“Whoever lives in the presence of so good a friend and excellent a leader as is Jesus Christ can endure all things. Christ helps us and strengthens us and never fails; he is a true friend. And I see clearly that God desires that if we are going to please him and receive his great favors this must come about through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom he takes his delight.”–St. Teresa of Jesus (Feast Day October 15)
St. Teresa of Jesus, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, and Doctor of the Church tells us that when we pray we must be very careful never to set aside the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. “Many, many times have I perceived this through experience. The Lord told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we desire his sovereign Majesty to show his great secrets. A person should desire no other path, even if he be at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. This Lord of ours is the one through whom all blessings come to us. He will teach us these things. In beholding his life we find that he is the best example.”
“Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near…As often as we think of Christ we should recall the love with which he bestowed on us so many favors, and the great things God showed in giving us a pledge like this of his love; for love begets love. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to waken ourselves to love. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the favor of impressing this love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall carry out our tasks quickly and without much effort.”
“Do not be afraid, I will not harm you. I come from heaven…Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners? Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.” –The words of Our Lady to the three shepherd children of Fatima.
One hundred years ago, on May 13th, 1917, the Blessed Mother appeared to three children in Portugal with a message from Heaven for the world. She requested that the children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, come on the 13th of the month for the next six months. Our Lady told the children that Jesus wanted to use the children to make His mother known and loved, and to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary throughout the world. In each apparition, the Blessed Mother asked that the Rosary be prayed every day “to bring peace to the world.” In her last visit on October 13th, 1917, she told the children, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.”
“To bring peace to the world” is no little thing. The world is filled with division, violence, and death. It would take a miracle of God to bring peace from the chaos that surrounds us. God has always willed to show forth His power and glory through the smallest and weakest. He has sent his own Mother to earth with a delicate Rosary in her hands as an unlikely but powerful weapon against evil, if only we co-operate with His Divine Plan by praying it. It is not a vain repetition of words, but the contemplation of the Face of Christ through the eyes of His Mother; and therein lies its power.
Contemplating the Face of Christ with Mary
When he placed the New Millennium under “the Radiant sign of the Face of Christ” Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
“To contemplate the Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium…It is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make His Face shine also before new generations of the new millennium. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.”
The Rosary is a traditional Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of Christ’s Face. “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul,” says Pope St. John Paul II, “and runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ.”
Contemplation is a gift, a grace, from God. It is a communion in which God transforms a soul into His likeness. To put it more simply, as St. Teresa of Jesus says, contemplation is “a close sharing between friends…taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” Contemplation is not something beyond our reach however–we have an incomparable model in Mary; the eyes of her heart were always turned toward His Face. To dispose our souls to receive this great gift of God we need only reach for a Rosary and pray it with humility, listening attentively in the Spirit together with Mary, in silent love–that veil of mystery–to the Father’s voice. When we contemplate the scenes or mysteries of the Rosary in union with Mary, the Rosary becomes an unceasing praise of God; a way to learn from her about her son, Jesus, to discover His secrets and understand His message for us.
To recite the Rosary, which can be called a compendium of the Gospel, Pope St. John Paul II says, “is to contemplate the Face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, His Most Holy Mother…Against the background of the words of the Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, [luminous,] sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through–we might say through the heart of his Mother…The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation…To look upon the Face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and sufferings of His human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father; this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ’s Face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul’s words can then be applied to us ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’” (Rosarium Virginus Mariae)
The entire month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary and October 7th is celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The feast, originally named for Our Lady of Victory, commemorated the stunning victory, against all odds, obtained by Our Lady in the Battle of Lepanto through the prayer of the Rosary–which saved Christendom on October 7th, in 1571. By keeping our eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus as we pray the Rosary, together with Mary, through her maternal intercession, we too may obtain great victories through the heart of her Son Jesus, who obtained for all mankind the greatest victory over sin and death by His Resurrection.
“During meditation, the Lord gave me knowledge of the joy of Heaven and of the Saints on our arrival there; they love God as the sole object of their love, but they also have a tender and heartfelt love for us. It is from the Face of God that this joy flows out upon all, because we see Him face to Face. His Face is so sweet that the soul falls anew into ecstasy” (1592, “Divine Mercy in My Soul”).
