Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 46, The Confession of Public and Private Sins

In Chapter 46 of The Rule of St. Benedict there is an interesting distinction between the confession of public and private sins. If a monk commits a public sin--"If someone commits a fault while at work"--there must be a public display of confession--"he must at once come before the abbot and community of his own accord and admit his fault".

But this changes for private sins:
5When the cause of the sin lies hidden in his conscience, he is to reveal it only to the abbot or to one of the spiritual elders, 6who know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others, without exposing them and making them public.
What is interesting to me is how this seems reversed in many churches. Many public sins are rarely acknowledged while most of our public "confessions" and "testimonies" have to deal with private sins. For example, someone might get up and confess sins of addiction, to drugs or pornography. According to Benedict those sorts of sins should be confessed privately.

What's going with all this?

It seems that for Benedict public confession and repentance is inherently a communal and relational activity. Public confession is about a rip in the communal fabric and the attempt to mend that tear. Public confession is less about airing your dirty laundry than about being reconciled to your sisters and brothers.

Thus I wonder if our public confessions of private sins isn't symptomatic of something wrong in how we approach church. Church is just a group of disconnected individuals each on private moral journey. Public confession in this instance is just an update on my particular moral journey, and really doesn't have a whole lot to do with you and our relationship. Confession as we tend to practice it is not about the fabric of our relationships and the mending of that fabric. Largely because that fabric doesn't exist.

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