Robert Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, joined us last Thursday at Vespers to offer insight on the integration of faith and the professional life that transcends any one profession. It is critical that we learn how to do so, as he noted, “If we can’t perfect love in the marketplace, then a lot of our witness as Christians is meaningless.”
Vischer took us back to the start of his career as a junior associate at a large law firm. He described himself in this way: “[I had] fire in my belly, my dark suit on, my deposition questions outlined, and I was loaded for bear.” However, it was not long into an undesirable case that he realized he did not have resources to understand how his faith ought to shape his professional life.
Recording testimonies from hospice patients in order to gather evidence to defend his client, a nuclear weapons company from the cold war, and prove that it was not responsible for the plaintiff’s premature death was not particularly glamorous. It certainly wasn’t included in the “aspirations on how to change the world” section in his law school application.
It was during these moments when he began to ask himself: How did I get here?
And where to go from here
We have scripture to turn to in times like these that reveal to us the heart of Christian living in all aspects of our lives. While we often hear 1 Corinthians 13 in the context of weddings, it applies to Christian professionals trying to live their faith out in the marketplace just as it does to spouses trying to live out Christ’s love in a marriage.
If I speak in tongues of men or angels…
If I have the gift of prophecy…
If I get my dream job…
If I make partner…
If I find the perfect spouse…
If my kids are talented, happy overachievers…
…But do not have love, I am nothing.
So if we are going to be professionals who love, St. Paul unpacks for us what that will entail. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.”
A Personal Brand vs. Character
Vischer remarked that professionals encounter a temptation to maintain a sort of personal brand strategy that they are supposed to to be strong, to compete in the marketplace, to have it together all the time, and to continually inspire confidence in others. So when we look at what St. Paul is telling us, we can see how love is missing from our work when envy, boastfulness, and pride are seen as the hallmarks of the professional life.
It’s when we put ourselves above others for self-promotion and become so wrapped up in our successes that we start to think that our value as persons derives from our ability to succeed in the marketplace (or is it the other way around?)
The truth is, we needn’t seek out validation in our careers because we are already the center of God’s world. If we believe the Incarnation, we believe that Christ died not just for all of humanity, but for each member of humanity individually. When we have a negative interaction with a colleague, classmate, or any person we pass on the street, we hold them at arm’s length. This doesn’t allow us to enter into another’s reality so as to empathize and understand them in a holistic way.
The lens of Christ’s love
There is an eschatological dimension to Christian love that is future oriented. Vischer used the example of telling his teenage daughters he loves them, even when he does not feel like he does. We can take this into the marketplace and aspire to love those who are on our last nerve even in a particular meeting or professional situation. Not because we feel love for them, or even have any sort of love for them currently, but that we know we should love them and therefore desire to love them.
“Whatever field you’re in, you’re going to have to be counter cultural to a certain extent. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for success, have the fire in the belly, be competitive, or work hard.” Rather, Vischer promotes a philosophy that we must be so “ruined” that we are unable to strive and achieve any of those things apart from the lens that the love of Christ gives to each of us.
We must carry it with us every day in the messiness of when it is tough and to remember that everyone around us is infinitely valuable. The only way you can recognize that in this society is if you are seeing others through the lens of Christ’s love.
Inspiring night spent w/ young Catholic professionals @VespersMN – vibrancy, engagement, hope; great to speak to group about faith & work.
— Robert K. Vischer (@DeanVischer) November 13, 2015