BRIDGEPORT– Bishop Caggiano learned one of the most profound lessons of his life from a homeless man, but the lesson was a kind of comeuppance that rerouted his way of thinking about the poor and his spiritual life.
In his homily at the noontime Mass celebrating the beginning of the new pastoral year for Catholic Center employees, the bishop said that service is not simply helping others, but learning to see them and respect them as children of God.
Speaking to 70 employees who gathered for the Mass and luncheon that followed, the bishop said that after graduating from college he worked briefly as a sales rep for McGraw Hill, and his commute often took him to the tunnel between 47th and 50th Streets in Manhattan, where the F train stops below Rockefeller Center.
In his desire to be a good Christian, each time he passed the homeless man who lived in the tunnel, he would give him $1.
“I was happy with myself,” he recalled, but he then grew to understand that there was a smugness and complacency to his spirituality, because he left one very important thing out of the encounter—he never asked the man his name!
The bishop said that after he was ordained and was serving as pastor of St. Dominic Church in Bensonhurst, the man’s face returned to him when he was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament.
“His face appeared to me vividly, and I wanted to address him, but realized that I’d never bothered to ask his name. I had seen him as the world saw him—as a problem to be solved, not a man with a name and a life.”
The bishop said the realization embarrassed him but expanded his spiritual path and changed the way he saw the world.
Reflecting on the beatitudes found in the Gospel of Luke, the bishop said the Lord teaches that those who are physically poor and afflicted are closer to God because they are unencumbered by wealth or privilege. In that sense, they are freer and more open to God’s gifts.
He said the Gospel has an important message for Catholic Center employees as they go about serving the poor through their ministries and social programs.
The bishop told employees that the renewal of the diocese and the larger Church will be found in the understanding that we are called to be servants of servants and to see each other as brothers and sisters.
“We come together not as an institution but as one family, and that means those who are entrusted to our care must be seen as the Lord sees them. God sees authority as service, not as power.”
The bishop said the homeless man helped him to grow spiritually, and that if he gets to heaven, he will have one question to ask the homeless man, who will surely be there, “What is your name?”