Listen to Your Lawyer

2 Mar

“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

This admonition of Our Lord in today’s Gospel reminds me of my years as a civil litigation attorney. Lawyers get a bad rap, and rightly so, but even we “get” what Our Lord is saying here, at least on a human level.

I must have worked on hundreds of cases during my legal career, and maybe a dozen went to trial. The overwhelming majority of cases eventually settle.  On the eve of trial, after months of futile negotiations, the parties see things more accurately and realize that they are much better off settling than incurring the costs and risks that come with having one’s day (or week or more) in court.

Okay, but what does all this have to do with today’s Gospel?

First, are we willing to incur the spiritual as well as interpersonal costs associated with not reconciling with our neighbor? How do we know that our “trial” and “judgment” won’t be moved up on the docket and take place tomorrow or even tonight? Do we want to appear before the Lord before settling with our neighbor?

And even if our neighbor goes to the Lord first, will we regret not reconciling with him or her while we were still able to do so?

Second, in the spiritual realm, we do have an attorney, or more precisely, an Advocate–the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13; Catechism, no. 692).  He continually urges us to be reconciled to God and to neighbor, as He guides us to all truth. And the truth is, if we profess to be faithful Catholics but still hate our neighbor (see 1 Jn. 2:9), we have some serious work to do this Lenten season.

2 Responses to “Listen to Your Lawyer”

  1. Jane Smith Petry March 2, 2012 at 2:33 am #

    This is a good one Leon. We can all learn to check ourselves with this advise. Only a lawyer who sees beyond the anger of the I am right could have this insight. Keep sharing I learn much from your messages regarding life and faith.

  2. Nicole March 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    This is a great reminder of the penitential character of Lent. The need for reconciliation with one’s neighbor was mostly glossed over in my experience of catechesis, with the Confessional being expressed as the “cure-all” for what ails you spiritually and relationally. For example, if you steal $5 from your mother’s purse, from your roommate’s stash, or from your locker-buddy’s back-pack…all you need do is show up at the Confessional, have a conversation with the priest, say your “act of contrition” prayer (or make it up as it suits you), let him bless you…and you’re off scot-free.

    Well, that may be what I was taught, but that’s not what the Church teaches, nor what, as seen by empirical study, is required by natural law to restore the relationship, that is, to reconcile. Reconciliation requires several conditions: seeing a worth to and an equal dignity between one’s self and the human beings surrounding one, whether they are in a biological relationship with one or not; seeing an evil in the action one has perpetrated upon the other, not because the action reflects badly on one’s self or does not benefit as planned, but because it hurts or harms one’s neighbor; actual contrition and sorrow for the evil committed; an actual valid confession if the sin was of grave matter committed with full knowledge and consent of the will; a valid priestly absolution; completion of the penance given by the priest; either the completion of justice to the individual harmed or the willingness and resolve to give it as early as possible; and finally SATISFACTION, that is, some token to indicate the recognition of the hurt or harm committed and desire to reconcile with the person.

    The scriptural quotation from the Gospel story is quite harrowing! If one knows he has wronged another, it’s best to settle it quickly outside of the final judgment and return to good graces with one another. It’s reminiscent of other scriptural sections such as the one regarding the two wives of Solomon fighting over the single child in which the wives did not like the judgment of Solomon. This reconciliation requires a lot of effort, I know from experience, but it is very rewarding with strong bonds of communion.

    You brought up some good questions, Mr. Suprenant. This is a very good bit of scripture to keep in mind during this liturgical season. Thank you for writing a piece on it.

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