Thoughts for January 15 from Fr Willie Doyle

I see more and more that self-indulgence even in lawful things brings only unhappiness; and I realise I can never be truly content or at peace till I make my life a crucified one, and this always.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on this day in 1914. His advice was not for everyone – he was specifically writing about himself in his private diary. Counter-intuitively, he found that whenever he indulged himself (presumably in little ways, such as taking butter on his bread or having a full night’s sleep), that he was less happy. Elsewhere he reported that not performing penance left him tired and lethargic but that penance invigorated him. This is surely an important sign that Fr Doyle truly had a specific calling to a life of asceticism.

14 January 1916

I want you to know what I went through by volunteering for the Front. God made me feel with absolute certainty – I suppose to increase the merit of the offering – that I shall be killed. The struggle was hard, for I did not want to die; not indeed that i am afraid of death, but the thought that I could never again do more for God or suffer for Him in heaven made the sacrifice too bitter for words. 

Thoughts for January 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

Worries? Of course; and thank God. How else are you going to be a saint? “When thou comest to the service of God, prepare thy soul for temptation” – which means trials and worries of all kinds.

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy. 

13 January 1917: Fr Doyle give the last rites to dying soldiers

105 years ago tonight Fr Doyle was awoken to absolve some dying soldiers. This is his description of the event, sent home in one of his regular updates to his family. Two things really stick out. Firstly, his dedication to his family, and to keeping them informed and easing their fears. This would have taken some time to write, and probably not in very comfortable circumstances. He could easily have taken some much needed rest instead of writing this letter. Secondly we see his dedication to his priestly duty. He faced some danger in trying to reach the soldiers and came under significant fire as he tried to reach them, but for him that danger was of no consequence, for as he said himself: “what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench”.

‘Two men badly wounded in the firing line, Sir.’ I was fast asleep, snugly tucked up in my blankets, dreaming a pleasant dream of something ‘hot.’ One always dreams of lovely hot things at night in the trenches, sitting at a warm fire at home, or of huge piles of food and drink, but always steaming hot.

‘You will need to be quick, Father, to find them alive.’ By this time I had grasped the fact that someone was calling me, that some poor dying man needed help, that perhaps a soul was in danger. In a few seconds I had pulled on my big boots, I know I should want them in the mud and wet, jumped into my waterproof and darted down the trench.

It was just 2 a.m., bitterly cold and snowing hard. God help the poor fellows holding the tumbled in ditch which is called the Front Line, standing there wet and more than frozen, hour after hour; but more than all God help and strengthen the victims of this war, the wounded soldier with his torn and bleeding body lying out in this awful biting cold, praying for the help that seems so slow in coming.

The first part of my journey was easy enough, except that the snow made it difficult to keep one’s feet, and I began to realise that one cannot run as easily at 44 as one could at 24.

All went well till I reached a certain part of the trench, which rejoices in the attractive name of ‘Suicide Corner,’ from the fact that the Germans have a machine gun trained on it and at intervals during the night pump a shower of lead on that spot in the hope of knocking out some chance passer-by.

It was just my luck that as I came near this place I heard the ‘Rat-tat- tat’ of the beastly gun and the whiz of the passing bullets. It was not a pleasant prospect to run the gauntlet and skip through the bullets ‘made in Germany’ but what priest would hesitate for a second with two dying men at the end of the trench? I ducked my head and ‘chivvied’ down that trench. (I do not know what this word means, but I believe it implies terrific speed and breathless excitement.)

In the dark and at that distance I was quite invisible to the German gunner, but I think the Old Boy himself was turning the handle that night, but luckily for me was out of practice; the cold I expect upset his aim. Away on my left as I ran I could hear in the stillness of the night the grinding ‘Rat-tat-tat’ of the machine gun, for all the world as if a hundred German carpenters were driving nails into my coffin, while overhead ‘crack, crack, whiz, whiz’ went the bullets tearing one after another for fear they would be too late.

It was a novel experience to have a whole machine gun all to yourself, but it is a pleasure I am not particularly anxious to repeat. At the same time I do not think I was really in any great danger as judging by the sound the leaden shower was going too high.

