Responsibility. A big word, a big challenge in our world today. If we are to realize and perfect the true nature of our life as human persons we must take personal responsibility for our life choices and moral development. God chose to create us in his image and likeness and he gave us the gift of freedom to be able to freely choose the course of our life, to be in control of our own decisions and to seek God, our Creator, spontaneously and “come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him.” (Gaudium et spes, 17) Freedom is a powerful gift which we have received from God. The horizons of our freedom are vast but they are not unlimited. “Human freedom belongs to us as creatures; it is a freedom which is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly.” (Veritatis Splendor, 86) The exercise of our freedom is meant to proceed according to an obedience to the truth and guided by the objective good. If we are to remain free then we must learn to be responsible for our decisions and actions. Our freedom is limited by the objective good as we are not meant to choose for ourselves what is good and evil, thus seeking to supplant the sovereignty of our Creator and declare our self to be a god but rather to use our freedom in obedience to the revealed truth of God which He offers to us as a gift, mystery and task for our lives. The destiny of our human lives to ultimately live in communion with others and with God unfolds along a Way of Truth which we follow in freedom. Freedom entails responsibility and only by accepting personal responsibility for our decisions and actions do we remain free.
Responsibility for our use of the gift of freedom also entails accountability. If we are responsible then we are also to be held accountable. As human persons we are called to live in communion with others and with God. This communion is founded on love and the sincere gift of self that we offer to one another. Love and the communion that it fosters demands accountability. We are not only personally accountable to ourselves but also to the community and to God. Responsibility and accountability is not only personal but is also interpersonal.
I was speaking once with the chaplain at Miramar Marine base and he was sharing with me the hard lessons that young Marines had to learn about accountability for their decisions and behaviors. Many of them were experiencing and learning for the first time that they would be held accountable for their behaviors. Young Marines need to learn quickly that they are not only accountable to themselves but also to their superiors and to their fellow Marines whom they serve with.
Many persons who struggle with the responsible use of their freedom choose to have accountability partners. This is often a part of therapy programs for addictive behaviors such as drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling and pornography. These accountability partners allow them to remain free from the slavery to disordered desires and the destructive consequences of personal freedom that has been degraded to a sense of license, too prevalent in our world today.
Today’s gospel presents us with a challenging teaching by Jesus on accountability within the Church. We are meant to be accountable to one another and the community of the Church. We live in the freedom of the children of God but that freedom is not without limits. Our freedom is not meant to be an occasion for sin and personal license. We are responsible to one another for our Christian growth in love and for our ultimate salvation. We are called to hold one another accountable for our decisions and our behaviors. This accountability is guided by the demands of love and community. As the prophet Ezekiel reminds us today in our first reading, we have been appointed as “watchmen” for one another within the community. There is a communal responsibility that we share for the good of one another in the community. The world often urges us to “mind our own business” and to ignore what others are doing in society but the common good of the community and the good of our brothers and sisters in community makes our neighbors good our business and our responsibility. We cannot remain truly free and united in love if we do not exercise our social responsibilities and our role as watchmen within the community.
Jesus offers us a process of calling a brother or sister to responsible behavior. In this process we are serving our brothers and sisters in love. Our interventions should be guided by love and mercy and have the end of the common good always in mind. Only in this way can we truly preserve the gift of freedom that God has entrusted to us as gift and task to build up the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom of righteousness and truth.