Wednesday, May 2, 2012
One of my students in the "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" class shared this reflection:
Throughout the semester, as I read the Compendium and other authoritative expositions of the Church’s social doctrine, I often thought “this is incredibly grand and utopian, but how does this affect me? What do you want me to do about it? ” The institutional Church largely leaves the details of social policy to the laity. Benedict has told us that “the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful.” But what on earth am I learning in law school that can enable me to “change the world” or help build “a more just society”?
Law, it seems to me, is—perhaps more than any other human discipline—a study in human anthropology. Since law serves an important pedagogical function, it is crucial to get it right. Part of being a Catholic lawyer is allowing the Church to purify our reason and convince us that law must be founded upon what we are as humans. As John Paul II said, a proper anthropology is essential to the foundations of society and law. Perhaps the key insight that the Church has about human anthropology is her understanding of human purpose.
Recently, we read the transcript of a talk by Professor Amy Barrett to the graduates of our law school on what it means to be a “different kind of lawyer,” and her words were so forceful and true that they stayed with me and have helped me think about Catholic social doctrine as a whole— from subsidiarity to the teaching on economics—all of which calls for purposive integration and not isolation into the types of neat and tidy little compartments we tend to put things in when we can’t remember what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. She said that we should always remember that a “legal career is but a means to an end . . . and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”
The Church’s deep insight into human purpose tells me that we should never be complacent with the practices of our profession that conflict with its nobility and, as Aristotle would say, the “architectonic” role of the law: practices like creative over-billing, just telling the client what he or she wants to hear, lax and minimalist ethical norms, and going along unreflectively while there are unjust laws that hinder human purpose—with the practices in our profession that have made it the butt of so many jokes. Instead, though we may not all have the nobility, and the iron will, of a Saint Thomas More, we should at least be willing to make the smaller sacrifices that reflect our great purpose—as individuals and as part of a guild—and to build the respect for our profession and for law that achieving this purpose requires. In other words, Catholic Social Doctrine at its core does more than just tell us how to think about doing the big things—things that may seem so far out of our reach as to cause us to despair. By informing us of our ultimate purpose, it shows us how to do the little things and how to order our lives and think about reality as a whole, since the Kingdom of God, like any kingdom, is built brick by brick.