My twitter feed is nothing if not diverse. One of the feeds I’ve been especially enjoying lately is that of a young postulant describing her life in the convent. She certainly loves her calling, and her posts got me to thinking whether I could be doing something more with my own life.
This in turn got me to thinking about vocations. I know for sure that I have no calling to the priesthood. But, I’ve always had fondness for the monastic life. My honours thesis was written on St Bernard of Clairvaux. The austerity of the Cistercians has a remarkable appeal. There is, actually, a Cistercian abbey a bit over an hour from where I live. Nevertheless, there’s not a lot of point exploring the cloister while my darling daughters are still young. The monastic life is unpaid, and there’s never a good time to leave your kids high-and-dry.
(To digress: can you imagine St Bernard of Clairvaux with a twitter account? If you can’t, read a collection of his letters. He’d have been incapable of shutting up and probably a pretty savage troll)
And then it crossed my mind that maybe what I’m doing now is my vocation. That is, maybe being a worker’s compensation lawyer really is what God has called me to do.
Hear me out.
My family situation means I can devote most of my energies to work. Possessions have very little hold over me: I live in a single rented room in a lodging house. I can’t imagine ever owning a house, or wanting to. My belongings are really just my clothes, some books and a battered old car. My food intake is fairly basic: oats, vegetables, bread rolls and stuff out of tins. The things I like best are cheap wine and good beer. Fleshy desires are basically non-starters with me, partly by nature and partly by obligation. My life, then, is already quite a pared-back thing.
So far, so good. I imagine some or all this could be said of quite a few people in the world. What changes it for me from a situation to a calling?
The Big Guy does.
Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum in 1891. He talked about the proper relationship of capital and labour and stated that –
wealthy owners and all masters of labor should be mindful of this – that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven. … Lastly, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing; and with all the greater reason because the laboring man is, as a rule, weak and unprotected, and because his slender means should in proportion to their scantiness be accounted sacred.
A big whack of my work goes into ensuring people receive proper weekly compensation under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013. With some insurers (naming no names) this can require negotiating tactics that border on “demanding money with menaces”. I’d never before thought of it as work with a touch of holiness.
On the plaintiff side I’ve almost invariably acted on “no win – no fee” terms. That is, if the claimant does not recover compensation, my fees are waived. This, too, seems to be approved by Rerum Novarum, inasmuch as help is provided to people who might otherwise go without:
when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.
Another big slab of my work involves ensuring workers compensation insurers pay what they are required to in terms of medical expenses. Pope John Paul II touched on precisely this point in Laborem Exercens:
The expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand that medical assistance should be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge. … A third sector concerns the right to … insurance … in case of accidents at work. Within the sphere of these principal rights, there develops a whole system of particular rights which, together with remuneration for work, determine the correct relationship between worker and employer.
The Church’s teaching on matters of economics in particular or social justice in general tend to attract condemnation from my side of politics – sometimes from podcasters like Mike Spaulding and sometimes from commentators like Rush Limbaugh (Limbaugh, frankly, should know better). Well, be that as it may. The more I think of it, the more this work really does seem to be my vocation, and the way I am being asked to serve.
I can’t imagine anything I’m happier to think.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!