Saturday, December 3, 2011

Talking About Integrity

The strict application of methodical discipline should not mean just the pursuit of success; it should mean the pursuit of truth and the readiness to find it. That methodological strictness, which again and again lays upon us the obligation to subject ourselves to what we have found, and not just to follow our own wishes, can amount to a great school in being human and can make man capable of recognizing and appreciating truth.
Truth and Tolerance, 159
Reflection – Ratzinger is talking here about integrity. We all want what we want, when and as we want it. Such is our fallen human condition. But when we engage with the world, we are all called, in integrity, to something a little more noble than that, a slightly higher bar of behavior.
He writes here in the context of his own field of life (which happens to be mine, too, at least at the present moment): theology, writing. And here there is a great call for integrity. When one deals in words all the time, there can be a great temptation to, well, say whatever you want! Words are infinitely pliable; the twenty-six letters of the alphabet just keep combining in all sorts of neat ways. And if I get the words wrong, it's not like crashing a car into a ditch or burning the soup.
Those of us who write as a way of life are called to a serious discipline, then. Words must be at the service, not of my saying whatever fool notion pops into my head, but of truth. The best truth I can get to, anyhow, right now. The same holds for artists and musicians, although I would be hard pressed to say much about the quest for truth and integrity in those fields, since they are not mine.
Always, though, in the creative fields there must be a certain grappling with not just self-expression, but with the Truth that is bigger than the artist, that is outside the artist and also within him or her, and which all of us live our lives in dialogue with. Real self-expression demands this: the real me is living in a real world with a real God and a real Truth I did not make.
But this call to integrity is for everyone, not just people who can be formally categorized as artists or scholars in one field or another. All of us are called to engage in our field of action with a concern for the ultimate reality of life—God, the human condition, the demands of justice, the demands of charity, the soul, death, suffering. All that good stuff.
It seems to me that this is what Catherine de Hueck Doherty, founder of Madonna House, had in spades: a profound vision of how every task of human life, from the most seemingly mundane (sweeping a floor, washing dishes) to the most seemingly exalted (composing a symphony, writing poetry) fit into the large cosmic vision of reality. Everything is at the service of love, everything taken up into the building of the Body of Christ in the world, the extension of the Kingdom into all creation.
And so the way every task is to be done reflects that. As she would say, ‘you can go to heaven or hell sweeping a floor’ – how it is done reflects the extent to which you connect this task with eternal realities and the call of the Gospel to love and serve.
It is all about being faithful to ‘what we have found, and not our own wishes’ as Ratzinger puts it. It is all about finding ourselves in a world where God has come (O Come, O Come Emmanuel…). He has come. He is here, and nothing is left outside that coming, that presence. Those of us who say we believe that must live with a great attentiveness, a great responsibility in our lives, so that how we shape and fashion our world through the work of our hands, minds, and hearts can faithfully correspond to the mystery we have found ourselves immersed in.

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