It all started with moments of self-entitlement. Lapses of judgment led to lies and cover ups. It all ended in the current predicament of the Canadian government, which has been consumed by the Senate expenses scandal. It is very easy to accuse the guilty parties, or simply to play partisan politics. I don’t intend to judge the senators, and those who are accused of assisting with cover-ups due to their lapse in judgement. Their actions are being examined by the Senate, and suspensions, sanctions and criminal charges, if any are laid, are being assessed.
Rather, I choose to examine the very root of the problem; namely, lack of integrity. When Mom caught me cheating or lying as a child, she used to tell me, “Integrity is forever.” Mom was a bit scary when she rebuked me. She put the fear of God in me. Unfortunately, I did not quite learn the lesson, and over the years I have struggled at times to be an authentic person. I know how hard it is at times to live integrally, to live integrity.
Integrity is a matter or character and authenticity. One of my philosophy professors once said that integrity is a form of coherence. To live integrally means to live in a coherent way. There must be coherence between our beliefs and our actions. This points to the need for authenticity, the moral uprightness to do what the right thing, whether someone is watching or not. It also indicates the need for character, the strength to do what is right and not what is easy.
The Senate’s scandal is not very different from our own occasions of infamy and disgrace. The wrongdoings of some senators led to public embarrassment, and the discovery of misuse and cover-up led to audits and inquiries. This type of events are not unusual; many of us in society struggle to live authentically. The problem seems to be twofold: we struggle to know what is right because our conflicting desires, and we lack the strength to do what is right because of our sinfulness. Lemony Snicket puts it this way: “There are times in this harum-scarum world when figuring out the right thing to do is quite simple, but doing the right thing is simply impossible…”. St. Paul complained about the same (Rom 7:18).
We struggle because of our conflicting desires; with our desire to glorify God and our many desires to glorify ourselves. When we act each moment out of our strongest current desire in us without deliberation or discernment, we lack integrity. When we do what is easy and not what is right, we live inauthentically. To live without integrity and authenticity brings scandal to our lives and pain to others. It happens in small things such as calling in sick to work when all we need is a lieu day, or telling a white lie to get our way or cover our tracks. It also happens in other ways which end up in dishonour and shame.
The best way to rid ourselves of the dishonesty that weakens our judgment and our character is not unlikely to the solution put forth by the Senate: an inquiry. By praying the examination of consciousness (also known as the Examen prayer), we are called to inquire and examine the areas of our lives where we need more coherence and truthfulness. We also need to ask for the grace to know and to do what is right, specially when it is not easy. The Examen gives us the opportunity to thank God for moments of authenticity, and the ways in which he strengthens our character. This examination of our lives invites us to pray for those who struggle to live authentically.
Discernment is a wonderful practice that helps us to live an authentic life. It is a way to learn to stand for what is right and to do away with those desires that lead to self-glorification and scandal. The Lord is constantly inviting us to examine the areas of our lives where we lack coherence. Let us accept the Lord’s invitation. Let us ask him to give us the wisdom and the strength of character we need. He calls us away from the slippery slope of incoherence into authentic lives that allow us to love and to serve.