Not sure if joining a Third Order is the right decision for me


#1

This may be a difficult subject to discuss, but here goes. :o Over a period of many years, I’ve intermittently had the idea of joining a Third Order, but wasn’t sure which to join. (NB. I’m using the term “Third Order” as a kind of convenient, short-hand term to cover all types of groups of lay people associated with e.g. Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and so on.) Last summer I decided to try to take it a step further and asked a priest, a friend, for advice. He made several suggestions, including: choose a Third Order with a fraternity close to you, as attending regular meeting is usually a requirement of membership; and praying for guidance and having the humility accept the indications you receive. I found that there was a Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) fraternity within easy travelling distance, and started attending meetings last summer.

For those who don’t know much about the SFO, there are several stages to joining. Firstly, you attend meetings for a minimum of 6 months as a “visitor”, then you may ask to become an “enquirer”, which is similar to being a postulant. After a further 6 months, there is temporary profession for a year, then full, lifelong membership.

I’m coming to the end of the “visitor” stage and to be honest, I’m really starting to feel that this isn’t for me. I’m not sure whether it’s specific to the fraternity, the SFO in general, or whether it’s general to joining any Third Order. I’ve been praying for guidance since I first started attending meetings. If I’m honest, I felt some reservations right from the first meeting I attended, but persevered with my attendance, thinking that it may be something I’d get over. But the feelings have remained. And it’s got to the stage where I’m asking myself “Why are you still doing this?” I’ve not talked about this to anybody at the fraternity, and I have an impression that successfully passing through the stages to full profession is almost taken for granted. I suppose there’s the possibility that my initial choices were flawed in the sense that I chose the SFO fraternity because it was available.

So I suppose what I really posting this for is to ask: has anybody else been in a similar situation and how did they resolve it? And what is the best way to proceed? Discuss it with somebody at the fraternity? Just keep on attending in the hope that my reservations will resolve themselves? Or just call it a day as I’ve not made any kind of commitment to the fraternity?


#2

Hi Mark,

First of all, thanks for sharing your situation. Secondly, I want to let you know there are a ton of great threads on third/secular/lay orders on here. If you are interested, PM me and I can share of some them.

Now to your actual situation.

Frankly, I would suggest that you got some really bad advice from someone who does not seem understand the nature of the lay/secular/third orders when you were told to pick one that is close to you. This is not uncommon as most people know little about religious and even less about non-religious orders/congregations/etc. I know that practical realities do come into play, but you should be drawn by the spirituality and the way of life, not by location.

As you are obviously aware, the SFO is a vocation like any other and this implies that you are honest, both with yourself and the members of the order who would be welcoming you to their ranks. The phase you are in is all about helping you to discern whether or not you have a vocation. As such, you should feel free to discuss your concerns with your chapter moderator (sorry, I don't know what you call them in SFO). Perhaps he/she will be able to suggest a potential spiritual director for you to assist you in your discernment. At the end of the day, I see two questions you need to ask yourself. 1) Is this form of Christian spirituality a good fit for me? 2) Am I called by God to live this way for the rest of my life? If either answer is no, its probably time to take a step back.

Peace of Christ,


#3

I just returned from my OCarm lay meeting. I spent the afternoon with my community.
We prayed , we discussed issues common to us, and it was a good afternoon.
If I did not attend today "what would I have done with this time?"
That may help.


#4

This should be a joyous time for you. It may be that the charism of the SFO is not right for you and that you need to find a different third order. You should discuss your feelings with your formation director and if at the end of this discussion you decide the SFO is not right for you hopefully your formation director will be able to point you in a better direction.


#5

[quote="thomas_jd, post:3, topic:275146"]
I just returned from my OCarm lay meeting. I spent the afternoon with my community.
We prayed , we discussed issues common to us, and it was a good afternoon.
If I did not attend today "what would I have done with this time?"
That may help.

[/quote]

Unfortunately my experience isn't as positive as yours, and answers to the questionWwhat would I have done with this time" easily spring to mind. :(


#6

Not to mention that having nothing better to do does not indicate a level of commitment or conviction which tends to accompany a call from God.


