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Secular Carmelites in Denver? A vocation you probably weren’t aware of

There are plenty of religious orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Salesians, Jesuits, Carmelites — but did you know about secular orders?

Secular orders, or third orders, are branches of religious orders for lay men and women who are either single or married who adopt the charisms and characteristics of the order into their daily lives and have a community that’s part of the order. And in Denver, the secular Carmelite order is alive and well

The community here began over 25 years ago, and when current director of formation, Marian Gilmore, met them, there were only six people who met in the house of one of the members.

“I was completely in love with the whole idea of meditation, contemplation and poverty of spirit,” Gilmore said. “It was everything I had been looking for. I had always felt there was a side of God that I couldn’t get close enough to.”

Gilmore joined the community as an aspirant, the first step of the process, and the community continued to grow over the years until it spread into different branches, in addition to the near 70-member Denver base, which is known as the “Community of the Holy Spirit”: Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Cheyenne, Wyo. The Denver community is also canonically approved.

It was this thriving Denver community that now-president, Ida Rubin, discovered when she moved to Denver in 2004.

“I have been a secular Carmelite since 1964. I wanted a home that was a clear path to the Catholic Church,” Rubin said. “[The Carmelites] are an extended family with each other. I’ve been in five communities: Washington, California, and Denver. We speak a language to each other which is fraternal, and we have provincial guidelines, constitutions and formation, so it’s the same no matter where you go. I’ve always been welcomed into the community as a member of the family.”

What does it look like?

If you’re not living in a religious order, what does living the secular order look like for lay members?

Members of the community meet once monthly for formation and Mass together. Those just joining do so as aspirants. According to Gilmore, aspirants begin studying the Way of Perfection after acceptance. If free of impediments (i.e., not baptized, not married in the Church, etc.) and after completing the first year, they have an interview with the council and are accepted to the second year, where they study the Living Flame of Love. After completing that year, they make temporary vows.

Members of the secular order of Carmelites pose for a photograph following Mass at the Carmelite Monastery on October 3, 2017, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Following the temporary vows, their formation continues by studying various saints and works and is split into various stages. In formation two, year one, they start studying Carmelite saints, beginning with St. Therese of Lisieux; formation two, year two studies St. Teresa of Avila; formation two, year three studies St. John of the Cross. After completing these introductory years for six years, then the definitive vows are made.

Daily life also looks more intentional for a secular Carmelite, and they ascribe to it as much as their state in life allows: They pray the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and evening, attend daily Mass as much as they’re able, pray a daily rosary, and try to make space for one hour of meditation a day.

“It is the backbone of my spiritual life,” Rubin said. “When I came to Carmel, I had three kids under five… I needed a clear path and I signed up. I didn’t know very much about Carmel, but…I need structure in my life, and it’s given me that. There have been many blessings. All through my life, Carmel has been there for me.”

What does a vocation look like?

It looks different for everyone, Rubin said, but there are always similar traits.

“The people that come to us express that they were looking for something in their spiritual life, and they were missing something but they didn’t know what it was,” Rubin explained. “And sometimes someone in the parish invited them, or someone in their life is a Carmelite priest or nun. It’s through an action of the Holy Spirit, or an encounter with another Carmelite.”

For council member David Stratman, he knew God was calling him to something, but he wasn’t sure what it was. On his own, he had felt called to pray more and attend daily Mass; eventually, he started praying Liturgy of the Hours. But he was still struggling with making progress in prayer.

“The intensity of the call became even more intense the past seven years or so. Every day, I asked God where he was leading me,” Stratman said.

…the idea of becoming involved in a vocation is something only a minority of people think about. I wish everyone spent time thinking about, ‘How can I get closer to my creator?’”

Eventually, he found a flyer in the back of his church about the secular Carmelites, which described the daily practices they incorporate into their lives to grow closer to God — some of the very same things he had been doing for years.

“I dropped to my knees and thanked God. It is absolutely amazing how all of the things for which I was being called were the things of Carmel,” Stratman said. “I called the number and the rest is history. I have been in Carmel about four years. I cannot possibly explain how fast those years have gone by and how much my prayer life has improved.”

Stratman added that there are many secular vocations and Carmel is not necessarily for everyone. If several hours of prayer in silence and solitude doesn’t sound appealing, it probably isn’t a good fit, he said. But, if it is a good fit, don’t be afraid and “do not doubt how much our Blessed Mother will help” you accomplish what’s required by the community.

It will change you

The members of Denver’s secular Carmelite order are a family, Rubin and Gilmore said, and practicing the communal way of life along with the daily spiritual practices are the backbone of their relationship with God.

“The community is so loving, so wonderful, so pure,” Gilmore said. “If I needed something right now, I could name 20 people I could call. They know you, they love you and have the same outlook, the same values.”

But the opportunity to be a part of an order, or to even ask the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” is something far too many people miss, Gilmore said.

“So many people don’t think about their responsibility to know their creator. That doesn’t mean they have to be Carmelite,” she said. “I feel like the idea of becoming involved in a vocation is something only a minority of people think about. I wish everyone spent time thinking about, ‘How can I get closer to my creator?’

“Carmel for me was a path to figuring that out, what am I doing here?” she added.

The Community of the Holy Spirit is always welcoming visitors, but November is the perfect time to look into it as they’ll start an aspirant class. The community meets at St. Thomas More every second Saturday of the month from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with lunch and Mass. If interested, call Ida Rubin at 303-805-4853 or Marian Gilmore at 303-661-7338.

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