St. Faustina Kowalska, “The Apostle of Mercy,” was known as a mystic and visionary. Our Lord granted her a deep understanding of the love and mercy of God which she was to share with the world through her diary, “Divine Mercy in My Soul.” The Face of Christ had a prominent place in her spiritual journey:
“I have ever before my eyes His sorrowful Face, abused and disfigured. His Divine Heart pierced by our sins and especially by the ingratitude of chosen souls.” (Divine Mercy in my Soul, #487)
St.Faustina’s message of mercy was also intensely Eucharistic, recognizing the True Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She offered Him continually to the Father to implore His Mercy for the salvation of the world:
“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
The greatest sign of God’s continuing mercy for the people of the world is His hidden Presence in the Eucharist. By turning to His Eucharistic Face in prayer, St. Faustina says, “a change takes place” in our souls, because Jesus is also gazing at us.
“O Living Host, O hidden Jesus. You see the condition of my soul. Of myself, I am unable to utter Your Holy Name. I cannot bring forth from my heart the fire of love, but kneeling at Your feet, I cast upon the Tabernacle the gaze of my soul, a gaze of faithfulness. As for You, You are ever the same, while within my soul a change takes place. I trust that the time will come when You will unveil Your Countenance, and Your child will again see Your sweet Face. I am astonished, Jesus, that You can hide Your self from me for so long and that You can restrain the enormous love You have for me. In the dwelling of my heart, I am listening and waiting for Your coming, O only Treasure of my heart! (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1146)
By contemplating His Holy Face, and making Him the “Treasure” of our hearts, we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, who restores God’s image and likeness in our souls. As St. Paul has written:
“but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed…All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16, 18)
St. Faustina’s message of God’s Mercy is needed more with each passing day. Let us continue to pray for God’s Mercy, and pray as well for all the people of the world to turn back to the Face of God, so all may share in the joy of Heaven one day–to see Him face to Face.
St. Faustina’s Prayer for Divine Mercy
O Greatly Merciful God, Infinite Goodness, today all mankind calls out from the abyss of its misery to Your mercy — to Your compassion, O God, and it is with its mighty voice of misery that it cries out: Gracious God, do not reject the prayer of this earth’s exiles! O Lord, Goodness beyond our understanding, Who are acquainted with our misery through and through and know that by our own power we cannot ascend to You, we implore You, anticipate us with Your grace and keep on increasing Your mercy in us, that we may faithfully do Your holy will all through our life and at death’s hour. Let the omnipotence of Your mercy shield us from the darts of our salvation’s enemies, that we may with confidence, as Your children, await Your final coming — that day known to You alone. And we expect to obtain everything promised us by Jesus in spite of all our wretchedness. For Jesus is our Hope: Through His merciful Heart as through an open gate we pass through to heaven.” (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1570)
“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s Mercy!”–Pope Francis
Within the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi is a precious relic: a small, crumpled piece of yellowed parchment with the writing of St. Francis, now displayed in a silver reliquary. It was written on Mount La Verna after St. Francis had received the stigmata. The first biographer of St. Francis, Bl. Thomas of Celano wrote that for a long time St. Francis’s friend, Brother Leo, had greatly desired to have some memorial from the words of Our Lord written by St. Francis:
“One day Blessed Francis called him, saying, ‘Bring me paper and ink, for I wish to write the words of God and His praises which I have been meditating in my heart.’ What he asked for being straightway brought, he writes with his own hand the praises of God and the words which he [his companion] wished, and lastly a blessing of the brother, saying: ‘Take this sheet for thyself and until the day of thy death guard it carefully.’ All temptation was at once driven away; the letter is kept and worked wonders for the time to come.” Brother Leo kept it faithfully; folding it in four, he carried it in his pocket and guarded it jealously for a good forty-six years. The text in the middle, written in black, and marked with a large “Tau” cross is in Francis’s own handwriting, he writes the praises of God* and grants to Brother Leo the blessing from the Book of Numbers 6: 22-27 which later became known as “the Blessing of St. Francis.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his homily for the World Day of Peace, 2013, spoke of this blessing from the Book of Numbers:
“The blessing repeats the three times Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time linked to two words indicating an action in favor of man. Peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favor, His most sublime gift, in which He turns toward us the splendor of His Face.”
