Are certain occupations incompatible with being Catholic?

There are certain occupations that are obviously incompatible with being Catholic. For example, a doctor who performs abortions or assisted suicide. Any business involving prostitution or pornography. Selling illegal drugs or performing any other work that requires you to engage in illegal activity. But what about other occupations like the law? I am interested in this question because I am a lawyer. Real estate law is my specialty.

Real estate is a tough and dirty business here in South Florida. Unfortunately, bad behavior is the norm. It is difficult to stay above it all when so many people you deal with are looking to gain an upper hand at your or your client’s expense.

My greatest challenge has been figuring out how to be “tough” in litigation and in negotiations without going too far. As charitable as you may strive to be, when you threaten to sue someone on behalf of a client, you are threatening to take them to court. There’s no nuance there. But this is part of being a lawyer.

Of course, I am not required to pursue frivolous cases. Nor am I required to do anything that is unethical or immoral. And my clients should be able to seek justice under our legal system. But legal justice and the justice of the Gospel are two different things. They may even conflict with each other.

Furthermore, some clients are not always honest about their situation. Their version of the facts often conflicts with the other side’s version. So, who is lying? Maybe the other side is lying. But maybe your client is lying. If your client is lying, then they may use you to abuse the legal system. And there’s no way to know for sure whether this is happening.

I often review my day and think about the times when I could have done better as a Catholic lawyer. It is not easy. Not because I find myself engaging in bad behavior, but because as a Catholic I am called to a higher standard than just doing what barely passes as ethical by a licensing board.

Catholics are called to love others heroically. How is that possible when you are someone’s advocate in an adversarial legal system? I might behave in a loving way toward my client as their legal representative and advocate. But what if my client was less than honest with me about their case and they are using my services to harm someone else? And what do I do about the opposing attorney who is abusive, unethical or unprofessional? When is it acceptable to “fight fire with fire” as the saying goes?

So, I continue to wonder. Are certain occupations like the law simply incompatible with being Catholic?

While the law is not per se an immoral or unethical occupation, the profession opens the practicing Catholic up to many challenges every day that people in other occupations never have to worry about. If you are a lawyer who plays by the rules, for example following the rules of civil procedure, and you are accommodating and understanding with opposing counsel, but opposing counsel breaks the rules of civil procedure, fails to meet deadlines, ignores your calls and e-mails, delays, postpones, lies to you and behaves unprofessionally, all of which cause your client to spend more money, this puts occasions of sin in your path.

It could even be argued that a lawyer who does not “fight fire with fire” or submit to the occasions of sin might be less effective than other lawyers who have no scruples about bending and breaking the rules of procedure, ethics and professionalism.

So, what does a Catholic who finds himself in an occupation like the law do?

Pray. If your occupation interferes with your Catholic faith, then God might be asking you to make a choice. You cannot worship God and mammon and you must take up your Cross and follow Jesus. That might mean that a career change is in order even though you may not know how to make that happen. So, pray.

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