Last night a couple of friends and I headed to Gainesville, VA to Holy Trinity Parish to hear Fr. Groeschel speak about his new book, After This Life. I have heard him speak several times before and have always truly enjoyed his wit and his holy charm. So, I was excited to be seeing him again.
His talk focused on how our culture has an odd relationship with death these days. We are always trying to avoid the topic, as if it's a dirty subject that no one needs to hear about. But, when we are faced with it, we deal with the absence in the opposite extreme: we glorify, we laud, we canonize the one who has gone before. We avoid or even ignore that reality that we have to pray for the dead to help them on their journey to eternal happiness. We must remember that we believe in the reality of purgatory.
Fr. Groeschel reminded his audience that purgatory isn't a BAD place. It is what Pope Benedict XVI called an "intermediate state", a place between earthly life and the afterlife where one can be cleansed and prepared for beatitude. Many of us will have much to make up for in terms of temporal punishment for the sins we have committed and are forgiven here on earth. There is a consequence to sin, and hopefully, it will be for the vast majority of us, purgation not damnation that we receive in final judgment. Of course, there are also many of us who will suffer well and expiate their sins right here on earth. This should be the goal of the faithful to do their reparation and to make up for those temporal punishments here and now.
This holy priest has had much of his own suffering; he wastes none of it. In 2004 at the age of 70 he was hit by a car in Orlando, Florida. "I had no heart beat, no blood pressure and no pulse for 27 min.," he offered to the enraptured crowd. You could hear a pin drop as he recounted the evening of his near fatal accident. He has also suffered a stroke which weakened his voice and made pulling up the right word an irritant to him one or two times during his talk. He joked and moved ahead with the confidence of a man much more youthful, much sturdier. It was inspiring to see him, to hear him, at the age of 77 after all that he's endured speak about death and God's plan for our salvation. His mission continues, his suffering is given clear purpose. He works to build up the Kingdom of God by serving the poor, especially through his order, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, which he founded in 1987.
I left inspired and uplifted from his talk last night. I secretly wished that I could just pull up a chair around the dinner table and listen to him tell stories like a Grandfather does with his Grandchildren. I hung on every word and was sad when he said, "Good night and God bless." I didn't want to be sent off to bed without just one more story.
There may be many years ahead for Fr. Groeschel, but who knows if I'll ever get to see him again. One thing is for certain, I will pray for him now, and I will pray for him when it is his time to return to the Father. He made sure we all understood the value of those prayers last night.
God bless him and keep him.