How do I discern my vocation to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites?
First, do you have a love for the spirituality of the Carmelite saints and their Order? This is especially important, but there are many who love Carmelite spirituality who may not be called to a vocation in the Secular Order. They can still live out that spirituality outside of O.C.D.S.
Second, do you wish to live this spirituality in the context of an O.C.D.S. community? O.C.D.S. is not for those who feel called to be hermits. While O.C.D.S. involves a call to contemplative prayer, the Secular Order shares this life in a local fraternity and shares its spirituality with the world.
Third, do you feel called to commit to the structure that the Rule/Constitutions will give to your daily life? For some people that structure is a great benefit in being able to live out the Christian, and Carmelite, life. Others, however, may feel that there is not enough flexibility for their personality or life circumstances. At the other end of the spectrum, some find that the Rule brings out too much scrupulosity in them when they try to live it out.
Fourth, if you are about to make the Temporary Promise, do you understand what the Rule/Constitutions and Local Statutes are asking of you? If not, inquire of those who do. Get answers to your questions prior to making a Promise to the Order. It is not fair to yourself or to the local community to make a Promise to the local community without fully understanding its implications for your life.
Fifth, for those in formation, are you finding yourself able to live out what the Rule and Local Statutes are requiring of you in a regular way? (see the section below)
And lastly, for those approaching the final Promise, are you growing as a Christian and Carmelite? Are you still in love with the Order and it’s way of life? Are you still able to live the Rule in a regular and ongoing way?
How can I discern if I’m able or unable to successfully live the Rule?
It takes time to put the various aspects of the Rule into practice in our lives. Some find it helpful, after entering formation, to slowly add one aspect of the Rule at a time, allowing time for one area to be working well in our lives before adding another. You need to give yourself time to adjust your schedule to the “regulated life” of the Rule. However, you should have completed this process prior to making a Promise to live the Rule, especially the Definitive Promise.
All of us have occasions on which we may not be able to fulfill some precept of the Rule, but if you find that this is a regular occurrence it would not be right to make a promise to live out commitments that you are routinely unable to keep. This rule of thumb should also be applied in relation to how your family and occupational responsibilities fit with the Secular Carmelite vocation. As seculars, we have basic responsibilities that we need to meet toward others in our family and in our occupation. These responsibilities do not exclude us, however, from keeping the commitments made to the Rule. They do provide legitimate reasons for us not keeping some precepts of the Rule on some occasions, but not in a regular, ongoing way. Inability to keep the Rule in an ongoing way is a sign of not having a vocation to the Secular Order- though this should not be concluded until sufficient time has been given in attempting to put the various commitments in the Rule into place in one’s life.
The Rule is intended to give a structure and plan to our Carmelite Christian life, to help us to do practical things that are an expression of our love of God and to help us to grow in our love of God and His Kingdom. Because we make a promise to live the Rule, there is also a sense of duty attached to the things that we do in living out the Rule. This duty should also be one aspect of our love of God. Hopefully, however, we do not lose perspective and begin to live the Rule simply for the sake of doing acts without the dimension of growing in the love of God through them. If we find ourselves thinking that we have a daily checklist of Carmelite obligations and that once we have checked them off we have “been a Carmelite”, then we have lost the vision for what we are about. It’s then time to recall that what we do should be done out of love for God and our neighbor, through the spirituality of the Carmelite saints and the traditions of the Order.