#7

I’m not sure of the point you’re making? :smiley:


#8

[quote="Mark1970, post:7, topic:275146"]
I'm not sure of the point you're making? :D

[/quote]

Third Orders are a vocation. They are not a club you join. I think what the poster is getting at is that your previous statement of having "nothing better to do" may have been mistaken as a reason for discerning.

What were your reasons for initially discerning a Third Order if you don't mind?


#9

[quote="Mark1970, post:1, topic:275146"]

For those who don't know much about the SFO, there are several stages to joining. Firstly, you attend meetings for a minimum of 6 months as a "visitor", then you may ask to become an "enquirer", which is similar to being a postulant. After a further 6 months, there is temporary profession for a year, then full, lifelong membership.

[/quote]

Just to clarify things a little, you stages for joining SFO are off. You are required to visit a minimum of 3 meetings as a visitor (sometimes longer visits may be required because a new class might not be starting exactly when you need it.) The next stage is Inquiry. It can last between 6 months and a year or more. The final stage before profession is Candidacy. It lasts between 18 months and 2 or more years. At the end of Candidacy you are given the option of making a temporary profession for one year or your permanent profession.

Of course during this entire time you are supposed to be discerning whether this vocation/charism is for you. The fraternity is also evaluating whether the vocation to SFO is true.

If you don't feel that SFO is for you then it might not be, it is not like joining a club. I highly suggest getting a spiritual director. If you feel the Franciscan charism is meant for you, you may want to choose a Franciscan spiritual director from any of the Franciscan branches. Location alone should not be the deciding factor in which charism is meant for you or even which fraternity is the best for you (of course if you discern the charism is meant for you the closest location may be the easiest.)

A vocation should fit like a glove, you should know it is right. Being nervous or feeling not worthy are normal feelings but feeling beyond that may indicate that either it isn't right for you at all or maybe it just might not be the right time.


#10

If you read back through previous comments, the comment about “not having anything better to do” didn’t originate from me. It was originally made by “thomas jd” in his post at 11:29pm, which I referenced in later posts. I certainly never suggested that a Third Order was equivalent to some kind of social club. My reason for referring to that comment in an earlier post was along the lines of “Are there other things God wants me to be doing” rather than any kind of suggestion that I could be e.g watching TV, playing football, reading a book, etc rather than giving time to God.

Just to clarify things a little, you stages for joining SFO are off. You are required to visit a minimum of 3 meetings as a visitor (sometimes longer visits may be required because a new class might not be starting exactly when you need it.) The next stage is Inquiry. It can last between 6 months and a year or more. The final stage before profession is Candidacy. It lasts between 18 months and 2 or more years. At the end of Candidacy you are given the option of making a temporary profession for one year or your permanent profession.

[The times I gave were taken from an official information leaflet I was given at my first meeting, and are correct according to that information. Unfortunately I am not currently using my own computer, otherwise I would sent you a copy of the leaflet I have scanned into my computer.

If you don’t feel that SFO is for you then it might not be, it is not like joining a club.

See my previous comments. :smiley:

[quote]What were your reasons for initially discerning a Third Order if you don’t mind?

A desire for a deeper involvement and commitment to the life of the Church, while rermaining in the lay state. An attraction towards the spirituality of some forms of the consecrated life, while feeling that I was not called to commit fully by becoming a consecrated religious. The comment made in my original post re. picking a fraternity close enough to be able to attend meetings played a part in my decision to approach the SFO. In fact my original choice would have been to become a Benedictine Oblate but I followed the advice of the priest who was acting as my spiritual director.


#11

[quote="Mark1970, post:10, topic:275146"]
[FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"]
[The times I gave were taken from an official information leaflet I was given at my first meeting, and are correct according to that information. Unfortunately I am not currently using my own computer, otherwise I would sent you a copy of the leaflet I have scanned into my computer.

