THE CLOISTERED LIFE WITHIN THE CHURCH
“The choice of the cloister is rooted in the desire to make a total donation of oneself to the Beloved in the solitude and silence of a life entirely hidden in Him. In spite of the apparent separation from the world, the cloistered life is endowed with ‘an exceptional apostolic efficacy.’ Separated from everyone, the cloistered soul gives itself to everyone and embraces everyone in its prayers and sacrifices.
WHAT IS THE CLOISTER?
The cloister is the radical choice of a consecrated life, a dedication to make contemplation the habitual dimension of one’s daily life; it is a ‘directing of oneself to the heavenly Jerusalem, in anticipation of the eschatological Church… an exigency – felt of primary importance – to ALWAYS BE WITH THE LORD… Rooted in this spiritual tension, the cloister is not only an ascetical means of immense value, but A MODE OF LIVING THE LORD’S PASCH,’ an involvement in His experience of death and life. It is the generous and ready response to a special call ‘welcomed as a gift and free response of love.’
It is above all a perennial passage from the CELL which isolates to the CELL which opens in a universal dimension: that of the heart which welcomes the presence of the Beloved and, in Him, the whole world. Charity, through the exercise of the evangelical counsels and the tension of the spirit, swells up within the cell of the heart which has limited its contacts and avoids dispersing its love. This charity pulsates within the very Heart of the Beloved and, in union with Him, heads out towards all those in misery and all the needs of the world.
In this way the cloister becomes the ‘city set on a mountain’ (Mt 5:14) towards which – whether aware of it or not – everyone turns in expectation and from which there spreads an efficacious contribution for the recapitulation of all things in Christ. Despite its appearance to the contrary, the cloister is endowed with an exceptional apostolic efficacy which gives support to the Church’s hierarchical apostolate. For their brothers in the world, the cloistered life is a bit like Moses with his arms raised in an attitude of prayer, or even like the image of Jesus Himself who prays on the mountain.
Its contribution of grace and prayer for everyone in the Church and the world is of incommensurable value. With its example of poverty, obedience and chastity, it collaborates in the moral renewal of society before which it stands as a prophetic presence, a persuasive recall, and a fraternal gift of supernatural values. The spirit of the Beatitudes extends beyond the grill and diffuses everywhere a strong entreaty of love, forgiveness and peace. And it is not out of place that, in fulfilling some type of work which is compatible with the Rule and its proper traditions, the cloister might participate in the life of society.
THE RADICAL NATURE OF CLOISTERED LIFE
Every type of vocation offers a unique form of behaviour and a unique set of tasks in view of its final end: the sanctification of oneself and of others. The cloistered life is no exception. Yes, it is a call which, in itself, is not the typical STANDARD; hence, it is not comparable with any other form of Christian existence. Yet from this unmistakable, unique character there flows its behaviour and its tasks, as well as its aim for holiness and, in the end, for glory.
Jesus, ‘having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1). This radical nature of love and dedication is harmoniously reflected in the concerto of the cloistered life and becomes its DIAPASON. It is from the community choir that there emanates what is pre-eminently distinctive about the cloister: sacrificial love in following and imitating Christ ‘who has not come to be served, but to serve’ (Mt 20:28).
Yet sacrificial love never exempts itself from its radical need for unity: indeed, it is a unitive love which repeats that COR UNUM ET ANIMA UNA (Acts 4:32) within the ambit of the cloister, in order to overcome any form of egoism. The tension of such a love cannot leave out the unavoidable meaning of love itself; to desire the good of the one loved. From this there issues that missionary love which turned the Saint of Lisieux into the Patroness of the Missions and which should stir up an apostolic, missionary flame in every cloister and bring about their meaningful commitment towards others.”
– “The Cloistered Life Within the Church” Part V, by Brunero Gherardini was published in De Vita Contemplativa, Monthly Magazine for Monasteries, Year VII – Number 5 May 2013. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org