Thoughts for July 8 from Fr Willie Doyle

Lord, give me grace and strength of character to tear myself away promptly from what, if not bad, is less good, and to give myself earnestly, self-denyingly, perseveringly, to the better and the best.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle always wanted to choose the hard thing, he always wanted to do the best thing. Thus, his prayer doesn’t just refer to tearing himself promptly away from bad things, but even from things that are less good. This is what we must aspire to – an interior struggle between the good and the best! Most of us are probably not yet there; our battles are probably (at least some of the time) between good and evil, not between a higher and a lesser good. Even so, Fr Doyle’s prayer reveals a crucial tactic in our spiritual struggle – we must flee temptations promptly. This is the advice of all of the saints and spiritual writers. The spiritual hero is the “coward” who flees temptation as soon as it presents itself, not the one who enters into conversation with it. 

As St Benedict says in the Prologue to his Rule, the one who is victorious in God’s service is the one who…

has foiled the evil one, the devil, at every turn, flinging both him and his promptings far from the sight of his heart. While these temptations were still young, he caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ.

St Benedict. Image copyright Edith OSB

Thoughts for July 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

I have often wondered what Jesus meant by the ‘work’, but I could never bring myself to ask you what you thought it was, for I knew if this message really came from Him, He would make clear what he wanted done in His own good time. Yesterday I was writing in my room a thought which had come to my mind: ‘Is there not something wrong with a priest who constantly feels the need of amusement and distraction? Has such a one tasted the sweetness of Jesus in the Tabernacle?’ I suppose it was only putting in words the grace He has given me; worldly amusements are nearly always now a torture to me, while it is a perfect joy, a comfort and recreation, to spend an hour with Him. As I was writing that sentence quoted above, without a thought of you or anything in particular, suddenly it flashed into my mind as clearly as if someone had spoken the words at my elbow, ‘The work I want you to do is the sanctification of My priests through retreats’.

Now, my dear child, I know well that one must not attach too much importance to what may be only a passing thought, due to many causes, still I must not conceal from you that the peace and consolation which came with this inspiration was very great, and the longing for great holiness most intense. Somehow I seemed to realise too that the retreat I have in mind, and the standard of perfection I hope, with God’s grace, to set before His priests will bring down on me much ridicule, but that, at the same time, the seed will fall on the good soil of many hearts He is now preparing, and will mean a new life of great sanctity to many. I know from experience that the material to work on is magnificent, but the standard of perfection is deplorably low. Surely there cannot be a grander work than this, but if it is to be done as Jesus wishes, it calls for a state of perfection which, without any exaggeration, I know well I am far from having reached.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these extraordinary words 106 years ago today (7 July 1914) to what O’Rahilly describes as a “privileged penitent” who was apparently in receipt of alleged private “supernatural illuminations” that Fr Doyle was inclined to believe in.

This penitent (probably a nun), told Fr Doyle that she has received some form of message that Fr Doyle had some special ‘work’ to do in his life, and this letter from a century ago is Fr Doyle’s assessment of what he discerned this work to be. As ever, he recognised that all work for God starts with our own growth in holiness.

Perhaps even more extraordinary are the words that this “privileged penitent” wrote about Fr Doyle (they are published in the later editions of the O’Rahilly biography):

In response to inspirations received directly or indirectly from Jesus, he strove, notably for seven or eight years before he died, to ‘put on Jesus Christ’, to model his life on the Priest-Christ, to be, as far as it was humanly possible, ‘another Christ’. This was the secret spring of his holiness. It was not a simple attraction, not a mere fad, but a forming of a life of priestly holiness, distinctly asked for and expressed by Christ. He heard with attention the first invitation: ‘Model your life on Mine, lead a perfect life’. And as if to secure a faithful response, Jesus seemed in the year 1910 to have planted in his heart a spark of divine love. This was the ‘sweet wounding’, a grace like to that received by St Teresa, of which he complained. It made him understand Christ’s love for His priests and His – almost helpless – dependence on them for the sanctification of souls. Jesus infused into his soul some of His own passionate love for souls; and it was this passion that made him at times seem to do rash things. It was the ‘charity of Christ’ that urged him, and he did nothing through mere caprice or impulse. As a matter of fact, he hated penance as being opposed to his natural gaiety of disposition; his sensitiveness to pain made him shrink from even a pin-prick. But there was no choice. He promised to be a friend of the Great Friend, to be as far as possible a priest like the Great Priest, to live as He lived and die as He died – for the priesthood and for souls. The padre offered his life for the sanctification of the priesthood as Christ offered his life for the Church. ‘When you hear of my death’, he wrote, ‘you will know that I died for them.’ Christ asked penance and death in reparation; but He asked personal priestly holiness to serve as an example to other priests – attachment to the person of Jesus – so that as he had loved, others too would learn to love, not as the ordinary good Christian loves, but as intimate friends should love their Friend and Master.

