We tend to fall to pieces, don’t we? I don’t mean emotionally, or socially, or psychologically, though our fragmentation certainly reaches through every aspect of our lives. But at the deepest, spiritual levels of our personhood we possess a tendency to dis-integration, a tendency away from the wholeness and completeness that characterize a person with integrity.
This has always been the case, ever since Adam and Eve fell in Eden, but it’s good to be aware of the ways in which modern society and life exacerbate our predisposition towards self-division. Our communities are fragmented and isolated, and the groups which we choose to associate with are dissociated from each other. Our neighbors are rarely the same people we see in the supermarket aisle, who are not the same people we see in our children’s schools, who are different from those with whom we share hobbies. And because people move so frequently, it is rare that any of those we see regularly are extended family.
When relationships exist in entirely separated social worlds, it is very easy to be one person around some friends and another around others. The masks that we are tempted to wear become habitual, precisely because they can be so effective in modern society. It’s even become a sitcom joke. But it’s no joke that our manufactured self-presentation and identities can become impenetrable even to ourselves; in the midst of the many personas we adopt it is easy to lose a real sense of self.
Perhaps that’s why someone with true integrity and a solid sense of self can be so notable. We all know that priest who is the exact same person whether he is standing in the pulpit, sitting in the confessional, or simply shooting the breeze at a parish festival. And there is the mother who is the same person at work with a client, cheering at her son’s soccer game, or relaxing with friends. There are no masks here; there is only the authenticity and integration of true integrity.
The font of this integrity is found in the sacraments, and especially in Confession and the Eucharist, which give proper ordering to life. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, around which integrity is built and which is the sacrament of unity. Confession is the sacrament of spiritual healing, restoring order and integrity that have been damaged by sin. A devout heart which regularly approaches Confession and the Eucharist will find there truth and peace. Looking in the eyes of Christ, the heart learns self-knowledge that destroys the falsehood of manufactured masks. It will see the ultimate self-knowledge of being a creature, having origin and end within that same Christ, where we will find true integrity and completion.
Image: public domain