Yesterday was a big day for me. I have received my large brown scapular! Just in case you are not aware of this but as a Secular Discalced Carmelite this is something you wear over your clothing for the meetings and is literally a mega-sized version of the smaller scapular you were around your neck. I have just completed my first year as an aspirant in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. It has been quite a journey so far so I thought I would share a little bit about this experience and some thoughts on the importance of secular orders.
You may ask why I decided to join THIS order and not another. One thing that I discovered early on is that most orders have the same fundamental base: interior life, mental prayer, sacraments, scripture, Marian devotion, community meetings, etc.. It is not a coincidence that this base is similar across most orders because this is the means by which one proceeds to perfection in this life. Most of these things can easily be done outside of an order too. The real difference between the orders is simply the particular charism of the order. For example, Dominicans emphasize study and preaching while the charism for the Carmelites is around contemplative prayer. It is not to say that one cannot study or enter contemplative prayer if you are not in the right order but it merely is the spirit of the order and the focus thereof. I had spent some time going back and forth discerning this myself. Early on I was drawn to the Dominican order but as I discerned this further, I felt a greater calling to the Discalced Carmelites and have cemented myself there. Someone like St. John of the Cross is a huge figure in my life and I felt a connection to him right away based on his writings. This and many other unique circumstances have led me to the Discalced Carmelites.
I think many people may wonder what value there is in joining an order. It is a fair question. Here is a list of what I would say are some important benefits:
- To be involved with a group that shares the same passion of your particular charism
- To be in touch with other Catholics who can provide some very useful insight and guidance for your own spiritual journey
- To be closely united to the saints of the order
- Allows you to better cement your commitment to spiritual practices that will aid in leading one towards perfection
I think these four reasons are sufficient in showing the value of joining an order. This is, however, a discernment process. Just because one may feel inclined or excited by joining an order it needs to be done in the right light. For example, some people may think that having the scapular and the associated promise that goes with it is some sort of quick pass into heaven. Like anything, these things have little value if not done from the heart, just like praying a rosary blindly without meditating on the mysteries will not bear as much fruit as it could. Secondly, it may not be the will of God. I found it very interesting that both St. Zele Martin and St. Louis Martin were discerning a religious life prior to getting married. Both were denied entry into the religious life and ended up getting married! We have to be mindful that what WE think we want is not necessarily what GOD wants from us.
I will propose one caution: be mindful that those who are in the order may not be the saintly champions you had envisioned. In fact, you may find that many people in the order, although being there for many years, are still in infancy when it comes to progression through the three ages (purgative, illuminative and unitive). Your desire to find a spiritual director who can solve all your problems may not come to fruition. Also, like with most things in the Catholic Church, most orders are composed of the elderly. There is nothing wrong with this but you must have the right mindset when considering to join a secular order. This was of no concern for me even though I was the youngest in my group because I am here to grow in the ways of Carmel and to proceed up Mount Carmel to God. One should be mindful not to join an order for the sake of being part of a “club” for this is not a “club” but a very serious way of life that is aimed at union with God.
I am hoping with time that there begins to grow a greater awareness of orders and perhaps an increase in vocations if the Lord wills it. One of my many projects on the back burner is to prepare some sort of introductory package or series on the interior life, the order and other useful materials to get folks more aware of this calling. If anything, this ties well into the vision of United Body which is trying to raise a heightened awareness on the power of the interior and the necessity for all members of the body of Christ to live this way of life today.
In conclusion, I want to offer a particular prayer to the clergy, especially those that have strayed from their vocation and are perhaps living in sin or leading the flock astray. By the grace and mercy of our Lord may these men destroy the former self of sin and strive to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in all that they do.
Blessed Mother, pray for us!