My Discernment with Catholic Spiritualities

I recently wrote this reflection and posted it on Facebook. I figured I’d post it here as well and share my thoughts and current discernment process.


(Names also removed for anonymity purposes).

The last two summers at my parish we’ve had one teen each year agonize over what they should do when they’re done their Grade 12 year. Person M’s struggle was an interesting one, her and I talked about it often leading up to when she had to make the call. She eventually decided to do a year of Net Ministries, and by all accounts I have heard she proceeded to do wonderful work, and now appears to be volunteering at my parish with the youth ministry. Not only do I look forward to hearing more about this, but I also look forward to working with her in the ministry.

But Person L’s case was different. Person L, like myself, is “plugged in” the Internet. Ordinarily I’m not sure Person L and I would even come close to talking, but through Twitter (and Facebook) we’ve had several good conversations. So everyday on Twitter there was L tweeting away about how she had no idea what she wanted to do, no idea what God wanted her to do. Blog posts detailing the agony of indecisions. In response, some people would put on the ministry hat and give answers based on youth ministry. Others would put on the friend hat and give a response that friends do. In the case of Person D, she somehow managed to merge the two hats together and was somehow able to do both at the same time. Myself, I don’t really have a “ministry hat”. A part of the dynamic I bring to the Core team is the paternal role I take with both teens and Core (quite possibly due to being a married man with a son, or maybe because that’s a role I see needed within the ministry. Or maybe it comes naturally…sounds like another note might have to be made about that at some point). So here I was talking with Person L and generally trying to be supportive/giving advice like I would my own kids, and she makes the decision; she’s going on Net. You’d think this would be it, but Person L is Person L (God bless her), and there’s still some “peaceoutfreakouts” (as they are known) that still happen. But she’s going on Net, and she needs money to do it.

I talked with my wife about tithing, and we agreed that I would scale back giving to missionaries and give more to the parish. This was made easy when one of the people I supported decided to go back to teaching. But during this time, I did something I usually don’t do; I took action without consulting my wife. I decided to not only give Person L a small one-time donation, but without hesitation I decided to give her 25 bucks a month.

I’ve come to the realization of why I did that instinctively; the entire time Person L was agonizing over her indecision, I was starting to have some questions of my own regarding a big decision.

For years now I’ve felt called to join a secular order. A secular order is a branch of an religious order, one which clergy and lay people alike can join. For years now I’ve felt the call to join the Secular Franciscans. The reasons were obvious;

  • I was born on the Feats of St. Francis.
  • I came back to the Church at a conference run by Franciscans, at school run by Franciscans.
  • I’m a simple man, who likes simple things. Simple and small things amuse me greatly!
  • I fast a fair amount.
  • I’m passionate about fellowship.

All of those things, to me, added up to the Secular Franciscans. An Order where all are equal (Priests, Laymen, Friars). I love the Rule of Francis, and by joining and professing I would have to live by that Rule.

But for the past year or so, I have been having doubts. You see, a second secular order has caught my eye. One which speaks to my mind and heart, and dovetails nicely with not only what I love doing in ministry, but also what I’m good at in ministry.

I am referring to the Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic.

Dominic and Francis both founded their orders at the same time, in response to what was arguably one of the biggest times of crisis in Church history (if you don’t believe me, look it up). It was no coincidence that God essentially rebuilt His Church on the backs of those two holy men. Dominic thought that it wasn’t the laity who was the problem, it was the lack of orthodox preachers. This speaks to my heart, as one of the reasons I do youth ministry and RCIA is because I feel that there’s not as many good instructors out there as there should be. He still taught simple living and community, but the main focus was on teaching and preaching.

On the downside, Dominicans can often over think things, and spend more time studying. Initially when thinking about this, I thought “nah, I can’t be a Dominican. I give talks with no notes!”. My capability of walking up in front of a crowd and giving a talk is the stuff of local legends, so initially I thought that I would not fit. But Stephanie pointed out that in order for God to take over, He needs something to work with. So although I don’t retain or remember what I’m reading, God can drag it out from some place and make it work without me even knowing. She mentioned that I *do a lot of reading, and although I go up with no notes I do spend considerable time in prayer and thought over the content of what I’ll be talking about. And of course, she also mentioned that I have other gifts which lend itself well to teaching, and I should look into how Dominic did things. And sure enough; Dominic was quite the preacher and at times did not write out anything, he would go and throw down with anything. There have been other Dominicans who have done this as well. It was a revelation of sorts; not all Dominicans are like Aquinas!

As I look back, I can see that not only has Francis been watching out for me, but Dominic too. Interestingly enough, the man who actually also helped shape me over the first month of my reversion wasn’t our parish Priest (although he did take a role later on). Father Dave was on vacation at the time. It was the late Fr Lorcan Murray (God rest his soul) who heard my first confessions (all of which lasted a considerable long time, much to the chagrin of those waiting in line, including my chief rival in school) who helped guide me along the initial path of the Church. Fr Murray had a couple of initials at the end of his name, which I didn’t think about asking him about. it wasn’t until much later I discovered this priest who helped my initial formation had the title “OP” behind is name. OP is the acronym that denotes members of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.

