Thursday, May 19, 2016

A New Perspective About My Dad

  I am beginning to understand my Dad better, now that he's passed and is hopefully in heaven and I'm taking care of Mom.  I used to get so frustrated with him whenever I was expressing something about which I was very serious, very concerned (whether it was relationships, work, ministry, writing, etc.), that I wanted him to understand, and he'd respond by asking me if I had enough gas in my car.  I felt as if he didn't understand me or what I was trying to communicate and that he cared only about the practical realities of life and was unable to go deeper.  I guess I felt somewhat invalidated.

I see my Mom suffering and I try to help her as best as I can--giving her the heating pad, making or bringing lunch, making coffee or tea, massaging her back with Ben Gay, and just being there to listen and be present and pray and ask others to pray.  With all my heart I want to PROTECT her, SHIELD her, and MAKE EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT.  But my ability to do this is very limited and I feel helpless.  I want to protect her but I can't.  So the one thing that I can do when my ability to protect is being limited is to default to another role that I can do a little more successfully:  to PROVIDE.  So I try to anticipate whatever Mom might need from the supermarket or from CVS (drug store) and I shop for her.  At least, besides helping her, this makes me feel less helpless and more like I'm making a difference.  I can't control her pain or health issues but I CAN try to make sure Mom has everything she needs in the house.  As the saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough GO SHOPPING!"

So now I realize that my Dad felt that there wasn't much he could do about my work, relationship issues, ministries, etc. and that his role of protector was limited when I was hurting.  A good Dad is a protector and a provider.  So if he couldn't protect me, at least he could provide for me and make sure I had enough gas in my car, enough air in my tires, enough money to pay my bills, etc.  It wasn't that he didn't care about my concerns, but when faced with something he couldn't fix and something he couldn't do, Dad switched over to trying to do what he COULD do to help me.

Dad was never able to express it in words, and this was always a stumbling block in our relationship, because verbal communication is so much a part of who I am.  That's so much a part of the differences between men and women, especially men of Dad's generation (WWII veterans) and women of MY generation.  I don't know to what extent he understood ME, but now I realize something I never understood about HIM when his changing the subject to things of a more practical nature made me feel as if what I was trying to tell him was somehow not important.

Now, Dad, I'm beginning to understand and to love you more than ever.  And though I'm still frustrated with God for allowing Mom to undergo so much suffering and not yet making things better for her, I'm grateful for this realization and new perspective.

Thank You, God.  I'm sorry, Dad.

(c) Copyright 2016 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF) 

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Savior, King, Messiah, LORD,
JESUS, our Emmanuel
So many names, such mystery!
But on this Christmas morn I see
Another name You are to me
And have been throughout history:
You're the GOD of the open arms.
Since Eden You've extended grace
So we could turn and seek Your face.
Your people failed and turned away,
But when they turned to You and prayed,
If only with a fleeting glance,
You'd offer them a second chance:
You're they GOD of the open arms.
At last You came at Bethlehem
To Mary, shepherds and Wise Men.
Your tiny arms were open wide
To welcome all who came inside
The stable, then the house.
God Incarnate, in Your flesh we see
What You've been from eternity:
The GOD of the open arms.
You grew, and then as a grown man
You proved that all could come to You
With burdens, sorrows, sin and pain
And in You we'd be born again.
You taught us the unchanging love
Comes from the Father up above,
For prodigal returning home
Find the GOD of the open arms.
Then one dark day at Calvary
Your loving arms stretched open wide
Were nailed upon the Cross to be
Embracing all humanity.
You died to save the world from sin
For anyone who'll let You in.
Your death to be the seal to prove
You're the GOD of the open arms.
And when You rose from death You came
To frightened friends who saw Your face,
And once again felt Your embrace
As the GOD of the open arms.
And still Your arms are open wide
To welcome all to come inside.
You touch us in Your Word and prayer
And Sacrament abiding there.
Someday I trust I'll see Your face
And run into Your warm embrace,
When I am finally HOME to dwell
With my GOD of the open arms.
(c) Copyright 2014 by Arlene B. Müller (Arlene Clare Müller, OSF).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anonymous Woman at the Cross

There were several places she could have gone that day.  It seemed there was always a list of things to do and pending projects clamoring for her attention.  There were the remaining details to complete in preparing the final Passover Seder.  There was mending to be done and dresses to be made for upcoming social events.  Always so much needing to be accomplished, whether it was wiping the dust from the furniture—dust that seemed to reappear almost as soon as it was removed—or bills to be paid, meals to be planned, or entries to be written in the journal she wrote and kept hidden under the mat on which she slept.