The guns make all movement by night very unpleasant. Both sides have any number of them firing all night, from time to time at fixed points, for example cross-roads, ‘dumps,’ light railways etc., everywhere in fact where men are likely to be. Yet in spite of the fact that each fires about 10,000 rounds each night and bullets are flying about like mosquitos, it is very rare indeed that anyone is hit, weeks at a time without a casualty and scarcely never if one takes the ordinary precautions.

The first man was ‘in extremis’ when I reached him. I did all I could for him, commended his soul to the merciful God as he had only a few minutes to live, and hurried on to find the other wounded boy.

A journey along the Firing Line in the day time is not an easy matter, but in the darkness of the night it baffles description. A star shell from time to time gave me light and I made good progress, only to end in blackness and a pool or a shell hole full of mud and water.

I found the dying lad, he was not much more, so tightly jammed into a corner of the trench it was almost impossible to get him out. Both legs were smashed, one in two or three places, so his chances of life were small as there were other injuries as well. What a harrowing picture that scene would have made. A splendid young soldier, married only a month they told me, lying there pale and motionless in the mud and water with the life crushed out of him by a cruel shell. The stretcher bearers hard at work binding up as well as they may his broken limbs; round about a group of silent Tommies looking on and wondering when will their turn come. Peace for a moment seems to have taken possession of the battlefield; not a sound save the deep boom of some far off gun and the stifled moans of the dying boy, while as if anxious to hide the scene, nature drops her soft mantle of snow on the living and dead alike. Then while every head is bared come the solemn words of absolution, ‘Ego te absolve,’ I absolve thee from thy sins. Depart Christian soul and may the Lord Jesus Christ receive thee with a smiling and benign countenance. Amen.

Oh! surely the gentle Saviour did receive with open arms the brave lad who had laid down his life for Him, and as I turned away I felt happy in the thought that his soul was already safe in that land where ‘God will wipe away all sorrow from our eyes, for weeping and mourning shall be no more’.

Thoughts for January 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

Each morning at Holy Communion invite Jesus, with all the love and fervour you can, to enter into your heart and dwell there during the day as in a tabernacle, making of your heart a living tabernacle which will be very dear to Him.

COMMENT: All of the saints and great spiritual writers have been devoted to the Eucharist. We see this devotion also in the life of Fr Doyle – some of the most moving scenes of his life are those where he offers the Mass in the trenches. Here is his description of one such Mass:

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 tin supported by 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 to 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.

Many saints have written beautifully on the Eucharist. Here is a quote from St Francis de Sales on why we should regularly receive the Eucharist. May we follow his advice, and receive the strength and nourishment we need from the worthy reception of the Lord.

If men of the world ask why you communicate so often, tell them that it is that you may learn to love God; that you may be cleansed from imperfections, set free from trouble, comforted in affliction, strengthened in weakness. Tell them that there are two manner of men who need frequent Communion — those who are perfect, since being ready they were much to blame did they not come to the Source and Fountain of all perfection; and the imperfect, that they may learn how to become perfect; the strong, lest they become weak, and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick that they may be healed, and the sound lest they sicken. Tell them that you, imperfect, weak and ailing, need frequently to communicate with your Perfection, your Strength, your Physician. Tell them that those who are but little engaged in worldly affairs should communicate often, because they have leisure; and those who are heavily pressed with business, because they stand so much in need of help; and he who is hard worked needs frequent and substantial food. Tell them that you receive the Blessed Sacrament that you may learn to receive it better; one rarely does that well which one seldom does. Therefore, my child, communicate frequently,–as often as you can, subject to the advice of your spiritual Father.

St Francis de Sales

Thoughts for January 11 from Fr Willie Doyle

Live for the day, but let it be a generous day. Have you ever tried giving God one day in which you refused him nothing, a day of absolute generosity?

