-operate with His plan and rely on His grace.
Let us be thankful for everything, for all we have comes to us as a gift from our Father. And let us remember that much is expected from those who have received much – if we have gifts from God it is because he expects us to “invest” those “talents” and bring forth fruit with them. We shall have to render an account of our stewardship of all of the gifts he has given to us.
The chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.
COMMENT: Today is the feast of St John Berchmans. he was a young Jesuit scholastic from Belgium who died in 1621 at the age of 22. Fr Doyle was only 15 years old when St John Berchmans was canonised – their common Jesuit vocation as well as Fr Doyle’s impressionable age at the time of the canonisation of such a young saint are most probably the reasons for Fr Doyle’s devotion to him.
The striking characteristic of St John Berchmans’ spirituality is its simplicity and emphasis on the ordinary. And for all of us that is the realistic, solid road to sanctity. As Teresa of Avila said, we will find God amongst the pots and pans of the kitchen, or we will not find him at all. Despite the heroism and real drama of Fr Doyle’s life, its bedrock foundation was the faithful fulfilment of ordinary simple duties. It was this that he preached and encouraged to his spiritual children, and without this daily faithfulness the drama of the trenches would be impossible – as the Lord says, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in greater things. It doesn’t work the other way around! If we are not faithful in ordinary activities not only will we be unfaithful when really big things come, but we are probably unlikely to be given even the grace to fulfil a more elaborate mission in the Lord’s service.
Other Jesuits also saw this spirit of St John Berchmans in Fr Doyle. Here is the testimony of a Jesuit who lived with him while he was a Jesuit scholastic on the staff of Clongowes Wood College:
I can safely say he was a perfect Jesuit and often reminded me of St John Berchmans. His was a combination of real solid piety with a truly human character. Bright and joyous himself, he always made others happy and was evidently happy to be able to do so.
Vince teipsum (Conquer yourself). This is the secret of the Exercises. “I learnt no other lesson from my master Ignatius,” said St. Francis Xavier, referring to his first retreat at Paris. Here we all fail – good men, zealous men, holy men. Prayer is easy, works of zeal attractive; but going against self, till grace and perseverance give facility, is cruel work, a hard battle.
COMMENT: How important is this process of self-conquest. There is no holiness without it. The lives of the saints make this quite clear for all to see.
But we should take heart. Fr Doyle affirms that it is hard and that all fail in this battle to some degree or other. It is consoling that such a master tactician of the spiritual life recognises within himself the tendency to fail in this battle against self. But as Fr Doyle promises, if we persevere we will obtain the grace we need to make the way a little easier.
Do not try to run till you can walk well. Draw up a list of certain little sacrifices which you feel God is asking from you and which you know you will be able to give Him without very much difficulty: better be cowardly than too generous. Then, come what may, be faithful to your list and shake it in the face of the tempter when he suggests that you should give it up.
COMMENT: As always, Fr Doyle presents a sane and balanced spirituality to us. Constancy leads to success in all areas of life, whether it be in acquiring a new skill, in studying for exams or in the spiritual life. It was by constant effort that Fr Doyle grew spiritually to become the hero of the trenches.
His advice is also very relevant as we prepare to commence Advent which begins in just over a week. Often we forget that Advent is a time of penance and preparation. Here in Ireland – and elsewhere I am sure – there is great hype in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and as soon as we reach the 26th or 27th of December (when Christmas is just starting) – it is forgotten about and the focus becomes the New Year. This is not the way we should live as Christians – Advent is a time of preparation to allow us to live the spirit of Christmas with greater joy and intimacy with the Lord. Perhaps it would be good to take Fr Doyle’s advice, and prepare a short list of small, specific sacrifices that we wish to make in preparation for Christmas?
Remember the devil is a bad spiritual director, and you may always recognise his apparently good suggestions by the disturbances they cause in the soul. Our Lord would never urge you to turn away from a path which is leading you nearer to Himself, nor frighten you with the prospect of future unbearable trials. If they do come, grace will come also and make you abound with joy in all your tribulations.
COMMENT: Many spiritual writers echo the words of Fr Doyle in today’s quote. St Ignatius speaks of consolations and desolations; the former coming from God and the latter from the enemy. The devil wishes to disturb our soul, injecting fears and scruples and anxiety and a distaste for spiritual things. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, wishes to give us peace. It’s not for nothing that the risen Christ always spoke of peace when He appeared to His disciples.
Fr Doyle was not necessarily an innately heroic man. He suffered from ill health quite a lot in his life. At one stage during his seminary days he suffered what Alfred O’Rahilly describes as “a complete nervous breakdown” and had to leave the novitiate for a while. Some doctors even said that he was ill-equipped for the religious life. As one soldier said of him, he had all of the inherent characteristics of a coward. But Fr Doyle didn’t rely on himself and his own powers. He abounded with joy in all of his tribulations because he relied on God who never abandons His followers.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he promised to be with his disciples to the end of time. That was true almost two thousand years ago; it was true 100 years ago in the trenches and it remains true today.
“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.
COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.
The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.
Fr Doyle wrote the following notes in his diary on this day in 1914:
I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.
In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this.
St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.
Meditating on the Particular Judgement, God gave me great light. I realised that I should have to give an exact account of every action of my life and for every instant of time. To take only my seventeen years of religious life, what account could I give of the 6,000 hours of meditation, 7,000 Masses, 12,000 examinations of conscience, etc.? Then my time: how have I spent every moment? I resolved not to let a day more pass without seriously trying to reform my life in the manner in which I perform my ordinary daily duties. For years I have been “going to begin,” and from time to time made some slight efforts at improvement. But now, dear Jesus, let this change be the work of Thy right hand.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was a practical and efficient man. In fact, if he hadn’t become a priest, he had the makings of a great businessman. He recognised that each day, each moment, should be directed towards our ultimate goal – union with God. He was constantly focused on this strategic aim.
But his method was also practical. Holiness is not some imaginary thing; it is not based on feelings and sentiment. There are a number of litmus tests of whether we are growing in holiness (none of them involve “feelings”!). One of the surest of these litmus tests is the faithful performance of our daily duties, relying as always on the grace that is always available to us.
Let us learn from the example of Fr Doyle to use our time well.