Chapter 2 – Work
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Children are often accused of idleness, and as a matter of fact it is a frequent failing with them. Seldom can children be held up to others as examples for being industrious. At the same time it must be admitted that the idleness of children is not an absolute neglect of work. They work, but how do they do their work? Many do it reluctantly, they do not like work. Very often they only work under pressure, or under threat of punishment, or, at least, to avoid censure, only desiring to finish as soon as possible, and to resume play and pastime. Now such work, although better than absolute idleness, is, nevertheless, a sort of idleness in disguise. Besides, it usually is unsatisfactory work, negligently done, never fully accomplishing the task, but only part of it.
You do learn your lessons, but you often do not know them as well as you should; you do write your exercises, but often hurriedly, a mere scribble, with bad penmanship and faulty spelling, probably leaving some of the work unfinished. This is the way in which you give in to idleness, although possibly it is not this kind of idleness for which you are most frequently censured.
The cause of your idleness is that you have an instinctive dislike of work, although you may be doing it, consequently the great remedy for your idleness would be to become not only resigned to work, as an unavoidable necessity, but to become even fond of it for its own sake, as something good.
Do you wish me to impart to you the secret how to become fond of work? It is not much of a secret, and I will tell you all about it.
The first means to become fond of work is to look upon work as a blessing from God.
It is often said that work is a punishment; this is true only to a certain extent.
Do we not read in the Bible that Adam after having been created by God was placed in the garden Eden in order to work there? He had not yet sinned then, he was innocent and pure, and work, therefore, was not imposed as a punishment. In work there is indeed a large proportion of blessing and sweetness, although mixed with a certain amount of distress and labor as the consequences of sin. It is, however, a fact that in your work you look as a rule only at that which makes it hard and unpleasant and that is the reason why you do not like it. If instead of this you will look and examine and see that it is sweet and beneficial, you will end up liking it.
To begin with, work will save you from weariness. Supposing that you were exempted from work, what would you do? You would play. But at eh end of an hour or two, would not play itself lose all interest for you? What then would the result be if you had nothing to do but to play all blessed day long? OR perhaps you would read. Yet, at your age, one tires of reading much sooner than of playing. What would there be left for you but to wander about, not knowing what to do, a prey to dissatisfaction and utter weariness? Ah, then indeed you would call work to your aid, and even welcome it with joy, as a blessing. Think this over, and cherish your work as a remedy against dissatisfaction and weariness.
Work, furthermore, protects you from sin: there is not a bad thought, no matter how wicked, that will not find plenty of idle minds willing to receive it. Idle heads and hearts are like uncultivated fields where the soil is never tilled or sown, and where rank weeds may flourish at leisure. The lazy child, in order to escape the weariness that has taken possession of him, and because he must needs have something to interest him, will probably rather do wrong than right, because wrong is done so much more easily. The child who works earnestly, on the contrary, has neither the inclination nor the time to listen to the wicked suggestions of the evil one; his faculties are all occupied, and if bad thoughts knock at the door there is no one to answer and they cannot gain admittance. O, what a blessing is work! And while idleness has drawn many children into all kinds of sin, has caused them to grow up to become criminals, to spend their lives in prison, or even to suffer for their crimes the awful death decreed by law, how many, on the contrary , have been preserved and saved by work.
Therefore, my dear children, love your work, be cheerful and alert about it, as one taking refuge under a shelter where he will be perfectly safe from the wickedness of his enemies; be fond of work for this very reason.
Work not only preserves us from weariness and protects us from sin, but it is in itself a real and great gratification. You will perhaps tell me that it never appeared to you in that light. Well, this would be a proof that you have never worked thoroughly, for when we work in earnest and with our whole strength, when we enter into our work heart and soul, we most certainly earn from it great contentment. In working we are no longer our own masters, we are completely engrossed in what we are doing, the mind is so interested that time passes without our being aware of it. It is for this reason that men studying, or experimenting in their laboratories, sometimes spend days and nights at their work without heeding the passing of time, they hardly take the time to sleep or eat, and as soon as possible return eagerly to their books, or their experiments.
Work, therefore, has many great advantages, and is productive of much good; you should look at it from this point of view, and not regard it merely as an unpleasant duty.
Another reason why you should like work, induces me to refer to the particular position in which you find yourselves at this time; you are soon to make you first Holy Communion. Bear in mind that there is an infallible means to prepare your hearts thoroughly for this great act and to render them worthy of Jesus, and this means is work. This will in all probability astonish you at first, and you may be unable to perceive the relation between your first Communion and your daily work. How can your compositions, your problems in arithmetic, your lessons in history and geography, contribute in any way towards your preparation for first Holy Communion? It is nevertheless so, and simple enough, because all this is the duty of your state of life.
Remember that we do not become holy by prayer alone, nor by other devotional practices alone. God requires more than mere flowers and leaves. He requires fruit, that is to say, works. You have read the parable of the servant who buried the talent received from his master in the earth for fear of losing it. “Thou evil and slothful servant,” the Lord said to him, “thou shalt be punished.” Good intentions suffice not, each one must do his work. Your work, your particular duty, is the daily work required of you by parents and teachers, and if you do not accomplish this, all your devotion is but a pretense, all your good desires and intentions will count as nothing in God’s eyes. If, however, you work faithfully in order to please him, each one of your days will be a fit gift to offer to Him, your merits will be increased, and divine graces will be showered upon your soul. Therefore you should like your work, as one of the chief means of attaining for your soul the blessing of a good first Communion.
Finally, another means for gaining a fondness for work, and one simple to practise, is to apply yourself to your work promptly without dawdling, without pondering over its difficulties and without anticipating the fatigue which the work may have in store for you. Nothing paralyzes our efforts so much as calculating beforehand all the trouble which work may cost us, and this is what a great number of children are in the habit of doing. If they have three or four lessons to learn, they begin to figure out what time, what trouble it will take to do this, they doubtfully turn the leaves over one after another. Three, four hours of work, how tiresome! Much time is lost in reflections, possibly more than the time needed to learn one of the lessons, and furthermore, this tardiness deprives you of what little courage you had, so that you finally set to work with dislike and lack of interest.
Begin your work promptly, on the moment, without paying heed to dislikes, and as soon as you have begun, this disagreeable feeling will wear away. This disagreeable feeling resembles the unpleasant sensation which you have when going into cold water for a bath, it is a matter of a few instants only, and soon you find the water delightful, and not at all disagreeable.
The three means to become fond of work are therefore: (I) to remember that it is a great blessing; (2) to remember that it is a duty; (3) to remember that promptness in undertaking work will quickly overcome the dislike for it.
This is the secret of becoming fond of work. I tell you the means, that you may make use of them, and that you may strive to like your work. Regard work as your friend, whose hands are filled with abundant good, take pleasure in its society, be faithful to it, and it will never fail to be your most faithful and helpful friend.