It is a known spiritual fact that in an age of darkness and even persecution, God raises up holy men and women to inspire the Church and to remind us that Good Friday will always give way to Easter Sunday, even if Holy Saturday seems long and relentless. Though it may seem so, God is not silent, he is always speaking to us in the "still, small voice": if we cannot hear him, we must listen more intently. In such a time of difficulty, St Gregory the Great, for example, wrote his Dialogues to offer to the people of his time recent examples of holiness to inspire them and to remind them that the Holy Spirit is still at work, and though surrounded by infidelity and craziness, there were men and women who heeded God's invitation, embraced the Gospel and made it their way of life.
In these times, God is raising up holy men and women, more than ever before. During the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II an unprecedented number of Saints and Blesseds were declared. Though his critics see this as John Paul indulging a personal interest in Saints, it was not so. For every Saint canonised there was a miracle, for the non-martyr Blesseds there were miracles: the pontificate of Blessed John Paul was truly an age of miracles in which God communicated to the Church that it was his will that these numerous Servants should be raised to the altars. Why? To inspire us and assure us that the Holy Spirit is as busy now as he was in the past. Note that many of those John Paul, Benedict and now Francis raised to the altars are recent models of holiness.
Why these thoughts? Well, in the midst of our current difficulties, recent models of holiness are being raised up to help and inspire us, to encourage us, to keep the fire of hope burning in our hearts. Over the weekend I read a new, short biography of one of these recent models of holiness: a new CTS pamphlet on Fr Willie Doyle. Now, if you read this blog frequently you know I have mentioned Fr Willie a number of times and I have expressed my admiration of him. That admiration is growing, particularly as I read more of his writings, as I read more of his war letters and diaries.
This little pamphlet is a very accessible work and I recommend it highly as an excellent introduction to Fr Willie's life. In essence it consists of two parts, intermingled: there is the biography written by the author, K. V. Turley, which gives the bare facts of his life. However it is the second part which is most valuable: extracts from Fr Willie's writings, and with respect to the author of the pamphlet, it is these which make the pamphlet such a little treasure. Fr Willie was an extraordinary writer, one whose personality and spirituality jump out at you from the page. Like St Teresa of Avila he emerges as a living and breathing person for the reader: to read his writings is to encounter him.
What also emerges, quite unintended by Fr Willie, I'm sure, who sought to live a hidden life, is his tremendous sanctity. Reading his writings you are astonished by the work of grace in him and by the fruits of that grace. Suffering the deprivations of the trenches, he fulfilled his priestly ministry as a military chaplain during the First World War in an extraordinarily heroic way, bringing joy to dying soldiers as he risked his own life to give them the Last Rites. For any priests suffering in this time of trial, Fr Willie Doyle is an inspiration, a priest who reminds us that our priestly vocation truly comes to life in a dynamic way in the midst of persecution and suffering. Fr Willie is certainly a witness to hope for us in these times: a witness for all Christians, but in particular for us priests.
As we in Ireland, and in other countries, face an uncertain future as, it seems, all hell has broken loose as anti-Christian elements have launched an all-out frontal attack, Fr Willie has much to teach us. He threw himself into the battle of his time, relying on Christ. He realised that the real battle is the one with ourselves, within, and if we fight that one, drawing on the grace God gives us, then the external battle will be seen as no more than a skirmish. The victory within is the greater victory, and that victory will give us confidence to face the external battle and, in hope, know that there too we will be victorious, or rather Christ will be victorious. So, as Julian of Norwich famously wrote: "All will be well, all manner of things will be well". Taking this as expression of hope, rather than a naive denial and delusion, we will keep our peace.
The CTS pamphlet biography can be purchased online here. More information on Fr Willie's life can be be found at his website: www.fatherdoyle.com. Please say a prayer than one day a Cause will be opened for Willie's beatification. As you will discover the more you read about him, he is a great Saint, one who deserves to be venerated as such. However, no Cause has been started, despite the fact that devotion to him is growing throughout the world.