A Pastoral Exhortation on Integrity
“Blessed the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights
in his commands” (Ps. 112:1)
OUR beloved People of God:
The BEAUTY OF INTEGRITY of persons, of community, and of all creation manifests the glory and wisdom of God! It is an integrity that requires honesty and consistency, surely, as the word ordinarily means. But even honesty and consistency are not valuable in themselves; they point beyond to a truthful reality as reference and center; they are as attractive only as the beauty of the truth they refer to. When integrity attracts, it radiates not merely consistency but also cohesion, fittingness, a wholeness that shines forth identity and ultimately its source and creator, God.
We, your pastors humbly recognize our struggle to be integrable in our service to the Church as teachers of the faith, shepherds of the flock and stewards of the temporal goods entrusted to our care.
We are not blind and deaf to the corruption of Philippine society. We see corruption in public life, in personal lives, corruption of the environment and corruption of souls. As we continue to take a prophetic denunciation of this social cancer called corruption, we wish to invite you to give a long reflective gaze at the beauty of integrity believing that we can overcome evil by the power of good (Rom. 12:21).
As Vatican II concluded, Venerable Pope Paul VI asserted, “This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration.” More than ever, our world needs the beauty of integrity to “encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation.”
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, allow us, your bishops, to envision and to outline briefly the theology and spirituality of integrity and its multidimensional pastoral applications, in the hope of inspiring us all in this Year of the Laity to be radiant in the integrity of our holiness, of being God’s own.
Theology and spirituality of integrity
Integrity is possible only when there is a centralizing or grounding reality, a principle that serves as the foundation and measure of integrity. For us Christians, this grounding principle is the fact that we are created by God in God’s image, and that we are social beings related to other humans in common humanity and dignity and we are stewards of creation. We are also meant to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect” (cfr. Mt 5:48). It is to be naturally drawn to the One who is eternal Life and Love, who is infinite Truth and Beauty. “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because we are created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw us to himself. Only in God will we find the truth and happiness we never stop searching for.” However, the entrance of sin caused “dis-integration” of our relationship with God, neighbor, creation, and self. Alienation was the initial sign of wounded integrity.
Hence, the truth of our creaturehood is most fully revealed by the Son of the Father, sent by the Creator to be our Redeemer. Thus, the principle of our integration is a person, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is a person who is much more than a concept, doctrine, or law, nurturing a friendship with Jesus becomes essential for Christian integrity. “Being Christian,” Pope Benedict writes, “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Pope Francis repeatedly echoes this point, “If there is no Encounter with Jesus, life becomes inconsistent, loses its meaning.”
This encounter, this friendship, this faith is a gift we receive from a benevolent and merciful God. It is a gift that is also a task. With St. Augustine we affirm, “The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed….. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him alone who is able to give it.”
Christ founded the Church to nurture and to share this faith for our integrity. The Church offers God’s grace through the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation precisely to initiate the believer in the ways of integrity. Through Baptism, we acquire our identity, “become members of Christ… are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” Through Confirmation, we “are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.” Through the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life,” we receive “the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God.”
Integrity and conscience
As we strive to live out our integrity, the radiant coherence of our faith and our life, we are guided in our moral choices by our conscience, that sacred space within us where we encounter God who urges us to do good and avoid evil. Obeying the double-duty of forming and following our conscience, we use our freedom wisely and responsibly, listening to and learning from God in prayer, through scripture, guided by Church teaching, and supported by community. In exercising authentic freedom, we consider not only what is good for ourselves but also what is for the greater good of others. God created us not as solitary beings but as social beings. We realize the fullness of our vocations as Christians only in relation with others. By our daily choices, by our lives of integrity or lack of it, we can add to networks of mutual help and generosity or we can sustain sinful structures in society.
Models of integrity
In desiring happiness, we are called to imitate our two Filipino saints, both laymen who lived out the integrity of their Christian faith all the way to death: St. Lorenzo Ruiz who died a martyr in Japan (29 September 1637) and St. Pedro Calungsod who died a martyr in the Marianas Islands (2 April 1672). As martyrs, they are models for us of “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith…for the martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity.” Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod trace for us a path to an integral life of holiness. “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history. Indeed, holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.”
Living the joy of integrity
As both gift and task, individual and collective integrity is a product of prayer and discernment. In 2010, in the midst of the political turmoil being experienced by the country, we your bishops called not for direct and immediate political action, but for “circles of discernment.” These circles of discernment were meant not only to assess the larger realities in our country but also to encourage all Filipinos of goodwill to reflect on how they too have been responsible for the situation. As we move from “circles of discernment” to “circles of integrity,” we also realize that integrity has both personal and communal components.
PERSONAL INTEGRITY. The key to social transformation and the building of a more just society is the fostering of integrity in every individual. “Authentic social changes are effective and lasting only to the extent that they are based on resolute changes in personal conduct.” A life of personal integrity, a moral upright life attests to the beauty of our vocation as children of God. We are fortunate to have ordinary Filipino citizens manifesting this kind of personal integrity, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Last year’s Typhoon Yolanda saw countless Filipinos give their time and resources, no matter how meager, for the relief efforts. This kind of generosity and heroism, often unrecognized, clearly demonstrates inner integrity.