[/quote]

If that is what your fraternity is doing then they are incorrect. The following comes directly from the National Fraternity web-page. It gives both the stages and the minimum timings.

nafra-sfo.org/is_god_calling.html

The first stage, Orientation, provides time for dialogue and developing relationships in fraternity. ...The period of Orientation is a minimum of three months.

The second stage, Inquiry, is the first formal period of initiation. ... The period of Inquiry is a minimum of six months.

The third stage, Candidacy, is the final formal period of initiation.... The period of Candidacy is a minimum of eighteen months and culminates in permanent commitment to the gospel life.

[/quote]


#12

[quote="Marauder, post:9, topic:275146"]
A vocation should fit like a glove, you should know it is right. Being nervous or feeling not worthy are normal feelings but feeling beyond that may indicate that either it isn't right for you at all or maybe it just might not be the right time.

[/quote]

My feelings go beyond feeling nervous nor not worthy. They relate to deeper issues relating to what the SFO itself is about, and also to the fraternity I'm associated with. I'm trying to avoid publicly making comments that some readers may view as uncharitable, though if someone wants to discuss this, I could talk to them privately if they PM or e-mail me.


#13

[quote="Mark1970, post:12, topic:275146"]
My feelings go beyond feeling nervous nor not worthy. They relate to deeper issues relating to what the SFO itself is about, and also to the fraternity I'm associated with. I'm trying to avoid publicly making comments that some readers may view as uncharitable, though if someone wants to discuss this, I could talk to them privately if they PM or e-mail me.

[/quote]

Feel free to PM me if you would like I am a professed member of SFO/OFS.


#14

[quote="Marauder, post:11, topic:275146"]
If that is what your fraternity is doing then they are incorrect. The following comes directly from the National Fraternity web-page. It gives both the stages and the minimum timings.

nafra-sfo.org/is_god_calling.html

[/quote]

I live in the UK and the information I was given relates to the SFO set-up in the UK. The information leaflet I refer to was published by the national SFO organisation in the UK, not by the local fraternity.


#15

[quote="Mark1970, post:14, topic:275146"]

I live in the UK and the information I was given relates to the SFO set-up in the UK. The information leaflet I refer to was published by the national SFO organisation in the UK, not by the local fraternity.

[/quote]

Sorry didn't notice you were in the UK. Exact timing of formation varies according to national statutes. But the three phases are still Orientation/Visitation, Inquiry, and Candidacy.

Rule 23 The time of formation lasts at least one year. The national statutes can establish a longer period. The purpose of this period is the maturation of the vocation, the experience of the evangelical life in fraternity, and a better knowledge of the Order. This formation should be carried out with frequent meetings for study and prayer and with concrete experiences of service and of apostolate. These meetings should be held, as far as possible and opportune, in common with the candidates of other fraternities.

Technically at the end of formation permanent vs. temporary profession is supposed to be at the discretion of the person.

Rule 23 Profession incorporates the candidate into the Order and is by its nature a perpetual commitment. Perpetual profession, because of objective and specific pedagogical reasons, may be preceded by a temporary profession, renewable annually. The total time of temporary profession may not be longer than three years.


#16

[quote="Mark1970, post:10, topic:275146"]
In fact my original choice would have been to become a Benedictine Oblate but I followed the advice of the priest who was acting as my spiritual director.[/FONT]

[/quote]

IMHO it would be a disservice to you to make a profession to SFO without at least investigating the Benedictine Oblates. Your spiritual director obviously knows more about you, your personality, etc. but nobody is perfect. You need to determine if the reason SFO isn't fitting like a glove is because of the particular SFO fraternity you are visiting or SFO in general. If it is related to aspects of that specific fraternity then seek out a new fraternity. If it is SFO in general then it may not be your calling.


#17

A desire for a deeper involvement and commitment to the life of the Church, while rermaining in the lay state. An attraction towards the spirituality of some forms of the consecrated life, while feeling that I was not called to commit fully by becoming a consecrated religious. The comment made in my original post re. picking a fraternity close enough to be able to attend meetings played a part in my decision to approach the SFO. In fact my original choice would have been to become a Benedictine Oblate but I followed the advice of the priest who was acting as my spiritual director.

