A Heart on Fire:
Minh-Hoang Le, SJ
My first impulse to join the Society of Jesus emerged when I was an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Through encountering a Jesuit, I learned about Jesuit missionaries like St. Francis Xavier, Matteo Ricci, and St. Edmund Campion. These Jesuit missionaries illuminated the rich history of the Society of Jesus and exemplified for me the missionary zeal. They also served as the point of my attraction to the Society of Jesus.
Recently, I gave a talk to a group of student retreat leaders at Loyola University Chicago, where I am currently doing my first studies, the stage of Jesuit formation that involves immersing oneself in philosophical studies and inquiry. The talk I gave centered on the deep and durable desires that can point a person to God’s voice and invitation. Upon sharing with the students this core aspect of Ignatian spirituality, I began to reflect once again on the desires that led me to the Jesuits.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to live and serve in Northeast India. I never thought the missionary zeal that first drew me to the Society of Jesus would begin to take form and shape there.
Getting to Northeast India was no easy task. After all the flights, driving, and sweating, I reached my destination, a remote jungle village called Maweit. I was greeted by the sound of bugs, seemingly endless rain, and the angelic voices of simple, loving kids who would be the source of my joy in Northeast India.
Maweit is in Meghalaya, one of the seven states in Northeast India. The Jesuits and the Missionary Sisters of Christ Jesus run a school of roughly 600 students there. The students come from very poor backgrounds; most of them are the first members of their families to receive schooling. My work involved teaching these students and, during my spare time, playing soccer with the boys and basketball with the girls. The girls were quite good at basketball!
The students were a talented bunch, particularly when it came to music. They sang many hymns at Mass, but one in particular resonated with me. Titled “Deep Within My Heart,” the song’s chorus carries these beautiful words: “So I leave my boats behind/Leave them on familiar shores/Set my heart upon the deep/Follow you again, my Lord.” As I write these lyrics, I can hear the children singing. On my last day with the students, I asked them to sing me this song, and their voices moved me to tears.
I guess this is what it means to be a Jesuit and a missionary: to leave what is familiar, to cast into the deep and sometimes distant places, but more importantly, to receive the abundance of Christ. In this simple, remote place, I felt the deep missionary zeal that first drew me to the Society of Jesus. In this small school, I received a more tender heart for God’s people.
A week before I left Maweit, one of the students asked me, “Are you happy here, brother?” I have sat with this question, and I can say that I am happy to be a Jesuit. I am filled with joy as I walk this life with Christ, wherever he leads me.
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