Thoughts for February 18 from Fr Willie Doyle

I saw many interesting places and things during my weeks of travel. But over all hung a big cloud of sadness, for I realised as I never did before how utterly the world has forgotten Jesus except to hate and outrage Him, the fearful, heart-rending amount of sin visible on all sides, and the vast work for souls that lies before us priests. My feelings at times are more than I can describe. The longing to make up to our dear Lord for all He is suffering is overwhelming, and I ask Him, since somehow my own heart seems indifferent to His pleading, to give me the power to do much and very much to console Him.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this note in 1912, after a period of travel in France, Belgium and Holland where he was investigating the feasibility of setting up a retreat house for lay people in Ireland. How our culture has changed over the past 100 years! What would Fr Doyle say were he to travel to these countries today? What would he say if he was to look at Ireland today?

In all of this we must avoid two great temptations. The first is to think that the past was a golden age, and that we now live in a time of unparalleled debauchery. Our culture, and the Church, has passed through many tough and un-Christian (and even anti-Christian) times in the past. We must always remain positive despite the troubles of our particular age. God is still God, and His promise that Hell will not prevail against the Church still stands (although we must remember that He didn’t promise that particular local churches, like the French, Belgian, Dutch – or even Irish – Churches would prevail…). We should, however, take courage from the words of Blessed Columba Marmion:

Now let us remind ourselves that, in these our days, the Heart of Jesus is not less loving nor His arm less powerful. God is ready to shed His graces upon us…as abundant and as useful as those he shed upon the first Christians. He does not love us less than he loved them.

The second temptation is to judge others, and think ourselves immune from corruption. St Josemaria Escriva said that the crises in the world are crises of saints. If our culture has wandered far from the values we hold dear, it is because we have failed to live those values to a heroic degree. Certainly this is nowhere more true than in Ireland, where the scandal of abuse and corruption has fundamentally undermined the Church in the eyes of many.

As Fr Doyle says, we must beg for the grace to do much, very much, to console Jesus. We can follow the example of today’s saint, Geltrude Comensoli. She was dedicated to Christ in the Eucharist, and found therein the strength she needed for her apostolic labours. She focussed her particular apostolic efforts on the education of young women working in factories. This was a pressing social need of late 19th Century Italy. Different priorities may present themselves to us today, but we must always remember that we will never succeed in re-generating our culture except by fulfilling our individual vocation in close union with God.

St Geltrude Comensoli

17 February 1916

Fr Doyle left his training camp and headed to the continent 105 years ago today. Here are his sentiments on this occasion, as captured in a letter written to his father just half an hour before departure.

I set out to face to future with a certain amount of trepidation…Strange to say, I have not the smallest anxiety about the possible dangers of warfare, not so great for me, as for others, but I do dread the horrors of the battlefield which all say no words can picture. Still it is a consolation to know what a comfort the mere presence of a priest is to both officers and men alike. They are one and all going to face their duty with the joy of heart which comes with a clear conscience; many of them had not been to confession for over twenty years.

Thoughts for Ash Wednesday from Fr Willie Doyle

What is it to be a saint? Does it mean that we must macerate this flesh of ours with cruel austerities, such as we read of in the life-story of some of God’s great heroes? Does it mean the bloody scourge, the painful vigil and sleepless night, that crucifying of the flesh in even its most innocent enjoyment? No, no, the hand of God does not lead us all by that stern path of awful heroism to our reward above. He does not ask from all of us the holy thirst for suffering, in its highest form, of a Teresa or a Catherine of Siena. But sweetly and gently would He lead us along the way of holiness by our constant unswerving faithfulness to our duty, duty accepted, duty done for His dear sake.

COMMENT: The holy season of Lent is upon us. Many cultural Catholics view it as a time to “give up” something. This is a good thing, but it does not necessarily get to the heart of what Lent is really about.

