Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Enclosure

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB

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When I was in grade school, one of my favorite parts of the day was - you guessed it - recess!  Not because I didn't like school; I loved to learn and I enjoyed school very much. But, school was also a place I associated with friends since all my friends attended the same school I did.

As a young boy, third grade maybe, one of my favorite things to do during the recess period was to join with other boys my age and "capture" the large jungle gym in the center of the playground - we'd pretend it was a fort, or a pirate ship!

Once it was captured, no one who wasn't part of our gang was allowed to climb on. Of course, that meant "no girls allowed," and sometimes we'd get in trouble with adult playground supervisors for "hogging the jungle gym" - which, of course, never seemed to keep us from claiming it again the next day.

Belonging to an in-group, or just belonging, seems to be a basic need for people, and kids are often notorious "in" and "out" group diplomats. Building "hide-outs" or treehouses and affixing to the door a "no girls allowed" sign was a typical play activity for boys when I was a kid.

For St. Benedict, too, although his motivation was certainly quite different, the idea of establishing a special "members only" place was important. The enclosure mentioned in the above quote from Chapter 4 of the Rule  is the private monastic space wherein the community eats, sleeps, studies and recreates in common. It's also a place where only members may freely be admitted as "belonging." This is the monastic house, that building within which we monks establish a common home - a place of belonging. 

The term "enclosure" is an English translation of the Latin claustra, sometimes translated as "cloister." The notion of "enclosure" is an important piece of monastic culture because of what it signifies. Much as it was in St. Benedict's day, a strictly delineated cloister or monastic enclosure is intended to reinforce the notion that the monk belongs to a particular community made up of brothers who share a common life.

Living by a rule, under a common authority, following a daily routine or schedule, we are bound together by a common commitment and purpose, a shared vocation. Apart from the monk's relationship to his community, he cannot claim to be a monk at all. A monk is never merely an individual, nor is any Christian.

The relationship with the monastic community (or one's parish or congregation for lay Christians) informs one's identity as a Christian monk or disciple. The monk's bond to a particular monastic community by the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life defines his vocation and purpose within the broader Church - a monk's solemn profession establishes this bond as a commitment for life, in every sense of the term.

The building and grounds within the enclosure of the monastery are designated as private living spaces for the members of the community and serve as a physical reminder that our earthly home is here, in this place, and that our community is a family, a "domestic church."

Home and belonging, commitment and community - these important human values give shape and texture to the experience of being a person, one made in the image of God. 

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.


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