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Screwtape Letters Wk 7 of 7

July 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Screwtape Letters Week 7 of 7

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Men at Work

For ‘democracy’ or the ‘democratic spirit’ (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, morally flaccid from lack of discipline in youth, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and soft from lifelong pampering. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.  

One Democracy was surprised lately when it found that Russia had got ahead of it in science. What a delicious specimen of human blindness! If the whole tendency of their society is opposed to every sort of excellence, why did they expect their scientists to excel?  

It is our function to encourage the behavior, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. – The Screwtape Letters p. 206-207 (Screwtape Proposes a Toast, 5th and 6th Paragraph from the end of the book).

This passage covers so many bases, it’s difficult to pick just one. But the day after I read the above quote, an incident occurred in our back yard that caused me to think about the value of hard work.

For the past two weeks, our family has been refinishing our deck. To some degree, we’ve all gotten in on the work; but the majority effort has been made by my husband and fourteen-year-old son.

This past weekend, as our two workers were slaving away in the hot sun, a well-meaning neighbor stopped by to take a look at our progress. This is the neighbor, who, over the past few weeks, has had his deck torn down and rebuilt, his roof, windows, and siding replaced, and who plans to have stone installed over the “dated” brick facade at the front of his house.

He walked up the steps and looked around to gauge the work that had been done over the past week. Shaking his head, he said, “I have to hand it to you guys for all your efforts….but I must tell you, my way is much better.”

My husband – who didn’t skip a beat – smiled up at him and said, “You mean easier?”

Our neighbor was only being playful; but I know our son hung on to every word – filing it in the back of his mind to use as “Exhibit A” the next time we get into a discussion about the importance of hard work and self-discipline.

I’ll admit it. We have a very hard time teaching the intrinsic value of hard work to our kids. Perhaps it’s because – like other well-meaning parents – we remind them that what they achieve in life will be the direct result of how hard they’re willing to work. We tell them that if they want to enjoy a certain standard of living, they’d better be willing to put in the hours now. Essentially, we often remind them of the old adage, “No pain, no gain.”

We’re not so far off from scripture. Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”  

Unfortunately, while the bible does note the obvious – that hard work often results in a reward in this world – solely discussing work from this angle perpetuates a dangerous myth being spread by our culture.

What myth, you ask?

Myth:  Work is intrinsically related to materialism.

In our consumer society, work has become a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. As a result, work is often considered a necessary evil rather than something we look forward to. Think about it. We are a world that dreams of winning the lottery or inventing the next big thing so we can spend the rest of our lives reaping the profits while we enjoy the good life. We spend billions of dollars on tools, gadgets, and services intended to offer “convenience” (another word for – less work).

Rather than fulfill ourselves through our work each day, we muddle through, looking forward to the weekend. The Thank God it’s Friday/Oh, God, it’s Monday philosophy pervades virtually all of working society. We are a culture that LIVES for entertainment and relaxation.

If that’s the case, how can we be surprised when other countries surpass us in education or technological advances? How can we really give our all to our education or to our careers if we look at our efforts merely in terms of their material reward?

With window-shopping a click away on the internet, many of us spend our “off” time perusing Pinterest, and shopping for all those things we hope to obtain through our labor.  We spend more time in restaurants than we do at our kitchen table. We spend hundreds on cable television so we can become experts on the latest reality show and we know everything there is to know about the latest movies and music as well as the lives of every superstar out there (How many of you didn’t know that the Duchess had her baby Monday afternoon?) We play video games and we live on Instagram, Facebook, and email.

But we demean our work, and in the process, our souls, if we think that work is merely a necessary evil that allows us time and money to partake in the above activities.

The truth is that God intended for work to be much more than a mere “meal ticket.”

In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), Pope John Paul II explained that work is not just a human function, but an essential part of human nature. He says the following:

[Work] is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.”

The fact is, our work unites us to God by allowing us to partake in His creation in a way that only man can. And this view of work is key to our sanctification.  Through our work, we are each called to glorify God. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men…

Imagine what we would gain if we gave God our all during our work? Ironically, all that diligence would probably allow us to achieve great “material” wealth in God’s name if we applied it in the professional world.  But more importantly, imagine the effect on our souls if we perform every task with great passion! Saint Josemaría Escrivá said, “Work! When you are engrossed in professional work, the life of your soul will improve, and you’ll become more of a man…” (The Way, # 343). He advises, “Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work and you will have sanctified it(The Way, #359).

Seen in this light, work becomes an intrinsic good – a sacred activity in and of itself.

Now, if only I could convince my children to read Laborem Exercens…do you think they’d be quick to volunteer for our next home improvement project?


Reading Assignment:  None – Please use this week to find a copy of our next book – The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur (Beginning NEXT WEEK, and lasting approximately 10 weeks)

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you fall into the mentality that work merely serves an end, rather than recognizing its intrinsic good?  If so, what can you do about it?

2.  There were too many topics to discuss in this section – I think I highlighted just about everything!  Feel free to comment on anything from this past week!

3.  Now that we've finished The Screwtape Letters, what did you think of the book?  What was your favorite part?

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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