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Father Groeschel's Words, Before and After the Accident

John Bishop on His Interview and Book With the Franciscan

BRAMLEY, England, AUG. 18, 2004 (Zenit) - The journalist who interviewed Father Benedict Groeschel before the Franciscan was hit by a car last January says that the recovering priest is still practicing what he preaches.

John Bishop is a British writer and television broadcaster who is working on a set of 12 interviews of notable Catholics from the United States, Britain and Africa.

Recently, he co-authored a book with Father Groeschel, "There Are No Accidents: In All Things Trust in God" (Our Sunday Visitor), consisting of Bishop's interview with the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal as part of his project, and the latter's reflections from his hospital bed.

Bishop shared with us which of Father Groeschel's words give the greatest insight into his mind-set and faith in the Lord.

Q: You were able to interview Father Groeschel shortly before his accident. What about him stood out to you at that time?

Bishop: I got the idea to speak to Father Groeschel from one of my other interview subjects. While I was visiting family in White Plains, New York, I took the opportunity to interview the famous Catholic writer and apologist Professor Alice von Hildebrand for a book I was putting together entitled "Catholic Voices: Encounters on Three Continents."

At the end of the interview I asked her, "Who next?" And she unhesitatingly suggested, "Father Benedict Groeschel."

I made contact and we got to Trinity House, Larchmont, which is a center for prayer and study for the clergy and where Father Groeschel has his headquarters. The main building is fairly large, but Father Groeschel squeezes himself into a tiny flat, which serves as bedroom, bathroom and study combined.

Fairly late on a Sunday evening, he greeted us warmly and in the Franciscan tradition made us feel at home straight away. I noticed he was rather tired, the sign of a man who had taken on an awful lot. But there was a glint in his eye and a certain steel to it, too. This was no man's fool; he was a lifelong dedicated fighter for the faith.

Q: Father Groeschel spoke to you about recognizing where God is when suffering intensifies and evil prospers. What were his insights?

Bishop: Father Groeschel recognized the difficulty that people have when they suffer or see their loved ones suffer.

He pointed out that evil is very often brought about by man, who has been given the gift of free will -- a gift that is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. As he says, evil is a great mystery. But seen in the context of the necessity for it, if goodness is to exist, it becomes at least philosophically easier to understand.

Q: Even before the accident, what was Father Groeschel's understanding of Christ's feeling of abandonment on the cross?

Bishop: I quizzed Father Groeschel on Our Lord's words from the Cross, "Lord, Lord, why have you forsaken me?" and I pointed out that many nonbelievers use them to argue that Christ was not God and that he simply gave up at the end.

"Oh, no," said Father Groeschel, and referred us to a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, "Mysterium Paschale."

"Christ," said Father Groeschel, "had to drink to the dregs of the human condition." We discussed Psalm 22 in this context and much more. But thinking back I believe I was really working out some of my own demons and that Father Groeschel was exorcising them for me.

Q: From his hospital bed, after he regained consciousness and the ability to communicate, Father Groeschel managed to provide regular reflections. What did he have to say about accidents, pain, death, providence and submission to the Lord's will?

Bishop: This is a very big question. The first thing to say about what you have outlined -- accidents, pain, death, providence and submission to the Lord's will -- is that although the latter is something that some of us find very difficult to do, we have to do it.

We have to stop struggling and thrashing around and when bad things happen, submit to the Lord's will.

As Father Groeschel says, "We should always be grateful to God for whatever happens." That's not easy, and he knows that, but that is what he advises. And that is obviously what Father Groeschel has set out to do since his accident. He is practicing what he preached.

Pain? Father Groeschel mentioned Alice von Hildebrand in the section of the book entitled "Wasted Pain." She came to the hospital to see him and reminded him of an important line by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: "Nothing is worse than wasted suffering."

Then Father Groeschel commented that he looked at a picture of Padre Pio and remembered that the great Franciscan saint had said, "Don't ask why. Ask what am I supposed to do." That gives you something of the measure and the mood of Father Groeschel despite receiving those terrible injuries.

Q: Which of Father Groeschel's reflections do you find the most extraordinary?

Bishop: That is a difficult choice to make. In the "Reflections" section of the book, written by him after the accident, Father Groeschel comments on so many profound topics.

There is a lot to ponder, but the "most extraordinary" aspect which I will focus on is the extraordinary determination of Father Groeschel, in his stricken state from his hospital bed, to pass on hope and the Good News to all of us. You see -- if a Franciscan could blush, Father Groeschel would be blushing now -- that medium-sized priest from Jersey City, Benedict Groeschel, is quite a man.

Q: What is Father Groeschel's present status?

Bishop: He is doing a bit better but he has a long way to go. He faces further surgery this summer and typically, his enforced inactivity is not to his liking. We are all praying for a full recovery, of course.

Q: At the time of your interview, what did Father Groeschel say were his plans?

Bishop: At time of the interview, which was carried out well before the accident, he spelled out several things he still wanted to do before Our Lord called him. He said that he wanted time to finish his book on the history of devotion to Christ, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant contributions.

Then -- seasoned old television veteran that he is -- he said that when the time came, with the last rites facing him, he would like to devise and present a final TV program dedicated to the dying, who are sadly so often neglected. He gave the show a working title of "Going First Class: How to Die Well." Father Groeschel added, "You know, with a smile on your lips, and waving goodbye to them all."

At the time I said, "Father, I hope that video will be a long time in coming." I still do.


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