Three Jesuits, from left, seminarian John O’Brien, Father Jay Hooks and seminarian Santiago Rodriguez play music at the Hearts on Fire retreat. The Jesuit Mission Band is comprised of the five retreat presenters.
Adam Koll says the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry of the diocese provides many spiritual growth opportunities to college students and young adults.
Some might have expected the “Hearts on Fire” retreat to deliver a spiritual “Aha!” moment, but the retreat approached spirituality with a patient resolve; attendants were told that if they came looking for answers, they must first search their hearts for a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We often tell young people ‘you should pray about that’ or ‘you should take time to discern that decision’ but we don’t often show them how to pray or how to discern,” Adam Koll, Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Corpus Christi said. “That’s what this retreat is about.”
The retreat, presented by the Apostleship of Prayer, introduced young adults, ages 18-35, to the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. Our Lady of Corpus Christi Retreat Center hosted the retreat on July 6-7.
While the retreat was originally set to take place at the Newman Catholic Center near the campus of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, organizers relocated the event to Our Lady of Corpus Christi Retreat Center after registrations were double of what was expected.
Five young Jesuits led the presentations. Apostleship of Prayer Youth and Young Adult Director Father Phil Hurley, S.J. led the first and last talks. Seminarians Santiago Rodriguez, S.J. Sean Salai, S.J. and John O’Brien, S.J. led the four median talks. Father Jay Hooks, S.J., who was ordained three weeks before the event, led his first adoration as a priest on Friday evening and celebrated the closing Mass.
Father Hurley said the spiritual exercises were written by Ignatius himself and his teachings are packaged into a course that helps students answer questions of the heart. “Like an exercise book…you could read it, but you won’t get the benefits of it until you do the exercises,” Father Hurley said.
In his talk on “Ungrateful Hearts: The Consequences of Sin,” Rodriguez explored gratitude as the most important step in the spiritual journey. Ignatius taught that sin must be acknowledged, not just with our minds, but also with our hearts.
The Jesuit Mission Band, comprised of the five retreat presenters, provided music for the event. They joked that they are primarily a “missionary band” in the Ignatian sense, and they are secondarily an actual band, with guitars and a keyboard.
Rodriguez also led the third talk of the retreat, “The call of the King,” which called participants to share in the life of Christ. Rodriguez explained that just as God lives through us in the everyday events of our lives, we can also live through him. He described Jesus’s sacrificial love as wanting “to do everything for the greater glory of the Father.”
“Jesus is the source of our love, our joys,” Rodriguez said. “Our hearts are on fire the way a candle can be lit, from a source of flame. The source for the fire in our hearts is the heart of Christ.”
Salai led a guided contemplation called “Praying with the Heart.” Attendants received handouts with instructional meditations and were directed to find a quiet, comfortable place to spend an hour alone in prayer. For some, this was the most significant part of the retreat.
“Being able to spend an hour in prayer, practicing the spiritual exercises, has helped me grow in my own prayer life,” a participant wrote in a retreat feedback form. “This is the step I needed to better my relationship with the Lord.”
O’Brien and Salai led a talk on “Discernment of Spirits: Paying Attention to Movements of the Heart.” Participants learned some of the many rules Ignatius had for discernment of spirits.
According to Ignatius, not only do hearts respond poignantly to the Holy Spirit and “the enemy,” he also wrote that our feelings give us insight into God’s will. One exercise used to evaluate feelings asked participants to list the things they love.
“It was the first time I ever thought about listing what I love,” Tammy Botello said. “I was surprised at my answers.”
In his closing talk, “Sustaining Hearts on Fire,” Father Hurley described daily prayer methods for keeping hearts open to God. “The retreat gave us the tools,” Nellie Serna said, “but exploring the questions, meditations and rules is something we can all spend lots of time doing.”
For Koll, “Hearts on Fire” delivered a message he wants to relate to young adults in his ministry.
“We often intellectualize our faith, but St. Ignatius teaches us that having a relationship with God also means listening to His calling in our hearts,” Koll said. “Like any relationship it takes time to learn the language of love, and faith then is a loving response of the whole person to God. Faith is more than an intellectual assent to the truth; it is also a heart set on fire with the love of Christ.”