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The Prior and Subprioress of the Monastery

Thursday, August 22, 2024

Too often in the past, the appointment of a subprioress or prior has been the source of serious contention in monasteries. Some, puffed up by the evil spirit of pride and thinking of themselves as a second prioress or abbot, usurp tyrannical power and foster contention and discord in their communities. This occurs especially in monasteries where the same bishop and the same prioress or abbot appoint both the abbot and prioress and the prior or subprioress. It is easy to see what an absurd arrangement this is, because from the very first moment of appointment they are given grounds for pride, as their thoughts suggest to them that they are exempt from the authority of the prioress or abbot. "After all, you were made subprioress or prior by the same members who made the prioress or abbot."

This is an open invitation to envy, quarrels, slander, rivalry, factions and disorders of every kind, with the result that, while the prioress and subprioress or abbot and prior pursue conflicting policies, their own souls are inevitably endangered by this discord; and at the same time the monastics under them take sides and so go to their ruin. The responsibility for this evil and dangerous situation rests on the heads of those who initiated such a state of confusion.

In any group—a political system, an athletic team, a social organization, even a monastery—authority is one thing, leadership is often another. Authority comes from being given or elected to a position. Leadership comes from vision and charism in concert. It is often the case that the two realities—authority and leadership—do not reside in the same person. Then the stage is set for tension.

If the legally deputed authority is insecure or bully¬ing, uncertain or authoritarian, weak or controlling, the group is bound either to resist of to defect. Authority figures without the vision to identify their own weaknesses, who then appoint people to provide for those needs in the group, risk the loss of the only authority they have— which is clearly only a legal one.

On the other hand, charismatic figures in a group, people who deal well with people and have a clear vision of the future, who use those gifts to undermine the legal authority of the group, run the risk of dividing it and, eventually, of destroying it completely.

It is up to leadership figures to cooperate with author¬ity, to uphold the unity of the group, to remember that there can be only one authority in a community at a time and no second-in-command, no department chair, not even any idea agent, is ever it.

Then the community, united in the tenuous search for the will of God together, can come to see that there are seldom instances in life when there is only one way to do anything. Then we learn that everything we do and every way we set out to do it together has something to teach us all.