Thoughts for September 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

I realise in a way I never did before that God created me for His service, that He has a strict right that I should serve Him perfectly, and that every moment of my life is His and given to me for the one end of praising and serving Him. I recall with horror how often I have wandered from this my end, what an appalling amount of time I have wasted, and how few of my actions were done for God or worthy of being offered to Him. I see what I should have been and what I am. But the thought of Jesus waiting and eagerly looking out for me, the prodigal, during fifteen years, has filled me with hope and confidence and new resolve to turn to my dearest Jesus and give Him all He asks.

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness, having as my aim to get back the fervour of my first year’s novitiate.

COMMENT: In today’s comments Fr Doyle touches on one of the fundamental facts of life: we are made to know, love and serve God. St Ignatius expresses it this way in the Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

St Josemaria Escriva put it slightly differently:

Our Lord has given us as a present our very lives, our senses, our faculties, and countless graces. We have no right to forget that each of us is a worker.

Once we see this fact, everything changes. For Fr Doyle, recognising this had a profound effect, unleashing all of his efforts towards loving God and those around him.

But as has been said before on this site, recognising this doesn’t mean that we have to necessarily undertake dangerous missions or become a military chaplain. As Fr Doyle put it:

I have begun to try to perform each little action with great fervour and exactness.

St Josemaria Escriva
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12 September 1913

I have felt strongly urged again to give myself entirely to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to follow His inspirations. For example, I sometimes feel urged to take the discipline during the day, and when I have been able to overcome the repugnance to the trouble of it, my soul has been filled with joy. Many other thoughts of this kind come into my mind – to rise when I wake, not to do this or that – I am certain they are from the Holy Spirit, but I resist His voice, and hence feel unhappy. In future I will say a little prayer for light and then do what I am impelled to. Just now I was sitting in an armchair fearfully tired. It cost me a big effort to undress and take the discipline, and put on chain round waist. But the result was a most marvellous increase of bodily vigour. 

Thoughts for September 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

If I do not begin to serve God as I ought now, when shall I do so? Shall I ever? This retreat is a time of special grace, and if my cooperation is wanting, Jesus may pass by and not return. The devil has made me put off my thorough conversion for seventeen years, making me content myself with the resolution of “later on really beginning in earnest and becoming a saint”. What might not have been done in that time!

COMMENT: These notes were taken in 1907 during the 30-day spiritual exercises which had such a deep and long lasting impact on Fr Doyle.

Fr Doyle had a deep insight into the human condition, into his own condition. He recognised the tendency we all have to postpone our reform, to imagine that some future time will allow us to serve God better and that in some other mythical future we will set about the task of becoming saints.

But as the Imitation of Christ says:

The place avails little, if the spirit of fervour be wanting…if you do not establish yourself in Me, you can change dwelling, but you will not better yourself

The reality is that the time to set about our conversion is now and the place is here. We should not rely on some future ideal state that really will never occur.

As for the lost time, well, Fr Doyle certainly made up for that! So too did St Teresa of Avila, who only definitively placed herself on the right path after many years of religious life. She had received many graces in her early life, but even after receiving these graces she gave up prayer altogether for a full year. Here is her prayer to redeem lost time:

O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in “wedding garments.”

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Thoughts for September 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

My intense desire and longing is to make others love Jesus and to draw them to His Sacred Heart. Recently at Mass I have found myself at the Dominus Vobiscum opening my arms wide with the intention of embracing every soul present and drawing them in spite of themselves into that Heart which longs for their love. “Compel them to come in,” Jesus said. Yes, compel them to dive into that abyss of love. Sometimes, I might say nearly always, when speaking to people I am seized with an extraordinary desire to draw their hearts to God. I could go down on my knees before them and beg them to be pure and holy, so strong do I feel the longing of Jesus for sanctity in everyone, and since I may not do this, I try to do what I find hard to describe in words: to pour out of my heart any grace or love of God there may be in it, and then with all the force of my will to draw their hearts into that of Jesus.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle had a great zeal for souls. It was this zeal that compelled him to travel around Ireland (and occasionally in Scotland and England) preaching missions and giving retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to try to establish a retreat house for laypeople in the face of opposition from those who did not see the point of laypeople doing retreats. It was this zeal that compelled him to walk the streets at dawn to carry out apostolate with the working class on their way to work and to walk around ports at night to carry out apostolate with sailors. It was this zeal that compelled him to gently and kindly tell a street prostitute to go home and to stop hurting Jesus, ultimately converting her. It was this zeal that compelled him to mortify himself so that the sins of others, and especially of priests, might be expiated. It was this zeal that compelled him to volunteer for the missions in Congo, even though his offer was not accepted by his superiors. It was this zeal which compelled him to volunteer as a military chaplain and to face the probability of death time after time as he rushed into danger to anoint a fallen soldier. And it was this zeal which made him resolve to volunteer to work in leper colony if he survived the war.

Today is the feast of Blessed Charles Spinola, an Italian Jesuit saint whose zeal compelled him to leave the comfortable life of a 16th Century noble and volunteer for the missions in Japan. It took him three years to get there, and after working for 18 years, he was imprisoned in a cage for four years, tortured and finally burned to death.

We are unlikely to be called to such remarkable acts. But if the saints and other holy men and women can exhibit such heroism and zeal for souls, we can surely live the daily tasks of each day with more fortitude and heroism.

Blessed Charles Spinola SJ

Thoughts for September 10 from Fr Willie Doyle

It seems to me the best and most practical resolution I can make in this retreat is to determine to perform each action with the greatest perfection. This will mean a constant “going against self,” ever agendo contra, at every moment and every single day. I have a vast field to cover in my ordinary daily actions, e.g. to say the Angelus always with the utmost attention and fervour. I feel, too, that Jesus asks this from me, as without it there can be no real holiness.

COMMENT: Today we see the wonderful practicality of Fr Doyle. It is this down to earth realism, typical of many of the canonised saints, that makes Fr Doyle such a great role model. Yes, Fr Doyle did extraordinary things in his life, but we must not let these remarkable feats obscure the fact that his spirituality was focussed on little things, and on doing them well.

This is something that we can all copy. Indeed, this is something that we must copy, for as Fr Doyle himself says, without striving to do our daily duties well, there is no real holiness.

9 September 1917: Praise for Fr Doyle from Dr Buchanan

For fifteen months Fr Doyle and I worked together out here, generally sharing the same dug-outs and billets, we became fast friends. I acting as medical officer to his First Battalion. Often I envied him his coolness and courage in the face of danger; for this alone his men would have loved him, but he had other sterling qualities, which we all recognised only too well. Her was beloved and respected, not only by those of his own faith, but equally by Protestants, to which denomination I belong…For his broad-mindedness we loved him. He seldom, if ever, preached, but he set us a shining example of a Christian life.

It is worth remembering what Fr Doyle did for Dr Buchanan. One night, when the doctor was sick, and there was no dry bedding in the dug-out, Fr Doyle lay face down on the damp ground and insisted that the doctor try to sleep on his back, in order to afford him some small chance of recuperation. The sacrifice and self-denial involved in this act of charity require no further elaboration from me. 

9 September 1916: Mass at the Battle of the Somme

This is one of my favourite scenes from all of Fr Doyle’s writings – 102 years ago today.

By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit box supported on two German bayonets. God’s angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice — but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.