Friday Book Pick: Arise from Darkness: What to do when Life doesn’t Make Sense
by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
For such a somber title, I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion as I reread this book. If you knew the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, in person or through his many television appearances, you are not at all surprised by this. The man was funny. Conflate a high intelligence with a keen interest in people; a brilliance that’s not bookish; deep religious moorings, and yet allergic to pious clichés; and cement it all together with a wry, New York sense of humor, and you get an idea of the personality of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, one of the eight founding friars of the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (although “instigator” was Father’s preferred title). This book is classic Fr. Benedict, and you will hear his voice in every sentence—even if you never knew Fr. Benedict, Franciscan priest, author, evangelist, and psychologist, among other things. Reading it could be a good introduction to a great man.
Fr. Benedict wanted to help people. He founded a community to serve the very poor, after all. He told me once, toward the end of his life, that he had a reoccurring dream that he was sitting on top of pallets of food trying to distribute it to the poor people in the street down below. Awake or asleep, he lived to relieve suffering in any way he could. Fr. Benedict studied at Columbia University to become a psychologist because he wanted to help people who were trapped in darkness. This book, in a way, is a summary of his approach to assisting the downtrodden, the grieving, those under the weight of a collapsing life. He was never one to gloss, glaze or sugar-coat anything. He referred to himself as a moderate pessimist with little or no expectations, so that he could be pleasantly surprised if anything ever turned out all right. In a way, his personality made him easy to talk to. He taught us in a pastoral counseling class to “look like a wilted gladiola” when listening to someone (in other words, completely incapable of being shocked), and he modeled it perfectly. Fr. Benedict wasn’t shockable; he was soberly honest about crisis, darkness and death. And that’s what we need right now, isn’t it—sober assessments that revolve around the eternal priorities?
Some of the chapter titles of the book include: Arise from Darkness, When Our Security is Threatened, When the Church Lets us Down, When Death Robs Us, and What We Do When Everything Falls Apart…each chapter is almost eerily applicable. To pick just one, the chapter on the Church struck me anew this past reading. Father readily acknowledges the failures, shortcomings, and limitations of the Church, and by citing saints who suffered at the hands of the Church (or one portion of it), offers us perspective. Fr. Benedict even ventures to ask his readers the question, “Am I overly dependent on the Church? Has my reliance on Church people caused me not to rely on God and his Son?” At a time when our frustration at the lack of Sacramental availability is growing and the temptation to criticize or grumble (or worse) is ever present, Fr. Benedict’s exhortation fits the moment. “I suggest you be patient with the leaders of the Church, because we are in extremely difficult, confusing and pagan times.” And that is before adding the chaos of the pandemic as yet another layer.
“Perhaps the Church has hurt you. The Church has hurt me. It has hurt most people near it for any length of time—not the whole Church, but part of it. I assure you that you and I will know at the end of our days, that great Church which is the mystical body of Christ when it comes to its full reality. That is what eternal life is—when all who are saved from every nation and race and people will be gathered into the Mystical Body of Christ. We are preparing now for the heavenly Church, but our own Spiritual Life will be very weak and narrow indeed if we do not loyally struggle for the Church in this world and try to be faithful to her even when others are not faithful.”
At the end of the book, Father includes a collection of prayers and excerpts from saints that are especially insightful or consoling for someone in the midst of a heavy darkness.
This book was written in 1995, and I have a stack of them on the shelf in my office to give away when needed. The only problem is, right now, I’d like to give one to every single person in New York City. Let us pray for each other, and especially for those who do not yet know that there is a Light that the darkness will never overcome.
Mother Clare, CFR