From the blog, REMEMBERING FR WILLIE DOYLE SJ
Fr Doyle wrote the following Christmas letter to his sister from the trenches. It gives some insight into the hardship of his life, the humour and humanity with which he greeted these hardships, and his constant supernatural outlook.
I want to have a little chat with you but you must promise to keep to yourself what I write to you. Did I ever tell you that my present life was just the one I dreaded most, being from a natural point of view repugnant to me in every way? So when our Blessed Lord sent me to the Front I felt “angry” with Him for taking me away from a sphere of work where the possibilities, at least, of doing good were so enormous, and giving me a task others could perform much better. It was only after a time that I began to understand that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts” and the meaning of it all began to dawn on me. In the first place my life, especially here in the trenches, has become a real hermit’s one, cave and all, a mixture of solitude with a touch of the hardships of a foreign mission. The result has been that God has come into my life in a way He never did before. He has put strange thoughts into my head and given me many lights which I feel have changed my whole outlook upon life. Then I feel, oh, so strongly, that I am going through a kind of noviceship, a sort of spiritual training, for some big work He wants me to do in the future. I feel every day as if spiritual strength and power were growing in my soul. This thought of being trained or fitted for God’s work (if I may use the comparison with all reverence) like St. John the Baptist, has filled me with extraordinary joy and made me delight in a life which could not well be much harder.
Here I am in a bit of a hole in the side of a ditch, so low that I cannot stand upright and have to bend my head and shoulders during Mass — I can tell you my back aches at the end. My only window is the door (without a door) through which the wind blows day and night; and a cold wind it is just now. I was offered a little stove but my “Novice Master” did not want that luxury, for it never came. My home would be fairly dry if I could keep out the damp mists and persuade the drops of water not to trickle from the roof. As a rule I sleep well, though one is often roused to attend some poor fellow who has been hit. Still it is rather reversing the order of things to be glad to get up in the morning to try and get warm; and it is certainly not pleasant to be wakened from sweet dreams by a huge rat burrowing under your pillow or scampering over your face! This has actually happened to me. There is no great luxury in the matter of food, as you may well guess. Recently, owing to someone’s carelessness, or possibly because the bag was made to pay toll on the way up to the trenches, my day’s rations consisted of half a pot of jam and a piece of cheese!
Through all this, and much in addition, the one thought ever in my mind is the goodness and love of God in choosing me to lead this life, and thus preparing me without a chance of refusal for the work He wants doing. No amount of reading or meditating could have proved to me so convincingly that a life of privation, suffering and sacrifice, accepted lovingly for the love of Jesus, is a life of great joy, and surely of great graces You see, therefore, that I have reasons in abundance for being happy, and I am truly so.
Hence you ought to be glad that I have been counted worthy to suffer something for our dear Lord, the better to be prepared to do His work. Ask Him, won’t you, that I may not lose this golden opportunity, but may profit to the full by the graces He is giving me. Every loving wish from my heart for a holy and happy Christmas. Let our gift to the divine Babe be the absolute sacrifice of even our desires, so that His Will alone may be done.
On another occasion Fr Doyle had written:
“I have called upon Thee in the day of my trouble” (Psalm 85. 7). Jesus is our comforter. What burden is there which He cannot lighten? What cross that He cannot make sweet? Be our troubles what they may, if only we will call on Jesus and implore His aid, we shall find our sufferings lessened and the rough ways smoothed for our bleeding feet.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle knew what he was talking about; he lived the reality of suffering in a way that few of us can ever realise. Whether we face only minor inconveniences and frustrations or major, life-altering problems, we will find help if we turn to Christ.
Tomorrow we shall celebrate the birth of Christ. It was an incredible intervention in human history. God became man in order that we might be saved. Jesus has experienced poverty, pain, loneliness, betrayal, tiredness, hunger, temptation, and all for love of us.
It has been a remarkable centenary that has lasted four years: from August 2014 to November 2018 the re-living of the key dates of the 1914-1918 war has permeated the British press and radio (I don’t know about television, as I don’t get it here.) I have also been following the chronological progress of Wilfred Owen the poet, a hundred years later, from the start of the war to his death in the final few days of 1918. The military padres of that war were also heroes, some even winning the highest awards for gallantry. We can only marvel at their sacrifice, at the same time as we despair of the collapsing democratic institutions they once fought to defend.
Excellent comment, Gareth.