How do I discern a vocation to Third Order of Carmelites?

I could really use some advice on how to discern this. I have always had a devotion to St. Therese of Liseux. I got a lot of insights from reading her autobiography. I have been feeling called to be in closer connection with the Carmelite sisters. I don’t know how to tell if this is just in my own mind, my own idea, or God’s idea that He gave to me.

l started to question all this more seriously on Palm Sunday last year when I made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama (I know they are Franciscans). I realized today that Palm Sunday is coming up soon and that means I have been thinking about this for a year now. I feel like it is time I move forward in some way.

Are there any books you would recommend? I am interested in learning about Carmelite spirituality but don’t know where to start.

Also, I am 37, married, and a homeschooling mother to 3 young children. I don’t know if God even gives a vocation to a Third Order to someone in my phase of life. I feel like in 10 or 15 years I would have more time, but I would hate to defer until then if that is not God’s will. I regret not seriously discerning religious life when I was 18 & 19 years old. (I hope that doesn’t sound like I don’t love my husband & children because I deeply do.) I just don’t want anymore regrets.

Does anyone know how to find out if there is a Third Order Carmelite community in my city? I have done some googling but cannot find an index of communities by state for example. Or do you know a website that might have contact info. for a person who would have that information? I have looked but haven’t been successful.

In a nutshell, where do I begin? Where do I go from here? Thank you.

In what city/ state do you live?

Here’s the link for Eastern USA:

Here’s the link for Western USA:

There are two branches of the Carmelite Family, each with their own prior general in Rome…the ancient observance (O.Carm.) which traces its roots back to at least the 12th century in the Holy Land and the discalced, which is a reform going back to the 16th century Spain of the Counter Reformation…they are also known as the Teresian Reform (O.C.D.).

You would have to look at which you feel more attracted to and, practically, which might actually be in your area…as well as what is expected of the members over and against what your life presently might permit.

The websites below will give you a starting point and provide you with reading materials that will help you to understand the vocation better.

Discernment, ultimately, would happen both by you and those responsible for formation. If you feel an attraction to the way of life and spirituality once you have read more about it and it presents no obstacles to your present state of life, then I would reach out to them and see what is possible, given where you live. It is a process that spans years, so you are not making any commitment quickly.

There is nothing in what you write that indicates you could not do it. If the children are young, some of the aspects may require a bit of juggling but I have known women in your circumstances who have successfully done it.

I counsel you though not to look back with regret on what you may perceive as a failure on your part to have discerned as perhaps you should have. As Jesus says, having laid hand upon the plough, we should not look back. It sounds as though God has blessed you in the state of life you are in and you followed the events of Providence, which took you to marriage and motherhood. Be at peace. Look now, perhaps, to ways in which you can live a more intense life that is inspired and derived from one of the families of consecrated life…and makes you truly a part of that family.

There are books available on the spirituality. Father Joseph Chalmers comes to mind immediately regarding the ancient observance…the OCD friars in the Washington Province publish Carmelite books and you would find through their publication house books that would help you better understand the spirituality and how you would live it in the third order.

The Ancient Observance

Also, while you may not be in Britain, the friars of the British province have a very thorough overview on their website of their Lay Carmelites. It allows you to access their formation materials:

The Discalced Observance

This is the province of the Discalced Carmelites on the East Coast of the United States:

This is one of the American communities of the Secular Carmelites, which has a good amount of information that gives you insight into the functioning of a local community. It also gives you links to source material:

There is one final advice I would give you. It is from the American, Thomas Merton. In his autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, he talks of discerning his vocation. In the early phase, he was drawn to Franciscan spirituality and to being a Franciscan friar. He had an image in his mind that was very attractive to him. He realised, however, that his image was not actually conformed to the Franciscan lived reality of the mid 20th century but was a romantic vision from a century long before.

