Other vocations that may be right for you
All Christians have a vocation—whether to marriage, single life, ordination, or consecrated life. Here are some Catholic vocation choices that are less well-known than traditional membership in a religious order or the diocesan priesthood, some in connection with communities of consecrated life.
Some religious orders have associate membership, which allows single and married laypeople to have a close bond with the community. The requirements and commitments between communities and their “associates” or “co-members” vary with each religious order. Generally associate members feel drawn to the charism—the spirit and mission—of the community and pledge to carry out prayer and works of service according to this charism and their own abilities and to integrate that spirit into their way of life. They usually take part in some activities of the community. A list of more than 100 religious orders that have associates is available on the website of the North American Conference of Associates and Religious: nacar.org.
Secular third orders
Secular third orders—like the Lay Carmelites and the Oblates of St. Benedict—are associations of laypeople who follow the inspiration and guidance of a religious order while living in the world. Third order members are usually received into the religious community in a particular ceremony and pledge themselves to certain prayers and religious practices. For more information on secular third orders, inquire with individual communities who have them.
Permanent deacons are men, usually 35 or older and self-supporting, who are ordained to minister in a diocese of the church after a formal period of formation and training the diocese oversees. The ministry of the deacon is threefold: service; the word, such as preaching, catechesis, retreat work, and counseling; and liturgically, including leading certain parts of the Mass and other sacramental roles such as presiding at baptisms and weddings. Deacons may also be involved with parish pastoral ministry tasks. Although a permanent deacon may be married at the time of ordination, if he is single at ordination or if his wife dies afterward he is expected to remain celibate. For more information: usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/diaconate/.
Secular institutes are a form of consecrated life in which members live a life of celibate chastity, poverty, and obedience through the witness of their Christian lives and their apostolic activity wherever they are employed. Usually members do not live in community as do members of religious institutes, though in a few cases they may. Secular institutes are for laywomen, laymen, and diocesan priests. Periodically members of respective institutes come together for retreats and meetings. The United States Conference of Secular Institutes website, secularinstitutes.org, has general information regarding secular institutes and contact information.
According to church law, consecrated virgins are “. . . consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ, and dedicated to the service of the church. . . .” A woman is admitted to consecration by her local bishop, who determines the conditions under which she lives her life of perpetual virginity. Candidates for consecration must be women who have never been married, had children, or lived in open violation of chastity. Once consecrated, a woman is closely bonded to her diocese and its bishop and supports the diocesan clergy through prayer and sacrifice. Outside of work, a consecrated virgin serves her diocese in a variety of ways. She is devoted to the Mass, the daily prayers of the Divine Office, and private prayer. A diocese does not take on financial responsibility for a consecrated virgin. More information is available from the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, consecratedvirgins.org.
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