Question: Can a layperson be a Carmelite, or is it only for those who are called to be priests, nuns, and sisters?
Among the many graces Our Lord bestows, some begin as a little seed planted in the depths of the soul. In due time, that seed blossoms into a pull toward or attraction to a specific charism – a specific expression – of Catholic spirituality that gives meaning, focus and direction to one’s life as a Christian. In some souls, the little seed develops into a devotion to prayer, which is a heart-to-heart encounter with God. In the words of the great Spanish Carmelite and mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
While some are called to live the contemplative life of a Carmelite priest, nun or sister, most are not. However, it is still possible for those of the faithful who choose to respond to this special call of God to live out their baptismal commitment according to the spirit of the Carmelite Order through its Secular branch. The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites welcomes those lay persons who, while living in the world, freely commit themselves to “live an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with the spirit of contemplative prayer and apostolic zeal according to the example and teaching of the Carmelite saints” (OCDS Rule). Secular Carmelites come from all walks of life – they are men and women, business owners, retirees, students, married and single, young and old. They strive to live their lives in the world but not of the world.
The Carmelite charism is deeply grounded in the kind of prayer which draws one nearer to God; it is a journey which leads a person to experience an intimacy with Jesus Who dwells within the soul. We see this in the example of Saint Teresa. This intimacy helps one discover God’s presence in every facet of daily life. It means constantly reflecting on the soul’s personal love for the in-dwelling Jesus in every undertaking, no matter how insignificant or mundane. Over time, as this intimate friendship matures, conversing with Him and lovingly listening to Him becomes the normal way of life. Prayer is also a most efficacious means of asking for and receiving God’s grace and infinite mercy.
It is a tremendous blessing to be called by Our Lord to deepen your loving friendship with Him through prayer in the manner of the great Carmelite saints. So, if you find yourself intrinsically drawn to prayer, perhaps your soul is hearing the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and deepen your friendship with God in the Carmelite manner. Listen to Him – as nothing compares when our frail human heart is enveloped by the loving mantle of His Most Sacred Heart.
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux