Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Who's one of the most well-known Catholics ...

Father John J. Lombardi

... in the USA after the Pope? Answer: Fr Benedict Groeschel, Franciscan priest known to many thru Eternal Word Network (Mother Angelica's station-maybe she's as well known as Fr Groeschel, come to think of it). Anyway, I saw him first praying devoutly in our small Corpus Christi Chapel with some others in front of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament--a delightful-and inspiring surprise!

When I later met Fr Groeschel at the Grotto Cave, he said he was inspired by all the Spring beauty. After his prayers I asked him if he'd give a talk to the group with me and he delightfully spoke to the children and teachers about the history of our Grotto, pilgrimaging, and St Bernadette, whom he emphasized was a "snappy girl" (she played jokes and was witty), who was born in a converted jail cell ("The Cahot") in Lourdes. Father said she was not "plastic" at all but a real human being-unlike portrayals of her. Fr Groeschel also recounted the life of St Phillip Neri, "the joking saint," who in the 1500's in Rome, once had a long-haired Cardinal's hair cut by a sheep shearer! Fr. Benedict later said in the past Hollywood often depicted Catholic religious frequently and faithfully and many people in those times, who didn't' have television, went to the movies and they were positive towards Catholic life unlike today's media, which is largely anti-Catholic.

I asked Fr Groeschel: "What is the most important thing for young Catholics to do in today's world to become holy?" He instantly said: "Be loyal to the Pope, for when students go into higher education and leave home they will be challenged." So, stay close to the Pope. Father gave the children a blessing and spoke of his car accident years ago which had nearly killed him. "Don't ever get hit by a car--get hit by a bus so you can go straight to Heaven!" He then added: "Have you ever seen a man come back from the dead? I was just about dead and came back."

I asked Fr. Groeschel about his home, Larchmont, New York, which sounds so prosaic and pastoral. He quipped: "Well it's actually like a large cemetery lit by many lights-a boring place."

He spoke fondly of our Grotto and said it had the face of "Hughie Phillips all over it"-a compliment to Msgr. Hugh Phillips, first chaplain and was known affectionately as "restorer of the Grotto".

We later met a man who is a convert to our Catholic Church and Fr Benedict recognized his name. They spoke of the Faith and eventually his wife and some of his children came along for the visit and Father, as usual, was very affable and playful-in word and action, as they sat by our Glass Chapel, and other pilgrims came up to meet him. He then spoke of psychology today (Father is a trained psychologist) which is largely devoid of spirituality and God, and yet how the current president of the American Psychological Association is amenable to spirituality and virtue, which have largely been ignored since Freud and the past decades, and yet, he said, some things seem to be turning around. He described the last forty years in the Church as some of the most challenging since the time of the Reformation (1500's) and said there is much confusion and disarray, and said slyly that the Holy Spirit is keeping things together!

When a pilgrim asked what was important to do in today's world and Church, Father said: The Church is much smaller today than in the gleaming 1950's and we have to get used to this. The dangers can get worse and the secular world will further infringe upon the Church, and certain secularist movements would move against the Church and thus we need to be prepared and respond aright. Before he left, I asked Fr. Groeschel if he would come back to speak at the Grotto and he said "Yes" right away and gave me his telephone and fax numbers. Catch? We have a year to wait!

Fr Groeschel spoke that night of Pope Benedict's new book, "Jesus of Nazareth." He said this book is the private opinion-not Church teaching-of the Pope and that people were free to agree/disagree with him, but, at least to give him, (the Pope) a chance (we all laughed). He said the book is extremely important, as the Pope was president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission for 15 years, and is thus experienced in Bible ways, which is the major theme of his book. There's been a great deal of confusion in recent decades about biblical teaching, and when Father asked how many have heard thru preaching or teaching that Jesus did not rise from the dead or walk on water-most of those present raised their hands. Father was not surprised. This largely comes as a result of wrongful applications or interpretations of what is called in Bible studies the "historical critical method" which attempts to get to the real message of the Bible with scientific methods. There are benefits to this method but also many dangers which come from a divorce between the living-past-Tradition (early Church Fathers, past interpretations of the Bible) and modern disciplines.

Fr. Groeschel mentioned how Pope Benedict's vision of Christ in the book is not toned down or embarrassed by recent biblical scholarship which can sometimes tend to downplay Jesus' supernatural attributes. He spoke of a recent renowned Bible scholar who wrote two shocking books questioning many doctrines and the life of Christ, and yet this same priest-scholar "came around" in later years to write an eloquent, orthodox volume on Christ's Passion. Point: many can be swayed in wrong ways and yet we're all called to make a "comeback" or spiritual rebound.

He then spoke of Pope Pius who issued the groundbreaking "Divino Afflante Spiritu" which helped Catholics progress in scholarship of the Bible and yet which many misinterpreted (like Vatican II) and thereby caused doubt and confusion among scholars and laity alike, and in which the Pope actually issued warnings to beware of false interpretations of the Bible. As a result of the false interpretations of the papal document and ensuing application, some theologians said Jesus didn't know Who He was and so forth. Father said that a gap began to grow in the 1950's between the Christ of Faith and the historical Jesus and that many doubted Christ's deeds and, in fact, much of their Religion. He said thus, since many laity didn't hear good, solid sermons on Christ, some people knew more of Christ thru private revelations (like Bl Faustina-Divine Mercy) because priests themselves were confused by Bible scholarship. Father said that the Christ of faith is a real, living person and not just a scholarly imagination to be doubted and deconstructed. Father spoke of the harmful, biblical individualist mentality which needs to be tethered to a "canonical community" of help and balance so scholars don't just pick apart the Bible skeptically. The danger of conservative-fundamentalist scholarship today is a narrow view of inspiration whereby some see God as dictating to the Bible-writer and canceling out the writer's subjectivity (free will, etc.) and personhood. Even some moderate fundamentalists (Evangelicals) have this view, unfortunately. An example of this and trying to get to the feeling-emotive-one-dimensional aspect of faith which does not include reason and human mind and living community, Father mentioned the first Baptists who congregated in the 1500's in Amsterdam who rallied around an individualist relationship with Christ, "emotionalism," and followed the Acts of the Apostles and tried to re-create this feeling-oriented spirituality. This was not the biblical community of the early Church and, as a matter of fact, a prominent evangelical from a southern school recently pointed out this ignores "The Didache," an ancient and widely accepted writing by all Christians which prominently mentions the Eucharist as a center of the early Church.

Fr Groeschel said "Get the Pope's book-it's big and $25"-- and implied that it is not a "cosmeticized-Christ" presented which you get in many books and films of Jesus (unlike the movie "The Passion" by Mel Gibson, which he lauded). Father then spoke of a prominent theologian who trained many eastern religious-order priests and was investigated by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (the current Pope). This theologian basically questioned (and implicitly denied) the divinity of Jesus; the Counsels teachings of the Church which are dogma; the Revelation of God as doubtfully applicable to all peoples; the Holy Trinity; the role of the Catholic Church as saving instrument as negotiable; the knowledge of Jesus as limited, and how all devastating this has been to so many souls-and yet largely unchecked. Oppositely, Pope Benedict's goal in his book is to inspire a profound belief in Christ as God and yet is challenged by many theologians today. This dissonance comes largely from many Catholic colleges and universities, and he said that "Thou shalt not steal" -when Faith is "downsized" and deception is taking place and said that people must "make noise" to effect change and demand what is rightfully theirs. He said the Pope's book may make a change and hopefully filter down to the many faithful in our Church

He said, wryly, "So, lose some weight, diet, take some vitamins and stick around-it will be a very interesting 25 years ahead." He asked us folks to put those who question Christ or the put Church on the spot, to push them "because it's an apostasy" they are unjustly doing.

Alternatively, he said, there are some Catholic colleges which are turning out good students who can be valid holy teachers to people today. When asked what can be done for schools where parents try to "divide education from religion" and thereby drain out Faith, Father said there's one word for this: "worldliness". In other words, many want to be successful and worldly and detach from Religion to be "successful" in the world. "We need to tell people that happiness doesn't come from money. Some of the happiest people I know live in slums… The biggest problem today in the USA is depression, but you don't find it amongst the poor"… So, there you have it, the mystical musings of a learned, humble, gritty-giddy priest who lives among the poor yet also travels among the elite leaders of Catholicism.

******Briefly Noted*******

I just read the book, "Stumbling on Happiness," by Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, which is a witty and wise book about the human mind and what we all seek: the pursuit of happiness. Gilbert describes both the powers and the limits of the mind to detect patterns of happiness, esp. thru: the unpredictability of emotions and thru others' examples; thru the mind's projection into the future--that is then and this is now so it's unpredictable: "Memory is a faithless friend…Practice and coaching get us out of diapers and into our britches, but they are not enough to get us out of our presents and into our futures."; how money helps those in abject poverty but not many others to be happy; how suffering actually teaches us to grow and thus surprises us all; and, get this, how parents are happy for having children and also happy with an "empty nest syndrome"! Upshot: happiness is fleeting and unpredictable and you can't plan it since we humans, with fascinating, powerful, yet facile minds, are so finicky-we really "stumble upon happiness." There are just too many variables-inside and outside us-to plan for and embrace deep happiness. That's kinda true but also equally questionable. However, Gilbert writes in incisive analysis of an age-old problem for all: "The principle (of a new or current possession or person compared to a past one) explains why we love new things when we buy them and stop loving them shortly thereafter…The delight that the comparison produced evaporates." Earthly happiness is fleeting, and ditto on the limited knowledge of how to attain it: it isn't, as Gilbert says above, enough. We need something, SomeOne else in the equation, don't we? Funny: upon leaving the Grotto Fr. Groeschel gave me his latest book, called "The Virtue Driven Life," which deals implicitly with happiness. We can achieve a certain kind of happiness with God-since He is infinite and ever trustworthy and by living the virtues (Faith, Hope, Love) and by following Christ Who said we can have "a joy no one can take from you" (Jn16:22 ).

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi