Wednesday, August 28, 2013



This weekend I stayed at an inn in North Wales, Pennsylvania where we celebrated a baby shower for my cousin Katie—she and her husband Nick are expecting their first child—a baby girl—in October.  I chose to drive to the inn the day before the shower, stay overnight at this lovely inn, enjoy the accommodations, celebrate the baby shower, and then drive home to Queens, NY.
After a lovely evening meal at an outdoor table, accompanied by piano music (including selections from LES MISERABLES) and a walk around the grounds I went to my room and got settled. The TV didn’t have the INSP network (which I have at home via Verizon Fios), so I couldn’t watch a rerun of THE WALTONS, nor did it have a Catholic or other Christian channel or THE HALLMARK CHANNEL, and the best program I could find was the movie “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” with Julia Roberts (to whom I’d gladly love to donate 10 pounds).  I happened to tune it in when she was enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with a family in Rome, I watched the segment of her time in India, and I turned it off during the segment in Bali, partially because I was tired and needed to sleep and partially because I suspected the film would take a turn that I would not want to see. So this reflective critique is based on the segment of the film I actually watched.
I can understand that the Julia Roberts character (I don’t remember her name—was it Liz?—I remember that a character named Richard in the India segment called her “groceries” since she had a large plate of food in front of her) would experience the joy of eating in Rome, since the reputation of Italian cuisine is well known. But why would she have to leave Rome to go to India to learn to pray? I suspect that this is part of the anti-Catholic and even anti-Christian bias of many in the entertainment industry for which Eastern religions have more appeal.  Here this woman was visiting the headquarters of the Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the place where many martyrs died rather than renounce their faith, and she leaves there to go to India?
I must confess that to a certain extent her character might not learn the secret of prayer in Rome, the bustling city and seat of government of the Church with all its pomp, position, prestige, politics and bureaucracy—hopefully Pope Francis will continue as he started and renew the Church by continuing to rid it of some of its worldly external entrapments and to bring it closer to Gospel simplicity.  But why India?  Why an ashram?  She could have saved herself a lot of travel time and travel cost and gone from Rome, the government head of the Church to the HEART of the Church, which is ASSISI!  There she would have encountered the legacy of St. Francis and St. Clare, who demonstrated the way of love and the way of prayer in the One Who IS the WAY, JESUS CHRIST, and in living the Gospel, and it has been said that the holiness that permeated their lives still permeates the atmosphere of Assisi, where people are still seeking to walk in their footsteps.  Perhaps there she could have found the answer to reviving her struggling marriage in the words of the Peace Prayer attributed to our beloved St. Francis:  “where there is injury, pardon…where there is despair, hope…to understand…to love…it is in giving that we receive…”.
But instead the scene shifts dramatically to her ride in a cab from the airport to an ashram (or whatever) in India to spend time learning to meditate from a guru.  As she rides in her cab, poor beggar children are pawing at her window and she does nothing.  HELLO!  Here this woman is supposedly seeking God or seeking herself or seeking nirvana and she totally disregards JESUS in her midst in His “distressing disguise” of poor children!  One of her first assignments is to scrub the floor.  Believe me; I would not spend my money on airfare to India to scrub floors!!  I pay my CLEANING LADY to scrub my floors!  If she wanted to scrub floors, would it not have made much more sense to find an elderly or infirmed family member, friend or neighbor who needed her floor scrubbed!  At least she would then have been performing an act of charity and humble service for someone who needed her help right where she lived!  And if she really wanted to learn to pray in India, it would have been much better for her to have gone to a convent of the Missionaries of Charity—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order—because there she could have learned the secret of praying in silence –not to “nothing” but to LOVE INCARNATE, JESUS CHRIST in the Blessed Sacrament, and to encounter Him not only in Eucharistic Adoration but in loving Him by loving service to “the poorest of the poor”. There she could have learned BOTH to PRAY and to LOVE.  And if she was interested in scrubbing floors, I am sure that they would have gladly given her the opportunity! :~ Finding God DOES involve some self-emptying, as those in Eastern religions claim, but what use is self-emptying UNLESS the end result is SELF-GIVING and in being “FILLED with the fullness of God Himself!” (See Ephesians 3:14-21).
Apparently through her prayer exercises and a friendship with a somewhat critical seeker named Richard this woman achieves a certain measure of peace.  She has some flashbacks to her married life—she still loves her husband but sadly concludes “nothing is forever”.  She recognizes the Presence of God within, but although it is good that she realizes that God is within and is not merely Someone requiring performance, she fails to recognize that God only enters where He is invited and welcomed and that God is NOT “us” but One Who lives in us to transform us into the person He created us to become—a unique individual but also a new, unique reflection of JESUS CHRIST.
In her new found peace and happiness she pets an elephant and the scene abruptly switches to Bali, where she meets another kind of teacher who seems to emphasize “balance” and she supposedly learns how to love. Since I had read that she supposedly has an affair in Bali I concluded that this segment was not worth watching.
I still don’t know if the “end result” of the film is that she has “moved on” and will officially end what had been turning into a “loveless marriage”, which would be a likely conclusion of the entertainment industry and too many people in real life—or if she discovers that it is important to invest what she has received from her lessons in eating, praying and loving in giving her marriage a second chance. Since this movie is based on a well-known book which, I believe, is a chronicle of one woman’s life experience, perhaps someday I’ll glance at the final chapter in a local bookstore.  It’s just sad that she did not encounter JESUS CHRIST and help her husband to encounter Him.  If they both had encountered JESUS CHRIST and learned to see Him in each other and put Him in the center of a sacramental marriage, then they could have endured as my parents have been doing for 63 years and counting!

