Aspirants approach Carmel with great eagerness, wanting to know “all about the Order.” They ask: What is the Secular Order all about? Is it for me? How do I go about becoming a member? What will be expected of me?
A: The Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites is an association of lay members who embrace a vocation to pursue Christian perfection, in the world, according to the spirit and ideals of the Discalced Carmelite Order. The emphasis is on (1) vocation, (2) living in the world, and (3) following the spirit of Carmel, namely, striving for close union with Christ through interior prayer.
A: The Constitutions of the OCDS state unequivocally that the Secular Order is “an integral part of the Carmelite family; its members are therefore sons and daughters of the Order.” In other words, we are as truly Carmelite as the fathers, brothers, and nuns of the Order, sharing with them a common vocation of prayer and the pursuit of holiness. As members of the same order, we have a special claim on the rest of the Order for spiritual help and guidance. We, in turn, support the friars and nuns by our prayer spiritual activity.
Q: Why is the Order called “Discalced”?
A: “Discalced” literally means “without shoes.” The term was commonly used in religious parlance at the time of St. Teresa of Jesus to indicate an order which had reformed itself and adopted a more dedicated and austere form of life. Members of these orders either went barefooted or wore some form of open sandals.
A: A vocation to a secular order is a call to a distinctive way of life. Since no two orders have the same goals, objectives, or obligations, a person would be torn between two demands for a complete commitment.
A: The Promise is a commitment to seek perfection through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and the Beatitudes, according to the Constitutions of the Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites. Upon completion of the two-year formation period, and with the approval of the local Council, the candidate makes a temporary Promise for the period of three years. At the end of that time, one’s makes the definitive Promise.
Teresa’s intention was to found only one convent, where she could live a genuinely contemplative Carmelite life. However, about four years after the establishment of St. Joseph’s, she was again moved by the Holy Spirit not only to found additional convents for nuns, but also to push the reform to include the friars.
St. Teresa has the distinction of being the only woman to reform a male religious order. In this work, she was blessed with the support of a young friar, John of the Cross, 27 years her junior. While she had the genius for organizing the reform and the winning personality to obtain the necessary permissions and donations, John of the Cross was the embodiment of total commitment and fidelity to the original Carmelite ideals. He was a tower of dedication to a life of asceticism, detachment and profound mysticism.