Introduction to Third Order Carmelite Spirituality:
In the tapestry of Catholic spirituality, the Third Order of Carmel stands as a unique thread, weaving together the contemplative essence of the Carmelite tradition with the vibrant tapestry of everyday life. Born from the rich spiritual heritage of the Carmelite religious order, the Third Order offers a path for laypeople to live out their faith in the world while embracing the spirituality and values of the Carmelite tradition. At its heart, Third Order Carmelite spirituality is a call to contemplation, prayer, and a deep union with God amid the demands and joys of everyday existence.
Jennifer’s life was a journey of faith filled with uncertainties, questions, and an unshakable belief that God’s guidance would illuminate her path. A devout Catholic, she found herself at a crossroads, pondering the purpose of her life and seeking God’s calling.
As the sun dipped below the horizon one evening, Jennifer sat in her cozy room, enveloped in the warm glow of candlelight. Her thoughts danced like shadows on the walls as she contemplated the myriad decisions that shaped her day and her destiny. She understood that discernment, the process of discovering God’s plan, was a significant part of her faith journey.
Jennifer, like many others, had always been curious about the various vocations within the Catholic Church. The notion of becoming a religious sister had crossed her mind, and she greatly admired the sisters she had met along her spiritual journey. They embodied faith, compassion, and service. Jennifer deeply respected their choice, yet she felt a different path beckoning her—a path that included marriage and nurturing a family.
But just when she thought she had explored all her options, a revelation emerged—a path she hadn’t known existed. It was the Third Order, a secular religious order that allowed individuals to embrace the spirituality of a religious order while living in the world. Jennifer’s heart stirred with curiosity, and she embarked on a journey of discovery.
Among the various Third Orders, one called to Jennifer with a compelling voice—the Discalced Carmelite Order. This path resonated with her, inviting her to explore the depths of contemplative prayer and a life immersed in spirituality.
Jennifer understood that her journey of discernment was unique, for she believed that God speaks to each person in different ways. Her connection with St. Therese of Lisieux played a pivotal role in this unfolding story. St. Therese, her confirmation saint, had left an indelible mark on Jennifer’s heart. She was drawn to St. Therese’s simplicity, her devotion to God, and her willingness to embrace suffering as a form of prayer.
Although Jennifer didn’t feel called to be a cloistered nun like St. Therese, she saw in the saint’s life a reflection of her own desires—to love and serve God with all her heart, to find beauty in small acts of kindness, and to grow spiritually. St. Therese, often referred to as the “Little Flower,” was a powerful mentor guiding Jennifer toward the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Jennifer’s prayer life had always been deeply rooted in contemplation. She would spend hours meditating on the Scriptures, finding solace and inspiration in the Word of God. Her soul thirsted for this communion with the Divine, and it was through her devotion that she stumbled upon the Third Order of Carmel.
Over the course of months, Jennifer’s curiosity evolved into a compelling desire. She shared her thoughts with friends and acquaintances, setting the wheels of destiny in motion. Eventually, she connected with a woman from her parish who knew the president of the Third Order of Carmel in their area. The synchronicity of this encounter was impossible to ignore.
Jennifer couldn’t help but feel that God was urging her to take the next step, to respond to His calling. With a mixture of trepidation and faith, she reached out to the president and scheduled an interview. As she learned more about the Third Order’s commitment to contemplative prayer, daily devotion, and community involvement, she felt a sense of belonging and purpose that resonated with her soul.
The Third Order of Carmel seemed to align perfectly with Jennifer’s spiritual journey. She was already praying the rosary daily, engaging in mental prayer for more than 30 minutes, and seeking ways to deepen her faith. Jennifer recognized that the path ahead wouldn’t be easy, but she was willing to embrace it if it was God’s will.
Currently in the “guest visit” phase, Jennifer knew that her journey was just beginning. If she felt called to continue and was approved, she would enter the formation phase—a process that would lead her closer to becoming a member of the Third Order of Carmel.
As Jennifer embarked on this spiritual adventure, she understood that discernment was not a destination but a continuous journey. With each step she took, she surrendered more fully to God’s plan for her life, trusting that He would guide her, just as He had brought her to this moment of discovery and hope.
Discernment and Formation: A Journey in Faith
Jennifer’s journey of discernment within the Third Order Carmelite community continued to unfold, encompassing several distinct phases that would ultimately lead her closer to embracing this unique path of spirituality.
After Jennifer’s initial contact with the president of the Third Order of Carmel, she entered the inquiry phase—a time of exploration and learning about the order’s way of life. During this phase, Jennifer attended introductory meetings and gatherings where she had the opportunity to meet members of the community, ask questions, and gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to live a Carmelite spirituality in the secular world. She felt welcomed and supported as she discerned whether this path was truly her vocation.
As Jennifer continued to feel drawn to the Third Order of Carmel, she transitioned into the initial formation phase. During this period, she engaged in more structured and intentional learning about the Carmelite way of life. Jennifer attended regular meetings, often guided by a mentor or spiritual director, where she delved into the teachings of the Carmelite saints, the history of the order, and the spiritual practices that defined the community.
Her daily routine began to reflect the Carmelite spirituality, with a commitment to 30 minutes of mental prayer, the recitation of morning and evening prayers, and a growing devotion to Mary. Jennifer was encouraged to participate in community events, deepening her sense of belonging within the Third Order Carmelite community.
As Jennifer’s understanding and commitment to the Third Order deepened, she expressed her desire to take the next significant step—the novitiate. The novitiate is a period of more intense spiritual formation and preparation, usually lasting for a specific period, often around one to two years.
