Since the election of Pope Francis, I have seen and heard the word “Jesuit” in both secular and religious media outlets more often than in the previous decade combined! There is a renewed interest in who Jesuits are and in what we do. There is a hunger for the Spiritual Exercises of our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. There is a palpable excitement among Jesuits, especially young Jesuits, to serve the needs of the Church and the world. All of this is just part of a renewed energy for the work of the New Evangelization.
One way to offer a wide range of people the opportunity to meet Jesuits and to learn something about the Spiritual Exercises—which is part and parcel of the New Evangelization—is for Jesuits to go on the road in teams or “mission bands,” offering retreats based on Ignatian spirituality.For the past four years, I have helped to found and direct a ministry called Hearts on Fire. It is a retreat program of the U.S. national office of the Apostleship of Prayer. [The New Jesuit Review has published an article on the Apostleship of Prayer which can be found here.] Teams of young Jesuits travel throughout the U.S. and abroad offering young adults (aged 18-39) weekend retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises and the daily spiritual practices of the Apostleship of Prayer. The retreats include talks, periods of prayer, and discussions that cover elements of the first and second weeks of the Exercises.
Also included are the practice of praying a morning offering, the Ignatian evening examen, the Pope’s monthly intentions, and learning what the Apostleship of Prayer calls “living the Eucharist:” offering lives of loving service to others as Jesus offers himself to us daily in the Mass. All of this is informed by the love of the Heart of Jesus, a Jesus who wants to set our hearts on fire with a love like his.This retreat program arose out of a desire of younger Jesuit priests and scholastics (seminarians) to work together apostolically, and to share the wealth of the Exercises with young people who may not be part of Jesuit institutions like high schools, universities, parishes or retreat houses. In order to complement these apostolates—in which people “come to us” for what we have to offer—we wanted to renew the Jesuit tradition of a ministry in which “we come to you.” A typical Hearts on Fire retreat is hosted at a parish in a local diocese, and young adults are invited to come from the whole surrounding area.