What’s the Difference?

There are more than a few types of religious Orders in the Catholic Church: Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Carmelites, Benedictines, Paulists… you get the picture. What many don’t get, though, is how we differentiate between each other.

As far as externals go, the habit is the easiest distinguisher because we all have slightly different styles: Dominicans are white, Jesuits have a formal cassock, Carmelites are brown with a scapular and leather belt, Benedictines are black, and the Paulists have a cassock with special buttons, different from the Jesuits. But this form of distinction only goes so far. For starters, many religious do not wear their habits but for special occasions. It makes it very difficult to tell the difference when they’re wearing jeans and their habit is in their closet! But besides that, a habit in itself is but an external sign: it does not articulate any meaningful differences in belief, practice, or spirituality.

For that reason, a much better way to understand the differences between the religious Orders is getting to know their “charisms.” A charism is essentially the personality of the Order, the attributes and preferences of the founder that determine how they prayer, where and how they live, and what they do in ministry for the Church. A charism can be very specific, tied directly to a particular mission such as teaching or medicine, or can be very general, focused on an ideal like hospitality or mission.

This week’s video offers a brief explanation of that concept, a statement about a few of the major religious Orders to serve as contrast, and three aspects I think are integral to the Franciscan charism.

For those on email, the link is here.

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