Lately, I’ve been greeted with the question “How was Hearts?” Those who have been to Hearts Aflame will know that no answer fully does it justice. Hearts Aflame 2021’s theme was Rejoicing in the Cross – how fitting for the mess of 2020 and its accompanying crosses! Within the first few days of the retreat weekend at Hearts, we grappled with these sufferings to bring them to the foot of the cross and unite our hearts, and crosses, with Christ’s.
Many of you would also know that Hearts is not for spouse-spotting – even if, to the planning team’s dismay, we don’t all trust that statement. All jokes aside, I’ll admit to being one of the ladies turning up with eyes peeled for my future husband, as if God would point him out with a ray of light and angelic harmonies. Personally, 2020’s sufferings included loneliness and despair in God’s plan for me, I was feeling a bit forgotten. In first-world nations, our sufferings can often arise from spiritual poverty – our trust and dependence on God’s plan can be lacking, as mine was. Soon after arriving, I knew that a spouse was not what I would get out of Hearts, let me tell you God gave me something much better.
So, there I was in the first praise and worship session, our first Reconciliation opportunity, desiring that inner peace brought about by the sacrament. I hungered for contentment. After receiving absolution, I listened to Sister Clare talk about Christ’s joy in his suffering for us, out of love for us, and I felt a tug at my heart calling me to deeper intimacy with Christ. I felt like I had just been made whole again through confession, but He was calling for more. Now many may chuckle, but I had a resistance to giving my heart to Christ. This was because all the consecrated women and religious I know, speak of loving Christ so much that they give their lives to Him. I have a desire for marriage and a dream to raise a family, so I’ve always been hesitant to give too much of my heart to God or to love Him too much. Maybe not consciously, but deep down, I wasn’t giving Him much of a chance.
When our lives are unbalanced, we don’t always see that what we have been choosing as a remedy is actually the cause of the problem. For me it was saying that I was an introvert, and that December was super full-on for me, so now I need my space. I was avoiding a deep engagement with my friends and family and most of the relationships in my life. I felt unhappy and tired but thought that I needed my space.
One evening in adoration – after a few days of pondering this tug at my heart and call to deeper intimacy with Christ – I realised how to properly entrust my heart to God. It took His guidance and an openness on my part, to agree to hand over my whole heart. A lightness and contentment welled up inside me that evening which has been a great source of happiness for me everyday since. No more picket-fence section in my heart saying, “for husband only.” The advice to ‘be patient’ because God ‘has someone for me’ is now a happy truth for me, where in the past it held no consolation for my loneliness.
This generosity of giving my heart to Christ was echoed again in the subsequent effort I put into my friendships at Hearts. I found more energy and contentment in spending quality time engaging deeply with my friends throughout the remainder of Hearts, than I could ever have gotten from the ‘alone time’ I previously thought I needed. Hearts 2021 taught me that generosity of heart and giving of yourself in a relationship, is what dispels the loneliness and brings true joy and contentment.
As well as His love and contentment, God gave me some big dreams for my own little parish. I had never heard Bishop Michael Gielen give a talk before, but man have I been missing out! One evening, Bishop Michael expounded on the revitalisation of his home parish as a young priest and the crazy dreams which were fulfilled through dedication and generosity. At one point he said, “I know God has also put something on your hearts tonight, something big.” Just then a thought popped into my head so loud and clear as day, “I’m going help revitalise MY parish.” It was so sudden and so big a thought that it crowded everything else and it was all I could think about. It was like Shia LaBeouf yelling “Just do it!!” over and over again.
More things clicked into place. I had been admiring the Mass and the beautiful execution of the Liturgy at Hearts: the music, the enthusiasm in the singing and participation, the insightful homilies, the reverence in the ministries, and how these all made for a more authentic and more beautiful celebration of faith. Coming from Evening prayer one day I was thinking, “I wish everyone could experience this, they would be on fire for their faith and so in love with it too!” But then, why should it only be at Hearts? What is stopping every parish from being like this?
These are the questions I passionately pondered in the last few days of Hearts, and I went home with fire in my heart and an intense desire to minister to my own parish with God-given enthusiasm. A deeper prayer life and staying close to Him and His heart are vital for my strength to see it through and are vital for the strength of our Church. This desire still burns within me, and I pray that your faith and love for God burns bright as the sun within your own heart.