- First, by prayer and sacrifice. As in any activity, the more we devote ourselves to something, the more effective we become. Cloistered nuns are “professional pray-ers”. Nuns pray and sacrifice for the whole world, sharing in Christ’s salvific work. God wills to associate us in His work of salvation, which is why St. Paul says, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24)) and why Jesus said, “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:37-38- emphasis added). “What would He propose as the quickest was to spread His teaching?…Only “pray ye” – Rogate. This one fundamental truth of prayer, and the spirit of prayer, is something the Master constantly repeated. Everything else, without exception, flows from it” (The Soul of the Apostolate). Also, cloistered nuns’ prayer becomes more powerful because of their complete sacrifice. Jesus testified to the power of prayer and sacrifice when He told the Apostles, “Some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29).
“All my strength lies in prayer and sacrifice. They are my invincible weapons, and I know, by experience, that they can soften the heart much better than words” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus, patroness of Missionaries).
- Second, by example. In the early days of Christianity, martrydom for the Faith was extremely widespread, from St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen to all the Apostles except John. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” wrote Tertullian in the late 2nd century. After the legalization of Christianity in 313, monasticism became more established in the Church that men and women might continue to sacrifice their entire lives for Christ, dying to the world in order to be united completely to Him. Not by words but by their very lives, these “white martyrs” teach all Christians of the purpose of life and that we are created for heaven – nothing on earth will fulfill our greatest desires, but God alone will! “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine, Confessions). They are “a signpost pointing to a journey and quest, a reminder to the entire People of God of the primary and ultimate meaning of the Christian life” (Vultum Dei Quarere) “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)
- Third, by helping to bring about the reign of God. Those in the cloister are engaged in a spiritual battle to defeat self and Satan and to spread the reign of Christ over all hearts, starting with their own. “In looking at the early monastic literature, one of the principal motives which drew men into the desert was to battle with Satan, and this in imitation of the Savior who entered the desert to battle with Satan. And their battles were not merely personal…they saw themselves as soldiers, indeed, officers in the Lord’s army engaged in a real spiritual warfare, fighting back the demons so they could not enter into society” (Prayer as the Foundation of the New Evangelization) Their efforts and openness to becoming completely transformed by the Love of God affect the whole Church. “In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 953).
- Fourth, by being Love in the heart of the Church. St. Paul says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor 12:12, 27). Cloistered nuns are called to be the heart of the mystical Body of Christ. St. Therese of Lisieux writes: “Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I saw that the if the Church was a body made up of different members, the most essential and important one of all would not be lacking; I saw that the Church must have a heart, that this heart must be on fire with love. I saw that it was love alone which moved her other members, and that were this love to fail, apostles would no longer spread the Gospel, and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood” (Story of a Soul). Nuns accept all the Love and Grace that Jesus desires to pour out, becoming an overflowing reservoir of charity that spreads through the Body of Christ as its lifeblood. Although “since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2005) there are abundant examples of how, with the eyes of faith, the influence of grace can be seen. Read an amazing story about this here.
“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus).