Question: Ignatian spirituality, Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan — I love them all. Love the thoughts, prayers; but how do I know which “way” fits me best? It feels peculiar to follow one “way” because then I feel as if I am veering from Jesus and “picking” St. Benedict’s way or St. Ignatius’ way, etc.
It sounds like you’re already following the way that fits you best — the way of Christ. Each of the strands within Catholic Christian spirituality that you mentioned is meant to lead you ever closer to Christ. The founder of a true Christian religious movement does not want others to follow him or her, but rather to follow Christ, and to reap the benefits of the founder’s spiritual insights on that journey. While some people have a deep affinity for one or another spiritual tradition, even those who are members of religious orders make their first and foremost commitment not in their religious profession but in the vows of baptism, renewed and reclaimed over the course of a lifetime. These spiritualities are also not mutually exclusive, and your affinities may change over the years. During particular times in your life, you may find great support in the Ignatian Examen, for example, or in the beloved prayers of the Franciscan tradition.
If you’re considering a more specific commitment, such as entering a religious order, you will need to carefully discern what spirituality helps you to respond to the universal call to holiness in the unique way that only you can — your vocation. Your question reveals something that might be a good clue in your discernment: If you feel that you’ve veered away from Jesus and “picked” someone else, think twice about your choice. The temptation for charismatic leaders to get in the way, rather than to point the way towards Christ, has been with the Church since its earliest days. Consider Paul’s words in the first letter to the Corinthians: “One of you will say, ‘I belong to Paul,’ another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ still another, ‘Cephas has my allegiance,’ and the fourth, ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ, then, been divided into parts? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Was it in Paul’s name that you were baptized?” (See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). It’s not about Ignatius or Benedict or Francis, any more than it was about Paul or Apollos or Cephas in the early Church. Stay focused on Christ, in whose name you were baptized, and you will find the way.