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.