Thoughts for Vocations Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

I do not know if I have told you of a scheme which I have in my mind to help poor boys who are anxious to be priests. Before the war I came in contact with a number of very respectable lads and young men, whose one desire was to work for God and the salvation of souls, but who, for want of means, were not able to pursue their studies. I was able to help some of them and get them free places in America or England, with a couple at Mungret, but the number of applicants was far in excess of the resources. 

One day having successfully negotiated or missed a couple of shells, I was struck instead by a happy idea. I was coming home on leave and made up my mind to make an experiment with my new idea, which was this. I gave a little talk to the Sodality of the Children of Mary in a certain convent in Dublin on the need for priests at the present time, and what a glorious work it was to help even a single lad to become one of the ‘Lord’s Anointed.’ I told them how many were longing for this honour, and suggested that they should adopt some poor boy and pay for his education until he was ordained. Two hundred girls subscribing 5/- a year would provide £50, more than enough for the purpose. I suggested that this money ought to be the result of some personal sacrifice, working overtime, making a hat or dress last longer, etc., but as a last resource they might collect the 5/- or some of it. 

The idea was taken up most warmly: nearly all the money for this year is paid in, though the girls are nearly all factory hands, and the lucky boy will begin his college course in September. I am hoping when the cruel war is over to get the other convents to follow suit; for the scheme is simple and no great burden on any one, and is a ready solution of the financial difficulty and should bring joy to many a boy’s heart. Certain difficulties naturally suggest themselves, but I think we may safely count a little at least on our Blessed Lord’s help, since the work is being done for Him, and go on with confidence. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter home to his father in July 1917, just three weeks before his death. How remarkable that, even in the midst of some of his darkest days in the war that he was planning future apostolic initiatives. It is even more extraordinary that he launched this initiative when on leave from the Front, when most other people would simply take life easy and enjoy a well earned rest. 

Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We all have a particular calling in life, and our sanctity largely depends on our conformity with that call and our fulfilment of the duties that attach to that. 

However, this is a day when we specifically pray for priestly and religious vocations. That isn’t because the call to marriage or to the single life aren’t important or aren’t paths to sanctity. They clearly are paths to great holiness if they are embraced with fidelity and generosity. Instead, we pray today for priestly and religious vocations because the Church needs these vocations and because Christ still calls people to follow Him in this special way and because this call is often harder to discern and harder to follow (initially at least) in the cultural context in which we live in the secular West

Fr Doyle was an enthusiastic and effective promoter of vocations. Not only did he provide spiritual direction for those discerning a call, he also provided practical help as well. In addition to the above mentioned fundraising schemes he also helped to place young women in convents. Specifically, he found places in convents around the world (including America, Australia and South America) for women who could not find a suitable convent in Ireland due to ill health or other restrictions (including one young lady with a wooden leg and another with a paralysed hand). Let us remember that this was before the advent of the internet! Fr Doyle’s global efforts show the importance he placed on vocations. 

His efforts for female religious vocations were not limited only to overseas convents – he also founded the Poor Clare convent in Cork city, and was a spiritual director to many nuns around Ireland.

Some of Fr Doyle’s most famous pamphlets were on vocations, and links to them can be found here. 

Shall I be a Priest? 

Vocations.

These pamphlets sold tens of thousands during his life, surpassing all expectations. What a consolation it must have been for him when he received letters from priests and nuns informing him that his writings helped them discern their true calling. 

The impact of these pamphlets was still felt decades after Fr Doyle’s death. Recently I received a letter from a retired English priest. He reported that when he was a soldier in the Second World War his chaplain gave him a copy of Shall I be a Priest, and that it was this pamphlet that set him on the road to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1953. Years later he met the chaplain again, and was informed that at least 11 other soldiers to whom the chaplain had given this pamphlet went on to become priests. 

Perhaps Fr Doyle’s words are still bearing fruit in inspiring vocations to this day…

In conclusion it might be worth recalling one of Fr Doyle’s little jokes today. He was also full of mirth and he let this shine through one day while trying to place a young lady in a convent. Fr Charles Doyle, his brother, recounts this detail in his book Merry in God.

In these negotiations he could not always resist his love of a joke. Thus when a desirable subject had been readily accepted on his recommendation, he said to the Reverend Mother as he rose to leave, “Perhaps, Mother, I should have told you that Miss X has been in hospital for the last two years”. Reverend Mother threw up her hands in dismay. “O Father”, she exclaimed, “that changes everything! We could never accept a delicate girl, much less an invalid”. Father Doyle laughed. “Miss X is not a bit delicate”, he said. “Hospital*, County Limerick, where she lives, is a very healthy spot!”.

(*Hospital is a village in County Limerick. I can imagine Fr Doyle planning out that joke long in advance and waiting for his opportunity to deliver it). 

