Posted by: mmreflections | June 10, 2009

Accepting Responsibility: June, 2009

When they heard the sound of the Lord God,  Adam and his wife hid themselves among the trees of the garden.  The Lord God then called to Adam and asked him, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”  Then God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?  You have eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”  Adam replied, “The woman whom you put here with me gave me fruit from the tree so I ate it.”  The Lord God asked the woman, “Why  did you do such a thing?”  Eve answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”  (Confer Genesis 3:8-13)

In the opening chapters of the Bible we discover what happens when we fail to take responsibility for our own actions.  Adam blamed his wife, Eve blamed the serpent, and they both lost the happiness of living in paradise.  I wonder what would have happened if they had taken responsibility for their actions, admitted they had made a major mistake and asked for forgiveness.  How many of us have lost the joy and peace which God intended for us because we made some serious mistakes, failed to accept responsibility for those mistakes and failed to seek forgiveness?  Learning to take responsibility for our actions could be added as a major rung on the ladder of our spiritual journey.

Back in 1993, to celebrate my 30th anniversary of ordination, I led a group of parishioners and friends on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  This was a highlight of my spiritual journey and, as I subsequently learned from many others on this pilgrimage, it was also a life changing event for them.  At each of the major holy places someone was significantly touched spiritually.  Later some told me that what had happened to them made a positive and permanent impact on their life’s journey.  A lesson I learned on this pilgrimage occurred on the second day.  Oded, the young man who served as our guide for the entire pilgrimage, arrived for the day’s events apparently troubled by something.  When we had a quiet moment alone I respectfully inquired of him if there was a problem; perhaps someone in the group had done something wrong.  He sadly informed me that after the previous day’s tour, while on his way home to his own family, he was involved in an accident.  A little boy darted out from between two parked cars into the oncoming traffic; Oded had struck the child and was noticeably overwhelmed with grief over having hurt the little boy who was now in the hospital.  Our guide was anxious to get to the hospital as soon as our tour for the day would end so he could learn the child’s condition.  I was at a loss for words; I could only listen and pray for both him and the child. 

The next morning he arrived early to talk with me before the day’s events.  He quickly related to me what happened at the hospital room of the child when he arrived there the previous evening.  The boy was laying in bed surrounded by his mother and father.  When Oded came to the child’s bedside, the father asked his son if he had anything to say to the man who hit him with his car.  The child looked at Oded and said, “I am sorry for causing you so much trouble.  I wasn’t paying attention when I ran in front of your car and caused the accident.  Please forgive me!”  Then the parents hugged Oded and also asked him to forgive their son for his careless behavior.  Oded told me the child would totally recover from the accident.  He also told me the healing words of the child and his parents, taking responsibility for what happened, freed him from the burden of guilt he had placed upon himself.  He told me how amazed he was about the events of that moment in the hospital room.  For me it was a significant lesson on taking responsibility for one’s actions, a lesson from a child.

There is always another side of the coin.  I still had more to learn about taking responsibility while on this pilgrimage.  A few days later after we had finished our Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and were getting on our tour bus, a disturbing incident occurred which carried with it another lesson about responsibility.  A local shopkeeper was blocking the door to the bus in an effort to persuade members of our group to purchase some of his religious items.  I gently tapped the man and asked him to please step aside so we could get on the bus.  He became enraged and began screaming at me in his own language telling Oded I had shoved him aside.  Oded came to my rescue and took the man aside while telling me to get on the bus.  I sat down in my usual seat on the bus behind the driver while everyone got on board.  Oded finally got on the bus and when he looked at me and realized I was noticeably upset he gently said to me, “Don’t punish yourself for someone else’s ignorance!”  I looked at him with surprise and asked him to repeat what he just said to me.  He said, “Fr. Michael, you are upset and punishing yourself for that man’s obnoxious behavior.”  I remember how quickly peace was once again restored for me and all the others when I chose not to take responsibility for the man’s inappropriate behavior.

In the weeks, months and years that followed this pilgrimage these lessons about when to take responsibility for my own actions and when not to take responsibility for the actions of others remained with me and brought about much spiritual fruit.  These lessons also helped me when dealing with others who were suffering and in great pain because they had chosen not to accept responsibility for their actions which had caused much grief and pain for friends and other members of their families.  Accepting responsibility and asking forgiveness could have eased much of their pain and brought about the needed reconciliation.  In many instances spouses were alienated from each other because they continued to refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes.  Many parents have been alienated from their children for their unwillingness to accept responsibility for the hurts they caused their children.  Whoever said that mothers and fathers need not ask forgiveness from their children?  The same lesson, of course, applies to children.  Our children learn to take responsibility for their actions from their parents who have learned this valuable lesson.

Learning not to take responsibility for other people’s inappropriate actions is a valuable lesson.  Most of us have probably punished ourselves unnecessarily at one time or another because of rude remarks or behavior from others.  In my early years of priestly service there were many occasions when members of the parish, friends or even family members said things or behaved in hurtful ways which formed a dark cloud over my head.  I remember blaming myself for their behavior and struggled to figure out what needed to be done.  Only when I realized how often people hurt others because they are experiencing some major pain of their own did I begin to understand I was not responsible for other people’s actions.  Learning when to take responsibility and when not to take responsibility was a major lesson for my spiritual journey.

It seems we have a major problem with this issue in our society today.  In reading the newspapers or watching the news on television there appears to be an epidemic of serious proportions when it comes to the refusal of many, including our leaders, sports figures, famous people as well as ordinary people, who have chosen to or are unable to assume responsibility for their actions.  As a result there is much unhappiness and a great lack of peace in the lives of many people including many who call themselves Christians or who follow other spiritual traditions.  This may be a good time for us to reflect on any suffering or pain in our own lives and to visit and learn if it is related to a matter involving responsibility.

      “May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness.  May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls us is trustworthy, therefore he will do it.”   (Confer 2 Thessalonians 5:23-24)



  1. this is just beautiful. I have subscribed and anticipate your wonderful stories. This is a fabulous way to do this.
    You are always a blessing in my life.

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