This past Saturday morning, as I was attending to some of my correspondence at home, I was reflecting on the death of my good friend Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR. Two thoughts came to me that day in various moments: 1) that he had his own “transitus” into Eternal Life at the same time of the celebration of the “transitus” of St. Francis. How appropriate for someone who certainly was a son of St. Francis, through and through! And 2) The words of exhortation during the ordination to the Diaconate refer to the destination of eternal life when the one ordained would hear “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.” Truly, well done good and faithful servant, Fr. Benedict, may we accompany you as you enter into the joy of the Lord. These words of the Catholic Rite of the Ordination to the diaconate are certainly in contrast to Fr. Benedict’s own jokes about purgatory being “drinking bubble gum soda and listening to tapes of his own talks.”
I first got to know Fr. Benedict in the summer of l994 when I had the blessing to spend a week at Seton Hall University in South Orange at then Msgr. Andrew Cusack’s wonderful summer sessions for priests. I spent part of the time listening to his conferences, and over the years we became good friends. He became a good friend and a real help and support during some difficult times in my home Diocese. He came to Springfield and I was able to assist him, as a canonist, with the proceedings in the testimony for a possible cause for beatification of Cardinal Cooke.
I admired his care for the poor, his courage, his pro-life work and his willingness to speak about his concerns about inaccurate and poor Scripture Scholarship, and the absolute necessity of authentic living of religious life and one’s priestly vocation. His courage and humor continued to inspire me, especially as I got to know well the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. I am grateful to be considered among their “family.” Sometimes others simply need someone to speak up and speak for authenticity and truth, and others will find the courage to follow. His fearlessness and courage to speak up on behalf of the unborn was a great inspiration to me and many others, and was especially evident in the coming into existence of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.His gifts of courage, love and humor were a great gift to me and so many others, especially when I was able to visit him at Trinity Retreat. I helped him at least once in distributing food for the poor in New York City.
He gave my ordination retreat nearly ten years ago when I was ordained the Bishop of Fort Worth and after that I was also blessed with the friendship of his family with his brother Ned and sister in law Dolores. His work “The Courage to be Chaste” was an invaluable reference for me when I was a parish priest and I still offer this book as a reference to others. It is a book of hope and courage for those who struggle with, but still wish the grace and blessing of the virtue of chastity, and don’t know how to begin or take the challenging “narrow way”. This book, like all of his work and ministry was done with great love and humor. I would laugh again and again at his stories, particularly the one about Father Innocent Fuestler, OFM Cap, and the Capuchin Friary on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels! [The Friars will know exactly what I am speaking about!] His remembrances of Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, were also a great source of inspiration for many.
In his last major book which he authored (that I know of) I Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ for Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians [Ignatius Press, 2010] he wrote to me “To my dear friend Bishop Kevin Vann. Oremus pro invicem. Benedict.” In the introduction to this book we find, I believe the foundation of his life and vocation:
“To summarize this definition, we can define Christian devotion as a powerful awareness of or long for Christ’s presence, accompanied by a trustful surrender to Him of our personal needs. To this is joined a willingness to do His will and a sense of repentance for any previous failure to do so. We must true Him not only with our present need but also with the salvation of our souls and those we care about. Finally, in some way we must anticipate our meeting with Him at the hour of death…Our personal response to these words and to that Presence is Christian devotion. It was there when the first Christian martyrs surrendered in spirit to Christ. That Presence and that devotion will also be there when the last Christian, at the point of death, prepares for the face-to-face encounter with the Risen Lord.”
These words of introduction to this one of his last, but most profound writings were prophetic, I believe, for his own “transitus” to this past week to the Lord whom he loved and whom he served with great love, courage and humor. Indeed, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
As we pray for him, may be pray for us that we may continue to labor in the Lord’s vineyard with the same love, courage and humor!
+Kevin W. Vann
Bishop of Orange
October 6, 2014
Feast of St. Bruno