Thoughts for the Feast of St Teresa of Avila from Fr Willie Doyle

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
A wooden block used as a pillow by St Teresa

The life of St. Teresa teaches us that we should never despair of becoming saints. As a child she was filled with a strange mysterious longing for martyrdom. But the early years of her religious life found her cold or tepid in the service of God, indifferent to the sacred duties of her state. The call came. Sweetly in her ear sounded that little voice which too often in other souls has been hushed and stifled. Teresa rose. The past was gone and no lamenting could recall its ill-spent days, but the present was hers, and the future lay before her. Ungenerous in the past, generosity would be her darling virtue; cold and careless, no one would now equal her burning love for her patient outraged Saviour.

COMMENT: We do not have notes from Fr Doyle’s 1907 retreat for today, which is really quite handy as it allows us to give some time to St Teresa of Avila, whose feast it is today, although it is not celebrated liturgically as it is a Sunday.

What a great feast this is! St Teresa is, without any doubt, one of the greatest female saints of all time. In fact, she is one of the greatest saints of all irrespective of gender, and is one of that elite group of Doctors of the Church. 

Her personality was remarkable and communicates itself so readily through her writings. She had a wonderful biting wit and holy impatience that really got to the bottom of things, and sometimes it is hard not to laugh out loud when reading the psychologically astute observations in her writings.

Few saints have shown more courage, fortitude and leadership than she did.

Many saints had a great devotion to Teresa and Fr Doyle was no different. He regularly gave retreats to Carmelite convents, and he referred to her several times throughout his letters, and even fasted at meals on one occasions in her honour. Here is his record of this experience:

I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.

Anyone with an interest in St Teresa is advised to acquire the superb 7.5 hour long miniseries of her life produced in the 1980’s in Spain. Often films about saints fail to capture the spirit of the saint or are overly pious and sentimental; this one achieves the task admirably.

You may find a copy here.

Finally for today; here is an excellent homily on the life and spirit of St Teresa:

 

 

 

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Thoughts for October 14 from Fr Willie Doyle

From the Capuchin Crypt in Rome
From the Capuchin Crypt in Rome

Death is the end of all things here, the end of time, of merit, of pain and mortification, of a hard life. It is the commencement of an eternal life of happiness and joy. “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21, 4.) In this light, life is short indeed and penance sweet. I thought if I knew I had only one year to live, how fervently I would spend it, how each moment would be utilised. Yet I know well I may not live a week more – do I really believe this?

COMMENT: It is normal to meditate on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – in any well designed retreat. The first four of these play an important part in the meditations one makes in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, and Fr Doyle wrote these reflections on death at some stage during his retreat, 110 years ago this week.

Death is a reality that we cannot escape from. The images above come from the remarkable Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto Rome. There are numerous chapels in this crypt, each with piles of thousands of bones, often arranged decoratively. Towards the exit of the crypt is an inscription with these words:

What you are
we once were,
what we are
you will be.

Death is the one thing we all have in common, and each time we attend a funeral we should reflect that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we shall end up in a coffin ourselves. That is why funerals are an important evangelical opportunity which priests should take full advantage of.

Of course, constantly thinking of death is not a great idea, but neither is the habit of ignoring it altogether. As always we need a balanced approach. Our occasional reflections on death should fill us with a ready determination to live our lives with fervour and utilise every moment in God’s service. Our ultimate destination after death depends on our use of time.

Let us pray for the grace of final perseverance for ourselves and for all those facing an imminent, and unprepared, death.

And speaking of death, may I also ask readers to say a prayer for the soul of my own father whose 10th anniversary occurs this coming Monday, October 16th.

 

 

 

Fr Doyle’s struggle against his faults

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on this day in 1916:

Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g to wait till he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange my things as he thinks fit, in a word, humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.

O’Rahilly notes that Fr Doyle took these steps as part of his Ignition spirit of taking the offensive against his faults, precisely because he was naturally inclined to want his own way with things. This was part of Fr Doyle’s dominant defect, and we see here his strategic and practical struggle to overcome it. Fr Doyle did not make a truce with his faults, but struggled right to the end to overcome them. 

Thoughts for October 13 from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue with the meditations of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, and in particular with the meditation on Hell.

