Since last night’s sad news of the death of former President George H. W. Bush, I have been tremendously touched by the tributes that have been pouring in from all over the world. The last President of ‘the greatest generation’ and a hero of World War II, his entire life was a living legacy to the word ‘service.’ Exceptionally prepared for the Presidency having served our country in Congress, as an Ambassador to the UN and envoy to China, the Director of the CIA and finally, serving as Vice-President under President Ronald Reagan, he was the epitome of the now lost art of politics at its best – serving others rather than self. Over and over again, the word that came to mind in reflecting on this man of character was integrity.
Integrity is a relatively rare virtue today. It is the fruit of day after day after day of living in hope, trying to be the kind of person you would admire, “even when no one is watching,” so writes the famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.
My friends, as we celebrate today the beginning of a new liturgical year with this First Sunday of the Advent Season, God’s word once again calls us to a foundational truth of our faith. That truth can be summed up in the following scriptural maxim, We have not here a lasting city. It is so very easy for all of us caught up in the daily challenges that are before us each day, whether that be our work, school, family life or other relationships, to lose sight of the bigger picture of our human and Christian existence. God’s word in these first weeks of Advent calls us to reflect on the somewhat unpopular and unpleasant realities that we sometimes call the four last things: death, judgment, hell and heaven. Let’s be honest folks, when was the last time you heard a homily about these topics? As uncomfortable as these verities are in our lives, we avoid them at our own peril.
I began these reflections with a quote on ‘integrity’ because our pilgrimage in life will ultimately be judged by how well we have lived that virtue, even when no one is watching. Of course, in truth, you and I are always under the watchful and loving gaze of a God who has challenged us to be his voice, his hands and his heart in a world fractured by brokenness and fear.
The Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading speaks of two realities that we all long for in life: to be safe and secure. These are indeed fragile realities that can be snatched from us in an instant by jihadi terrorists or a crazed gunman in a second-grade classroom.
In the midst of the world’s fragility, God’s word calls us to be ready at any moment for these four last things. Our readiness, of course, must be grounded in the courage and tenacity we give to living our lives daily with integrity.
In these recent years on the political scene, we sadly have an overabundance of examples of what it means not to be a person of integrity - The crude and demeaning caricature of fellow human beings, the twisting of truth to serve one’s own narrow ends, the narcissistic exultation of one’s own self-made accomplishments. Yes, we do indeed have one too many examples of what it means not to be persons of integrity in our world and society today.
No wonder then that all of us hunger for mentors, heroes and examples of courageous men and women who have selflessly paid the price of living lives of integrity, even when no one is looking.
Often, these individuals will never make the front pages of our newspapers or be in the media’s spotlight. The parents who daily attend to the needs of a child with special needs, a husband whose unfailing love is there for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease, a government official who quietly and without fanfare is truly concerned with shaping the common good of our country.
Integrity is a relatively rare virtue today. It is the fruit of day after day after day of living in hope, trying to be the kind of person you would admire, “even when no one is watching.” My friends, let us pray this Advent for this grace in this life so that we can face with hope and joy the eternal home that awaits us in the next.