COMMENT: One theme that arises frequently in Fr Doyle’s writing is that of generosity. He felt he was called to greater generosity with God. What does this mean? Obviously it means an even more determined battle against sin. Can we say that we are really generous with God if we wilfully persist in sin, without a conscious battle to fight against it? But there is more, for not only are we called to the “negative” battle against sin, we are called to a “positive” battle to acquire the virtues, to love God and others more, and to show this love in needs and not merely in sweet words or good intentions that never go anywhere…

God has given us everything we have. Our body. Our mind. Our will. Our talents. Our time on this earth. And He wishes to give us an eternity of union with Him in unimaginable joy. And in response He wants our generosity. 

We are sinners, with inherent weaknesses and defects that require much effort and grace to overcome. A day of “absolute generosity”, as suggested by Fr Doyle, is surely beyond most, if not all, humans, except perhaps for those who have reached the the very highest stages of the spiritual life in the unitive way. But still we should struggle each day to be a little bit more generous with God and with others. We should not fear being generous with God, as can sometimes happen. St Josemaria Escriva puts us at ease on this point:

God does not let himself be outdone in generosity. 

January 10: The anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Fr Paul Ginhac SJ

Fr Paul Ginhac

 

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Fr Paul Ginhac SJ who died on this day in 1895. Fr Ginhac was a French Jesuit whose life and example had an impact on the spirituality of Fr Doyle. At any rate, he was sufficiently impressed with Fr Ginhac’s virtues that he translated a 380 page official biography of Fr Ginhac from French into English and organised its publication and distribution. He also distributed relics and prayer cards of Fr Ginhac in order to support the cause for his beatification. We can be sure that the spirituality of Fr Ginhac was of great personal importance for Fr Doyle if he went to this trouble in the midst of an already busy life – he had more than enough to do without taking on the task of translating a large book like this!

Fr Ginhac’s cause does not seem to have progressed much since the 1920’s. Perhaps future generations will take a renewed interest in this holy priest who so strongly inspired the heroism of Fr Doyle. After all, sometimes sainthood causes take centuries to progress.

Below is the relevant section of O’Rahilly’s biography dealing with Fr Doyle’s translation of Fr Ginhac’s biography. At the end of this post I have included a scan of some pages from the book, including Fr Doyle’s Foreword.

It will be convenient to mention here Fr. Doyle’s translation of the Life of Pere Ginhac by A. Calvet, S.J. “Printer after printer refused to have anything to do with the book,” he wrote, “though I staked Fr. Ginhac’s reputation that it would prove a financial success.” Finally Messrs. R. and T. Washbourne undertook to produce the work, and it appeared in 1914 as A Man after God’s Own Heart: Life of Father Paul Ginhac, S.J. When Fr. Doyle heard that the price was fixed at 8/6 net, he thought that the sale was killed for “not many people would care to invest such a sum in the life of a man no one had ever heard of.” But to his astonishment 900 copies went through in the first year, and up to December 1916 altogether 1,244 copies had been sold. “Pere Ginhac,” he wrote to his father, “has certainly worked this miracle if he never did anything else; and I am beginning to think he is not a bad sort of an old chap, even though he looked so desperately in need of a square meal!” Fr. Ginhac’s portrait certainly represents him as cadaverous and grim-visaged, a contrast with his admirer and translator, whose mortified life was never allowed to interfere with his buoyant naturalness and irrepressible spirit of fun. The book seems to have impressed and helped many readers, for Fr. Doyle continues: “I have had a pile of letters from all parts of the world — Alaska, Ceylon, South Africa, etc. — asking for relics and mentioning many favours received through the holy father’s intercession; so that the labour of getting out the volume (and it was not light) has brought its own reward.” Thus wrote Fr. Doyle a month before his death. Little did he dream that his own life would be written, and that his influence would be mingled with that of his fellow-religious whom he helped to make known to others.

Some pages from the book translated by Fr DoyleFr Ginhac

The full text of the book can be found here: https://archive.org/details/ManAfterGodsOwnHeart

 

 

9 January 1917

Continuing from yesterday’s post about 8 January 1917…

Our visitor from the sky was back again today repeating his old trick, with the same success, this time against one of our captive balloons. It was a thrilling sight to see the huge bag of fire gas burst into fire as the bullets hit it, and more thrilling still to watch the two unfortunate occupants of the car jump for their lives, fall like stones through the air, more rapidly each second till, with an intense gasp of relief, we saw the parachute open and both men land unhurt in safety.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

 

It is useful from time to time to pause and ask ourselves if we are, like the child Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace. Does each evening see us farther on the path of perfection, holier in the eyes of the heavenly court, more pleasing and dearer to God?

