The British Province of Carmelite Friars

Leadership and Responsibility

The role of the Prior, at local, Provincial and General level in our Rule and tradition is one of service. He leads the community first of all by his own example and his task is to make sure that the community is organised in such a way that the brothers can live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and serve him with a stout heart and a good conscience. The Prior is a leader but each member of the community is responsible for the health of the whole community and for his own life. The Prior is the one who is to remind all the brothers of our common vocation and constantly to recall all of us to that. However each one is ultimately responsible before God for how he actually lives the vocation which God has given him.

The reality is often very different from the theory. The role of leadership is to move the reality as close as possible to the ideal while being guided above all by the requirements of charity. However the leader can do very little without the full and willing co-operation of all concerned. We believe that a vocation comes from God but we must admit that mixed in with a divine call is the human element. So we find all sorts of people in religious communities.

A group of religious is a microcosm of the Church and the world. A vital part of the human response to a vocation is an acceptance of these concrete people with all their faults and failings. When we make our profession in the Order we take on community as an integral part of our vocation. This means that we have thrown in our lot with this group for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part.

Each Provincial community has certain apostolic works which have either been inherited from long tradition or taken on in recent years. All the members of a Provincial community are responsible for these works. The supreme legislative body within a Province is the Chapter. It is there that decisions are made about the future and all the members have to own these decisions. Abstaining is a perfectly reasonable way to vote if we have no particular opinion about the topic or cannot make up our minds. It is not reasonable if it is a refusal to take responsibility and to remain aloof from the Province. Are we prepared to go along with the direction of the Province over the next few years? If not why not? What is our motivation? Very often our motives are very mixed. Purity of heart is a traditional Carmelite theme but how difficult it is to be pure of heart! Am I really motivated solely by the love of God and neighbour in everything I do or is it just possible that some selfishness may have crept in? What am I going to do about this? I am responsible for my own actions in the situation in which I find myself.

You are going to elect a Provincial and Council and they have certain authority to act in the name of the Province. It is not usual for everyone to agree with every decision that is taken but as members of the Province, we have to decide whether we can live with what has been decided or whether it does such violence to our conscience that we have no option but to leave the Province and seek incardination elsewhere either in another Province or in a diocese. Being freelance is a very attractive option to many of us but it is neither one thing nor the other. Elijah challenged the people to stop hobbling first on one leg then on the other. We cannot live for very long with other human beings without being hurt in some way. That is part of life but should not be used as an excuse to walk away from the community, retaining the privileges of a member of the Province but accepting none of the responsibilities.

It is good to have a bit of vision and try to set some reasonable goals for the Province, something which the majority are willing to work towards together. Realism is also important when formulating a vision. It may be that our goals seem very modest but if they are achieved this will give the whole group confidence to go forward and plan other goals.

What future do we want to construct for the Provincial community? Are we willing to be part of this future? One definition of the Carmelite charism is to form praying communities at the service of God's people. What does that mean in the concrete reality of this Province? Are we willing to move, to change our way of doing things in order to fit in with how the group wants to go forward?

Obviously whoever are chosen as leaders are not going to be as visionary as you, or as intelligent! They are going to be very limited. They are going to make certain decisions about the Province and some of these might appear to be very mistaken. I think that in theory everyone should have an opportunity to serve as Provincial or at least as Councillor, then there would be far fewer criticisms of those in leadership positions! Many of the decisions which are made by Provincial Councils are forced on them by circumstances beyond their control.

The reality in which we find ourselves is far from ideal. Some people spend their whole adult lives in the search for the ideal place or the ideal apostolate and the sad thing is they never find it. They end up bitter and disillusioned blaming God, life, the Church, the Order, Provincials, the brethren but never ever themselves. I believe totally in ideals. We have the Carmelite ideals presented to us in the Rule and Constitutions which guide us on our journey but this journey can be long and difficult. It is such a temptation to give up the journey and settle for much, much less. If, however, we seek to continue the journey we will learn a lot about ourselves and this revelation will make us much more understanding and accepting of the faults and foibles of others because we will know profoundly the areas where we are not completely mature. None of us is perfect but hopefully all of us are on the journey. Christianity is a community enterprise; the consecrated life is also. It is important to support whoever is elected Provincial. Support him in his task of animating the Province to live our Carmelite vocation to the full and to making the communities appropriate environments where a truly fraternal life can develop.

In order to reach the goal of the journey we need to consent to the purifying action of God in our lives which comes to us in the events of everyday. As we advance on this journey, we become more and more mature. Maturity and wisdom do not come automatically with age unfortunately but only when we allow the experiences of life to change us; when we listen to the still small voice of God who speaks to us from the midst of daily life. To seek to avoid responsibility is to remain immature. Remember the story of those who received the talents and they risked these in order to earn more but one refused to accept the risk and buried his in the ground in order to hand it back in pristine condition to the master. The master was not well pleased.

Each of us has been given many talents and we have been called to bring these together for a community enterprise. Those who are called to the service of leadership have certain responsibilities for which they must answer but their role does not take away from the responsibility of the rest of the group. All of us are responsible for the future. What future are we going to build for Carmel in our Province?

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