Saturday, October 04, 2014

RIP Father Benedict Groeschel

After Our Lady of Vilnius was closed Rita decided that we needed to seek the counsel of Father Groeschel in our endeavor to save the church and our parish community.  She had seen him on EWTN speaking about 9/11 and was impressed that he didn't come out with the usual content.  So we made a pilgrimage to a talk that he was giving on positive psychology at the Church of the Holy Innocents.  We enjoyed the lecture, stayed for the Mass and then stood on line to share our concerns.  Most of the people on the queue in front of us were waiting to express praise and gratitude or to request his autograph.  We were last.  Rita deferred to me because she thought I, as a native speaker, spoke better English.  "We are from Our Lady of Vilnius and we would like to talk to you about our parish," I declaimed formally, as I was somewhat starstruck.  Father showed his familiarity with the case by reiterating some of the reasons for closing OLV outlined in the archdiocesan press release:  poor attendance and broken roof.  When I challenged, he listened.  I told him that there would be no Lithuanian presence in the archdiocese when Our Lady of Vilnius closed: no hymns, no Our Lady of Siluva, no Rupintojelis.  He said that, if that is the case, it would be the Lithuanians' own fault.  He then made some good suggestions for approaching the archdiocese in order to integrate these things.  Rita was flabbergasted at his brusqueness and one of the young Franciscans tending to him explained that it had been a long day for Father and that he was always in pain.

I was disappointed at first, but the more I engaged in the effort to save OLV, the more I saw that he was right:  if we wanted to have a place at the archdiocesan table as a culture, we had to make it happen and in a highly specific way.

Though this is my most significant memory of Father Groeschel, I have others:  hearing him speak about the Eucharist at Dunwoodie, seeing him on the altar at major liturgies at St. Patricks, seeing him as a lone, hooded figure praying outside the Womens' Center in Dobbs Ferry.  I remember praying for him at the time of his accident, marveling at his recovery and enjoying him on Sunday Night Live.

He was a singular intellect with a no B.S. tone, his mixture of erudition and working class smarts bracing and funny.  He spoke and lived his truth.  May all of us who feel his loss carry him with us by becoming more like him.

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