Monday, December 9, 2013

When the Lord is our integrity, our world is ordered.

Singapore held its annual marathon last weekend.  But apart from its usual hype and hoopla surrounding this well publicized event, something rather strange and awkward made the news as well.  A participant was caught cheating in the race, and it was revealed that he took some other mode of transport by-passing the various check-points and turned up at the finishing line in a time that was way ahead even of the fastest runners around.  His photo was taken (as would be anyone who breasts the finish line) and his stunt was splashed on the front page of the local newspaper.  Needless to say, this story raised the ire of many.  Apparently, all this pastry chef wanted was the finisher’s T-Shirt and the medal.  The vitriol that came from the public came fast a furious.  There were various points of discontent, anger and incredulity - from feeling sad for this person for having to stoop so low just for a T-Shirt and a medal, to the real hard-core marathoners who voiced that this person really doesn’t understand the meaning of a marathon and what it takes to be a marathoner.  But underlying it all was a general pervasive view that there was no integrity in this act.  Some were quoted as saying that if he could cheat so blatantly in such a public event, what was to prevent him from cutting corners in his work and use ingredients that are cheap and perhaps dangerous to the customer’s health?  My brother, ever the wordsmith, had a field day naming some baked items he may put up from now on – Cheat Cake (cheese cake), Cheat and Ham Buns, and pies baked with Short Cut pastry (short crust pastry). 

Yes, integrity seems to be something that so many struggle with.  It is a very loaded word that implies that a person who has integrity really knows what to do in all aspects of life, and does not cut corners, who stands for truth and justice, and does not bow to the pressures of those who have bad or evil intentions in their endeavours.  Even inanimate objects are said to have integrity when their structure is sound, solid, wholesome and strong, and do not give way to the pressures of nature and physics.  An interesting article in the local paper yesterday made mention about how integrity in people is a rare find because true integrity has to be found in all levels for someone to be a person of integrity, not only when others are looking, but moreso when no one is looking.  It is false integrity if one is only honest in one’s dealings with one’s clients at work and with one’s taxes, but on the side, has a mistress and treats one’s employed helper at home like a slave and is cruel mean to them.  Indeed, true and complete integrity is not only a wonderful virtue, but it is also something that is a rare as the Kohinoor diamond.

What is it that spurs one to live in a fully integrated state in life?  Is it just a personal conviction that one should be living right, not just for oneself but for the good of society?  If so, then it is a purely subjective thing, and we run into all sorts of slippery slope situations because our human condition is so clever to justify our actions, even the questionably moral ones.  What is the gauge or standard to be judged by?  The writer of yesterday’s article in our local paper seemed to leave this rather open-ended perhaps because this paper is a secular paper and (for obvious Singapore reasons) cannot be seen to be promoting any religious ideas or views.

For us Christians, our integrity has not only a focal point, but also a common starting point – Jesus Christ.  His is the ‘Gold Standard’, which we who are baptized in him are called to follow and imitate. In all aspects in life, this God-Man perfected the ways of being human, and showed that it is possible to live an upright, moral and virtuous life, only by the grace of God.  The integrated man par excellence, Jesus,  calls all to ‘follow him’ so that the Kingdom of God can be manifest here on earth.   

But is this clarion call by Our Lord really heeded by his baptized followers with all seriousness and whole-heartedness?  Granted, it his is a tough act to follow, especially when we do not depend on the grace of God, but only on our own ‘moral compass’, which can go haywire at times.  Besides, the ways of the world seem to be tugging at us from different directions in situations that sometimes catch us off-guard.  I am only too well aware that it can be spiritually and even mentally taxing to be kept all the time on one’s toes to ensure that evil and sin is kept at arm’s length.  Humbling us, Prov. 24:16 reminds us that even the just man sins seven times a day.  What more the unjust or unenlightened one?

It is into this messy, sin-filled and weakened world that God chose to enter to ‘save’ us from ourselves.  This is what the essence of salvation is.  The life that Jesus came to give us is a life that allows us to live in tandem and in harmony with God’s own life.  It truly integrates us with God and if we truly understand and appreciate this, we can also understand why St Athanasius said, “God became man so that man can become god”.  Choosing anything lesser as our life’s aim and quest is then not only a foolish choice, but a choice that denies our fullest potential as the children of God. 

As the days leading to Christmas draw near, Christmas cribs can be seen in various places, from shopping malls to the gathering spaces in Churches.  Come Christmas, the figurine of the baby Jesus will be inevitably placed in a central place within that crib.  I’ve always noticed that the scale of the newborn figurine is always out of proportion compared to the other figurines in the crib.  Check it out for yourselves.  Scale-wise, the figure of the newborn is often akin to the size of a toddler.  But the general sentiment upon seeing this scene is often that of pity and regret – that this baby is a 'poor thing', and that this family really had it tough.  I guess as far as sentiments are concerned, these ‘sentimental feelings’ are understandable.

However, what most of us do not realise is that what happened in the incarnation is that God looked at the world and saw just how broken, sin-filled and disintegrated we human beings were, and declared –"this is a poor world and the people are truly 'poor things'.  I want to love them into becoming whole and to show them the way to Me.  In my Son, I will show them a true and fully integrated way of living, tough though the challenges may be.  My grace will be sufficient for them".

When we pause to think about it seriously, we have so much to be thankful for in this incredible act of mercy in the Incarnation.  But we hardly do that enough.  We are so caught up in the demands of our daily lives, and are only attentive to this call to perfection (be holy a I am holy – Lev. 11:44 and 1 Pet. 1:16) for an hour on Sundays when we turn up at the Eucharist, if at all.  And if we are not attentive to the goings on and the words of the Liturgy, more is lost on us and our faith becomes a mere name-tag that we wear than something that we live by and aim for. 

This second week of Advent the spirit of the Liturgy is to ask that Christ move us into action so that we can prepare ourselves for his coming not only as a sentiment at Christmas looking back at his birth in Bethlehem, but more importantly, for his second coming.  The word ‘action’ is pregnant with images of a courageously lived Christian life, fully integrated, leading us to mission and evangelization.  Are we attentive at each moment of our lives to live out the calling of our baptism?  This is the indeed the basis of our shared integrity.  Apart from this, we will all be falling apart. 


  1. Hmmm frLuke, until i believe He is a living God and truly loves Him, my integrity was below par. But because of my desire to love Him and He sees my desire, i am slowly climbing up the scale with His help. Pray for me father, that i may not go down the slippery slope and i thank the Lord for loving me, always.

    From Anthony de Mello's Contact with God : "It is only after we met Him that we understand what sin is and what love is"


  2. Hi, Fr Luke. Imagine, we used to have staff appraisals that attempted to rate employees on integrity, on a scale of say 1 to 5 or on the basis of 'have you reason to doubt? Yes/No'. Then, after a while, the HR experts realized that though integrity was highly desired, there was no way anybody could rate, test or predict it in others (and not to mention, in themselves). We can only endeavor to be people of integrity, and pray that, with God's grace and prompting we'll continually have the wisdom and fortitude to prove ourselves time and again. Also to be there for others who need our forgiveness, support and encouragement in their quest to be people of integrity. Hope you're getting stronger. Ignatius & Florence

  3. Sharing this two verses that I came across, we must learn to let go of our hurts, pride and sins in order to receive that peace and love that God is showering upon us everyday.

    "Jesus came to bring peace. He tells people, over and over, not to be afraid. But peace begins at home, within our walls and within ourselves.

    Jesus offers us peace, but we have to be willing to take the step to rid ourselves of all that gets in the way of that peace." Get well soon, Fr Luke. Peace, Zita