Thoughts for Corpus Christi from Fr Willie Doyle

Real devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is only to be gained by hard, grinding work of dry adoration before the Hidden God. But such a treasure cannot be purchased at too great a cost, for once obtained, it makes of this life as near an approach to heaven as we can ever hope for.

COMMENT: Today is traditionally the feast of Corpus Christi, although in some countries the the liturgical celebration is translated to the following Sunday.

In today’s quote, Fr Doyle shows us that the encounter with Christ in prayer and adoration is not primarily emotional. We may experience consolations, but it is often more likely that this will not happen. 

It was this hard, grinding work at prayer (and indeed in all aspects of his life) that prepared Fr Doyle and procured for him the grace to willingly suffer the deprivation of the trenches and to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life while serving others. 

The following quote from Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698), foundress of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, is relevant for today’s topic.

The interior life is not what one thinks or imagines. It consists not in having beautiful thoughts, nor in saying beautiful words, nor in remaining in a passive kind of prayer without applying one’s mind, as if one were in lofty heights. All of this is, more often than not, no more than fantasy. 

The interior life is found in the solid practice of mortification, in the love of littleness and in total detachment from oneself and from creatures. 

Mother Mechtilde

Thoughts for June 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

I feel that I could go through fire and water to serve such a man as Napoleon, that no sacrifice he could ask would be too hard. What would the army think of me if Naploeon said “I want you to do so and so”, and I replied “But, your Majesty, I am very sensitive to cold, I want to have a sleep in the afternoon, to rest when I am tired, and I really could not do without plenty of good things to eat!” Would I not deserve to have my uniform torn from me and be driven from the army, not even allowed to serve in the ranks? How do I serve Jesus my King? What kind of service? Generous or making conditions? In easy things but not in hard ones? What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus?

COMMENT: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What shall I do for Jesus? It was regular reflection on these questions that shaped Fr Doyle’s will and strengthened him for the martyrdom of charity that he suffered. For Fr Doyle, Napoleon was a compelling figure. For us, 100 years on, perhaps it is a more contemporary military or political figure that attracts. How many people would go through fire and water for the current President of the United States? Or even for a sports star or a celebrity? Or for a political ideology or movement? But if we would happily serve such an “idol”, how much more willingly should we serve our Creator to Whom we owe everything? 

Fr Jean Nicolas Grou was a French Jesuit writer of the 18th century who suffered much after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Here are some words of his on this theme, taken from his book Meditations on the Love of God.

Thou shalt love. What kind of love? With the love of preference to all other objects whatever, and to thine own self; thy love for God shall surpass, if it can, all other affection, in that same degree that the Object of it surpasses all else; thou shalt be ready, if occasion requires, to sacrifice all to Him, even thine own life, rather than to offend Him; thou shalt fear to displease Him beyond and before all else; and thou shalt consider the smallest sin as an evil infinitely greater than all other evils of any other kind; thou shalt put the advantage of pleasing Him before any other advantage of what value soever; and shalt be more jealous of His friendship than that of the greatest and dearest on earth. Not His will merely, but His good pleasure shall be thy law, rule and standard; thou shalt trample underfoot all human respect, thou shalt despise all promises, all threats and overcome all obstacles to follow it…Thou shalt wish and desire that every creature may render to Him all the glory that is due to Him and which He expects from them; thou shalt be zealous for His honour, and procure and further it by every means in thy power, at the least by thy wishes and thy prayers desiring ardently that all men may know, adore, love and obey Him; thou shalt be grieved in the depths of thy heart at the sight of the crimes which deluge the world; and thy zeal shall equal that of David who said “Fainting hath laid hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law”. (Psalm 119: 53)

This is a stirring call to arms. It is the kind of thing that motivates and encourages the young, and the young at heart. Perhaps that’s why those young people who remain in the Church are deeply committed to their faith and to evangelisation, and they sometimes frighten older people by their zeal. Both generations can learn from each other – zeal and prudence and balance have to go hand in hand. But the doubt and timidity and (dare one say it?) the embarrassment that seems to infect the Church in the western world, and especially in Ireland, does little to attract young people who search for meaning and challenge. If one looks at the ideological movements and campaigns to which many young people are attracted one sees energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to go (figuratively) through fire and water on behalf of their favoured cause. 

The saints went through literal fire and water for Christ – to serve Him and to save souls. Our Christian brothers and sisters are forced to do this in the East in the face of real physical persecutions. 

