Serving God When You Have Little to Give

As a Notre Dame alumna, I try to remember the call of Blessed Basil Moreau not to educate the mind “at the expense of the heart.” This call also describes how I define my broader vocation: to serve God with all that I have, and to never allow the work I am asked to do get in the way of the person I am called to be.

I thought I was doing a good job of living up to my vocation for the past two years. My senior year at Notre Dame, I had the privilege of serving as the President of Notre Dame Right to Life. I spent countless hours organizing panel discussions, building common ground with pro-choice students and friends, and working with a phenomenal team of dedicated leaders. The year after I graduated, I worked for the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture: a beacon of the pro-life, Catholic mission of the University for a world desperately in need of its goodness, beauty, and truth. The connection between my work and who I thought I was called to be was so apparent and concrete; I felt at peace that I had heard God’s voice and gotten it right.

And then came law school.

The first year of law school is every bit as challenging and exhausting as it is depicted in The Paper Chase. The time I am asked to spend reading, note taking, outlining, brief writing, and sleeping (maybe?) is pretty much all the time that I have. Any spare minutes are spent with my dear friends, the makeshift family to whom I owe my sanity. I certainly don’t feel like I am serving God when I’m reading textbooks for 25 hours a week or typing hurried notes in class. I find myself missing the close connection I used to feel between the Church’s mission and my daily work.

This week in my Property Law class, we studied the principle “nemo dat quod non habet,” which literally translated means “no one gives what [she] does not have.” In property law, it reflects the basic understanding that one who does not own property cannot transfer it to someone else. But the term also explains much of how I have been feeling this year in regards to my vocation to serve God. We can only give to God what we have. But what do I have to give right now?

I spoke with a wonderful priest in confession recently about the tension I was feeling between my call to law school and the idea I had of my vocation, and he gave me the advice I feared most—to learn more about the life and “little way” of St Therese.

Oh no.

Like many loud, young, self-proclaimed Catholic feminists, it has always been easier to try to emulate St. Joan of Arc than St. Therese, “The Little Flower.” Even just the appellation “The Little Flower” makes me shudder. It makes me think of being mild, quiet, tame, and a host of other adjectives that are often used to describe St. Therese. I’ve always been more attracted to the holiness of a warrior, defender, or protector.

After that confession, I really bore into my stubbornness, trying to ignore the advice I didn’t want to hear. But of course, each time I ask God to guide me through a tough week of feeling empty, tired, or like I’m not living up to who He is calling me to be, the voice in the back of my head says “try to be holy as Therese was holy.”

We aren’t always being called to lead the charge into battle. Sometimes we are being called to love God and others through the small and mundane, the little and humble. In fact, God probably doesn’t call anyone to just one or the other. He calls us to be holy in each and every circumstance, and always in ways we are not quite comfortable.

So what does it mean to live out your vocation while living life as a 1L? As far as I can tell, it means being holy in the ways that you can, carrying the crosses you are given, and loving God with all you have, even when you only have a little to give.

Aly Cox is a first-year law student at the University of Notre Dame Law School and a Polking Fellow with the Center for Ethics and Culture. She can be contacted regarding questions about law school or Catholic feminism at