Still Thinking About Integrity

You must have noticed how often the the prophet Isaiah mentions integrity. Today’s first Mass reading, taken from chapter 48, is regretful about the integrity we haven’t practised and the happiness we have thereby forfeited:

Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you,
I lead you in the way that you must go.
If only you had been alert to my commandments,
your happiness would have been like a river,
your integrity like the waves of the sea.
Your children would have been numbered like the sand,
your descendants as many as its grains.
Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me.

Still that word ‘integrity’ tugs at me endlessly. John the Baptist lived with integrity; so did St John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today; so, above all, did our Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve all known people of integrity and how difficult they can be to live with, even as we admire their courage, honesty and so on. That is because integrity has a way of transforming the lives of those who come into contact with it, often in ways that could not have been foreseen and might not have been welcomed if they had.

I like Isaiah’s image of the waves of the sea. That is exactly how the integrity of others frequently affects us: it topples us over, keeps coming back at us, won’t let go, swamps us at times, because it has an energy and force that its inconsequential appearance may belie. Four inches of water is enough to sweep a grown man off his feet. In the same way, it takes only a very little integrity to change things. Perhaps we should remember that and think about the presence or absence of integrity in our own lives.


6 thoughts on “Still Thinking About Integrity”

  1. Integrity is not fashionable these days. And to possess it and to stick by it is a gift, but can be hard in the face of the general trend to disclaim all responsibility for our actions.

    There have been times in my life when my integrity has been challenged, personally of by others actions. Particularly where something someone else plans or does is an open breach of behaviour or probity or just plain wrong.

    I have challenged such actions in my life and suffered professionally for it – but I came away with my own integrity intact, which seems to me to be the only way for anyone to be. I was even once described as a trouble maker? It can be hard to resist the pressure to do other than what you know to be right.

    The shame in public life seems to me that someone who is a whistle blower may be subject to discrimination, disparagement or even punishment by forfeiting their livelihood if they speak out.

    • I, too, had to challenge things professinally. On the most outstanding occasion I was accused of trouble making but my challenge did change what was being done.

  2. I’m so glad you have picked up on that word ‘integrity’. I too wondered quite what it meant when I heard it read again recently. There seems to be some room to manoeuvre in translating it, and hence, lots to meditate upon. The Vulgate has ‘iustitia’ (there’s another big word) : Young, too, for the Hebrew term in question gives ‘what is right’ ; the New Jerome Commentary goes further, and glosses ”sedaqa’ as ‘victorious vindication’ ; NRSV, more modestly, says ‘success’. If we’ll let it, therefore, God’s justice, firmness, and steadfastness rub off on his servants, even chaps like King Cyrus who might seem a rather unlikely instrument. What a wonderfully poetic way of opening this out it is, to use the simile of the sea and its waves, and how beautifully you develop that thought.

    St John of the Cross — yes, what integrity was his !—, pray for us.

  3. Ii remember clearly what was possibly the first time I heard the word integrity. My least favourite teacher at school told us what an important quality it was. She said it is the most important quality to have. Since then I have loved the word and the concept. It just shows we should listen to those we dislike and can learn from them.

  4. Yes, I was particularly struck this morning by that ‘waves’ image from Isaiah. It has some interesting connotations.

    In the Jerusalem Bible, it’s remarkable how often the word ‘integrity’ is linked with Yahweh and I feel it’s important to bear that concept in mind when we begin the ‘Our Father’. It’s all bound up in addressing our all-time faithful Parent who wants to shower blessings upon us far more than we know how to ask for them and who wants to impart the Abundant Life offered through Jesus. We need the innocent humility of children in our approach to prayer.

    ‘Integrity’ is also a reminder that whatever the wayward paths our excursions in Relativism take us, there is really only one sound standard to measure by and we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the loving provision within the situations we encounter.

  5. Thank you for your comments, all of which have much enriched the original post; but I’m sure you’ll understand that, after hearing the news from Newtown, CT, my heart wasn’t in responding. There are occasions when prayer is the only possible response to what is happening around us. As St Benedict says, there are times when we should refrain even from good words. Tonight is one of them.

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