Training for Life's Work and Play
In the preceding
chapter, we considered the Christian idea of work. We saw how this idea means,
practically, that we can each in our own degree and way, work with Christ
in His four-fold work of making, ruling, teaching and uniting men to God;
that we can work for Christ by serving Him in serving one another's needs;
and by this service, if it is true service, on however humble a level, we
can help to build up His kingdom, both by the merit of our charity and by
the objective effects of our work itself. How can we, then, best communicate
this idea of work to our children and how can we best train them for it?
The first means must surely be to try to give them an ever-increasing
appreciation of the sacrament of Confirmation. When the children are still
quite young, we could, perhaps, ask our pastor to show us the actual Holy
Oils as they are treasured in our parish church, and to explain the use of
each. The children have already been anointed with the Oil of Catechumens
and with Holy Chrism at Baptism; and we could tell even those who are small
something of the meaning of these anointings; of why oil is used, of why
a fragrant perfume is added to the oil to make Chrism, and so on. The children
have already experienced many of the various uses of oil in daily life; it
should not be too hard to give them the basic idea of sacramental anointings.
Then we could take the opportunity of the blessing of the Holy Oils each
Holy Thursday to go over with the children the glorious prayers of the
Consecration of Chrism (and of the other Oils as well), and, when it is
practical, we could attend the Bishop's Mass in our Cathedral.
Again, we can do whatever is needful to supplement the instruction each child
is given for the reception of the sacrament itself. We can emphasize the
spiritual dignity and responsibility and maturity which Confirmation implies.
And we can also emphasize its dynamic quality, that it gives them the right
and makes them able to do special things for Christ.
In particular we can begin to show them that this glorious sacrament "penetrates
them through and through with Christ's kingly, priestly, and prophetic
honor...clothes them with the robes of special office" (Consecration of Holy
Chrism) so that they can share in Our Lord's work of ruling and teaching
and of the lay priesthood.
We can here begin to show them the connections between their daily jobs,
their small responsibilities to each other, their participation in the Mass,
with the effects of this sacrament. We can also go over the text of the
administration of the sacrament of Confirmation and show them how these Gifts
of the Holy Spirit which they are to receive are the special equipment that
they need for living and working as grown-up Christians, in, with, and for
And each anniversary of a child's Confirmation can also be used to deepen
the lessons of the great day itself, to integrate these lessons with all
the new experiences and responsibilities of the past year. In particular
we can try to connect the sacrament practically in their minds with their
daily work, with their lessons, with all their training for the future, and,
as they grow older, with their ideas of what their life's work might be.
Is young John, for example, age 14, trying to cooperate with the gift, let
us say, of counsel? When he doesn't know what to do in a given situation,
does he raise his mind and heart, does he think of asking the Holy Spirit?
Does he then take all the prudent human means of consulting parents or older
friends about how to face a similar situation in the future, and then ask
the Holy Spirit to give him a greater share in the gift of counsel for the
next occasion? Is he studying his religion lessons so as to cooperate as
fully as possible with the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding
and knowledge, so that later on the Spirit of Love will be able to use him
to tell other people about the wonderful works of God?
Perhaps the anniversary of each child's Confirmation could be used in such
a way for a kind of personal check-up on the use of the graces of this sacrament,
while during the novena for the great feast of Pentecost and the feast itself,
the whole family could cultivate an appreciation of the sacrament of Confirmation
and of its wonderful practical effects in our lives.
But, of course, none of this will be of much value to our children if we
ourselves are not trying to show the effects of Confirmation in our own daily
living and working, if we mothers and fathers are not trying to work with
and for Christ in whatever we do, as we share in His priestly, kingly, and
As far as we mothers are concerned, it is not very hard for us to see how
we ought to go about the day's work; the difficulty lies in trying actually
to do it that way. For in our lives with our family, in our housework, in
whatever we do over and above for our parish and our community, we women
are usually concerned with meeting basic human needs, providing basic human
services for people whom we personally know and love.
