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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 3rd January 2021.

‘Integrity’

We are now in that part of the Church’s year called the Christmas Season, between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6 January). The Common Worship order of service for Morning Prayer during the Christmas Season includes these words, taken from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 61:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my soul shall exult in my God;
who has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
and has covered me with the robe of integrity.

I have been reflecting this week on the word ‘integrity’. In some translations of this passage from the original Hebrew, the word ‘righteousness’ is used instead of ‘integrity’.

So, what is integrity? Someone once rather facetiously defined it thus: “Live so that the preacher can tell the truth at your funeral”. But there is rather more to it than that!

Integrity implies honesty, uprightness, truth, righteousness. It implies behaving in a way that the majority of right-thinking people would expect you to behave and, for Christians, behaving in the way we think God would expect us to behave.

There should be integrity in the way we behave towards others, and personal integrity within our own hearts – being prepared only to do, think and say what we feel is right in God’s eyes. And being honest to God.

Integrity is about sticking to one’s beliefs. Three and a half years ago I conducted the funeral of a dear friend at Thorney Abbey. Before he died he asked me to include certain things in the service and on the order of service. One of the things he wanted was to have his school’s motto, which he had always tried to live by, on the cover of the order of service. He had attended St. Peter’s School in York, said to be the oldest Cathedral school in the country. The motto of the school when he was a boy was, ‘Do what is right, come what may’. That is perhaps the simplest definition of integrity that I can offer.

So integrity is standing by, and acting by, a set of religious or moral beliefs, ‘come what may’. It is not always easy to maintain integrity. Maintaining religious integrity has cost many people their lives. To this day Christians who live in areas of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith are having to face a choice between being forced to change their faith or refusing to give up their faith and suffering or even dying for it.

I think that most of us like to think that we are good judges of character. When we meet someone new, we try to weigh them up, and I am sure our instincts are more often right than not. We can normally work out whether someone is a person of integrity – someone who can be trusted, someone we can rely on, someone who has standards. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who was Roman emperor from 161 to 180AD, and also a philosopher, said: “A man of integrity, sincerity and good nature can never be concealed, for his character is wrought into his countenance.”

Going back to the quotation from Isaiah, Chapter 61, I think we could perhaps re-write thus, “God has filled me with integrity, therefore I rejoice in the hope of salvation.”

The past year has been a difficult one for us all. Let us look forward with hope for a better year ahead. Let us not waiver from the path of integrity, always doing what is right, ‘come what may’, and living in hope that we shall eventually come out of the current national ‘slough of despond’ (which John Bunyan described in A Pilgrim’s Progress as the mire into which Christians can all fall, if they give up hope). I pray that you will all be able to look forward to the New Year, and to an end to the current difficulties, in faith and hope and love – and above all with integrity towards God, your neighbour and yourself. Amen.

Fr. Ray