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My Life in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites

The Call to Carmel

Pic of Bible & Rosary from Canva Pro

What used to be called the Third Order of Carmel where laypeople and diocesan clergy learn and live the Carmelite spirituality is now called the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Separated from the ancient Carmelite Order usually referred to as O’Carm, our formation is based on the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, our founders.

Hearing the Call

Spiritual Direction Gone Awry

After discovering that much of what my spiritual director (a sister of St. Joseph) was encouraging was questionable (Centering Prayer as taught by Fr. Keating, Reiki, and enneagrams), I knew God was going to change the direction of my life. It started with browsing the Catholic Answers forum after finding an answer on something unrelated, and I came across The Danger of Centering Prayer. My spiritual director taught this during a Saturday seminar on prayer and I practiced a (fortunately) modified version of it for several years.

After seeing the article about Centering Prayer, I did some research and discovered how many New Age practices have infiltrated the Church. I brought Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s book Catholics and the New Age to what turned out to be my last session with my spiritual director. All she said was that she couldn’t believe a good Jesuit would have a problem with these things. A few weeks later, I emailed her to let her know she could give my spot to someone else, and I’d contact her if I found myself in a crisis. That was in September or October 2007.

Seeking Union With God

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to get as close to God as I could, to learn what it meant to live fully committed to Him. I thought I had a religious vocation but realised later that my call was to be a “contemplative in the world”. My spiritual director said I was “on a mystic path”. Not long after my last meeting with her, I was at daily Mass, asking the Lord what to do. I wanted to grow in holiness and knew I needed help — guidance that conformed to authentic Catholic mystical theology. This led to the closest thing to a locution I’d ever experienced. What I heard was: “Ask G — about the Carmelites”. I was in the choir with him a few years ago and he’d mentioned that he and his wife were members of the French group. They were at that early evening Mass so when it ended, I went to him and asked what I needed to do. He took my contact information and told me that the President of the English community would call me.

After our call a week later, when C — (the President) explained the obligations of the secular Carmelite vocation, she sent me the “Follow Me” pamphlet. From November 2007 until February 2008, I followed the obligations of the Carmelite life (praying the Liturgy of the Hours, mental prayer, weekday Mass, and spiritual reading. In February, I called her and asked for the application. I completed it and asked my parish priest to send C — a letter of reference (confirming that I was a Catholic in good standing).

In March, I met with C — and the Director of Formation for an interview. C — informed me later on the same day that I was accepted and invited to attend the Day of Reflection to be held in May. I attended that event where I received more wholesome spiritual teaching than I’d gotten in several previous years combined. In June and July, I attended two community meetings as a visiting observer. I felt immediately comfortable, like I’d found “my people”.

Louise de La Vallière entering a Carmelite convent

Discerning My Vocation to the Secular Carmel

From Aspirant to Investiture

In our region, the Aspirancy period always begins in September and our meetings are on the third Monday of each month. So I had my first class on September 15, 2008, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, immediately followed by the community meeting that lasted until 9:00 pm. I attended the Aspirancy class each month until August 2009. For the first few classes, there was one other aspirant, then it was a one-on-one with our Director of Formation for the remaining months. He followed the curriculum outlined in the OCDS Manual of Formation published by the Washington Province.

In June, I gave him my “letter of intent”, expressing my desire to continue my Carmelite formation. Before the July community meeting, the Council of the community conducted interviews with aspirants and members in various stages of formation who’d not yet made Definitive Promises, so there was no Aspirancy class.

I was interviewed and given the opportunity to ask questions. During the business part of the meeting, the President informed the community that the Council accepted me into the formation program and that I would be “invested with the Scapular” in the September ceremony. She also told us who would continue their formation, and would make either their First Promises or Definitive Promises.

From Investiture to Promises

My Investiture ceremony began in September 2009, when I started the next phase of my journey, took place on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. So fitting since one of our founders is St. John of the Cross. The Rite of Admission took place immediately after the homily at Mass, I expressed my desire to continue my Carmelite journey in these words:

Trusting in the mercy of God and in the fraternal help of all of you (referring to the members of the community), I ask to be admitted to the period of formation in the Community of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. I wish to live my baptismal consecration according to the ideal of life of the Teresian (referring to St. Teresa of Avila) Carmel and to collaborate in fulfilling the mission of Carmel in the Church. — RITUAL of the SECULAR ORDER OF DISCALCED CARMELITES p. 5

From October 2009 until August 2011, I went through the formation to prepare to make First Promises in September 2011. Following the proclamation of the Gospel, those who will make First Promises will say:

We ask to be admitted to the Promise in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. The experience of the period of formation has confirmed us in the certitude that the Lord is calling us to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world in union with Mary, Mother of God and under . her protection as Secular Members of Carmel. RITUAL of the SECULAR ORDER OF DISCALCED CARMELITES p. 10