This is the same, great blessing that St. Francis desired to impart to his friend, Brother Leo:
“May the Lord bless and keep you; may He make His Face shine upon you and be merciful to you; may He turn His Countenance toward you and give you His Peace!” (Num. 6:22-27)
*(St. Francis’s “Praises of God” are now now quite faded, but, this much can be still read: “Thou art holy, Lord God, who alone workest wonders. Thou art strong. Thou art great. Thou art most high. Thou art the Almighty King, Thou, holy Father, King of heaven and earth. Thou art the Lord God Triune and One; all good. Thou art good, all good, highest good, Lord God living and true. Thou art charity, love. Thou art wisdom. Thou art humility. Thou art patience. Thou art security. Thou art quietude. Thou art joy and gladness. Thou…”)
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Covington, Louisiana will again celebrate the solemn Feast Day of St. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus, also known as “the Little Flower,” with their annual “Mass of the Roses” on Sunday, October 1st, 2017. St. Therese was a French Discalced Carmelite Nun who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. She became a Saint and Doctor of the Church, inspiring others by her “Little Way” of doing small things with great love to attain holiness. She promised that when she died “a shower of roses” would fall from Heaven in the graces obtained through her intercession.
The “Mass of the Roses.” will open with a flute prelude by Sr. Grace, OCD and Patti Adams, LPO. The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at 9:30 am with Father Jorge Cabrera, OCD, as the main celebrant. Immediately following Mass, the children are invited to join in procession, carrying roses to the altar to be blessed and distributed.
Many gifts, food, and handmade items may be purchased; the proceeds will help the Carmelite nuns meet their financial needs for the year. Delicious refreshments will be served after the Mass, thanks to many gracious sponsors and volunteers. Hand-made items by the sisters, as well as cookies, pies and bread from the Sister’s kitchen will be for sale as well as a variety of religious articles, books and gifts. A children’s area will be set up for face-painting, artwork and other fun activities. A special table will also be set up for Holy Face books, Chaplets, Images and Medals.
Although, St. Therese is more commonly known for her way of “Spiritual Childhood” and devotion to The Child Jesus, her sister, Mother Agnes gave this testimony for St. Therese’ beatification:
“Devotion to the Holy Face was the Servant of God’s special attraction. As tender as was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot be compared to her devotion to the Holy Face.”
St. Therese’ sister Celine (Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face), also wrote: “Devotion to the Holy Face was, for Therese, the crown and complement of her love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord. The Blessed Face was the mirror wherein she beheld the Heart and Soul of her Well-Beloved. Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ Therese beheld the entire Humanity of Jesus. We can say unequivocally that this devotion was the burning inspiration of the Saint’s life… Her devotion to the Holy Face transcended, or more accurately, embraced, all the other attractions of her spiritual life.”
Prayer of St. Therese to The Holy Face
“O adorable Face of Jesus, sole beauty which ravishes my heart, vouchsafe to impress on my soul Your divine likeness so that it may not be possible for You to look at Your spouse without beholding Yourself! O my Beloved, for love of You I am content not to see here on earth the sweetness of Your glance, nor to feel the ineffable kiss of Your sacred lips, but I beg of You to inflame me with Your love so that it may consume me quickly and that soon I may behold Your glorious countenance in Heaven.”
For more information on the “Mass of the Roses” (click here)
Below are some wonderful photos that journalist Paul Badde has sent of St. Therese’s relics visiting the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face in Manoppello on November 4th, 2006.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, these my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Psalm 27:1-3)
It seems as though all hell is breaking loose, that every corner of the globe is filled with violence, disaster, and every kind of spiritual sickness. Our relationship with God seems permanently broken, as so many souls reject, revile, or worse, are indifferent to their own Creator. Humanity is surrounded by a maelstrom of evil from which there seems to be no escape–at least that is what the devil wants us to believe and to despair of hope. But we are not alone. God has given us powerful defenders.
Mankind is in the midst of a battle, which has been fought since the beginning of Creation; between Christ’s Angels and the fallen angels or demons. When God created the angels, they were tested before they could see Him face to face. It is believed that it was revealed to them that God would become man and not an angel. Lucifer, being a proud spirit, responded “Non Serviam” — I will not serve! St. Michael answered with the battlecry “Who is like God?” St. Michael and the Holy Angels have been given the authority from God by the power of His Holy Name to protect and defend God’s people against both human and diabolical enemies.
