On June 9th, I was welcomed into the Third Order of St. Dominic as a Lay Dominican. The spiritual formation that I craved for for years was quenched when I discovered that “lay religious” existed in the Catholic Church. I always knew that religious orders like the Franciscans, Benedictines and Dominicans were alive and well, filled with pious priests, brothers and nuns, but it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that some of these communities actually let the laity in to partake in their same charism.
My hunch is that there are many people out there like me who do not know that becoming part of a religious order as a lay person is a possibility. I’m also sure that there are others who know that these Orders exist, but they lack information on how to join these communities. Regardless of who you are, Third Orders are an immense blessing to the Church and they are deserving of your contemplation. The following pieces of advice are what I wished I would have received years ago:
This first step towards spiritual growth is to will it. God has already called you to become something great whether you join a religious Order or not. Your job is to uncover all of the muck and clutter that sin has piled on top of your soul by actually getting up and doing something about it. Establish a time for quiet reflection, go to confession consistently and take Christ’s body and blood at Mass as often as you are able. Nothing gives your mind more clarity than these simple practices.
2) Research the charism of each religious Order that you feel drawn towards.
Every religious Order has a specific charism, or way by which they serve Christ’s evangelical mission. Each shares in a specific way of life that is based on prayer, community and service, but each has a certain charism that pretty much defines their style of proclaiming the Gospel and building the Kingdom.
The four most popular religious communities that offer Third Order formation and membership are:
- The Lay Carmelites, whose charism is contemplative prayer
- The Oblates of St. Benedict, whose charism is to seek God in association with a monastic community.
- The Secular Franciscans, whose charism is based on living a simple lifestyle like that of St. Francis.
- The Lay Dominicans, whose charism is to attain knowledge and wisdom through study and preaching.
These are just a few options of religious communities that have Third Orders, but many others, like the Jesuits, offer association possibilities for lay men and women. An associate is someone who works alongside the consecrated religious members of the order but does not receive the graces of being a full-fledged part of the community as a Third Order member would.
3) Practice what they preach.
After researching each Order, begin to read through their Rule, which is a written explanation of how each member is to participate more fully in their spiritual life. The Rule is typically a set of expectations that the founder of each community desired for his/her members to follow. This code of conduct is much like a set of directions to help guide the person towards their eternal salvation. They typically include methods of prayer and spiritual exercises based on the charism of the Order..
4) Pray, pray, pray… and discern some more.
While practicing the Rules of several religious Orders, continue to pray and act as if you were already a member. One of the greatest ways to know if you are doing God’s will is to act as if you already know what it is. Sometimes you will fall, but the constant practice of virtue will solidify your stride and you will grow in your understanding of His will for you by thinking about it constantly.
5) When you feel the nudge, get in contact with the formation director of the Order you feel called to commune with.
At some point, the lifestyle by which you have been called to live will become second nature to you. The Rule that brings you closest to Him, the charism in by which you feel most comfortable spreading the Good News and the community with which you are most effective in animating is typically the one that God’s voice beckons you to join. Respond accordingly by getting in contact with the formation director of the Third Order that you have been called to join. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while for them to respond, the majority of the formation directors are Third Order members who are balancing their worldly careers with family and Church. Be patient, all things on God’s time.
6) Be prepared to tell people what a Third Order is.
When I had finally came to terms with God calling me to become a Lay Dominican, I sent out a mass e-mail to my family and friends. Most, if not all, of the responses I received expressed their confusion and worry that I was changing religions. I received comments like “Wait, what? What does this mean?” and “So, you’re not gonna be Catholic anymore?” as opposed to the “Awesome! Congrats!” that I was expecting. Even after the e-mails, I find myself explaining to people that being part of a Third Order has nothing to do with switching religions. In fact, it is quite the opposite; I feel more Catholic now than ever!
7. Stay consistent with your formation.
Most Third Order formation programs include modules for study and contemplation that can last anywhere from 6 months to five years. For example, the Lay Dominicans in the Central Province require the first 3-6 months of going to meetings and inquiring, 6 months of postulancy, 1 year of candidacy, and 3 years of continuing formation before you can make your final vows. You are considered a member of the Order at postulancy but the formation is constant even after you make your final vows.
Becoming a member of a Third Order isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to be one to be a good Catholic. However, they do offer constant prayer support, free spiritual formation and numerous options for service that can help anyone grow closer to Christ. It leaves an indelible mark on your soul and surrounds you and your loved ones with graces that come straight from Jesus through the many Saints that make up each community that surround God’s throne in an eternal symphony of praise.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Are you a member of a Third Order? Have you felt called to join one? Let us know in the combox below.