Vocation of a Lawyer: Prayer
By Frank DeVito
This blog is the second post in the "Vocation of a Lawyer" series
If one accepts that God calls each person to holiness, the next step is to determine what that means for each individual and within each vocation. From here, one must determine how to properly order each aspect of life. For example, professional responsibilities cannot interfere with family life in a disordered way, because the married layman has at the core of his vocation his responsibilities as husband and father. When putting one’s duties in proper order, the first priority, the central duty, is love of God and union with Him. This means that the first priority of the Christian must be prayer.
St. Paul tells the Christian that he must “pray without ceasing.”1 There are several definitions of prayer. St. Therese of Lisieux describes prayer as “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”2 St. John Damascene says that “[p]rayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”3 These two definitions reveal the essence of prayer: it is the act of loving God, of raising one’s mind and heart to Him. It is not merely the recitation of rote prayers or saying words (though these are important ways of praying). Rather, prayer is the practice of being aware of God’s presence, of looking at Him and loving Him.
What does this look like for the layman, and particularly for the Christian lawyer?
The life of a layman includes obligations of time and energy that priests and celibate religious usually do not have, such as family and professional obligations in the world. Part of the “job” of a monk or nun is to pray in a chapel for several hours a day. In fact, the main prayer of consecrated religious persons is the Liturgy of the Hours, which was traditionally called the opus Dei, or the work of God. Prayer is literally a substantial part of the monk or nun’s workday. Chances are your employer does not build hours of prayer into the workday. And if you are married with children, many of your waking hours at home do not involve the silence and stillness to facilitate long periods of prayer.
But again, we return to St. Paul’s command that we “pray without ceasing.” This needs to take two forms: structured periods of prayer and a constant remembrance of the presence of God throughout the day. While the layman’s life looks quite different from that of the priest, monk, or nun, prayer is still a necessary part of his work.
It is necessary to be aware of the presence of God as we go about our daily tasks. In that way, we make our work, our family duties, every moment of each day into a prayer. This is necessary, but it is not sufficient. As we said above, prayer is about taking time to be in the presence of God, to love Him and be loved by Him. If we are to prioritize a loving relationship, we make time for the ones we love. Because we must love God above all else, it must be a first priority of life to make time to pray, to be with Him.
The schedule of daily prayer will be different for each person, since our family obligations, work schedules, and general rhythms of life vary greatly. Regardless of your life circumstances, it is probably best to have “anchor” times of prayer early in your day and toward the end of your day. The morning prayer time helps to center your upcoming day around God (please do this before you check your phone, so that you start the day with God and not the screen as your first priority!) The evening is a good time to return to God, to speak to Him about your day, and to reflect on how well you used your time for Him. If you can make time in between (even five minutes before lunch, while on a coffee break, or on your commute), those are excellent opportunities to reconnect with God during your day as well.
The types of prayer will also vary. Some prefer to use the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, while others prefer spiritual reading. Some – especially after practicing prayer for years – find it easier to enter the presence of God simply by being with God in the silence, unassisted by books and words. Since the goal is to be united with God, the method can be tailored to what works best for the individual. St. Teresa of Ávila consistently needed the assistance of books to keep her attentive to her periods of prayer. But she also knew a nun who achieved the highest levels of prayer merely by reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary with attentive reverence.
However you choose to pray, this must be done daily. If we want to build our lives and vocations around God, we need to prioritize relationship with Him. That means taking time to be with Him every day. And if we hope to make our entire lives a prayer, where we are constantly aware of God’s presence and striving always to seek His will, we must commit to these times focused on His presence alone.
Practicing the Presence of God
St. Paul gives us the example of doing everything as a prayer: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God . . . just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”4 This is a good practical example of how we fulfill the command to “pray without ceasing.”
The goal here is simply to extend our prayer into every aspect of our day. As we go about our professional work, we should constantly try to lift our hearts to God and remember that he is just as present to us as we work as when we take time to pray. As we spend time with our families, as we study, as we engage in leisure, we should likewise remember His presence and strive to conduct ourselves as children of God. This takes practice. The more we seek to do this, the more it becomes habit. Thus, we can cultivate the habit of being in a constant state of prayer. This can and will transform our lives into lives of prayer. This is not optional; this is the way we become saints as we live and work in the midst of the world.
Practical Prayer Advice for Lawyers
So far, everything that has been discussed can be generally applied to all Christians in the world. How, specifically, ought the lawyer to live his vocation in a way where he prays without ceasing?
First, we need to overcome the temptation to believe we are too busy to pray. Yes, lawyers (especially married lawyers with children) are extremely busy. We need to take time to eat and sleep, because we cannot live without it. We need to take time for our families, because we have obligations to love them and be present to them. We need to spend our days working diligently in our legal duties, because this is our profession and it provides for our families. But as we have said, our relationship with God needs to take priority. If we seek to love God above all else, we need to make time for Him.
Start in the morning. Wake up early enough to take some time to be alone with God. Bring your Bible, spiritual book, rosary, or whatever helps you to focus on God’s presence. Read books about prayer so you can adopt a serious prayer regime that works well for you. Commit to doing this every day. When you start every day in God’s presence, you will have a much easier time praying in His presence throughout the rest of your day.
As you go through your day, make it a regular practice to remember that you are in God’s presence. Do this as you drive to work, when you sit down at your desk to begin work, when you enter the courthouse. This can be brief: take a moment to simply say “God, I am in your presence now and always. Help me to make this time of work a prayer and to do Your will in all things.” Making this a habit can be transformative. With consistent practice, you will begin to see your life move from a series of scattered obligations to a purposeful, consistent act of prayer.
Also, take time to say short prayers as you work. When you deal with a difficult client, ask God for the grace to love them and pray for their needs. When you are preparing for a trial, ask God’s blessing upon the parties, opposing counsel, the judge, and everyone involved. When you are writing a brief or closing a transaction, ask God to bless the work and help it to bear fruit in the lives of all those participating. Get into the habit of praying for every professional act and every person you encounter. Do the same in your family life, your recreational activities, in everything you do.
These short bursts of prayer, traditionally called ejaculatory prayers, can be brief and should be constant throughout the day. They can be as simple as “God, bless me and bless this work,” “Jesus, remind me that I am in your presence,” or “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” Additionally, use little visual reminders of God’s presence. Simply placing a small cross or holy image on your desk, in your office, and in your home can remind you to pray throughout the day and to remember God’s presence in the busyness of life. These habits are easy to implement in your busy life and can transform your various duties into grace-filled acts of prayer.
When you get to the end of your day, be faithful to another period of prayer. Reflect on your day in God’s presence. Ask Him to bless everyone you have encountered and every work you have undertaken. Consider how you have conducted yourself, thank God for the successes, and ask forgiveness for every time you have not conducted yourself as a Christian should. And ask God to bless you to be a better lawyer in the coming days, that you may be holier, more prayerful, closer to fulfilling your vocation as a saintly lawyer.
We need to pray always if we are to fulfill our vocations and become saints. Start praying now for the grace to be a holy Christian, spouse, parent, lawyer. Set aside time to pray throughout the day and begin forming the habits necessary to remember God’s presence and to pray without ceasing. And don’t put this off. This is the most important thing we have to do in our lives. Start today. Let us conclude with a prayer composed by the great St. Thomas More, the patron saint of attorneys:
Lord, grant that I may be able in argument, accurate in analysis, strict in study, candid with clients and honest with adversaries. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my client’s plaints, read with me in my library, and stand beside me in court, so that today I shall not, in order to win a point, lose my soul.
1 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
4 1 Cor. 10:31-32.