Suffering doesn’t have last word for evangelizer

Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to Your Catholic HeraldThursday, 07 Nov

At no time in her life, did Johnnette Benkovic’s favorite Scripture passage mean more to her than it did the days and months following March 20, 2004, at 4:45  a.m., when officers from the Florida Highway Patrol knocked at the door and informed Johnnette and Anthony Benkovic, that their son, Simon, 25, was killed in a vehicular accident at 1:01 a.m. He died just weeks after returning from Iraq, where he had served in the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.

Johnnette Benkovic

 

“Ephesians 1:3-4 says, ‘Praise be to God the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens. God chose us in him before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love,’” she explained to a group of women during her talk at the Women of Christ Conference Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Washington County Pavilion in West Bend. “I was in intense pain and fractured like a Picasso painting, screaming and crying out to God, grasping for logic.”

To her relief, no other person was injured in the auto accident, but the grief and agony of losing her son was indescribable. She collapsed on her bedroom floor. She remembers hearing a screaming sound as if an animal was being mauled to death, and realized that the sounds came from deep within her own body. She had just seen Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ” and, while on the floor, saw in her mind each of the scenes that featured Our Blessed Lady.

Johnnette Benkovic is executive producer of the Women of Grace television program, aired on EWTN internationally, Monday through Friday. The program discusses contemporary issues from a Catholic perspective. Benkovic is also host of Women of Grace Live, a one-hour, call-in radio talk show that airs five times a week. She is heard nationally on AM/FM stations and internationally via short wave, and satellite radio.
For more information, visithttp://www.womenofgrace.com/

“I screamed, ‘Father God, I cannot do this. I can’t suffer like this.’ But, our good God showed me every scene from that movie and was communicating to me that I was not devoid of consolation, that Our Blessed Lady was there with me. I didn’t feel her. I didn’t have any apparitions, or any visions of angels. In fact, the pain punched deeper into my heart,” explained Benkovic, “But I did remember Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3 and 4 and the revelation was that again, that passage spoke to me and I began proclaiming the passage over and over, praising God.”

As she climbed out of that grief, she trusted that God gave her the grace as comfort to go on with her life. Two years and two weeks after Simon died, she lost her husband Anthony to a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.

As the Founder and President of Living His Life Abundantly International, Benkovic, a mother of two daughters and grandmother to three with twins on the way, is a familiar face on EWTN as a Catholic evangelization apostolate with outreaches in radio, print and Internet communications. She is also the Founder of Women of Grace, a Catholic apostolate for Christian women that features conferences, curricula and study groups. After years as a non-practicing Catholic, she returned to Catholicism in 1981 and felt called to share the Gospel message through media. She has maintained a consistent presence in Catholic radio since 1987 and in Catholic television since 1988.

No break from evangelizing

Despite the overwhelming anguish of losing her son and husband, Benkovic did not take a break from evangelizing, she explained during a lunch break interview.

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“A month after Simon died, I was in Orlando doing a praise conference; I just never stopped doing ministry,” she explained. “The only hiatus I took where I came off the road was when Anthony had about eight weeks of life left. He didn’t want me to go off the road.”

 

After his cancer diagnosis, Anthony told Benkovic they could handle all the disease entailed because they both saw in the past year that God’s grace was sufficient.

“(St. Clare) Sr. Briege McKenna, who has a healing ministry, called one day and wanted to come and pray with Tony. She lives in our neighborhood,” said Benkovic. “So she was praying and telling Tony (in her Irish lilt), ‘Oh Tony, I am seeing you and Johnnette walking down a long road and Jesus is with you,’ and Tony just said, ‘Sister, cut to the chase, I am not going to be healed, right?’ She told him that it was going to be a beautiful journey. Then later, Tony told me, ‘Johnnette, I am offering all of my suffering for Living Life Abundantly and Women of Grace and for all the work you are doing. Don’t stop doing what you do and if you stop working, you will nullify the gift I am giving you. So he didn’t want me to come off the road for any reason.”

While there were instances when Benkovic wasn’t sure she could go on, she relied upon Jesus’ words, “My grace is sufficient for you,” as well as the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort who said that Mary gives attributes of her son when one is consecrated to Jesus through Mary.

Mary ‘took away my weakness’

“I believe she took away my weakness and gave me her strength to continue on and function,” she said. “At one point during my husband’s illness, he had a 9-month remission after his first surgery and I had him on the show and interviewed him about Simon’s death and about his diagnosis. We never kept anything private and after that we received a lot of supportive feedback from others.”

Another helpful Scripture that Benkovic turns to is Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

“When he uses all, he means nothing outside of the word all,” she explained. “He did use Simon’s death and Anthony’s suffering and death for greater honor and glory in a sense that he became a vehicle through which others were able to grieve with a deeper understanding of the goodness of God, and how, with a supernatural outlook, we can see his hand moving in and through all things. I do believe that perhaps God permitted me to suffer those losses so that others might come to see that suffering never has the last word. That God’s love is the last word and his love is eternal and everlasting. This is a pilgrim life we live and completely a means to get us to the ultimate, everlasting life.”

Ministry grows after losses

After Simon’s and Anthony’s deaths, Benkovic’s ministry grew as she shared her cross with her viewers and listeners. In a similar way, others understood they, too, were being called by God to proclaim good news in the midst of all things.

“The hearts of the public were open, I think, in a new way so they could hear the message more profoundly because it was being spoken by someone who understood,” she said. “Personally, my spiritual life grew exponentially after Simon’s death and I came to see that in spiritual life we are often offered big crosses because God wants us to do very big things in us. The biggest thing God did was to bring Jesus in the world, John 3:16 and this means with it, suffering and passion and death. When God entrusts big crosses to us we must see it as the light and realize the marvelous love and incomprehensible grace is ours in the midst of it. I have often said, ‘show me a saint who has no cross’ and that will be my new patron saint. Without the cross, there is no sanctity and through the cross we find sanctity and great grace.” Karen Mahoney


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