Yet with all the cacophony of unfinished chores playing in her mind she somehow knew there was one place she HAD to be.  Although she seemed always busy and anxious about many things, for some mysterious reason it became clear to her that on this day and in these hours before the onset of the Sabbath during the Passover season, there was still but one thing necessary and one place where she was needed.  She didn’t know exactly what she would do or if anything she tried to do would be of any real use.  She just knew she HAD to be there.  From whatever time she had spent with the Master, in coming to know Him and His mother she was beginning to realize that there was something of value just in simply being PRESENT—being FULLY PRESENT—of being with people and loving them with your presence, even if there were few words you could say or only little things you might do.

She had received word early that morning that JESUS, Whom she had come to know and love as her LORD, had been arrested and was being tried and would likely be crucified.  There was not really anything she could do about it, but still she HAD to be there.  Perhaps somehow she could lend her love and support to Him and to His mother whom she loved so much.  She would try to find them and share that journey to Calvary with them.  She had heard that most of the men who were His closest followers had run away.  She knew she HAD to be there.

Everyone who knew this anonymous woman—let’s call her “Johanna”—knew that she was always carrying bags of things “just in case someone might need them”.  Today was no exception.  Johanna wondered what she could bring that might provide some comfort or assistance to JESUS in His suffering or to His mother and any others walking along the dusty road and standing in the hot noonday Jerusalem sun.  She hastily gathered up a small jug of water, a small jug of old wine, some cloths, and a sponge—she couldn’t explain what good a sponge would do, but it was next to the cloths and for some unknown reason it caught her eye and she sensed it should be included—and hurried to catch up and find JESUS and His mother.  She arrived just in time to watch her Savior being nailed to the cross.  Like His Mother Mary and the other women and the apostle John, Johanna stood strong and silent.  There were few words she could offer, even though Johanna was usually a woman of many words.  But she provided some sips of water and some cool cloths to give some refreshment to her companion witnesses.  In His last dying moments on the cross when JESUS cried out “I thirst”, it was Johanna’s sponge and common wine that was placed on some hyssop to give Him that one moment of comfort before He uttered His final words, “It is finished” and gave up His spirit.

Although no one may ever know this anonymous woman at the cross or anything she said or did, she cooperated in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering and her presence and simple acts of kindness, though they seem insignificant from an earthly perspective, were part of her God-given role and have eternal significance.

This account of the anonymous woman at the cross is my attempt to utilize something I have absorbed from Jesuit retreats about Ignatian contemplation and finding the Presence of God in all things.  Her character—although I can’t sew dresses, I usually ignore dust on furniture and I am neither a cook nor a hostess or even Jewish, but I do like to write, I am usually a person of many—some have even suggested “too many”—words, and I do tend to carry items “just in case someone might need them”—is a projection of myself into a scene from the Gospel.  I was inspired to write this following a night I spent at my parents’ house when Dad was sick and we weren’t sure if we would have to call 911 and it is even more meaningful when I recall the 45 minute to one hour daily visits with Dad in the surgical ICU during his last week of life.  It is my way of perceiving an expression of the connection between the Gospel—particularly the cross—and my life and the lives of others who are involved, whether in a big way or in little ways, in caregiving, whether is a mother caring for her children, a daughter sharing in the care of elderly parents, or in any other way.

There is a great value in prayer vigils of Eucharistic adoration, I am sure.  I confess that I have spent very little time in the practice of Eucharistic adoration, even though I participate and have sometimes even been involved in the planning of and preparation for the annual Eucharistic Adoration service at our Secular Franciscan fraternity meeting—usually our August meeting, since in August we celebrate the feast of our beloved St. Clare of Assisi, who is well known for her devotion to the Eucharist.

Although nothing can fully compare with the Real Presence of JESUS in the Eucharist, I believe that there are many other forms of Eucharistic prayer vigils that are part of the human caregiving experience, even though we are not literally present before the Blessed Sacrament and we might not even be able to pray consciously or deliberately.  Sometimes these are the prayer vigils to which God calls us, the vigils for which we somehow know in our hearts that we somehow just HAVE to be there before any other priority, and for which we CHOOSE to be there and would not choose to be anywhere else; even if all we can provide is our loving presence and simple acts of kindness that would seem insignificant from an earthly perspective but which we somehow know in our hearts belong to the eternal.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived and spoke about ministering to JESUS in “the poorest of the poor”.  The LORD she worshipped in His Real Eucharistic Presence she experienced in her ministry to the many poor and vulnerable people throughout much of her lifetime.  They were the poor CHRIST to her and she was the healing, loving CHRIST to them. In her writing and her speeches Mother Teresa pointed out that often “the poor” to whom we are called to minister and in whom we must see JESUS may be found in “the person in front of us”, especially within our own families.

Whenever possible, it is good to respond to Our LORD’s invitation to spend time adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament, hidden under the Eucharistic species in the monstrance or in the tabernacle.  But let us also be quick to respond to those many other hidden prayer vigils to which God calls us to be fully present to Him in His hidden Presence in “distressing disguise” in our families and friends—the sick child, the aging parent, the sick and potentially dying elderly parent, aunt, uncle, or neighbor, and the opportunity to see JESUS in them and represent the love of JESUS to them.


© Copyright 2014 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

To Be Truly Pastoral - Two Reflections

1.  When Our LORD JESUS walked the earth, many sinners were drawn to His love, compassion, mercy and holiness.  He did not need to lecture them about their sinful lives.  He looked at them, they looked at Him, and they realized that He knew them, even their sins, and He loved them and that love and mercy they found in Him was utterly transforming and they turned from their sins and followed Him.  He never compromised Truth, but many so-called "religious" people were shocked that He related to people who had been trapped in sinful lives and that He was not all caught up in issues of rules, regulation and ritual as His primary focus, and these "religious" leaders failed to realize that the LORD had come to set us all free from sin and that they, too, were sinners in need of mercy--they just had different, less obvious sins. (I used to be sad that there was more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than the 99 righteous until I realized that even if we are trying our best to be perfect, we are not and we all have some area of sinfulness and need conversion.)

 I believe that Pope Francis is trying to put the focus back on JESUS and the Gospel.  It does not mean that he is compromising any of the Church's moral teaching.  I think that Pope Francis is trying to put the "horse" (the message of the Gospel, the life, love, mercy of JESUS, Gospel simplicity and care for the poor as exemplified by our father St. Francis of Assisi) back in front of the "cart" (the rest of Catholic teaching in faith, morals and social teaching) so that people will see JESUS and the Gospel first and THEN have the rest of authentic Church teaching from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium follow and flow.  If people see ONLY what the Church is against--even though this is part of who we are and will always be--then they will fail to see JESUS.  If they can truly find JESUS in the Church and in us Christians and see the Gospel lived out in our lives and words, then it will be easier for them to accept the balance of Catholic teaching.

2.  At the end of the world Our LORD JESUS will come as our judge.  In His first coming He came as our Savior and our Good Shepherd.  He gave the "keys of the kingdom" to St. Peter, which represents authority, and He gave the Church teaching authority and legal authority.  At the same time, as our Good Shepherd He re-commissioned Peter with the words, "Feed My lambs.  Tend My sheep" (or similar words).  So the Pope and the Magisterium have authority to upholding infallible Truth while at the same time they are called to be shepherds, lovingly caring for the sheep and seeking out the lost sheep to bring them home and care for their wounds.  These may include divorced and remarried Catholics, women who are post-abortive, and homosexual persons. Many "lost sheep" do not realize they are lost.  Many "lost sheep" are still running, still in denial, still defiant, and still determined to run toward the next ravine. The heart of the Good Shepherd knows and the eyes of the Good Shepherd see that they are lost, that they are "like sheep without a shepherd". 

Those whom the LORD appointed as our "shepherds"--first of all, our Pope, then the cardinals, bishops, then the clergy--and finally, consecrated religious and ourselves as laity, must never cease to hold up the standard of what is right, we must never "enable" sin, and we must always encourage people to live by that standard.  At the same time we need to go after those "lost sheep", those who, for whatever reason, have failed to live up to that standard, to that ideal, acknowledging that we, too, could fail if not for the grace of God. 

In one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament--I believe it is in the book of the prophet Isaiah, as quoted in the contemporary liturgical song LIKE A SHEPHERD by the St. Louis Jesuits--the LORD says, "the lost I will rescue and heal their wounds, and pasture them, giving them rest."  Some of the lost sheep are easily found and acknowledge they are lost, and they long to be found.  Others are stubborn and defiant, and their defiance covers up but does not heal their wounds.  While never denying the standard it is essential that our shepherds go after and minister to all kinds of "lost sheep" and not leave them to their own destruction. 

The great challenge is how best to be "pastoral" and reach out to these "lost sheep" rather than condemning them or casting them out while still holding up the standard.  I think that this is what Pope Francis is trying to do and, whether or not you agree with his decision about the St. Patrick's Day Parade, what Cardinal Dolan is trying to do.  They are so many "lost" souls, so many who have experienced alienation.  Although we do not condone or enable sin, we as the Church, and especially our Church leaders, need to continue the work of JESUS, our Good Shepherd, in His work of healing, reconciliation and restoration. 