During the novitiate, Jennifer received further guidance from the order’s leadership and spiritual mentors. She continued to immerse herself in the teachings and practices of the Carmelite tradition. Jennifer also began wearing the full scapular of the order, a tangible sign of her commitment and dedication to this path.
The novitiate phase allowed Jennifer to deepen her prayer life, her understanding of the Carmelite charism, and her sense of community. It was a period of discernment and growth, where she could reflect on her vocation and whether she was truly called to embrace the Carmelite way of life as a member of the Third Order.
After successfully completing the novitiate phase and continuing to discern her vocation, Jennifer would reach the final and most significant step in her journey—the final profession. This step marked a lifelong commitment to living out the spirituality and values of the Third Order of Carmel.
During the final profession ceremony, Jennifer would publicly make her promises to live according to the rule and values of the Third Order. These promises are often tailored to the specific community and may include vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience in alignment with the secular nature of the Third Order.
For Jennifer, as a married woman, her vow of chastity meant a moral commitment to remain faithful to her spouse in all aspects of married life, including sexual fidelity. It also involved abstinence from any sexual activity outside the sacred bounds of her marriage. Her final profession would solidify her place within the community as a fully committed member. She would be encouraged to continue deepening her relationship with God through contemplative prayer and the living out of the Carmelite charism within the context of her everyday life.
Through these phases of inquiry, initial formation, the novitiate, and final profession, Jennifer’s journey within the Third Order Carmelite community would be marked by prayer, discernment, growth, and a deepening sense of vocation. It was a journey of faith that had the potential to transform her life and the lives of those she encountered, as she lived out the Carmelite spirituality in the world, just as the saints and spiritual guides of the order had done for centuries.
Jennifer’s commitment to chastity as a married woman within the Third Order Carmelite community was a profound expression of her dedication to her faith and her spouse. She recognized that this vow of chastity was not a denial of the love between her and her husband but a deepening of their spiritual union. It meant being morally faithful to her husband and nurturing the sacred bond of their marriage.
Her journey continued to deepen as she entered into the final profession phase. This step marked the culmination of her discernment and formation—a point of no return where she would publicly declare her unwavering commitment to living according to the spirituality and values of the Third Order of Carmel.
In the presence of her fellow community members, spiritual mentors, and loved ones, Jennifer made her final promises. She vowed to live out the teachings of the Carmelite tradition, to embrace the principles of poverty, obedience, and chastity, and to continue her daily practices of mental prayer, recitation of prayers, devotion to Mary, and active participation in the community.
For Jennifer, her vow of chastity meant that she would remain morally faithful to her spouse and that their marital bond would continue to be the source of their love, intimacy, and spiritual growth. The commitment to chastity within the context of marriage was a sacred reminder of their shared journey in faith and a testament to the depth of their love.
Jennifer’s final profession solidified her place within the Third Order Carmelite community as a fully committed member. She had embraced the call to live out the Carmelite spirituality in the secular world, and she understood that this path would continue to shape her life and the lives of those around her. Her dedication to chastity within the context of her marriage was a testament to the profound spiritual journey she had undertaken—a journey of faith, discernment, and transformation.
As Jennifer moved forward, she knew that her commitment to chastity would be a guiding principle in her life, a reminder of her fidelity to God and her husband. It was a commitment that would infuse every aspect of her existence with the Carmelite spirit of prayer, contemplation, and love for God and neighbor. Jennifer’s journey within the Third Order Carmelite community was a testament to the transformative power of faith and the enduring beauty of a life dedicated to God’s calling.
Jennifer’s journey continued to unfold with each passing day, as she immersed herself further into the Carmelite way of life as a fully committed member of the Third Order. Her commitment to chastity within the context of her marriage remained a cornerstone of her spirituality, guiding her actions, thoughts, and emotions.
Living out the vow of chastity, Jennifer sought to deepen the spiritual dimensions of her marriage. It was no longer just a partnership built on love and companionship; it became a sacred covenant rooted in faith. Her marital relationship was now an earthly reflection of the profound love that the soul has for God. Jennifer and her husband found in their marriage a source of strength, support, and spiritual growth that went beyond the boundaries of the secular world.
Together, they navigated the challenges of daily life with renewed purpose, striving to create a home environment that mirrored the Carmelite values of prayer, simplicity, and contemplation. Their love flourished in the soil of shared devotion, and their commitment to chastity became a powerful reminder of their spiritual journey.
Within the Third Order Carmelite community, Jennifer continued to participate in monthly meetings, deepening her understanding of the order’s spirituality. Her daily life remained a reflection of the Carmelite values she held dear. She spent devoted time in mental prayer, recited the morning and evening prayers, and maintained her daily devotion to Mary. Through these practices, she cultivated a profound inner peace and communion with God that enriched her everyday experiences.
As Jennifer continued to grow within the community, she found herself drawn to service and outreach. Her commitment to chastity allowed her to approach others with a pure heart, fostering a spirit of compassion and empathy. She recognized the sacredness in every person she encountered, extending the love she shared with her husband to all those she met. In her actions and interactions, Jennifer embodied the Carmelite charism of doing “small things with great love,” just as her beloved St. Therese had exemplified.
Jennifer’s journey within the Third Order Carmelite community was a testament to the transformative power of faith and commitment. Her vow of chastity, far from being a restriction, had become a profound source of spiritual growth, enriching her marriage and her life as a whole. Her dedication to living out the Carmelite spirituality in the secular world was a testament to the enduring beauty of a life dedicated to God’s calling and a reminder that the path of faith was a journey of ever-deepening love, contemplation, and service to others.