Thoughts for April 24 (St Fidelis of Sigmaringen) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Fidelis of Sigmaringen

I have long had the feeling that, since the world is growing so rapidly worse and worse and God has lost His hold, as it were, upon the hearts of men, He is looking all the more earnestly and anxiously for big things from those who are faithful to Him still. He cannot, perhaps, gather a large army round His standard, but He wants every one in it to be a hero, absolutely and lovingly devoted to Him.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin Franciscan who was martyred on this day in 1622.

St Fidelis had been a successful lawyer, but like St Alphonsus of Liguori after him, he became disillusioned with the law and felt called to the religious life. As a Capuchin priest he was renowned for his charity and care for the poor, working tirelessly to assist those suffering from the plague. He was also a devoted missionary who worked for the reunification of Christendom during the Catholic Reformation. It was in the course of these efforts that St Fidelis was killed out of hatred for the Faith by a band of men. As he was being killed, he prayed that they would be forgiven and when they encouraged him to renounce the Catholic Faith he declared that he had come to extirpate their heresy and not to embrace it. Some of those involved in his death subsequently converted to Catholicism as a result of his witness.

I’m sure that St Fidelis, who lived in the early 17th Century, would have agreed with Fr Doyle’s assessment three hundred years later that the “world is growing so rapidly worse and worse”. The division of Christianity in the West was a shattering event for those who lived through it.

If we fast forward three hundred years to Fr Doyle’s time we see a gradual weakening of moral values. Dangerous, atheistic philosophies were growing popular, subtly undermining the faith of ordinary people. In the year of Fr Doyle’s death, this philosophy of atheistic materialism made a breakthrough in Russia with devastating consequences for many millions of people for decades to come.

Every age has its crises, and it always seems that the world is indeed growing worse and worse. But yet, God still IS. The Holy Spirit is still at work, calling forth heroes who will be lovingly devoted to Him. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, He raised up great saints like St Fidelis and so many others of that golden era (including the early Jesuits) who would work for the reform, unification and extension of the Church. We can see the same divine call for heroes, right up to the time of Fr Doyle, and indeed up to our own day.

And what of our own day? Yes, it is true that the world seems to have grown steadily worse and worse. This is so even here in Ireland where those who express Christian values are publicly mocked and made a laughing stock. We have no excuse. If we have been born in this era of crisis it is because this is where God has placed us in order to work out our salvation and to save souls in the midst of the concrete circumstances of our lives and cultures. It has always been this way, for every age has its errors that, to borrow St Fidelis’ famous phrase, need to be extirpated rather than embraced.

Let us therefore serve God with generosity in whatever place and circumstance He has placed us. Let us never lose hope, even if the world seems to be growing steadily worse and worse. Let us remember the example of the saints, who never despaired despite the unfavourable cultures in which they laboured. And let us remember this call to sanctity here and now in the context of the Covid-19 lockdown, with all of the restrictions and sufferings that entails for all of us.

 

Thoughts for April 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

A mother puts her little child on its feet, but the child itself must do something, must make an effort if it wants to walk. God does all that is necessary, but man must do his share.

COMMENT: The Church has always thought that it is possible to avoid sin. It may not feel possible. But the grace is always there to avoid offending God through sin, if we truly want to avail of it. In fact, the grace is also there for us to become holy – to truly become the saints that God wants us to be. But we have to want this, and we have to be faithful to the grace that we have been given. We have to make an effort. We have to make an effort to say no to sin, to conquer ourselves and to love God and our neighbour more. The same grace is available to us as was available to the the great saints. The difference is that they were more faithful to the graces they received than we often are. St Francis Xavier is meant to have said (I can’t find the original quote) that the reason we are not saints is because we have not been faithful to the graces we have already been given. In other words, if we had been faithful we would have received even more graces to assist us along the way. 

We will conclude today with some words from St Josemaria Escriva:

When God our Lord gives us his grace, when he calls us by a specific vocation, it is as if he were stretching out his hand to us, in a fatherly way. A strong hand, full of love, because he seeks us out individually, as his own sons and daughters, knowing our weakness. The Lord expects us to make the effort to take his hand, his helping hand. He asks us to make an effort and show we are free. To be able to do this, we must be humble and realize we are little children of God. We must love the blessed obedience with which we respond to God’s marvellous fatherhood.

St Josemaria Escriva

Thoughts for April 21 from Fr Willie Doyle

This morning I lay awake powerless to over come myself and to make my promised visit to the chapel. Then I felt prompted to pray; I said five aspirations and rose without difficulty. How many victories I could win by this easy and powerful weapon!

COMMENT: Fr Doyle was tough. It’s a bit consoling to read about his difficulty getting out of bed. But in all of the things Fr Doyle did he relied on the grace of God to see him through. When we read about his heroics and austerities in the war it’s sometimes easy to forget that he came from a very comfortable and privileged background; that he suffered from poor health, that he had a constant digestive ailment of some sort, and that he had previously had a nervous breakdown from the shock of a fire in his novitiate. yet here he is, in his mid 40’s, a tower of strength and composure to whom the fighting men flocked for comfort. It was the grace of God that transformed Fr Doyle through many “small victories”.