We can easily see, then, how our day's work consists of the whole four-fold
work of mankind, the four-fold work of Christ. We share in His work of making
by means of all our housework; we share in His work as Prophet as we answer
the children's endless questions, in His work as Ruler when we discipline
and train them. We can easily see how we are working for Christ in His members,
in our husband, children, and neighbors. And we can see also how we are working
to build up His kingdom by assisting our husbands in their life-work and
by helping to build up and educate His future co-workers, our children.
Our difficulty is, of course, actually to carry out our work every day in
the spirit and manner which this all implies. But, surely, some effort to
think about the real significance of all the jobs we are doing, and much
prayer to our Lady and St. Joseph, will help us to give that example of a
Christian at work which our children should be finding in us.
As the children grow older, while we give them explicitly the ideal of Christian
work, we can, perhaps, correct the inevitable defects of our example by giving
them also some understanding of our own special difficulties--physical weakness,
previous lack of training, etc.--as well as of our weakness and sinfulness,
which have prevented us from fully realizing the ideal.
The father's part of this task of giving an example of Christian work is
far more difficult than the mother's, yet it is, in many ways, even more
important. For if the breadwinner of the family is doing his best with the
help of God to win the bread in a Christian way, then the children will easily
realize that integral Christian living in the real world is possible; that
the effort to re-establish all things in Christ is a realistic program for
every Christian; that man's chief channel for that effort can be and should
be his own daily job. But if the father is not even considering his own work
in such a light, it must be very difficult for the mother to feel that in
being his "helpmate" she is helping Christ, and it would be doubly difficult
to show the children how a real man can be Christ's co-worker within the
frame of ordinary work and life.
One aspect of a father's task, then, would seem to be the work of examining
his own job or profession in the light of Christian principles of work, to
consider seriously how he personally might carry out his work in a more fully
Christian way; and, how he might, on however small a scale, begin to work
to bring about the changes in the whole set-up or profession which would
make it more possible or more easy for everyone concerned in it to work in
a more fully Christian way.
One of the best ways of undertaking this task would be, surely, wherever
it is possible, to gather together any like-minded men in one's neighborhood
to discuss together the problems of each man's job or profession in the light
of the principles of Christian work.13
Another and most important means of communicating the Christian idea of work
to our children is by our own habits and methods of purchasing goods and
services. It is, of course, impossible to be perfectly consistent as a Christian
purchaser in today's world. But we can at least try, with the money and time
and energy at our disposal, to patronize preferably those workmen on every
level who are on the way toward Christian norms, rather than those who are
working against these norms. Already, for example, most of us are aware of
our duty not to patronize industries and stores which allow bad working
conditions, wages, and so on, if we know about it; and we could make it our
business to find out more about such matters.
We could also begin to consider the fact, admitted by anyone with much experience
in the retail field, that almost every "bargain" means that somebody is getting
cheated out of a just wage or price; or that one customer is paying for another
customer's advantage; or that the purchaser is simply not getting a bargain
at all, even though it is labeled as one. We can begin to take a good look
at the "I'll get it for you wholesale" or the "I'll give you a good discount
on that" type of salesmanship, and see what they imply all down the line
from first producer to final consumer.14
We could, perhaps, spend at least the same amount of time as we now spend
in hunting bargains in trying to find out where we can buy good things, produced
by people who are really trying to do good work and serve their neighbor's
needs. We could try to patronize the stores that, so far as we can tell,
really try to give real service rather than talk about it; and to avoid those
which clearly pander to vice by selling obscene magazines and comics, etc.,
and also those whose avowed policy is to drive all competitors out of the
neighborhood or field in order to make more profits for themselves. And we
could try to apply such a policy all up and down the line of the goods and
services we need: in choosing our doctor, our lawyer, our banker, our investments
(if any!) and so on.
Such a buying policy might seem to involve an impossible drain on the ordinary
family's budget. But, as a matter of fact and in most cases, it would actually
work out to the economic benefit of a family, since, for one thing, consistent
purchasing at stores whose chief aim is to make profits for their owners,
results in the customer's getting less than his money's worth over the years.
