Tag Archives: Catholic

I only want to be…

I only want to be a SPP, a priest friend used to say. SPP stood for simple parish priest.

I was reminded of that when I read that Padre Pio used to say, I only want to be a poor friar who prays.

Both of those statements got me to thinking of what I want.

Growing up, I had no idea of what I wanted to be. Teachers would suggest possible careers for me—writer or teacher being two of the most popular—but those suggestions sounded beyond my capabilities. My low self-esteem was deeply ingrained.

I was not allowed to go to college after high school, and looking back, I imagine that may have been where I might have discerned my desires.

In my mid-twenties, when I was very involved in my church and attending Mass every day, many people suggested I become a nun, and I did explore that option. But again, it was not something I had always dreamed of (although I did once have a nun doll that I rather liked).

My truth was that I never thought of myself as having a dream; I don’t remember ever saying, I only want to be.…

I tell myself that lots of people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and I have learned that lots of people start out as one thing only to discover that is not what they really want after all.

Nurses become pharmaceutical sales representatives, teachers become real estate agents, and businesspeople become nonprofit leaders (or vice versa). I even know a doctor who had been an architect. Imagine all that schooling only to discover it is not what you really wanted.

I know several lawyers who discovered they did not want to be lawyers. Two are now elementary school teachers, another opened a bookstore, and another works in fundraising.

Now, deeply in the third third of my life, I can see that life plays out in ways I and many others could not have imagined. I suppose having a dream, an idea of what one wants to be, can provide a base, but sometimes that dream can get in the way of using our gifts and talents to their fullest.

Padre Pio is a good example of someone who allowed himself to become what people (and God) needed him to be—a sought-after spiritual advisor and confessor. Perhaps he imagined he would have more time for prayer, but he seems to have adapted to the needs of the people who came to him.

A neighbor recently attended a function at my work and commented that she could see that my work is more than a job. You belong to those people, she said, and they belong to you. Growing up, I may not have known what I wanted to be, but my life has worked out better than I probably could have planned.

Have you ever said, I only want to be…? Has the dream changed over time?

Creating space for the spiritual

My grandparents came from Poland, and my parents spoke Polish as their first language. They learned English in school but spoke Polish at home. Their religious training—what my grandparents handed on to them about the beliefs, customs and the rituals of their faith—was also in Polish.

Like many people who learn English as their second language, my parents spoke with an accent, and they were self-conscious about it. I don’t know what kind of ridicule they endured, but it was enough that they did not want their children to be treated as they had been, so they decided not to teach us Polish. They wanted their children to fit in and be like other Americans.

But because my parents’ faith was expressed in Polish, my religious instruction was limited to what I learned at weekly catechism classes.

I was not aware of the impact of this until I became an adult and began to see how little I knew about my faith. “I missed that lesson,” was my common response when other Catholics spoke about matters of faith. There was so much I did not know.

I did not even know how to pray the rosary!

At some point in my young adult life, though, I realized that my ignorance of Church teachings had not gotten in the way of my developing a relationship with God.


From the time I was eight years old, I knew God had called me in some special way. I seemed to see things from a slightly different angle than others, and I drew conclusions that left adults baffled. My father used to say, “You didn’t learn that in this house,” when I would offer an opinion that was shaped by my relationship with God.

Through the Sunday readings, I had gotten to know Jesus’ story well enough to feel close to him. He became a brother to me.

I loved the Palm Sunday reading of the Passion. Jesus’ anguish in the garden of Gethsemane was my anguish. His cry to God—why have you abandoned me?—was also my cry.

Jesus, like me, was an innocent victim.

Jesus got me in a way no one else in my life did, and I was so grateful for this connection. I felt like Jesus saw me and understood what I was going through, and I leaned into that relationship.

I could talk to Jesus about what was happening in my life, and I shared my fears and anxieties with him, knowing he was not going to tell anyone. I trusted him completely.

My spiritual life grew out mystery and grace, and my lived experience of Jesus drew me closer to God.

I began to go deep within myself to that space at my core where God dwelt, where God’s spirit lived as a small flame. By the time I was a teen, I could sit in silent meditation for long periods of time, happily connecting with Jesus and the Spirit of God within me.


Woe is me.com

Woe is me.com, my friend Ted dubbed this blog—wicked sense of humor. For Ted’s tastes, my posts are too personal, too revealing. Privacy mattered to Ted.

Ted and I met when I worked at the law school he attended. Our paths diverged a few years later, but our friendship withstood the distance, and for the past thirty-one years, we have been good friends, traveling companions and confidants.

He went on to become a successful lawyer and retired when he was thirty-eight to pursue his passion of owning a bookstore. Ted loved books.

When we both lived in Philadelphia, we regularly had dinner together. When we lived apart, our communication was mostly via the phone, and we chatted at least once a week.

He was a staunch Catholic who had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. He loved his family and put them ahead of everything else. He was smart, loyal and generous.

I learned a lot from Ted—about myself, my faith, family and the world.

We seemed to look at life through different lenses, and in the early years, our differences caused some issues. Over time, though, I saw that our different perspectives helped me to clarify my beliefs and become stronger and more confident. His challenging questions made me a better person.

Ted helped me to see my work in the nonprofit world as giving people an opportunity to be generous, an outlook that has kept me mission-focused. He was one of my biggest champions, and I can trace my leadership skills directly to Ted’s tutelage.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was a favorite of Ted’s, and we once met up in San Francisco to visit the places where it was filmed. We stayed at the York Hotel and connected with the film through stops at all the sites—from Muir Woods to the Golden Gate Park to the Mission San Juan Bautista.

San Juan Bautista

Other trips took us to such places as Orlando, New Orleans and Rome, Italy.

Last summer, we started planning a pilgrimage to the Southern California missions. We had already been to the missions around San Francisco, and Ted wanted to visit the rest. He thought March would be a good time. His bucket list also included the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, and a return trip to Italy.

Ted died last Sunday from esophageal cancer; we buried him on Friday. His four sisters had given him excellent care and his death was on his terms—at home and surrounded by family.

Woe is me. My heart is broken. I am bereft. No more phone calls. No more visits. No more direction or guidance. No more advice or assistance. No more challenging questions.

After so many years of this close friendship, the question that keeps running through my mind is, Who am I without Ted in my life?

While I don’t know the answer, I do know that Ted enriched my life more than I could have imagined. I have been blessed and I am deeply grateful.