It’s been said that we make 35,000 decisions every day. Some decisions are small things like what we want to eat, what time we’ll brush our teeth, and what show we want to watch.
Other decisions are more life-changing like choosing a career path, buying a house, saying “yes” to a marriage proposal. And in the end, I am trusting that God will guide me with making these big life decisions.
Discernment is a huge word in our faith. It means that we are figuring out what God is calling us to. It could be the priesthood, the religious life, the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, or life as a single person.
Like many other Catholic women, the idea of becoming a religious sister came to mind. Even those who aren’t Catholic are curious about it. Who wouldn’t be? It’s natural to be curious about lifestyles that differ from your current one. Of course, I questioned at times whether or not that is what God is calling me to. I prayed over it and even made friends with some sisters. They’re amazing and a blessing to have in your life! But as much as I support that vocation, it wasn’t one that I felt completely drawn to. In my heart, I still have the desire for marriage and raising a family. I do believe God placed that desire in my heart.
But there is a vocation that I didn’t learn about until a year ago, and that is The Third Order.
A Third Order is a secular religious order. Basically, you live the spirituality of a religious order (ie: the Franciscans, the Carmelites) but you do so out in the world. Every community has its own rules/lifestyle and I’ve felt called to the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Now, you might be wondering what it feels like to be “called” to something, and to be honest, I wondered that for a long time. However, I’m not sure I can give you a straight answer because I don’t think it’s a “one size fits all.” I believe that God speaks to each of us in different ways. I’ve heard so many discernment stories from both priests and religious sisters, all very different stories.
So, what’s my story?
Well, it all started with an insane love for St. Therese of Lisieux. My Mom picked her out for me for my confirmation saint. I didn’t really know much about saints at the time and she felt that I would like her because she was young and is all about doing “small things with great love.” Flash forward to about eight years later, and here I am, someone who gets giddy just at the sound of her name.
No, Catholics don’t worship saints But we do honor them for their faith in Jesus, we look up to them as role models, how we should pray and love Jesus, and we ask them to pray for us because being saints, they are physically closer to Jesus in Heaven than we are on earth. It’s all about Jesus!
I’ve grown in my friendship with St. Therese by asking for her intercession, trying to live by her example when possible, and meditating on her words. She prayed to God that she would hate her will for her own life and only desire the life that God had for her. When she was ill, she offered up her suffering as prayer. She recognized her littleness and believed that Jesus would have mercy on her littleness. She emptied herself out, wanting to be filled with Jesus. Is that beautiful or what?!
Now, I don’t feel the calling to become a cloistered nun like she was. She died a Carmelite sister at 24 years old of tuberculosis, has been named one of the greatest modern saints of all time, and is also a doctor of the Church! If you read anything that she wrote, you’ll understand why. She’s such a “little” but powerful saint, and one whom I credit my spiritual growth to. I have no doubt that she led me to the Discalced Carmelite Order.
In terms of my prayer life, I’ve always been one to talk to God through contemplative/mental prayer. Even before I knew how to pray the rosary, or even was firm in being a Catholic, I read the Bible and meditated on the scriptures, otherwise known as Lectio Divina. I can get into it for over an hour. It just fills my soul, while leaving me thirsty for more of Jesus. Kind of an oxymoron, right? But it brings me a lot of peace.
With that said, I came across a post from a fellow sister in Christ. She was saying how though she was married, she desired for more and someone mentioned the Third Order. Never hearing about this, I took it to Google and spent some time in research. I wanted to know what is what and more so, what’s it’s like to be part of a Third Order community. My heart exploded when I learned that the Third Order of Carmel exists.
Without even knowing too much about it, my heart felt at peace. My soul needed to be one. Envisioning it felt like home. I believe God was telling me, “this is it, Lexie.” But after that, I didn’t make a move forward on it for several months, despite telling some friends that I was looking into it. Funny, right? It never left my mind.
Then, only a few months ago from today, I met a woman from my parish and in conversation, mentioned once again that I was considering the Third Order of Carmel. At that moment, her face lit up as she told me that she was friends with the president of the Third Order of Carmel (for our area)! She gave me her name, told me where she worked, and of course being the person I am, I put it off. I think that in my heart, I was hesitating because it was something that was finally becoming real to me and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go for it. It was definitely a “be careful what you wish for” moment. Somewhere inside of me, I knew that God was calling me, and I was being hesitant in answering His phone call.
But, God being the relentless God He is (and thank God He is), I ended up speaking to a few other people who were in the Discalced Carmelite Order. The last of these people gave me the president’s number, and I knew that it was a sign that God didn’t want me to take lightly. Within the next minute, I did what I should have done months ago.
I finally called, deciding to finally let God handle it.
And He did, when I got in touch with the president and scheduled an interview. I learned that the Third Order of Carmel is about contemplative prayer, which as I mentioned before, has always been my way of talking to God. In the community, members are required to attend the monthly meetings, have 30 minutes of mental prayer daily, recite morning and evening prayer, go to Daily Mass whenever possible, practice a daily devotion to Mary, and participate in the community. You can be married, have children, and have a job. Oh, and did I mention that I already wear (a smaller version) of their scapular? Talk about a sign! Also, we don’t take vows as religious sisters do, but we do make promises (to live the life of the community).
I already pray the rosary daily, as well as have over 30 minutes of mental prayer. Reciting the Morning and Evening prayers are something that I will have to learn and I’m definitely working on going to Daily Mass more often. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but if it’s what God is calling me to, His will be done. And honestly, I’m praying it is.
Right now, I’m just in the “guest visit” phase and if I feel this is my vocation, I will continue onto formation phase (given I am approved to do so). It will take some time until I am actually considered a member, and that’s to be sure that this is what God is calling me to.
I update you as my journey continues. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers.
More Information About Third Order Carmelites