This month, we’re starting a new feature showcasing the young men and women in our Young Adult Ministry. The idea is to meet the people, the individuals who make up Ministry. You’ll learn a lot about them, and appreciate the variety of personalities who share a commitment to the charism of the Sisters. We’re blessed to have them as part of the Sisters’ Young Adult Ministry. Eric Clayton, one of the first to join the Ministry back when it started, is our premier profile. Eric just had his first book published by Loyola Press: Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith. Read more at his website: ericclaytonwrites.com
Question 1: Tell us a little about yourself! How long have you been an active member of the Young Adult Ministry?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia and did my undergraduate work at Fairfield University in Connecticut; I studied creative writing and international studies. I spent a little under a year after graduation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, teaching English and working with Salesian sisters, better known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, in the local community. All that to say, when the chance came to work at Catholic Relief Services – a place where I could put my creative writing, interest in international studies and passion for a faith-that-does-justice to good use – I jumped on it. That’s how I ended up in Baltimore in 2013. And it just so happened that during the fall of that year, Nick Stein was forming the very first Bon Secours Young Adult retreat team in Marriotsville. I joined the team, gave a talk, co-facilitated a small group—and the rest is history. (In fact, my wife, Alli, was a leader on the second BSYA retreat!) I’ve been involved in some degree with Bon Secours Young Adults ever since—including directing our first international retreat just outside of London and serving on an international working group to grow Bon Secours Young Adults globally.
Question 2: Young Adults have many choices regarding which Young Adult Ministry they choose to be a member of. What drew you specifically to the Bon Secours Young Adults?
First and foremost, what drew me to Bon Secours Young Adults was the community. As someone new to Baltimore, I was looking for a community—folks that shared my interests and passions and could help me grow in my faith. That’s ultimately why I said yes to that first Bon Secours Young Adult retreat; I wanted to meet people with whom I could grow and learn and laugh. There’s something sacred, too, about the space in Marriotsville, something that draws people together, encourages reflection and an encounter with God’s Holy Spirit. And so I kept going back; I kept deepening my engagement with the BSYA community and in so doing I grew in my understanding of the charism, I grew as a leader in the Church and I grew in my understanding of what we, as a global Christian community, can offer the world. And the community kept growing: beyond Marriotsville, beyond Baltimore, beyond Maryland, beyond the United States.
Question 3: In your daily life, how do you see yourself carrying out the sisters’ charism of compassion, healing, and liberation?
I knew nothing of the sisters’ charism when I first arrived at Marriotsville. That first retreat was actually inspired by Ignatian spirituality, so I thought, “Hey, I know this! This is great.” But when I discovered that the sisters’ charism was both different and wonderfully complementary, I was really moved. There’s such a spiritual journey reflected in that charism: We show compassion to ourselves and others, accepting flaws and rejecting shame and in so doing we heal one another and our world—both bodily and spiritually. And from that place of healing, from that place of being made whole, we are liberated from any sense of unworthiness, any sense of debilitation, and empowered to go out and into the world as our full human selves, able to provide some unique insight or offering that God has invited us to share.
Ignatian spirituality reminds us that God is present in all things, that God our Creator desires to draw near to us, to deal directly with us, delighting in us all the while. Our God is one of compassion; we are made in the image and likeness of this compassionate Creator. And if God can show us compassion, then we should be more gentle with ourselves, with one another. That’s where it all begins; that’s where the seeds of liberation for all of creation are sown: in our own healing hearts.
I do a lot of writing in my role at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, and this truth of our faith, this foundational understanding of a God of compassion, echoes throughout my work.
Question 4: We hear you’re a published author! Tell us about your book and the motivation behind writing it!
Yes! My first book, Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith, was published in March of 2022 by Loyola Press. And it’s all about storytelling as a spiritual practice, as a path in which we heal ourselves and reconcile our world. Throughout the book, I share some of my own stories, my own grappling with who I am, whose I am and who I am called to be—and I offer some principles and insights from the Ignatian tradition that I believe to be powerful tools in constructing a spirituality of storytelling.
People have asked me what the “deepening your faith” line in the title means. It’s simple: Sharing our stories is an act of deepening faith because the sheer audacity to believe that our story—our life—is worth sharing reflects a deep trust in a God who is constantly at work in all that we are, all that we are becoming, a God who desire that we share our full selves with the world.
I wrote this book in large part for young adults, particularly those who are tempted to say, “I don’t have a story.” I’ve worked with a lot of these folks in preparation for retreats and too often when it comes time to write or deliver a talk, they freeze, believing this lie that their story isn’t “good enough.” That’s simply not true, and I hope that readers will come to understand and live that out through the reflections, stories and exercises in my book.
Question 5: If you could talk to other Young Adults who are thinking about joining a ministry, what would you say about the Bon Secours Young Adult Ministry?
Bon Secours Young Adults is a community that really concerns itself with you as a whole person. It meets you where you are and draws you deeper—deeper into relationships, deeper into an encounter with God. And this charism is so essential to the moment we are currently living in; we need to show ourselves more compassion so as to heal. We heal ourselves, our communities, our planet—and the relationships that are woven throughout. We need to be gentle with one another, break down some of these rigid structures we’ve built up around our own souls, around our communities. That’s where the liberation comes in. And I think as Bon Secours Young Adults continues to grow, continues to be this yeast in our society, the charism that undergirds it all will only prove more vital and more fruitful.
Question 6: Anything else you’d like to share?
I invite folks to go on retreat. There’s just nothing like some time in silence and prayer, some time with others who are also seeking that which is holy and sacred. If you have the opportunity, take it.