Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel’s Snowball


fr__benedictI want to begin by expressing to the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal (CFR) the most profound condolences from the Franciscan Brothers of Life on the passing of Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  The Franciscan family may well have another icon in heaven.  Father was certainly an icon while he was still with us.

My first encounter with Father Benedict was at the retreat house on Long “Gisland” as it sounded to me when he pronounced it.  It was Advent 1980.  I can’t recall the exact date, but he was hosting a Christmas party.  I was attached to the Province of St. Augustine, but I had a Capuchin classmate at Catholic University of America from the Province of St. Mary.  He had told me all about this colorful friar whom he wanted me to meet.  As Providence would have it, we had to travel to New York for something and I got to meet the man whom I would later dub “Uncle Mame”.

He was loud, excited and to my young eyes, a little off.  But, since he was a psychologist, I didn’t think much of it.  All of us in this field are eccentric, neurotic or both.  Yes, I became a neuropsych, but not at that point.  Something remained with me.  Like Auntie Mame, Benedict’s energy came from a noble heart.  There was nothing pretentious about it.  It was very credible.

A few years later, I asked for a dispensation and left the Capuchin Order, married, fathered three children and was widowed with two surviving children.  Not having the Capuchins, having lost my wife and one child, and left alone to parent two children who were still in elementary school, life became terrifying.  Like all people who are afraid, I too found different routes of escape that only complicated my life rather than help.

One day, in 1997, I can’t recall if I was watching EWTN or listening to some Catholic radio station, but I clearly remember that Father Benedict was doing a live program and you could call in after the show and speak to him off the air.  I wish I could recall the name of that program.

In any case, I remembered my encounter with Uncle Mame, some 17 years before.  I didn’t expect him to remember me, why should he.  I was one of thousands of friars in the Capuchin Order and we had met in the midst of Christmas party.  There was no time to get to know each other.  Nonetheless, I had listened to him that morning and I remembered that energetic brand of kindness that emulated from him.  I decided to call, thinking that I would never get through, maybe hoping that I would never get through.  I’m not sure which.  The fact is that I did get through.

I quickly explained my situation to him and told him that I was a former Capuchin, now a widowed dad of two very young children whose life was upside down and I couldn’t find a way get it on its feet again.  I remember telling him of my fears as briefly as possible, figuring that this is a telephone interview, not a face to face spiritual direction.  To this day, I have no idea what he said and it does not really matter.  What matters is that whatever he said got me on the right path.

I remember his voice of concern for me, as if I were the only person on the queue waiting to talk to him.  His voice was strong, but soft and soothing.  Whatever his words were, they didn’t seem as important as the fact that this friar truly cared about me.  I felt loved and cared for in a very special way.  There was nothing mystical or magical about it.  My life was still difficult.  But as the days went by, whatever Father Benedict said to me started to kick in, kind of like a time-released medication.

That conversation led to other conversations with other holy men and women.  Father helped me to realize that more than afraid, I was hungry.  I was hungry for the Church.  I was hungry for my Franciscan brothers.  I was hungry for the life that Saint Francis had given to his sons and daughters.  I was hungry for a tangible experience of God.  My short conversation with him was the little snowball that rolled down the hill and grew and grew.

Fast forward.  Today, my daughter is happily married.  My son has finished his education, owns his own home, and is financially and socially independent.  Both are model Christians.  In 2009, I returned to Franciscan life.  This time, not as a Capuchin, but as one of the founders of a new Franciscan brotherhood committed to preaching the Gospel of Life and living the Gospel as the first brothers lived it.  We are the Franciscan Brothers of Life or Fratres Franciscani Vitae (FFV).

Is Father Benedict responsible for this?  I would say that he set that little snowball in motion that turned into a very big snowball that led to my “reconversion”.  In simple words, Father Benedict was a crucial element in a process, a small yet essential pebble on my journey’s road.

When we wrote our constitutions for the Franciscans of Life, we borrowed heavily from Father Benedict’s writings on the Franciscans of the Renewal.  Though our mission may be slightly different from that of the CFR, our vision and roots are the same, St. Francis of Assisi and the early brothers.  An important spiritual benefactor was Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  His courage and that of the early CFRs inspires our brothers to look back and go forward to proclaim the Gospel of Life while living it as did those first brothers.

Thank you Father Benedict.  One never knows where the seeds will land.  But I can assure you, my good and faithful Franciscan brother that you planted a seed in my life, which was probably the first of many that I needed in order to begin again in a new garden.

Rest in peace my Brother.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 1:04 AM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You are missed, wonderful Father… Requiescat in pace.


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