Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Good Confession

At first glance it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that the Rule is orchestrated around exterior formalities. It is a rule and, as such, contains a certain unmistakable regimentation. This shouldn’t put anyone off. After all, we all live by some form of regimentation or routine, either effective or ineffective, in our daily lives. It’s important though to realize that anything seen in the Rule as exterior regimentation has an interior purpose, one that concerns the heart and all that occurs in this interior realm.

Humility, unlike a garment hanging in our closet, isn’t something that we put on in the morning before we leave the house. It indeed clothes us like a garment that is seen by those we encounter but it doesn’t originate in exterior dimensions. It originates in the deep interior regions of the heart where we also discover our true self, our true identity. In these depths self-revelation occurs. In these depths we encounter ourselves, our motives, dispositions, and intentions. When we begin diving into these depths of our being we are no longer able to hide. There is no place left to hide. There is no longer a desire to hide.

“Self-revelation is necessary to growth. There is nothing more debilitating than going over and over again in my own mind my secret sins and failings. But unto whom shall I unload it all? When Benedict suggests the abbot, I interpret that in my own circumstances. This means someone who is wise, standing in a position of authority, and, most important of all, taking the place of Christ. Then I can confess my weakness, both in thought and in action, receive forgiveness, and, with that help, trust in the mercy of God to transform my weakness into strength.”[1]

The value of a good confessor and a good confession can’t be overstated. Benedict realized this and addresses it as one of the steps in the ladder of humility. “The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.”[2] This principle is then supported by references to Scripture.

Much is made these days of the value of catharsis. Catharsis, though it is a healthy exercise, is incomplete when it is not accompanied by absolution, forgiveness, and penance. This is one of the points where ecumenism in Benedictine spirituality breaks down.

It is important for us to realize that there is a relationship between our interior life and our exterior life. Benedict realized this relationship, how our actual deed-life is affected by our thought-life, and he encourages his disciples to work toward heart purity – to deal with their thought life while the freshly sown seeds of temptation are yet in the sprouting stage before they have an opportunity to yield any sort of soul injuring and community hindering fruit.

[1] Esther de Waal, A Life Giving Way, p. 64
[2] RB 7:44