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June 28, 2004

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
, is loved around the world for his bold and powerful witness to the Gospel. For many years Fr. Groeschel has tirelessly worked with the poor and needy, spoken to tens of thousands of Catholics, and written numerous articles and books.

In May 1987 he founded, with eight other friars, the community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The Community, which follows the Capuchian Tradition, now has over eighty friars and sisters. It is dedicated to preaching reform within the Church and caring for the homeless in the South Bronx and Harlem sections of New York City, as well as in London and Honduras. Fr. Groeschel has appeared on EWTN numerous times and has written many books, including - Arise From Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn't Make Sense, The Reform of Renewal, Rosary: The Chain of Hope, and Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations, all published by Ignatius Press.

When Fr. Groeschel was nearly killed in a traffic accident at the beginning of this year, tens of thousands prayed for his life. Miraculously, he lived. IgnatiusInsight.com recently interviewed him and asked him about his recovery, what he has gone through since the accident, and his book, Praying to Jesus Christ: Prayers and Meditations Through the Centuries, which will be published this fall by Ignatius Press.

IgnatiusInsight.com: On January 11, 2004, while crossing a street in Orlando you were hit by a car and you nearly died. What happened exactly?

Fr. Groeschel: While crossing the street in Orlando, after buying some burritos with a priest and a layman who were travelling with me, I was hit by a car. It was in every legal sense an accident. I couldn’t see the car because it was diagonally behind a bus, and the driver couldn’t see me. There were also no stop signals, no traffic lights, and no street lights on the road.
When I was struck, I was taken immediately to a trauma center at Orlando Medical Center. Without that medical trauma center being so close, I certainly would have died.

IgnatiusInsight.com: In the weeks following the accident, you nearly died on three occasions. Will you briefly describe what you experienced?

Fr. Groeschel: During the weeks after the accident, in fact, immediately following it, I nearly died three times.

The first was the night of the accident, when I had no blood pressure, heartbeat, or pulse, for about twenty minutes. Understandably, after a long time, the doctors were going to give up, because I seemed to be gone. But the priest with me, Father Lynch, begged them to go on and with a while they found a heartbeat and kept me going.

A few days later, I almost died of toxins that spilled into the system. No one knows where the toxins came from or where they went. And, finally, in about two weeks, I had a heart failure while I was on the respirator. All of these would be considered, medically, likely to cause death.

What did I experience? I don’t know, because I don’t remember anything of the first month.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How is your recovery going now?

Fr. Groeschel: My recovery is presently going well and I’m hoping to have surgery to restore my elbow, my right elbow, and shoulder. I’m able to walk with a cane and do various things, but I’m not able to use my right arm very much.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How did the idea for Praying to Jesus Christ: Prayers and Meditations Through the Centuries come about? Is it a direct result of the accident and your experience in recovering from it?

Fr. Groeschel: For some time I’ve been preparing a long book, a very serious book, for Ignatius Press on the history of devotion to Jesus Christ: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. I intended, after I finished that book, to publish the prayers, many of the prayers that I had encountered from the Christian writers over the centuries. However, while I was in the hospital, it struck me that it would be a great way to say "Thank you" to the thousands of people who prayed for me and wrote to me while I was recovering.

I’m publishing the book now—as much as I can—to give to the friends, known and unknown to me, who prayed for me during my serious situation. I think the book will point out that throughout Christianity, from the day that Saint Stephen prayed to Jesus at his martyrdom up until the present moment, devotion to Jesus Christ has been an integral part of the Christian life—devotion to Him, both in His humanity and in His divinity.

During my recovery period I had an opportunity to pray, particularly during the two months when I had no possibility of speaking, eating, or even drinking a drop of water, because I was on a respirator. There wasn’t anything else to do but pray. Largely, I said the Rosary, over and over again and meditated on the mysteries of the life of Christ.

I had just seen a preview of Mel Gibson’s film, "The Passion of the Christ," and that had deeply moved me. During those difficult months I kept turning to Christ, but strangely not in His Passion. It was too painful already. Where I found my spiritual consolation was in the Glorious Mysteries, particularly in the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Coronation of our Blessed Mother as Queen of Heaven, the Queen of angels and saints. That Coronation is, in fact, the triumph of all those who are saved and of the human race. Our Blessed Mother represents the redeemed human race in its utter perfection.

IgnatiusInsight.com: During your initial recovery you could did little else but pray. What insight or deeper appreciation into the nature and meaning of prayer did you gain during that time?

