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PUTTING DOWN THE MIGHTY FROM THEIR SEAT: HOW THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY INSPIRED ME TO PRACTICE LAW
As a teenager, my obsessions were not rock music and beer, but choir singing and acolyting. Sunday mornings, I sang countertenor at High Mass. Afternoons, I was thurifer at Evensong and Benediction. One verse of the Magnificat stood out: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.” That verse was later to define me professionally as a lawyer.
But not before I fell into sin and became subject to evil and death. Before I went to law school at age 40, I was an insurance adjuster helping insurance companies avoid paying injured people. Rather than practice the compassionate values of my grandmother, a social worker, and my mother, an actress, I worshiped Ayn Rand. My goal was keeping insurance premiums down and insurance company profits up. What I did not apprehend at the time was human suffering I caused.
My father as an admiralty lawyer. My family expected that I, too, would become a lawyer. However, I became a different kind of lawyer than my father, whose clients were ship owners. Mine are factory workers, mechanics, janitors, secretaries, dishwashers, and all the other myriad occupations deemed so unimportant by many but without whom we would not live life as we know it.
We Anglo-Catholics are commonly associated with ritual. Exodus 30:6 and Malachai 1:11 command perpetual offerings of incense, but Matthew 25:31-45 tells us that when Jesus comes to judge the world, He will separate the sheep on His right from the goats on His left. The sheep care for the hungry, sick and incarcerated, but the goats tell the needy to take a hike. Those on His right hand will inherit theKingdomofHeaven and inherit eternal life, while those on His left will suffer eternal punishment. This is the clarion call of Jesus that choosing values to alleviate or to ignore human suffering will determine our ultimate fate. At the British Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923, Bishop Frank Weston ofZanzibar crystalized the concept for us with those now famous words:
“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. .. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
Beginning with the slum parishes of London as described in John Shelton Reed’s book, Glorious Battle,Anglo-Catholics were known for their work in the slums beginning with John Mason Neale, Charles Fuge Lowder, and Arthur Henry Stanton of St. Alban’s, Holborn and St. Barnabas, Pimlico. Later in theUnited States, the tradition continued atSt. Johnthe Evangelist,Boston and Ascension,Chicago where the earnestness with which the Anglo-Catholics practiced their faith moved beyond the altar into the streets. In the words of Frederick Dennison Maurice, “the Resurrection became so inseparably connected with the Christian Passover, the eating of Christ’s flesh, and the drinking of His blood.”
The essence of the Mass is death and resurrection. It is about dying to sin and rising to life. “This is My Body which is given for you” which we receive to commemorate Christ’s death, resurrection, and coming in Glory. Just as Christ’s body was changed from physical to spiritual as explained in I Corinthians 15:44, Eucharist is about changing bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood. It is also about changing us to become a holy people, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, to proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, to paraphrase 1 Peter 2:9. On December 12, 1995, the insurance adjuster in me died and the lawyer in me arose, when I was admitted to the California Bar. The task ahead was to transform the Magnificat from mere words into a professional lifestyle, an incarnational lifestyle, consistent with the Incarnational context of the Magnificat. To quote Conrad Noel, a 19th Century English Anglo-Catholic,
“For the Incarnation is more than a belief, it is a principle of life and of transformation. The principle that salvation and all spirituality comes through the flesh and through matter lie at the heart of the entire Christian understanding. Spirituality which is rooted in the Incarnation can never be world-denying or private. Nor can it be reduced to the “imitation of Christ”. Rather it is a call to be transformed into the divine life.”
I like cases where I make a difference in someone’s life, such as Workers’ Compensation, which is (supposed to) benefit workers injured while producing profits for their employers. Unfortunately, that system features insensitive adjusters denying claims without considering that a weekly disability check for an injured worker is the difference between shelter and homelessness, between food and hunger. I see obtaining orders from a Judge to pay benefits and harassing adjusters with letters and phone calls not just as my duty as an attorney, but as meeting a moral imperative. In the words of James 2:15, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
One of my first civil cases was a car salesman with a family who had, they thought, bought a home. However, they didn’t really, because the seller didn’t tell them the truth about the financing already on the property. Suddenly, my client was facing foreclosure and eviction. The result of my militant approach was that my client assumed the existing loan and remained in possession. The little money I earned doing that meant more to me than the thousands I had earned helping insurance companies deny claims because I had brought a family from the brink of homelessness to their own home.
But their are limits to what I will do with my legal talents, again, driven by my Anglo-Catholic values.
Within a month after I began practicing law, a man brought his girlfriend to my office and asked my assistance in divorcing his wife so he could marry the girlfriend. I asked him why. He had been married for ten years. His wife was infertile, but he wanted to sire a child. “What about adoption,” I inquired, as I would delight in placing an unwanted child in a loving home. He was adamant that he wanted a wife who could provide him a natural child. When I asked him how his wife felt about a divorce, he told me it would hurt her feelings. How despicable! The highest calling of human beings within the Sacrament of Marriage is not to be a stock-farm animal, but to live faithfully to love, honor and cherish one’s spouse. I advised him to treasure his wife and to enjoy the childfree lifestyle God bestowed upon them.
Another man telephoned when he had been accused of beating his sons with a belt. His children were in the custody of the Department of Child Protective Services. His boys had told their teacher about him and that the police had taken them away and arrested him. He offered me $5,000 cash up front. As badly as I needed that money, I told him I would not represent him because that’s not the way Jesus treated children. He quoted Proverbs 23:13, that nonsense of, “spare the rold and spoil the child,” to which I responded that we are people of the New Covenant, where, in Mark 10:16, Jesus took children into his arms and laid His hand upon them to bless, not hurt, them. I told the man to plead guilty, take a parenting class, and apologize to his sons.
What these stories say is Anglo-Catholic values are more important than money. We are called not only preach the Gospel, but, to do it. As James 1:22 exhorts us, we are to be doers of the word, not hearers only. In Matthew 7:24, Jesus tells us the difference between the wise person who built a house on rock and the foolish one who built on sand. The house on the rock withstood the storm but that built on sand did not. The difference between the two is that a faith built on actions, not words alone, will withstand life’s storms. I choose to build my faith on the rock of concrete actions to serve Christ in others while joyfully adoring Him in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.