Our Blessed Mother was a very hidden soul who did God's will perfectly, and through her unfathomable union with her Son, was the Mediatrix of all graces. Her love for God, which is unfathomable to us because of her Immaculate Conception, touches every soul who encounters Christ, even in the midst of her hiddenness. So, she calls her aspiring cloistered Carmelites to share in her apostolate of love in the heart of the Church. A desire for this deeper communion with Mary can be a sign of a Carmelite vocation.
Even though the enclosure embraced by the Carmelite may seem radical in requiring such separation from her family, friends and material things, it brings down upon them and the world graces and blessings from her Divine Spouse which could never have been obtained for them otherwise. Her life is a constant witness to them and to the world of the reality of the Eternal life we were all created to enjoy.
"A Carmelite is a sister to priests...she sacrifices herself for priests, and that is what moved me to become a Carmelite."
- Saint Teresa of the Andes
Six Steps for Discerning Your Vocation
Here are some words of wisdom regarding vocational discernment which have been shared with us
and which you might find helpful.
1. Start with prayer
The best way to begin, navigate, and confirm your discernment journey is through prayer. Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God whom we know loves us and wills our good. Know that Our Lord desires for you to know and live out your vocation even more than you do! He is with you on this journey, and He will not abandon you, so do not be afraid.
With this in mind, we recommend having a daily prayer regimen that you commit to. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Most Holy Rosary, an hour of silent prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and spiritual reading are all great ways to remain connected to Our Lord in this time. Also, invoke the aid of your guardian angel, patron saint, and any saints to whom you are devoted. We especially recommend asking the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Saint Joseph, Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
It would also be helpful to recite the Prayer to Discern One's Vocation daily:
Lord Jesus, You call each of us to serve You in love and humility. Every vocation in the Church is holy and is given for the building up of Your body, the Church, into a living temple. Please reveal to me the vocation You are calling me to follow, the road that will lead me to deepest intimacy with You and to the fullness of life, love, and joy that are Yours alone to give. Give me courage, Lord, to say yes to my vocation as Mary, Your Mother, said yes to hers. Amen.
2. One vocation at a time
Do not discern between the religious life and marriage simultaneously. Both ways of life are attractive, and may cause endless confusion and doubts for you. Instead, if you think Our Lord might be calling you to religious life, devote time for serious discernment in which you will neither date nor consider marriage as a possibility, but focus your attention only on exploring the different types of religious life. On the other hand, while discerning marriage, avoid looking at monastery literature!
We would also recommend that you not prolong your studies if you think Our Lord may be calling you to Religious life. A degree isn't necessary for entering Carmel, and debt can often be a serious obstacle to pursuing a Religious vocation.
3. One community at a time
We advise that you refrain from "shopping around” to find the “perfect” community through back-to-back visits or simultaneous in-depth communication. It would be a great challenge to fully experience the spirit of one monastery if, at the same time, you are still reminiscing about your sense of the previous Community, or day dreaming about the visit you have in a few days. Give yourself sufficient time between visits to digest your experience, so that you are not in a state of confusion compiling contradictory lists of pros and cons between one community and another. We highly recommend you prayerfully discern which community's spirituality and apostolate best matches your talents and unique personality first.
4. Do online research first
In the same vein as point number 2, while you are discerning, it may be tempting to plan several community visits at once or to register for every discernment retreat advertised. Before contacting or attending any come-and-sees, take full advantage of the internet and do plenty of research online first. Browse community websites, learn about their spirituality, and narrow down to a few to which you feel most drawn.
As you do your research, pay attention to your heart’s response to what you learn about each community's foundress, rule, and way of life. Note that even within the Discalced Carmelite Order, each monastery has its own unique history and traditions which may or may not resonate with you. On some occasions, there may be the most minute details about one Community that may attract you to it more than another. Trust that sometimes these signs may be God's direction in lighting your path to discerning that specific Community.
5. Make contact
Chances are that you have now narrowed down your search to a few communities to which you are most attracted. Reach out to them and ask to speak with someone about your discernment journey. Prayerfully and openly share how the Lord is leading you, and ask any questions you may have. If you continue to experience peace and joy as you communicate with the Community, keep praying for guidance, and when you feel the time is right, it would then be appropriate to plan a personal visit. But, if you begin to feel uneasy about things you discover, pay attention to these “red flags.” Do your best to settle your doubts, and most of all, take them to Our Lord in daily prayer. If the lack of peace still persists, we advise that you respectfully cease communication with that community and trust that Our Lord will complete the work He has begun in you. Persevere forward, and when you feel the time is right, take steps to begin correspondence anew with another community.
6. Listen, Trust, and Try
As you begin correspondence and visits to communities, sustain your daily prayer life, especially setting out time for silent recollection. In the silence of the heart, God speaks - we only need to be still. As you listen, pray for childlike confidence in Our Lord's direction on the next step forward and the best decision to make. Chances are that you may now have a better idea of which community is the best fit with who God is calling you to be for His glory.
Seeking the advice of a wise spiritual director can also be a great help in discerning one's vocation. Strive as much as possible to live in the presence of God, lifting your heart and mind to Him in prayerful aspirations of love and trust throughout the day. If, as your intimacy with Him deepens, you sense that Our Blessed Lord is calling you to be completely His in a Religious vocation, then respond wholeheartedly to His proposal! Listen to His voice, trust in His call, and say YES to the One who loves you infinitely and desires Union with you more than you could ever imagine.
“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace.”