With the sounds of Latin chanting still echoing in my ears, the fragrance of incense on my clothes and the routine of the Liturgy of the Hours still ruling my internal clock I am back in the real world after ten days of monastic living at Hearts Aflame 2013.
Over the course of my time as DRS at a Catholic school I have been lucky to attend many, many Catholic retreats and conferences, and yet Hearts Aflame can not really compare to any of them. Part retreat, part conference, part community living it is something unique that offers food for the mind, heart and soul.
The liturgy was profound, the lectures top-class, the small group time full of wisdom, the praise and worship sessions inspiring and the opening retreat was both challenging and thought-provoking. Fr John O’Connor, who led the opening retreat described Hearts as “both demanding and inspiring” – two words which sum up my experience very accurately. Demanding in that every day began at 7am with morning prayer and ended at 9.30pm with night prayer – that’s a long day, especially when the bulk of it is spent in in-depth thought learning and prayer. Inspiring in that the learning that was taking place was extraordinary and all aimed at challenging us to meet the theme of the retreat – to go out and ”light up the darkness”.
I was expecting to spend some quality time in prayer and learning, but what was a surprise to me were the amazing people I met over the ten days. Attending the school on my own meant that for every meal time I sat with different people and it seemed that everyone I met had an incredible story to tell – a woman who writes icons, a man who will be ordained in April, a young man discerning for the priesthood, a nun who nurses the terminally ill, a woman who travels the country promoting the third order of Mary, a young woman who after four years in a convent has realised it wasn’t her vocation and has come home to start work as a barrister, a lecturer from Good Shepherd College, a youth worker, a naturopath, an electrician, a brother from the community of St John… lunch offered not only a salad smorgasbord, but also a smorgasbord of fascinating people.
The real treat of attending Hearts was just the experience of living in a Catholic ‘bubble’ for ten days. The liturgy of the hours every day, Mass every day, Confession every day, exclusively Catholic conversations and people to meet… but alas, we are called to be ‘in the world, but not of it’ (1 John 2), so now the real work begins. As we concluded our time the wonderful Brendan Malone who does an incredible job of running this event, reminded us all not to be “dead fish”. Dead fish go with the flow – wherever the current takes them, that’s where they go. He encouraged us to be purposeful, to swim against the current if that’s what needs to happen. To be proud of what we believe and to share it with others – to light up the darkness.