Each year, recent ACE graduates and second year ACE teachers are invited to join religious men and women for a vocations discernment retreat at the end of the summer. This trip has taken place from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to Chile and beyond. Last summer, the group trekked to Rome, Italy, accompanied by CSC priests and brothers and SOLT sisters. Two members of ACE 29, Lydia Heinen and Alex Lytle, graciously reflected on moments from their time on the retreat last summer. Take a few minutes to read their impressions below!
Lydia Heinen (ACE 29, Phoenix):
A priest at my Catholic Student Center in college once told me the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage. A vacation is when you travel to see a place, but a pilgrimage is when you take a journey to encounter a person: Jesus.
The community of ACErs and vowed religious on the pilgrimage were incredible. While walking in the footsteps of the earliest disciples, we exchanged testimonies and stories of how the Lord has worked in our lives. In the short five days, the 24 people walking with me became like family, and in each conversation with someone I had an encounter with Jesus.
Praying alongside the Saints who joyfully committed their entire lives to be with the Lord left me desiring to give even more of my life to Him. We saw St. Clare of Assisi, a humble nun who lived a cloistered life of prayer and devotion to the Eucharist; Blessed Carlo Acutis, a teenager with an infectious love of Christ at a young age; and St. John Paul II, a pope who believed in the faith of young people and who paved the way for the New Evangelization. The life of each saint points toward a joyful life in union with God. In the end, however, the most important encounter of each day was receiving Jesus in the Eucharist during Mass. I left the trip with a renewed sense of union with Jesus in my current vocation as a teacher , and with a fervent desire to say "yes" to whatever He calls me to next.
Alex Lytle (ACE 29, Santa Ana):
Displaced. Disoriented. Searching. Every ACE teacher is familiar with this trifecta of feelings which undoubtedly greeted them upon arrival at their new placements before their first year of teaching. While asking serious questions in an unfamiliar place can be difficult, it is these challenges that allow us to see what is truly meaningful in our lives. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to once again ask hard questions about my own life on a discernment trip in Italy last summer, i was incredibly grateful.
The wonders of Rome were as incredible as they were made out to be. However, the fruits of my trip were primarily from the feelings and questions that this pilgrimage provoked. I could not help but feel so utterly tiny standing upon ground enriched by Saints spanning thousands of years. "If I am but another small branch in the ever flourishing Kingdom of God, how can I best serve Him with my life?" was the question that kept reappearing during each chance for prayer. As the trip progressed, I also became much closer with the members of my cohort who accompanied me. It was especially inspiring to hear my peers share their faith journeys and see how they are willing to lay down their lives for Mother Church.
In my ongoing journey, vocational discernment has always been about an invitation for openness. While I am still not certain where God is calling me, I know that participating in this discernment trip allowed me to have experiences and ask questions of myself that I simply would not have been able to otherwise. Therefore, I would advise anyone who has ever been open to religious life to go and see what the spirit can do with their posture of receptivity, just as ACE teachers do with our "yes" to the service of teaching.