After the homily, the celebrant performs the Examination Ritual, asking a series of questions to which the candidates respond: “Yes I do”. Following this ritual, the candidate reads the formula of the Promise:

I, ______, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in response to God’s call, sincerely promise to the Superiors of the Order of the Teresian Carmel and to you my brothers and sisters, to tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, and of the Beatitudes, according to the Rule of St. Albert, and the Constitutions of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, for three years. I confidently entrust this, my promise to the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel. RITUAL of the SECULAR ORDER OF DISCALCED CARMELITES p. 11

After each candidate has made his or her profession, the celebrant confirms their commitment, each candidate signs their certificate. The Mass then continues.

From October 2011 to August 2014, I went through the formation to prepare for making Definitive Promises. The September 2014 ceremony took place on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. This is deeply significant because the ancient Carmelites regarded Mary as their foundress.

The Promise is the same except that, instead of saying “for three years”, the candidate says “for the rest of my life”.

Life as a Professed Member of the Secular Carmel

Our Obligations

In his book Welcome to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Aloysius Deeney, OCD outlines the six obligations that form the structure and rhythm of a Secular Carmelite’s daily life. These are:

  1. Mental prayer for 30 minutes daily

  2. Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and if possible, Night Prayer

  3. Mass as often as possible

  4. Looking with Mary at the life of Christ and meditating on these things in our hearts as she did.

  5. Attending and participating in all monthly community meetings

  6. Participating in the mission of Carmel: to know God so that God may be known

My daily mental prayer includes the practice of Lectio Divina (sacred reading). The books that helped me most in this were Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of Mary Magdalen and Into the Deep by Dan Burke.

The daily practice of Morning and Evening Prayer sanctifies my day. Evening Prayer is an opportunity to stop and spend time with Jesus within me. When I practice mental prayer and when I pray the rosary well, I am holding Mary’s hand while we contemplate Jesus together. Before COVID and mask mandates, I attended Mass every day except Mondays and Saturdays. The only community meeting I missed in 12 years was the day my husband underwent a heart procedure. What I miss most were the hours I spent in weekly Eucharistic Adoration.

Carmelite Options Outside the Order

There is a difference between having a vocation to Carmel and being attracted to Carmelite spirituality. The former is a 6-year commitment to formation, learning to live the Carmelite life, and periodic discernment with the Council of the community. Here are other ways in which any Catholic can live out the Carmelite spirituality.

Prayer and penitential lifestyle

  • Daily mental prayer with Scripture will help you develop a habit of prayer. Fr. John Bartuniek’s book The Better Part provides excellent reflections to guide your mediation on the Gospels).

  • Join your prayer to the universal prayer of the Church with the Liturgy of the Hours. Sanctify the parts of your day with Morning and Evening Prayer. You can get it in a single book or as a 4-volume set. The St. Joseph Guide is published annually. Alternatively, you can get the free iBreviary app for iOS or Android.

  • Pray the rosary in a way that deepens intimacy with Mary and Jesus with the help of The Contemplative Rosary book or app.

  • As Our Lady encouraged us to do (Fatima message), serve the Church Militant and the Church Suffering through intercessory prayer and by offering our suffering for souls in need.

Devotion to Mary and Joseph

  • Get enrolled in the Brown Scapular and wear it always.

  • Consecrate yourself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel using either 33 Days to Morning Glory or St. Louis de Montfort’s method.

  • Come to love St. Joseph as St. Teresa of Avila did and consecrate yourself to him.

Pursuing means of holiness

  • Attend Mass as often as possible and watch online and do spiritual communion on other days.

  • Make an examination of conscience before bed or as part of Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

  • Confession at least once a month with preparation.

  • Attend Eucharistic Adoration frequent (at least weekly) once COVID ends.

  • Nourish you soul outside regular prayer time with spiritual reading or by listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

Develop devotion to Carmelite saints

Learn about Carmelite saints, celebrate their feast days, and read their writings

Carmelite Resources

The best source of Carmelite books in the U.S. is ICS Publications in Washington D.C. In the UK, there is the Carmelite Book Service.

If you enjoy listening to podcasts, check out Carmelite Conversations provided by the OCDS community in Dayton Ohio and CarmelCast, produced by ICS Publications and hosted by the Discalced Carmelite friars. I also enjoy Divine Intimacy Radio which includes both Carmelite and Ignatian spirituality.

Online resources include Spiritual, Authentic Contemplative Prayer, and Aposoli Viae (Apostles of the Way).

If you are considering the possibility that you may be called to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, you can find information here and make contact here. Perhaps you might consider a vocation to the Discalced Friars or to the Discalced Nuns who are cloistered.


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