When I first saw him on television, I didn’t care for him; the grey-bearded monk in his Franciscan habit. He seemed to represent most of what I didn’t like about the Catholic Faith—the ancient religion with its medieval beliefs and rules. Besides, I was into one of the newest religions, A Course in Miracles, which was “channeled” in the 1960s – no sin or guilt, or suffering, and none of that nonsense about Jesus being Divine.
Yet, the reason I was even watching Father Benedict Groeschel on EWTN (one of the founders of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal) was because my interfaith church, where I played guitar and had written songs for 15 years, closed due to the death of our beloved pastor. I was lonesome and despondent. After the camaraderie and the hustle and bustle of the services and meetings was over, there was nothing much that I could sink my teeth into. There was still suffering in my life, even if I told myself that it was an illusion. I was trained to believe that if my thinking was ordered correctly I wouldn’t experience it. There were still breakups, and struggles on the job, and annoying family and friends, and me and others not living up to expectations.
With no church to attend on Sunday, I was searching for something to fill the void. I tried the religious channels on television, even the Catholic channel, when nothing else interested me. Little did I know at the time, the monk I seemed to dislike was friends with Dr. Helen Schucman who wrote A Course in Miracles. As the snippets of truth and beauty of the Catholic faith started sinking in, I was slowly converted. Father Groeschel would soon become one of my favorites, because of his humor and insights from being both a psychologist and a theologian. It was his love and warmth, however, that made me think that he, more than anyone, is what Jesus must been like.
A Still Small Voice
Months later, I read Father Groeschel ‘s book A Still Small Voice, A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations about his personal witness of Dr. Schucman:
“This woman who had written so eloquently that suffering really did not exist spent the last two years of her life in the blackest psychotic depression I have ever witnessed.”
Father Groeschel would also write that her book “was possibly a true diabolical manifestation.” [October 1994 lecture on “Discernment” given at Holy Cross Church, Rumson, New Jersey.]
I really didn’t need any convincing about my former New Age beliefs. Once I started believing the truths of the Catholic faith I completely abandoned my old beliefs. The Catholic beliefs just had such a ring of Truth to them and were so satisfying that I never looked back.
For seven years, I had watched many hours of his shows. The news of his death was not unexpected. I had watched him deteriorate in the last few years, sometimes stammering and groping for the right word, so out of character for the man who was such a master with words.
As much as I admired and respected him, I was saddened by his terrible mistake of saying in an interview in the National Catholic Register in 2012 about the priest pedophile scandals, “Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster—14, 16, 18—is the seducer.” He was completely insensitive to the public’s, and my own, attitude of no excuses for any of the adults in these horrendous cases. His mistake was possibly due to senility. After an apology, he had to leave EWTN. Later, I heard that he was in a nursing home.
The news of his death on October 3 on the vigil of the feast of Saint Francis, the founder of the order, saddened me. I watched the Prayer Vigil and Funeral Mass for Father Groeschel. Many kind words were said and one tearful eulogy at the Prayer Vigil struck me as an example of Father Groeschel’s humor and street savvy. Danny Quinones was once a youth (11 yrs) at Children’s Village for pregnant women and children in Dobbs Ferry, New York, when he met Father Groeschel. Danny was reprimanded and struck by one of the counselors. He ran away down Snake Hill to the road below. Father just happened to be passing by in a black pickup truck. The truck came to a halt, the door opened and Father said to him, “It’s a long way back to New York from here. Just come back with me.” They remained dear friends for forty-three years, travelling together throughout New York and New Jersey.
“Hey That’s You, Dummy!”
Father Groeschel was the author of forty-six books. The one most mentioned is Arise from Darkness, What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. I have always thought that this book was probably a good antidote for someone going through a rough time. I was going through a bout of depression at the time and after hearing the title mentioned several times I realized, “Hey, that’s you, dummy.” I bought the book and started reading it on my computer that night.
Father Groeschel writes that the Lord always brings a greater good out of every evil and misfortune. He cites numerous examples of people that he had personally ministered to and many stories of saints who had terrible troubles. He often refers to Scripture and spiritual writings and he quotes generously from the likes of John Henry Newman, Augustine and Teresa of Avila. There is a considerable section of prayers in the back for everything from Prayers for the Worried, or Prayers for the Depressed, to Prayers for One Who Took His Own Life.
His words of inspiration in this book was certainly the antidote I needed at the time.
One Remedy That Never Fails
My personal favorite part of Father Groeschel’s book was in the Epilogue, The One Remedy That Never Fails. This remedy is to get out of yourself and help someone else. Father writes, “…[C]harity is the one greatest of medicines. It is the medicine of the soul. Merciful love will not only overcome all, it heals all. For those willing to try it, even with hesitation and reluctance, its effects will be lasting and most beneficial.”
As if on cue, a friend with a broken ankle called recently to ask if I could help him get to his doctor’s appointment. I was able to put some of Father Groeschel’s teaching into action and also share some of the wisdom I had learned, because my friend was despondent. My friend was doing a lot of work for the Church as a Pastoral Visitor taking the Eucharist to the sick and home-bound and he had just enrolled to take classes to be a Lay Minister when he broke his ankle. Now, he was home-bound for two months.
As I quoted from the book to my friend, how the Lord always brings good out of suffering and that maybe my friend will get new insight from this experience, I couldn’t help thinking that Father Groeschel is still teaching right here on earth with his books, DVD’s and CD’s. Although he is no longer with us, he is with us in spirit and through the words of wisdom he left behind.
Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, please pray for us.