This month was an important month for me. This month, I attended my first chapter meeting as an aspirant to the Discalced Carmelites Secular, or OCDS. Here’s a glimpse into my vocation story.
At some point in my childhood, I watched The Sound of Music. Being both Protestant and living in the rural South, it was also my first introduction to nuns. The main thing I gathered was that these women gave themselves unreservedly to God. A small part of my heart responded to that, whispering a soft, “Yes, I would like to do that, too.”
In college, while I was exploring other faith traditions, a friend of mine sent me a link. He said, “You need to read this.” The link led to a biography of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Her courage and self-sacrifice were stunningly evident. She was an extremely simple young woman who gave herself to God while, at the same time, remaining a child. She possessed none of the cynicism or nihilism of the present age but a blazing hope that eclipsed everything around her.
Later, when I came into the Church, I chose St. Therese as my Confirmation saint. Through her, I developed a deep interest in the Discalced Carmelites.
Why Discalced Carmelites?
Shortly after coming into the Church, I began exploring a possible vocation to the religious life. That small whisper (“Yes, I would like to do that, too”) still reverberated in my heart. I wanted to give myself unreservedly to God like St. Therese.
I did look at other religious orders. However, I was continually drawn back to the Carmelites. The reasons behind that are hard to articulate.
First, it seems like the Carmelites occupy a space deep in the heart of the Church. They pray and sacrifice for the well-being of the Church and priests. In these turbulent times rife with demonic assaults, our spiritual leaders need all the prayer and emotional support they can receive.
Secondly, the Carmelites are referred to as Our Lady’s Order. There has always been a deep love for the Virgin Mary. Wearing a garment (be it the large scapular of the nuns or the tiny one of the layman) that designates a person as being especially devoted to Our Lady is something that has a deep attraction to me. I have always loved the Virgin Mary.
Finally, other aspects of Carmelite spirituality align with how I naturally look at the world. St. John of the Cross encouraged his monks to see and encounter God in nature, to be aware of His Presence.
This dovetails into a deep devotion to the Incarnation. St. Francis of Assisi may be the first to create a nativity scene but Carmelites have long contemplated the wonders of God Made Man. Carmelites are constantly striving to be in union with God. This is especially seen in a devotion to the Incarnation.
Inside and Outside a Monastery
Over Epiphany in 2007, I stayed at Our Lady of Confidence Monastery in Savannah, Georgia. The small monastery is in a donated home in an upscale neighborhood and sits on the banks of the Green River. It was one of the best weeks of my life.
The women I met were holy, devoted, and kind. As I sat in the small cemetery and looked out at the river, I could easily see myself living out my life in that enclosure, contemplating God and praying for priests while in the heart of the Church. I felt like I really belonged there.
One moment during my stay especially stands out. It was my first night in the monastery. I stayed in the guesthouse, which had dormitory style rooms. At three in the morning, I awoke with an overwhelming sensation of joy. I thought, “I’m finally here. I made it!”
Life, though, sometimes has different ideas. I graduated from college that same year. The Carmelites require that someone be a Catholic for a certain number of years before the entrance. I knew I needed to live in the world for a short time before I could enter the monastery. The prioress of Our Lady of Confidence hinted that this rule could be bent. However, I was so taken up in trying to find work that I didn’t push the issue.
At the same time, I got caught up in the Charismatic Renewal. St. Ignatius, when writing about the discernment process, emphasized the need to discern between good and bad spirits. Unfortunately, I did not do that as I should have.
Perhaps for some people, the Charismatic Renewal helps them in their spiritual life. In my experience, however, there was only confusion and spiritual stagnation. I could not tell the good spirits from the bad. It’s a story for another article. By the time I came to my senses and left the Renewal, I doubted that I ever had a real vocation in the first place.
At the same time, I met the man who would become my husband and life carried on.
Drawn to the Third Order
After a few years of marriage, I began to have the growing sense that I had missed out on something important. I even spoke to a priest about it. I feared that by not going through at least the postulancy in a monastery I committed a sin. The priest assured me that wasn’t the case.
I knew a chapter of the Third Order of the Discalced Carmelites existed near my city. I also knew of a few parishioners who were members of it. After prayer and consideration, I approached one of them about attending meetings. I went to my first monthly meeting in January 2017. When I walked into the room, I felt the same sense of belonging I had at Our Lady of Confidence. There returned that spark of joy I felt in that guestroom ten years before.
Journeying Up Mt. Carmel
Even though St. Therese threw herself at the Pope’s feet to beg early entrance into the Order, Discalced Carmelites have a heavy emphasis on discernment. I was required to wait a year before petitioning entrance into the assurance (the equivalent of the novitiate).
In college, having to wait felt like an enormous sacrifice because I could only communicate with the community through email. In the Third Order, because I was attending meetings as an inquirer, I still felt a part of the community and it was a joy to sit in on the formation classes.
I understand why I couldn’t be a part of community life at the monastery. The fault was on my part. I wasn’t mature enough at the time for a religious vocation. If I lived near the monastery and able to attend services on Sundays or were able to visit more often, perhaps I would have been more able to wait. The fact that I couldn’t do those things might have more to do with God’s providence.
As I continue my journey up Mt. Carmel, I hope that God’s desires will become clearer and that I will become closer to Him. The whole purpose, after all, is union with Him and to become a saint.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia