Catholic Exchange honors the memory of the Catholic husband and father, Tony Benkovic, who passed from this life on April 11, 2007. His wife, Johnnette Benkovic is well-known to many of our readers as the hostess of the Living His Life Abundantly feature on EWTN.
Diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005, Tony Benkovic fought to embrace life with all his strength and even at the last it was as though he was racing to the finish. "He was a legend at hospice," Johnnette said. "For the last three days his heart raced at 120-154 beats per minute, as though he were running a marathon. It defied physiological explanation!"
Last Wednesday, the fight was over, the race was won. Having celebrated with his family the Mass of Resurrection and enjoyed Easter dinner with them, he slipped the bonds of earth in time to celebrate Mercy Sunday with his son, Simon. Army Corporal Simon M. Benkovic survived a fierce deployment in Iraq with the Fourth Infantry Division, but lost his life, March 20, 2004 in a single car accident less than three months after discharge from the Army. He was 25.
The grieving mother has now become a widow and our prayers are with Johnnette Benkovic and her family as they carry the cross of grief once again.
Reflecting on how she and Tony coped with the death of her son, Johnnette shared the following with readers of Canticle magazine.
Six Lessons of a Grieving Mother's Heart
1. We learned that, united to the Cross of Christ, our misery becomes our treasury, laden with abundant blessings that lead us to ever-deepening union with Jesus.
2. We learned that God's grace is sufficient for us, and that it can never be exhausted.
3. We learned that God is rich in mercy and that His mercy flows from the heart of Christ through the sacraments of the Church.
4. We learned that hope is not a feeling but a decision to believe that God will work all things to the good, even the most devastating.
5. We learned that the prayers of others are palpable and strong, giving us strength and courage, consolation and comfort.
6. And we learned that the best gift one could receive after losing a loved one is a card telling you that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered for the repose of his soul.
It Is a Privilege to Suffer with Christ
While her husband's illness still raged, Johnnette drew upon those lessons and wrote:
Medically speaking, my husband's disease is considered fatal and the future remains uncertain. And yet, the difficult lessons of the previous year have served us well. We know that just as surely as grace sustained us through the death of our son, grace is sustaining us now.
We know that nothing is impossible with God, nothing. We know that God's grace is sufficient, and mercy continues to flow from the heart of Christ. We know that the Mass is our most powerful prayer, and that the prayers of others draw down abundant blessings from heaven.
We know that Our Lord and Our Lady are with us, and we know that in our love for each other the divine Love is reflected — and that is our comfort and strength. People often ask Anthony how he is coping with his illness and the loss of our son. His answer is characteristically succinct: "It is a privilege to suffer with Christ."
Early after my husband's diagnosis, Sister Briege McKenna, a Poor Clare sister known internationally for the gift of healing, came to our home to pray with Anthony. After she was finished, with tears in his eyes Anthony said, "I am offering all of my suffering for Johnnette and the work that God has called her to do. I am offering it for Living His Life Abundantly and for Women of Grace." And then Anthony turned to me and said, "Don't stop doing what God has called you to do. If you stop, you will nullify the gift I am offering you today."
Those words ring loud and clear in my heart, and I will never forget them. Through them, my husband gave to me the greatest gift a wife can receive: the gift of his very self.
Even in this joyous Easter season we know that many of our brothers and sisters experience the wrenching loss of dear ones or feel renewed grief. May the promise of the Resurrection sustain them as we all pray for our beloved dead.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Catholic Exchange thanks Heidi Hess Saxton for help in compiling this material. Heidi Hess Saxton is the editor of Canticle magazine, a publication of Women of Grace®, and author of the "Silent Canticle," a blog for Catholic writers, which will contain updated information about the Benkovic family.