Category Archives: Life in the Spirit

A New Stage in My Journey

The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. The old life is left behind and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of the realm of the finite and into the realm of infinite possibilities.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Following God’s call is an amazing adventure, one that often has many unexpected twists and turns. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many examples of people who started serving God in one way, only to discover that He was calling them to serve Him in another.

St. Francis of Assisi heard God’s call and interpreted it as a call to rebuild the church of San Damiano. God eventually made it clear that He wanted him to do more than that: He was calling him to help rebuild the universal Church by founding the Order of the Friars Minor.

St. Theresa of Calcutta felt the call to be a missionary and joined the Sisters of Loreto. However, after years of teaching with them, she felt the call at the age of 36 to leave and found the Missionaries of Charity in order to serve the poorest of the poor.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini initially felt called to be a missionary in China, but when she sought the advice of Pope Leo XIII, he said to her “not to the East, but to the West.” She then directed her missionary zeal to tirelessly caring for the Italian immigrants in the United States where she founded numerous schools, orphanages, and hospitals.

God has the big picture of our lives, and from all eternity He calls us to be happy with Him here on Earth and forever in Heaven. He knows us even better than we know ourselves, and so He knows even better than we do what will make us happy. He calls us to that happiness and He leads us in a way that is respectful of our freedom and our limited ability to understand His plan.

Sometimes, He may lead us in one direction, only later to call us in another. Such changes are not indicative of misinterpretation or misunderstanding on our part: they are simply part of a bigger plan. Sometimes, to get us to point B, God has to move us towards point C for a little while. Sometimes, to move us forward, He lets us go one way, knowing that when the time is right, He will redirect us in another.


From a young age, I have felt a strong desire to dedicate myself entirely to evangelize and to proclaim the Gospel—to bring God’s peace and love to a world so full of noise and dissatisfaction. That desire led me to pursue the priesthood, first in a religious order and then with the Archdiocese of New York. Over the years, as I have come to know myself better, my view of God’s call has sharpened and come into focus. I have gradually realized that God is indeed calling me to dedicate myself entirely to spreading the Good News, but not in the way in which I initially understood the call. He is calling me to be much more involved with the secular world, in a way that is not typically possible for a ministerial priest.

One of my favorite novels is Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The youngest brother, Alyosha, is a novice in a monastery, under the guidance of the saintly Fr. Zossima. Shortly before his death, Fr. Zossima calls Alyosha to his bedside and directs him to leave the monastery. He says, “This is what I think of you, you will go forth from these walls, but will live like a monk in the world. You will have many enemies, but even your foes will love you. Life will bring you many misfortunes, but you will find your happiness in them, and will bless life and will make others bless it — which is what matters most.”

These words have resonated with me: “to live like a monk in the world.” While I strongly desire to serve God and bring His Gospel to others, I have discovered that the particular circumstances and disciplines of the priesthood, although necessary and fruitful for some, are not the best for me. For this reason, I have decided to leave the pursuit of the priesthood in order to explore how I may “live like a monk in the world,” that is, how I may live a deep spiritual life while actively engaged as layperson (either single or married) in the secular world. I want to live more deeply what I have written about on this blog: I want to live “silence in the city” and to “find peace in the city of man”, and I want to help others to do the same.

I have left the seminary and will begin a job in Manhattan later this month. I look forward to volunteering at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in SoHo, and I look forward to seeing where the Holy Spirit leads next!


I have been writing on this blog for almost three years, and I would like to thank all of you who have joined me on my journey by reading my posts. Once I am settled into my new life, I hope to start a new and upgraded blog, which I will be sure to announce on this one. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your prayers. Please count on mine.

“Divine Puns”: Learning to Hear God’s Voice in Coincidences

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that coincidences are spiritual puns, and in my own experience I have come to see that they do indeed make up a major part of God’s vocabulary. My life has been punctuated by numerous coincidences (some small and others astounding), and I have learned that many of them are heavenly whispers – invitations to slow down from the frantic pace of daily life and turn one’s ear heavenward. If you pay them attention, you will hear God’s voice quietly guiding you.

One such coincidence happened a few years back when I was trying to decide on a thesis topic for a master’s degree in philosophy – I was on the fence between writing on artistic beauty or on another theme. While deliberating in front of a computer one evening in my seminary’s look-out basement, I happened to glance up at the tiny window just in time to see it perfectly framing a beautiful full moon. The chances of everything aligning correctly for such a perfect picture right at the moment I looked up were extremely small, so it occurred to me that perhaps it was a sign to nudge me in the direction of beauty. I decided accordingly and launched on an analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics that proved to be a crucial intellectual adventure and one of the most worthwhile and enriching projects I have ever done.

Having learned to pay attention to coincidences like this one, I have been thinking and praying about a small coincidence that took place this past New Year’s Eve while visiting a friend in Utah. That evening, I watched Interstellar for the first time. One of the most powerful scenes of the movie is when the astronaut Joe Cooper leaves his family farm to embark on a mission from which he may never return. As he drives away in his truck, a male voice counts down the seconds as if he were about to takeoff in a shuttle, highlighting the fact that his journey into the unknown was already beginning as he drove his pickup between cornfields.

The coincidence came when the movie ended and my friend and I realized that it was exactly 11:59 – the last minute of 2015. As we counted down the seconds to 2016, it struck me that our countdown was not all that different from Joe Cooper’s. Every new year is a great unknown, and taking it on is always an adventure in itself.

After the countdown, we walked out into the frigid winter night to see the fireworks going off in the neighborhood. I recalled where I was a year ago that moment: on a seminary roof in Rome watching fireworks shoot up from piazzas all over the city. Little did I know that the unknowns of 2015 would bring me out of my religious order in the Eternal City back to the States and into the seminary program of Archdiocese of New York. God works in mysterious ways.

Living life fully is not forcing things to happen by ourselves; it is riding the wave of opportunities that God sends our way, and learning the recognize the coincidences and other signs that indicate them.

So what will 2016 bring for me? If all goes well, I will finish my pastoral year at St. Benedict’s Parish in the Bronx and move into the seminary in August where I will live full-time to complete the last three years of theology that stand between me and the priesthood. Besides that, only the Holy Spirit knows! Stay tuned to see.

Getting Things Done…with God

Dear friends,

The holidays are here, along with the temptation to exhaust ourselves trying to make them “perfect.” I would like to re-share with you this lesson God taught me some years ago about the importance of not allowing ourselves to be enslaved to our to-do lists. I hope you find it helpful.

Sincerely,
Eric

God-Lights

Growing up Air Force:

I grew up in an Air Force family, so I always lived near or on a military air forcebase. My childhood took place underneath the roaring engines of F-16’s and the whirring propellers of C-130’s; my friends were officers’ children, and all of us were marked in one way or another by the military ethos of our parents.

Growing up, most of the men I knew were either engineers or pilots, all very driven individuals whom I admired a great deal (my father especially). I loved their discipline, dedication, resourcefulness, and efficiency. I loved going on base and watching the jets take off and seeing the airmen running here and there, fulfilling their respective missions. Even though I was just an “Air Force brat” (as we were humorously called by our parents), I liked to think that I was a part of the team; I always felt at-home on base and dreamed of…

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Explosion of Love: the Holy Spirit in Your Life

Back-of-Chair-of-St-PeterOne of my favorite works of art here in Rome is Bernini’s Chair of Peter. This masterpiece employs a variety of media in typically Baroque fashion: the chair and the Fathers of the Church are made of bronze, the Holy Spirit is alabaster, and the angels surrounding the Holy Spirit are gold stucco.

In an equally Baroque manner, it portrays dramatic motion that breaks through the barrier between art and reality and comes into our space. The Holy Spirit appears to be exploding  into the Basilica with amazing power: the angelic figures surrounding it are blown back from the dove, even as some try to go towards it.

A Gentle Wave

a-surfer-rides-a-powerful-wave-off-the-north-shore-of-maui-island-1Although the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as “Gentle Guest of the Soul”, his gentleness in no way diminishes his power, and I can say that from personal experience. Although he never forces himself upon us and always awaits our consent, as soon as we give it, he does indeed feel like an explosion as all of his divine energy is manifested in our lives.

I like to think of life in the Spirit as surfing, but with one big difference: as powerful as this “wave” is, it protects and cares for us, never letting us fall or topple. The Holy Spirit is mighty, yet gentle. While he can amaze and disconcert, perhaps making us a little nervous, he never harms us and he always looks out for our personal well-being.

Explosion into my Life

The first time that the Holy Spirit exploded into my life was not long after I received the sacrament of confirmation at the age of 14. Although at the time I barely knew what I was doing, looking back there is no doubt that confirmation marked a major turning point in my life.

BBDiacOrdin2010575-NAC-Magazines-conflicted-copy-2012-01-29With my confirmation began an amazing series of events (material for a whole other blog!) that led me to make a radical, life-changing decision, one that I attribute to Holy Spirit: I decided to leave home to enter a minor seminary.

It was a huge decision, and people have asked me whether I was ready to take such a step. All that I can say is that, despite my age, I was entirely convinced – I simply knew it.  Beyond any doubt, I was certain that God was calling me to the priesthood, and this conviction has remained undiminished for the past 15 years.

My journey since then has been an amazing one: it has been one long explosion of the Holy Spirit. He has taken me to places I never dreamed I would live and had me do things that I never dreamed I would be able to do, all along purifying me and drawing me closer to himself. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, learned new languages, and met amazing people.

Exploding through the Centuries

On Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit burst into the lives of the Apostles and poured himself upon the infant Church. It was the beginning of one big explosion that has lasted for almost two millennia. From Pentecost onward, each of the Apostles was caught up in the Holy Spirit and led to do incredible things, everything that Christ had promised them before his Ascension in Heaven:

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up deadly serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.  They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.  – Mark 16:17-18

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. – John 14:12

pentecost-canadaWe have to realize that as members of the Body of Christ, we are a part of this same explosion of the Holy Spirit into the world and into history. Even though we are human beings constricted by time and space, the Holy Spirit transcends these limitations and does amazing things through us. When we open ourselves to his action, we should not be surprised when amazing things start happening.

Getting Things Done…with God

Growing up Air Force:

I grew up in an Air Force family, so I always lived near or on a military air forcebase. My childhood took place underneath the roaring engines of F-16’s and the whirring propellers of C-130’s; my friends were officers’ children, and all of us were marked in one way or another by the military ethos of our parents.

Growing up, most of the men I knew were either engineers or pilots, all very driven individuals whom I admired a great deal (my father especially). I loved their discipline, dedication, resourcefulness, and efficiency. I loved going on base and watching the jets take off and seeing the airmen running here and there, fulfilling their respective missions. Even though I was just an “Air Force brat” (as we were humorously called by our parents), I liked to think that I was a part of the team; I always felt at-home on base and dreamed of one day being an officer like my father.

Even though God had different plans for me, I joined the seminary with a lot of the values that I picked up by osmosis in my childhood milieu.  Thanks to my military father and my dedicated mother, I had been brought up to be a man who took his job seriously and disciplined himself to get things done. “Make it happen!” my dad would tell me when he assigned a task: no excuses were accepted – just a job well done.

Learning to Work with God

Now that I look back, I am very grateful for the high standard that my parents held me to because it prepared me for the real world; but I am even more grateful for the faith they imbued me with. They gave me a solid human foundation upon which grace can act, and they gave me the faith needed to be open to grace in the first place. The challenge left to me was learning how to rely on God while not relying too much on myself and my own virtue.

One day, during my pastoral internship in New York, I learned a lesson that taught me that every time you put God first and your own productivity second, it pays off. It was a busy day for me; I was in Midtown Manhattan running around fulfilling different assignments that my boss (a very energetic priest) had assigned me. My errands took me to the Upper East Side which I got to via subway.

As I came up out of the stop at 68th and Lexington Ave, a thought came to me: “Why don’t you take a break to pray a little while at St. Vincent Ferrer’s?” St. Vincent’s is a gorgeous Neo-Gothic church68th (my favorite in the city actually), and on any other day I would have been very happy to stop in and pay Our Lord a visit, but this particular day, I had way too much going on. I had an appointment 10 blocks north of the subway stop, so I was not too keen on walking three blocks in the opposite direction.

But after thinking about it for a moment, I made a quick “what-the-heck” decision and went to pop into the church. As soon as I walked in, I was happy to be there. St. Vincent’s interior is beautifully decorated with exquisite wood carving and impressive Gothic stonework. The light that filters through the blue stain glassed windows fills the apse, sanctuary, and nave with a calming aura. As the doors closed behind me, the traffic noise became a distant buzz and I allowed myself to be engulfed by the peaceful ambiance of my favorite urban oasis. I knelt down before the Lord, placed my head in my hands, and put my problems and worries into His.

St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church
St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church

After some time of calming serenity, I took my leave and stepped outside. As I left, I remembered that I had been asked by the priest to call someone who lived outside of the city. Walking down the front steps of the church, I pulled out my phone and started looking for her number in my contacts list, but as I was doing so, I heard someone call my name.  I looked up, and, believe it or not, the very person whom I was about to call was walking towards me!

Now, just think about it for a moment. I was in the middle of a city with over 8,000,000 inhabitants, and I just happened to bump into someone who did not usually go to the city in the first place. On top of that, I bumped into her just as I was about to call her! If I had stayed inside the church just a little longer, I would have missed her completely, as would have happened if I had not visited the church at all. The chances of us meeting at that exact moment were infinitesimal.

With that providential coincidence, God taught me a valuable lesson: give Him priority, and He will get things done for you. I gave Him a little bit of my time, and He did not ignore the small sacrifice. He is never outdone in generosity, so He made things a little easier for me that afternoon by saving me a phone call.

Rich Dividends

Prayer is a reward in itself, but we should not be surprised when God chooses toimage reward us for it. The next time you pass by a church, take a moment to step inside and greet the Lord, no matter how busy you may be. Have no doubt: in one way or another, your small time investment will yield rich dividends!

Shepherding in Cassock

When I donned the cassock for the first time as a novice, it took me a while to get used to it. Believe it or not, going up and down stairs without tripping on the hem was a challenge at first, but, after some practice, I mastered the technique. It also took

Two confreres and I in cassock in Piazza Navona
Two confreres and I in cassock in Piazza Navona

a while to get used to being in a formal uniform almost all the time. The cassock is not supposed to be worn for outdoor physical activity, but on a few occasions, I have had to make exceptions, like the night of Pope Francis’s election when I ran full-speed in cassock to get a spot in St. Peter’s Square.

Not long ago, I found myself making another exception. Our seminary is located on the outskirts of Rome, where fields and open spaces are much more common than they are in the historic center. By Italian law, sheep are allowed to graze on any unused field, so the local flock frequently helps itself to the grass on the periphery of our property.

From time to time, I have come across the flock and spoken with the shepherd, who is a very nice broad-faced fellow. As his sheep graze, he likes to sit in the shade and talk on his cell phone, but he is always accompanied by a pack of Maremma Sheepdogs, Border Collies, and assorted mutts who bark at anyone who even thinks of getting close to the flock. He tells me that he tends about 600 sheep who are all doing well, grazie a Dio.

image

After lunch one day, I was walking down by the fields with a confrere when we suddenly heard bleating. We looked down and saw a lamb that was separated from the rest of the flock by at least 300 yards. The shepherd and dogs were nowhere to be seen  (quite unusual), so, being the kind-hearted seminarians that we are, we decided to guide the lost lamb back to the flock.

We did not want to pick up the lamb for fear of dirtying our cassocks (this turned out to be a very prudent decision, since the lamb let loose a couple of times), so we both positioned ourselves behind to guide him in the direction of the other sheep. The idea was to slowly move towards the flock, forcing the lamb ahead of us.

It turned out to be easier said than done. Every couple of yards, the lost lamb would do an about-face and run directly away from  flock, forcing us to re-position ourselves and try again. This went on for quite some time until we finally got the lamb close enough to a ewe that was not far from the edge of the flock.

Cane_Pastore_Abruzzese_Abruzzo
Maremma Sheepdog

Reflecting a little later on this event, it occurred to me that perhaps God was trying to teach me a lesson for my future ministry as a shepherd of souls. My experience with the lost lamb was similar to what Christ goes through with his own lost sheep. When we stray, he positions himself to gently guide us back, but often we stubbornly run in the opposite direction. He always respects our freedom; he never grabs us nor forces us to go the right way. But he doesn’t give up – he loves us too much for that. He stands by us, reminding us through our consciences that we are straying. If we return, his joy is more than we can imagine.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. – Luke 15:7

imageAs I was thinking this over in the little chapel by my room, I realized a very interesting coincidence: the Gospel passage during the community mass that morning had been  the parable of the Good Shepherd in Luke 15!

I took that as a sign that my experience of shepherding was not an accident…and that in the future, I will be doing more of it, albeit in a slightly different way.

Surfing with the Spirit: Two Lessons Learned on California’s Coast

Surf’s Up!

SurfingI have lived most of my life east of the Mississippi, but two of my best summers were spent on the West Coast, in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. Naturally, no one can be so close to the coast without going to the beach, so during those summers I spent a lot of my down time enjoying the sun, sand, and surf – although I enjoyed the latter less than the former two. My first time at a California beach, I enthusiastically went clad in a wet suit and armed with a surfboard, quixotically thinking that I would be able to surf by the end of the day. Little did I know.

