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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Eat Pray Love

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Julia Roberts and James Franco star in "Eat Pray Love."
Many of the off-kilter values that characterize contemporary Western society are showcased in "Eat Pray Love" (Columbia), the fact-based narrative of one woman's yearlong globe-trotting quest for enlightenment and self-understanding.

Julia Roberts portrays Liz Gilbert, a New York travel writer in the throes of a midlife crisis. Bored with her husband Stephen (Billy Crudup), she initiates a divorce and, on the rebound, falls for David (James Franco), a much younger actor. Perhaps inevitably, their swiftly consummated affair fizzles, leaving Liz complaining to her happily married best friend, Delia (Viola Davis), that she has lost her appetite for life.

The solution? A 12-month sabbatical from everyday reality during which Liz plans to sample Italian cuisine in Rome, cultivate Hindu spirituality at an ashram in India and see what's offered in Bali, Indonesia.

On the first stage of her journey, Liz develops a circle of laid-back friends who teach her how to enjoy life while scarfing down quantities of pasta, pizza and artichokes. Though she seemingly hits every restaurant in town, she gives the churches a pass, the implication being that she knows better than to look to Catholicism for insight.

So it's off to the subcontinent and the religious establishment run by David's female guru. (The unhealthy atmosphere of semi-idolatrous worship with which this guide is surrounded—first sensed as David and Liz sat in front of a small altar David had erected to her in his apartment—is reinforced by Liz's dialogue with the ashram personnel.)

Liz is too distracted to get anywhere with her meditations until she gains the friendship and aid of a feisty, plainspoken Texan, Richard (an excellent Richard Jenkins). A long-standing visitor to the retreat, Richard is wrestling with the demons of his troubled past.

Returning to Bali, Liz continues her soul tinkering under the guidance of kindly medicine man Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto). And romance comes calling again in the figure of Brazilian expatriate Felipe (Javier Bardem), himself the scarred veteran of a broken marriage.

Besides negating the spiritual resources of Christianity, director and co-writer (with Jennifer Salt) Ryan Murphy's overlong, ultimately exhausting screen version of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling 2006 memoir displays an ambivalent attitude toward marriage.

Thus, Stephen's emotionally voiced protest that he has taken vows for life and intends to uphold them is presented as a forlorn attempt to erect obstacles in Liz's way. And, though Liz ostensibly spends much of her time in India trying to come to terms with her feelings of guilt over the break-up, the script has already celebrated the courage it required for her to walk out of the doomed union in search of something better.

The film contains complex religious themes, acceptability of divorce, nonmarital and premarital situations, rear nudity, some sexual humor, an obscene gesture, a few uses of profanity and at least one rough and a half-dozen crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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