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Blessed are the Pure in Heart: pursuing a life of integrity

May 22, AD 2017 0 Comments

What does the word integrity mean to you?

Is it a catchphrase? Something that calls up vintage 1950’s sepia images of Boy Scouts saluting and pledging to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight?” Does it evoke images of West Point Cadets, clean-cut and standing arrow straight in spotless uniforms? Captain America telling the world, “No. You move?”

Is it a word that you take seriously? Or is it a caricature, something that was drilled into your head in Basic Training as one of the “Army Values” by the same Drill Sergeant who taught out of the other side of his mouth “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying, and if you get caught you’re not good enough.”

Does integrity mean telling the truth? Doing what you believe is right?

For me, integrity means so much more than that.

The word integrity comes from the Latin word “integer.” This word, of course, survives in the English language in mathematics, where it indicates a whole number that is complete in itself. An integer is not a part of something, it is a whole, real number. It can be divided but the divisions are artificial, the number is real.

“Integer” is also the root of other words, such as integrated, and integral. Something that is integrated is drawn together into a cohesive whole. It speaks, not so much of homogeneity, but of unity. An integral part of something is a part that is not divisible from the whole without altering the nature of that whole.

It is this linguistic background that informs my view of integrity. When I speak of the “integrated life” or a life of integrity (I prefer the former term) I mean a life lived without contradiction (speaking against) or duplicity (duplex, double-ness, two-faced-ness). That is, I strive to bring every aspect of the human person (myself) into absolute, perfect cooperative synchronicity with every other part.

This is hard to explain in abstract terms, but there are a number of metaphors and examples that I think of in connection with it. I like the image of a fencing lunge, in which the entire body drives behind the tiny point of a flexible foil. The slightest disunity of the body, the smallest mis-coordination between the body parts would deprive the lunge of its speed and power. This holds true for almost any physical or martial skill, from arm-wrestling to combat shooting. Nearly any of them at its highest level is a study in disciplining the body and mind to choose one thing without distraction or dilution.

In Japanese calligraphy “each movement of the fude, or brush, is ideally performed with the full force of one’s mind and body, as if one’s very life depended upon the successful completion of each action.

I think of the title of Søren Kierkegaard’s magnificent “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.” He examines Jesus’ statement from the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and isolates the life-long choice of God, and rejection of all that is not God as the key to holiness.

I think of Jesus’ words:

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old,[a] ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[b] 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28.

This adultery of the heart is the real sin, not because the body doesn’t matter, but because it does matter. By the time adultery of the body is a risk, the heart has already been compromised. Any (sexual) thought or desire willingly spent on a woman other than your wife is energy not spent on her. It is a little wavering or duplicity in the all-of-you that detracts from the whole.

Integrity is focus, the unwavering focus of the will upon the beloved, which is first and foremost God. This focus is maintained through all the vagaries of life, through all distraction, situation and circumstance. Prayer is silence with Christ, service of other people is service of Christ, studying is learning the world that He has created, , exercise is worshipping Christ through disciplining the body. Dishes washed, diapers changed or folded, picture books read, block towers built, all of these are for and with and in Christ.

The more fully I practice this ideal, the more I begin to understand sin in a new way. Sin is anything that distracts and draws me away from this primary purpose of my life. This means that I will have to answer for things like all the time I wasted playing video games or aimlessly scrolling on Facebook. And it is not to God that I will have to answer, or at least, not in the way I have always imagined it. God is not going to show me all of my sins and glare at me and say, “You had better have a good explanation for all of these.” He is going to look at me and I am going to look at Him and then I will kick myself (for a purgatorial moment) for all the time I wasted chasing dross instead of loving Him.

It also means that I need to re-evaluate my response to my own weakness and sinfulness. The primary need is to focus on Jesus. When I fail at that, it does me no good to look back on that failure and wallow in guilt and self-blame. That is just more time wasted, more time not focused on Him. Instead I need to give it to Him, confess it if necessary, and then return to looking at Him. Since this happens about 40 or 50 times a minute, I get a lot of practice at it.

This is integrity, or at least my approach to it: a constant turning back to the goal.

Filed in: Life, Spirituality

About the Author:

Ryan Kraeger is a cradle Catholic homeschool graduate, who has served in the Army as a Combat Engineer and as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant. He now lives with his wife Kathleen and daughter Evelyn near Tacoma, WA and plans on going to school to become a Physician's Assistant. He enjoys reading, thinking, and conversation, the making and eating of gourmet pizza, shooting and martial arts, and the occasional dark beer. His website is The Man Who Would Be Knight.