My wife and I have been discerning a call to religious life — that is to say, we’re currently discerning a call to a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Third Orders. Before my wife and I married, we discerned the possibility of a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Primary Orders. I discerned joining the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap.): a First Order within the general Franciscan religious and spiritual sphere; and my wife discerned joining the Carmelites (O. Carm.): a Second Order within the general Carmelite religious and spiritual sphere. The Church’s First and Second Orders are the thing most people have in mind when they think of a nun, a monk, or friar. Those in First and Second Orders usually wear habits, live in monasteries and/or convents, and so forth. For those in Third Orders, things are quite different, even though Third Orders are, in at least some ways, the same as First and Second Orders. Normally, members of Third Orders are married and have children. They don’t wear a full religious habit but may wear a scapular or another form of habit. In addition, they don’t normally live in monasteries and/or convents. What members (i.e., tertiaries or oblates) in Third Orders do similarly to those in First and Second Orders includes prayer; adhering to general charisms (i.e., spiritual grace(s) and/or gift(s) given to a particular organization by God to build up His Church) as well as rules and principles established by the founder of the Order; and they live in fraternity with other members of the Order. The identity of Third Orders can be summarized as that which exercises and practices essential features of the religious and spiritual life of First and Second Orders, — without being held to specific or particular Rules of the First and Second Orders. For those out there like me and my wife, Third Orders are an answer to the calling to integrate the vocational attributes of the Sacrament of Marriage with the deep sense of religious and spiritual obligation to the Church and the World. This obligation is something we, and so many others, feel compelled to do.
When my wife and I first met, I told her that St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s parents, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, discerned a calling to a spiritual and religious life. Eventually, God called them to the vocation, the Sacrament, of marriage; however, their call to marriage didn’t imply that there was no religious calling for them to answer whatsoever. After all, everyone is given the universal call to holiness [i]. And although Lumen Gentium was before their time, Sts. Louis and Zélie nevertheless answered the universal call to holiness through integrating particular forms of religious and spiritual devotion into their family life: St. Zélie is said to have been active as a Third Order Franciscan, and St. Louis was very active in the ministry of charity as a worker for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Both Saints devoted their respective religious and spiritual sensibilities to states unique to them as individuals, and their unique individual-states of devotion helped them to rediscover their identity as a married union. Undoubtedly, their respective forms of devotion to Christ and His Church helped them to develop the inner-life and witness of their daughter, Thérèse, who developed her own form of devotion by witnessing that of her parents. St. Thérèse changed the world through her “little doctrine” of holiness — a way of “abandonment of the little child who goes to sleep in its Father’s arms without fear”, which culminates in the “divine furnace” of God’s love [ii]. St. Thérèse’s form of devotion has inspired millions of people. By witness to the life of St. Thérèse, a calling to a religious and spiritual way of life can be just the beginning my wife and I, as a married couple, need to change the world. As St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) discussed in her Nobel Prize speech: First, we begin praying and loving in the home; soon, that praying and loving can expand to the care of a neighbor far away, and after a while, we have impacted the whole world [iii]. We all want to help change the world. To do that, we must first love and pray well. As my wife an I understand it, loving and praying well involves religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Holy Church.
My wife thinks proper religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Church is exemplified well through St. Thérèse’s own form of religious and spiritual devotion: that of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.). That’s one reason why she wants to be a Carmelite, and it’s quite agreeable to me! I have zero qualms about her preferences. In another post, it’d be great if my wife described the charisms of the Carmelites and what about them draws her to the Carmelite Order. But for now, I’d like to describe my own preference, which is a life of devotion with the Secular Franciscans. What draws me to the Secular Franciscans is their religious and spiritual charisms that are, to me at least, the totality of Christ’s gospel in the glorious seraphic love and vision of the episodes, stories, teachings, and other contents, of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. These charisms include Poverty, Penance, Peace, and Secularity [iv]. I’d like to describe each of these charisms of the Secular Franciscans and discuss what about them draws me to the Franciscans. After providing some detail about each of them, I’ll conclude this post with some final thoughts.
The Charism of Poverty
“Poverty” does not have much of an economical designation in Franciscan spirituality. In Franciscan spirituality, ‘poverty’ does not simply denote “being below the poverty line” or “having little money.” It can, of course, and most often does; but for Franciscans, poverty is perhaps better understood as something denoting a life of radical simplicity; a life of detachment from earthly things and attachment to “things above” (Col 3:2). Franciscans also consider poverty as a source of wisdom. Poverty as a source of wisdom is given definite expression in the account of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmatic vision (or his “vision of seraphic love”) of Christ crucified while he was praying and contemplating atop Mt. Alverna. Franciscans understand the source of wisdom and poverty as that through which they, by following the imitation of Christ in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, emanate “the vision of seraphic love” to creation — especially to those who, whether economically-wise or not, are truly “poor in spirit” (Luke 6). Franciscan poverty does, in seraphic love, the Beatitudes of Christ. It’s how Franciscans live Christ’s gospel.