My retired pastor, Father Gallo, is fond of the saying, "The Church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners."  Part of the Church's mission and the work of evangelization and re-evangelization in which we all share a part is "rescue mission". 

JESUS, Good Shepherd of souls, give all of us, especially those you have appointed as our shepherds, a share of Your own Shepherd's heart, to seek, gather, bring back, heal, restore and reconcile the myriad of wounded lost sheep.  As you communicated in your messages to St. Faustina, help us to show them Your Divine Mercy so that they will not have to be subjected to Your final justice. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Dad “Preached” the Gospel, Not in Words but in Acts of Service (Eulogy for My Dad's Funeral - August 21, 2014)

If there is any account in Scripture or in the lives of the saints with which my Dad’s life could be identified, it would be the account of St. Francis of Assisi and his brother friars on a preaching mission during which they spoke no words but preached all day by spending the day doing good for others.

Unlike myself, my Dad was not “big” on verbally communicating his faith, theology, issues or feelings, and this could be frustrating at times, especially when he was sick and Mom and I would try to help him. He was sociable and spoke with neighbors, and he often spoke about what was going on in the lives of others—never in the form of gossip but always in a spirit of human interest and compassionate concern.  Dad was more interested in the needs of others and put their well-being ahead of his own.  Dad focused more on PRACTICAL needs of family, friends, parish and community and things that are sometimes taken for granted and usually of little concern to me or some other people:  he faithfully brought in not only our family’s garbage cans but those of his neighbors, he stood outside searching for parking spaces for me and for whoever was visiting, he called 311 to check on alternate side of the street parking regulations, to report potholes, and to report dead trees, and he faithfully fed cats and birds that entered our family’s backyard.

Dad was an alum of St. Francis Prep, and only after my becoming a Secular Franciscan did he reveal some sort of connection with entrance into the Secular Franciscan Order as part of his high school experience.  I realize now how much his life, whether he realized it or not, was based on the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.  I can’t ever remember Dad talking about his prayer life, but I definitely saw him praying!  Once he retired he made it a practice to attend daily Mass whenever possible, and when it became more difficult he and Mom watched Masses every day on our diocesan prayer channel and EWTN.  He also prayed the rosary, both privately in silence and along with our bishop on NET.  His verbal teaching was about a lot of practical things, but his life taught me about service, about obedience to God and the Church, about humility, about compassion, and about generosity.  When he was financially able he was generous to our parish, and the day before his last trip to the hospital he wrote out checks for the church envelopes for the entire month of August.  Dad didn’t like money spent on himself—he always said he had enough clothes-but he was quick to write a check to me or any other family member in need.  Dad never stood on ceremony and never considered himself above menial tasks.  He was definitely “no frills” and “down to earth”, even a little “rough around the edges”.  He never talked about or made a show of his good deeds but was quick to do whatever he could whenever help was needed.  His “transportation  ministry” consisted not only of driving a daughter prone to colds to school on cold, windy, snowy or rainy mornings and driving my Mom and my Grandma to doctor’s visits but also transporting family members and friends to and from our home and family and friends to doctor’s appointments.  Whenever Dad heard of anyone needing a ride, his immediate response—even before being asked—was “Geez, I’ll take you!” even when it meant rising early in the morning after only a few hours of sleep after working the 4PM to midnight shift.

Although he spoke very little about it, I frequently heard Dad worrying about family members and saw a little bit of moisture and redness in his eyes that revealed his deep concern.

Dad did not speak about philosophical, theological, or Church issues and did not like to question anything in these areas.  He simply obeyed faithfully and loyally, and one of his deepest concerns was for the spiritual well-being and faithfulness to Mass attendance and Church teaching by family members.

Although I wish Dad and I could have shared more in words, there are a few memories of father-daughter dates that I will always cherish.  Dad’s “I love you”s were mainly spoken in making sure I had enough gasoline in my car and enough air in my tires and checking my oil.  There are many of his jokes and expressions that have become part of my verbal repertoire.  And in my mind and heart Dad will always be with me to remind me to take out the garbage and recycling, close the gate, take my foot off the gas pedal and “let it roll” to save gas when I’m several feet away from a light that is red or about to turn red, and a myriad of other practical things.

In his own simple, unassuming “no frills” way, my Dad made a positive impact on the lives of others and lived the Gospel life, loving God and neighbor, throughout 91 years of life and 64 years of a loving, faithful marriage to my Mom.  That is his legacy, and I hope and pray that the LORD has already welcomed Dad into his heavenly home.