Lent is about growing in holiness and preparing ourselves for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. It is about becoming a saint. Precisely how we go about this task will depend on where we are at in our spiritual lives. Giving things up can be a part of that, but there are other sacrifices and mortifications we can adopt that aren’t primarily aimed at giving things up. For instance we can deepen our prayer lives and adopt some extra spiritual practices. We can take on some extra charitable activities. We can get out of bed earlier in the morning. In a sense, each of these involves “giving something up” – time, freedom, sleep – but they are also more than that. Whatever we decide to do we have to avoid a situation where we “give something up” solely because we want to save money or because we want to go on a diet or because we want to go on a binge when Lent ends. If we are to fast or give something up, it should be a part of a well thought-out spiritual plan. There is a risk that we could fail to reap the spiritual benefits of our sacrifices in Lent. This risk may be especially prevalent in culturally Catholic countries (like Ireland) where giving things up is something of a social norm rather than a carefully considered weapon of spiritual combat.

Many books written about saints recount their bloody sacrifices and penances in great detail. Fr Doyle makes it clear today that heavy penance is not the road to sanctity for everyone. True, there were those who were called by God to live a life of hard penance. Fr Doyle was certainly one of these, and he makes it clear in his notes that it was a specific call – in one place he notes that others could commendably do things that he could not because of this special vocation of penance to which he was called. But he also shows his balance by assuring us that most people are not called by that path. This doesn’t mean that we are not called to holiness or that we are called to a lesser holiness or that we are called to a life of sloth and comfort. It just reflects the reality that God calls us all by different paths with different types of sacrifices.

But there is one path by which we can be sure that we are all called, and that is the path of faithfulness to our duties in life. It is impossible to grow in holiness without this adherence to duty. If we try to avoid our duty we will be like the unfaithful stewards that Christ warns us about in the Gospel.

Most of us reading this will struggle to some degree or other to do our work and other duties in life professionally, punctually and cheerfully. Some will be better than others, but there is almost always room for improvement. Perhaps we could follow Fr Doyle’s advice, and adopt a Lenten resolution that will help us grow in holiness by doing our duty well.

This may indeed involve giving something up – the TV, excessive use of the internet or social media, lying on in bed in the morning, idle gossip in the office, an extra long lunch break…

In any event, whatever our resolution is, it should be both achievable and challenging, and we should be prepared to instantly pick ourselves up and start again if (and when) we fail in sticking to it.

It is also worth recalling that for some of people reading this, and perhaps for me writing it, this Lent could our last. Imagine if we had only one more Lent before we are called to render an account of our lives… 

Death is perhaps not so far away for some of us as we might think. The spread Covid-19 crisis poses a challenge to all of us, no matter where we are in the world. It poses a threat to our lives and our health; it has lead to restrictions on our freedom to move about and travel; it has undermined our economic stability and jobs, and in some countries it has even been used as a reason to limit our access to the sacraments – in Ireland we have been without Mass and the sacraments for the best part of the past year. Who would ever have thought that such a scenario was possible?! This Lent may impose penances on us that are not of our own choosing, but penances foreseen by God and allowed by His permissive will nonetheless. Like any challenge, it provides us with opportunities to practice the virtues, and perhaps even to a heroic degree. This is the spirit with which the saints would approach the reality in which we now live, as we see from the lives of many saints who lived through much more aggressive plagues – and restrictions on their freedoms – than we now face.  

Finally, some thoughts from St Leo the Great:

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us:  so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from food alone desirable.  For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed.  When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let our mind be invigorated by spiritual delights.  Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and search severely into his inmost heart:  let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured.  Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the swellings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. 

Thoughts for February 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

We should call a man a fool who wasted his wealth warming himself before a fire made of banknotes. Do we act less madly in seeking gratification by consuming our precious day in frivolities?

COMMENT: Fr Doyle often wrote about how each day is a precious opportunity to grow in holiness and today’s quote is no exception. We never stand still in the spiritual life – we either move forward towards sanctity, or we regress. How many of us live wasteful lives of frivolity? Even if we are basically “good” people, we can still be consumed with frivolous habits that distract us from our families or friends or our duties in life. Essentially these frivolities draw us away from the holiness and good works with which we should be busy. Of course, we need a balanced asceticism. We all need legitimate leisure pursuits and relaxation. Such activities are both good and necessary in a balanced life. Fr Doyle himself was noted for his robust enjoyment of sport. But even if we do try to live balanced lives, there will probably be some form of frivolity with which we are tempted. In today’s world it is likely to revolve around the internet or the new phenomenon of social media. These technologies are not inherently bad. But many of us may need to examine ourselves to see if we have acquired the habit of using these new technologies in a wasteful or frivolous manner.

