15 November 1915: Fr Doyle was appointed as military chaplain

Irish soldiers preparing for WWI. Christ expects His army to be “absolutely and lovingly devoted to Him”

 

Received my appointment from the War Office as chaplain to the 16th Division. Fiat voluntas tua. What the future has in store I know not but I have given Jesus all to dispose of as He sees best. My heart is full of gratitude to Him for giving me this chance of being really generous and of leading a life that will be truly crucified.

COMMENT: The above words were written by Fr Doyle on 15 November 1915. His long desired wish to give all for Christ was approaching, and the final heroic chapter of his life was about to open.

Anyone who has read an account of the experiences of Fr Doyle in the Great War knows just how difficult and “crucified” that life really was. None of us know what the future holds in store for us. Undoubtedly it holds a mixture of joys and sufferings. Would Fr Doyle have offered himself as a military chaplain if he knew all that it would involve? I am inclined to think that he would, although we can never know for sure. What we can know is that many of us would gladly decline such sufferings if we could. But there is an important spiritual lesson in all of this. We receive grace to cope with sufferings when we actually need it, in other words, when we are actually experiencing those sufferings. As Fr Doyle once wrote, we carry our cross bit by bit, not all in one go – we take each day as it comes. We do not receive grace to bear sufferings that are not asked of us at all, or that are not asked of us yet. That is why fear about the future is such an awful thing – the imagined problems of the future lack the divine assistance that we would receive if we were actually asked to carry that particular cross. I am always struck by the calmness of some people who face terminal illnesses and imminent death. I recently visited one such person – a neighbour of mine. He had been given only 3 months to live due to pancreatic cancer. He was poor, didn’t have much, and didn’t have many people to look out for him. When I imagine myself in such a situation I feel very distressed, yet he was calm – he had the grace to deal with these struggles precisely because he was actually facing these struggles. I, on the other hand, do not have the same problems, and thus I do not have the grace to bear those particular crosses.

Fr Doyle believed in living in the present moment – it is the only time we actually have, and the only time we can truly offer to God. By cultivating this habit, and relying on the grace God gives us in the present moment, we can learn to have the same detachment and serene acceptance that Fr Doyle exhibited 103 years ago today.

Advertisements

11 November – 100 years since the end of World War 1

100 years ago today the First World War came to an end. It was a dreadful war fuelled by stubbornness and nationalism. It was the first industrial war; millions were killed, and many more millions were scarred and wounded. As Fr Doyle once wrote:

This is a sad, sad war, of which you at home have but the faintest idea. May the good God end it soon.

Yet sanctity still shines through in the midst of the horrors. Apart from the case of Fr Doyle, the heroic examples of Blessed Rupert Mayer SJ and of Blessed Charles of Austria, both on the “other side,” also come to mind. Even in the midst of horror and bloodshed, the Holy Spirit continues to inspire many to acts of heroism and sanctity.

Traditionally this is a day on which all those who have died in war are remembered. It is thus a special day for remembering Fr Doyle and his own special sacrifice in giving up all worldly comforts, and laying down his own life, in order to bring comfort and the sacraments to those dying on the field of battle. He was dedicated to dying soldiers, and lost his own life while rushing into danger to assist them. In remembering Fr Doyle, it is thus right that we remember and pray for those for whom he offered his own life.

It is also a day in which we can talk to others about Fr Doyle, and seek to spread awareness of his life, and devotion to him.

For anyone interested in Fr Doyle’s military services, there is no better source than Carole Hope’s Worshipper and Worshipped. It is a definitive account of Fr Doyle’s life in the war, and can be found herehttps://www.amazon.com/Worshipper-Worshipped-Across-Chaplain-1915-1917/dp/1908336862

10 November 1914: Fr Doyle volunteers as a military chaplain

My offering myself as a war chaplain to the Provincial has had a wonderful effect on me. I long to go and shed my blood for Jesus, and, if He wills it, to die a martyr of charity. The thought that at any moment I may be called to the Front, perhaps to die, has roused a great desire to do all I can while I have life. I feel great strength to make any sacrifice and little difficulty in doing so. I may not have long now to prove my love for Jesus. 

Fr Doyle wrote these words on November 10 1914. As it happened he had to wait almost exactly a year before being called up as chaplain, and he had almost three years of life left. Fr Doyle had a great desire to do all he could for God and man while he had life, and he crammed much into his remaining years of life. Once again he gives an example we can all learn something from.  

