"When I found Him whom my heart loves I took hold of Him and would not let Him go." (Song of Songs 3:4)
I was brought up in a Catholic family in Bombay, India. My mother's greatest desire was to make sure that we learned from youth to stay close to the Lord for she believed that it was only with Him we would be able to survive in the world. We went to Church not only on Sundays but during vacations she encouraged us to go to Mass daily. The Lord and I got on well until I left high school, but it was after entering college that my love for Him grew dimmer and dimmer. It was being choked by the ways and allurements of the world. Ambi-tion and self began to take leading roles in my life.
After graduating from college I got a good job in a travel agency-just what I was seeking for. Then there came a phase in my life when I had "everything" I desired, everything that I thought would make me content in life. But, soon there came a sense of emptiness, and then I grew dissatisfied. All that "glittered as gold" lost it's glitter, appeared tarnished and unappealing.
I was in this state when the Lord came to my rescue. I attended a charismatic retreat and experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. My life was wonderfully turned upside down, inside out. "He touched me, and Oh! The joy that fills my soul. Something hap- pened and I know, He touched me and made me whole."
His light shone in my life. He filled my emptiness and gave me a brand new life. The joy and peace that flooded my heart was something I had never tasted before. It was the pure joy of the Holy Spirit.
With this awakening of new life there came a desire to be holy and pure and a great hunger for scripture. The Bible, which had been just a "high school textbook" on the shelf, became my one and only favorite Book, and as I devoured it the Holy Spirit began His cleansing work, bringing a desire for conversion and repentance. I began to see sin as sin, especially unforgiveness, selfishness, self-righteousness, and so on, and then began the emptying and purifying of my heart by the Lord's Divine love. The Eucharistic celebration and the sacraments became more meaningful than just an habitual practice.
This new found life through the love of Jesus was too good to keep to myself. I wanted to share it with all. I began sharing it first with my family, and gradually I saw the doors closed to the Charismatic Renewal open. Soon there were five of us who had opened our hearts to Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. When I began sharing the treasure in my place of work, the Lord provided us with a place in the office where we had prayer meetings on Fridays during the lunch break.
As I opened my heart to Jesus each day and drank of His sweet love, I yearned for Him more and more. "I found Him whom my heart loves." The desire to be a Sister, which had been there when I was seven, came alive again.
In India, I saw many good religious communities serving the Lord by taking care of the sick and the poor, and of the educational and social needs of the people, and so on. My heart longed to reach out to the spiritually starving. I wanted them to experience what I had found--the fullness of life in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. I was looking for a Charismatic religious community. On making several inquiries I was told that there was no such religious community. But, Praise the Lord! --the priest who had introduced me to this personal relationship with Jesus told me that there was a charismatic religious community which he once visited, but it was on the "other side of the world" -in a little town called Channing in Texas, U.S.A. On hearing this I was excited, but it was too far away. I wished it was at least a little closer to Bombay for I thought that would, make it possible for me to enter.
He gave me a Praise Him! newsletter, and after reading it I couldn't believe it--this was just the kind of community my heart was looking for! I remember Mother John Marie's article on prayer: "When you've lost that loving relationship, probably you look to the "professionals" for a new technique. There are many. Some contemporary experts on contemplative prayer are quite eclectic, often confusing the faithful by trying to bring Zen and Yoga techniques, mind control and transcendental meditation right into the Christian Community. . . . The Jesus-centered person who is filled with the freely given Spirit has no need of non-Christian techniques." Alleluia! I knew I would be happy in this religious community which had no need for Zen, Yoga, mantras, and so on, but who knew and followed the one and only way to the Father: Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
For the Lord, distance and time were no problems. In July1985 the Lord began His preparations, and in three months prepared me to leave everything to follow Him. It wasn't so easy to take this step, but trusting in His amazing grace, which is sufficient to do everything He asks of me, I launched out in faith to abandon all to follow Him. I remember His words to Me--" Do you love me? Do you love Me more than these?----"these" referring to my family, country, job, friends. And I said, "Yes, Lord, I do love you, I love you more than these!" Other desires did clamor strongly nearer the surface of my nature, but I knew that deep down in the core of my own being I was so shaped that nothing could fit, fill, or satisfy my heart but only Jesus Himself. I knew my heart belonged to Jesus. It was so beautiful to see my family, who loved me dearly and found this separation hard, encourage and support me to answer this call to religious life in a distant country.
During this time of preparation I wanted to see where this place "Channing" was on the map. I found Amarillo but couldn't find Channing on any of the maps. Finally, the manager of the company I worked for gave me a great big atlas, the size of a dining table, and there on the map of Texas I found this tiny little dot marked ''Channing." My heart leaped with joy. I found what I was looking for on the map.
But, my greatest joy was on September 29th, 1985 at 4pm. when I entered a winding dirt road called "The Holy Way" that leads to Prayer Town Emmanuel. I knew I had just touched holyground, and I sensed such an overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit hovering over this land where joy-filled, smiling Sisters who loved the Lord very dearly, lived. This was like a dream. I was now actually on the other side of the world in Channing, Texas. Jesus is faithful! He took care of every minute detail to bring me here on eagle's wings to become part of the Franciscan family of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, "whose primary purpose as a conimmity is to offer a sacrifice of Praise," which is the most important service one can offer before the throne of God. What an honor it is to be called to join the heavenly host who sing His praise eternally, beginning here on the earth that which we will continuously be doing in heaven.
"One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek; To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate His temple." (Psalm 27:4)
So, here I am on my way to perfection. "My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me--life on high in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:14)
I am striving with my Sisters on the narrow and rough road to answer the call to holiness and "am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ Jesus." (Phil.3:12)
My one desire is to follow the Lamb joyfully wherever He leads me, embracing the cross which is His precious gift of love to me.
" I am my Love' s and He is mine, And this is His desire, That with His beauty I may shine, In radiant attire, And this will be when all of me Is pruned and purged with fire." (From a. poem in Hinds Feet in High Places, by Hurnard, p. 177)
Sister Joan Rodrigues, DLJC