Monday, November 1, 2021
Growing up, I thought my career choice – a singular choice, made only once – was a direct and public reflection of my relationship with God. If my faith in God was strong enough, it meant I should probably be a missionary or a pastor. One problem: I knew enough missionaries and pastors to know that I didn’t want to be either one. I contemplated attending graduate school for theology rather than going to law school, as if that might be closer to a true “Christian” vocation. When I moved from legal practice into the academy, I started writing about the intersection of law and religion. Not quite ministry, but close enough to count in God’s eyes?
Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to understand that vocation is more about becoming the person God has called me to be, less about my career choice. Or as Thomas Merton put it, “discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”
Which brings me to David Link, who died on Thursday. He was a tax attorney who left private practice to teach, eventually serving as Notre Dame Law School’s dean for nearly 25 years. He left Notre Dame to become the founding dean of St. Thomas Law, helping launch the school. Soon after Dave left St. Thomas, his wife Barbara passed away, and he went to seminary, becoming a Catholic priest at age 71. Fr. Link devoted the rest of his days to prison ministry, working primarily at a maximum-security prison in which most of the inmates were convicted of murder.
I wonder, if we could ask David Link to describe his vocation while he was sitting in his office at Winston & Strawn parsing new tax regulations, then pose the same question to Dean Link as he welcomed the inaugural JD class to St. Thomas, and to Fr. Link as he counseled an inmate serving a life sentence, would his answers have changed? Did his vocation shift at each new step of his career, or did his vocation actually remain constant? His perception of the ways his gifts could best help meet the world’s needs evolved over fifty years, no doubt. But his defining vocation was not tax attorney, law school dean, or even Catholic priest. His defining vocation, I suspect, was his heeding of the prophet Micah’s call “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As we observe All Saints' Day, I encourage us to reflect on vocation, both in our own lives and in the lives of our students. What difference might it make if we view vocation less as a one-time career choice and more as a commitment to being the person God has created us to be?
Rest in peace, David Link – may your memory be a blessing.