The family purchasing policy recommended here is certainly more in accord
with the Christian idea of work (let alone of justice and charity) than is
the policy of getting things as cheaply as possible for the benefit of one's
own family (or community for that matter) at the expense of other families
and other people. To try to buy in a Christian way is also in accord with
the Christian idea of poverty, for it will mean that we have fewer and better
things than if we always buy what is cheapest and easiest to get.15
We need, then, to try to give our children the Christian idea of work, especially
in connection with the sacrament of Confirmation (and, obviously, with taking
part in the Mass); we need also to give them this idea by means of our own
example, both as workers and as patrons of other people's work. And besides,
we need to make sure that the children's education includes basic training
in all the four types of work, and in the Christian way of carrying them
out as skillfully as possible for the love of Christ in our neighbor.
Every whole life, every vocation, every profession and most jobs require
some skill in all four kinds of work, with the emphasis on one or two. Everyone
needs to know how to make and to do a number of things, as well as how to
share natural and supernatural truth with others, and how to exercise authority.
And every Christian needs to know the basic skills of his lay priesthood,
in particular how to take full and active part in the Mass (including what
comes after the Ite Missa est), how to pray with the Church, how to continue
all his life to grow in Christ by taking part in the liturgy.
We owe it to our children, then, to make sure that they get basic training
in making and doing, in communicating and having something to communicate,
in exercising authority, and in acting as members of the royal priesthood
of the Church. For if we do not, our children will be less able to choose
their life-work rightly, not knowing their own chief abilities; and they
will be crippled in carrying out their life- work since they will not enter
on it as well-rounded, complete co-workers with Christ.
How handicapped is the mother or father, for example, who never learned before
marriage the fundamental skills involved in housekeeping and house-keeping-up,
or who has never learned how to exercise any kind of authority until required
to do so by the inescapable necessity of managing small children!
What, then, will this four-fold training involve in the pattern of daily
family life? First of all, that we do not leave the children's religious
education entirely to "Sister," but make sure ourselves, as she cannot, that
our children are really learning to take part in the Mass, to pray both formally
and informally, to understand God's truth in such a living fashion that they
can begin to communicate it to others.
Again, we can plan how to give each of the children some chance to "run"
things, to exercise authority over others, in carrying out household jobs
or family projects, so that we can help them to learn what authority should
mean--the good of the job and of one's fellow workers--and give them some
real training and practice in exercising it during all their formative
We need also to plan how best to give the children some basic training in
all the major forms of human communication: speaking, writing, the fine arts,
dancing; as well as in gathering the knowledge and wisdom necessary in order
to have something worth communicating to one's neighbor.
And we need to see that they gain the basic skills in making and doing required
for ordinary human living, cooking, cleaning, washing, mending, repairing,
care of animals, etc. We need also to make the effort to see that the children
do whatever they are doing as thoroughly and as well as is possible under
the circumstances; and that they do and learn to do things thoroughly and
well, as far as possible, for the sake of Christ and for the sake of other
people rather than simply for self-satisfaction or self-improvement.
At first sight, this may well seem like an impossible program for any parents
even to begin to carry out. But when we begin to consider what it would involve
in actual practice, we see that in trying to make sure that the children
are being thus fully prepared for Christian life and work, we shall be at
least on the way toward solving various other major problems of family life,
perhaps the very problems which make such a complex program at first seem
out of the question.
For one thing, the more we succeed in training the children to exercise due
authority and to assume due responsibility in family life, the less squabbling
will there be, and the less will we have to bear the whole weight of
responsibility. Again, the more we succeed in teaching the children how to
do household tasks reasonably well, the less will our own energy be overtasked
by having to do everything ourselves. And, in so far as we can ourselves
teach our children the basic skills involved in human making and communication,
we will be solving also the problems of family recreation and of training
the children in habits of Christian play.
