A member of the community has opined (such a glorious word, ‘opined’) that it is about time I wrote a serious, deeply theological or liturgical post rather than regaling readers with what she clearly regards as mere flim-flams. How dare she, I thought, what a busybody! Of course, most of us love giving others the benefit of our opinion, and provided we do it kindly or wittily or even flatteringly as in the case of my dear sister in Christ, who ended her remarks with ‘You’re not as stupid as you look!’, who could possibly take umbrage? Whether the subject be politics, COVID-19, the Church, or anything else of current moment, we are happy to think we have insights others don’t and are generous in our sharing. Sometimes we can even make our prayer a sustained exercise in telling God how to order things better.
Today’s first Mass reading, Isaiah 45.6-8, 18, 21-25 , is perfect for busybodies like us. It reminds us just how small we are in the scheme of things, how imperfect is our grasp of anything. That is not to crush us with a sense of our own insignificance, far from it. It is to allow us to see more clearly the true wonder of our own being and the wonder of God. Salvation comes from God alone, the creator of all that is, and what a God he is!
I am the Lord, unrivalled: there is no other god besides me.
A God of integrity and a saviour: there is none apart from me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,
for I am God unrivalled.
There is a lot to think about in that passage, but one word stands out for me. We hear it again and again during Advent: integrity. There is something about integrity that matters to God and should matter to us. At the root of the word is the idea of wholeness, consistency, and in Isaiah it is closely allied to honesty and salvation. In fact, I think we could claim that integrity provides us with an Advent programme in itself, making it possible for us to receive the gift of salvation offered to us in the Incarnation. People of integrity do not often lead easy lives themselves, but they make life easier for others. We know they can be trusted, that their opinion and advice is worth having, but there are no short-cuts to becoming a person of integrity ourselves. It means hard work, renunciation of self in both large and little things, and perseverance. The busybody flits from one thing or person to another, delighting in the sunshine of attention and sometimes upset; the man or woman of integrity is more like a quiet river, moving steadily but unshowily to the journey’s end. I know which I’d rather be, don’t you?