The Charism of Penance
Penance requires “the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” [v] Accordingly, penance, whether committed by interior or exterior methods, engages the sinner’s recognition that they have sinned; by failing to do that which is “contrite of heart,” the penitent acknowledges thus the possibility of denying their selfishness, and by this acknowledgment, the penitent examines and acts upon a judgment of the self so to release, and turn from, “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21). This meaning of penance is related to the Franciscan meaning of poverty as a source of seraphic love, wisdom and vision, for both poverty and penance take as their fundamental source a “transformation into the likeness of Christ crucified” through the “complete conflagration of mind.” [vi]
The Charism of Peace
Franciscans don’t take peace to be a “let’s-all-be-nice-to-each-other-and-sing-kumbaya” sort of thing. Instead, it’s a sort of “do no harm to others” whereby Franciscans are obliged to not retaliate with lethal weapons against others. Franciscans may self-defend, but this self-defense may refer to circumstances in which a Franciscan is being “attacked” with incomplete, erroneous, inconsistent, or misguided doctrines and actions. A rather famous example of such a circumstance is Bl. John Duns Scotus and his defense of his doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception [vii]. Some have taken St. Francis of Assisi’s charism of peace by misconception, and have thereby accused Francis and his Order of being peace-loving in the same way “hippies” are; but this accusation misinterprets the Franciscan charism of peace and what it actually entails. In good estimation, this accusation and/or misconception has been dealt with accordingly [viii].
The Charism of Secularity
Some people think “secular” only means “immoral” or “of the world” or something closely-related to such. Franciscan spirituality does not, nor does it intend, to practice immorality of any kind. Franciscan spirituality renounces things “of the world.” Therefore, the meaning of “secular” or “secularity” must be something else aside from the typical gross conception of ‘the secular.’ Indeed, for the Franciscan, “secular” or “secularity” simply implies apostolic activity in the world, not apostolic activity of the world. The meaning of the “Franciscan secular” furthermore suggests that Secular Franciscans do not stay cloistered in monasteries or convents contemplating the divine. Rather, Secular Franciscans are active-contemplatives who contemplate the divine in the world as they live their being in it. To state it another way, Franciscan secularity means “going into the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And by “preach the gospel to every creature,” we really do mean every creature.
In conclusion, what’s your religious and spiritual devotion? For a long time, I wanted to be like the great Archimedes; I wanted to use a fulcrum and lever to move the world. I realize now that the Saints are the ones who have obtained the “fulcrum and lever of God”: the fulcrum, “God Himself”; the lever, prayer which “sets on fire with a fire of love.” [ix] We obtain both through religious and spiritual devotion. If you don’t yet have a form of religious and spiritual devotion, I encourage you to get one!
[i] cf., Pope Paul VI (1964). “Chapter V: The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church” in Lumen Gentium. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-iii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
[ii] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 88. Print.
[iii] cf., Mother Teresa (2019). NobelPrize.org (Eds.). “Acceptance Speech.” Nobel Media AB. (Web accessed, June 2019). (Actual speech took place 10 Dec. 1979). DOI: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/26200-mother-teresa-acceptance-s speech-1979/.
[iv] cf., Vail, Benjamin (n.d.). “In Search of a Secular Franciscan Charism.” Blog post. (Web accessed, Jun 2019). DOI: https://onepeterfive.com/secular-franciscan-charism/.
[v] Catholic Church (n.d.). “Part Two: Celebration of the Christian Mystery” in Vatican Online format of Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1450. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm. *Note: Print version reference to be provided upon update.
[vi] cf., Mcginn, Bernard (2006). The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: Modern Library; 229. Print.
[vii] Author Unknown (n.d.). “Blessed John Duns Scotus.” Blog post. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/blessed-john-duns-scotus/.
It is commonly held in the Church that Bl. John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception during a time in which many, including St. Thomas Aquinas, did not. Bl. John did indeed defend the doctrine(s), and it can be considered a form of self-defense given his singular-stance on the doctrine(s). His singular-stance on the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception were declared dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.
[viii] cf., Chesterton, G.K. (2008). St. Francis of Assisi. New York: Dover Publications; 70-81. (Originally published in 1924). Print.
[ix] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 140. Print.