Wednesday, November 22, 2023

What is the Grille of the Cloistered Heart?


The grille is a powerful symbol. I would go so far as to say that, in the cloistered heart way of life I’m describing, it is the important symbol. It is a place of separation and, just as importantly, it is a place of encounter. It is only through the grille that some cloistered individuals (in a number of communities) connect with the world.

Every human being has been given, by God, a way to connect with the world. A way to see situations correctly; a way to interact with others appropriately.

God invites each one of us to view and respond to every person and every circumstance through His will.

We do not have to guess what that will is. God has revealed it to us. Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church make up the bars of our grille.

Am I facing a hardship? I can face it through the grille.“God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28).   

“We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen…” (2 Corinthians 4:18).  

Some Scriptures That Form "Bars of My Grille":

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect."  (Romans 12:0)

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no fruit, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his decree." (Romans 8:28)

"...we can even boast of our afflictions! We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

"No test has been sent you that does not come to all men. Besides, God keeps his promise. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.  Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

"We have put our hope in him who will never cease to deliver us." (2 Corinthians 1:10)

**This is an excerpt from the page, "The Grille".

Friday, November 17, 2023

All I Must Do Is Accept

I have been privileged to spend time in monasteries of nuns on several occasions. As a retreatant, I've been able to live inside the enclosure for a few days at a time...praying with the Sisters, joining them for Mass, taking meals with them, sleeping in a cell.

One of the (many) things that struck me during such experiences was the simplicity of monastic life, and I probably noticed this most during mealtimes.  The monastic meal stands in stark contrast to meals in the world. The food is nourishing but simple, adequate but not overly abundant. Normally, meals are taken in silence.

In one monastery I have visited, breakfast is eaten while one is standing. The nuns file into the "refectory" (dining room) after Mass, pour themselves coffee or juice, take a piece of toast or fruit, and move to their assigned places at table. Each Sister goes quietly about the business of eating. She accepts the food necessary for her to move forward into this day. It is all very efficient, basic, and starkly simple.

Nourishment of the spirit has come first, nourishment of the body follows immediately after. Both are important, but priorities are in their proper order. There is work to be done: spirit and body must be ready to do it.

For me, there is work to be done - no matter what shape that may take. I need the nourishment of spirit and body to meet whatever the day ahead shall bring. I may see, as I look forward with "morning eyes," some of the things awaiting me. Others will be surprises.

God, however, knows what lies ahead. Nothing that happens today will surprise Him. Because He knows, He has already made preparations. He has provided nourishment for me ahead of time.  All I must do is accept it.

It is all very efficient, basic, and starkly simple. All I must do is accept. 

"My God, I give You this day. I offer You, now, all of the good I shall do - and I promise to accept, for love of You, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to You."  

(St. Francis de Sales, Direction of Intention)

Text not in quotes 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Embracing the Mass


"They recounted what had happened to them on the road, and how they had come to know Him in the breaking of the bread."  (Luke 24:35)

Mass is the highlight of the monastic day. The other prayers prepare for it, revolve around it, highlight and underscore it... and carry its themes into every other part of the afternoon and evening. This is reasonable, logical, for "The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life...  In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324 and 1327)

Before the great Wonder of the Eucharist, of Jesus with us in Flesh and Blood, I am, frankly, speechless. So I look to one more eloquent than I as I pass along these words: 

"We must continually remind ourselves that the greatest need in the world today is to centre our lives more and more in the oblational aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; for today, when the whole world is galloping away from the very shadow of the Cross, we must embrace it and cling to it ever more firmly, in union with Jesus Christ....We should never come to Holy Mass without preparation, and it is for this reason that, in Religious Houses, the Community Mass is celebrated after the Spiritual Exercises of the morning. Of all the works of the Sacred Heart here below, Holy Mass together with Holy Communion is the Masterpiece." 
(from The Living Pyx of Jesus by 'A Religious,' Pelligrini, 1941, p. 443)

Can I get to Mass today? If so, I ask for the grace of opened eyes. Eyes that can truly see Him in the breaking of the Bread. 

But perhaps I am limited - maybe by family needs, illness, work, disability. What then? I can at least make a spiritual communion, perhaps using words like these: 

"My Jesus, I believe You are truly present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to possess You within my soul. Since I am unable now to receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and I unite myself wholly to You; never permit me to be separated from You." 
(St. Alphonsus)

Text not in quotes 

*This is a repost from the archives of 8/28/12.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

What is the Enclosure of a Cloistered Heart?

The enclosure of a cloistered heart is within the will of God. As a cloistered nun or monk lives within a specific area known as the cloister (or enclosure), we can make a specific choice to live within the "enclosure" of the will of God. We can actively embrace God's will as revealed in Scripture and the discernment of the Church.

In every monastery, of nuns or of monks, there is an area normally reserved only for residents of the monastic community.  This is called “the cloister” or “enclosure.” 

