"When I was invited to write a Grad at Grab speech about being religious I really didn’t know what to think, because I thought that only people who are good examples of the Grad at Grad categories are asked to give the talks. I didn’t feel as if I had shown that I have a big enough religious life to be chosen for this.
But then I started to think about what being religious means to me. And I realized that even though I haven’t had a moment of speaking to God and really finding Him, I have had many moments where I have felt his love and presence.
When I was in my freshman year at Loyola I remember the way Ms. Clarke would try and push everyone to go on a service trip, and I remember thinking to myself “why would someone want to give up their break to be with people who they don’t know?” But then in my sophomore year I decided that I would give it a try because I had heard so many good things about the trips. So I went to Camden. When I first got to Camden and saw how different it is from New York although it is only a couple of hours away, I was horrified because the people live in conditions that we rarely see. The next morning we were sent out to go and do service in different parts of the city and my view of the city changed completely. Once I met and sat down with the people and started to talk to them and hear their stories, I was astonished by how happy they are, even with fewer material resources than I am used to. This is a moment when I remember feeling God’s presence. Hearing these peoples’ stories was so sad and knowing that there wasn’t really much that I could do but just be there and listen to them felt terrible. But knowing that God was there helped me get through it because even though I wasn’t making a huge change I was at least brightening up a person’s day by respecting their dignity and hearing their story – even if it was just for a couple of hours. Later that night when we got back and we started to reflect I could really feel Gods love because I felt like I helped someone and in doing so, God felt contentment with me.
Since sophomore year I have gone on more retreats and I feel as though every time I go on one I come back feeling closer to God and with a deeper connection to Him. Retreats are a time when we really get to take time out of our life to help people and connect to God through that. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of reflections, the more that I do them and think about them, I can start to see my spiritual life growing. I feel as if through my work in service I’m beginning to understand what being a woman for others truly means.
This year I decided that I would step out of my comfort zone and become an altar server at school. I didn’t really know what to expect being that I had never served in front of so many people. But as Mass progressed and I heard the homily, I felt closer to God because I felt as if I was actually serving Him by being up there.
To me being religious at this moment in my life means being able to serve God by helping people who are in need. I do believe that my spiritual life can change because I’m only sixteen years old so I still have a lot of time left. But right now I feel called by God to help people, and when I do that I feel his presence because I know that He is happy when people help others and that fulfills me with his love. Thank you."
Maria Estrada, Class of 2019