Ultimately the book and film “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” shows me that the world is in desperate need of the Gospel and that we Catholics (as well as other Christians) need to pray and work harder and smarter in the task of evangelization. We already know that "the world" is "off base".  We as Church and as individual Christians are called to evangelize and we see that many people in the world are trying to get their needs--including their SPIRITUAL needs--met in "all the wrong places".  It has been said that "evangelization is one beggar telling/showing another beggar where the bread is." People are spiritually starving without JESUS CHRIST.  We need to find better ways to reach them.  We have to know something about what is going on in their hearts and reach out and give them JESUS.  Obviously we have to do this in a way that never compromises Truth or any of our doctrines or moral principles.  But how do they perceive the Church, Christ and Christians? Do they merely see us as "institution", "rules, regulations and rituals", and "Thou shalt not"?  YES, that
is part of who and what we are, but we are about so much more!  We need to give them JESUS--to show them JESUS--to help them to see JESUS as He really is--LOVE INCARNATE, MERCY INCARNATE, the GOD Who loves us so much that He came to dwell with us and share our lives, to die for our sins, to win victory over sin and death through His cross and resurrection, and the One without Whom our hearts will forever be restless until we find our rest in HIM!

© Copyright 2013 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, SFO)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflections on Pride vs Delight in What God Does Through Us

I believe that we are truly, genuinely, authentically GRATEFUL to God for what He has done and is doing in our lives and through us, and for the gifts He has given us and for the blessings of the opportunity to use these gifts in the Church and make the best use of these opportunities, then it is NOT PRIDE.  The ways to check pride (of which I need to remind myself) include remembering: (1) There is NOTHING that we have that we have not received from God--gifts are just that: GIFTS from God that He is free to give and take away as HE chooses. (2) The GIFTS we have received from the LORD are given to us FOR THE COMMON GOOD (1 Corinthians 12)--NOT FOR OURSELVES. (3) God can use whatever and whomever He chooses to accomplish whatever good He does. He used a donkey to get a message to Balaam.  So we can share how God has used it and is using us, as long as we remember that it is HE Who gets the glory--we are merely instruments and servants.  Since He could use a donkey, He can use us.

JESUS taught us the WE ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD and that we are to LET OUR LIGHTS SHINE SO THAT PEOPLE WILL SEE THE GOOD WE DO AND GIVE GLORY TO GOD. So aspire to do whatever God calls you to do without false humility. Take delight in the gifts God has given you and use them generously for the sake of the Church and wherever He has called you to use them. Just remember that the END is that people GIVE GLORY TO GOD, NOT TO US.

The temptation of pride is the temptation that leads us to believe that we are somehow better than other people and that cause us to go around pointing fingers at other people and claiming to be better than them.  It's a struggle to avoid that kind of pride.  But that is the snare Satan uses with "religious people".  A check on this temptation to pride is the expression, "THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I."

© Copyright 2013 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF).

Monday, August 12, 2013


If we examine the Gospel we will see that OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST disregarded labels and saw the heart of the person, to the consternation of many of the people around Him.  The people living in the place and time that He walked the earth were very quick to judge people by their labels and ignore that these were human beings with their own unique personalities, wounds and sins.  In those souls whom his compatriots condemned He saw human beings created in HIS image and likeness, marred and wounded by sin and "sheep without a shepherd" in dire need of His healing, forgiveness, preaching and teaching. 