This letter contains some truly astounding suggestions, perhaps the most remarkable of which is the claim that Fr Doyle experienced something akin to the transverberation of the heart that great saints like Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Philip Neri, Pio of Pietrelcina and others encountered. It is true that Fr Doyle’s own private diary records a painful, sweet wounding of his heart:

I dare not put on paper what I feel, even if I could; but at times Jesus seems to pour all the grace of His Sacred Heart upon me until I am intoxicated almost with His love and could cry out with the pain of that sweet wounding.

Ultimately we cannot know at this distance, and based on the material in the public domain, whether this truly was the same experience of the saints.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter very much and we should not be too curious about it. The extraordinary mystical experiences of the saints (just like their extraordinary penances) are not really very essential for us. What matters is the message of their lives. In today’s quote, written 106 years ago today, we see the importance Fr Doyle placed on the holiness of priests. This wasn’t just what we might today term as “clericalism” – it is true to say that the Church will be holy if there are holy priests. And the contrary is true – sinful priests will breed a lukewarm and sinful Church. Let us therefore pray for our priests as Fr Doyle asked. Even to this day, Fr Doyle’s example and writings remain a source of inspiration for many priests (and lay people) around the world – his special work continues, even after his death.

Thoughts for July 6 (St Maria Goretti) from Fr Willie Doyle

St Maria Goretti

 

As a boy He gave me something of the kind, so that a passing glance at an immodest picture used to make me shudder; and until I began my theology at 31 I was quite ignorant of most sexual matters. That was His goodness, not mine.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti, the great champion of purity. She preferred death (at age 12) to committing a sexual sin, and as such her intercession is often sought by those with struggles in this area. 

Fr Doyle seems to have had an unusual purity. In addition to the above quote, here is the testimony of a fellow Jesuit on the issue of Fr Doyle’s purity:

I knew from many talks with him on the subject that Willie found it hard to realise the difficulties of those struggling with impurity and the awful fascination of this sin, just as those who have never taken strong drink fail to appreciate the difficulties and temptations of the drunkard.

This does not mean that Fr Doyle was never subject to temptations, but rather that through God’s grace his major temptations related to others aspects of the moral life, mostly relating to his temper and tendency towards impetuousness.

It is fascinating for us to consider that a normal, well adjusted young man 100 years ago could be largely unaware of sexual matters until his thirties. But then again, we live in an age which has lost the innocence of times past. Just as the fish does not know that it swims in water – the water is all it knows and it can’t imagine any other reality – we often fail to realise the errors of our own age. Of course, there has always been corruption in the world, but rarely has it been so normalised and glamourised and publicised and rarely have people been urged to take pride in it as we are today. We also see the awful effects of this corruption within the Church, and the dreadful legacy of wounded lives and shattered credibility left in its wake. 

The words of St Josemaria Escriva on purity are relevant for us to consider today:

Never speak of impure things or events, not even to lament them. Remember that such matter is stickier than pitch. Change the subject or, if that is not possible, continue with it, speaking of the need and the beauty of purity — a virtue of men who know the value of their souls.

Having said all of that, we do not want to fall into a Jansenistic trap of obsessing about sin and about impurity. Sadly, some strains of Catholicism, especially in Ireland, seem to have fallen into this trap in the past. Such an approach was far from that of Fr Doyle. We must resist the temptation, but if we fail, we pick ourselves up and go forward, without scruples, nostalgia or curiosity. 

An excellent article on the life of St Maria Goretti can be found here: http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2002/08/15/2140802.htm

Thoughts for July 5 from Fr Willie Doyle

This morning at Mass, our Blessed Lord gave me grace to see what a fool I am to let my life slip from me without really doing what he has asked and implored so long – the complete sacrifice of everything. Forty one years of my life have gone, very little more may yet remain; and still I go on living a life of much self-indulgence, always promising myself to do better in the future. O Jesus, there is no need to ask You what You want from me or what I ought to do. You ask for the sacrifice of all and always. Give me grace and strength and courage now at last to begin, and to lay at Your feet days of absolute sacrifice, in which I can honestly say that I have refused nothing. My Jesus, I do want to be generous, to suffer much for Your love; but I am so weak, I give in constantly to myself. You have tried long enough to show me my misery and how much I depend on You. O, help me now at last, in honour of Your Precious Blood, to lead that life of crucifixion which alone will please You.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 106 years ago today on July 5, 1914. 