I mention this only because you may find that the actual life of a Lay Carmelite (TOC) or a Secular Carmelite (OCDS) is not what you thought or not feasible – but you may find what you seek in another family, such as the Franciscans or the Servites or the Dominicans or the Benedictines. Thomas Merton’s vocation, it turns out, was to be a Trappist monk and a priest of the first Trappist monastery in the United States, Gethsemane Abbey. As they say, God can write straight with crooked lines.

The officials of your diocese would know if a chapter of either branches third order exists in the diocese. You could contact the chancery of your diocese and ask to speak to the Vicar for Religious and Consecrated Life.

And, of course, how Trappists live their charism nowadays, if at all, would be hugely disappointed at Gethsemane Abbey, where the life that Merton talked about is not lived there anymore.

Pax Christi

In a nutshell, below are the requirements or steps posted on the Facebook of a local Teresian lay group I stumbled upon. I would like to add a few more cents to your pile. I homeschooled three children and found that I was educating myself in the process also. So seeing that the process of formation may take years, use this time to research the communities. I found the local chapter not really open to new members, they have one open meeting a year and I missed it. Upon further research, it was not for me. I pray you find what you seek.

  1. What is the timetable for becoming a Discalced Carmelite Secular?
    The entire period of formation commonly requires about six years.

Attendance at 12 monthly meetings of the community is required, so the Aspirant may be supported by its members as he or she learns more about Secular life and discerns
whether he or she has a vocation to the order.

  1. First period of formation

A minimum of two years is required for study and growth in prayer, the apostolate and community life. At the end of this time, the council of the community may invite the candidate to make a Temporary Promise of poverty, chastity and obedience to the order.

  1. Second period of formation

At least three years precedes the Definitive Promise. Either period of formation may be extended if the council and the individual in formation agree that doing so is in the best interest of the candidate.

(1) Source: Oklahoma Province OCDS Aspirancy Brochure

Both sites have very detailed formation information. Thank you!

Thank you for taking time out of your day to write such a thorough response. It is a wealth of information. Your encouragement to be at peace with no regrets is especially appreciated. I have created a folder on my computer with all the links provided to me in this thread and I will be going through them. It is very helpful, thank you! I also appreciate your caution against romanticizing anything. I only want God’s will. As St. Elizabeth Seton said “God’s Will: Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” Thanks again.

That is so sad. Everyone in their order was the new person at some point.

I agree about the homeschooling. Some days I feel like a student again rather than the teacher.

Thank you for the information!

Has everything to do with how you arrange your time. Kids thrive on schedules, and if they’re doing school, you can, too, with your Carmelite reading. If you don’t have a chapter nearby, you’d go into the “isolate” category, and they have someone assigned to assist you with your journey.

The Carmelites consider themselves a family, and they say to go to the branch in which you feel most at home. Although I am good internet friends with an OCD prioress, I still have two personal friends who became O.Carm. One of them became the vocation director for his monastery; the other, the prioress of her monastery. When living in Knoxville, I assisted the OCDS with their organizational efforts.

I’m personally drawn to the O.Carms, but can appreciate Teresa’s writings. Pictures of the chapel ruins on Mt Carmel are very attractive to me.


I don’t agree with you at all. I visited Gethsemane several times over a span of years on a project related to their history and I think they are an extraordinary community. They are certainly committed to the legacy of Merton.

Then answer me this: do the monks farm the land and tend to animals and are self sufficient to provide for themselves like when Merton joined Gethsemane?

Pax Christi

Whether monks farm the land or tend animals is not at the heart of the monastic vocation in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Opus Dei is.

Amongst what Saint Benedict says in chapter 48 of the Rule is:

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading” /…/ and, having laid down the schedule for accomplishing the necessary work, Saint Benedict adds, “then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands” – which indeed the monks of that abbey assuredly do

It has been some years since I was last physically at the abbey but I remain in touch with the community…in terms of their self sufficiency in light of the options, I should say they have quite stayed abreast of the times in terms of what is viable for self-sufficiency, with sober realism, what is optimal for balancing the realities of the monastic community, the work they can do in the context of the monastic life, and they have moreover done so with that wisdom and prudence that they have shown throughout their 150 years. I willingly affirm the the abbots and the chapter in those decisions.

