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The following speech was presented at morning assembly on January 8, 2014 by Nicole DiTolla (’14) as part of the Grad at Grad Reflection series. A Loyola Student is Becoming More Religious

When I first sat down to write this reflection, I was still trying to understand why I had been invited to speak about being “religious”. So I decided to go to the place where all questions are answered; Google. I use Google on a daily basis, so it would definitely know what “religious” is, even though it is just a bunch of algorithms. Scrolling through the 121,000,000 results that it found, I was led to the Merriam Webster page.

Religious: of or relating to religion Thank you Captain Obvious…

Religious: believing in a god or a group of gods and following the rules of a religion Okay, so that’s a little bit better…

Religious: very careful to do something whenever it can or should be done

What? How does this even make sense?

I agreed with none of these, so I decided to make my own definition. And here it goes; religious is a way of life in which someone places his/her faith into everyday habits as a member of a community of shared values. My definition has grown up with me. Throughout my life, I have been a Roman Catholic. I went to Saint Joseph’s, an independent Catholic grammar school, in Bronxville. Although I went to a Catholic grammar school, I could not have accumulated this understanding of religion without my parents. I have to give credit to them not only for dealing with me and my antics for such a long time, but for giving me the opportunity to grow up with a solid religious background. For as long as I can remember, we always went to Mass together, whether we were at home or traveling. Now, I have

to admit, at first I was not too happy about going to Mass when there was a water slide or a beach to be discovered. But I eventually came to realize that there is something about participating in a mass with a different community. Over time, I have ended up loving going to foreign masses. People of different backgrounds uniting for a weekly mass has become interesting and inviting; whether it meant celebrating a Spanish spoken Mass in the Dominican Republic, or a French spoken mass in Strasbourg, France with Emmet, Kristina, Mia, Molly, and other students from a Loyola Europe trip. Fortunately, Loyola is giving me the opportunity to experience the sacredness of religion in Italy this upcoming March. I have found comfort in knowing that anywhere we go in the world, the Roman Catholic Mass is the same. One aspect of being religious that I have only recently discovered is that a person does not just magically become religious. I never aimed to become religious; I never wished to be religious. For me, it kind of just happened when I did not notice. After hearing the message of the gospels countless times, of being compassionate and forgiving, I molded it into my personality unconsciously. Today being religious has cemented onto my personality and my way of life. One important element of being religious is having respect. A graduate at graduation has an understanding of the variety of the world’s religious traditions. When observing other faiths, one has to respect their beliefs and traditions. I have noticed that this is an incredibly hard challenge, but one has to confront this obstacle dead on. For me, this respect has only been recently recognized in a discovery of mine. Every summer, my family rents a small cottage in Madison, Connecticut. The house is situated right along the beach and the surroundings are extremely beautiful. But every year, there is this picture in my room that just stayed there. It is an odd picture, and I never had an idea about what it meant. It is a scene, somewhere, in which hundreds of people are crowded in this modern, yet ancient looking city. The people are divided by their shirt color: blue, yellow, or black. Now, some people are lined up along the street forming a path for a team of men in their yellow shirts carrying an enormous wooden looking pillar with something on the top of it, with the black team and the blue team not far behind. The most peculiar part of this picture was the saying underneath, Umbria. I would always try to make a mental note of Google-ing what this meant or what the picture was, but I always forgot. Some way or another it always slipped my mind. Have no fear

though; I stumbled upon the same picture in a TIME magazine article this year, with an explanation! After almost seventeen years I finally know what this picture means. The Race of the Saints in Italy and the United States happens on the May 15 death of the Italian Saint Ubaldo Baldassini. He is commemorated with a race through the streets by groups of runners carrying statues of Ubaldo, Saint Anthony and Saint George, each sitting atop a giant wooden pedestal. The tradition started in Gubbio, Italy — Ubaldo is the protector of the city — but it has also been adopted by the small town of Jessup, Penn., which runs an identical race every year on Memorial Day weekend. Mystery solved! Along with this article were pictures of various religious traditions. There was a picture of the Hindu spring festival, when celebrating color becomes a giant chalk/dye/water fight, as people take the streets to douse each other in bright jewel tones. There also is a picture of the celebration of the Thai New Year, which is closely tied to Buddhist prayer, and takes form of a giant country-wide water and chalk fight, designed to represent spiritual cleansing. I have come to acknowledge the various traditions of the multiple religions present in the world today. But more importantly I am able to respect them. Respect is one of the highest attribute that one can give away. It is becoming more and more difficult to respect religions in this world -- the violence that can be caused, the notions that can be expressed, and the hatred that sometimes fills the hallowed halls of the internet among other places. To be religious is to have an unqualified respect for not only your religious traditions, but others worldwide. When I have no one else to look to for strength and courage, I look upon the freshly faced pontiff, Pope Francis. Dubbed the “international parish priest” by the Italian press, it is he who has led the teachings of the Church out of murky waters and into a refreshed role. Not having been in the office a year, he has rewritten the role of the Catholic Church’s teachings worldwide. His overflowing love for every single human being is impeccable. I am inspired by his actions. He challenges me to “see God in all things”. In this time of peace that is constantly plagued by violence I have been more reliant on this philosophy. There are little moments that are directly sent to us to help our happiness. A graduate at graduation has experienced God in moments like these. For me, these moments are silly, they are sad. They range from the scary to the serene. I can be laughing so hard I start crying, I can even be laughing at a funeral. A moment can be the simple smell of coffee in the grocery store. It can

be the moment after the lightning, but just before the thunder. A moment can be when you hit the milk to cereal ratio just right. Loyola has given me the opportunity to not only experience the gift of grace in my daily experiences, but through retreats as well. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I dreaded every retreat that I went on during my past four years. Yet every retreat had a different impact. I have always walked away with an amazing and different experience. Retreats have fine-tuned my qualities of being religious. Another opportunity that has been given to be is the Examen every Thursday. This quiet reflection has given me the time to actually reflect. Time is money people. No one ever gives time out to reflect upon your day anymore. It’s a gift, trust me. You may not realize it now, but it is. God can be in the tiny moments and huge moments of our lives. The difficulty is to pay attention long enough to realize these moments. Truly, the only action I took was deciding to pay attention for once and focus on these moments, sad or silly. So take some wise advice, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” When we start to realize and look for these moments in life, then maybe we can be just a little bit happier.

Thank you.

Grad at Grad Reflection by Nicole DiTolla ('14)  
Grad at Grad Reflection by Nicole DiTolla ('14)