We can surely identify with Fr Doyle’s feeling that he was weak and that he gave in constantly to himself. Such is the human condition. Yet it is not enough for us to shrug our shoulders and just accept our limitations. God asks much from us, and He has the perfect right to do so because He has given us everything that we have. But we should not serve Him out of mere obligation or fear, but out of pure love. 

Fr Doyle had a burning love of Christ which drove him to offer his life as a sacrifice to God in service to others. We too should pray for some share in this personal love of Christ.

 

Thoughts for July 4 from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Today is the memorial of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Amongst other things, Blessed Pier Giorgio was renowned, as a very young man, for his heroic charity towards the poor of Turin. Reading the life of Fr Doyle instantly reminds one of Blessed Pier Giorgio, for he too served the poor of Dalkey while he was himself was just a child. In both cases, very few knew of their hidden charity towards others. 

From O’Rahilly’s Life of Fr Doyle:

For the poor people on Dalkey Hill Willie constituted himself into a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. He raised funds by saving up his pocket-money, by numberless acts of economy and self-denial; he begged for his poor, he got the cook to make soup, he pleaded for delicacies to carry to the sick. Once he went to the family apothecary and ordered several large bottles of cod-liver oil for a poor consumptive woman, and then presented the bill to his father! He bought a store of tea with which under many pledges of secrecy he entrusted the parlourmaid. On this he used to draw when in the course of his wanderings he happened to come across some poor creature without the means of providing herself with the cup that cheers. He by no means confined himself merely to the bringing of relief. He worked for his poor, he served them, he sat down and talked familiarly with them, he read books for the sick, he helped to tidy the house, he provided snuff and tobacco for the aged. One of Willie’s cases if such an impersonal word may be used was a desolate old woman whose children were far away. One day noticing that the house was dirty and neglected, he went off and purchased some lime and a brush, and then returned and whitewashed the whole house from top to bottom. He then went down on his knees and scrubbed the floors, amid the poor woman’s ejaculations of protest and gratitude. No one knew of this but the cook and parlour maid who lent him their aprons to save his clothes and kept dinner hot for him until he returned late in the evening. While thus aiding his poor friends temporally, he did not forget their souls. He contrived skilfully to remind them of their prayers and the sacraments; he also strongly advocated temperance. There was one old fellow on the Hill whom Willie had often unsuccessfully tried to reform. After years of hard drinking he lay dying, and could not be induced to see a priest. For eight hours Willie stayed praying by the bedside of the half-conscious dying sinner. Shortly before the end he came to himself, asked for the priest and made his peace with God. Only when he had breathed his last, did Willie return to Melrose. His first missionary victory!

Two further commonalities between Blessed Pier Giorgio and Fr Doyle were their love of practical jokes and an intense interest in sport and physical activity. Pier Giorgio was a very keen mountain climber, while Fr Doyle was a very competitive team sport player – sometimes his aggressiveness on the field shocked other clerical students who expected more reserve from young Jesuits. So, while both Blessed Pier Giorgio and Fr Doyle exhibited unusual charity and goodness as young men, neither of them were sickly sentimentalists. Both were well adjusted and balanced and exhibited simple manly piety.

Those interested in learning more about Blessed Pier Giorgio can check http://www.frassatiusa.org/

Thoughts for July 3 from Fr Willie Doyle

Have you ever reflected on the power of an act of the love of God, when inspired by grace and made with faith? Let us recall to mind the simple words of which it is composed: “My God, I love You with my whole heart, with my whole soul, with all my strength, and above all things; because You are good, infinitely good.”  

Try to pronounce each word so slowly that it may sink into your heart. 

Do you not feel that in making this act, you give your whole life to God, you give more than if you gave your riches, your time, your strength? Or rather that this act of love transports you out of yourself and gives to God your whole being and all that you possess? 

I defy you, guilty, desolate, despairing soul, soul overwhelmed by terror, dread, and the fear of damnation I defy you to go before a crucifix or before the holy Tabernacle and say to Jesus, dwelling the more on the words the harder you find it to say them, “My God, I love You with my whole heart . . . because You are infinitely good,” and not feel that Jesus is moved by your words, and not hear Jesus reply, “And I too love you.” Reason not on this. Try it. Could you believe of Jesus Christ that He does not know how to love or that His Heart is less generous than yours?

