By Melissa Ng
There is a beautiful prayer by St Thomas More written for lawyers, that I first heard when I attended the annual Red Mass by the Catholic Lawyers Guild during my undergraduate years in SMU. It is a petition to God to stay close, “so that today I shall not, in order to win a point, lose my soul”.
I began studying law at SMU not by design, or at any rate, not by my own design. I had other plans for my undergraduate study but one by one they all dropped away, and so I entered SMU in 2014. I was encouraged by older friends in my parish to check out Fides, and I must confess I went rather reluctantly. I thought that studying law was tiring enough without also having to commit to an active student community as well. But it seems like God knew the kind of overly-pragmatic, commitment-shy person I was, and he made it so ridiculously easy for me to stay in Fides. I was surrounded from the get-go by friends in law who were also in Fides – which gave me no excuse to stay away from sessions anymore! – and I came to know friends who reminded me of my love for music and how wonderful it was to use those gifts for the glory of our Creator. And so I stayed in Fides, and was continuously reminded that God was at the centre of my life as a student and that you never have to choose between God on the one hand, and your studies or work on the other.
Despite the fortuitous way I entered university, I realised soon enough that I may also have stumbled across an important aspect of my vocation, which had everything to do with law. From the first day, law classes were so interesting to me because they offered a new perspective on society. More than just being about the rules that govern us, the study of law for me became the study of society and human nature, undergirded always by the bigger question, what is fairness and justice?
In many ways, I was forced to re-examine my identity as a Catholic when it came to difficult questions on the boundary of legality and morality, and thinking through these questions made me acutely conscious that again, I cannot compartmentalise my identities as a law student on one hand, and a Catholic on the other. I am both a lawyer and Catholic, and so much of my perspective on life and what is right and wrong is moulded by my faith in God and in His love for the world. It made me realise that I wanted to proclaim those truths just as I am – to bring my faith-filled perspective into the area of law, and in whatever role I am in, to allow God to work through me to achieve the work that He wants to do in this field.
As I write this, I have just entered legal practice, and I can appreciate the struggles and stress that make it so difficult to actually live out my vocation in the realities of this profession. The prayer of St Thomas More alludes to this. It asks for grace to be made “able in argument, accurate in analysis, strict in study, candid with clients, and honest with adversaries”. To be all of this, all the time, is a tall order. It is surely only possible if I accept that my strength alone is insufficient, and to ask the Lord humbly to add His strength to mine.
I close with the reflection that the story of my vocation thus far has not been dramatic, but the real battle lies in the everyday – to discharge my duties to the best that I am able, and to remember whose laws and rules I am meant to obey above all else. There are many of us whose vocations, at least career-wise, will consist of living as ordinary laypersons in the mundanity of daily life. The question is how we will enshrine God in the everyday, to do the small things faithfully, and to help point the way to Heaven for the people around us. May our ordinary lives be made extraordinary in carrying out the particular mission that our God has for each of us!