I agree with the above poster. Due to this statement I think you would do yourself and your fraternity a disservice by not looking more at the Benedictine Oblate. After all if you feel your calling there then this may be your true charism and why you are not feeling the "true fit" with the SFO. That being said my apologies that I got the quotes backwards I was going from another poster's quotes. But regardless I would also keep an open mind to being questioned about your intentions because you will be many times throughout your formation process.


#18

[quote="joanofarc2008, post:8, topic:275146"]
Third Orders are a vocation. They are not a club you join. I think what the poster is getting at is that your previous statement of having "nothing better to do" may have been mistaken as a reason for discerning.

[/quote]

No my reason for that statement is this (emphasis mine):

[quote="thomas_jd, post:3, topic:275146"]
I just returned from my OCarm lay meeting. I spent the afternoon with my community.
We prayed , we discussed issues common to us, and it was a good afternoon.
If I did not attend today "what would I have done with this time?"
That may help.

[/quote]

My point is that while he means well, having nothing better to do with one's time is not exactly a good bell-weather for discerning a vocation.


#19

=Marauder;9010275]IMHO it would be a disservice to you to make a profession to SFO without at least investigating the Benedictine Oblates. Your spiritual director obviously knows more about you, your personality, etc. but nobody is perfect. You need to determine if the reason SFO isn't fitting like a glove is because of the particular SFO fraternity you are visiting or SFO in general. If it is related to aspects of that specific fraternity then seek out a new fraternity. If it is SFO in general then it may not be your calling.

I'll PM you later about some of the issues, when I've had a chance to get my thoughts together. :)

I agree with the above poster. Due to this statement I think you would do yourself and your fraternity a disservice by not looking more at the Benedictine Oblate. After all if you feel your calling there then this may be your true charism and why you are not feeling the "true fit" with the SFO. That being said my apologies that I got the quotes backwards I was going from another poster's quotes. But regardless I would also keep an open mind to being questioned about your intentions because you will be many times throughout your formation process.

Truth be told, one of the things I find slightly strange is that I haven't been questioned at the Fraternity. They just seemed happy to accept me. In fact, at my very first meeting I was presented with my Tau cross and told "Right, you're one of us now!" And this was at my very first meeting when (regardless of which time-scale you follow) I should have been a visitor. And a few months later, a list of membership was given out at which I was listed with everybody else as "Brother Mark", even though my membership status hadn't progressed.:shrug:[/FONT]


#20

[quote="Mark1970, post:19, topic:275146"]

Truth be told, one of the things I find slightly strange is that I haven't been questioned at the Fraternity. They just seemed happy to accept me. In fact, at my very first meeting I was presented with my Tau cross and told "Right, you're one of us now!" And this was at my very first meeting when (regardless of which time-scale you follow) I should have been a visitor. And a few months later, a list of membership was given out at which I was listed with everybody else as "Brother Mark", even though my membership status hadn't progressed.:shrug:[/FONT]

[/quote]

That is a bit strange. I have been asked repeatedly (politely of course) what led me to the Domincans, etc. and I imagine I will continue to be asked. People in your case could just be trying to be polite and welcoming. The average lay person has no training whatsoever in helping people to discern a vocation nor even training to help themselves.

I have said it before on here and I will continue to stick to my guns on this, that the average faithful Catholic in the pews is starving for this sort of thing. They are starving to find an authentic approach to the spiritual life that can help them on their path to holiness in a world that is conspiring against them at every turn. Priests simply cannot take on spiritual direction for an individual or even a small group basis because there are simply not enough of them and they are too spread out as it is. In our parish, things like CRHP are packed repeatedly as people try to find something to latch onto outside of going to mass and getting involved in service within the parish.

Because of all that, the people in your SFO group are probably just trying to be welcoming and are happy that you have found what they have found.

Peace of Christ,


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