By Abbé P. Verdrie
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: 1912
As a Catholic mother of ten children, I cannot highly recommend this booklet enough! Having utilised this book for the education of a number of my children, as part of the ongoing attempts to help them grow in virtue, I can speak confidently and emphatically due to extensive personal experience.
In our household, this was incorporated into the day-to-day home-schooling lessons, by my first reading aloud of each chapter, spread over an appropriate number of sessions, followed by the children then being tested with either comprehension-style “question and answer” assignments, or essay writing in order to demonstrate their understanding of the material presented in this booklet. Also along the way, to close off each reading session, a series of oral questioning and group discussions as to how the suggestions and advice given by Abbé Verdrie could be practically applied in each of their lives, helped to maximise the efficacy of this study.
For those who don’t home-school their children, or haven’t the time to flesh this out in such a way, the book as a stand-alone is incredibly useful. Being written in a way that is designed for children to read themselves, they could simply be handed the book, and told to read it (make that: read it many times, perhaps on an annual basis, for a number of years) and it should prove very beneficial.
The back of the book states: “This booklet contains 14 chapters on various virtues to include Obedience, Work, Piety, Kindness, Mortification, Character, Christian Prudence, Friendship, Good Reading and others. The author speaks directly to the children using simple words they can understand and relate to, using stories to make it interesting.”
That being said, let’s expand on this so you can get a better idea of just how good it is: The fact that the opening instruction is the first Conference on “Obedience” (there is no Preface, no Introduction, nothing, but straight into a sermon, as it were, on obedience) as being the foundation of all the other virtues that a child must practice, is music to any Catholic parent’s ears (cue the sound effects of Palestrinaesque strains). The child is told, in no uncertain terms, that “All the perfection which we ask of you is contained in that one word that was written on that blackboard, Obedience.” Then after a brief explanation, a clear instruction is provided, beginning with: “There is a difficulty, however, that lies in the way of obeying, and it is a great one. To overcome it, remember that there are three qualities that make true obedience, and they are: You must understand, you must be willing, you must know how.” Then this is expanded upon at length before the next section which discusses the three ways of obeying which are bad and which should be avoided. Concluding with, “Be sure and avoid carefully all these defects. Obey promptly, cheerfully, silently, and then you may be quite certain of God’s blessing, and, as Holy Scripture says, obedience will gain for you victory.” Deeply impressing advice, this is, which applies equally to us adults as to our children!
The remainder of the conferences are presented in a similar vein, and all readers, parent and child alike, will be invigorated in their zealous pursuit of virtue. The second chapter on “Work” is an appropriate follow-on from the foundational “Obedience” and this chapter could be revisited with profit when any “phlegmatic-style” deviations are observed to have crept into any members of one’s household. The next chapter on “Piety” is ever-useful - and the important distinction which is patently imprinted on their minds, between true piety and false piety, is absolutely crucial. The conference on “Kindness” demonstrates in a beautiful and appealing manner the attractiveness of this attribute. The chapter titled, “Little Apostles” attacks front-on the mean fault of selfishness. If only this entire generation of children would be so inspired to the practice of kindness and selflessness, to which this booklet exhorts the reader to aspire, this era of rampant narcissism would be radically altered for the better.
Mortification is also covered. As we jokingly say in our home: mortification instead of requiring more-anything, usually requires less-tification. That chapter coordinates well with Lent and Advent, so it could be saved for those seasons for increased impact. Chapters on “Character” and then “On Good Character and Bad Character” sufficiently cover these aspects. Topics including, Conscience, Good Will and Frankness, in addition to the chapters already mentioned, complete these fourteen conferences.
The final chapter, “Good Reading” is something you and your children will be partaking of, if you decide to read this book! This series of lectures seem to be suited to perhaps children aged between 6 and 16; though the mention of this book as being part of preparation for First Holy Communion, considering this was written when the average age for that was around 13 or 14, suggests it should definitely be covered before the age of 12. I am inclined to suggest that this additionally be used for revision until at least around the age of 16. As previously indicated, all adult laity would probably benefit by using this book for their own study, and as a trustworthy guide, in pursuit of the development and perfection of these virtues.