When Venerable Matt Talbot died, his room contained many spiritual books and it was partly through these books that we have been able to get a glimpse into his spiritual life (with Fr Doyle this process is easier due to the copious notes he left behind). One of the books in Matt Talbot’s room was a book entitled “On Reading” by Bishop Hedley. The following passage was underlined for emphasis by Matt Talbot:

Even when the newspaper is free from objection, it is easy to lose a good deal of time over it. It may be necessary and convenient to know what is going on in the world. But there can be no need of our absorbing all the rumours, all the guesses and gossip, all the petty incidents, all the innumerable paragraphs in which the solid news appears half-drowned…This is idle and it is absolutely bad for brain and character. There is a kind of attraction towards petty and desultory reading of this kind which is sure to leave its mark on the present generation…Immoderate newspaper reading leads, therefore, to much loss of time, and does no good, either to the mind or the heart.

Perhaps these words could more aptly apply today to our contemporary love of gossip, and especially the modern fascination with celebrities and their intimate lives, as well as to the inordinate use of other distracting social media. And if we are not distracted with news and gossip, there is undoubtedly some other frivolity that may need to be cut out from our lives…

Venerable Matt Talbot

Thoughts for February 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Claude de la Colombiere

 

I have gone through a great deal of desolation, discouragement, fear and dread of my proposed vow. When I make it — I am quite determined now to do so — it will be the result of calm conviction that I must do so, that God wants it from me, and not a burst of fervour. I shrink from this living death, but am quite happy in the thought that, since God has inspired me to do so, He will do all the work if once I submit my will. … I was consoled by seeing Fr. de la Colombiere’s repugnance to making his heroic vow. He spoke of the sadness which this constant fight against nature sometimes gave him. He overcame that temptation by remembering that it is sweet and easy to do what we know will please one we really love.

COMMENT: The vow Fr Doyle speaks of is that of refusing no sacrifice that he perceived Jesus was asking of him. Here is the text of that vow which he made in 1911:

I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me. Amen.

Fr Doyle attached various conditions and exceptions to this in order to avoid scruples. Such a vow represents a total abandonment to God’s will in all aspects of life and represents a very great level of spiritual perfection. Most of us are well-intentioned, but we still tend to reserve areas of our life that we want to control and where we may not want God to “trespass”. Such was not the way of the saints. As the Imitation of Christ says:

What more do I require of you, than that you try to submit yourself fully to me? Whatsoever you give me outside of yourself does not interest me; for I do not seek your gift, but I seek you.

Fr Doyle mentions Fr (now Saint) Claude de la Colombiere, a French Jesuit whose feast it is today. He died this day in 1682. St Claude made a similar vow as a young Jesuit. Here is his (somewhat pessimistic!) reflection on the implications of this vow:

It seems as if it would be easy to spend any other kind of life holily; and the more austere, solitary and obscure it might be and separated from all intercourse, the more pleasing it would appear to me to be. As to what usually terrifies nature, such as prisons, constant sickness and even death, all this seems easy compared with this everlasting war with self, this vigilance against the attacks of the world and of self-love, this living death in the midst of the world.

Whatever about St Claude’s fears of this vow and its “living death”, we know that Fr Doyle remained serene and cheerful, despite his constant war with self-love.

Fr Doyle and St Claude are not the only ones to have made such a vow – great saints like Therese of Liseux did likewise. And together, they inspired saints that came after them. Saint Teresa of Calcutta became familiar with the life of Fr Doyle while she was a young nun, probably when she lived in Ireland, very near the Jesuit house in Rathfarnham, where Fr Doyle had lived for a time. His life and spirit so inspired her that she herself took the same vow to refuse no sacrifice to Christ. We see here Fr Doyle’s influence on one of the best known and best loved saints of recent years.

Here is a description from the book “Come be my Light” written by Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk MC, the postulator for Mother Teresa’s canonisation cause.

It was this mysterious feature of love that moved Mother Teresa to seal the total offering of herself by means of a vow and thus tangibly express her longing to be fully united with her Beloved…Thus for Mother Teresa the vow was the means of strengthening the bond with the One she loved and so experiencing the true freedom that only love can give.