Devotion to the Face of Jesus is meant to repair mankind’s broken relationship with God, manifested in the world by the evil of blasphemy, sacrilege, and indifference. This work of reparation honoring His Holy Face and His Name–which is the concrete sign of God’s existence and our relationship with Him–has been given the protection and help of the Holy Angels. Sr. Marie St. Pierre was a French Discalced Carmelite nun to whom Our Lord gave revelations of the Devotion to His Holy Face. She wrote on November 18, 1843:
“One day during prayer, our Lord warned me in advance about the fury of Satan against the holy devotion, but He also consoled me, saying: ‘I give you My Name to be your light in the darkness and your strength in battle. Satan will do all in his power to crush this Work at its roots. But I assure you that the Holy Name of God will triumph, and it will be the Holy Angles who willl gain the victory in the conflict.”
St. Michael is named as the primary patron of devotion to the Holy Face. This is reflected in many ancient works of art in churches where St. Michael or the Holy Angels are portrayed holding the Veil of the Face of Christ. A fascinating article was written recently by Gelsimo Del Guercio (here) about seven sanctuaries, dedicated to St. Michael, which are linked by a straight line called the “Sword of St. Michael.” The imaginary line “represents the blow with which St. Michael sent the devil to hell.” I would like to add an eighth Sanctuary to the list: The church of the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello. In God’s mysterious design this sanctuary, which contains a miraculous veil of the Face of Jesus, was named for St. Michael though no one who is alive today remembers why. The sanctuary, in Manoppello, Italy, falls at the center, on a map, of the legendary “Sword of St. Michael.” St. Michael and the Holy Angels come to our aid and they are bearing His Holy Face!
“Who is like God?”
“Come,” says my heart, “seek God’s face,” your face LORD, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me.” (Psalm 27:8-9)
“Lord, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not abandon me to the will of my foes; malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me. But I believe I shall enjoy the LORD’S goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, take courage, be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:11-14)
September 17th marks the anniversary of the death of the Holy Capuchin priest of Manoppello–the Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese. He was born on March 27, 1905, and was baptized Emidio Petracca, named for St. Emidio (c.279-309 AD), the saint who is invoked for protection in earthquakes. As a nine-year old boy in 1915, young Emidio (later Padre Domenico) predicted the devastating Avenzzano earthquake in Italy. A 6.7 earthquake hit that region the next morning, killing more than 30,000 people, including two of his sisters. He and his father were buried in the rubble of their church as they attended Mass that morning.
A man with a bloody face, who young Emidio Petracca didn’t recognize as a relative or friend, pulled him from the rubble to safety. Fifty years later, as a Capuchin priest, while visiting the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello for the first time, he recognized the face of the man on the miraculous veil as the same man who saved him from the rubble. As Padre Domenico knelt before the holy relic “Il Volto Santo,” he exclaimed, “This is the man who saved me from the rubble!” He asked to be transferred to the shrine and remained at the Shrine as Rector until the time of his death.
Like his friend and fellow Capuchin, St. Padre Pio, the humble Padre Domenico was also a mystic and stigmatist who had extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit; such as the gift of “reading souls” and bi-location. Penitents who traveled from Manoppello to go to confession with Padre Pio were admonished by him for traveling such a distance when they already had a holy priest in Manoppello. He told them, ” Why did you come all the way here, so far? You’ve got a priest there, my spiritual son, he’s like me!” St. Padre Pio’s last documented case of bi-location, just before he died, was before the relic of the Holy Face of Jesus at the shrine of “Il Volto Santo” in Manoppello, where Padre Domenico was the rector. Padre Pio had told his fellow Capuchins that the Holy Face of Manoppello was the greatest relic of the Church.