INTEGRITY IN THE FAMILY. A privileged arena in which Christian integrity is manifested is in family life. Integrity is first learned within the family. One cannot underestimate the influence of family attitudes, practices, and values on the formation of one’s character. When children see their parents keeping promises and being faithful to one another, they learn to become trustworthy and responsible in their relationships. Let Paul’s words guide us: “Show yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect, with integrity in your teaching” (cfr. Titus 2:7).
The Church in the Philippines has been buoyed by the efforts of family-oriented groups that strive to promote integrity in marriage and family, while promoting a wider societal commitment. Our numerous charismatic organizations, marriage encounter groups, parish renewal experience chapters, and similar movements have been at the forefront of the Church’s various efforts to promote the Kingdom. We recall the many family life groups that rallied to the defense of life in the recent Reproductive Health Bill debates. If the family is truly the basic institution in the country, our Church, most especially through its committed lay groups, should continue championing family integrity.
INTEGRITY IN WORK AND POLITICS. “Better to be poor and walk in integrity than rich and crooked in one’s ways” (Proverbs 28:6). From the private circles of self and family, our “circles of integrity” must widen to encompass the crucial areas of societal life, especially in the economy, politics, social communications, arts & sciences and technology. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us that the economy needs a “people-centered” ethics in order to function correctly. Fostering integrity in the workplace is important and necessary, not simply for reasons of efficiency or morale but because it transforms work itself from being mere physical labor to becoming an activity that contributes to full human development. The burgeoning movement for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is commendable for the promotion of a truly just business and economic environment in the Philippines.
Integrity is especially needed in political leadership and participation. Corruption in politics distorts the role of political leaders and their relationship with constituents. The Second Plenary Council challenges the laity to participate in politics for “the pursuit of the common good” and “the promotion of justice,” paying particular attention to the service of the poor. It cannot be excluded that there are and there should be outstanding Catholic politicians who prove that it is possible to be unassailable public servants. In their own quiet ways, cooperatives, social entrepreneurs, individual and communal “whistleblowers,” election watchdog groups, and countless other individuals and organizations all strive to enhance integrity in political and economic life.
INTEGRITY IN THE CHURCH. Priestly formation has been geared towards producing ordained servant-leaders configured to Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Though the Church, then and now, has been tainted by the scandals of a few clergy, we are inspired by bishops, priests, and religious who have authentically witnessed a life of integrity in preaching the gospel as lived truth in their lives breaking bread in the Eucharist as they share in the sacrifice of those who suffer, and stewarding the resources of the Church as they reach out to the poor in their communities. We realize that formation to integrity is an ongoing process. And it is our hope that we learn from lay people who have been shining examples of integrity.
INTEGRITY OF CREATION. Finally, in the widest circle of our natural environment, we are called to be stewards of integrity caring for God’s creation. God created the natural world in an integral way. Every being is connected and dependent on other beings in an ordered system established by God. When this integrity of creation is violated, all life is threatened. Pollution affects our supply of clean air and drinking water. Over-fishing and improper land use diminish our capacity to catch and grow our food. Indiscriminate logging and mining lead to deadly flash floods and landslides. We need to recover our place in the integral system of creation as responsible users and stewards. Only in this way can all enjoy the beauty and bounty of God’s creation today and tomorrow.
The work of preserving creation’s integrity should be shared by all, and is perhaps the most all-encompassing “CIRCLES OF INTEGRITY” we are called to participate in.
Building a culture of integrity
To build a Culture of Integrity and to radiate its beauty, we need to foster values, build structures, and present role models that can teach, support, and exemplify integrity lived out in the real world.
1) We need to honor persons who have shown honesty, selflessness, courage, and fairness for the sake of others, even when seriously tempted to act selfishly: the taxi driver who returns money left behind, strangers who risk their lives to help others during natural disasters, government workers who refuse to be bribed, the election volunteer who vigilantly guards the ballot box. Their stories can inspire and teach others that a life of integrity is neither impossible nor foolish but is our true calling as citizens and as members of one human family.
2) We need to foster a spirit of solidarity among our people to replace the clannish, exclusive mentality, and “kanya-kanya” attitudes that prevent the formation of true communities of mutual help. We need to be responsible for one another, particularly for the welfare of the least of our brothers and sisters, not only during natural disasters but also each day of our journey as a pilgrim people.
3) We need to ground all our efforts at building a culture of integrity on Love. “No legislation, no system of rules or negotiation will ever succeed in persuading peoples to live in unity and peace; no line of reasoning will ever be able to surpass the appeal of love.” Love is “a force capable of inspiring new ways of approaching the problems of today’s world, of profoundly renewing structures, social organizations, legal systems from within.”
As we previously emphasized for this Year of the Laity, “The renewal of our country thus demands of us all, and especially of you, our lay faithful, a return to truthfulness and the fostering of the sense of the common good…. We must seek the truth, speak the truth, do the truth… and to do so ‘in love,’ that is, in solidarity with and service of others.” When we cultivate the integrity of our holiness, relying on the abundant grace of God, we give a powerful testimony to the Author of Integrity, whose joy is to lead all humanity and creation to the fullness and wholeness of God. We join Pope Francis in observing that, “the Church…does not grow through proselytism; it grows through attraction, through witness.”
May the humble and radiant witness of our Mother Mary, along with the prayerful support of Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod, keep us united to each other and committed to our life of integrity in love!
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, July 8, 2014
(SGD)+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan