Faults Committed in Other Matters
If monastics commit a fault while at any work--while working in the kitchen, in the storeroom, in serving, in the bakery, in the garden, in any craft of anywhere else--either by breaking or losing something or failing in any other way in any other place, they must at once come before the prioress or abbot and community and of their own accord admit their fault and make satisfaction. If it is made known through another, they are to be subjected to a more severe correction.
Accountability is the Benedictine value on which all community life is based. Benedict clearly never supposes perfection in a Benedictine community. People have bad days and recalcitrant spirits and limited education and difficult periods in life, all of which are acknowledged and even provided for in a Rule that concerns itself with single-minded seeking of God. What Benedict does require, however, is a sense of responsibility. There is nothing in community life, he implies here, that is so unimportant that it can be ignored or overlooked. Nothing in life is so meaningless that we have the right to do it unthinkingly. What each of us does affects all the others and it is to everyone that we owe accounting and apology and reparation.
The notion that everything we do affects others and stands to be judged by them constitutes a concept of human community that is long lost. In this world, corporations gut the center out of forests and say not one word of sorrow to the children of the world who will inherit the dry and eroded mountainsides on which the trees once grew. Bankers take profits that close businesses and say nothing to the people made homeless by the deal. Politicians make policies that rape the Third World and say not a thing to whole nations held hostage to greed. Individuals overheat, overconsume and overbuy until the resources of the globe are wasted away to nothing and we think nothing of it.
Clearly, Chapter 46 is not about punishment. Chapter 46 is about social consciousness.
When the cause of the sin lies hidden in the conscience, the monastic is to reveal it only to the prioress or abbot or to one of the spiritual elders, who know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others, without exposing them and making them public.
Everybody needs somebody to whom they can reveal themselves without fear of punishment or pain. Everybody, at sometime in life, wrestles with an angel that threatens to overpower them. Contemporary society, with its bent for anonymity and pathological individualism and transience, has institutionalized the process in psychological consulting services and spiritual direction centers. Benedict would have approved. He wanted people to work skillfully with the souls of others. He would probably also have found some of it unnecessary. What we need, he says, are people in our lives who care enough about us to lead us through life's various stages gently. If we chose spiritual people for our friends and our leaders, if we respected our elders for their wisdom, if we wanted growth rather than comfort, if we ripped away the masks that hide us and were willing to have our bleeding selves cauterized by the light of spiritual leadership and the heat of holy friendship, we would, this Chapter indicates, come to the humility that brings real peace.
Another facet of this chapter looms equally important. The challenge of community lies in whether we ourselves care enough about anyone else to be willing to be their light, to treat their wounds well, to protect their reputations when they try to talk to us.
The Tao Te Ching reads: "Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." Benedictine spirituality asks for both.