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.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Cloistered Heart of Saint Margaret Mary

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's was a heart filled with fire. Jesus chose to reveal to this Visitation nun a Heart ablaze - His own Sacred Heart. I think it's accurate to say that the saint encountered the Fire of Jesus' love and reflected it back to Him. Love met love, Heart met heart, Fire met fire. But the story did not end there.

Jesus entrusted to Margaret Mary a mission: to spread the message of His fiery love.

"My Divine Heart," Christ said in an apparition to this humble nun in 1673, "is so passionately fond of the human race, and of you in particular, that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning charity any longer. They must burst out through you."

St. Margaret Mary later wrote: "Jesus asked for my heart, which I begged Him to take, and He placed it in His adorable One, in which He showed it to me as a tiny speck consumed in this burning furnace. Then, taking it out as a burning flame shaped like a heart, He replaced it in the place from which He had taken it."  

St. Margaret Mary said many things that strike at the very core of my "cloistered" heart.  I have room here for a few examples....

"Our Lord frequently told me that I should keep a secluded place for Him in my heart, where He would teach me to love Him."  

"I beg the Sacred Heart of Jesus to deign to consume ours in the flames of His holy love, so that they may live and breathe only to love, honor and glorify Him." 

"Jesus Christ is the true friend of our hearts, and they are made for Him alone. They cannot find rest, joy, or satisfaction except in Him."

"He wants your heart without reserve."

Jesus wants my heart without reserve.  He desires my love in return for His.  

How will I respond?

Detail of painting by Georges de la Tours, cropped and digitally altered.  In public domain.

*This is a second repost from the archives of 6/13/13.

Friday, October 13, 2023

What is the Monastery of a Cloistered Heart?


The Monastery of a cloistered heart 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 served. Our lives can be all of these things. Just as any building can become a monastery by being dedicated to God, so our lives can become "monasteries" by such dedication. 

This is more than a nice daydream.  It is simply truth.  

"Even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity.  'If a man loves Me,' says the Lord, 'he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.' (John 14:23)"  
(Catechism of the Catholic Church #260)

"O my God...grant my soul peace. Make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling, and Your place of rest. May I never abandon You there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to Your creative action." (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church # 260)

As imperfect as we are, Our Lord actually desires to live within us.


"Humility and charity are the two main parts of the spiritual edifice. One is the lowest and the other the highest, and all the others depend on them.  Hence, we must keep ourselves well founded in these two, because the preservation of the entire edifice depends on the foundation and the roof."  
(St. Francis de Sales)


Friday, September 22, 2023

How Do I Become a Cloistered Heart?


How to be cloistered in heart?  

Short answer: by a total gift of self to God. 

Long answer: by looking at the steps a person takes to live in a physical cloister, and discovering if some of those aspects can be applied to living in the world.

The person entering a physical cloister does not stick her head in today and leave her arms and legs dangling outside to be cloistered at a later date. She is either in the cloister or she is not.  And yet we can give ourselves mostly to God and leave parts of our lives dangling outside that surrender. At least, that’s how it is for me.

Making the decision to embrace the will of God is not a once-and-for-all thing, of course. We re-decide, circumstance by circumstance.  But there is something about at least making a decision. One specific step. I have found that grace comes with making this decision. I tell God I want to live according to His will…and then in circumstance after circumstance, I find that His grace abounds.

Sometimes I imagine myself standing before an enclosure door. I consider. I vacillate. I feel afraid. I want a print-out of all that will be asked of me before I give my “yes.”  I’m trembling, second-guessing, halting, looking back, shuffling, straining. Then, timidly, I stick one toe forward…

…and it’s as if He suddenly, tenderly, picks me up and carries the rest of me inside. Even those dangling arms and legs. 

"Jesus, I give You my whole heart and my whole will.  They once rebelled against You, but now I dedicate them completely to you…Receive me, and make me faithful until death.”  (St. Alphonsus Liguori). 

"I am the GateWhoever enters through Me WILL BE SAFE.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:9) 

"The monk is precisely the Christian who has recognized in Christ 'the way, the truth, the life' and who intends to act logically over this discovery, a discovery of such a nature that it should not leave any of those who have made it tepid or indifferent."  (Bouyer p. 68)   

Text not in quotes © 2013 Nancy Shuman.
All Rights     

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*This is an edited repost from the The Cloistered Heart: How To? page.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Cloistered Heart: An Introduction


   What is a "cloistered heart?"  

   It is an analogy in which our lives can be seen as "monasteries," places where God is loved and lived for and served.  

   Our 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.  The uniqueness of this emphasis is in its monastic imagery. 
   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. 

   Christians living in the midst of the world are also called to live for God.  But for us, the break is not so clean. The world is persistent in its tugs on the heart trying to live for God.  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.

  "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 Walter Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)

   Our cloister is not made of bricks and stones, but of God's holy will in which we can choose to live.  The will of God can form for us a "cloister grille," through which we may view and respond to all people and all circumstances around us. 

   There is much more to this basic analogy, and you are invited to have a look at it.  Click individual titles - along the top of this screen - for more information about each subject. Thank you for joining in this adventure, for the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord!

"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 # 2563) 

"Thank God, there still remains one sanctuary, the sacredness of which no earthly power may violate… it is the sanctuary of the human heart.  
"It needs no fixed place for its confines, no stated time for the opening of its gates, no particular hour of silence for its prayer.  A thought, a word, a moment of reflection, and by faith and by love, the soul is within the blessed refuge, and the gates are closed on the confusion of life with all its noise and tumult.  It is secure against the bitterness and the pain of persecution, or hardship or trial, or hurt of body, or wound of earthly pride, or failure of worldly ambition, for there she is inviolable, sacred, impregnable in the fortress of her own spirit.  ‘Entering into solitude,’ we sometimes call the seeking of this sanctuary.  But it is not entering into a lonely solitude.  It is hearkening to the alluring accents and appeal of a Voice that will never, in time, be stilled, but will ever sound gently in the hearing of them that love: ‘Come apart with Me and rest awhile!” (from The Living Pyx of Jesus, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini and Co, Australia, 1941, p.101) 

“Most beautiful of creatures, who desires so ardently to know the dwelling place of your Beloved in order to seek Him and be united with Him, you are yourself the refuge where He takes shelter, the dwelling place in which He hides Himself.  Your Beloved, your Treasure, your one Hope is so close to you as to live within you." (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle)  
“You are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) 
"We may well tremble to think what sanctuaries we are, when the Blessed Sacrament is within us."  (Frederick William Faber)    


*This is a repost from the archives of (November 23, 2014).