Word Magazine March 1983 Page 19
“MY LONG WHITE PLUME”
Homily By Father James C. Meena
I have preserved my integrity intact, O Lord, and I have not submitted to the temptations that have been placed before me.
This statement is a paraphrasing of the content and purpose of the teachings of most of the “Wisdom Books” of the Old Testament. While the New Testament is filled with admonitions to love one another, the Old Testament is filled with examples of integrity and self-respect. The influence of those ancient teachings probably motivated our Lord to condense it all in that which we call the Golden Rule, “Do unto others that which you would have others do unto you”.
Integrity is important in business, in government and especially in how we relate to each other. If we can just put ourselves in the other person’s shoes for a moment and ask those questions which Christ always requires that we ask, “What would I want done if I were in that person’s place? How would I want to be treated? How would I want to be thought of?” Then we would treat that person with respect which reflects our own measure of self-respect.
In the death scene of Cyrano de Bergerac, the mortally wounded hero says to his friends, “I have preserved my panache”. That long white plume, worn by the cavaliers, was indicative of honor and integrity. Cyrano, who would not compromise with immorality, with disrespect or with dishonor, died having preserved his integrity. That was the most important thing in life to him.
When we judge others, because we don’t wish to be judged, we lose our integrity as when we give negative criticisms. While we will accept criticism that is constructive, we all resent criticism that is destructive. “Do unto others” . . . such a simple formula. It was important to our grandparents, who did not have the gift of literacy, who heard the Word of God from the mouth of preachers and ministers in the Church, or heard it in story form from their parents who never had the privilege of opening a book and reading Holy Writ, yet who somehow knew that integrity is the keystone of a life of faith.
Those who were raised having an Arabic father share with me one of the most important lessons that a father teaches, that next to God is integrity and a person who lives without honor cannot possibly know God! Integrity means that our word is worth more than written contracts, that promises are very carefully and cautiously made but once made, never broken. Honor means that we do not gossip, we do not allow ourselves to think poorly of others or to fall into that human temptation that somehow we make ourselves more than we are by making our neighbors less.
Much of the greatness of St. John the Baptist is found in his attitude toward the Messiah. Jesus has been welcomed by John’s greeting. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world”, (St. John 1:29). He then instructs his followers by saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease”, (St. John 3:30). In the very utterance of those words he created for himself an indisputable place in the history of the Church. How easy it would have been for a John without integrity to fall into the temptation of self-glory, the need to seem more than he was by making Jesus seem less than He was.
When we see a friend falling, do we not secretly rejoice rather than reaching out in compassion? Do we not think smugly within ourselves, “I knew he would fail. He failed and I didn’t, so that makes me better than he is”. Thereby we blind ourselves to our own failures and weaknesses and we lose our integrity. Or seeing others ascending the ladder of success are we so filled with envy that we wish them to fail? Rather than glorying in their success so many of us fear that their success means failure for us. How tragic! How sad! How totally without integrity!
“Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbors”. It’s very easy to gloss over that Commandment. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. It’s very easy to make that an abstraction. But when these Commandments sink in so deeply that our “gut reaction” is a desire to transcend our own envy and treat others as we want to be treated, these Commandments have true meaning for us. Then we will keep our word with integrity and we will express the Word of God with honor.