I’m still in the discerning process of joining a Third Order. I’ve known ever since I even heard the word “Carmelite” that it was a path I needed to investigate seriously. I’m a convert to the faith, and this year have gone through a bit of a Second Conversion, taking my spirituality to a new level (daily mass, daily rosary and mental prayer, etc.).
If you’ve ever read “Story of a Soul” by little Thérèse of Lisieux, you may remember that she called Jesus Christ her ‘Spiritual Director’. For me, the Holy Ghost has been my spiritual director. I pray daily for guidance to take me down the path that will save my soul and will draw me closer to God and to Christ. I find that I’ll be prompted to do a certain Google search, or go to a certain bookstore where I pick up a new book that answers every question that God has put in my head in that moment. As I was reading “Story of a Soul”, it became eerie how often I would ponder a question for days, only to have the answer come to me as clear as day in the pages of the book. For example, I was struggling with prayer and what I should pray for. If I prayed for a holy death, I felt guilty that I wasn’t praying for priests, and if I prayed for priests, I felt guilty that I wasn’t praying for the holy souls in purgatory. That kind of thing. When little Thérèse said that she knew she was to dedicate her life to praying for priests and the conversion of souls, I realized, I can do that! That makes total sense to me. I’ve adopted a couple of priests that I know as well as asked God to assign me the priest that is in most need of my prayers as a spiritual mother, and pray for them daily. I also dedicated my rosary with the intention every day for the conversion of souls. When I’m prompted to pray for another intention by my ‘Spiritual Director’, I do so, but if not, I always pray for the sanctification of priests and the conversion of souls. Having a spiritual “mission” has brought great peace to my soul.
What confirmed my path towards Carmel for me was, oddly enough, a YouTube video. There is a movie about the life of Saint Teresa of the Andes, and I found a link to a video about Carmelite habits right here on this forum. After watching one clip, I had to go back and watch the whole movie. In one particular clip, Juanita (her name before she joined the cloister) was talking to a priest about why she wanted to be a Carmelite. He asked her the calling of a Carmelite, and she said, “To suffer, love, and pray.” It just hit me like a brick - I can do that! I can’t preach like the Dominicans, I’m too shy to serve like the Franciscans, I’m not disciplined enough to be a Benedictine. But I can pray. And I can suffer. And I can love.
Becoming enrolled in the brown scapular and praying a daily rosary has further drawn me to the charism of Carmel, to ponder God in my heart as Mary did. Every time I learn something new about Carmelite spirituality, my heart just soars. For example, I’ve been listening this week to a retreat talk by an Australian Discalced Carmelite on How To Pray. Everything that he says about getting to know God and entering an intimate relationship with Christ makes total sense to me. I pray daily to Our Lady of Carmel that I will do God’s will in everything, and that I can learn to walk this path of Carmel.
For me, the path of Carmel is simply walking towards the desert, to be alone with God Alone. It’s that deep union that I long for. I don’t ever expect to be a mystic like St. Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. Instead, I strive to be like Brother Lawrence, simply living my life of doing the things that are required of my vocation, but in the constant and intimate presence of God. With some, spirituality is learning as much as possible. For me, being a Carmelite actually involves simplifying my spirituality, with mental prayer and practicing the presence of God as the core of my being. I’ve learned much more from standing with Mary and St. Mary Magdelene (my confirmation saint) as I pray at the foot of the cross than I have from any book, or video, or homily.
This journey of getting to know Christ and to love God as He deserves to be loved, and learning to accept the love of God for me, has brought me to places both happy and sad that I never dreamed I could go. I still haven’t formally pursued the path to join a third order group, as I have two options (both TOC and OCDS) and have not been pulled strongly in either direction. But I am preparing myself so that when God puts the option in front of me to go the direction He wants me to go, that I will be ready.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.