Tuesday, October 19, 2010


This October 26 would have been my Dad’s 89th birthday. When I was in seminary in Rome I always went on this day to pray for him in San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul’s Outside the Walls). Why?

Partly, I think, it’s the answer to the question: “Do you want your child educated in a Catholic HS, or in a private, high-powered prep school?” In my case, the answer was the latter—which happened, also, to be the former: I went to St Ignatius HS in Chicago, the best school in the City. My Dad was extremely insistent that I go there.

St Ignatius and his companions spent an all-night vigil in a chapel in St Paul’s in Rome, and the following morning took the vows that formed the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. I think this is my connection with that church with my Dad.

I will never forget the last time I was able to be there on his birthday. At the doors was a gypsy woman with a toddler and an infant. She was, of course, begging. And normally I flee from the gypsies for their (earned) reputation as thieves. Those following the news know that the gypsies (aka, “Roma”) are being expelled from France, for example, pretty well for this reason.

This time I promised her I’d see her when I came out of the church. And I did. And I did something I’d never done before (nor, I think, ever since)—I sat down and talked with her. I played with the toddler (perhaps 2-3 years old). And I gave her money. She asked for more; I told her (honestly) that was all I had (other than bus tickets). And this time, I didn’t give alms to a beggar—I encountered another human being (and Christ, along the way). I am convinced it was my Dad looking out for me that led me that day to use the eyes of the heart instead of only the eyes of the body.

My Mom taught me a similar lesson years later with a homeless Vietnam vet at an interstate exit in Chicago (Damen and I-55, if you know the City)… And my cousin Tim taught me the same lesson some weeks ago (interestingly, at the same exit).

I am heading to Rome next week—I may not make it to St Paul’s on 10-26, but I’ll be there one day, one way or another. What will I see? What will I do?

Mom, Dad: pray for me: make me stronger; make me better.


  1. I have learned, through my life’s journey that gypsies, beggars, and thieves, come in many forms. Unfortunately, they are not always as obvious as the young woman you encountered outside of the Church. They come in many forms, the alcoholic/addict, the widow, the single mother, the high school dropout, the jobless, and yes, even the well –to-do business man. They are not always begging for money or stealing material goods; many times they are seeking the intangibles. I should know, I was one of them.

    The call to meet their needs is the same. Father David, you have told me personally, and through your teachings, that I am to “be Jesus, and see Jesus” in each person I meet. The young woman you spent time with that day in front of the Church encountered Jesus, through you. The money you gave her was soon gone, but the time you invested in her will be with her through eternity. At the same time, you were blessed. You will never forget your encounter with her or her children.

    We are often filled with fear when approached by a “gypsy” or even at the thought of reaching out to someone “different” than we are. Many times these fears are legitimate because of the outcomes, so wisdom is crucial. (CSS is a wondamous thing!)

    There is no doubt that your father was an instrumental in that moment. I feel sure that he is guiding your heart toward the next encounter you will have.

  2. Michael CastanzaOctober 20, 2010 9:44 AM

    Thanks for the insights and personal stories.
    Dads are so important on earth and in Heaven.