This excerpt comes from G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi. Hence the specific reference is to the Franciscan Third Order, but it applies generally to all such orders:


“But if the Second Order was a memorial of such an unearthly love, the Third Order was as solid a memorial of a very solid sympathy with earthly loves and earthly lives. The whole of this feature in Catholic life, the lay orders in touch with clerical orders, is very little understood in Protestant countries and very little allowed for in Protestant history. The vision which has been so faintly suggested in these pages has never been confined to monks or even to friars. It has been an inspiration to innumerable crowds of ordinary married men and women; living lives like our own only entirely different. That morning glory which Saint Francis spread over earth and sky has lingered as a secret sunshine under a multitude of roofs and in a multitude of rooms.

In societies like ours nothing is known of such a Franciscan following. Nothing is known of such obscure followers; and if possible less is known of the well-known followers. If we imagine passing us in the street a pageant of the Third Order of Saint Francis, the famous figures would surprise us more than the strange ones. For us it would be like the unmasking of some mighty secret society. There rides Saint Louis, the great king, lord of higher justice, whose scales hang crooked in favour of the poor. There is Dante, crowned with laurel, the poet who in his life of passions sang the praises of the Lady Poverty, whose grey garment is lined with purple and all glorious within. All sorts of great names from the most recent and rationalistic centuries would stand revealed; the great Galvani, for instance, the father of all electricity, the magician who has made so many modern systems of stars and sounds. So various a following would alone be enough to prove that Saint Francis had no lack of sympathy with normal men, if the whole of his own life did not prove it.”