On this day in 1917, Major General Hickie paid another tribute to Fr Doyle. Writing to his father, Hugh Doyle, General Hickie said:
I could not say too much about your son. He was loved and reverenced by us all; his gallantry, self-sacrifice, and devotion to duty were all so well known and recognised. I think that he was the most wonderful character that I have ever known.
On 13 December 1916 Fr Doyle, who was at the Front at the time, received a Christmas pudding from his sister-in-law. Here is his description:
As I write, a huge plum pudding sent by the thoughtful Lady Jane has just walked in the door. A hundred thousand welcomes! The Lord grant I don’t get killed till after Christmas at least, it would be a fearful disaster to leave that treasure behind, to be devoured by the holy nuns.
Tragically, 10 days later he had this to report:
A villain of a rat worked his way into the middle of the pudding and built itself a home there. There was not much of the plum pudding left after that but the remainder was all the sweeter.
Sir William Bernard Hickie was Major General of the 16th Irish Division and knew Fr Doyle extremely well. He wrote the following in a letter to friend on 18 November 1917, 3 months after Fr Doyle’s death:
Fr Doyle was one of the best priests I have ever met, and one of the bravest men who have fought or worked out here. He did his duty, and more than his duty, most nobly, and has left a memory and a name behind him that will never be forgotten. On the day of his death, 16th August, he had worked in the front line, and even in front of that line, and appeared to know no fatigue – he never knew fear. He was killed by a shell towards the close of the day, and was buried on the Frezenberg Ridge… He was recommended for the Victoria Cross by his Commanding Officer, by his Brigadier, and by myself. Superior Authority, however, has not granted it, and as no other posthumous reward is given, his name will, I believe, be mentioned in the Commander-in-Chief’s Despatch…I can say without boasting that this is a Division of brave men; and even among these, Fr Doyle stood out.
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 102 years ago today.
From the Tabernacle Jesus seems to say, “Stay with Me for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent”. This should urge me to come to visit Him often.
If my resurrection is a real one and is to produce fruit, it must be external, so that all may see I am not the same man, that my life is changed in Christ.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these notes while contemplating the scene in which the disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus during the 4th week of the Spiritual Exercises in 1907. He poses a question that we may fruitfully ask ourselves – can people perceive that my life has been changed in Christ? Or, as St Josemaria Escriva once put it:
How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.
Today is of course of great significance, for 99 years ago today the First World War came to an end. It was a dreadful war fuelled by stubbornness and nationalism. 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.
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.