Thoughts for July 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

The conviction has been growing that nocturnal adoration will be established only if I spend much time myself before the Blessed Sacrament at night. I know well that Jesus not only wants me to sacrifice much of my sleep, but also to rise sometimes during the night to adore and console Him in the Tabernacle. The repugnance (and yet attraction) to this is extraordinary.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words on July 2, 1917, just 6 weeks before his death. The circumstances in which he was living at that time are almost incomprehensible to us who live in such relative comfort in this era of peace. Yet, despite the inherent discomfort of life in the thick of war, he felt called to reduce his sleep even more and to rise in the night to adore Christ in the Eucharist. It is interesting to note how he combined a great attraction with a great repugnance. This can often be the case in the spiritual life – we see the same paradox in the lives of many saints. In fact, Fr Doyle occasionally tied himself to his pre dieu in the morning in order to stick to his resolution not to cut his time of prayer short. 

Throughout his life, Fr Doyle was a great advocate of nocturnal adoration, a very fitting way to combine prayer and penance. For most of us, our personal circumstances do not allow us to emulate Fr Doyle’s adherence to this devotion. If this is the case we should strive to live our life of prayer and penance in a way that fits with our ordinary life and obligations, being generous with God while also being balanced; always remembering the primacy of the obligations that attach to our own state in life.

Thoughts for July 1 (St Oliver Plunkett) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

As a child I was convinced that one day God would give me the grace of martyrdom. When quite small I read and re-read every martyr’s life in the twelve volumes of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and longed and prayed to be a martyr, and I have often done so ever since. As years went on, the desire grew in intensity, and even now the sufferings of the martyrs, their pictures, and everything connected with their death, have a strange fascination for me and help me much.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Oliver Plunkett. St Oliver was the last Catholic martyr of Tyburn. He was Archbishop of Armagh, and returned to Ireland from Rome at a difficult time for his country. He endured great trials in his attempts to organise and reform the Church in his diocese.

I can find no mention of St Oliver in Fr Doyle’s writings, but it is practically certain that he would have had great interest in his life, especially because Fr Doyle had a great interest in the martyrs and because St Oliver’s beatification cause was nearing completion during Fr Doyle’s life.

While reading some of St Oliver’s letters recently, I was struck by the following excerpt, written on June 24th 1681, one week before St Oliver’s execution. This was the feast of St John the Baptist, and St Oliver reflected on St John’s sufferings and penance, despite his innocence. These are sentiments that I am sure would have appealed to Fr Doyle.

St John the Baptist shed his blood although his life was unsullied by the least sin of the tongue. The original dirt he contracted, although he was free from all dust of even venial sins. What then shall we do who have cartloads of actual mire and filthiness? He had not even venials, and suffered prison and death; we have dunghills and mortals, and what ought we to suffer? But why should I speak of St John, whereas his Master who was free from all original, venial and actual sins, suffered cold, frost, hunger, prison, stripes, thorns, and the most painful death of the Cross for others’ sins, and compared to the death of the Cross, Tyburn, as I hear the description, is but a flea biting.

On this day we should pray for the Church in Ireland which suffers so much at this time. 

For those who wish to see Fr Doyle recognised more formally by the Church, it is also consoling to remember that St Oliver, a heroic martyr, died in 1681 and was only beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975. 

Amazingly, St Oliver is the only canonised Irish person since before the Council of Trent over 500 years ago! Ireland needs more canonised saints. Let us pray and work for this, especially with respect to Fr Doyle. 

More information about St Oliver can be found at http://www.saintoliverplunkett.com/

Today is also the feast of Blessed Antonio Rosmini, the founder of the Institute of Charity. Blessed Rosmini was a renowned genius whose vast intellectual interests and writings spanned all of the natural, social and ecclesiastical sciences. Fr Doyle was a boarder in Ratcliffe College which was run by the Institute of Charity, and it is certain that he would have known about Antonio Rosmini. 

Thoughts for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul from Fr Willie Doyle

 

 

Peter, the favoured one, denies his Master and turns his back on Him who loved him so; and Peter’s heart is won, even in his sin, by one loving look of mercy and compassion from the Saviour whose mercy is without end.

COMMENT: The denial of St Peter, and Christ’s subsequent forgiveness, was a frequent theme in Fr Doyle’s notes. The image of a favoured apostle denying his Master seemed to resonate deeply with him.

As for St Paul, Fr Doyle doesn’t seem to write much about him directly, although he obviously quotes him frequently in his letters. Fr Doyle resembles St Paul in his great missionary zeal. Just as Paul underwent shipwreck and imprisonment and deprivation to bring the Gospel to others, Fr Doyle underwent life in the trenches, and all of its dangers, to bring the sacraments to others.

Peter, Paul and Fr Doyle could all have stayed at home and lived relatively comfortable, safe lives. But they sacrificed this comfort because of their love of Christ, offering their own lives in the process.