Fr. Groeschel: Many times, during my period of recovery, the idea of purgatory crossed my mind. Indeed it was a purgatory. And during those quiet days and weeks I met myself. I cannot say I did this perfectly, but I came away from those times with a clearer realization of my absolute dependency on Christ, of the many ways in which I have failed Him, and of my great need for repentance.

Where then do you turn in such a realization? To the Redeemer and Savior of the world.

IgnatiusInsight.com: The book includes not only Catholic prayers, but also prayers from Eastern Orthodoxy and the Protestant tradition. How did you select those prayers and what do they mean to you?

Fr. Groeschel: I included not only Catholic prayers, but Orthodox and Protestant prayers as well, because I was looking for the prayers of those who sincerely called out to Christ. In my big book on the history of devotion, which I hope to publish with Ignatius Press next year, I trace the devotion in the Orthodox tradition and in the Protestant tradition.

The amazing thing that I discovered, working on this book, is that the real foundation of ecumenism is our devotion to Jesus Christ. That is what we have in common. We may disagree on many other things, but there is a remarkable agreement among Christians when they pray to Jesus Christ in the different ages of Christian history.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You’ve said that following the accident your deepest desire is to promote a greater devotion to Jesus, specifically to His divinity. What was it about your accident and the aftermath that kindled this particular focus on the divine nature of Jesus?

Fr. Groeschel: All my life I have had a great devotion to Jesus Christ. I learned it from my family and the sisters who taught us in school. As I was in the seminary, most of my reading that I was free to do on my own was about Christ: His divinity, His humanity, and how these two fit together.

Unfortunately, in recent years and for peculiar reasons, there has been a loss of profound awareness of the divinity of Christ and of its real meaning. When you lose this, you also lose His humanity. His humanity doesn’t make a lot of sense unless He is divine. This is very clear from the many references to His divinity in the New Testament, and not only in the Gospels.

When we approach Christ, He is the great bridge between the human race and eternity and God. A suspension bridge has two great towers; one is as essential to the bridge as the other, and the tension between them is what keeps the roadway solid and passable. Christian dogma of the divinity of Christ, worked out in the early ecumenical councils, is like a great suspension bridge. Damage one tower and you ruin the whole bridge.

The best way to communicate the truth of faith to people is by devotion because they are personally and emotionally, as well as intellectually, involved in what they believe. I have learned many things about Christ from little old black ladies in the inner city who only read the Bible, but they knew Jesus—or, as they called Him, the "sweet Lord Jesus."

IgnatiusInsight.com: What particular criteria did you use in selecting the twenty prayers?

Fr. Groeschel: The criteria we used in selecting the prayers was how much they illustrated the spiritual experience of the times. These are cultural and historical aspects of the particular age which certainly then influenced the prayers of that age and how people see themselves.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Since the accident, has there been a particular prayer that you often return to?

Fr. Groeschel: I find myself, as I always did, constantly returning to Christ. I wish there were some way that I could convince everybody in the world, that they should turn to Jesus Christ. They need Him, they look for Him, and they have a profound attraction to Him, when they have any opportunity to know Him as He is. To be vicious or blasphemous towards Him is a sign that a person is really going in the wrong direction. I was appalled by some of the critiques of Gibson’s film because they were not only attacks on him and the film, but they were, indirectly, obvious attacks on Christ. How sad it is to see people turned against their own Redeemer.

Even non-Christians, when they hear the true story of Jesus of Nazareth, have to be attracted toward Him, because He did lay down His life for His friends and for all of us.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You’ve experienced—and continue to experience—much suffering as you rehabilitate. What have you learned, or see more clearly now, about suffering and the place it has in our lives? What can (or should) we learn from suffering?

Fr. Groeschel: Bishop Sheen used to say that there is nothing worse than wasted suffering. And that is certainly true. I was taught by the sisters long ago in Catholic school to unite my sufferings, works, and prayers each day with Christ, and I continue to do that through the heart of Mary. It gave great meaning to me while I was in the hospital and idle, unable to work for the salvation of souls, to be able to offer the pains and the patience required by them as a prayer for the world.

You have to be careful with suffering. One has to be careful not to enjoy it, or focus on it, or expand it too much. Then suffering becomes the goal. The goal is not suffering; the goal is loving patience, offered to God as best one can. And the humility to admit that we don’t do this very well. One of the things I learned from my illness is that over and over again we have to tell God that we really trust Him. Trusting in God is not one action; it’s an ongoing way of life.

Fr. Groeschel's Author Page | Excerpts from The Rosary: Chain of Hope

Fr. Groeschel’s books published by Ignatius Press:

- Arise From Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn't Make Sense

- The Reform of Renewal

- Rosary: The Chain of Hope

- Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations


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