He was born Peter Groeschel in Jersey City, New Jersey on July 23, 1933 as the first of six children that would be gifted to his parents Marjule Smith and Edward Groeschel, the chief civil engineer on such projects as the United Nations building and the Lincoln Center. The family was brought up to be strong Catholics actively involved in parish life. The Blessed Virgin Mary played a vital role in young Peter's life for he attended grade school at St. Aloysius School in Caldwell, New Jersey and graduated high school from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Garrison, New York in May of 1951. A few months later he knew what God wanted of him and entered the Capuchin Order on July 6, 1951. After a year of Novitiate he was simply professed taking the name Benedict Joseph on September 1, 1952 and three years later professed his solemn vows while continuing his major seminary studies. On June 20, 1959 at the age of 26 he was ordained a Capuchin priest.
His first assignment was to return to school - Iona College of the Christian Brothers where he obtained his Masters Degree in Counseling in 1964. The faculty at Iona and his Capuchin superiors of the Province of St. Mary were so impressed with young Father Benedict that they recommended he teach pastoral counseling. To do this he first had to pursue a Doctorate in Psychology which he attained in 1971 from Columbia University in New York City.
Though he was an avid and ardent student, studying is not all this young priest did. A year after ordination he was also was appointed chaplain at the Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York. It was and still is today the largest psychological treatment center for emotionally disturbed youth in the US. For fourteen years until 1974 he held various supervisory part-time positions in addition to heading the small friary at Children's Village and counseling the youth who were struggling for direction and understanding. These youth found many answers to their lives and God's part in their lives through Father Benedict. By 1965 he was in demand to teach at the Capuchin Seminary Mary Immaculate Friary, Iona Pastoral Counseling Institute, Maryknoll Seminary and the Maryknoll Sisters' institution Mary Rogers College as well as Immaculate Conception Seminary and Fordham University. Midway through his tenure at Children's he was also named provincial difinitor of the province as well as serving as delegate to the general chapter of the Capuchins in 1974.
The results of his counseling, teaching prowess and the manner in which he treated his subjects grabbed the notice of many, including Cardinal Terence Cooke, then Archbishop of New York. Cardinal Cooke asked Father Benedict to initiate a program for spiritual development for the Archdiocese, a position he still holds today. It began with opening a center for prayer and study for the clergy which was called Trinity Retreat Center in Larchmont, New York. In addition Father Groeschel oversaw the initiation of the Center for Spiritual Development for the Laity at Trinity which is also still under his supervision. Largely through his expertise and dedication, Trinity Retreat has become a turning point for clergy with vocational crises. Over 75 priests have returned to active ministry through the programs established at Trinity by Father Benedict, including some services to members of the hierarchy requested by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio.
In 1982 Cardinal Cooke and Father Groeschel approached Father John Harvey, O.S.F.S. to ask him to start a movement for homosexual persons seeking to lead a chaste life and Father Harvey developed the Courage Movement; three years later Father Groeschel wrote the book The Courage to be Chaste. He has writtten numerous other books, fifteen in all as well as tapes on spirituality and pastoral counseling and who is not aware of his television program "Get a life in Christ"? Some of his early books were Spiritual Passages, The Psychology of Spiritual Development in 1983 published by Crossroads; Listening at Prayer in 1984 and Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones in 1986. These two, along with Courage were published by Paulist Press.
It was in 1982 that Father Benedict's renown would spread from New York to the world through the medium of Catholic television and EWTN. Mother Angelica met with Father Groeschel and asked him to tape 17 programs. He agreed and ever since has traveled to Irondale, Alabama at least twice a year to record 17 programs and appear on Mother's show. His appearances have been some of the most popular shows Mother has had as the two get together for some no-nonsense teaching the tenets of the Church. It's truly a delight to view.
Father Benedict, the Archdiocese and the world lost a true apostle when Cardinal Cooke died October 6, 1983. On January 31, 1984 his successor was installed. He was Cardinal John J. O'Connor who set about honoring his predecessor by appointing Father Groeschel as Promoter of the Cause of Beatification of Terence Cardinal Cooke. Eight years later Father Benedict would be named Diocesan Postulator of the Cause of the Servant of God, a position and responsibility he still holds today.
It was in 1987 that Father Benedict's course would take another direction. He, along with eight other Capuchin friars met with Cardinal O'Connor requesting permission to establish an association of the faithful to seek a more literal and traditional observance of the Capuchin Reform. The other eight friars elected Father Groeschel to mediate with the Archdiocese and the Capuchin Order in representing the requested Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Cardinal O'Connor consented and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal or "Gray Friars" were approved. During the three year period of initial probation as the fledgling order began Father Benedict served as the superior of the community in dealing with the Archdiocese and the Capuchin Order. In 1990, Father Benedict attempted to seek a return to the Capuchin Order as a separate jurisdiction under the General at the request of Dominican Cardinal Jean Jerome Hamer. The Belgian Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life met with the entire community and encouraged both the reform movement and the possibility of return to the Capuchin Order. Unfortunately these negotiations were not acceptable to the provincials of the Capuchins in the United States and Canada despite Rome's plea.