So I have been discerning things the last few months, and I thought this was between the two of them. But I wouldn’t be writing 2000+ words about this if it was that “easy”. Recently, though, a wild card got brought into the mix:

The Salesians of St. Don Bosco.

Some further background; as mentioned earlier I had a rival growing up. We were rivals throughout grade school and high school (case and point; he pointed out a hat that he liked one day. That very evening I went out and bought the hat. He was, of course, furious that I “stole” his hat). After my reversion to Catholicism this rivalry became less hostile and much more friendly (think Superman/Batman). Near the end of high school the rivalry became non-existent; we were now friends. Over the years we’ve hardly talked, sadly. He’s been busy traveling across the globe as a part of his training and education (which, I may add, was what he always wanted to do. Yes kids, dreams can be achieved).

Brother JPZ will be, if I’m not mistaken, will be taking is final vows next year with the Salesians .

When I told him I was discerning joining a secular order all those years ago, he said to me “you know, the Salesians have a lay and secular order too. They’re rare in Canada, but you should look them up”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but over the last few months I’ve started looking into them. St. Don Bosco, wouldn’t you know, was a member of the Secular Franciscans. He took Franciscan spirituality and blended it with the spirituality of another Francis; St. Francis de Sales. This blend resulted in an Order who worked with the poor (like the Franciscans), but focused on the teaching/apologetic element that Francis de Sales was known for. This, of course, fits Brother JPZ like a knitted sweater. He had a couple of powerful reversion moments at Steubenville so the Franciscan influence was there. But what Brother JPZ’s main charism was, and undoubtedly still is, the gift of apologetics and teaching. Brother JPZ’s father (JPZ Sr) was a noted apologist, religion teacher, and RCIA instructor for several years. So it should come as no surprise that Brother JPZ is just as good (and over the course of time will likely surpass) his father. That apologetics and teaching comes from St. Francis de Sales.

So what would the difference be between the Dominicans and Salesians? Who they work with for one. Dominicans preach and teach with everyone and anyone. Young, old, regardless of class. Salesians work with primarily with young people, the poor and middle class. Salesians spend less time studying than Dominicans, but by no means are they intellectual lightweights. Franciscans primarily work with the poor, and although they do some teaching and preaching it isn’t their primary charism.

As a man whose been working in youth ministry for eight years, I won’t lie; the Salesian spirituality definitely appeals to me. But, it seems rare to find a secular order for them, which would mean I wouldn’t be joining one and instead be living a life devoted to that spirituality. I can accept this, but as I mentioned above I do feel called to join a secular order…I’m not sure which one.

Really, the three orders can be described in the following simplified manner;

Franciscans will give a man a fish to eat, and while eating the fish with them they might explain how to catch more (or just as easily discuss other items that have nothing to do with fishing). Dominicans would instruct the man on how to catch the fish, the essentials of fish/fishing (such as how the fish got there, what fish tastes the best) , and then perhaps provide a fish to eat (or spend the time answering further questions the man has about fishing after he has caught his own). Salesians would give the man a fish, then tell the fellow how catch it so they could both eat one (pretty simple, yet effective!).

Of course, after reading all of this you might be thinking; “why the big deal”? Because joining a secular order is a big deal. A HUGE one. When you join one, you join it for life; you must request to be released from it. You live the same Rule as the rest, you just happen to live in the world. You become a part of a larger family.

For these reasons I have spent years discerning the timing of joining one, and this has grown to now become “which one should I join?”. But there’s only so much time one can spend discerning, there’s a time for action. I mentioned at Life Teen this past Sunday that, by the end of the summer, I want to know which one I will follow, which order I will start the formation process for (or at least get in further contact with). I didn’t mention the Salesians then, but I might as well be honest with myself and add them since I have thought about their spirituality.

I ask all of you for prayers during the coming two or three months, and if you have further insights on these three spiritualities please let me know.

And Person L, I guess this fall we’ll be starting a journey together after a fashion. I don’t know where I’m going, but it’d be one of those three places.

Of course, the fact I’ve spent this much time researching, praying, running a workshop or two, and talking about this (in addition to writing 2100+ words in this note)…maybe it’s been right in front of me the whole time.

God bless everyone, and thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment if you are so inclined!

NOTE: Some people posted comments, and I then replied. The current running total of 3000+ words I’ve written about this, just on FB and just for last week,

Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing. I went through a similar process during my looking into Lay Orders. I actually starting just seeking additional formation and an authentic approach to spirituality. This led me to look into Opus Dei. From there, I discovered Lay Orders and started trying to learn everything that I could.

Take care,


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