Monday, April 30, 2012
One of my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" students shared with me these thoughts about -- and this advice for -- professors at Catholic Law Schools:
My first day of law school and I’m sitting next to my new roommate in Contracts. Around us, students cement their plans for the weekend and complain about the reading, asking detailed and irrelevant questions like “But why did AutoZone sponsor the Professional Bull Riders?” There’s an undercurrent of anxiety in the room, an emotion that becomes so familiar to me over the next few months of on-call classes that I become almost desensitized. By third year I have the blasé expression of a Hindu cow. Those first few months, though, I could not only tell you what a Carbolic Smoke Ball is, I could give an impassioned entreaty on behalf of all misled influenza victims everywhere. I was a little bit of a gunner: I probably would have even made you one if you had promised me a good outline.
Class starts, and instead of the professor launching into the facts of the case (“WHO IS REGINA?”) or introducing himself (“Contrary to popular belief, I am not married to [professor with the same last name]”), our Contracts professor looks up and makes the Sign of the Cross. Like dominoes, sixty or so other students do the exact same thing. The rest of us either make eye contact with each other or stare intently at our laptops while he recites a section of Aquinas’ Prayer for Guidance. When it’s over, class begins. It takes about thirty seconds, tops, and it becomes part of our routine.
It’s an interlude between the hallway and the task at hand, but it takes on a different meaning when finals come around. I start calling it the “quick and keen,” because that’s all I remember outside of the classroom, and that’s what it becomes for me: “Lord, make me quick and keen.” First said to make a friend laugh, over the course of the semester it becomes my own prayer, something I say before I take an exam or interview with a potential employer.
As students, we rarely get moments of silence to reflect in law school; for most of us, life is a mix of classes and chaos. The “quick and keen” was different, it stayed with me. When people asked me why I decided to become Catholic during my third year, depending on how much time they have, it’s part of the story. We’ve all heard about the Butterfly Effect: a professor at a Catholic university starts his class with a prayer and two years later a student is baptized and confirmed in the One True Faith. That’s far-fetched, but I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
What I’d like to suggest to all Professors is this: if you’re at a University that allows you to be visibly Catholic, take advantage of that opportunity next semester (you can’t start mid-semester; that would be weird). It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic -- part of the strength of the Contracts prayer was that it was said without any hint of the theatrical, it just set the intention for a class where few of us felt “delicate to interpret or ready to speak.” From the perspective of someone who wasn’t always Catholic, this kind of prayer isn’t confrontational or in-your-face. It’s nice.