That same year Father Benedict published a spiritual biography on Cardinal Cooke entitled Thy Will Be Done published by Alba House; a book on personal and ecclesial reform, The Reform of Renewal and three years later A Still Small Voice which was a guide on reported private revelations. Both the latter two were published by Ignatius Press. In 1994 Servant Publications published Healing the Original Wound and Heaven in Our Hands. In 1995 Ignatius Press released Arise From Darkness. In 1997 Sunday Visitor Press published his book on Eucharistic Adoration appropriately called, In the Presence of the Lord: The Psychology, History and Theology of Eucharistic Adoration and followed that up last year with his most recent book A Priest Forever.
On May 28 of this year, the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal was established as a Diocesan Institute in the Archdiocese of New York with six of the founding friars present to profess vows to Cardinal O'Connor including Father Benedict, Father Andrew Apostoli, Father Stan Fortuna, Father Bob Lombardo, Father Robert Stanion, and Father Glenn Sudano. Today the friars operate at least six friaries in the New York City area and several centers in which they distribute food and clothing and provide shelter for the homeless. For more on the wonderful works of this new Institute, we highly recommend going to www.franciscanfriars.com
Father Benedict is the Almoner of the community in charge of obtaining and distributing alms to the poor and needy. As Father Benedict quips, "We don't measure how we're doing by dollars but by pounds - as in how many pounds of food we gave away." Father Groeschel's plate is full as he continues to teach today at St. Joseph's Seminary in New York - where he taught last Thursday's recipient on this list of TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY: Father Frank Pavone. He is also an adjunct at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Newark and the Spirituality Year for New York-Philadelphia along with the Center for Spiritual Development of New York Archidiocese. In addition he is a member of the Board of Directors for Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
How does he do it all? Prayer and trust in God. As Friars of the Renewal they have taken a vow of poverty which means they depend totally on donations to keep going and to help others in the strictest sense established by Saint Francis. They own nothing and yet, the Community is thriving and thousands of citizens of New York are being fed as are countless viewers spiritually along with parishioners the world over who have heard and been touched by this bearded Friar whose no-nonsense sincerity is legendary. Once you meet or are exposed to this man's charisma and his spirituality you will never forget him. He has been heard throughout the world, and, in addition to the countless converts he has touched, one simple fact remains: He will always remain a New Yorker, melded to his roots and giving back to the community all he can for you can take the priest out of New York, but you can't take New York out of the priest. Sincere and genuine through and through. That's Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
St. Francis saw the rise of the middle class, the merchants. Where many of the noble families lived in poverty, the rising merchant class lived in relative luxury. As a young man dreaming of knighthood, St. Francis gave a noble knight his new, expensive armor for the knight's poor, rusted pieces. His times were rocked by those who felt that the Church and the world was too involved in riches. One heretical sect went so far as to kill religious who they felt didn't enforce others to 'share' the wealth. When St. Francis' conversion was complete, he and his companions went from town to town preaching how good repentance was.
"When the people heard them, they said: "Who are these men, and why do they speak like this?" They made this comment because at that time the fear and love of God had died out in the country and no one spoke of penance which indeed was considered as folly. This attitude was caused by the temptations of the flesh, the cupidity of the world, and the pride of life; the whole of mankind seemed engulfed in these three evil forces." (Legend of the Three Companions; St. Francis of Assisi; Omnibus of Sources; pg 922)
Today, we see much the same attitudes. To speak of sin, penance and conversion is deemed foolish. The notion that sin is only what one considers a sin, etc. This attitude, then as now, stems from a loss of the fear and love of God. After all, if, as they feel, God loves them regardless, then there is no need to follow His commands, whether out of love for Him, or out of fear of punishment. This attitude either comes from, or contributes to, sin. Pride of life, temptations of the flesh, cupidity, all lead to sin, and in some cases smother the love of God we are to have.
As Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe noted, when sin becomes the center of one's life, they tend to keep away from the Church, who could give them comfort and relief. Some go so far as to even oppose and attack the Church. St. Francis' answer to the challenges was simple. Obedience. He wrote: "...what is more hopeless than a religious who spurns obedience?" (Celano's Second Life CXIII, Omnibus, pg. 485)
"Take a lifeless body and place it were you will. You will see that it does not resist being moved, it does not murmur about its position, it does not cry out if it is allowed to lie there. ...'This' he said,' is a truly obedient man; he does not ask why he is moved, he cares not where he is placed, he does not insist on being changed elsewhere." (Ibid. chap CXII., pg. 484)
"Holy Obedience puts to shame all natural and selfish desires," (The Praise of the Virtues.) "Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to his holiness Pope Honorius and his lawfully elected successors and to the Church of Rome." (The Rule of 1223; Omnibus of Sources, pg. 57)
Through obedience to God and His Vicar on earth, St. Francis of Assisi lit a flame of faith that illumined the Church for centuries.
