Integrity: The Lord’s and Ours
He was alone in the desert. No
one would see him. No one would
witness his giving in to the devil. He
had plenty of excuses available. He
was hungry. He had been fasting for
forty days. Why shouldn’t he do
something drastic to get something to eat?
He felt within him the call to lead his people from oppression.
With one meaningless action he could become powerful.
Wouldn’t any price be worth it if he could lead the people against Rome
and establish Israel as the greatest empire in the world?
He knew that he was special, chosen.
What would be so wrong with his grasping at power when it was offered to
him? Then there was that third
temptation. He believed in
scripture. Isn’t it reasonable
that he should demand a sign from Father? The
Father certainly was demanding a great deal from him.
There were plenty of excuses Jesus could have made if he had given in to
the devil’s temptations. But
there was something that would be demanded of him.
He would have to sacrifice his integrity.
He would have to sacrifice that spiritual part of him that said, “Trust
in God,” for the sake of the physical part of him that said, “Seize the
In the wilderness, where no one could observe, Jesus chose not self but
service of God. He quoted Deuteronomy
8:30 and 6:13 to the devil’s first two temptations, using the Torah
to assert that human life is defined by more than physical subsistence, not by
bread alone, and that service is owed only to the ultimate source of life, the
The third testing from the parapet of the Temple was the most severe, for
in it the very support for Jesus’ opposition to the devil was subverted.
The devil quoted scripture. Jesus
should test his son-ship against the promise of God to protect him.
Jesus rebuked the devil with Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall not
test the Lord your God.”. He
will not force the Father’s hand. He
will be the servant of Isaiah 50:10 who walks in darkness yet trusts in
the name of the Lord. Later on,
Jesus will leap from another high place. At
the end of the Gospel Jesus will leap into his Father’s hands as he cries out
in the words of Psalm 30: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The devil left Jesus--for a time, he
would return when once more the Lord was severely weakened, this time during the
emotional turmoil of the Agony in the Garden.
The devil would return, but again he would find the Lord strong in faith.
Jesus’s integrity was intact.
I have been drawn to the theme of integrity this Lent by reading I have
been doing on the philosophical teaching of Pope John Paul II.
A human being is a creature that is both physical and spiritual.
A human being has the ability to love as God loves.
A human being has the capacity to encounter the love of God.
This Sunday I have to add something that is difficult: A human being is
capable of compromising his or her
existence, his or her integrity. When
we sin, when I sin, when you sin, we plunge into turmoil.
We might make believe that there is nothing wrong with us.
We certainly are expert at rationalizing our actions, but we are torn up
within ourselves. When we sin we
are in turmoil. When we fight off
temptation, we are in peace.
Every priest has had the humbling experience of walking with people from
turmoil to peace. The experience
takes place in the sacrament of penance.
The priest is not just an intermediary with God forgiving sins, but a
witness to a person becoming whole. It is humbling because the priest is acutely
aware of his own sinfulness, the times that he has chosen the physical over the
spiritual, chaos over integrity.
At the same time it is a beautiful experience for a priest to walk with a
penitent towards peace. The priest
is privileged to be part of a person becoming fully human, integrating the
physical and spiritual dimensions of his or her life, trusting in God to be
This Sunday’s Gospel reading demands that I take the blinders off my
heart and see where I am in turmoil. The
reading demands that I listen to the Word of God within me calling me to be the
person the Lord has given me the capacity to be.
The reading offers me peace over turmoil.
The reading offers you peace, also. Where is your turmoil?
Where do you lack integrity? Is
it in your relationship with family and friends? Are hatred and grudges destroying you? Is your lifestyle
wholesome? Are you rationalizing your way through immorality?
The ancients saw the three temptations of the Lord as describing three
main categories of sin: love of pleasure, love of possessions, and love of
power. When pleasure, possessions
or power become the goals of our lives, we sacrifice our integrity to the god of
materialism. We sacrifice our
wholesomeness to turmoil. Sin is
Human integrity, the wholeness of body and soul, physical and spiritual,
is the focus of the first part of Lent. You
and I have to begin Lent by looking within ourselves. Am I in peace, or am I in turmoil? If I am honest enough with myself then I have to admit that
over the last year certain things have
crept into my life without my
hardly noticing them. They might
seem small, not worth noting, but they can wrecked havoc with my being, and
bring chaos where there should be peace. Unless I am careful, my integrity can
be compromised. Perhaps, if you are
honest with yourselves, you also will recognize that which has crept into your
lives that can reduce you to someone who is less spiritual, less human.
Folks, when we feel disjointed, torn up inside, just not happy with
ourselves, then we need to be aware of something: The Lord does not want us
hurting this way. He wants us to be
whole, wholesome, and at peace. He
gives us his power and strength to preserve and integrate our body and soul. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me Lord my
God we sang in the Responsorial Psalm, from Psalm 91. He is with us. He
is on our lips and in our hearts St. Paul tells the Romans, and us.
With him we can conquer any enemy. With
him we can scale any wall. With him
we can fight off temptation. With
him we can preserve, or if needed, restore our integrity.
If we want to make a good Lent, our main focus should not be on what we
give up, what prayers we say, what charity we practice. If we want to make a
good Lent, more than that, if we want to be better Christians, our focus should
be on our integrity, the harmonious union of our physical and spiritual lives.
Jesus Christ offers us dignity. Jesus Christ offers us peace.
Jesus Christ offers us integrity.