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Do you have what it takes to be a Carmelite?

How do you know if you are being called to become a Carmelite friar? Furthermore, how do you know what exactly it is that you are being called to do?

The process of hearing and responding to God’s invitation in your life is called discernment. You will not hear a loud voice telling you to become a friar, but here are some sign-posts that may help you:

  • To join us you need to have been a Catholic for about 2 years
  • An inner desire to become a friar. A vocation from God is always one that calls a person to live a fulfilled and happy life. For some, this desire can lay dormant for many years, and then an event or a chance encounter will bring it alive.
  • Our religious life is a choice to share our commitment to Christ within a community of brothers, so that we may be strengthened and supported and made more effective in our ministry. Thus we pray together and work together. Can you forsee yourself living and working with others?
  • Carmelites pray together each day, celebrating the Eucharist and the daily Prayer of the Church. Are you a person of prayer to whom this appeals? This is a good signpost.
  • Carmelites are men of the Gospel, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. A reliable signpost is a deep love of the message of the Gospel, coupled with a desire to live it out.
  • Carmelite friars take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are called to share everything with their brother – their time, their income, their wisdom, their talents, their prayer. Can you forsee yourself living in this way for the rest of your life?

Some of the values important to Carmelites might already be visible in your life:

  • Simplicity in the use of material goods;
  • An ability to “travel lightly” through life;
  • An inner joy that comes from discovering the love of God;
  • A personal relationship with Jesus;
  • A desire to read/study and pray the words of Scripture;

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Carmelite way of life:

Is being a Carmelite friar for “holy” people only?
Certainly not – or many of us would not have been eligible! The friars are ordinary people who have to struggle like everyone else to do good and avoid evil. Like everyone, we make mistakes. We are only too well aware of our frailty and sinfulness. What is important is that we try even though we fail on occasion.

Are there any academic entrance standards?
The short answer is no. However, we would advise any enquirer who is still in school to complete their secondary schooling or if they are currently in further or higher education, to complete their courses. Previous exam results are a useful indicator of a person’s academic ability, but the primary consideration is that the applicant would be able to follow a course of Third Level studies without undue difficulty. An interest in reading is a big help.

We have found that candidates are more secure if they have some academic or trade qualifications. If, for example, a person joins us and then leaves, he will have something to fall back upon as he seeks to establish himself.
Once a candidate joins, the friars in charge of his formation will assist him in furthering his education. All friars have to have some level of formal study. In this area, we consider each application on its own merit.

At what age do you accept people?
We would not accept a candidate who comes straight from school. We advise such young enquirers that they should spend some time working or studying after school so that in the normal course of events, our youngest candidates would be in their early 20s when they join. In more recent years, they are older and tend to be in late 20s and 30s. We would be hesitant in accepting anyone over 35, because generally the older you are the more difficult it can be to adapt to a new way of life, but again we consider each application on its own merit.

Do you have to become a priest to be a Carmelite?
Absolutely not. The very term ‘friar’ means ‘brother’. The official title of our Order is “the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel”. We see ourselves first and foremost as brothers. Within that brotherhood some have been called to the ordained ministry, while others feel called to be friars but not within the clerical state. Every Carmelite friar takes the same vows and follows the Rule of St. Albert. Ordained and non-ordained form one family.

How long is the training?
We call it formation. The initial formation programme is the same for all candidates, whether they are preparing for priesthood or not. This programme takes about five to six years in preparation for Final or Solemn Vows. If a candidate is preparing for priestly ordination, then he will continue with study and pastoral ministry for about another two years after Final Profession. Not all that time is spent in study alone! Time is spent in honing skills for future ministry through practical and pastoral work with people in hospitals, schools, parishes, prisons and socially-deprived areas. Students are also encouraged to learn at least one other language during the years of initial formation.

Will I have to spend a lot of the time in the church praying?
Christ is our centre, he is the reason we are together. His mission is the centre of our lives and his friendship is what really invites us in the end. Prayer is at the heart of the Carmelite Way of Life. We like to think of it as being “a continuous conversation with God”. We try to come together to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the Prayer of the Church) at the main “hinges” of each day, in the morning, at midday and in the evening. We also try to celebrate daily Eucharist together when at all possible. It is up to each friar to make space daily for his own personal time for God.

How would I go about joining?
It is not just a simple matter of filling out a form! Nor is it like a job interview.
We like to get to know you first and think it is a good idea for you to get to know us. We would encourage you to make contact with a friar that you know or you can contact me at the Carmelite Vocation Office in the presbytery beside St. Colmcille’s church. Once you make contact, you can discuss your sense of God’s calling. A friar will be assigned to accompany you if you so desire, usually for a period of months. He will give you advice, reading matter, and generally try to guide you through the process of applying to join. We also have a support group which meets regularly to pray, socialise and experience what it is like to live in a Carmelite community.

There may well be other questions you wish to ask. Feel free to email me pbrennan@carmelites.iewith any other questions you have and be assured that I will do my best to answer them.