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Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Helps IPS Celebrate 10th Anniversary
Discusses the stages of spiritual development according to St. Augustine

Fr Benedict Groeschel with the IPS staff
Fr Benedict Groeschel greets members of the IPS staff.

The Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) welcomed one of its long-time supporters on October 1, 2009.  Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, who teaches at the Institute, spoke at the institute’s 10th anniversary celebration.

IPS is a distinctive Catholic graduate school that integrates the study of psychology with theology and philosophy.  The Institute is located in Arlington, Va.

Father Groeschel is the host of the television talk program Sunday Night Live with Father Benedict Groeschel, broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He is the author of over 30 books and has recorded more than 100 audio and video series.  He is the director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and, in addition to being an adjunct professor at IPS, is a professor of pastoral psychology at St. Joseph´s Seminary in New York.  He is one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

Priest’s life is a miracle 

On January 11, 2004, Fr. Groeschel was struck by an automobile while crossing a street in Orlando, Florida.  He received a head injury and broken bones, and had no blood pressure, heartbeat or pulse for about 27 minutes.  A few days later, the trauma triggered a near-fatal heart attack.  He was able to recover from his injuries, which many consider a miracle, and returned to do his show on EWTN on October 24, 2004.  

He told the New York Times nearly four years after his accident: “They said I would never live.  I lived. They said I would never think.  I think. They said I would never walk.  I walked. They said I would never dance, but I never danced anyway.”  Today he remains a much sought-after teacher, counselor, preacher, retreat master, author and spiritual director.

Father Groeschel told his audience at IPS that the idea of Catholic psychology is nothing new.  Its roots go back to the ancient Greeks, Plato and Aristotle. 

“The oldest psychological theory of human behavior is about spiritual development, centuries and centuries before contemporary psychology at the end of the 19th century,” he said. He quoted the famous passage from St. Paul questioning the mystery of human behavior from Romans 7:19 - “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”

Augustine’s teaching makes major contribution

But Groeschel was mainly interested in talking about the teachings of one of his own major influences in the field of psychology – St. Augustine.  Groeschel said Augustine made contributions to almost every aspect of human thought – and that he profoundly affects both Christian and secular philosophers even today.

Father Groeschel asked his audience to consider the question: “How are you being a good Christian, a good person now, and how can you be doing better?

He then discussed Augustine’s teaching on human spiritual development in three stages -- purification, illumination, and union with God.  “They are also called the purgative, illuminative, and unitive way,” Father said.

In the first step, purification, Groeschel explained that people must have a moral conversion.  “You cannot grow spiritually unless you have decided to live a moral life and avoid doing things that are wrong,” he said.  Acknowledging that because of human weakness, all fall into sin sometime, he said one must decide to do God’s will and then make a continual effort to improve.  He said this stage is often as far as some people ever get in this life. 

The second step involves developing a mature faith that “accepts the mysteries of God.”

We must have a sense of God’s mystery

A mystery is a reality you can perceive but cannot understand, said Father Groeschel, quoting Albert Einstein.  Father Groeschel explained that according to Einstein, “if a person does not have sense of mystery about life and wonder about the things of God, he might as well be dead.”

The third step involves placing one’s trust in God and acceptance of Divine Providence.  “That is where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls,” he said.

A person who is seriously trying to grow in the spiritual life must take the step toward trusting God more and more, and Groeschel said this effort can take decades.

“It’s easier to trust when you get old, because you know you are going to get outta here,” he quipped.  “Life can be scary and challenging.  That is when you must go on – and trust.”

Spiritual darkness brings compassion

Father Groeschel mentioned that the souls who do reach this point may well be given by God the “help of darkness.”  According to Groeschel, this spiritual darkness was suffered by St. Teresa of Calcutta for 35 years, and only ended just before her death.  Such spiritual suffering aids one in having compassion for others who are suffering, said Groeschel, explaining that the word “compassion” means “to suffer with.”

After this point, Father said, souls can reach the unitive level. “Very few people arrive there in this life,” he said. 

He called such people living saints, and said that if you meet such a person, you will know it.  “A saint is someone who lives in the very presence of God.”



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