The tax collectors were hated traitors who worked for the oppressive Roman rulers and often took a sizable commission that compounded the sin with their own greed and disregard for the plight of the poor, but JESUS looked at Levi, the tax collector, and he immediately left his table, came and followed JESUS, brought some of his friends with him, and became the great apostle/evangelist Matthew.  Many women of His time were caught in prostitution and adultery, but one woman saw in the eyes and heard in the words of JESUS such mercy, compassion, love & forgiveness that she came & washed His feet with her tears, and a woman caught in adultery in danger from stoning by the mob heard JESUS' words, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more."  The Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews because they were the descendants of Jewish people who had intermarried with Gentile pagans (forbidden by the Law)—most likely during the Assyrian captivity of Israel—and whose practice of Judaism was contaminated by pagan practices.  But JESUS stopped at the well and asked a woman of Samaria for a drink of water, gently confronted her sin, and she became the town evangelist saying, “Come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done; could He not be the Messiah!”  And He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate what loving our neighbor really means and that treating people with compassion is more important than a label and that one’s perceived “enemy” could actually be a better person than one’s kinsman.  The Gentiles in JESUS’ time were pagans who worshiped false gods and engaged in immoral practices in their worship, but JESUS delivered the daughter of the Canaanite woman and healed the servant of the Roman centurion. 

Ironically the people who wound up being the enemies of JESUS, the people who sharply criticized Him and were partially responsible for His Crucifixion, and the people for whom JESUS reserved His sharpest criticism, in contrast to His gentle compassion and forgiveness for  those who were obvious “sinners”, were the so-called “religious leaders”.  These “religious leaders” were so angry and so focused on pointing out the evils of their time and the sins of everyone around them and so self-righteous, that they forgot that they, too, were sinners in need of a Savior.  They forgot that when we point the finger at another, the rest of our fingers point in the opposite direction—back at ourselves.  They were so busy and consumed with fighting evil that they didn’t realized that some of that evil had been absorbed into their own character.  They were so caught up in protecting the “purity” of their religion by keeping not only the Law but a lot of human traditions that they made up to “protect” the Law and glorifying those human traditions that they got so angry when JESUS cast the human traditions aside for the sake of healing, mercy and compassion.  So when JESUS “violated the Sabbath” by healing the sick and those with disabilities on the Sabbath and when He ate with tax collectors and sinners not to join in their sin but to draw them back to God—“watch out, JESUS”!  The original intent of the Pharisees was good—they wanted to be holy and wanted to preserve the purity of their Jewish faith—but they got so caught up with the baggage of their human traditions and with attacking evil and pointing out the sinners that their souls became ugly with hatred and their hearts became hardened—so hardened that even the compassionate love and holiness of JESUS couldn’t reach many of them until after His Resurrection, when some were converted. 
There are many causes in our modern world in which we must engage in battle—primarily the fight to protect the unborn and others most vulnerable, the fight to protect the sanctity of marriage as ordained by God as the union of one man with one woman in a faithful, loving and chaste exclusive commitment from various forms of sexual immorality and attempts to redefine marriage to include immoral relationships, and the fight for free exercise of our faith both in worship and in our everyday lives.  But we have to be careful that in focusing so much on fighting evil we do not absorb the evil that we are trying to fight, that we don’t get so absorbed in hating the sin that we allow this to spill over into hatred for the sinner, that we get so “militant” that we fail to grow in the Gospel of peace.

There is an old wives’ tale that women who are pregnant should avoid looking at anything evil, ugly or scary or else that evil, ugliness or scariness will be transmitted to the baby she is carrying.  As Christians we are not to battle in the manner of the world, the flesh or the devil but with spiritual armor and with the power, love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and we are to overcome evil with GOOD.  There is some truth to the notion that we become what we look upon and the object of our focus.  So if we are always focusing on what is evil and nasty, we, too, can become nasty, angry and evil.  The Pharisees got so enmeshed in preserving their human traditions and criticizing and judging the sins and infractions of those around them that they became angry, ugly, critical, judgmental hypocrites who were unable to recognize God in the flesh, our Messiah, Savior and LORD JESUS CHRIST.
In the letter to the Hebrews we are exhorted to “keep our eyes fixed on JESUS, the Author and Completer of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1).  When we keep our eyes fixed on JESUS as revealed in the Gospel and receive and adore JESUS in the Eucharist we are more inclined to emulate JESUS, to look like JESUS, to let the mind and character of JESUS shape our mind and character, and, with the grace of God received from Him through our ongoing relationship with Him, prayer, Mass and the sacraments, we gradually become conformed into His image and likeness (see Romans 8:29).
Let us, therefore, focus on JESUS and look to the Gospel.  Let the Gospel be our mirror to reveal who we most resemble.  Are we growing more into the likeness of JESUS, Who is full of love, grace, truth, mercy and compassion?  Or are we growing more into the ugliness of the Pharisees, who were so focused on finding evil in those around them and fighting infractions of their tradition that they failed to recognize the only Perfect One and became complicit in crucifying the LORD of glory?  Let us meditate on the Person of JESUS as revealed in the Gospel and commit ourselves to emulating HIS character and His mercy and tender compassion and allowing ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit more and more into the image of JESUS.

© Copyright 2013 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF).