A Book Review. Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits

Michael Harter, SJ, ed. Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits. Chicago: Loyala Press, 2004. 194 pages.

I enjoy sitting with a spiritual director once a month: someone who, by a ministry of listening, helps me to discern how to deepen my relationship with God and thus be open to God’s work in those around me. I always find a burning desire to know the presence of God even better bubbling up in me. I wondered aloud about whether Jesus’ depth with God in his quiet times allowed him to know when and how to offer healing (which is another passion of mine). My director’s eyes twinkled as he said to me: “That sounds like something to explore over the summer!”

I found Hearts on Fire used at ABC Books in Toronto. As I flipped through the hundreds of prayers and aphorisms in this little volume, I was deeply and spontaneously moved, almost to tears. The prayers in this book can be used individually, of course, but are also grouped as sources for reflection when doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, one of the central practices of the Jesuit tradition. “Big names” like Ignatius or Teilhard de Chardin sit alongside parish priests and scholars of whom I’ve never heard, but all of whom express a deep desire for Jesus (sometimes with the help of his mother) to be the centre of their lives.

The book is also useful for very short introductions to the Four Weeks of the Exercises and an Ignatian way of contemplation focused on the reading and praying of Scripture. There are also forms for praying at the end of the day (the Examen) and litanies that might be adaptable for those who lead public prayers in Christian worship.

Even given the sampling of prayers I have seen over the last week or so, this book is well-worth its cover price ($12.95 US), though (thank you Lord!) I got it cheaper. If you are looking for a simple help for your own prayer life, or if, like me, you have a sense of being drawn to know Jesus even better, I hope you will consider this book. Deep learning and intellect combine with deep spiritual passion in ways that are deeply mysterious and satisfying–you don’t need very much, but it goes a long way.

There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a monk who went to his abbot to seek advice about his goals in the spiritual life. Prayer and fasting were wonderful, but…why this call from the depths? The abbot stood up and raised his hands to heaven, and suddenly his fingers were like flames of fire. And this was his challenge to his brother: “Why not become all flame?”

Why not, indeed? There are times in my life when I have exactly the conversation I need to stir the abbot’s challenge once again. Maybe, like me, you will find your own life stirred to “become all flame” by the prayers of Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits.


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