Listening to an inner voice made all the difference
The story of Radha
The burning desire
She was young, attractive and friendly. She had beautiful black hair, long and braided. She was the joy of her parents and the pride of her teachers. Her mates just loved her because she was friendly and kind, and had time for everyone. Yet deep down in her heart, soon after she left school and especially during her teacher-training days, there was a burning desire to do something for God and for others. There was an inner urge to step away from the comforts that surrounded her, from the security of her upbringing, from the solace of an over-protective society.
‘At an age when most of my friends were getting married,’ Radha recalled, ‘I felt an urgent and constant call to meet up with this person who wanted to enter my life.’ She then continued speaking with passion, ‘I felt a burning desire to know him, love him and follow him. It was almost like an incredible power asking for all my attention and devotion.’ It then all happened to her, almost like a benevolent tsunami overpowering her, when she began her life as a teacher of English and Social Studies in a convent school at the age of just 24. The institution, run by the Canossa Sisters, the Daughters of Charity, exposed her to the pious, dedicated lives of the Nuns that seemed to fascinate her. She began to follow them closely in all the little things they did: their daily duties, their prayer routines and their spontaneous friendliness. It wasn’t long before she was truly smitten.
Radha soon discovered that these Nuns lived their lives of simplicity and commitment because they were really ‘in love with Jesus, the person’, as she put it in her own simple way. ‘That only urged me to find out more about this Jesus. That of course was not easy for me. Even though my love for Jesus began growing and I felt a deep desire to know him, love him and serve him, I still felt very confused and a little afraid as I didn’t belong to his chosen group of followers, who were really of another religion. ’
‘I didn’t quite know how to go about it all. I loved my teaching and yet there was this almost haunting call from someone who I felt was pursuing me somewhat relentlessly. This pursuit was interfering with my teaching work, the preparations I had to do, my family commitments and my regular routines. No, it wasn’t in the way a boy friend tracks down his love-target. This was like a powerful ad that keeps coming up on the TV screen, like a message flashing across the dashboard of a driver racing through a fog-ridden highway, like a pilot desperately trying to land his aircraft through a smog-filled runway. It was all getting in the way of my obligatory tasks and my teaching commitments. I just didn’t know how to handle this call that seemed to come persistently relayed from some divine masthead.’
‘Yet, the message was simple: Come follow me. Many years later I was to discover that this same Jesus had used the very same message to recruit his team, his followers. I did find out, quite a long way down the line, that he had brought on board the youthful John, the smart Mathew, the rustic Peter and even the doubting Thomas. Was I to be his latest catch? I couldn’t see myself anywhere near enough even to touch the hem of their garments. I knew I wasn’t worthy to belong to that circle of chosen disciples. I had too many issues clogging the way before I could even try to grasp the hidden agenda behind this call that seemed to be dogging me constantly. Yet there seemed to be something urgent about the message that appeared to have been packaged similar to a Christmas gift, looking quite like a hazy cloud behind a silver lining. It was so much like a glowing diadem at the far end of an enveloping mist, a glittering diamond attracting me to the end of a dark tunnel.’
‘I decided I had to do something about it. One morning rushing into school, just about in time for the morning staff briefing, with my marking pile almost bulging quite clumsily over the top of my hessian bag, I whispered to the senior Nun, who happened to be standing right next to me just inside the door of the staff-room. She had now retired from active teaching yet was always around attending the briefings, often strolling around the classroom corridors encouraging the students with her smiles and supporting fledgling teachers with her inspiring words. I just about managed to get close to her to whisper into her ear, Can I see you for a few minutes, at the morning break?’
‘Yes, of course, my dear,’ came Sister Tecla’s spontaneous response. ‘That perhaps started me off to a journey that is now well on its way to what it was perhaps destined to be ,’ said Radha as she spoke of the experience of her life as it had panned out over nearly thirty-five years since it had all happened to her.
