1 If someone commits 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 or anywhere else — 2 either by breaking or losing something or failing in any other way in any other place, 3 he must at once come before the abbot and community and of his own accord admit his fault and make satisfaction. 4 If it is made known through another, he is to be subjected to a more severe correction. 5 When 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, 6 who know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others, without exposing them and making them public.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
Saint Benedict has commented on various faults of the brothers. Probably those various faults already mentioned were the more common ones: coming late to prayer, coming late to meals, talking when there should be silence, etc. Now Saint Benedict wants cover whatever other faults might be encountered in a monastery: breaking or losing something or failing in any other way in any other place. That is comprehensive!
The first thing that should happen when a brother commits a fault is that he should admit the fault in front of the abbot and the community. This indicates right away that there must have been some place and time in the day when the community assembled and where such admissions could be made. For many communities, there are no such times or places–or they occur only most infrequently. The practice in some houses is to have a Chapter every day and this would certainly give such an opportunity.
If the abbot or a superior of the house finds out the fault not from the monk himself but from another, then the fault is greater.
At the end of this Chapter Saint Benedict deals with more hidden faults or at least with faults that may not be known to the community. This is another sign of Saint Benedict’s discretion because he never needlessly makes the faults of the monk known to the community. If a fault is publicly committed, it is not a hidden fault! But if the monk commits a fault which is not known to the brethren, Benedict does not recommend making it known.
There is also a clear recognition here that the abbot is not the only spiritual person in the house. At times, a monk may not feel ready to make his faults known to his abbot–yet the monk must still deal with his own faults. So the wise Benedict makes it possible for the monk to speak to another monk. This never takes away the authority of the abbot nor does it mean that the “spiritual father” thus becomes the superior of monk admitting his faults. Rather, this Chapter is a wise recognition that monks other than the abbot have spiritual gifts.
From another point of view, we must recognize that if a monk is serious about his monastic life, he needs to be able to have someone in whom he can confide and be totally honest with. It could be the abbot but it might not be. Let us pray that each of us has the courage to recognize his faults and to reveal them to some spiritual father (or mother).