7 November 1916

I wonder is there a happier man in France than I am. Just now Jesus is giving me great joy in tribulation, though conditions of living are about as uncomfortable as even St. Teresa could wish – perpetual rain, oceans of mud, damp, cold and a plague of rats… Sometimes I kneel down with outstretched arms and pray God, if it is a part of His divine plan, to rain down fresh privations and sufferings. But I stopped when the mud wall of my little hut fell in upon me: that was too much of a good joke!

Fascinating colourised photographs from World War 1

As we approach the centenary of the ending of World War 1 on Sunday, there will be more and more coverage of the war in the media. One interesting example is this selection of retouched and colourised photographs from the war. You may be interested in whacking them out to get a sense of some of the sights and experiences Fr Doyle was exposed to during his time as chaplain. 

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6357959/Grim-reality-WW1-brought-life-100-colourised-images-mark-centenary.html

24 October 1916: Fr Doyle’s night of prayer at the Front

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on October 25 1916. It refers to the previous night, in other words, this evening and night 102 years ago. It is worth remembering that at this time Fr Doyle was at the Front. His prayer was conducted in a dug out, not in the relative comfort of a Jesuit house far from violence and death. He obviously found it hard, hence his use of the old strategy of making a vow not to give in to tiredness. We know that he spent a night of prayer at the Front for the Poor Clares in Cork which he was instrumental in founding – they were experiencing some difficulties at the time. I am not sure if this was that same occasion or not. 

Jesus has long urged me to give Him a whole night of prayer and reparation. Last night I prayed in my dug-out at Kemmel from 9 till 5 (eight hours), most of the time on my knees. I bound myself beforehand to do so by vow in order not to let myself off. Though I had only two hours’ sleep, I am not very tired or weary today. Jesus wants more of these nights of prayer, adoration and atonement.

Thoughts for October 9 from Fr Willie Doyle

Pray for all, but especially for sinners, and in particular for those whose sins are most painful to His Sacred Heart. With great earnestness recommend to His mercy the poor souls who are in their agony. What a dreadful hour, an hour tremendously decisive, is the hour of our death! Surround with your love these souls going to appear before God, and defend them by your prayers.

COMMENT: It’s almost paradoxical – the most important moment of our lives is the very last moment. In this moment our eternity is decided. Someone who has lived a life of vice may convert and be saved, but similarly someone who lived a good life, if they freely and consciously commit a mortal sin at the moment of death and do not repent, cannot see God.

This is why the grace of final perseverance is so important, and why the saints constantly prayed for this grace. Even though we attempt to live a virtuous life, we should never presume that we will persevere. It is also one of the reasons why we must flee mortal sins with all our might, for we may die unexpectedly in the act of rebellion against God. (Of course, the more perfect reason to avoid mortal sin is because it offends God…).

In the Hail Mary we ask our Mother to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. How causally we can overlook the importance of these words.

Fr Doyle was acutely aware of the importance of those last final moments, and he risked his own life, and abandoned his own comforts, in order to provide the sacraments to soldiers during their last moments. Here is one small snippet out of many in his letters describing the gratitude of those soldiers who had the grace of a priest to bless them at the hour of death. May we all be similarly blessed with this grace!

A sad morning as casualties were heavy and many men came in dreadfully wounded. One man was the bravest I ever met. He was in dreadful agony, for both legs had been blown off at the knee But never a complaint fell from his lips, even while they dressed his wounds, and he tried to make light of his injuries. “Thank God, Father”, he said, “I am able to stick it out to the end. Is it not all for little Belgium?” The Extreme Unction, as I have noticed time and again, eased his bodily pain. “I am much better now and easier, God bless you”, he said, as I left him to attend a dying man. He opened his eyes as I knelt beside him: “Ah! Fr. Doyle, Fr. Doyle”, he whispered faintly, and then motioned me to bend lower as if he had some message to give. As I did so, he put his two arms round my neck and kissed me. It was all the poor fellow could do to show his gratitude that he had not been left to die alone and that he would have the consolation of receiving the Last Sacraments before he went to God. Sitting a little way off I saw a hideous bleeding object, a man with his face smashed by a shell, with one if not both eyes torn out. He raised his head as I spoke. “Is that the priest? Thank God, I am all right now.” I took his blood-covered hands in mine as I searched his face for some whole spot on which to anoint him. I think I know better now why Pilate said “Behold the Man” when he showed our Lord to the people.