And we in the West? What have we done for Jesus? What are we doing for Jesus? What shall we do for Jesus?

13 June 1915

Slept on the floor. No relief in small sufferings. Put on chain in bad humour. Violent temptations to eat cake and resisted several times. Two hours prayer when weary. Rose for visit at two. Unkind story kept back. Overcame desire to lie in bed. 

COMMENT: This is the list of penances Fr Doyle records for this day in 1915. He kept these lists in order to monitor his progress – this organised and methodical approach to the spiritual life was typical of the Ignatian spirituality in which he was trained. Fr Doyle was not an original or expert scholar or theologian, but he was a master tactician of the spiritual life. His daily records show that he fought day after day, with God’s grace, to acquire the self-masery and detachment to which he perceived he had a special calling. We may not be called to imitate the actual penances that Fr Doyle practiced, but we can nonetheless learn from his dogged pursuit of perfection. It is a day by day battle, mostly based around small and seemingly insignificant things, in which those who stand still fall back. As Fr Doyle said elsewhere: “Life is too short for a truce”.

Thoughts for June 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Moment of Benediction.

The priest turns and raises aloft the Sacred Host. In loving adoration, in reverent awe, the invisible angels fall prostrate. The bell tinkles softly, fragrant clouds of sweet-smelling incense ascend on high, and in the remotest corner of the vast church every head is bowed in adoration. It is a solemn moment, a moment when the silent streams of grace pour down upon our souls. God’s hands are lifted up to bless us; His sacred face is turned upon us, and He waits oh ! so eagerly for us to ask some favour that He may win our hearts by His generosity. Let us ask, then, confidently and show our trust in God’s great goodness by the boldness of our requests.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle recommends that we be bold in our requests. This comes from a priest who knew the power of God, for he saw it at work firsthand in his own life. 

God wants to give us His blessings and His graces. It is true that he doesn’t want to be treated like a heavenly ATM machine, and there is surely something defective in our spiritual life if we only call on Him when we are in trouble. But none of this changes the fundamental generosity of God. He wants to help us, and sometimes He will even work real miracles to assist us. If we do not ask for miracles we will not receive them! 

Today is the feast of one of the great miracle workers in the Church – St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church. In many churches, St Anthony’s statue is one of the most popular ones; it is not unusual across Europe to find an overflowing pile of papers stuck into the statue’s hands. These requests for favours come from all sorts of people of every age. Perhaps there are those who might be tempted to sneer at this simple piety and devotion. It is surely not to everyone’s taste, but that does not mean that it is not to God’s taste. St Anthony’s enduring popularity surely indicates that he is an effective intercessor for those of us who still journey on this earth. 

Let us be bold in our requests, both to God Himself, and also through the intercession of Mary, our guardian angel, the souls in Purgatory and the saints. 

St Anthony

12 June 1917

Fr Doyle wrote about the following episode in a letter written on this day in 1917. The event happened at some point in the preceding weeks. Fr Doyle records many emotionally moving events in his letters home from the war, but I can think of few that are more poignant than this.

There were many little touching incidents during these days, one especially I shall not easily forget. When the men had left the field after the evening devotions I noticed a group of three young boys, brothers I think, still kneeling saying another rosary. They knew it was probably their last meeting on earth and they seemed to cling to one another for mutual comfort and strength and instinctively turned to the Blessed Mother to help them in their hour of need. There they knelt as if they were alone and unobserved, their hands clasped and faces turned towards Heaven, with such a look of beseeching earnestness that the ‘Mother of Mercy’ must have heard their prayer ‘Holy Mary pray for us now at the hour of our death. Amen.’

Thoughts for June 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

The Third Degree of Humility. 

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.

Fr Walter Ciszek SJ

Thoughts for June 10 from Fr Willie Doyle


Lord, You know I love you less than any other, but I long and desire to love You more than all the rest. Take my heart, dear Lord, and hide it in Your own. so that I may only love what You love and desire what You desire. May I find no pleasure in the things of this world, its pleasures and amusement; but may my one delight be in thinking of You, working for You, loving You and staying in Your sweet presence before the Tabernacle. Why do You want my love, dear Jesus, and why have You left me no rest all these years till I gave You at last my poor heart to love You, and You alone? This ceaseless pleading for my love fills me with hope and confidence that, sinful as my life has been in the past, You have forgiven and forgotten it all. Thanks a million times, dearest Jesus, for all Your goodness. I will love and serve you now till death.