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, and it gives us an opportunity to consider the grace of our own baptism and its implications for us. Our Lord did not need to be baptised, but we do. Baptism is a sacrament of extraordinary importance. Unfortunately today it can be often seen as a naming ceremony, a day out and a day of welcoming a child into a local community. Yes, these things are good, and they are all a part of what baptism is, but they are not the important part of baptism, and we somewhat miss the point if this is where it all begins and ends for us.

Baptism is the sacrament in which we become the adopted sons and daughters of God. It is, in fact, the sacrament in which the seed of all the graces of our life has been planted in our soul. Our entire life, then, is a campaign to cultivate that grace and to eradicate those faults that would seek to strangle it.

The great Irish spiritual writer Blessed Columba Marmion has written beautifully on this theme. The following excerpts come from his classic book Christ the Life of the Soul:

We lost everything at once by a single fault of Adam, but in baptism God does not give us back at once all the integrity of the Divine gift. In order that it may be a source of merit because of the effort it calls forth, He leaves us in concupiscence, the source of sin, which tends to diminish or destroy the Divine life. Therefore our whole existence ought to be the realisation of what baptism inaugurates…Grace is the principle of life in us, but it is a germ we must cultivate; it is that kingdom of God within us that Our Lord Himself compares to a grain of mustard seed which becomes a great tree. So it is with the Divine life in us…

Let us often renew the virtue of this sacrament of adoption and initiation by renewing the promises made in baptism, so that Christ, born in our souls in faith upon that day, may grow more and more in us. That is a very useful practice of piety…stir up in yourselves the grace received at baptism, by renewing the promises then made. For example, when after Communion, while Our Lord is really present in our hearts, we renew with faith and love our dispositions of repentance, of renunciation of Satan, sin and the world, so as to attach ourselves only to Christ and His Church, then the grace of baptism springs up from the depth of our souls, where the character of baptism remains indelibly engraved. And this grace produces, through the virtue of Christ, Who dwells in us with His Spirit, as it were a new death to sin, a new inflowing of Divine life, a new intensity of union with Jesus Christ.

So often we forget the magnificence of the sacrament of baptism. Indeed, how many know that the Church grants a plenary indulgence if we renew our baptismal promises on the anniversary of our baptism? How many of us even know the date of our baptism?

As Fr Doyle suggests, each evening should see us having cultivated the grace of baptism just a little bit more that day.

8 January 1917

Our airmen, very justly, have earned a big reputation for their skill and daring, but the ‘Allyman’ can still give them points in cuteness. The word ‘Allyman’ is probably new to you, but is the word used by our Irish boys for the enemy. They picked it up in France and it is simply a corruption of Les Allemands, the Germans.

Time after time I have seen our air squadrons sailing up and down, looking in vain for some Boche to devour and then the moment they went back to the rear for lunch out came the cautious Hun, took all the photos he wanted, noted positions of guns etc. and returned safely to his lines in peace, without a nasty air fight, in which he generally comes off second best.

This afternoon I saw a very clever bit of work. One of our planes was going along on its usual beat when literally, like a bolt from the blue, a German airman shot down on him from the sky. He had crept up at such a height that even our vigilant observers had not noticed him, then fixing his bearings by means of a powerful telescope he dived straight for our man before the latter realised what was taking place. There was a loud rattle of machine gun fire and the enemy was off as fast as he had come. I saw a thick column of black smoke rising from our aeroplane – a bullet had struck the petrol tank and the next instant it burst into flames.

Wherever the pilot was he was certainly a brave, cool fellow. To dive at once for safety would have meant destruction, for the rush of the wind would have carried the flames to the wings of the machine, and so with the petrol tank blazing fiercely behind him, he brought his plane slowly to the ground and saved his own and his observer’s life, though he was badly burnt in doing so.