Surfers have developed a rich vocabulary for describing different nuances of their pastime, one of which is a noun-turned-verb: “to pearl”. I am not sure of its etymology, but I soon became all

"Pearling"
“Pearling”

too aware of its meaning.  “To pearl” is to lose one’s balance while on top of a wave in such a way that the front of the surfboard tips downward depositing the surfer and board into the trough below. As you can imagine, the higher the wave, the deeper the trough, the more painful the impact – especially with a 6-foot surfboard attached to your ankle. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time “pearling” and ended my day with numerous bruises and a new appreciation for the power of the Pacific Ocean.

Letting Go

Thankfully, God uses even painful and humiliating circumstances to speak to us, and my failed effort to surf was no exception. What he was trying to say came clear to me as I read the following quote from Fr. Walter Ciszek:

By renouncing finally and completely all control of my life and my future destiny, I was…freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul.

Fr. Ciszek was an American Jesuit priest who lived as a clandestine

Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. I highly suggest his books "With God in Russia" and "He Leadeth Me".
Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. I highly suggest his books “With God in Russia” and “He Leadeth Me”.

missionary in the Soviet Union from 1939 until 1963.  The challenges that he faced are enough for a whole other blog (hopefully to be written in the near future), but for now I will just say that the piece of wisdom written above came to him only after many years of incredible hardship and frustration that brought him to the brink of despair more than once. All he wanted to do was bring people closer to God, yet everywhere he turned, he was rebuffed. It was not until he realized that the success of his work was up to God, not him, that he finally found peace. When he finally let go, he found serenity and freedom.

So, what does this have to with surfing? The image that Fr. Ciszek uses of “floating serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence” seemed to me a pleasant alternative to my unsuccessful attempts to harness the Pacific tide on top of a surfboard. My time at the beach, I realized, would have been so much more peaceful and enjoyable if I had let go of the unrealistic dream of learning how to surf in a single day. Sure, if I had the time and money, I could have hired an instructor and learned how to surf, but that was beyond my possibilities. I should have simply let go and enjoyed what God had seen fit to give me: a beautiful day at the beach.

Letting God be God

I experienced the positive side of this lesson late in my last summer in California. Desiring a personal retreat day, I got into the car and drove down CA – 1 to Point Lobos State Reserve, a beautiful seaside park about an hour and a half south of the Bay Area. I spent the day hiking around the gorgeous coves that can be found there, admiring the abundance of marine wildlife. The reserve includes a massive kelp forest around which a diverse ecosystem flourishes. Besides a wide variety of sea birds, I saw a large number of sea mammals as well, including seals, porpoises, sea lions and sea otters.

I enjoyed watching the animals (especially the playful otters), sea_otter_raftbut I had been hoping to see whales more than anything else. I had seen orcas before at Sea World, but I really wanted to see the massive humpbacks that dwell along the West Coast. I got fixated on this desire and started thinking of ways to make it happen, even considering the possibility of spending money to go on an overpriced whale-watching boat. But as I was getting worked up trying to force things to happen, I remembered Fr. Ciszek’s quote about letting go and trusting in God’s providence. Why ruin my day worrying about something beyond my control? If God wanted me to see whales, He would arrange it!

So, I let go of that desire and I settled down to enjoy what was already more than enough: beautiful weather, beautiful animals, and a whole day to myself. Finding a nice ledge to sit on, I got out my binoculars to watch a large colony sea lions, which turned out to be quite entertaining. Male sea lions are very protective of their harems, so they are always looking around suspiciously, barking at and bumping into any male who gets too close. As I was enjoying the spectacle, and thanking God for the opportunity to enjoy His creation, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Grabbing my binoculars, I scanned the horizon and, sure enough, I saw a big spout:A humpback whale is seen near the coast of Mazatlan a humpback whale! It got closer and closer until it was within 300 yards of where I was sitting, moving along with slow majesty. It turned out to be the first of a whole of pod, so I ended up getting a close look at 10 in total. Someone who was sitting nearby looked at me with amazement and said, “They never come in this close!”

So, I learned that if you stopped worrying and just let God be in control, He will take care of everything – even the small little things that make us happy. As it says in Psalm 37:

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

Just Let God Love You!

We waste too much energy trying control the uncontrollable when all we have to do is relax and let God love us. The next time you feel yourself getting anxious and tense about something, say a prayer and leave the rest to God. Do what is within your sphere of influence, but then forget about everything else. You will be

Floating serenly
Floating serenely

surprised at how well things will turn out when you give God room to act! He really does all the work; all you have to do is  “float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul”. That’s how much He loves you.