Welcome to our summer Lay Member Series on the Blessed is She blog! This week, we will hear from several different members who are lay members of various religious orders. We’ll learn about their walk with Christ, their vocation, their discernment and formation process, and what it looks like to live out their vows in the framework of their primary vocation or state in life.
Kathryn, Secular Discalced Carmelite
Today, we chat with Kathryn Mulderink, a wife, mom, grandma, writer, and presenter. She is a professed secular discalced Carmelite.
What first drew you to the Carmelites?
Carmel has been part of the background of my imagination since I first started learning about the lives of the saints. My name is Kathryn Therese, so I always considered both Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila as patrons, both of whom are Carmelites.
When I was old enough to take my spiritual life seriously and wanted to make a deeper commitment, Carmel was the first thing on my radar. I was attracted to its very deep roots—roots that run deep into the Old Testament prophet Elijah, up through the hermits of the 11th century who gathered on the same Mount Carmel where Elijah had experienced God, to the present day.
In fact, we still live by the Rule of St. Albert of Jerusalem, first given to Carmel in the early 1200s.
What are the charisms and motto of your order?
Secular Discalced Carmelites live a life of contemplative prayer and detachment. This does not mean we imitate monastic life, but we do dedicate time to solitude, silent prayer, and acts of charity. We promise to strive to live in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and the Beatitudes, according to our state of life.
We summarize our charism by saying: “Under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the biblical tradition of the prophet Elijah and inspired by the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, (we) seek to deepen (our) Christian commitment received in baptism” (OCDS Constitution, #3).
Our lives are marked by Marian devotion, and by seeking God in silence and zeal like Elijah, according to the reforms led by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.
This is summed up in our motto, taken from 1 Kings 19, where Elijah cries out with his prophetic voice and absolute dedication to the one, true God: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.”
How did you know you might have a call to the Carmelite order? What does discernment process look like?
There was no real “epiphany moment,” but I was blessed to take the straight path into Carmel, without any detours. It was an easy choice for me, and the only hesitation I experienced was right before I made my Definitive Promises. The Enemy will often make us feel like we are not ready, or not worthy, or not capable, in order to keep us from doing a good thing.
As I prayed about this, the Lord helped me realize that I would never be ready or worthy or capable on my own. But I am not alone; He is with me always. I was led to this and should keep moving forward.
So I made my Promises, and several years later (with consultation and discernment with my spiritual director) I also made my vows in the Order.
Were there any particular tools you found useful in your discernment?
Personal spiritual direction is extremely valuable, not only in discerning whether or not to enter into a process of formation, but also to prevent doubts later! As I said, the Enemy is always looking for cracks in the cistern of our souls so that he can suck out the living water. But when you can look back and know that you did not make this decision alone but with the help of a director and following the path of formation laid out by the Order, you can dismiss some of the doubts that may enter in and drain the joy and peace that are essential for persevering.
There are a few books that sum up Carmelite spirituality in a very accessible way. I did not read these before entering the Order, but if you are wondering, these are a great introduction:
Why do you think the charisms of this order are useful to you in your path to sanctity?
The mission of the OCDS is to know God that He may be known! This is of utmost value to each of us as individuals journeying to our Home—the Embrace of the Father—as well as insuring that whatever we are called to do in our lives is eternally fruitful. As everything of value comes from our union with God, and the whole point of the growth in holiness laid out by St. Teresa and St. John is this union, Carmelite spirituality is a way of deepening my intimacy with the Lord and impelling me to bring His light to every darkened place.
What is the formation process like? How long have you been a member?
Carmelite formation is a lifelong process, and an ongoing communal and individual responsibility. But the process of “becoming a Carmelite” is rather straightforward:
- An Aspirancy of one year, in which one learns what it means to live out the charism and spirit of Carmel as a lay person
- Formation for the Temporary Promise of two years, in which one grows in deeper understanding of prayer and the Rule
- Formation for Definitive Promise of three years, in which one is immersed more deeply into the spiritual tradition and works to integrate this spirituality into life.
So the process is a minimum of six years, during which we grow in human formation, Christian understanding, Carmelite identity, and fraternity within the local Community.
I have been a Carmelite since 1989.
What are the daily practices and other requirements/practices of lay members? How do those look lived out in your particular life and vocation?
The foundation and essence of a Carmelite vocation is deep prayer. We strive to imitate Mary in her “pondering in the heart” and to heed Jesus’ call to “pray always.” Specifically, we are called each day to:
- pray Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours
- practice at least 30 minutes of mental prayer in silence and solitude
- participate in daily Mass if possible
- engage in a daily examination of conscience and confess our sins frequently
- attend one retreat each year
We also have specific days of fasting/self-denial on the Vigils of feast days of the Order, in order to be spiritually prepared. You can’t enjoy the feast unless you also fast!
Knowing that our vocation is always lived out in community, we are called to participate in monthly meetings, and in the community apostolate, as well as other ministries of the Church.
How has being a secular discalced Carmelite changed your own heart? What about your relationships with your family and friends?
All of the change in the human heart is the work of grace and our own will. God gives us all we need and we must assent to His work within us. Prayer—particularly prayer in silence and solitude—is where we give God permission and opportunity to work in us, far beyond what we can see and feel and do ourselves. God is always reaching down to us, waiting for us to reach up so that He can lift us up to Himself. God is always “inflowing” and we must open ourselves to Him.
Carmelite spirituality is about learning to let go and let God have His way with us, knowing that whatever we open to Him, He will fill with His abundance and fruitfulness.
Mary is our Mother and also our model of complete openness and a ready “yes” to whatever the Spirit moves within us. As we pray with her, our prayer deepens and widens and reaches out to others.
In this way, growing as a Carmelite has meant growing as a person and as a child of the Father, which means we face every task and circumstance and relationship in light of our encounter with Christ and with Him at the center.
What advice would you give someone considering a vocation to a third order?
- Pray for the grace to know where the Lord is calling!
- Read more about the Order, either online or in recommended books.
- Find a community near you and ask to visit! Most members are eager and ready to discuss the benefits of belonging to that particular order, their own experience, and how it has been fruitful in their lives.
Kathryn Mulderink is a mother to seven, grandmother to two, and has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with dioceses, parishes, and ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their Faith. You can find out more about her here.