A Saint Has Passed

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who passed away this morning, would snort at the headline to this post, and say something pithy and dismissive in his Jersey accent, but if he’s not already in heaven, he’s well on his way. fr groeschel

He was with us much longer than he thought he would be because, as he always assumed, God had more work for him to do, even though all he wanted was his rest.

He had a huge influence on my spiritual growth and my return to the church, just like another man named Benedict. Right now, on this rainy Saturday morning, the feast of St. Francis, all I can do is share the news and the prayer we say at these moments:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiescant in pace. 

The official statement from his order:

The Catholic Church and the Franciscan family lost a giant today. This moment is one that finds the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) with mixed emotions, as we are deeply saddened by the loss of Fr. Benedict but also relieved that God has set him free from the physical and mental suffering he has experienced over the past decade.

The world knew Father Benedict as a priest, teacher, evangelist, retreat master, and a steadfast defender of and advocate for the Catholic Church that he loved so much. The members of his religious family saw all these things in him, too. But even more, we were also blessed to know him as a father who cared for each of us, a father who was always accessible when we needed him and always glad to see us when we came to visit.

The words of a fellow Franciscan, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, describing St. Francis, characterize Fr. Benedict well, “His intuition of a universal brotherhood, extending to every creature, accompanied by his choice of minority, turn him and his followers into the brothers of every  person, the enemies of none, and the companions of the least ones.”

Fr. Benedict was a brother and a father to everyone he encountered. In a world often overwhelmed with darkness, he was a man filled with hope, a hope that he shared with both the rich and poor alike. His love for others and deep desire to serve, sent him among poor families who were in need of assistance, young people trying to find their way, bishops faced with challenging decisions, priests and religious in need of an encouraging word, and the stranger who was far from God. Fr. Benedict was at home in every circumstance and every encounter. “The providence of God,” he would say, “was the mystery of God reaching out at every moment and revealing his love and presence to us all.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that Fr. Benedict was selfless. Those who knew him well understood that it was simply his nature to be so. He poured himself out for others no matter what the cost—and sometimes the cost to him was very great. To have known him was to have been helped by him and even loved by him. Our CFR Family and everyone who knew him received an enormous amount from Fr. Benedict—probably more than we were ever able to give back. It was not simply his wealth of wisdom and knowledge from which many benefited. It was his profound faith and equally profound love, two gifts that he never failed to share generously. Join with us in praying for the repose of the soul of Fr. Benedict, for his family and Community, and also in thanksgiving for the legacy of renewal within the Church and Franciscan family that  Fr. Benedict championed.

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“‘neath A Cold Grey Tomb of Stone” [Dark Country: Songs for October]

Series Intro:

October is a month of lengthening shadows and stirring shades, as the chill creeps in, all things green turn beautiful colors before dying, and the dark presses ever closer.

Country and traditional music captures darkness the way no other genre really does. Songs of loss, damnation, violence, madness, murder, suicide, and terrors of both this world and the next are all shot through with a rich vein of pathos and old time religion.

I have a playlist where I accumulate “dark country” songs. Sometimes they are outright supernatural stories such as “Eli Renfro” or “Beaches of Cheyenne,” while others are songs of despair or loss like “Hurt” and “The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.” Over the next month, I’m going to try to share one of these a day.

Hank Williams: “‘neath A Cold Grey Tomb of Stone”

No one did it better thank Hank. Shadows crowd around even his uptempo songs, and although his mournful voice would become the prototype of the honkytonk singer, he was one of a kind.