A Tale of Two Vocations, Part II.
A couple days ago, I posted some reflections in response to two questions that a reader named Gavin had posed about the development of my Jesuit vocation in the context of my experiences as a law student. I answered Gavin's first question in my last post, explaining "what led me to law" and how I ended up in law school. Today, I'm going to take up Gavin's second question - what led me "away from law" and, by implication, toward a vocation to the Society? As a preliminary matter, I hope Gavin (and other interested readers) will forgive me for restating this question as follows: did my vocation to the Society lead me away from a vocation to law?
Choosing to enter the Society and choosing to practice law are not necessarily mutually exclusive options. I know a number of Jesuits who possess law degrees, some of whom are practicing attorneys, some of whom teach law, and some of whom do other forms of ministry that may or may not make use of the knowledge and skills that they acquired in law school. Like me, some of these Jesuit lawyers had their legal training before they entered the Society. Others entered the Society without law degrees but obtained them later on, finding that their Jesuit vocation grew to include a legal vocation as well. As a group of men committed to finding and serving God in all things, the Society of Jesus quite naturally includes men who serve God as attorneys.
In my experience, there are as many different ways of integrating a legal vocation into a Jesuit vocation as there are Jesuit lawyers. As noted in the previous paragraph, I know Jesuits who practice law, others who teach in law schools, some who work in ministries that possess a secondary legal dimension, and some whose ministry has no legal dimension at all. In my own experience, limited as it has been, my law degree has helped me minister more effectively. In some instances - particularly when I was working with refugees - the legal knowledge and analytical skills I honed at Notre Dame enabled me to better recognize and respond to the problems of the individuals I wanted to help. Though I've engaged in other ministries in which my law degree made no difference at all - visiting nursing home residents, for example - on balance I'd say I've made good use of my J.D. since entering the Society.
The above paragraphs serve as a somewhat lengthy prologue to what I hope will be a satisfying answer to Gavin's question. To answer that question very simply, during my three years at Notre Dame Law School my sense of vocation moved not only toward the Society but away from legal work. When I entered law school, I lacked a strong desire to practice but presumed I would use my law degree in some form of public service. Initially, I understood this to mean working for the government or becoming a politician. However, at Notre Dame I became deeply interested in international human rights law and started to think I might want to work in this area. I actually did so for a summer during law school, serving as a program intern for Global Rights, a Washington-based NGO that mentors and supports local organizations working to strengthen human rights protections in countries around the world. My engagement with human rights issues both in class and as an intern helped me understand better how one could live out the legal vocation as a commitment to service grounded in faith.
While my understanding of the legal vocation grew at Notre Dame, I could never fully shake the sense that following my deeper desires would lead me away from legal work altogether. I still felt drawn, as I had as an undergraduate at Georgetown, to a life of teaching and scholarship. I had somewhat diverse academic interests in history, political science and theology, so I still didn't know exactly what I would teach and write about. Through spiritual direction and frequent contact with Jesuits, I had also grown more and more convinced that God was calling me to apply to the Society. Whether or not I was accepted by the Jesuits, I knew that I didn't feel called to legal practice, so I opted not to take the bar exam. Shortly after receiving my J.D. from Notre Dame in May 2004, I received word of my acceptance into the Jesuit novitiate. While most of my law school classmates crammed for the bar exam, I enjoyed a relaxing summer visiting friends in different parts of the country and spending time with my family.
I don't regret not having taken the bar, nor do I regret having gone to law school. I still don't feel called to legal practice, and I still hope to eventually go into academia. If I could get a doctorate in another discipline and teach classes straddling the border between that subject and law, I'd be very happy. I feel more drawn to the prospect of teaching undergraduates than to teaching in a law school, but that desire has yet to be tested by experience. Given that I'm still a recently-vowed scholastic with many years to go before I am ordained (God and the Society willing), it remains to be seen what kind of "sub-vocations" will emerge within my Jesuit vocation. Right now, all I can really do about such ultimate questions is pray for God's guidance and for my own patience. This is, I suspect, a somewhat longer answer to Gavin's question than may have been expected. However, if the above ruminations inspire some readers to reflect more deeply on their own desires and their own sense of vocation, I'll feel as though I've done my job. AMDG.