I am who I am

Father Bob Oliveira is my new “go to guy” for funny quips and quotes and amusing stories. Without shame, but with great thanks to him, I am borrowing one of his comments for this week’s column. I asked permission to use it. He humbly responded, “Go ahead, I probably took it from someone else!” 

Several weeks ago he was speaking to a group at a meeting I was attending. He asked them if they knew of St. Popeye. My head popped up as I heard the name of the saint. Did he really say St. Popeye? Popeye, the sailor man? Had this good priest fallen off his rocker? My goodness, he must have! What could he mean? I don’t remember Popeye being a saint, but I’m sure Father Bob couldn’t be wrong. So I set out to do a little more digging on this so-called saint.

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I remember Popeye with great affection during my childhood. Other characters in the series were Olive Oyl, his girlfriend, Bluto (sometimes known as Brutus), his nemesis and archrival for the love of Olive Oyl and of course Wimpy, the hamburger moocher, who constantly muttered his iconic phrase, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!” But I digress.

I’m sure you all remember Popeye the sailor man. He first appeared in the comics in 1929, not that I could verify that personally as I’m not that old! Over the years he appeared in countless comic books and on TV. In 1980 Robin Williams even portrayed him in the movie “Popeye.” In fact, in 2002, TV Guide ranked Popeye No. 20 on its “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time” list. I’m sure his cartoons are on TV even today. For those who have been to Universal Studios in Florida, there is a water ride called Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. I even hear from my friends at Sony Pictures that a new Popeye movie is still slated for development, so I’m actually ahead of my time in introducing him to you if you haven’t already met him. 

Popeye had some words of great wisdom that all could benefit from. One, of course, is to eat your spinach; but that is not the great one. And I especially disliked it when my parents would say, “If you want to grow strong like Popeye, you need to eat your spinach.” Yuck! He was also known to say, “That’s all I can stands, ’coz I can’t stands no more.” That is a sentiment that I’m guessing most of us can relate to, but what made him St. Popeye to Father Bob and now to me, was his well-known phrase, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” or actually, “I Yam what I Yam and that’s all that I Yam.” Yes, now I get it! 

I think what brought this to mind is all of the publicity lately surrounding those who have made decisions to be who they are not. You’ve surely read about them in the media. And many of us, in perhaps a much less drastic way, are trying or have tried to make ourselves out to be someone we are not. We play a role and act as others expected us to act. Sometimes we just want to be someone else, to have someone else’s life, to be anyone other than who we are. We seek peace. We seek love. We seek acceptance. And sometimes we’re willing to do anything to get it. 

I challenge you today to think of the words of “St. Popeye,” the great philosopher, when you are challenged. When you want to be someone you are not. Accept that “I am who I am and that’s all that I am.” Nothing more, nothing less. I am who God made me to be and God doesn’t make junk and He doesn’t make mistakes. We are who we are supposed to be. So don’t let that little voice inside tear you down.

A true saint, St. Paul, spoke on this very subject when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.”

So let the grace of God work within you to transform you into the person He wants you to be. 

Let’s be thankful that God, the great “I AM” created us in His image and that He lives in us. Let’s be thankful that even though we are sometimes moody, selfish or a hundred other sinful or imperfect things, that despite all of that, God loves us. And God forgives us if we only ask. And let’s be thankful that I am who I am and you are who you are, that God has chosen us as His disciples, and He calls all of us, works in all of us, and works through all of us to accomplish His will.

The simplicity of “St. Popeye’s” statement is the reminder that there is hope for all of us to be our authentic selves. Be honest with yourself. Seek help from those you trust. Listen to that positive quiet voice inside. Be yourself. Be who God created you to be. And don’t forget to eat your spinach!

Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 36 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and a fifteen-month-old grandson. Thanks Father Bob! Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net.

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