Here are the thoughts suggested by St Ignatius:

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the composition, which is here to see with the sight of the imagination the length, breadth and depth of Hell.

Second Prelude. The second, to ask for what I want: it will be here to ask for interior sense of the pain which the damned suffer, in order that, if, through my faults, I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of the pains may help me not to come into sin.

First Point. The first Point will be to see with the sight of the imagination the great fires, and the souls as in bodies of fire.

Second Point. The second, to hear with the ears wailings, howlings, cries, blasphemies against Christ our Lord and against all His Saints.

Third Point. The third, to smell with the smell smoke, sulphur, dregs and putrid things.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to taste with the taste bitter things, like tears, sadness and the worm of conscience.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to touch with the touch; that is to say, how the fires touch and burn the souls.

Colloquy. Making a Colloquy to Christ our Lord, I will bring to memory the souls that are in Hell, some because they did not believe the Coming, others because, believing, they did not act according to His Commandments; making three divisions:

First, Second, and Third Divisions. The first, before the Coming; the second, during His life; the third, after His life in this world; and with this I will give Him thanks that He has not let me fall into any of these divisions, ending my life.

Likewise, I will consider how up to now He has always had so great pity and mercy on me.

I will end with an Our Father.

Hell is real, and we must avoid it at all costs. Christ speaks many times about Hell in the Gospel. Perhaps previous generations focussed too much on Hell; today our tendency is to ignore it altogether. However, we cannot do this without distorting the Gospel and doing a great disservice to souls. People deserve to hear the truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable.

Here are Fr Doyle’s comments on the meditation on Hell:

I can imagine I am a soul in hell, and God in His mercy is saying to me, “Return to the world for this year and on your manner of life during the year will depend your returning to hell or not.” What a life I should lead! How little I should think of suffering, of mortification! How I would rejoice in suffering! How perfectly each moment would be spent! If God treated me as I deserved, I should be in hell now. Shall I ever again have cause for grumbling or complaining, no matter what may happen? My habit of constantly speaking uncharitably of others, and, in general, faults of the tongue, seem to me the chief reason why I derive so little fruit from my Mass and spiritual duties. Nothing dries up the fountains of grace so much as an affection for sin.

COMMENT: What a fruitful topic for meditation – to consider how we would change our lives if we were given a reprieve from Hell with one more year on earth.

Perhaps some people reading this blog will have less than a year to make amends and reform their life before facing their judgement…

Many saints and mystics have been given the great grace of a vision of Hell. This is a great grace because it brings home in a very real way the horror of sin and how we must love souls. We don’t have to believe these visions, although we would do well to pay attention to them, especially when they have been given to canonised saints and Doctors of the Church. The visions may tell us something about the nature of Hell, although its reality may be somewhat different; as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out when it released the Third Secret of Fatima, visions are often shaped by the culture of those who receive them and in any event the human capacity to verbalise and explain a vision is always limited.

Too much interest in visions and such matters can lead to distortions and they should be approached with caution. However, here is St Teresa of Avila’s vision of Hell in her own words; she is a wise and no-nonsense guide…

A long time after the Lord had granted me many of the favours which I have described, together with other very great ones, I was at prayer one day when suddenly, without knowing how, I found myself, as I thought, plunged right into hell. I realized that it was the Lord’s will that I should see the place which the devils had prepared for me there and which I had merited for my sins. This happened in the briefest space of time, but, even if I were to live for many years, I believe it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage, like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall, like a cupboard, and it was here that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison with what I felt there. What I have said is in no way an exaggeration.

My feelings, I think, could not possibly be exaggerated, nor can anyone understand them. I felt a fire within my soul the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing. My bodily sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind — the worst it is possible to endure, the doctors say, such as the shrinking of the nerves during my paralysis [251] and many and divers more, some of them, as I have said, caused by the devil — none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never-ceasing. And even these are nothing by comparison with the agony of my soul, an oppression, a suffocation and an affliction so deeply felt, and accompanied by such hopeless and distressing misery, that I cannot too forcibly describe it. To say that it is as if the soul were continually being torn from the body is very little, for that would mean that one’s life was being taken by another; whereas in this case it is the soul itself that is tearing itself to pieces. The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair, which is greater than the most grievous tortures and pains. I could not see who was the cause of them, but I felt, I think, as if I were being both burned and dismembered; and I repeat that that interior fire and despair are the worst things of all.

