Editor, “Worship with Integrity” Pamplona, Spain
Editorial Note: This article first appeared at “Worship with Integrity” on April 13, 2015. It has been re-published here with the author’s permission.
As a young 20-something I thought it was normal to be angry and anxious, and depressed as I was. Thanks be to God in 2009 I began asking for help from a counselor and spiritual director named Greg McBride, who was recommended to me by my pastor. The work Greg helped me to do was some of the most personal and difficult I could have imagined, but also the most rewarding. That is because in the course of working with him, I learned to rediscover my integrity.
Integrity, he defined, is when we act according to our true nature. As a people dead to sin and reborn in Christ through the gift of baptism, we now have a heavenly dignity, a divine sonship. But in a world of sin, we often fail to respond in our integrity to the gift of our baptismal dignity. A good measure for whether we are acting within our integrity, I have found, is being attentive to when we are loving, honest, grateful and forgiving. Each of these virtues must be exercised together, for each virtue contains the others. Love, for example, naturally contains gratitude, honesty, and forgiveness. I have been meditating on these four words since I began my work with Greg, and on how I can always be acting in each of these four ways. Still, it is useful to define what we mean by each of these words.
Loving: C.S. Lewis wrote a book about the “Four Loves” illustrating that the ancient Greeks had many different words to describe love. But perhaps the best definition of love for our integrity is our own. That is, it is the way we are when we are first filled with love. Note well that this is not a “do,” but rather it is a “be.” This is because God does not have something he wants us to “do” nearly as much as he has someone he wants us to “be.” Of course, actions descend from being. I cannot act hatefully and at the same time “be” loving.
Honest: This is not the same kind of honesty as when someone rudely says, “I’m just being honest.” No, that kind of being honest is no honesty at all, because it is not spoken from a place of ownership. “Honest” means that we say something that we are willing to look back at years later and say, “Yes, I stand by that.” Because honesty is not something that we are always comfortable using, or at least haven’t learned to use well, this kind of looking inward takes some time and patience.
Grateful: Gratitude is the recognition that I am entitled to nothing, and that all I have is gift. Saying words of love and honesty won’t go far unless there is also deep gratitude for what the other is to us and how good God has been to us. Gratitude keeps us humble, it keeps us in perspective; it keeps us remembering the past well, and not in resentment or in vanity.
Forgiving: Forgiveness has to be given to ourselves and to others. If we lack forgiveness, we have not fully given up our desire to control circumstances or punish another. Forgiveness is the key to freedom that allows us to be fully confident in whatever it is we wish to do or say.
Loving, honest, grateful and forgiving, when exercised together, create a sort of rule by which we can judge our behaviors, in order to measure whether they are within our integrity or not. For myself, I cannot recall a time when I have been acting within my integrity and have sinned. For the times that I have sinned, I can always identify one of these four ways in which I had been lacking.
Acting within our integrity is particularly interesting when we consider our real identity: that is, our dignity in divine worship as sons and daughters of God, during the liturgy of the Mass. If I understand that I am God’s beloved son when I pray before the altar of almighty God, I cannot (when in my ‘integrity’) simply cross my arms and plug my ears. Instead, I would by my nature respond with gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice and the gift to me of the beautiful liturgy. I would be honest in my prayers before God, offering my tiredness, my imperfections and also my genuine love for him. I would be loving both to Jesus and to those around me since I have radically experienced his love. Finally, I would be forgiving both to myself and to those around me, because I would see that I have already been forgiven so much.
The incredible thing is that while we may err in acting within our integrity, our dignity as sons of God never changes. Sometimes we may feel helpless in our weakness against sin, and incapable of responding to God. But that’s only step one, “I can’t.” Step two is recognizing that there is one who can and will help us, and that one is the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, we are never without the gift of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to act within our integrity as we rediscover our dignity as true sons and daughters of God. In fact it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can worship with integrity and be transfigured; it is because of the Holy Spirit that our prayers and worship can be perfected. God has condescended to us to invite our perfected worship to be returned to him as a perfect offering and sacrifice.
Considering our integrity may be a particularly fruitful place to start for deepening the spiritual richness of our lives of liturgical prayer. When we serve at the altar with integrity, we embrace the crying babies and put off our judgment of others. When we act within our integrity we, by our natures, choose to swing the thurible a little more profoundly, to read from the lectionary a bit more thoughtfully, to do a bit more preparation and study outside of Mass, to offer our celebration or participation at Mass with genuine art. In return, we have the privilege of diving deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us, and we become luminous to those around us.