© Copyright 2014 by Arlene B. Muller


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To Reconcile Two Antithetical Truths

This past Sunday we heard the beloved Gospel passage in which JESUS invites those who are weary and heavily burdened to come to Him and find rest and promises that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light”.  OK.  We are all weary and burdened and we all come to the LORD in prayer.  God does not lie.  His Word is true.  So I try to believe in His Word and hope in His promises.
But we have two antithetical truths.  On one hand, there are many Christians who have faith, who pray and serve the LORD and the duties of our station in life faithfully--or at least try our best to do so--who are in conversation with the LORD throughout the day, and who are always coming to Him, asking Him for help and thanking Him for favors, but who have various kinds of suffering, some of which in human terms reaches the point of being unbearable.  I believe that the saying “God never gives you more than you can handle” is false.  God FREQUENTLY gives us more than we can handle--at least in our own strength--but then He gives us the grace and strength to endure and to function.  On the other hand we have God’s Word, which by definition is true because God in His nature can never lie, that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light”. 
My question--and I imagine the question somehow in the minds and hearts of many Christians, since we all experience suffering and burdens in our own way and I imagine that many are struggling--is how can we get from the experience of intense suffering and carrying the heavy burden that the LORD has permitted or even called us to carry to experiencing that His yoke is easy and His burden is light?  We are coming to Him and asking for healing, for relief, for strength.  I guess the fact that we receive the necessary graces to endure one day at a time and hold on to our faith even when we are experiencing suffering, struggle and doubt counts for something.  But it is hard to accept that this should somehow be enough.  With all due respect, although I know that the LORD endured suffering beyond all human suffering in His Passion and death on the Cross, it seems that in some cases it is hard not to feel that JESUS is not carrying His share of the load and that the yoke and burden are far from easy and light.  Perhaps it is a difference in perspective--I guess any yoke and burden would seem light in comparison to the Cross.  But I would think that since the LORD promised that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, there should be something that either we or He or both should be doing so that our experience would better approximate what He promises in His Word.  Perhaps there is a way that we need to learn to do this in His strength and access that strength instead of relying on our own? How do we lean on Him?
How do we reconcile the truth of God’s Word with the reality of our experience?  I can deny neither.  Both are true but both seem contradictory.  There must be some way that we can do or say or think something so that our experience can line up with God’s Promise, and that is what I desire to do.  I am grateful for the “one day at a time” survival in life, faith, and some ability to function (Mom is still a trooper and still doing her best to function and she prays all the time) but I think in order to get to “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” we need to be able to receive more than we’re currently getting and we don’t know how to get there.  I’m not looking for the so-called “health and prosperity” false gospel by any means, and realize that there are no easy answers or magic formulas, even though I wish there were. I just want to reap the benefits of what the LORD has actually promised. I guess that’s part of the “mystery of suffering”, but I would like life to be a lot better for Mom and for many people whose experience of suffering is a lot harder and heavier than the LORD’s promise in His Word seems to indicate.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day - July 4, 2014 - Let's Recapture & Recommit to the Vision

Today we celebrate one of the momentous events in the history of our nation--its beginnings--and the history of the world. Representatives of 13 original colonies united and dedicated their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor to begin a nation dedicated to and founded on the proposition that all people (the term "men" was the generic use of the word) are created equal and are endowed by ...our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--in that order. 
America has never been perfect--we have been guilty of the grave sins of severe injustice and mistreatment of Native Americans and African American slaves, and we have many sins in our history, including the grave sin of abortion in our present time. But for the most part America has been a nation that has sought God, has sought to do what is right, that has provided opportunity and freedom for people in our country and throughout the world, we have fought for freedom and against tyranny and injustice, and we have generously fed the hungry and sought to welcome strangers and been a land of opportunity where even people of little means can work hard and work out our hopes, dreams, and visions, even if we have to start small, and achieve some measure of fulfillment and contribution to the common good. 
America is not perfect and we must repent of our national sins of greed, arrogance, materialism, sexual immorality, abortion, and attempts to forget the God Who provided the dream and the provision to keep us alive and make our country great and prosperous enough to be able to share with
so many people throughout the world. 
Let us repent of our sins, let us turn to the God Who has protected and provided for us and made us a great nation, because without Him we never could and never will be able to do anything. Let us recommit ourselves to the vision of our founding fathers and mothers and our founding principles based on the Judaeo-Christian ethic. Let us commit ourselves to electing leaders who hold to these principles and this vision and who humbly and gratefully look to God as our Source of blessing and vision. Let us hold fast to the exceptionalism of the vision of liberty, justice and opportunity for all, repent of the ways we fall short and realize that this exceptionalism should not be a matter of boasting, pride or arrogance but of a higher vision rooted in God.