In that pestilential spot, where I was quite powerless to hope for comfort, it was impossible to sit or lie, for there was no room to do so. I had been put in this place which looked like a hole in the wall, and those very walls, so terrible to the sight, bore down upon me and completely stifled me. There was no light and everything was in the blackest darkness. I do not understand how this can be, but, although there was no light, it was possible to see everything the sight of which can cause affliction. At that time it was not the Lord’s will that I should see more of hell itself, but I have since seen another vision of frightful things, which are the punishment of certain vices.

To look at, they seemed to me much more dreadful; but, as I felt no pain, they caused me less fear. In the earlier vision the Lord was pleased that I should really feel those torments and that affliction of spirit, just as if my body had been suffering them. I do not know how it was, but I realized quite clearly that it was a great favour and that it was the Lord’s will that I should see with my own eyes the place from which His mercy had delivered me. It is nothing to read a description of it, or to think of different kinds of torture (as I have sometimes done, though rarely, as my soul made little progress by the road of fear): of how the devils tear the flesh with their pincers or of the various other tortures that I have read about — none of these are anything by comparison with this affliction, which is quite another matter. In fact, it is like a picture set against reality, and any burning on earth is a small matter compared with that fire.

I was terrified by all this, and, though it happened nearly six years ago, I still am as I write: even as I sit here, fear seems to be depriving my body of its natural warmth. I never recall any time when I have been suffering trials or pains and when everything that we can suffer on earth has seemed to me of the slightest importance by comparison with this; so, in a way, I think we complain without reason. I repeat, then, that this vision was one of the most signal favours which the Lord has bestowed upon me: it has been of the greatest benefit to me, both in taking from me all fear of the tribulations and disappointments of this life and also in strengthening me to suffer them and to give thanks to the Lord, Who, as I now believe, has delivered me from such terrible and never-ending torments.

Since that time, as I say, everything has seemed light to me by comparison with a single moment of such suffering as I had to bear during that vision. I am shocked at myself when I think that, after having so often read books which give some idea of the pains of hell, I was neither afraid of them nor rated them at what they are. What could I have been thinking of? How could anything give me satisfaction which was driving me to so awful a place? Blessed be Thou, my God, for ever! How plain it has become that Thou didst love me, much more than I love myself! How often, Lord, didst Thou deliver me from that gloomy prison and how I would make straight for it again, in face of Thy will!

This vision, too, was the cause of the very deep distress which I experience because of the great number of souls who are bringing damnation upon themselves — especially of those Lutherans, for they were made members of the Church through baptism. It also inspired me with fervent impulses for the good of souls: for I really believe that, to deliver a single one of them from such dreadful tortures, I would willingly die many deaths. After all, if we see anyone on earth who is especially dear to us suffering great trial or pain, our very nature seems to move us to compassion, and if his sufferings are severe they oppress us too. Who, then, could bear to look upon a soul’s endless sufferings in that most terrible trial of all? No heart could possibly endure it without great affliction. For even earthly suffering, which after all, as we know, has a limit and will end with death, moves us to deep compassion. And that other suffering has no limit: I do not know how we can look on so calmly and see the devil carrying off as many souls as he does daily.

This also makes me wish that in so urgent a matter we were not ourselves satisfied with anything short of doing all that we can. Let us leave nothing undone; and to this end may the Lord be pleased to grant us His grace. I recall that, wicked creature though I was, I used to take some trouble to serve God and refrain from doing certain things which I see tolerated and considered quite legitimate in the world; that I had serious illnesses, and bore them with great patience, which the Lord bestowed on me; that I was not given to murmuring or speaking ill of anyone, nor, I think, could I ever have wished anyone ill; that I was not covetous and never remember having been envious in such a way as grievously to offend the Lord; and that I abstained from certain other faults, and, despicable though I was, lived in the most constant fear of God. And yet look at the place where the devils had prepared a lodging for me! It is true, I think, that my faults had merited a much heavier punishment; but none the less, I repeat, the torture was terrible, and it is a perilous thing for a soul to indulge in its own pleasure or to be placid and contented when at every step it is falling into mortal sin. For the love of God, let us keep free from occasions of sin and the Lord will help us as He has helped me. May it please His Majesty not to let me out of His hand lest I fall once more, now that I have seen the place to which that would lead me. May the Lord forbid this, for His Majesty’s sake. Amen.

