Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reflections on Fr. Benedict Groeschel

I have chosen you from among the world,
To bear fruit that will remain.
-- a Gospel Acclamation
These days I have had many reflections on my life, and shed many tears as I reflected on the life of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and how he brought God to me.  He was a saint that I have known.
He said that as a child his friends called him Bennie --- I have always thought of him as a friend.  He started his religious order, The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, in the poor Bronx district of New York.  The order has grown greatly since then, and even includes a newly-ordained member from my parish.  Like St. Francis, Bennie and his brothers choose to live among the poor.  He said learned much from the poor, even as he gave them much, even all that he had.  I remember how he often spoke of the wisdom of the Jewish women of the Bronx, and especially their no nonsense retort to those who questioned events of Scripture:  “Oh, you were there?”  Bennie lived like the poor he loved.  He only possessed a couple of old faded brown Franciscan robes; they were often patched rather than replaced.
I don’t know how long I have been donating monthly to Bennie’s order, increasing the amount as I received raises over the years, but I found that no matter what the amount, none went to him.  At Christmas each year I would send an extra gift, sometimes writing a letter proposing its use --- but he never used the money for himself.  Once he sent me a note of apology, for not following my wishes:  “I don’t need anything,” he wrote.  I remember the time I asked him to give my Christmas gift, as an act of humility, to someone he wouldn’t normally chose to give it to.  “Be humble,” I wrote.  “Let God decide.”  He wrote back how he gave the money to a lady who pestered him for money so that she could move to be with her daughter.  “An act of humility?” he wrote back.  “I don’t feel so humble using your gift.  It was a great blessing to no longer hear her complaints.  Thank you.”  Over the years whenever we chanced to meet and exchange a few words, he always associated that gift with me, and laughed again.  I remember Bennie’s laugh.  I always will.
At one of his talks Bennie spoke about the trials of living in the Bronx.  “I look forward to dying and spending a lot of time in Purgatory,” he said.  “It will be a step up from the Bronx.”  I pray that that time he looked forward to spending there may be short.
Bennie died on the eve of the feast of St. Francis.  I think that is a day he would have chosen to die, a time when his and other’s thoughts would turn to his role model, yet not on the saint’s feast day itself, to take away any focus from the great saint’s honor.  St. Francis was said to be a happy beggar.  I think that described Bennie, also.  He loved the poor, and said that in many ways they were closer to God than he.  But I don’t know if I would agree.
I loved the many talks of Bennie that I attended over the years.  Even in those latter years when he only spoke short homilies because “my mind and my mouth don’t connect so well anymore,” still, he spoke wisdom, and love.  I recall the last parish weekend retreat he led; I was there.  He spoke from a chair at the foot of the altar, on which stood a monstrance and Jesus in the Eucharist.  He did that, he said, not to distract from Jesus, but to remind us who was the important person there.  Bennie never considered himself as important. 
I remember weekend conferences I attended at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  The talks were always very good, including Bennie’s, but it was the Holy Hour which made the weekend a touch of heaven.  Near the hour’s conclusion, Bennie took the large heavy monstrance from the altar, and holding it high he walked slowly up and down every aisle of the large darkened auditorium, with the spotlight shining on the Eucharist.  He stopped every few feet and turned to face the nearby people, making the sign of the cross over them with the monstrance.  I will never forget those moments, when he and Jesus were near to me, and how it always made me cry tears of happiness.  I have had many great consolations from God in my life, even many miracles, but I have never felt God with me as much as during those moments of that procession.  And in my heart, those moments with God, and Bennie, will always be present.
So many things these days, like the Gospel Acclamation which started this reflection, remind me of Bennie.  My daily readings this week, from the book Divine Intimacy, have been on the virtues, or how we are to love our neighbor.  Bennie knew how to love his neighbor.  Through his many talks on EWTN radio and television, and his many speaking engagements and books, he reached and affected millions.  I recall how happy I was when I learned that he would recover after being hit by a bus about ten years ago.  I was happy that he survived --- remaining with us even after having been declared dead by his doctors --- but I was also happy when I read his many thousands of “Get Well” notes which his fellow monks posted online, from literally every country on earth.  Everywhere Bennie had impacted lives, and saved souls.
He impacted mine.  I shall miss him.
I thought to send donation to his religious order in his memory.  What I shall do instead, however, is send a special donation to a lay apostolate called A Simple House.  It consists of a group of individuals who have pledged, even if only for a while, to live the life of Francis, even as Bennie did, living in slum housing in the poorer areas of Washington, D.C. and Kansas City.  They live from month to month only on donations, giving away any excess received, and trusting in God when the money is lacking.
And living to love their neighbors.
I think Bennie would understand my donation to them, and approve.  I can see his smile.


  1. Beautiful reflections. I had the honor of meeting Father when he came to my parish for a parish mission. I chatted with him only briefly, and somehow the topic of miscarriage came up (I had only one of the three total at that point). He was adamant that our miscarried baby is with God and to not let anyone take my peace away regarding that. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that point (and still do at this point). His book, Arise from Darkness helped me get through intensely dark times.

    Eternal rest, Father!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts also, Kim. I hope all is well with you.

    I've given away quite a few copies of Arise from the Darkness; I agree it is one of his more "practical advice" books, rather than theological. I order copies of his little booklet, You Are Not Alone -- Prayers In Dark Times, by the 50's or 100's to give away. Most people in distress find the prayers there useful, and the booklet fits in pocket or purse.

    I have all of Bennie's books. I think I'll browse through them this week, glancing at my underlines. It will be good to recall his words which I thought important. I think I'll suggest to EWTN or his order that they put out some DVD's of his talks or TV shows, kind like those available by Bishop Sheen. I'd buy them.

  3. It is so good to know holy saintly people in our lives, so we can see how it is actually done! God has blessed so many with the life of this humble, simple man. You are so blessed to have spent time in his presence, listening to him.
    One small point: Fr. Groeschel did die on the feast of St. Francis. St. Francis actually died just after sunset on October 3rd. In medieval times, the day was counted from sunset to sunset, so his feast day became October 4th. Franciscans celebrate the "Transitus" of St. Francis on October 3rd, after sunset, reverently praying in union with that holy Saint of Assisi at that time, commemorating his birth into eternal life. I know all Franciscans of Fr. Groeschel's order, as well as other Franciscans, could not possibly miss the wonderful significance of his dying on the day his patron saint died. It seems to me a great blessing, and sign of favor.
    God Bless. ~ Fran