The habit of reading that fosters a knowledge and love of truth, real
imagination, the knowledge and skillful use of words, for example, or drawing,
painting, making pottery or "sculping," singing, dancing, making up stories
and plays, acting, carpentry work, gardening, etc.,-- all of these skills
are tools both for working and playing, depending on what they are done for
and how they are done. Of course, we cannot ourselves teach our children
how to do all these things well, but we can at least let them try to work
with us, not only in sweeping and dusting and tidying, but in making essential
repairs, trying to grow our own vegetables, or whatever naturally interesting
family project may be under way. And we can also do something to give the
children whatever slight skill we may be able to recover from our own childhood,
if we have no more, in singing and painting and so on, so that they may at
the same time learn the basic skills of artistic communication, the basic
skills of grown-up play, and, actually be playing with us (as well as learning
how to play without us).
One difficulty here is, of course, that most of us have to contend with our
own long-established bad habits of seeking distraction in some more or less
passive form of entertainment rather than in true recreation. Work and play
are the same for the Wisdom of God: "I was with Him forming all things, playing
before Him at all times." But for us human beings, work is basically
differentiated from play by the fact that in working we have a motive beyond
the activity itself (to serve our own or others' needs, to build up the kingdom
of God, to do a good job, to earn a living) while in playing we have no other
explicit, conscious motive than that of doing for fun what we are doing.
And for us, fallen children of Adam, work also involves drudgery (conscious
effort sus- tained far beyond the point of interest or delight) whereas play
Play or recreation, however, should not be primarily passive, any more than
should work. We are made in the image of God who is pure Act. We are made
primarily to act; rest is only necessary because of the weakness of our physical
nature. Recreation and play should, therefore, delightfully exercise our
powers, especially those which are mainly unused by our day's work.16
It would seem, then, that the more passive the form of entertainment or
recreation, the less it has any legitimate place in normal living. The proper
role of most "good" or "harmless" television shows, radio programs, detective
stories, movies, etc., is that of soothing, amusing and entertaining invalids
or shut-ins or very elderly people, or those who are so completely exhausted
by inhuman forms of work or the inhuman strains of modern life that they
do not have the energy for true re-creation.
Here is another difficulty about any sort of family play: most of us parents
think that we are in this last condition. But let us make sure that there
is nothing that we can do to increase our energy (such as getting to bed
early two or three nights a week), before we entirely give up the idea of
trying to play with our children!
A more serious objection is that most of us suffer in one way or another
from that American snobbishness of "I never could draw a straight line...I
just can't sing a note..." which we ourselves were trained to think sufficient
excuse for not being fully human, not possessing some of the basic skills
of all mankind. And the greatest difficulty of all lies in the habits and
ways of thought of our whole modern society, of which the children will feel
the pressure more and more increasingly as they grow up.
But we can all do something, beginning with the natural talents and with
the already existing interests of ourselves and the children; and we can
try to make their increasingly active interests call on new and greater skills
of various kinds. The ideal, of course, is to center the family's work and
play and acquisition of skills on the daily and seasonal liturgy, and so
grow up integrally in wisdom and age and grace. To celebrate a feast or fast
by special household work, singing special songs, praying special prayers,
acting out some relevant scene, etc...., all this makes the most truly integrated
and Christian method of family life and training.
Too many of us, certainly, simply cannot imagine ourselves or our children
(especially teen-age children) being willing or able to live consistently
according to such a program. But we can all start from wherever we and the
children are, and from their already existing interests, and try to begin
from there to make our recreation truly re-creative.
And there is another vitally important effect of proper training in work
and play, an effect which is so essential to the children's future Christian
lives that no effort can be too great to achieve it. This is that the children
retain and continue to grow in enjoyment of doing, and of doing for others.
Children are naturally participants in, not passive spectators of, worship
and work and play. Many of the forces bent on the destruction of Christianity
are out to destroy this natural tendency, to make passivity and enjoyment
seem inseparable, to make normal activity of body or mind seem unnatural
and disagreeable, so that human nature may be remoulded to the image of a
machine, instead of to that of God, who is pure Act.
One of our special responsibilities as parents today is, then, to see to
it that our children's natural interest in real and rightful doing receives
its proper nourishment, encouragement and guidance; that we do not let it
die out for lack of something to do or for lack of materials and training,
or be smothered out of existence by a surfeit of passively-enjoyed
For example, how many a small child's desire to sing has been murdered by
some teacher who told him to keep quiet because he had a voice like a crow.
