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The fifth degree of humility is, not to hide from one’s Abbot any of the evil thoughts that beset one’s heart, or the sins committed in secret, but humbly to confess them. Concerning which the Scripture exhorteth us, saying: “Make known thy way unto the Lord, and hope in Him.” And again: “Confess to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth for ever.” So also the prophet saith: “I have made known to Thee mine offence, and mine iniquities I have not hidden. I will confess against myself my iniquities to the Lord: and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my heart.”
The falling away from grace begins, for many, when one begins to hide from one’s abbot the “evil thoughts that beset one’s heart and the sins committed in secret”. It is a sure indication of pride when a man cannot reveal the thoughts of his heart to his abbot. Hidden thoughts, temptations, struggles, resentments, and fears tend to swell and to increase in malignancy in proportion to one’s unwillingness to disclose them. No sooner are such thoughts and hidden sins disclosed to the spiritual father than the swelling goes out of them and the poison they contain begins to drain out of the soul. Saint Ambrose writes:
A fever which is most difficult to break gives hope of receding when it is brought to the surface: in much the same way, as long as it is hidden, the sickness of sin grows constantly more serious, but if made known in confession, disappears. (Ennar. in Ps. 37)
Saint Fructuosus of Braga says that “the monk ought always to refer all his acts and occasions of sin — thoughts, revelations, illusions, and negligences — to the Father” (Reg. monachorum, c. 13). It is a sure sign of pride when a monk keeps his troubling thoughts and temptations to himself. Not only does such a monk run the risk of becoming completely poisoned by this thoughts; he also sinks deeper and deeper into the quicksand of pride. I have heard it said that natives of the colder climes and, in particular, Irish men, are loathe to open up to another. They prefer to trudge along in solitary misery, sharing nothing, revealing nothing, not wanting to risk opening up to another. Curiously, this stands in contrast to the emphasis that the early Irish monks placed on frequent confession. Today, of course, people reveal their innermost secrets, feelings, and fantasies on Facebook, in so–called “chat rooms”, and in the other social media. Is this not significant? Is it not a manifestation of the need to confide in another? Facebook and “chat rooms” afford a certain distance and anonymity, but they cannot offer lasting healing, nor are they channels of divine grace. Quite the opposite!
The wisdom of Saint Benedict shines forth most clearly when, quoting the psalm, he says: “Make known thy way unto the Lord, and hope in Him”. At the centre of the fifth degree of humility is an invitation to hope. “My children behold the generations of men: and know ye that no one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded” (Ecclesiasticus 2:11).