In September of 1968, as Padre Pio lay dying in San Giovanni Rotundo (which is about 200 km south of Manoppello in Italy), his friend Padre Domenico da Cese had just unlocked the doors of the shrine of the Holy Face one morning, and was astounded to find Padre Pio in prayer, in the choir behind the altar before the sacred image of the Face of Jesus. St. Padre Pio spoke then to Padre Domenico saying, “I do not trust myself any more. I am coming to an end. Pray for me. Good-bye until we meet in Paradise.” Twenty-four hours later St. Padre Pio died in his cell in San Giovanni on September 23, 1968. Testimony was later given by witnesses that Padre Domenico da Cese was seen at Padre Pio’s funeral (another case of bi-location). A film was even taken (here) which shows Padre Domenico walking slowly in Padre Pio’s funeral procession, even though Padre Domenico had never left the shrine in Manoppello.
Padre Domenico shared with everyone his ardent love and devotion for the Holy Face of Manoppello, also known as “Il Volto Santo” — a miraculous veil which transmits supernatural beauty, and at the same time indescribable suffering. It is the Face of Mercy, Love and Peace. He would tell pilgrims, “This face is that of Jesus, and it is a great miracle, always love him.” Padre Domenico had done much research on the sheer byssus veil, the image of which is not made with any paint or pigment, and compared the iridescent quality of the colors to the wings of butterflies which also reflect iridescent color naturally. He also made studies of the Face on the Shroud of Turin, and its similarities to the Holy Face of Manoppello. He believed with all his heart that it was the face of the same man, and he was convinced that, like the Shroud of Turin, the Veil of Manoppello was one of the many burial cloths in Jesus’s tomb–the holy sudarium which covered the Face of Jesus in death–and also miraculously bears witness to His Resurrection.
In September of 1978 while visiting Turin to venerate the Holy Face on the Shroud during a rare exposition, Padre Domenico, who was a giant of a man, was hit by the smallest car, a Fiat, as he was stepping out into a street. After suffering for several days in a hospital, and forgiving the man who had hit him, he died on September 17th, offering his life for the Holy Face on the Veil–the Face of the man who saved him as a child.
To learn more about his incredible life and passionate love for the Holy Face you can watch this wonderful video of his life, “The Long Road of Fr. Domenico, from Cese to Turin” by clicking here.
“I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me. Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25)
It seems fitting that Jim McIngvale was born in 1951 on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes–February 11th–the date on which Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception appeared to a poor girl named Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, in 1858. The message of Lourdes is forever associated with prayer, suffering, penance, and water–LOTS of water–a symbol of God’s grace and love. Jim McIngvale is a man who will be forever associated with prayer, suffering, penance, and lots of water, but also with God’s grace and love. While few people know him by his given name, millions of people throughout the South recognize his other name, “Mattress Mack.” He is a Catholic business man, who opened the doors of his furniture stores in Houston to shelter and feed the cold, wet, dirty, and exhausted evacuees who were rescued from the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
It was not the first time “Mattress Mack” came to the aid of “the least” who were in dire need. He also fed and sheltered people who evacuated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He gave jobs to some of those evacuees, who still work for him today, changing their lives dramatically for the good. For twenty years he has donated furniture to the poor at Christmas. When asked about his charitable works, he humbly replied, “I was raised Catholic. I continued my Catholic faith through my life, trying to do the right thing and you can help people along the way.”
“You did it to Me”
I recently came across a photo of “Mack” smiling behind one of his sofas. (photo here) On the wall directly behind him was a quote from Mother Teresa, “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” St. Teresa of Calcutta expressed this “extraordinary love” by orienting her life towards an encounter with Jesus, to see Jesus in the face of those in need. Mother Teresa’s whole being was directed toward this encounter with Jesus in the poor. There is only one Mother Teresa and only one “Mattress Mack,” but each one of us is called to perform works of mercy for the persons that God places in our lives, so that we too may each become a sign of God’s grace and love to others.
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”–Mother Teresa
“Seeking the Face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.” –St. Teresa of Calcutta
If it is true that the goal of a Christian is not only to behold God’s Face one day in Heaven, but also to bring with us as many souls as possible in our lifetime, then Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., was a true Christian. Holiness begets holiness in others. Both St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Josemaria Esciriva were each inspired by Fr. Doyle, a little-known Irish Jesuit priest, who in a powerful yet humble way guided each saint on the path to holiness. Fr. Willie was an Irish Military Chaplain, who was killed in action during one of the worst battles of World War I on August 16th, 1917, on the muddy, bloody battlefield of Ypres, after having run “all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy,” one hundred years ago. But his story is just beginning to come to come to light and inspire many, many other souls who are also seeking God’s Face.