St. Thomas More was opposed to the corruption and abuses found in the Church of his day. Many religious seemed more intent on gaining earthly honors and wealth than serving God. Though he admired Cardinal Wolsey as a statesman, no doubt, he wished he was a better servant of God. Politics and religion, who many see as unable to reconcile, were Thomas More's life. He was often found deep in prayer and fair and just in his duties as a judge. He would say that when a statesman forgoes his conscience for the sake of his public duties, he leads his nation, on a short route, to chaos. Today, we hear Catholics such as ex-Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Ted Kennedy (and many others) say that they personally are against abortion, but...
Thomas More recognized that the King was appointed by God to care for the people of his realm, to see to their secular needs, whereas the Pope was responsible for their spiritual needs. When these two worked in concert with one another, their people flourished. More was appointed Henry VIII's Chancellor, the highest office in England beside the King, and was well received. "The King was known to put his arm around More. This growing favour, by which many men would have been carried away," writes the Encyclopedia Britannica, "did not impose upon More. He discouraged the king's advances, showed reluctance to go to the palace and seemed constrained when he was there. Then the King began to come to More's house and would dine with him without previous notice." (The Trial of Sir Thomas More)
However, unlike Cardinal Wolsey before him, when King Henry opposed the Pope in trying to secure a divorce, More was not one to 'forgo his conscience for the sake of his public duty'. When, to secure their holdings, some of the English bishops renounced their obedience to the Pope, More resigned as Chancellor, claiming ill health.
From then on, though he never made any comments against the King, he was hounded and persecuted. "He was summoned to the court to answer an obscure charge of accepting a bribe while Lord Chancellor. When his daughter brought him news that the charge was dismissed, he said 'quod differtur, non aufertur' or 'that which is postponed is not dropped.' Sir Thomas More was a marked man. In 1534, Henry enacted a law which declared him supreme ruler [in England], bar none, including the Pope. All citizens were to accept this by oath." (Ibid) With this in hand, Henry could grant himself a divorce. The refusal of such prominent men as Bishop John Fisher (now a saint) and Thomas More cast a shadow on this self proclaimed supremacy. Neither called for Henry to be overthrown, just that the King was not able to do what he did. "If the world were flat, would the king's command make it round? Or flatten it if it were round?"
On May 17th, 1535, after 14 months of harsh imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was brought to trial. No sound evidence was found to convict him of treason until: "The King's solicitor general was sworn in as witness and testified that More has 'confessed' to him, in a private conversation in the Tower of London several months earlier. According to Richard Rich, More had linked the King's supposed 'supremacy' with the right of Parliament to depose of the sovereign. How, then, could Parliament depose of a King if he were supreme, More had allegedly asked? This was sensational testimony and would suffice to convict More." (Ibid)
Richard Rich's perjury sealed More's fate. "The sentence for treason was then handed down: That he should be carried back to the Tower of London and from thence drawn on a hurdle through the City of London to Tyburn there to be hanged till he should be half dead; that then he should be cut down alive, his privy parts cut off, his belly ripped, his bowels burnt, his four quarters set up over four gates of the City, and his head upon London Bridge...Henry the 8th later commuted the sentence to a quick beheading." (Ibid)
Thomas More never set out to be a martyr. But his faith in God wouldn't allow him to compromise the truth for political expediency. Of his accusers he said, "albeit your lordships have been my judges to condemnation, yet we may hereafter meet joyfully together in Heaven to our everlasting salvation." (Ibid)
Again, faith and obedience were the keys. After his sentence was read St. Thomas More spoke: "I will now in discharge of my conscience speak my mind plainly and freely touching my indictment and your Statute withal. And forasmuch as this indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and His holy Church, the supreme government of which . . . may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual preeminence by the mouth of Our Saviour Himself . . . only to St. Peter and his successors bishops of the same See... Very and pure necessity . . . enforces me to speak so much. Wherein I call and appeal to God, whose only sight pierces into the very depth of man's heart, to be my witness . . . the Church is one and indivisible, and you have no authority to make a law which infringes Christian unity." (St. Thomas More, Catholic Encyclopedia)
As he stood on the executioners scaffold, on July 6th, he forgave his executioner and asked him to "bear witness that he . . . suffered death in and for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church." His last words were reportedly, "I die the King's good servant...but God's first."
One year to the day, Anne Boleyn climbed the same scaffold, and shared his fate to further satisfy the appetite and desires of Henry VIII.
The Communion of Saints are with all of us all the time. They join with us to give glory and praise to God, and join their prayers to ours for our needs and supplications. But I can think of no better saints when faced with a world where truth is distorted for expediency, worldly gain, and/or selfish desire.
Both Francis and Thomas More gave up lives of affluence, comfort and power, to follow the real power. One gave up material comfort, the other political. Both gave up their lives for God. One symbolically by donning the garments of a beggar, the other, literally.
"Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?'" (Matthew 16:24-26).
To the world, both men were fools who gave up wealth, power, and fame for a foolish notion. But to God, no doubt as Jesus said, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master...Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:21;34).
For both, obedience to God was first.
Pax Christi, Pat
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