1. Accepto. I will receive with joy all unpleasant things which I must bear : (a) pain, sickness, heat, cold, food; (b) house, employment, rules, customs; (c) trials of religious life, companions; (d) reprimands, humiliations; (e) anything which is a cross.
2. Volo et desidero. I will wish and desire that these things may happen to me, that so I may resemble my Jesus more.
3. Eligo. Wtih all my might I will strive every day agere contra in omnibus: (a) against my faults; (b) against my my own will; (c) against my ease and comfort; (d) against the desires of the body; (e) against my habit and inclination of performing my duties negligently and without fervour.
COMMENT: Today’s text from Fr Doyle comes from his notes on the Long Retreat in the autumn of 1907. This retreat was to have a profound influence on his life; everything that came after, including his sacrifices in the trenches, seem to be fruits of the seeds that were planted on this retreat.
In these notes, Fr Doyle reflects on St Ignatius’ meditation on the three types of humility, which is placed during the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. The full text from Ignatius is as follows:
Third Humility. The third is most perfect Humility; namely, when…in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want to choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobium with Christ replete with it rather than honours; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.
Fr Doyle shows us a way in which we can attempt to reach this degree of humility, namely by acting agere contra in omnibus – against myself in all things. This was fundamental in Fr Doyle’s spirituality, and it is crucial to remember that the hero of the trenches was not born that way – he made himself strong and courageous, with God’s grace, by acting against himself in small things every day. We do not need to act against ourselves in ALL things – Fr Doyle had a special calling that is different from ours. But if we do not act against ourselves in SOME things we become spiritually weak and flabby, we become selfish and unattractive to live with in our families and communities.
The benefits of this spiritual discipline can help us not only in spiritual terms but in human terms as well. The Jesuit priest, Fr Walter Ciszek, who suffered greatly for the faith in prison camps in Siberia and elsewhere in Russia, reports in his own memoirs that it was his own daily discipline in denying himself that helped him prepare for long years of deprivation, solitude and hard work.
Fr Doyle, Fr Ciszek and so many saints show us in their lives that traditional ascetical practices not only train us for the next world, but they also equip us to face challenges in this life as well.
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 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. 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 is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. 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.
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?
Today’s saints – Charles Lwanga and his companions from Uganda were pages in the court of King Mwanga of Buganda. Because of their Catholic faith, they resisted the sexual advances of the King. They died cruel and violent deaths because of their fidelity to Christ and the king’s hatred of their faith. St Charles, like many of the others, was burned to death, but some had even crueler torment. St Matthias Mulumba Kalemba, for example, was tortured in a most vicious fashion and took three days to die.
Here is an excellent short video about the martyrs.
We must be intellectually pious, that is, our piety should rest on the bedrock of principle, and not on mood, on sentiment, on spiritual consolation.
COMMENT: In the Gospel of St Matthew Jesus tells us that it is an unfaithful and wicked generation that looks for a sign. But despite this, how many of us continue along this path, seeking consolations and signs in all sorts of ways? There are those who are overly fascinated with apparitions and with miracles and signs and wonders and with the mystical gifts of saints rather than with their witness of heroic virtue. These things are not bad in themselves, but they can be a distraction, for they do not touch upon the truly essential thing. Our task is to love God simply because he is God.
It is true that God may for a time give some people special consolations and gifts. However, it is more likely that we will face many periods of dryness and spiritual aridity. Many of the saints experienced long periods of spiritual darkness, but they persevered because they loved Jesus. They were not mercenaries…
St Josemaria Escriva has expressed the attitude we should adopt very succinctly:
When you go to pray, let this be a firm resolution: Don’t prolong your prayer because you find consolation in it or shorten it because you feel dry.
You seem to be a little upset at not being able to feel more that you really love our Lord. The mere longing desire to do so is a certain proof that love, and much of it, exists in your heart. But you can test your love infallibly and find out how much you have by asking yourself this question: What am I willing to suffer for Him?
Jesus is looking at me as once he did upon blind Bartimaemus: “What wilt thou that I do to thee?” Lord, that I may see myself as You see me. Lord that my eyes may be open to the shortness of life. Lord, that I may understand the value of one degree of merit, and so heap up many.
Are you not foolish in wishing to be free from these attacks of impatience, etc.? I know how violent they can be, since they sweep down on me at all hours without any provocation. You forget the many victories they furnish you with.
COMMENT: Each one of us has our own temperament. Some are timid and quiet. Some are very goal-oriented and work hard. Others are easily excited. Fr Doyle probably fell into this last category – he had a very fiery temperament. This manifested itself in his generous apostolic zeal, his appetite for mortifications and his competitiveness on the sports field. Yet throughout his life we see many examples of how he won “victories” against his natural impatience. One example will suffice – in his last few months, while he was a chaplain in the war, he had many opportunities to lose his temper with the circumstances and people around him. It seems that he rarely did. In fact, he even wanted those around him to treat him like a slave – he wanted to be subject to them and to be mistreated by them in order to learn more patience and humility. For example, Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary in October 1916:
Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g. to wait til he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange my things as he thinks fit, in a word, humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.
While this practice clearly shows a high degree of detachment, it is probably not advisable for all of us. But that does not mean that it was not desirable for Fr Doyle or for those others who were renowned for their high degree of holiness and who also followed this practice (for example, the Spanish noblewoman Luisa Carvajal, who was herself very close to the Jesuits of her day). Clearly, in adopting this practice, Fr Doyle was simply following the Jesuit ideal of going on the offensive to overcome our weaknesses and vices; in this case Fr Doyle’s desire to have things his way. While we may not go so far as to make ourselves the slave of others, it is clear that our homes and our societies would be healthier places if we were all more patient and insisted on our own way less frequently.
Today is the feast of St Rita of Cascia. She is known as the saint of the impossible due to the efficacy of her prayers. But perhaps she could also be known as a saint who personified the virtue of patience. She spent 18 years married to an abusive, violent and unfaithful husband. However, her patience and love finally converted him near the end of his life. After her husband was murdered by some of his many enemies, she successfully prevented her sons from taking revenge, and she entered an Augustinian convent where she spent the last 40 years of her life.
We may not be called to act like the slave of others like Fr Doyle, or to put up with an abusive marriage like St Rita. But we are all called to live the virtue of patience in the concrete circumstances of our own lives. Who can doubt that the world would be a better place if we were all a little more patient with each other.
One final thought today – St Rita is an extremely popular saint but she was only beatified 170 years after her death and canonised 443 years after her death. Not all of the great saints are recognised immediately after death.