Fr. Willie was beloved by all the men he served, ministering to exhausted soldiers of all faiths or none, with little or no sleep himself and at great personal sacrifice. There was little food, and no relief, sometimes stretching many weeks. He suffered along with the other soldiers from the cold, waist-deep mud that filled stagnant trenches, suffered gas-attacks and all the horrors of war. Fr. Willie risked his own life at every moment, administering absolution, anointing with oil faces which were so smashed by shells that they were barely recognizable as men, and then burying the dead. Once, though sick himself, he laid face down in the mud of a trench, in order that a sick doctor could get a little sleep by lying on Fr. Doyle’s back. On the last day of his life he was seen running back and forth across the battlefields giving absolution to dying men, until finally being hit by a shell himself.
But, surprisingly it wasn’t Fr. Doyle’s battlefield heroism that inspired Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who learned of this holy priest when she was a young nun, as recounted in the book about her life, Come Be My Light. Nor were his great mortifications and ultimate self-sacrifice noted in the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva. They were both inspired by something most people would consider inconsequential: the smallest sacrifice of giving up butter on his bread and sugar in his tea; sacrifices Fr. Doyle considered intolerable.
St. Josemaria wrote to a friend of an example that set him on the road to sainthood; known as “The Butter Battle.” “We were reading–you and I–the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. [Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J.] And we saw him fight whole months and years at breakfast time: today he won, tomorrow he was beaten…He [Fr. Doyle] noted: ‘Didn’t take butter…; did take butter!’ I have read quickly the life of Fr. Doyle: how well I understand the butter tragedy.” [For St. Josemaria, his own battle was the small sacrifice of not reading the newspapers.]
Fr. Doyle, who was born the same year as St. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus, was himself inspired by her “Little Way.” And he was determined to follow it, by “doing little things for God with great love”:
“Kneeling at the grave of the Little Flower, I gave myself into her hands to guide and to make me a saint. I promised her to make it a rule of my whole life, every day without exception, to seek in all things my greater mortification, to give all and refuse nothing. I have made this resolution with great confidence, because I realize how utterly it is beyond my strength; but I feel the Little Flower will get me the grace to keep it perfectly.”
He did not ask God for the courage to perform great acts of heroism, but instead begged earnestly for the grace to give up butter, sugar in his tea, salt and other little things. “How many deceive themselves,” Fr. Doyle wrote, “in thinking sanctity consists in the ‘holy follies’ of the saints! How many look upon holiness as something beyond their reach or capability, and think that it is to be found only in the performance of extraordinary actions. Satisfied that they have not the strength for great austerities, the time for much prayer, or the courage for painful humiliations, they silence their conscience with the thought that great sanctity is not for them, that they have not been called to be saints. With their eyes fixed on the heroic deeds of the few, they miss the daily little sacrifices God asks them to make; and while waiting for something great to prove their love, they lose the countless little opportunities of sanctification each day bears within its bosom.”
“Self-love,” wrote Fr. Doyle, “is our own greatest enemy.” Little things are of great importance to God. It was through being “faithful to God in little things,” those small sacrifices, that he was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, which is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Fr. Doyle knew better than anyone the value of making those small sacrifices of love that become mighty weapons in the hand of the Living God — and He will win the war!
With her great reverence for the thirst of Jesus on the Cross, and the desire to seek His Face everywhere, it is possible that Mother Teresa may have found inspiration when she read the following passage in Fr. Doyle’s diary:
“The greatest thirst of Jesus on the Cross was His thirst for souls. He saw then the graces and inspirations He would give me to save souls for Him… In what way shall I correspond and console my Savior? I went on to ________ and once more had an opportunity of a quiet prayer before the life-sized crucifix in the church which I love so much. I could not remain at His feet but I climbed up until both my arms were around his neck. The figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and as I clung to Him I knew He has won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked.” –Fr. William Doyle, S.J.
Just in time to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Fr. Willie’s death, there is a new book available, on the inspiring life of Fr. Doyle, his writing and war letters compiled by Patrick Kenny, To Raise the Fallen, which may be found by clicking (here). If you are interested in reading more about the life of Fr. Doyle be sure to visit this wonderful blog dedicated to to Fr. Doyle: Remembering Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J.