To turn means into ends and to retain non essentials simply because a previous generation of the monastery had done it thusly would be to turn a monastic community into little more than historical interpreters. A farm in the life and realities of 19th century rural Kentucky was a matter of survival for the monastic community. A farm in the 21st century can be completely unsound, given new circumstances and new realities.

On the other hand, I have seen first hand the wonders God performs through saints He raises up and sends to innovate and to adapt institutions to new times, new realities, new challenges and new opportunities.

Yes, it is: ora et labora.

The Cistercians took this very much to the heart and were adamant about manual labor, especially the land and to provide for themselves, that’s why their reform split them away form the Benedictines.

Yet, it’s nowhere to be found in Gethsemane or in almost all the Cistercian abbeys around the world, making their moot in merely a generation after almost a millennium.

It’s quite sad to see such a great order go away with a whimper, unable to resist modernity after it endured much worse, saying more about its current members than its charism.

Pax Christi

To work and pray is the patrimony of all the sons and daughters of Saint Benedict. Whereas for the Benedictines and the Cistercians of the Common Observance, it includes intellectual and academic work; for the Cistercians of Strict Observance, the focus on labour is “of their hands”…in which they are completely faithful and it is not correct to accuse them of infidelity to their charism.

As I said before, they are not historical interpreters, acting as if they were living in the 19th century. Such a thing would promoting form over substance. They are living in the 21st century. With 21st century realities and 21st century possibilities.

The Cistercians took this very much to the heart and were adamant about manual labor, especially the land and to provide for themselves, that’s why their reform split them away form the Benedictines.

They do sustain themselves by the labour of their hands.

Yet, it’s nowhere to be found in Gethsemane or in almost all the Cistercian abbeys around the world, making their moot in merely a generation after almost a millennium.

It’s quite sad to see such a great order go away with a whimper, unable to resist modernity after it endured much worse, saying more about its current members than its charism

Go away? Their houses are currently more than double the number they were in 1940 with explosive growth in foundations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and a trajectory of vocational growth in the areas where they have new establishments. While I expect we will see some consolidation of stabilities in North America and Western Europe, we already see even there monastics from other countries supplementing and stabilising houses in the developed world which have had less vocations.

Far from indicting the current members of the Order, they are rather quite exemplary in not only preserving but also adapting their Order’s charism.

Any religious institute that is in communion with the Church is orthodox.

While there may be members who might hold to some unorthodox positions if the order is in communion with the Church then it is orthodox.

Don, thanks for the links.

I, too have become interested in Carmelite spirituality because of my devotion to St. Thérèse. But I’m not sure how I would go about discerning whether actually joining the Third Order is something God is calling me to do. Anyone have any ideas?

That’s what the periods as a postulant and then as a novice are for, to provide you with the opportunity to get to know what the Order is about and to find out whether you are called to it. IOW, unless you give it a try, you will never know it.

Χριστός ἀνέστη!

You are welcome.

As I tried to indicate earlier, there are two points to the discernment.

  1. You must discern if you are called.
  2. The Order, particularly the one who presides over the chapter together with the council and those responsible for formation, must also discern if you are called.

Your devotion and attraction to Saint Thérèse is indeed a very good thing. Life as a member of the third order of Carmel – whether ancient observance or discalced – is about incorporating Carmel’s charism into one’s daily life and living out the rule and the spirituality in one’s daily practice, which is a much broader reality.

A first question is whether or not what one does as a tertiary is attractive. If, for example, one does not find the daily recitation of the liturgy of the hours or the daily exercise of mental prayer something to which a person is drawn, that would be an indication that perhaps one should seek opportunity for spiritual growth elsewhere.

