Adoro Te Devote and I were sharing on another thread about vocations; we have to confess that we accidently derailed that thread. So we decided to start another thread out of respect for the OP and to allow that thread to continue on its due course. I hope that we didn’t do too much damage.
The topic of this thread is Secular Orders. It’s really an information thread and an opportunity for people to share what this vocation means to them and to allow others to ask questions, especially those who are discerning a vocation to a particular religious family.
Before going further, it’s important to understand what Secular Orders are not. They are not societies of pious people who share a devotion to a particular saint: St. Francis, Benedict, Teresa of Avila or Dominic. They are not a stepping stone to becoming a “real” Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite or Benedictine. In fact, Canon Law forbids that they be used in such a way. They are not half-baked religious. Their members do not straddle the fence between religious life and the secular life.
Secular Orders are first and foremost, real religious orders as stated very clearly by Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI when they wrote about the Secular Franciscan Order.
Secular Orders came into existence in different ways. Long before the Middle Ages there were secular movements of preachers, hermits, penitents and mendicants. Most of them disappeared for many reasons, but not all.
When Francis of Assisi began his journey he began as a secular man. His life was devoted to following the Gospel doing penance. Later, when single lay men and some diocesan priests joined him, his mission became a religious family. Eventually, he had to write a rule for his brothers. He wrote the Rule of the Friars Minor, which most of us know as the Franciscans, Capuchins or Conventual. But there were married men and women and some diocesan priests who wanted to live the Gospel life and remain in the secular world. Francis wrote a rule for them too. He called them the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Today most people call us the Secular Franciscans, though the name has never changed.
When Dominic founded his first order, it was a community of nuns. Later he founded a community of Friar Preachers. Most of them were priests, but there were some lay men. Traditionally, they were called the Order of Preachers. From the very beginning, there were diocesan priests, married men and women and others who wanted to share in the mission of Dominic and remain in the secular world. They too wanted to be preachers. Late in the 13th century statutes were drawn up for these men and women to live by. They lived under the direction of the Friars. They were known as the Lay Order of Preachers or Lay Dominicans. The most famous of them was Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church.
The same thing happened with the Carmelite family. Many lay people and secular priests wanted to live the live the hermetical life of the Carmelites, but remain in the secular world. They were organised into two groups, the Secular Carmelites and the Order of Secular Carmelite Discalced. The first group is closely associated with the Carmelite friars of the ancient observance, the second group with the Carmelite reform started by St. Teresa of Avila.
Each of these Secular Orders has a canonical standing within the Church. Each of them has a way of life, vows or some kind of profession that is perpetual. The Franciscans have a rule written by St. Francis and cannot be changed except by a Pope. The Lay Dominicans follow the Augustinian Rule, but with the Dominican’s emphasis on preaching, while the Franciscan emphasis is on blind obedience to the Church, prayer and penance. The Carmelite emphasis is on the hermetical life, contemplation and detachment.
All three require a commitment for life. All three are consecrated ways of life. All three require a special vocation. They are not societies that one joins today and leaves tomorrow because one finds something more interesting to do. The commitment is different in each of them. The details such as the life of prayer and fraternity are different; as well as how they live the Gospel is different. All three have deacons, priests, bishops, married and single people; some are celibate and not others.
There is more to share here, but space does not allow it. Let’s keep talking and the rest will come out.