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August 14, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
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Brother Mark Moran, OCD, spiritual adviser to the Saint Elijiah Community, presides over the Rite of Admission for Shannon "JJ" Behrens, who stands between Peter Burkard and Theresa Thomas.

Third order a path to being 'of greater service to the church'

The choir of the Fijian California Regional Catholic Community — about 25 voices and musicians strong — filled in the choir area of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley. On July 16, they came from San Jose, Half Moon Bay and Napa, to lend their voices to the rite of admission to the Saint Elijah Community of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Shannon "JJ" Behrens has spent 18 months getting go to know the community, which meets at St. John the Baptist Church in El Cerrito.

For the first six months he was a visitor; a year ago, he became an aspirant. At the July 16 event, he was admitted to formation. In that ceremony, he received the scapular, symbolic of the order, and begins a formation process.

In two years, he will make temporary promises.

"I felt called to some sort of a third order," said Behrens, as he waited for the ceremony to begin. He was seated in the second row pew of the church, with three daughters. Three sons were preparing to be altar servers during the rite and Mass.

Behrens' goal, he said, is to "help men be men."

"I need help in that," he said.

Behrens, who with his family worships at St. Agnes Parish in Concord and St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland, considered various orders in that pursuit.

Secular third orders are lay associations whose members lead an apostolic life and live in the world while sharing the spirit and direction of a religious institute. Their members do not take religious vows or titles.

Behrens said he considers the various orders "different sides of Christ."

"The Dominicans, the preaching Christ; the Franciscans, the poor Christ; and the Carmelites, the praying Christ," he said.

He found himself drawn to the Carmelites. "The founders are all mystics," he said. "I also felt a connection with great mystic doctors of the church."

He feels a strong call to pray for people. "I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and I have to say the Divine Mercy," he said.

When he told others this, he would often get this response: "You are so Carmelite."

With a family of eight children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, a career as a programmer with a long commute on BART each day, what was missing in his life was the contemplative, he said.

"I didn't know how to put it in words," he said.

Behrens' discernment of a third order vocation is fueled by his desire "to grow in virtue," he said. "I wanted to be of greater service to the church."

He said he wanted to help bring people closer to God, "but didn't know how."

The Carmelites, he said, "gave me the words to what I was trying to do: Knowing God so God may be known."

The rite of investiture took place during a Sunday afternoon Mass celebrated on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Members of the Saint Elijiah Community took part in the Mass, and embraced Behrens after he received his book and scapular.

The Saint Elijiah community, presently at 11 members, is open to growth. Those who might be discerning a third order vocation are invited to contact Peter Burkard at 510-691-9800 or Theresa Thomas at theresalthomas@sbcglobal.net. The community meets once a month at St. John the Baptist Church in El Cerrito.

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