Facing the music
Yet it wasn’t quite music to Radha when she began her long journey following the beacons of her call. To begin with she was not an official follower of Jesus, a Christian. She was Radha Krishnan, a Hindu Brahman, the fourth daughter of this high caste family. Her elder sister and her three brothers were all Hindu too. When she taught in the Canossa convent in Mumbai in 1971-1972 she never imagined that she would get her world turned upside down with her family and friends spinning around in circles of disbelief and shock.
Radha, after more than 30 years with the Canossa sisters began to unravel the details of this fascinating tale, which was really not very different from that of Saul, who turned into Paul, after the same Jesus tracked him down on the road to Damascus some centuries back. She began telling her story in bits, somewhat embarrassed to speak of her personal encounters with the Jesus she was drawn to. She started by saying, ‘I enjoyed teaching these young teenage girls in school, but this calling to be with Jesus never faded. I just had to run away from home and all that I was involved with. I was first baptized Radha Maria Krishnan. I then joined the Canossa Order.’
Then, almost with a tinge of sadness and pathos she continued, ‘My family was completely shattered. I had brought shame and embarrassment on the family, especially on my parents. I had to suffer humiliation from my relatives. We were from a very traditional, Brahmin Iyengar family. Converting to Christianity was a very big blow to our family pride. My parents suffered immensely. My elder sister was already married but she too had to bear the taunts of our well-intentioned relatives. My mother particularly was a very religious person, a devout Hindu. Her morning began at dawn performing religious rituals. Her afternoons were spent reading sacred Hindu scripture.’
Finally, after repeated requests Radha plucked up enough courage to speak to an interviewer about the inner strength she had to live up to the call she had received. She spoke with a glow on her face, ‘But Jesus never fails his beloved. Over the years my parents, especially my mother, came to terms with my vocation as a Christian and as a Carmelite Nun. Both my parents have died, but were completely at peace with me and with my call. My brothers and sister too gradually accepted me. Their children too are very happy and reconciled to the way I chose to live. Now they are all at peace with me and my way of life. My relatives too are now reconciled not only to my being a Christian, a Catholic, but also with my commitment as a Nun.’
‘What gives me great joy is that the family too, in a wonderful way, is united in reconciliation. In fact, occasionally they come to the monastery with their own children – this is a matter of immense joy for me. My Spouse (Jesus) takes care also of my feelings for them and helps me cope with this separation that I have to live with. Even though all of them are still Hindu we all still feel united in quite an amazing way: and I do believe that it is Jesus who has made it all happen.’
Living up to the call
‘After joining the Canossa convent, I was sent for further studies to obtain a master’s degree. However, academic studies left me with very little time for prayer. This made me feel unfulfilled and quite restless. I had a deep desire to devote my day and night to being with Jesus, praying, meditating, sharing, doing everything, just living for Jesus. This busy academic life left a yearning within me. It was at this point that my calling to the cloistered life was discerned. I joined a cloistered Order in May 1977. These last 30 years have been the happiest and most joyful years of my life.’
Radha, at 61 years of age, is now Sister Mary Joseph, and lives in the Discalced Carmelite (cloistered) Order in Mumbai. She would be pleased if people prayed for her rather than tracked her down to get more of her story. She is happy to pray for the world, for people in suffering, for the many needs of the church and of society. She is aware of teenagers going off the rails, of marriages breaking up, of countries going to war, of grown-ups misbehaving, of parents not looking after their children and of society that needs constant reminders to live exemplary lives with those eternal values that make for good living and healthy values. Sister Mary allowed this insight into her life to be published so that people would thank God for making things happen in her life and would pray for her to continue her commitment to prayer that she truly believes she should do. The interviewer [NC], who feels privileged to have been taught by Sister Mary in that Canossa convent school, is pleased she was able to get Sister Mary to tell her story, and prefers to remain unknown.
[Retold by T.D’Souca for Trodza Blog][Story from ‘Asia News’-November 2008]