One of the most challenging situations a human being can face is holding someone accountable for their actions because rarely does someone want to be told what they can or cannot do. Or better yet, what they can say or not say. In our current societal state of affirming our right to basically say anything, we might get into trouble for merely suggesting some form of spiritual or moral accountability.
Christian holiness is an act of faith all of us are called to participate in. It reflects a genuine desire to seek the good in another person an in-turn exhibit proper respect and dignity toward our fellow man. We are called to be perfect like our heavenly Father (Mt 5: 48). The way of perfection as described in St. Matthew’s Gospel requires a spiritual progress aimed at developing an interior relationship with Jesus Christ.
Christ’s specific directive to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is a call toward spiritual accountability. For us to conceive the actual thought of following Christ’s directive of spiritual perfection we must examine our own relationship with Christ and to a greater degree examine our conscience in the times we have strayed from our journey toward spiritual perfection.
The First Commandment
The first commandment establishes the ground work on exercising the virtue of accountability by its command to worship the one true God our Father in Heaven (Lk 10:27). In acknowledging our belief and assent in God we affirm a very basic but most important tenet of our Catholic faith, belief and worship in “I am who am.” The first commandment embraces faith, hope and charity (CCC 2086). The relationship between the theological virtues, the first commandment and our act of faith reflects our Baptism and the identity we received as children of God.
By nature of our Christian identity we make a vow to God which involves a deliberate and free promise. It’s an act of devotion that dedicates ourselves to God and the promise to serve Him (CCC 2102).
Holding Someone Accountable
The first instance required in spiritual accountability is truth. No one ever wants to be lied to or be led into a false narrative of a situation. We are bound to always seek the truth and embrace it (CCC 2104). Whether we attempt to hold someone spiritually or morally accountable for their actions, our intentions must be directed towards Christ for the sake of the soul. This means when placed in a situation of accountability we should first recognize and seek the dignity of the human person throughout. Holding someone spiritually or morally accountable involves a gradual but firm movement toward a conversion of heart. This is so the person in question does not feel threatened and understands the concerns brought to his attention.
A very crucial tenet of the accountability process is intercessory prayer. When you finally decide that the time has come to hold someone accountable for their actions it is important the you have prayerfully discerned that this is the best time to initiate this process. Accountability is not dictatorial, it’s an opportunity to engage in a direct conversation about someone’s behavior and address it in a respectful and prayerful manner. Some key examples of this methodology can be found in Christ’s exhortation about “taking one’s cross” and following Him (Lk 9:23-27) Christ’s healing of the sinful woman (Lk 7:36-50) and man’s resurrection (Mk 12:18-27).
I close with the following quote from St. Padre Pio who offers us a great reflection on spiritual and moral self-accountability:
Any mental picture of your life that focuses on past sins is a lie and this comes from the devil. Jesus loves you and has forgiven you your sins, so there is no room for having a downcast spirit. Whatever persuades you otherwise is truly a waste of time. It is also something that offends the heart of our very tender Lover. On the other hand, if the mental picture of your life consists in what you can be or could be, then it comes from God.
Padre Pio letters (To Maria Gargani, August 26, 1916)