Diligence is a virtue; there are four major hindrances to performing our actions well.
The first hindrance is that while we are doing one thing, we are thinking of something else which we have to do or which we have done, so that our occupations interfere with one another, and none is well performed. The second hindrance is haste. The third is anxiety. The fourth is a desire to do too much.
The way to perform our actions well is to attend solely to the one at hand without thinking of others.
Sister Maria Crucifixa, the sacristan, cook, and refectorian in her convent, sometimes also had charge of the door and of the medicine room. She did everything well and still found time for contemplation.
Her method was that when she was in the sacristy, she said to herself, “Now be nothing but a sacristan”; and when she came out of the sacristy, she would say, “Now do not be a sacristan any longer.” She did the same with the rest of her charges.
St. Francis de Sales, St. Philip Neri, and St. Vincent de Paul accomplished so much in their lives, and yet they did nothing in haste. St. Francis de Sales said, “Let us go slowly, for if we do but keep advancing we shall thus go far.”
St. Philip Neri said, “You need not try to do everything in a day, or become a saint in a month. Prudence does not advise it.” St. Vincent de Paul said, “The works of God are performed, for the most part, little by little.”
St. Francis de Sales devoted a chapter in his work Introduction to the Devout Life (Pt. 3, Ch. X) to a warning about over-anxiety in our works.
“The bumble bee makes far more noise and is more bustling than the honey bee, but it makes wax only and no honey; just so those who are restless and eager, or full of noisy solicitude, never do much or well. Flies harass us less by what they do than by reason of their multitude, and so great matters give us less disturbance than a multitude of small affairs.
“Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only cumber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.”
The saint suggested: “When your ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators make for the haven they would attain by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon the deeps on which they sail.
“So doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your work will be blessed.”
Little, but well
St. Francis de Sales opposed the desire to do too much. According to Bishop Jean Pierre Camus, the saint taught: spiritual progress depends less on doing much than upon the spirit of love which prompts what is done; one good work done out of love is more worthy in God’s eye than many done out of indifference; the worth of any good work depends largely upon the purity of intention with which it is done.
St. Francis de Sales always encouraged people to undertake less, but to perform what they did undertake so as to attain the greatest possible perfection.