Over the new year I participated in Hearts Aflame Catholic summer school for the first time. This was a ten day retreat designed to form young people from all of New Zealand through seminars, discussions, a routine of liturgical prayer and of course, lots of socialising. I will do my best to give a summary of these very busy ten days including the highlights, difficulties and what I have taken away from it.
Firstly, some background to my participation in this year’s ‘Hearts’. Leading up to the event, I had been traveling overseas (as loyal readers will know!). The day before the start of Hearts, I flew back from France, a trip which took over 30 hours, with at least 23 hours in the air. This meant I started on the wrong foot, with massive jetlag and general moral and physical exhaustion. Unfortunately, this got the better of me and I caught a cold, which meant that for the first 7 days of the retreat I was far too sick to make the most of everything going on.
Despite this setback, I found Hearts to be an incredibly stimulating, encouraging and spiritually challenging time. One of its main features was the routine of praying the divine office (or liturgy of the hours) and mass each day. The ordinary day included morning prayer, mass at 11, evening prayer and night prayer, with regular evening worship events throughout the week. Funnily enough, despite mass and the liturgies being probably the most uncomfortable events while I was sick (the incense made all my symptoms far worse), these where my highlight of the retreat. This was very unexpected, as I had always imagined that being submitted to this regular liturgy throughout the day, for example as a monk, would be dull, irritating and time-consuming. However, I discovered the beauty and wisdom of the psalms and prayers, which were so important in creating a momentum of faith throughout the week. Thanks to the beautiful chants and the short yet rich format of this liturgy, they became a beautiful fibre of prayer and contemplation weaved into daily life. I have already reaped its fruits one week on, with a renewed desire to attend mass or adoration every day.
I also thoroughly enjoyed living in and amongst incredibly enthusiastic and prayerful young people. It was an edifying and encouraging experience to be aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit among people of our age in New Zealand. I also thought to myself that in fact, it only takes sixty or so very faithful, active and well-formed young people such as these to reinvigorate the church and to transform our whole country. It was also a great encouragement to be able to meet and interact with many brothers, sisters and priests from a number of religious communities, included the Beatitudes community and the brothers and sisters of St John.
Of course, there is so much more to say about these ten days of retreat, but in summary, I found Hearts Aflame an incredibly stimulating and encouraging retreat, which has already begun to bear spiritual fruit in my life and will certainly continue to do so in the coming year.