It is also worth remembering that today is the anniversary of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, which occurred on this day in 1917. The children of Fatima were also shown hell. The authenticity of that vision was underlined by the astounding miracle of the sun, seen by tens of thousand of people, even some many miles away (and not subject therefore to mass hallucination) and testified to by atheistic and cynical journalists who attended Fatima on that day to scoff at the children and to disprove the authenticity of the events unfolding there.

Thoughts for October 12 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Today we consider one of the first exercises from the first week – the meditation on sin.

The first week of the Spiritual Exercises is tough – it includes meditations on sin, death, judgement, hell and so forth. Later on the Exercises consider the Resurrection and happier subjects for meditation. But the purpose of the first week is to purify the soul.

St Ignatius proposes a set formula for the meditations including an act of presence of God, a composition of place. These can easily be looked up online and I don’t intend to reproduce them here.

Here is the text of the Exercises dealing with the sin, followed by Fr Doyle’s notes on this meditation.

Second Prelude. The second is to ask God our Lord for what I want and desire.

Here it will be to ask shame and confusion at myself, seeing how many have been damned for only one mortal sin, and how many times I deserved to be condemned forever for my so many sins.

First Point. The first Point will be to bring the memory on the First Sin, which was that of the Angels, and then to bring the intellect on the same, discussing it; then the will, wanting to recall and understand all this in order to make me more ashamed and confound me more, bringing into comparison with the one sin of the Angels my so many sins, and reflecting, while they for one sin were cast into Hell, how often I have deserved it for so many.

I say to bring to memory the sin of the Angels, how they, being created in grace, not wanting to help themselves with their liberty to reverence and obey their Creator and Lord, coming to pride, were changed from grace to malice, and hurled from Heaven to Hell; and so then to discuss more in detail with the intellect: and then to move the feelings more with the will.

Second Point. The second is to do the same–that is, to bring the Three Powers–on the sin of Adam and Eve, bringing to memory how on account of that sin they did penance for so long a time, and how much corruption came on the human race, so many people going the way to Hell.

I say to bring to memory the Second Sin, that of our First Parents; how after Adam was created in the field of Damascus and placed in the Terrestrial Paradise, and Eve was created from his rib, being forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, they ate and so sinned, and afterwards clothed in tunics of skins and cast from Paradise, they lived, all their life, without the original justice which they had lost, and in many labors and much penance. And then to discuss with the understanding more in detail; and to use the will as has been said.

Third Point. The third is likewise to do the same on the Third particular Sin of any one who for one mortal sin is gone to Hell–and many others without number, for fewer sins than I have committed.

I say to do the same on the Third particular Sin, bringing to memory the gravity and malice of the sin against one’s Creator and Lord; to discuss with the understanding how in sinning and acting against the Infinite Goodness, he has been justly condemned forever; and to finish with the will as has been said.

Colloquy. Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me make a Colloquy, how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins.

Likewise, looking at myself, what I have done for Christ, what I am doing for Christ, what I ought to do for Christ.

And so, seeing Him such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself.

The Colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice in them.

St Ignatius presents three images – the sin of the fallen angels who rebelled against God, the sin of our first parents and the sin of a person who committed only one mortal sin in their life, and went to Hell because this was not repented.

This meditation should fill us with great gratitude for the mercy of God who has given us every opportunity to repent.

Here are Fr Doyle’s thoughts:

I can say with all truth that only for the great mercy of God I should now have been in hell. I deserved it for my years of tepidity in Clongowes. Never did the good God show His goodness to me more than in saving me from grievous sin. I have here a second motive of gratitude to urge me to do all He wants.

The meditation on the barren fig-tree (5. Luke 13.) recalled to my mind this gospel which I read in the Mass at Paray- le-Monial. For sixteen years has Jesus been seeking fruit from my soul, and especially in these last three years of preparation for the priesthood. I have no excuse for He has told me how to produce that fruit, especially by the exact discharge of each little duty of the moment. “Spare it for this year,” Never shall I have this opportunity again of becoming holy; and if now I do not “dig round” this unfruitful tree so that it bear much fruit, Jesus will surely “cut it down” by withdrawing His graces and loving invitations.

