The following was one of my earliest attempts to outline (at the request of a helpful priest) the idea and analogies of The Cloistered Heart. Now, twenty years later, this continues to call me back to basics. It challenges me and helps me reconnect with my own desires to live 'a little above and more than earth.'
My call is to be in the world but not of the world. This is not a new
or different idea; rather, it is an emphasizing, a kind of underlining, of every Christian's call. I find it helpful to recognize
that within me is a 'place' set apart for and consecrated to God. This
place of consecration is sacred and inviolate, for the God of all dwells
The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration. Those who enter a
traditional physical cloister make a tangible break from the world. Compromise does not fit well in a cloister, nor does lukewarmness, nor
does complacency. The cloistered life is absolute. A nun
living in a cloister has made a decision to live for God. She has made a
A Christian living in the world is also called to make a decision to
live for God, but the break for us is not so clean. The world is persistent in
its tugs on the heart trying to live for God. Therefore, we need
support in our struggles to surrender our lives to God and to resist the
world's allurements. This is where the imagery of the cloistered heart
can be of help.
'It is best not to consider whether or not one is called to the
cloister; that is not the point. If the cloister is in a man's heart,
it is immaterial whether the building is actually there. The cloister
in a man's heart means only this: God and the soul.' (from Warriors of God by W. Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)
A cloistered heart may be married or single, nurse or engineer or
homemaker, yet the heart can be cloistered. My cloister is not made of
bricks and stones, but of God's holy will in which I have chosen to
live. The will of God forms for me a 'cloister grille,' through which I
may view and respond to all people, all circumstances, all things that
make up the world in which I live. My commitment to God does not
conflict with family life, but rather enhances and empowers it.
Many years ago, another had this same kind of vision. St. Jane de
Chantal, when she was yet a laywoman (widowed with four children), imaged
her spiritual world with monastic imagery, and took the Virgin Mary as
the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart.
I ask for her intercession and for that of St. Francis de Sales, who
encouraged Jane in her monastic imagery. May they pray for all of us
who wish to live in the world as 'cloistered hearts.'
'The heart is the dwelling place
where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical
expression, 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. The
heart is the place of decision..' (Catechism of the Catholic Church,