In the analogy of the cloistered heart, we are invited into an enclosure beyond all of our loftiest mental images.

The fact is: if we’re human beings, we are called to live within the will of God.

In our analogy of "the cloistered heart," I am invited to live within the boundaries of God's will as a nun would live inside her enclosure.  A potential cloistered nun does not set the boundaries of enclosure for herself, saying that she really prefers other areas, thank you very much.  No, she accepts them as they have already been set up...or she goes elsewhere.

I look around, today, at the boundaries of my enclosure. I don't have to map them out for myself; they are clearly defined for me in Scripture and in 2,000 years of authentic Church discernment.

Sometimes we can fear the boundaries of God's will, worrying that they'll sap all joy and pleasure from our lives.  The saints tell us otherwise. 

“Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love…”  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

“Do you want to be free? Then free yourself by your own act; have no will but God’s will.”  (La Trappe in England by a Religious of Holy Cross Abbey, 1937)

I Choose the Wall

Living within the will of God, and making a specific choice to do so, can be a pleasant thing to talk about.  It's nice to write about, good to meditate upon, and the idea fits well in the pages of a "cloistered heart" blog.

It's just a bit different when it comes to the doing of it. Oh, it's not so bad when God's will and mine are precisely the same. But at some point(s), my will and God's are going to conflict.  

What happens then?

I look at the "walls" of God's will - the boundaries in which I am "enclosed" if I genuinely want to live for Him. I think about what the Church teaches on particular subjects. I consider Scripture. Oh my: there are some tough things to live up to in Scripture! Pray for my persecutors? Love my neighbor as myself? Do not judge?!

Sometimes I find myself picking and choosing. I'll live this commandment, but not that other one. I'll go right along with this chapter in the Catechism, but surely I'm not expected to take that one seriously. I mean, who does?

If I intend to live cloistered in heart, then I must be the one. I don't just go grabbing stones out of my enclosure wall. For if I do, it won't be long before that wall - that high, beloved wall built by Our Lord Himself to protect me - comes swiftly tumbling down. And I am left unprotected, unshielded, vulnerable to attacks on my life, my spirit, my immortal soul.  

God's will and mine are going to conflict. At various points, this is going to happen. In order for me to choose God's will for Him and not just for my own self-interest, this HAS to happen.  

For if God's will and mine are always the same, how could I make a truly free choice for His?  

"Don't lose heart, I entreat you; gradually train your will to follow God's will wherever it leads."  (St. Francis de Sales)

*This is an edited repost from the Enclosure page.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The World's Greatest Romance

 In honor of Sweetest Day, here are some reflections on the Cloistered Heart, "the greatest romance the world has ever known":

When the idea of the Cloistered Heart first came to me, it was nothing more than a phrase.  A wispy, vaporous daydream involving ivy-shrouded hermitages and candlelit Gothic windows. I told no one about it, because I thought “The Cloistered Heart” sounded like the title of a romantic novel. A few years later, I admitted my reluctance (and the reason for it) to a nun friend. I thought I’d receive a smile in response, perhaps a bit of a chuckle.

Instead, Sister looked at me solemnly and said "Nancy, that's not off the mark." God's call to us and our response, she explained, is the greatest romance the world has ever known.

One thing I knew, during the initial phase of daydreaming, was that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders. I realized that these areas were called cloisters. It was enough information to get me started. “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote during my earliest musings, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world."

A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be.  A place inviolate, where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, the grocery, while refereeing kids. It was an appealing idea. It was also (this being most important), theologically sound. "The heart,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the dwelling place where I am, where I live...the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.'  The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism  #2563)

So: what IS a cloistered heart? The analogy, which is multi-faceted by now, has three main parts:

The Monastery, which is the person’s own life. A monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and lived for and served. Our lives can, and should, become every one of these.

The Enclosure, which is within the will of God. As a cloistered nun or monk lives within a specific area known as the cloister, we can make a specific choice to live within the will of God. We can actively embrace the boundaries of God’s will as these are revealed in Scripture and Church teaching.

The Grille, which is the will of God. As some monasteries have grillwork through which those in the cloister interact with the world outside, we can have spiritual “grillwork.” We can practice seeing and responding to every person and every situation through the will of God.

"I am a laywoman, married,” I wrote when this was just beginning, “yet I have a vocation to the cloister.  Obviously I am not called to the physical enclosure; I am called, rather, to cloister my heart. The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration. It seems that compromise would not fit well in a cloister, nor would lukewarmness, nor would complacency. The cloistered life is absolute."

I can now say, after twenty-plus years of living it, that the Cloistered Heart has helped me embrace my call to serve God as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, writer, blogger, homemaker, friend. It has been a “fit” for the various situations I’ve encountered. The Cloistered Heart is analogy, but it’s much more than that. It is a way of life.

It is a way, for me, of participating in the greatest Romance the world has ever known. 


*This is an edited repost from the The Cloistered Heart: Start Here! page.