On a recent survey, 43% of our students shared what they found most enjoyable and challenging about Priory. They love their friends (35%), their classes and teachers (27%), participating in sports (18%), and the famous Priory lunch (17%). As for challenges, they identified their workload and schedule (37%), their classes and teachers (34%), struggles with time management and work/life balance (20%), and managing anxiety (9%). For some students, these challenges were good things that they enjoyed; for others, serious obstacles to happiness at school and at home.
As we enter the final days of the academic year, I wanted to reflect with you on this double element of our life at Priory. We tend to be a community of extremes: we work hard and play hard, we push ourselves for excellence in academics, sports, and art, and we love to celebrate our individual and collective triumphs. At the same time, we can struggle with a darker side of this zeal: We can feel underappreciated on Awards Day or Graduation, resentful when cut from a sport or kept on the bench, and jealous when a friend’s achievement distracts from our own. We push ourselves for success, we measure our progress daily, and if we fall short in any way, we might lose sight of our individual goodness, value, or worth.
Saint Benedict was well acquainted with this duality. In his Rule for monks, he set up a way of life meant to lead his community towards union with God through asceticism, common work, and divine grace. He knew that jealousy, rivalry, disappointment, gossiping, and resentment were likely to fester in community life, so he filled his Rule with warnings against “bitter zeal” and encouraged a balance between individual excellence and mutual respect, obedience, and support. He called this latter habit of character the “good zeal” of monks.
At Priory, we need to make Saint Benedict’s teachings our own. As students and parents, we need to learn more about the “good zeal” that leads to God and everlasting life. We need to practice the tools of good works enumerated in the fourth chapter of Saint Benedict’s Rule, resist temptations to gossip, and shift our competitive instincts from rivalry to mutual support. We need to make this change because none of us are willing to give up the pursuit of excellence that led us to this school community.
At the same time, my colleagues and I have work to do. Just as Saint Benedict laid down a structure of monastic life that helped his monks reach perfection through personal commitment and divine grace, so too we need to ensure that our curriculum, program, teaching, and example provide students and parents with the best possible framework for living the Benedictine life and encountering Jesus. To this end, we have embarked on a 5-year strategic plan, more details of which are available here.
Most importantly, we all need to remember the truth that Jesus revealed by his death and resurrection: Our value and worth in this life are measured primarily against our origins in God, our redemption through his blood, and our cooperation in the graces that he bestows. He created us; he died for us; he filled us with his Spirit; he made a home for us in heaven. May we keep those truths in mind as we navigate the highs and lows of our life together.
With prayers for a fun, restful, and happy summer,
Father Cuthbert Elliott, O.S.B., '02