The world still needs him. And so do I.
I want to tell you about one of my heroes.
His name is Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. He is a Franciscan priest -- the founder, in fact, of his order, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. He is a psychologist – easily the most insightful, brilliant Catholic psychologist I have ever known. He is a deeply holy, wonderful man who has given his life to Christ’s Church, and in particular to Christ’s poor.
And, as I write this, he is lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.
On January 11, Fr. Benedict was struck by a car while crossing a street near the Orlando, Florida airport. He sustained numerous broken bones and a significant head injury. And, as a result of the trauma, this 70 year old priest with a weak heart suffered a heart attack.
Since that time, Fr. Benedict has been unconscious, in a “medical fog” from the medications given to dull his pain, protect his heart and keep him alive. I am told that he has recently begun to open his eyes, mouth words and slowly emerge from the “fog.” God willing, by the time you read this, his long road to recovery will have progressed further.
Many, many thousands of people are praying for Fr. Benedict. Many of you are familiar with him and his work. But, for those of you who aren’t, or who are hearing all of this talk and not exactly sure who this man is, I wanted to share a little of what I know about the man. It’s a difficult task, because he has done so much, so beautifully, in so many different areas. So many who’ve know him better could say so much more. My experience with him has been in the realm of psychology and chastity. Thousands of others could tell of his work with the poor, with priests, and other missions and activities I don’t even know about. But he has had a profound impact on me, and I want to share that.
I first became acquainted with the work of Fr. Benedict back when I started giving talks on chastity. I was reading everything I could find on the subject, so of course I bought his The Courage to be Chaste. I fell in love with this little book. I maintain to this day that it is the best book ever written on the subject of chastity.
Having worked with many, many people who were struggling mightily with chastity, I wanted to understand that struggle better. I want to simply say “try harder.” I wanted to understand why people who understand chastity, who want to live it, sometimes fail so consistently. Fr. Benedict’s book did that. Of course, as I write this, I can hear him saying, “It’s called Original Sin.” And it is. But Fr. Benedict never stops there. He synthesizes spirituality and psychology in a way no one else does. He helps make sense of it all. And his insights brought a depth and an understanding to my work that I would never have found on my own.
In the early 90’s, I spoke at a conference where Fr. Benedict was also speaking. I desperately wanted to meet him. At the speakers’ dinner, he was mobbed by other who, like me, wanted to introduce themselves. It’s never been my style to jump into a fray like that, so I just sat down at the table and said “God, if you want me to meet him, you’re going to have to arrange it.” A few minutes later he walked over, sat down next to me and said, “So I understand I’m supposed to introduce you before your talk. I suppose I should get to know you a little.”
That was one of the best gifts God has ever given me.
I’ve seen Fr. Benedict at many events since then. I always think he won’t remember me. And he always does. We’ve chatted over coffee. He’s advised me on my ministry. I haven’t spent a lot of time with him, but he’s been a huge influence on my work. Whenever I’m writing or speaking about the psychological influences behind our efforts to live chastity, I’m drawing on the insights I’ve gained from Fr. Benedict.
Ironically, I’m writing this column not from my home in Denver, but from Washington DC. I’m here for the week. Why? Because I was registered to attend a week long class on Psychology and Spirituality at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. It was to be an entire semester class, crammed into five very full days. It was to be taught by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
Obviously the class was cancelled. I was devastated to hear of the accident on so many levels – because I love Fr. Benedict, because he does so much for so many in this world – but selfishly, because I had been so excited to take this class. Can you imagine? An entire week of “sitting at his feet” absorbing this great man’s wisdom. It would have been amazing.
As I said, as of this writing Fr. Benedict has taken a very encouraging turn. He is responding. He seems to be out of immediate danger. His friars are asking for prayers for a full, complete recovery. I join them so wholeheartedly in that prayer. The world is not ready to lose Fr. Benedict. He has so much to teach us – about God, about love, about ourselves.
Please pray for Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
For more information on Fr. Benedict’s condition, go to www.franciscanfriars.com