The third orders today tend to be (rightly) oriented toward some aspect of community, however attenuated…there are those for whom the required meetings are not compatible with their current situation in life, which would be another opportunity to discern, practically, whether one can live the commitment. Also, since it involves human beings, the dynamic of any group can vary quite a bit from one to another and there will be some groups where the fit is better than might be the case with other groups.

There are some moments in life that are more conducive to the commitments of being a tertiary than others, especially relative to formation.

Honestly, as with Religious Life itself, it is only by living the life that one can conclude whether or not this is a positive or a negative…thinking about it does not take a person to a conclusion – and, of course, the decision rests as much with the order as it does with the individual.

If you are interested and if there is a chapter near enough to be practical, I would suggest contacting them. The formation process involves years and so there is no rush to make a decision and a commitment.

And frankly, I have known many across the years who will be attracted to one expression of living this vocation only to discover it was not what they thought or expected and they went a different path. In the process, one could discover, for example, that another way of living this vocation was a better fit to a person’s temperament. These are not so radically different that one could not profit from the writings of Saint Thérèse and her teachings while, say, incorporating them and living her particular charism as a Benedictine Oblate.

The basics are rather fundamental even if there are certain expressions that are more particular…for example, the Carmelite concept of contemplation has more of an affective component while the Dominican concept will be more intellectual. Both are involved in contemplation, however…and obviously neither methodology is exclusive.

There are variances in the different programmes. Benedictine Oblates tend to have a bit more flexibility in terms of meetings and such. An oblate affiliates to one Benedictine house and so the relationship is different. They tend to make allowance for a member who lives further away from the abbey/priory because the relationship is much more personal.

Also there is one rule for all Benedictines and so an oblate’s promise is to live the rule in so far as their life permits – and so there is a much broader latitude in terms of prescribed spiritual practices.

Also, some third orders are better able to accommodate the need for a tertiary being an isolated member for reasons of distance from a chapter or caring for a very young child or an ill parent or such.

Finally, given the focus on community, this will often limit what opportunities are actually available in the area where you live – unless you find yourself in an urban area where there are chapters of many different third orders.

The vocation to be a tertiary or an oblate is a beautiful one and enriching to one’s life in the world.

You’ve received some excellent guidance from Don Ruggero and the other posters. May I present a prespective from a Received O. Carm, who will be making her Temporary Profession this September? In other words, I’m finishing my 3rd year of Formation.

I had prayed for a long time for guidance. I wanted to grow closer to our Lord, but kept floundering. I was doing the 5 First Saturdays. I read another parish (not my own) had Confession, Saturday morning Mass, specifically for First Saturdays. While in the Communion line, I noticed I knew the EMHC. We worked at the same place, but I hadn’t seen her for a number of years. We talked briefly after Mass. The next month, we talked a little more. During our conversation, she looked at me, and asked, “Have you ever thought of becoming a Lay Carmelite?” My friend and I have talked about this since then, she has no idea why she asked me this.

Nope, I didn’t even know about the Third Orders. I went home, did some research, and attended the next Community meeting. I went to 5 Community monthly meetings, before I decided to join. Of course, I prayed, prayed, and prayed.

What I found was a group of people dedicated to prayer, learning about Carmelite spirituality, as a another poster wrote, I found a family. Our community has just finished reading The Way of Perfection, Study Edition. Now, we are reading The Practice in the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Critical Edition. We study our Laws, St. Albert’s Rule, and LOTH, and more.

We also do Ongoing Formation, aside from our monthly meetings, open to anyone in the Community. This is the Formation for the 3rd - 6th year people or the people who have taken their Final Vows. We’re reading The Essence of Prayer by Ruth Burrows.

As you can see, it’s learning, we never stop learning. Actually, let me amend that, we never stop growing.

My Carmelite group was an answer to my prayers. It’s Spiritual Direction, it’s learning, it’s growing, and it’s done with a great bunch of people.

God bless you. I hope and pray you find what you are looking for.

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