Is God calling me to leave my spiritual community?

Dear Dan, our women’s Regnum Christi team no longer meets and some have left the movement entirely. After having been in Regnum Christi for 10 years, the faith, fellowship and friendship really meant a lot. However my husband and I came across a local lay-Carmelite movement this year through a priest who invited his entire congregation one Sunday to a lay-Carmelite meeting! This is unusual, in comparison to the Regnum Christi method of person-to-person invitation. Is this God’s way of showing another pathway to holiness? The Regnum Christi movement has been a beautiful way for lay members to grow in holiness over the last 10 years. It seems best to move with the Holy Spirit. How can we truly know what God’s calling is?

Dear Friend, This is a very difficult question. First, it is not common to be called into association with one religious order and then to be call by God to another. The vows or commitments we make to a particular spirituality are very serious and we make them to God, not just to the religious institution or community. If we do find ourselves legitimately called to a different spirituality, it is more probable that we were confused about our original call or in some way may have chosen our first path for motives that were not in keeping with the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is also possible that we may have fallen prey to sin or the deception of the enemy both in our association or disassociation with any particular spirituality. Still, there are legitimate instances wherein it seems that God works through a particular spirituality with someone for a period and then they find their final spiritual home in another.

For example, Sister Lucia of Fatima made her perpetual vows as a Sister of St. Dorothy and then after a visit to Fatima discerned a call to become a Discalced Carmelite and then died in that order. St. Anthony of Padova was initially an Augustinian but died as a Franciscan. More recently Blessed Mother Teresa was professed as a Sister of Loreto and then God clearly called her to leave Loreto to found the Missionaries of Charity. There are many others (though very few in comparative numbers to all religious) but suffice it to say that these changes were serious and profound to all involved. These decisions were never made in isolation or with haste.

A confounding factor is all this is that in the younger movements and spiritualties in the Church there is often a far less mature discernment process for members. This can cause some to enter into these communities without a proper discernment regarding the Holy Spirit’s call. The more mature orders such as the Carmelites and the Franciscans can take up to six years of discernment before an individual is fully received into the order. Though this might be the opposite end of extremes and can discourage some who might be legitimately called to them, it also helps them to avoid the many misfires and relational and spiritual challenges that are common outcomes of less rigorous discernment processes.

It is also very important to understand that the institutions we chose to affiliate with are human institutions in the sense that God works through people to bring people to him. In that reality, the normal ups and downs in relationships with individuals and the institution as a whole can be glorious, strained, challenging, rewarding, frustrating, hurtful, healing, joyful, wounding, and all the other range of experience that we humans tend to swim through in life. It would be a mistake to abandon any relationship when it may be going through a challenging period (even a humiliating one) that could yield very powerful encounters with God’s grace and work of holiness our lives. We must lean into our struggles and prayer and listen carefully when we begin to suffer in the same places where we once received great consolations.

So, what should you do? If you are deeply conflicted it might be best to seek spiritual direction or advice from a neutral party who can help you properly assess the situation. Let me be very clear here, it would not be beneficial to you to find a director or advice from someone who is openly hostile to the current spirituality to which you are presently committed (no matter what that may be). An unfortunate and sinful reality from the beginning of the Church is the opposition that members of spiritual communities have expressed towards one another (this includes diocesan clergy who often struggle with religious orders or movements). To avoid the confusion that can result here, if I were a member of Opus Dei and was seriously struggling with some aspect of my life in Opus Dei, I would never seek the advice of a spiritual director who is hostile to Opus Dei. This point seems very obvious but I have seen this basic wisdom ignored many times by people who should have known better. All were harmed when this foolishness prevailed. It is very important to find someone who can really help you to best discern how the Holy Spirit is leading you rather than one who might steer you in a particular direction because of their immaturity and inability to appreciate the unique works of God represented in the spiritualties approved by the Church.

From your description, it sounds like Regnum Christi has been a tremendous blessing to you and your husband. In the very sparse information I have from your question, I have not heard some of the key indicators that would lead me to deduce that you are called elsewhere (thought you may in fact be called elsewhere). For instance, if the spiritual rigor of the prayer commitments are energizing and motivating to you and have been since the beginning, this might be a sign you are called to remain in the movement and fight through whatever challenges you face. If, on the other hand, they have always felt oppressive to you, this might be a sign that you should seriously evaluate 1) your own weaknesses and sin to determine if they are the real problem, 2) that you may not have been called to this spirituality in the first place, or 3) that God did legitimately lead you there and now he is leading you elsewhere.

Pray and seek counsel and be assured of my prayers. May Our Lady of Sorrows also be with you and may her prayers reveal the glory and wisdom of God to you.

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