Honoring and Inspiring the Class of 2012

The Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D.
The Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D.

Loyola celebrated the Class of 2012 as its newest law alumni at the College of Law Graduation Mass on May 10 and the College of Law Commencement Ceremony on May 12. The Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D., executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans, delivered the homily at the Mass. The following are his poignant and timely remarks.

Law School graduation, in a way, can be likened to a person who just swam across a mighty river to the other side only to discover that he or she is on an island and there is another roaring channel to cross.

You have survived the civil code or the common law, criminal procedure, the Socratic method, legal ethics, innumerable exams, moot court or clinic, or a journal, and you have learned that there really is a thing called, “thinking like a lawyer.”

But now, on the other side of the island there is the bar review course, the bar exam, getting and keeping a job, actually learning to practice law—perhaps from your 60-year-old secretary—and paying of a great load of debt.

It almost makes you want to stay on this two-day island of parties, congratulations, diplomas, family and friends, and fond farewells.

The Scriptures today are about life on the other side of the second channel. We heard from Isaiah, the apostle Paul writing to the Christians at Philippi, and the evangelist John. They had a lot to say to all of us gathered here, but I would like to suggest that what they say to us about real life as lawyers was captured in a single verse from the prophet Micah.

You have been told what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.

First, act justly.

This is the message of the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading.

He writes to the people of Israel who are in exile in Babylon. Jerusalem has been destroyed, and they are discouraged, dazed, and destitute.

He promises them a new, more glorious future rooted in the justice of a loving God who will bring light to the nations and freedom to captives.

In many ways, attorneys hold the keys to justice in any society. Admission to the bar is also admission to the legal institutions represented by courts, jails, legislatures, and the executive. But your education also provides tools to shape many other institutions and the agreements, rules, settlements, and arrangements critical to an organized and just and compassionate common good.

Whether it be the commutative justice of fair relationships, or the contributive or social justice of larger society, your education and now authority are your own gift of God’s Spirit that are intended to create a just society.

You too are meant to be light for the nations, sight to the blind, freedom for prisoners, and to shape the covenants that bind us together as a nation and world community.

Second, love tenderly.

This is the message of the Gospel of John—that we who are beloved of God and called “friends” by Jesus of Nazareth are to love one another as he loved us.

There are particular challenges for lawyers in this command to love tenderly. One may be to sacrifice oneself and one’s time and talent to represent the unpopular client or unpopular cause, or even to work energetically for the ungrateful client.

Another challenge that is all too common is to maintain that love for spouse and family in light of the voracious appetite of the practice of law for our time, energy, and passion. It is when “acting justly” can seem to be the enemy of “loving tenderly.”

But when Jesus says in the Gospel that they are not servants or slaves, but “friends,” he is referring to our status as the beloved of God and the beloved of Jesus, and that when we are challenged in our call to love tenderly he says we can ask the Father for whatever we need and God will give it to us.

Third, walk humbly with your God.

Here we turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, our second reading. Paul begins by telling us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” which is easy news to hear at graduation. “The Lord is near,” Paul says. “Have no anxiety at all...” That is too easy to hear now that exams are over.

But Paul is writing to them and to us about life, and not just law school graduation. He is writing to an early Christian community that is suffering from internal divisions and external antagonisms. His message about joy and peace and the nearness of God is his final exhortation to them.

His final words are, “keep on doing what you have learned and received...Then the God of peace will be with you.”

In addition to acting justly and loving tenderly, the ultimate peace and happiness of any lawyer and of all of us is about integrity of mind and heart and action.

It is the “who” of who we are as lawyers and persons. It is about virtuous lives; and it is very much about “out word” as lawyers. Paul uses a whole set of adjectives that are all trying to say the same thing to us. He writes this:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Listen just to the adjectives: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy. These are about the person that stands before the bar, the person that advises clients, the person that handles money, the person who gives his or her word to another person, the person who walks humbly with our God.

Near the end of the play A Man for All Seasons, a play about a lawyer Thomas More, who is later declared a martyr and saint, there is a scene that makes the same point. At Thomas More’s trial for treason, a former protégé, Richard Rich, commits the perjury that will condemn Thomas More. As he does so, More notices a gold medallion hanging around the neck of Richard Rich, and when asking about it is told that “Sir Richard’s the new Attorney General for Wales. More then turns to Rich and says: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...But for Wales!”

For us, attorneys and all, it is a reminder that true peace and joy are found, not in deeds or rank or money or fame, but in walking humbly with God and God’s people.

So, as we go to this altar, we should rejoice today at your great journey through law school and now to the threshold of your lives as attorneys, and pray at this altar that you may always act justly, love tenderly, and know the peace and joy of walking humbly with your God.

View the complete fall 2012 issue of Loyola Lawyer.

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