Mother Teresa would have read about the practice of making private vows in the spiritual literature of her time.

Irish Jesuit Fr William Doyle, made numerous private vows, as he found this practice a help in keeping his resolutions. One such vow, which he made in 1911 and renewed from day to day until he could obtain permission from his confessor to make it permanently, was “I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me”.

 

Returning now to St Claude and his vow…Fr Doyle had other reasons to be intrigued by the life of St Claude, for the latter was the spiritual director of St Margaret Mary Alacoque, the great mystic to whom Fr Doyle was much devoted. St Margaret Mary received many visions of the Sacred Heart and it is probably because of St Claude’s influence that the Jesuits have traditionally promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart. This devotion features prominently in the writings and spirituality of Fr Doyle. It is consoling for devotees of Fr Doyle to note that it took almost 250 years before the well known St Claude was beatified.

Today is also the feast of another great spiritual director. Blessed Michal Sopocko was the spiritual director of St Faustina, the great apostle of Divine Mercy. It is quite a coincidence that the spiritual directors of the two visionaries of the most prominent apparitions of Jesus of modern times have both been beatified or canonised and that they share the same anniversary of death and feast day. These spiritual directors were crucial supports for St Margaret Mary and St Faustina respectively, and they show us the importance of spiritual direction in our lives.

Fr Doyle obviously knew nothing of St Faustina who died in 1938 or of Blessed Michal who died in 1975. But we can well imagine that he would have been a great promoter of the Divine Mercy devotion which sits so well with his own Christocentric spirituality.

One final coincidence for today – Fr Doyle would have identified with Blessed Michal if he knew of him: Blessed Michal served as a military chaplain in the Polish army during World War 1.

14 February 1916

We are having desperate work these days. The good God is simply pouring out His grace on these poor fellows and reconciling them before they die. It has to be quick work, no time for ‘trimmings.’ I have positively a pain in my arm giving Absolution and Communions in the morning. I was able to manage Exposition all day last Sunday, which bought in many an erring sheep. I realise that from this on my life will be a martyrdom in a way I never thought of. I have got to love my brave lads almost like my own brothers and sisters. They are so wild and reckless, and at the same time so full of faith and love of God and His Blessed Mother. Yet soon I shall have to see the majority of them blown to bits, torn and mangled out of shape. Our Brigade is leaving tomorrow for France. I am waiting till Friday night, so as to get in all the confessions I can. Do pray I may be able to say daily Mass. I shall carry everything necessary on my back, and so may manage the Holy Sacrifice in the train.

John McGuinness: One of the forgotten holy men and women of Ireland

John McGuinness

 

Contrary to popular perception, there was an extraordinary flourishing of holiness in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th Century. Yes, there were problems in the Church and in the country at that time, but this does not take away from the inspiring witness of so many in that period.

Many of the men and women of this period are well known and loved, including figures such as Blessed John Sullivan, Blessed Columba Marmion, Venerable Matt Talbot, Venerable Nano Nagle and Venerable Edel Quinn. Their causes are opened, and we await their happy conclusion. 

Fr Doyle, of course, stands out as one of those who, despite his remarkable fame after his death, and the widespread acknowledgement of his evident sanctity, does not (yet…) have an active Cause for his canonisation. There are others in this category – Ellen Organ (Little Nellie) is one obvious name that springs to mind. We hope and pray that their Causes will soon be opened.

But there is a third category of holy men and women from this era – those whose sanctity burned brightly before their contemporaries but who, for unknown reasons, are almost entirely forgotten today.

One of these individuals is John McGuinness, who died on this day in 1947. John was a civil servant by day, and the servant of the poor by night. He lived a life of constant prayer and self-denial and was a Third Order Franciscan who explicitly modelled his entire life on that of Matt Talbot. Despite his great personal success – he was a high ranking official in the Revenue Commissioners with a very large salary – he died of malnutrition in his mid 40s because he literally gave everything away to the poor. 

He was involved in numerous charitable activities across the city of Dublin, but to this day the full extent of his service to the poor remains unknown, as he always acted with discretion, never drawing attention to himself. 

When he died he was mourned as a second Matt Talbot, who opted against the life of a priest so that he could live holiness as a professional in the middle of the world. There was extensive media interest in his life In the years after his death and speculation that he would be canonised, but today, sadly, he is mostly forgotten. It’s not hard to imagine that, were he an Italian, he could well have been canonised by now. 