Thoughts for April 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

“They forgot God who saved them” (Psalm 105, 21). To how many may not these words be applied today! How many there are who come into this world and pass beyond its bounds and never know the loving God who died to save them.

COMMENT: What Fr Doyle wrote 100 years ago is even more apt for our world today. How many, even in traditionally Christian countries and even among the baptised, do not know the God who created them, who loves them, who died for them and who longs for them to spend eternity in His love!

What are each of us doing about this?

Thoughts for April 19 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Maximilian Kolbe in the concentration camp starvation bunker

If I were put in a dungeon, like the martyrs, with nothing to lie on but the bare stone floor, with no protection from intense cold, bread and water once a day for food, with no home comfort whatever, I could endure all that for years and gladly for the love of Jesus; yet I am unwilling to suffer a little inconvenience now, I must have every comfort, warm clothes, fire, food as agree able as I possibly can, etc.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle touches on a key point in today’s quote. He shows his keen understanding of the human mind, and of his own weakness. When Fr Doyle says he could suffer for years for Jesus he wasn’t speaking literally or showing off. Rather he was speaking figuratively and showing how we can so easily imagine ourselves to be heroic when heroic things come our way while really being soft and weak in our daily activities. Many of us can probably identify with this. Perhaps some momentary fervour in prayer makes us imagine that if we lived during a time of persecution like the early Christians experienced or like those that Catholics in Ireland and England experienced in the 16th and 17th centuries that we would be heroic and brave. And yet, how reluctant we are to deal with the minor inconveniences of every day. How fearful we can be of declaring ourselves to be Catholic in “polite” society or professional circles. As Jesus tells us in Luke Chapter 16, he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in big things, but he who is unfaithful in little things will be unfaithful in big things. We fool ourselves when we imagine we will be heroes in dramatic circumstances when we cannot discipline ourselves in day to day things. 

In many ways we are like Peter. He declared his loyalty to Christ at the Last Supper, and just a few hours later he denied ever knowing him. As the Imitation of Christ says:

How great is human frailty which is always prone to vice. Today you confess your sins, and tomorrow you again commit what you have confessed. Now you resolve to take care, and an hour after you act as if you had never made a resolution. We have reason therefore to humble ourselves and never to think much of ourselves since we are so frail and inconstant.

Perhaps the solution to our own weakness is not to fall into the same mistakes that Peter fell into preceding his denial – he slept instead of staying awake to watch and pray; he followed Jesus “at a distance”, and just prior to denying Jesus he was warming himself at a fire. Lack of prayer, staying some distance from Jesus, and lack of mortification all preceded Peter’s denial. Almost certainly they precede our own denials and failures also. And, if we do fall in some way, let us at least avoid the mistake of Judas, who despaired of God’s endless mercy.

 

 

Thoughts for April 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

Sanctity is so precious, it is worth paying any price for it. God sanctified souls in many ways, the path of daily and hourly sacrifices in everything and always is mine. 

Will Jesus be content with only half-measures from me? I feel He will not; He asks for all. My Jesus, with your help I will give you all.

COMMENT: Do we really believe that sanctity is worth paying any price for? Fr Doyle did. So too did the saints – they did not put limits on their love. They wanted to be holy. Do we?

Thoughts for April 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Bernadette

Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me. 

In addition to being the feast of St Benedict Joseph Labre, yesterday was also the feast of St Bernadette, but I decided to hold over discussion of St Bernadette until today as there were so many other posts yesterday.

Fr Doyle recorded the above reflections after a trip to Lourdes, the spot where Mary appeared to St Bernadette. The message Fr Doyle took away from Lourdes is the very same as the message he took away from Amettes, the birthplace of St Benedict Joseph Labre – penance and austerity.

If one knew nothing else of Fr Doyle, one could form a very erroneous impression of him. It would be easy to misperceive him as harsh and narrow minded. The opposite was the case – he was joyful and happy and full of practical jokes. Yet, underneath this joy, he lived a very harsh personal life. Paradoxically, this may be why he was so joyful. We see the same in so many other saints known for their happiness and joy. All of the saints were happy, but some were especially known for their jokes and happiness – St Francis and St Philip Neri in particular come to mind. We see the same spirit in the life of Sr. Clare Crockett. Yet these saints all lived very austere personal lives. 

St Francis de Sales says that:

To receive the grace of God into our own hearts, they must be void of our own glory.

Self-love and love of God do not happily live side by side. People who tire themselves out with exercise paradoxically end up with more energy. In the same way, people who live with a spirit of service, generosity and self-denial (so long as it is suited to their strength and station in life) are often more joyful than those who indulge their every whim.