Truly I have ever been in the community “a running sore” of harm and evil example. My Jesus, can I ever make amends for all the harm I have done? Help me from this instant to try and do so by my fervent earnest life. Help me to become thoroughly changed and to do all You want of me.

This thought came to me. If Jesus wants me to go to the Congo, I shall do more for souls there than by remaining at home. Besides, my sacrifice will obtain grace for others to do more good than I ever could.

“Because you have sinned, cursed be the earth in your work.” (Genesis 3. 17.) I see here the reason why my work for souls must be unfruitful God will never bless it while I have an affection for sin or lead a careless life.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle refers to Clongowes; this is a Jesuit school in Ireland where he worked for a while as a Jesuit seminarian. He felt that he was tepid while he worked there, although his colleagues at the time considered him an exemplary Jesuit. Perhaps he felt he had been tepid compared with the ardent love and desire for holiness that he felt in his soul. Perhaps his tepidity was relative in nature; even a very devout Jesuit would be tepid relative to the incredible holiness Fr Doyle pursued, and exhibited, in the remaining 10 years of his life.

Interestingly, Fr Doyle felt great gratitude that he was preserved from grievous sin. St Therese also felt this gratitude, and once commented that it is not the great sinner who has been forgiven that has the greatest motive for thanks, but the one who has been protected from sin, for this grace is a pure gift from God that our own meagre efforts are not capable of.

Finally, we may all gain from Fr Doyle’s reflection on the fruitlessness of our work if we live in sin and lukewarmness.

 

 

St John XXIII and Fr Doyle

St John XXIII

Today is the feast of St John XXIII. Just as many young Catholic have a great devotion to St John Paul as he was the pope of their formative years, so too there are many of an older generation who have a strong affection for Good Pope John. 

At first glance there does not seem to be much in common between Fr Doyle and St John XXIII. But a closer examination shows many similarities. This is not surprising – Fr Doyle and St John were close in age – Fr Doyle was born in 1873 and St John in 1881. Both were nourished on the same piety and devotional practices typical of that era. Fr Doyle, as a Jesuit, was obviously a son of St Ignatius. But St John himself did the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises himself on a number of occasions. 

We know much about the spiritual life from the diaries of both men. St John’s spiritual diaries have been published under the title Journal of a Soul. It is an extraordinary book, revealing the saint’s struggle to overcome his defects and his growth in holiness. When one studies the book, comparing them to Fr Doyle’s diaries, the similarities between the two men become very clear. 

One of St John XXIII’s encyclicals was entitled Paenitentiam Agere – On the need for the practice of interior and exterior penance. We find in this encyclical a call for all the faithful to offer up penances for the success of the Second Vatican Council. We also find this interesting paragraph:

It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us almost aghast with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God’s grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations, we whose consciences are perhaps weighed down by so heavy a burden of guilt?

St John XXIII speaks of inspiration, admiration and saintly heroism when considering the harsh penances of the saints…

The entire document is well worth reading:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_xxiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_01071962_paenitentiam_en.html

Fr Doyle’s life of penance may not be something we are called to imitate in its totality. Indeed, on this day in 1914, Fr Doyle wrote one of his characteristic diary entries:

Jesus told me at Exposition, and I do not think I have mistaken His voice, that the way in which I must sanctify myself myself is by suffering, corporal penance, and denial in all things. 

Clearly, in the absence of a special and very rare calling, we are not expected to copy Fr Doyle by denying ourselves in all things. But it is important to remember that Fr Doyle’s penitential spirit was entirely in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and is mirrored in the lives and teachings of the saints, including the ever popular St John XXIII. 

It would be bizarre for anybody to over-emphasise the role of physical penance in the life of St John XXIII and to reduce his personality to this one aspect of his spiritual life. So, too, those who allow Fr Doyle’s penance to loom too large in their memory of him and to dampen their devotion to him do him a disservice, and foster an unbalanced image of a very human and very self-sacrificing war hero.