by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Father Groark: I was raised in the Lutheran tradition for nearly 20 years. It gave me a great love of Christ and the scriptures. However, as I got older, I began taking my faith and church history seriously which led me to ask some fundamental questions about the Christian tradition. Ultimately, I followed my parents in their conversion experience, being received into the Catholic church in 2006.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Father Groark: I went to a large public high school in Vancouver, WA. I was already fledgling in my faith as I entered my high school experience, and I found out really quickly that being the “Jesus freak” was not the fast track to popularity during these often awkward and critical years of socialization and actualization. I was good at compartmentalizing my faith in order to fit in and find acceptance. As you can imagine, this gave me permission to dabble in all kinds of questionable behavior that eventually snowballed in my life and led me to a life of addiction and rebellion that lasted well into my early adult years.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Father Groark: After years of drug abuse, homelessness, and a hatred of religion, I eventually hit the proverbial “rock bottom” moment in 2005. In a Hail Mary attempt at sanity, I reached out to my parents for help. They showed me great mercy, and after getting the appropriate treatment, the introduced me to the source of their joy by taking me to a Catholic mass. I knew instantly that I had found not only my spiritual home, but also my calling to a vocation. After a couple of years of discernment, I found the Capuchin friars. After the first 2 years of initial formation I began formal college studies to prepare me for ministry in the church.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a Capuchin. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of the Capuchin mission and Christ?
Father Groark: In a certain sense, I feel that the Capuchins offer me a unique opportunity to love the kind of people who are stuck in the same places that I was once stuck. Additionally, the call to follow St. Francis of Assisi in this community of brothers offers me a daily invitation to be converted more and more into the likeness of the poor and humble Christ. The Franciscan tradition has stood for 800 years as a sign of contradiction and radical discipleship, and it has given me a certain sense of liberation and freedom to love all of creation in a unique way.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Father Groark: For me, discernment is a daily event. Every day I remind myself that trying to live my vocation is not about feeling like this is going to be perfect, but rather, I ask myself, is it possible? Is possible that just for today I can go deeper into my Franciscan identity so as to become closer to Christ? I spent many years chasing a host of illusions of success, wealth, and so-called perfection, only to find myself in deep despair and doubt. The initial years of formation as a Capuchin friar brought me deep into the vast shadows of my personality and helped to slowly expose them to the light. Now, I am much more comfortable with my gifts and my weaknesses, and I can now see that all of this can be used to give glory to God, and to enter into deep empathy with God’s suffering people.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Father Groark: Absolutely. As I continue to surrender, God has been able to use everything about me to serve his Church. My talents, my sinfulness, my personality,all of it.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a Capuchin? About living in community?
Father Groark: Stop chasing the idea of perfection. Life isn’t perfect. The church isn’t perfect. No relationship is perfect. The Capuchin order isn’t perfect. However, my worst day in community is a million times more consoling that even my best day when I was lost in the egoic world of my own making. The brothers love me, support me, and challenge me every day to go deeper into my baptismal identity. There are good days and there are bad days, but no matter what happens, I have a family of friars who love me and pray for me. What else could I ask for?
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Father Groark: I think we should be aware of the effects of secularization. It is a powerful reality that seems to be unavoidable as our world evolves. I suppose I differ from some in that I don’t necessarily think this is something to be fought, rather, I think if we are wise, we might be able to see this as yet another opportunity to be creative in our attempts to evangelize, and to showcase the beauty of life within the church, religious communities, and a relationship with Christ. As secularization grows, we see an increased idolization of human beings, politics, subjective feelings and emotions, and all kinds of strange ideas. Most of which leads us to radical individualization and division. I think there is a tremendous space opening up for the beauty of the Gospel to shine forth.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Capuchin follower of Christ?
Father Groark: I am eternally grateful for the unique and privileged opportunities I have had to enter the lives of people who are on the margins. I have met Christ in powerful ways because life as a Capuchin friar has afforded me the freedom to go to many places that most people don’t want to go, and to love people that most people don’t see. God has been super generous to me in allowing me to do this.
Dr. Knight: As a Capuchin what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?
Father Groark: The Capuchins, in my opinion, have the perfect balance of action and contemplation. Every morning we gather for silent prayer, liturgy of the hours, and to celebrate the Eucharist. Which gives us the interior freedom to go out into the world and share the fruits of our prayer. Every evening we gather again to repeat our meditation and prayer, reflecting on all of the graces that God has given us each day. It’s a wonderful harmony that keeps me accountable to my prayer life and the life of the community, as well as the freedom to live my vocation in the world as a lesser brother. As a Capuchin, our ministries always involve an eye towards helping the poor and the marginalized. So much of our work is focused on walking with people in the midst of whatever chaos they find themselves in. In the end, we simply do what St. Francis did: Live the gospel.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Capuchins do for us all.