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Of Diligence

This book was written in 1893 for Catholic young women, especially those who must work to earn their living. Although the circumstances may be different for us, the lessons taught are timeless…

Artist: Adolf Eberle, German | 1843 – 1914

GUIDE for CATHOLIC YOUNG WOMEN: Especially for Those who Earn Their Own Living by Father George Deshon, 1893

The great Apostle, St. Paul, when he stood before King Agrippa, gave an account of his conversion and labors. He says that at midday a great light from heaven shone around him exceeding the brightness of the sun, which struck himself and his companions to the ground, and that a voice spoke to him, telling him that he was chosen to open the eyes of the people who were in darkness, and to bring them to enjoy the lot of the saints in heaven.

Now he adds: “I was obedient to the heavenly vision, preaching everywhere to the Jews and the gentiles** (Acts xxvi. 19, 20).

We all know how he labored with his heart and soul, suffering pains, afflictions, fatigues, persecutions, almost passing belief, until he closed his eyes in death.

What was the reason he gave himself so little rest? It was because he was directed by the Lord to work, and because it was the Lord’s work he was doing.

Now, you have the same reason for diligence and painstaking in your work that St. Paul had in his. He was told to work by a voice from heaven. “He was not unmindful of the heavenly vision.”

You too have been told by a voice from heaven—the voice of the Holy Ghost—“Whatsoever ye do, do it from the heart, as to the Lord, and not to men. Knowing that ye shall receive from the Lord the reward of inheritance. Serve ye the Lord Christ*’ (Col. iii. 24).

This is the thought of all thoughts to be kept ever before the mind; which will give you strength and courage to do all that we should do, and to do it in the very best way.

Take, for example, a girl who has work to do from morning till night. Early in the morning of a washing-day she wakes up. There is a heap of clothes to wash; there is breakfast to get, and, it may be, the chief part of the work of a family to do. It will require all her time and strength to do it.

When she wakes up it seems a dismal prospect to her. “0h, dear! How I shall have to slave today!”

But now the thought comes, “For Jesus Christ, oh! do it cheerfully for His sake.” In an instant she is out of bed. “Oh, yes!” she says, “I could not be better employed.”

She draws water, makes the fire, and fills her kettles; there is not a bit of sulkiness or grumbling about it. One thing goes off after another. It is astonishing how this thought makes her do everything so easily and so well. Her appetite is good; and at night she goes to bed full of good health, and with the best conscience in the world.

Ah! this is the girl who has got the grand secret. Yes, my dear girls, if you want to be good and happy, be diligent. Make it a point of conscience not to neglect your work, nor to do it in a lazy or careless way.

It is a matter of conscience, for when you receive wages you are bound to give your labor in return. Look into the factory where hundreds of people are as busy as bees, and even there you will find many idlers. They say to themselves, “I don’t mean to kill myself working; I shall only get a day’s, wages anyhow”; so they dawdle over their work as much as they dare.

Others, who are paid by the actual work they do, slight it all they can, so as to get along faster and make a little more money at the end of the week, is not true diligence, but dishonest haste.

You are to discharge the office taken upon yourself in a perfect manner, or as it is expected that it should be done. And as the Lord will reward you for a faithful and diligent performance of it, so He will call you to account and judge you if you neglect it.

This is why the Scripture says we must not be “eye-servants.” What is an eye-servant? It is one, if I understand it, who does her duty when the employer’s eye is upon her, but who neglects it when her back is turned. One who is very plausible to one’s face; who says, “Oh, yes!” but who cannot be depended upon.

Such girls do not care; they love their own ease and comfort more than they love their plain duty, more than they love to please God.

Go into the kitchen where such a girl works. What do you see? Well, you may seldom see it in order. The floor is dirty; unwashed dishes and dirty clothes are lying around, when everything ought to be put away.

Breakfast, dinner, and supper are always behind-time. Then, you find the potatoes half boiled, or the meat burnt so that you cannot eat it. The table is half set.

The work is always done in a most slovenly manner, or not done at all. Such a girl is the occasion of a great deal of sin. She provokes ill-temper and defrauds her employers of what they had a right to expect from her.

The Scripture describes it well; “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to him that sent him.” (Prov. x. 25).

The mistress goes into the kitchen; there are her girls sitting down with their hands in their laps, talking with one another, or with an acquaintance that has come in.

There they have been a full half-hour, and everything behind-hand. It is enough to ruffle the temper of a saint.

Another girl is always running out to see the girl in the next house, leaving the dinner to take care of itself. Another has chamber-work to do and it is the same; until late in the morning all is in confusion.

If the children are to be cared for, the poor little things are not half dressed, they get bruised and thumped because they are not watched and attended to as they ought to be.

If several girls are living together, there is an everlasting strife as to whose business it is to do this or to do that, and half the work is not done, and every now and then the only thing to do is to clear out the whole set and get another.

Perhaps some poor innocent girl then has to suffer from the negligence of her companions.

Advantages of Diligence

Don’t be afraid of labor or trouble. The industrious girl will not have near as much work to do as the lazy and shiftless one.

Why? Because she manages so that her work is done with much less trouble. She goes right at it without allowing it ever to get the upper hand of her.

If a good deal is to be done in the morning, she gets things ready over-night. A great many things can be done better then than in the morning.

One girl will get up in the morning: there is the fire all out; no kindling-wood ready; the sticks all wet; the kettle to be filled with water; the coffee to be ground; the meat to be chopped; everything to be done. She says, “Dear me! There is no living in such a place as this. I don’t know where my head is, I’ve so much to do.”

Another girl, of more orderly habits, has had plenty of time over-night to make all these preparations. She has only to light a match, and in a minute has a good blazing fire; her breakfast is all ready to put on to cook; and without a bit of fuss or disturbance of mind it is ready at the moment.

So, from one year’s end to another, where such a girl is, there is peace and satisfaction all around, while with the other there is nothing but trouble and sorrow.

This girl has never too much to do, and does all well. The other is half the time overloaded with work, and does it half, while the rest of her time she is lazy and idle, and commuting sin right and left; for the old saying is true: “The devil finds work enough for idle hands to do.”

A person who performs her task, whatever it may be, with diligence and intelligence grows more and more perfect in it all the time. Look into the stores and factories and dress-making establishments, and these are the girls who are promoted in time to be the heads of departments, with others under their charge.

Who ever heard of an idler gaining promotion in the honest ranks of labor? Where is your true perfection and goodness? It is in your work.

You may think it is in your prayers, or in your hearing Mass, or in Confession, or in Communion. All these things are good, all these things are necessary, but your perfection is in your work.

Do your work well, and do it with the right intention, because it is your duty, and because it is God’s will you should do it, and you will be on the shortest road to perfection. All your prayers, all your confessions, all your communions, will avail little, if your conscience is not in your work.

In a nice little story I have read lately there is a character called Fanny. Now, Fanny was very pious, a monthly communicant. She said her Rosary every day, and must always be at church, particularly when anything extraordinary was going on.

One evening a celebrated man was to preach, and Fanny had set her heart on going. But, as it happened, at that very time company came in, and Fanny’s services were necessary; she could not go. Now there was a time of it. All her mildness, all her piety was gone. “She wouldn’t stand it, it was too bad!” and so on.

The fact is, Fanny’s piety was not very deep. She was, after all, more bent on pleasing herself than on pleasing God. She had an opportunity, by putting up with her disappointment and doing her work cheerfully, to gain more than by hearing a dozen sermons.

St. Zita, in her old age, used frequently to say that ”no servant is truly devout who is not laborious; and that a lazy piety, in persons of their condition, is a false piety.”

She practiced it herself up to the letter. Not a single moment of her time was unoccupied. She was always ready, when her own work was done, to help others; and as long as she was not done about the house, she never considered her task over.

That was the way. Every bit of her work was a prayer to God. It gave her no uneasiness that she could not retire to pray on her knees, or in the church, as long as work was to be done; her readiness, her cheerfulness, her fidelity in work, were all so many sacrifices of sweet odor to God, so many prayers proceeding from such an humble, child-like faith.

It was in this way that she brought down on herself those streams of grace that made her finally a saint, to be held in love and veneration throughout the church for all ages.

We have another beautiful example of diligence and attention in service in the life of a noble lady, Anne of Montmorency, written by Lady Georgiana Fullerton. The family of this lady were making preparations for her marriage, but she felt called by God to a different state of life—a state in which she could imitate the example of the Lord Jesus Christ more perfectly.

When she found all her entreaties of no avail, she left her father’s house at the tender age of fifteen. No one knew what had become of her. She took the name of Jane Margaret, and hired herself out to a lady in a country village.

The lady was so difficult in her temper that no other girl could remain with her. All the work fell on Anne to do; she was chambermaid, cook, and portress at the same time. Just think of that. A delicate young lady, always waited upon, never obliged to do anything in the way of hard work, of a high education and immense wealth, doing all this work! And she did it well, too.

For ten years she served in the utmost patience and fidelity. She overcame evil with good, so that when her mistress was dying, she called her to her bedside and begged her pardon for all she had made her suffer, and insisted on leaving her the sum of four thousand francs, in addition to her wages.

Anne accepted it after some hesitation, and gave it all to the poor. Think over this example, and get from it all the good it teaches so eloquently. If you, born of poor parents and used to hard work, complain and neglect your duties, and pass your time in idleness, let the thought of this delicate and refined lady, working so patiently in the kitchen so many years, shame you into better sentiments.

Let it encourage you to overcome your natural weakness and the snares of the devil, until you acquire habits of industry and of faithful attention to your duties.

Make this attempt in order to please God, and ask His help. He will not fail to give you abundant grace to accomplish it.

“It is wrong to deny one’s self all diversion. The mind becomes fatigued and depressed by remaining always concentrated in itself and thus more easily falls a prey to sadness. Saint Thomas says explicitly that one may incur sin by refusing all innocent amusement. Every excess, no matter what its nature, is contrary to order and consequently to virtue.” – Light and Peace, Quadrupani, 1793 (afflink)

Excellent sermon: Spiritual Fly Swatters…

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Because it’s rooted in experience, not in theory, nothing that Mrs. Newland suggests is impossible or extraordinary. In fact, as you reflect on your experiences with your own children, you’ll quickly agree that hers is an excellent commonsense approach to raising good Catholic children.

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