St. Francis of Assisi is widely (though apparently inaccurately) believed to have said “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary use words.” Whether or not he said these words, he certainly lived them, which kind of proves the point. And if Francis were around to make the point today, he might even make it with YouTube.
If the Gospel is to be credible, it has to be lived—and has to be presented to others as livable in the real world. For the last few summers, a new Jesuit initiative, the Hearts on Fire young adult retreat, has been trying to do just that. Instead of a traditional retreat made in seclusion at a retreat house, Hearts on Fire that comes into the heart of the city, meeting people where they are, and offering them a chance to pray and reflect over the course of a weekend. Here’s what some of the retreatants had to say about the experience.
As Jim Martin explains here, Hearts on Fire is a reboot of the classic Jesuit “mission band” — itinerant preachers travelling to preach retreats at parishes. The retreats, sponsored by the Apostleship of Prayer, also (re-)introduce devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the “heart on fire.”
Last summer, as I worked on the East Coast tour of the mission band, I faced the challenge of making Ignatian spirituality accessible and credible. In one of his meditations, Ignatius appeals to the way he expects a (16th century) retreatant to feel about a king summoning his subject: excited, invigorated, moved to respond. Where do we find that experience today? YouTube:
That adrenaline rush, that burning of the heart, even if inspired by Braveheart and Free Willy — that’s the energy Ignatius would have us bring to our encounters with God. And making it believable, making it possible for other people to imagine it: that’s the task for those of us blessed to have felt it already. And for that I’ll use YouTube or anything else ready to hand.
Hearts on Fire is touring the South this summer: Corpus Christi starting today (Friday), and then New Orleans, Tampa, and Atlanta in the succeeding weeks. If you’re near one of those places, check it out – and if you know anybody near any one of those places, well, that’s what the like, tweet, and share buttons are for.