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)