Because of Cesareo

Because of Cesareo August 27, 2009

I imagine that all of us have angels in our lives. We may not see them, but I imagine it’s hard to escape their influence.

Not all angels are dressed in shimmering white. Not all of them have wings. Some are bossy (the archangels), some whisper and flutter. Some fight (Michael). Some fall (Lucifer). The whole business of angels is complicated. One of the most significant angels in my life is Cesareo Pelaez, 76 today and battling the consequences of a stroke but 37 and a regular hurricane when I first met him in 1970. (That’s Cesareo on the right in front, with my brother David, wife Katie, and daughter Marian.)

Cesareo Pelaez landed in my life when I was nineteen, during my own fall from A student at premier boarding school to C student at premier liberal-arts college. But hey, it was 1969. My wheels were spinning, even though I knew that what I wanted and needed most was spiritual direction in my life. Cesareo provided that, directly and indirectly. It’s the indirect part that led to my becoming a Catholic nearly forty years later.

For reasons too complex to entertain here (the direct part), I took several long trips in Western Europe with Cesareo. I was five years removed from dedicated service as an altar boy at my family’s Episcopal Church and, except for Christmas and Easter, and “chapel” events at the aforesaid boarding school, I had not attended church in those five years.

In Europe with Cesareo, I did not so much attend church as explore The Church, the church of his devout youth, the Roman Catholic Church. This was not on the program initially; remember, this is the indirect part. But in every city and town, it seems now in memory, Cesareo’s Catholicism, brewed up in the hothouse of Cuba in the 1930s and 1940s, bubbled to the fore, and I, the nineteen-year-old non-Catholic, learned about Catholic culture.

After a while, it was quite common for us to take in Mass at Notre Dame or Montserrat or St. Peter’s or San Damiano; it was par for the course if we stopped into a Catholic bookstore and browsed for an hour; and a day at the Prado was spent mostly in front of saints and Madonnas. We visited Lourdes three times and walked in the candlelight processions of thousands, chanting the Rosary simultaneously in three or four languages—although that does sound impossible, doesn’t it? Memory is a funny thing. We visited Assisi and gawked at the intact body of St. Clare, 800 years old but seemingly fresh and firm as a daisy. Cesareo knew the precise location of the obvious icons (the Pieta in the first chapel to the right inside St. Peter’s) and the less obvious (the Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli). We saw them all.

Thirty-five years passed. Cesareo and I worked as business partners, usually harmoniously. Each of us started our own businesses—he a world-famous magic show, me a couple of far less celebrated publishing ventures. The businesses continue to exist within a block of each other on the main street of our town. Our homes are a mile apart, also on the same street. Cesareo is my friend, my former mentor, but first and foremost one of my archangels.

I suspect that all of us who have converted to the Catholic Church can point to some Cesareos—angels who came fluttering or flying or storming into our lives, bearing, maybe in spite of themselves, the Good News.

I would not be a Catholic today without Cesareo, and for that I will be forever in his debt.


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  • Susan L

    My angel's name is Barbara. She and I became fast friends almost immediately. She had prayed to God for someone that she could lead to the Catholic Church and then along I came. (smile)The best thing I ever did was become Catholic. I fell totally and forever in love with God.

  • Anonymous

    Thirty years ago, when I was a young Anglo-Catholic mother of two, a notice appeared on our church bulletin board announcing the opening of a Catholic bookstore in a nearby suburb.I went to see it and met the woman who became my sponsor when I entered the Church six years later. Betty's patience in supplying me with reading material, and I know, her prayers, were important in my conversion. But it was her, and her other employees's, examples as ordinary serious devoted Catholics in an age of turmoil and upheaval that gave me the courage to make the move.Sal

  • Anonymous


  • Jack Flynn

    I had no idea that Cesareo was a Catholic.He once invited the students
    in our graduate course, “Theories of Personality” to be hypnotized. At
    that time my life was rather fragmented from many years on the road, a
    distortion of values—no central theme in my existence (academic,
    religious or artistic) to anchor any latent creativity. No one to love
    or be loved by; so the idea of being hypnotized inspired in me a “why
    not” attitude.

    I followed along with Cesareo’s instructions and within moments was
    transported to a calm place deep in the woods, facing a pristine lake,
    where I began to gather the materials to build a log cabin. Don’t know
    how long I was out there, but working steadily with hands and mind, I
    constructed a one room cottage, with a door, a window, a table and
    chair, a bookcase and a front porch with a rocker. When it was finished,
    I placed a painting on the wall, put some flowers in a vase and set
    them on the table. Then I stepped out onto the porch, sat down on the
    rocker, lit up a pipe and listened to bird and other nature sounds as
    the most beautiful reddish sun I had ever seen settled over the lake. A
    total peace descended upon me, engulfing my entire soul, mind, and
    body, as slowly, ever so slowly, I came back to the classroom where
    Cesareo was about his business with the other students and everything
    and everybody was as it was before I had drifted away.Two minutes could
    have passed, two days, two months or two years, I had no idea. Cesareo
    briefly acknowledged my return with a subtle, yet knowing wink and nod,
    then returned to his work, knowing full well, that he had taken me all
    the way through and back successfully.

    Two years later I was at the school checking out apartments on the
    bulletin boards in the Sullivan Building. Cesareo strode down the hall
    with his familiar theatrical flair. He walked over to me and said, “You
    have money problems?” He smiled and walked on.

    I was broke!

    Mind you. He hadn’t seen me in two years.

    Since then, I have worked with troubled teens as an Outreach Counselor, been engaged in a fulfilling theatrical career of 37 years (amateur and professional) and I have written two books and another is almost fully baked and ready to come out of the oven.

    And it all began with Cesareo Pelaez and a log cabin.

    Thank you Cesareo, or should i say, Santa Claus!

  • Jack Flynn

    I would like to share some of the wisdom that Cesareo shared with those students who not only were listening, but also had a place to put it.

    What notions do you need to let go of in order to give the love that you have?

    I know that your agreement with everyone you know
    is that life is tough and you have to be cool
    to survive.

    The defenses we create are simply the mind protecting itself—surviving against experiences that challenge its point of view.

    The mind thinks that
    being is the mind.

    Junk The Mind!

    Our beliefs about reality may have no relationship to what is actually happening.

    When we attribute cause to another person or situation,
    we become the effect of that person or situation.

    Choose to Construct those
    notions which the mind serves up survival pictures against!

    Experience it!



    The mind is pictures of events past.
    It predicts the recurrence of such events
    and survives by being right about its predictions.

    STOP your machine

    LOOK at things the
    way they are

    CHOOSE what you are!

    I have my doubts my fears and problems.
    I acknowledge that I have them.

    I let them be

    and they let me be.

    I can only know where
    I am__

    so that’s

    where I’m going.

    We humans have the knack of taking on new ideas,
    filtering them through our points of view
    and in the end, wind up using them to justify our own acts.

    When we take complete responsibility for our own dissatisfaction
    and experience it,

    it experiences out.

    Then and only then
    can we move on.