The teacher wanted her chorus to "sound well" to the other teachers and to
parents, when she should have wanted all her pupils to learn to use their
voices as God intended, for His praise and their own joy. Or, again, how
many a child's normal desire to paint and draw has died an unnatural death
because he "had no talent," as his teachers or parents thought, and so was
given no help at the critical age when he began to care how his productions
looked to himself and to other people.
How many a young gardener or cook has been thwarted by lack of his parent's
interest and help, because it was easier for them to do things by themselves
than to teach him to help. When their normal desire to do things is frustrated,
both children and grown-ups take refuge in passivity and escapism, or in
vandalism (which is a form of escapism), or worse; and the means of taking
refuge are all too easy to find today.
Since this is true in worship and in work and in play, let us encourage our
children by every means our ingenuity can suggest, in every sphere, to become
"doers of the word and not hearers only." Nor need we fear that in so doing
we shall turn our children into mere activists. On the contrary, training
in true, purposeful, skillful, charitable action is the best possible preparation
for true contemplation. It is training in passive inaction which leads to
purposeless, nervous over-activity. How can we expect the children to delight
in Him who is pure Act, unless they learn to delight in human actions that
have the beauty of rightness and skill and charity?
The aim of all our home training in work and play, then, should be that the
children not only know how to go about the fundamental kinds of work and
the skills of human living, that they have the spiritual, emotional and physical
skills needed for truly human and Christian recreation, but, above all, that
they have never un-learned the lesson all children know, that real happiness
is to be found in true human action, not in "being amused."
And, beyond this, we need to encourage them to find their joy not only in
action, but in generous action. Some children know this instinctively; others
have to learn it by more or less difficult lessons all through the years
of their lives. But we can assist the work of grace by giving the children
the skills to be generous with; by showing them how to use them to give pleasure
to others; by making generosity seem the normal and happy quality it should
be in our family life; by rewarding a child's generosity with his things
or his time or his strength by our expression of gratitude, and by showing
him that his generosity makes it possible for us to be more generous to him.
By all these means, then, we will be laying the foundations for that highest
lesson which only God's grace can teach our children that the greatest joy
of all is to be found in "spending oneself and being spent for the sake of
the elect." If our children have begun to learn that lesson by the time they
reach maturity, then we need have no fears about their future, for they will
have the basic preparation for whatever form of Christ-like action that the
Lord has in mind for them.
1. What is the connection between the sacrament of Confirmation and work?
2. How do the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially counsel, help us in our
3. How does the work of the housewife fill the four-fold work of Christ?
4. List the basic responsibilities of parents for their children's development,
as outlined by the author.
5. Explain the difference between active and passive entertainment, and summarize
the author's attitude toward Passive recreation.
1. Review the author s evaluation of motives and methods of purchasing goods.
Is it true that bargains mean that "somebody is getting cheated" or else
that the bargain label is only a label? Is there room for improvement in
our methods and motives of purchasing? What might be the effects on children
if they observe failures in justice and charity in their parents in the economic
2. List practical suggestions for activity by the children (at the various
age levels) which will help them develop a Christian sense of responsibility.
Is it possible to put too much responsibility on children before they are
ready for it? to give them too little?
3. Discuss practical ways for enabling children to achieve active forms of
work and recreation to offset the temptation to be mere viewers of TV and
movies. What encouragement do we offer our children for group games? for
good reading? for dancing? playing musical instruments? Would it be possible
for like-minded Christian families to adopt an informal program so their
children could enjoy Christian recreation together?
4. Discuss ways and means of raising standards in regard to the quality of
things made and purchased. What should be done to develop an appreciation
for classical music for artistic paintings and statues and home furnishings?
What can be--suggested for raising the level of sacred art in the home?
5. Discuss the author's emphasis on the fact that Christian living is dominated
by the idea of enjoyment of doing, and of doing for others." What are the
sources of the Christian's joy? What natural and supernatural means are available
to aid the Christian family in achieving this joyous atmosphere?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals