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Hello Father Angelo,

I always read the answers to questions asked by other users and now the time has come for me to ask you a question because I don’t know if I am behaving correctly.

I am an engineering student and I often neglect my duty as a student to do favors to my friends. I am known for being a computer expert and whenever someone has problems with their computer or phone they immediately bring them to me. We are quite a large group of friends and this takes a lot of time.

It’s clear that my friends save a lot of money in this way, but this takes a lot of time and lately I have been wondering if this is the right attitude and even if I am sinning!

I took the time to find answers and I read a sentence from St. Maximilian Kolbe who says “first everything to oneself and after all to others”, thus highlighting the need for those who study to devote themselves completely to their duty.

Even St. Thomas Aquinas in a letter to a student advises silence and unfamiliarity with others to avoid neglecting his study.

On the other hand, a contemporary servant of God, a very good student (whose name I do not remember), came to the point to arrive unprepared the next day to help others in their study; essentially, he put charity before his duty … .. 

not to mention Saint Paul who puts charity above everything.

I see a bit of contradiction in the attitudes of these saints and for this reason I am asking you if it is preferable to help others or do our own duty.

In short, how to behave in those situations where charity and duty go into conflict…. which one should I give priority to?

Have a good evening

Answer from the priest

Dear friend,

1. What St Paul says is the word of God and therefore is worth more than any human word. However, the first charity we must do is towards ourselves.

In fact, Sacred Scripture commands to love your neighbor as yourself (Lv 19,18 and Mt 22,39). Therefore love for oneself precedes that of neighbor, being the supreme analogue or exemplary.

2. Saint Augustine writes: “First of all, learn to love yourself …

In fact, if you don’t know how to love yourself, how can you truly love your neighbor? ” (Sermo 368, 5).

3. And St. Thomas: “The love with which one loves oneself is the form and root of friendship: the friendship that we have towards others consists in the fact that we behave towards them as we do towards ourselves” Summa theologica, II-II, 25, 4).

It is therefore not correct to sacrifice our duty to keep up with the requests of others that could be satisfied in other ways.

4. It is clear that if the needs of your neighbor were binding (I am referring to a grave necessity and, even more, to an extreme necessity) one also sacrifices his own duty, because there is a hierarchy of priorities.

But between our own temporal good and that of others – all conditions being equal – we are bound to love ours first.

In other words, we are required to do our duty first.

This is imposed on us by charity towards ourselves.

5. Coming to you: You have obligations towards yourself.

But you also have obligations towards your family: the one in which you are living and also to the future one that you are indirectly preparing with the appropriate fulfillment of your current duties.

6. Since among the different obligations of charity there is also that of helping people in difficulty and above all friends, you could do this: allocate a portion of your time for them too at a certain time of day.

To friends who ask some sort of favour you can say: call me back this evening. Or: call me back at x time.

Ideally, you could also sacrifice part of your time dedicated to the recovery of energy (leisure, hobbies, excursions …) to keep up with your friends.

But the bulk of your time must remain devoted to studying and fulfilling your duties.

7. The case of the servant of God you speak of is interesting. But you tell me that he was very good at studying. This meant that it was easy for him to catch up with his studies.

He could afford to arrive unprepared for the next day, but not for the exam because his success in the exam was crucial to the charity he owed to himself, to those in his home and also to those for whom he would have made his knowledge available one day.

8. Finally, I would like to add another thing.

Since St. Paul says that the children of God are guided by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14) Invoke the Holy Spirit every day to enlighten you with the gift of advice on how to move not only in the exercise of charity, but also to understand the order that you must apply.

As I start invoking the Holy Spirit for you, I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo