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Carmelite or Opus Dei… where should I go?

February 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Anonymous, Discernment

Dear Fr. Edward, I have been considering becoming a third order Carmelite for some time and have taken some initial steps with them in that direction. However, I am in a weekly study that is very powerful to me. It is led by an Opus Dei woman. After hearing what she has to say, and watching her life, I am finding myself drawn to Opus. How do I discern which direction to take? Am I just being fickle and should I stay with the Carmelites, or should I explore Opus more? I didn’t plan on attending this study – it just sort of fell into place by accident. It has been a great experience for me. It seems God is at work here and my interest in the Carmelites is fading. How can I discern the proper path?

First off, I want to congratulate you for your efforts to deepen your spiritual life and for your openness to an ever more serious commitment to living the faith. The world desperately needs the witness of lay people whose lives reflect a deep Christian faith. Unfortunately, the wider culture isn't very conducive to spiritual values, and it can even be downright hostile to those who want to live the Gospel seriously. Providentially, the Holy Spirit has come to the rescue over the centuries, raising up various entities and movements in the Church to offer support structures for lay people. These entities are an invaluable complement to the support offered by parishes. Such entities run the gamut. There are the third orders, which are societies, or groups, of lay people affiliated to one of the religious orders. The third orders follow a mitigated form of religious rule. Much younger groups include the ecclesial movements, many of which arose in the 20th century. Their names include Focolare, Communion and Liberation, Schoenstatt, and Cursillo. Still other entities include the Neocatechumenal Way and the group you mention, Opus Dei. The latter is a personal prelature, which has its own prelate (bishop) and clergy; it oversees its members regarding certain objectives no matter where they live in the world. In its own words Opus Dei “helps people seek holiness in their work and ordinary activities.”

BalancedScaleOfJustice(red).svgThat you had an interest in one group and now find yourself drawn to another is not unusual. God often leads us along unexpected paths. He brings us to Point A only to eventually lead us to Point B. Along the way we might sample a diversity of spiritualities among various groups, all of which enrich us and help us to discern God's path. It is not unusual, by the way, to find religious and priests who started out with great interest in one congregation but ended up in another.

This brings us to your specific question: How do you know where God is leading you? You didn't mention why you were first drawn to the Carmelite third order, or how long your affiliation with it has been. What do you mention is that you happened upon Opus Dei “by accident” and now feel a strong attraction. My suggestion is: There is no need to fight this feeling. If Opus Dei attracts you, it attracts you. Speak with your spiritual director about what you are experiencing.

One good sign that you are on the right path in the spiritual life is that you have a certain serenity as you move in one direction or another. Another good sign is that your spiritual life itself is deepening. So, is your prayer life improving? Are you getting to daily Mass more often? Do you find that you are “clicking” with the spirituality and characteristics of Opus Dei? I don't know what, if any, commitments you have with the Carmelites. It might be good to pursue one path for now; that is, just focus on Opus Dei or just focus on the Carmelites. See where the path leads. Within a period of time (it's hard to say exactly how long) the Holy Spirit will likely enlighten you. The important thing is to act, to move, to do something. Attend events. Talk to people who are living the particular spirituality. Find out what you would be getting into; after all, any spirituality worth its salt will be demanding. And above all, keep up your prayer life and frequent the sacraments. Those are the indispensable means for providing fertile ground for the work of the Spirit. Be confident that he wants to lead you to holiness. And rest assured of my prayers for your journey.

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.


Art: Balanced scale of justice, Perhelion, 15 July 2011, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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  • VDM

    These strike me as two very distinct spiritual paths…

    Can I raise a new question? Not sure if this is the right place to do so.

    I feel as though in my life at present, I am constantly walking a tight rope between piety and charity. On the one hand, I feel the deep need to devote more time to prayer and sacraments, as I explore a possible third order vocation. On the other hand, as a working mother, I am always concerned that this may be taking me away from giving the full service that I owe to others.

    At the same time, I am aware that both sides of the dilemma somehow play to my weaknesses. I am someone who can too easily get wrapped up in her own pursuits (however worthy) forgetting the rest of the world. I am also someone who can too easily find pretexts in the demands of others for shirking my religious commitments.

    In principle, I feel sure that this must be a false dichotomy, but in practice it feels like a daily tension. And I am never really sure if I have got the right balance…

    • Dear Friend – I am not sure what you are asking. If you would like me to submit a more clarified question to Fr. Edward, I will send it along to him.

    • Adrian Johnson

      Thomas Aquinas said that the perfection of contemplation overflowed into the works of charity.  There is no real dichotomy between “prayer” and “daily duty” if you dedicate all to the honor and glory of god — your work then becomes prayer, even though you have normal and unavoidable distraction.  It is self-deception to think you can please God kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament like a nun, when your vows as wife and mother require you to be cleaning house or cooking! However if you are able to fullfill your duties first, then any extra works of piety are very pleasing to God.  
      You might investigate the Lay or Secular Carmelites, (the Order of Our Lady of Mt Carmel has two branches: the “Discalced” and the “Ancient Order”, each of which has a Third Order who promote contemplative prayer in daily life, and gain  support from fellow-Carmelites  who share your aspirations for a profound interior life while fulfilling your life as wife and mother.  The two branches have slightly different emphases in their approach to prayer — read about both, and see which may appeal to you.  

  • mary

    I’m a 3rd Order Carmeliten(discalced) and what drew me to this vocation is the deep spiritual lives of our founders St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the cross and the call for deep prayer and christian action. God’s blessing and peace to you as try and discern your vocation. mary from michigan

  • Bakersnine

    Many years ago, I was at the point of writing my letter to incorporate in Regnum Christi when, through a series of “accidents”, God led me in another direction. I am now a perpetually professed member of the Holy Family Institute, and I know I am exactly where He wants me! Your waning interest in the Carmelites might be God’s way of leading you elsewhere. Don’t be afraid of it!

  • Lc1967
  • Becky Ward

    All very good advice!! Know too, that as God will lead us where He wants us to go………..the devil can also create distractions that look very good to us………….yet they are just that; distractions.

    As has been stated, prayer and careful discernment will get you where you’re supposed to be!

  • Cynthia

    You may want to read an excellant book by Scott Hahn on his spiritual journey in Opus Dei entitled “Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace.” God bless you and strengthen you in your search.

  • Wmpetzall

    Dear Fr Edward,
    Thanks for a clear answer that addresses the main issue for any person seeking to deepen their union with God: The important thing is our personal relationship with God, through Christ, within the Church He created.
    And thanks for explaining both groups in such measured ways. I am a member of Opus Dei (have been since 1972), and I have many friends who discovered their vocation to a religious order through spiritual direction with a priest of Opus Dei.
    All the best,

  • Ams1954

    Dear Fr. Edward,
    Penance after Reconciliation……implications of not fulfilling it!
    A couple of months ago, I had been to a confession to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation! After having confessed my sins the priest asked me I could say for my Penance the Angelus. He also asked me if I knew the Angelus. I very hesitatingly affirmed thinking that if I concentrate enough (I had not said the Angelus in a long time) the words would come. However, on returning to the pew and put myself to the test, I could recollect most (not all) words but the flow of the prayer was not there. Try as much as I could, I could not recite the entire Angelus. As such I ‘completed’ the penance and then went on to receive Holy Communion. I also said to myself that I would source the Angelus prayer form the net and say it the next day. This ‘next day’ has only occurred today. Subsequently I have availed of the Sacrament of Reconciliation a couple of times as well received Holy Communion every time I heard Mass. Not really knowing the implications/effects of this act, I did not even mention this at the subsequent confessionals. But this keeps nagging at the back of my head. Please help me understand the role of Penance, if it is a must and if it is to be ‘complied’ with to the fullest.

    Thanks you, Fr. Edward, and God Bless!

    • Dear Friend – the answer to your question will post this coming Thursday

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