Catholics have much to be proud of in Ireland, and we forget our heritage to our own cost. 

Ireland needs more saints. Our recent history is full of inspiring examples. It’s time we remembered them.

Thoughts for February 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

What I intended to imply was that I thought God had special designs on your soul and very great graces in store for you if only you will co-operate with Him in the work of your sanctification. With the record of much want of courage and generosity, there is running through your life an undercurrent of earnest desire to be a saint. Not that desires alone will do the work – barren desires are most dangerous to a soul, making one content with intentions only; yet without a big ardent desire nothing will be done. “If thou wilt be perfect,” our Lord once said, implying that sanctification is largely a question of good will. This, then, is the first grace you must pray for: the desire to be a saint.

COMMENT: The central theme of Fr Doyle’s quote today is the importance of the will. We must want to be saints. If we don’t want it, it won’t happen. The same principle applies in every aspect of life. If we don’t want to lose weight, it won’t happen. If we don’t want to work hard and progress in our career, it won’t happen. The Book of Ecclesiasticus tells us:

If you wish, you can keep the commandments; to behave faithfully is within your power. He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer. Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.

Whichever we prefer will be given to us. Either holiness or apathy or sinfulness. Which is it to be?

Today is the anniversary of the death of Sr Lucia, one of the 3 visionaries at Fatima. These three children had a great desire for holiness and a great abhorrence for sin. Even as little children they offered great penances for sinners. We can learn much from their desire for holiness.

Fr Doyle himself occasionally felt a lack of desire for holiness. Referring to the Three Classes of men in the Spiritual Exercises, Fr Doyle wrote in 1907:

The example of men of the Third Class in the world should shame me. What determination, what prolonged effort, what deadly earnestness, in the man who has determined to succeed in his profession! No sacrifice is too great for him, he wants to succeed, he will succeed. My desire, so far, to be a saint is only the desire of the man of the First Class. It gratifies my pride, but I make no real progress in perfection — I do not really will it.

Fr Doyle’s response was to trust in God’s grace, and to take determined, small steps to overcome his weakness day by day. With God’s grace, we can follow in his footsteps.

The Fatima visionaries – St Jacinta, Sr Lucia and St Francisco

Thoughts for February 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

The effect of fervour may be likened to that of fire on water. When cold, water is motionless and chills all that comes in contact with it, but as soon as heat is applied to it, it becomes transformed, grows active, gives off warmth and steam, is capable of doing immense work.

COMMENT: Are our souls cold and motionless? Do we fail to provide warmth to those around us? If so, we need to move closer to the source of heat. We need to know Christ in prayer, by spending time with Him, to enkindle in our souls the fire of His love. 

If, in some countries, the Church seems insipid, lifeless, and in decline, is it merely because of “social trends”? Or is it because we have allowed our souls to grow cold and motionless?

Christ tells us that:

I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

St Catherine of Siena develops that theme:

Be who God meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.

This is what the saints did, every single one of them. Some of them achieved extraordinary things through this flame of God’s love burning in their hearts. Catherine herself is a great example: despite being a young, uneducated woman she had a remarkable impact on the world of her day, all because her soul was a blazing furnace of love for God. Priests had to accompany her on her travels to hear the confessions of those who converted merely through having contact with her. Her letters – whether to popes or princes or ordinary men – are full of ardent love and faith and fortitude. She tended to that flame of love and grace that drove her through her prayer and mortification, the only fuel that can kindle the fire of God’s love in our heart. 

If we are not what we are meant to be, if we are cold and motionless, it is because we have allowed the flame of God’s love to grow dim in our souls.

Thoughts for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes from Fr Willie Doyle

 

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.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr Doyle visited the shrine in November 1912, and today’s quote summarises his spiritual experience there.

This reflection on Lourdes is utterly characteristic of Fr Doyle, who had such a horror for sin and combined this with a special vocation for reparation for sin.

In almost all approved Marian apparitions, Our Lady urges us to prayer and penance. Yes, she also comes to tell us of the love of God, and often reveals this love through miraculous healings and other graces. But just like in the Gospel, penance remains central to the message.