- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Chapter 46: Vrindavan, India
- Father Mark's Vrindavan Photo Album -
Several months earlier…
“Father Mark, Hare Krishna, good to see you this morning.”
“Hare Krishna, Jitendria, again we meet.”
“Yes, and such a nice morning.”
“Oh, Father Mark, I would like you to meet my old friend Rohini. He’s also from Texas.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Father Mark. I didn’t know that you were from Texas. What part?”
“San Angelo—have you been there?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not even sure where that is. I’m afraid when Jitendria said that I’m from Texas—well, actually I grew up all over the place because my dad was in the Army. In truth I have only lived in Dallas a few years.”
The piercing shrill of peacocks calling back and forth suddenly set off the chatter from a group of wild monkeys, filling the entire area with excitement. A man nearby struggled to keep his two pets from jumping off his shoulder. Father Mark raised his camera.
photo by: Gopak devi dasi
Jitendria laughed; “It seems like we’re not the only ones who are enjoying this morning. By the way I can’t stay long—it’s my turn to cook the lunch offering and I have to get ready. I’ll catch up with you this evening. I heard that Aindra is going to lead the kirtan tonight.”
Father Mark and Rohini said goodbye to Jitendria, everyone agreeing to meet that evening. Another volley of peacock shrills erupted. Watching as Rohini placed his prayer beads inside a cloth bag, Father Mark said, “Rohini, I was wondering if you’re busy today? Questions seem to be building up inside me.”
“No, I’m totally free. The only thing we’ll want to do later is go to the kirtan, but that’s not until this evening. Since it’s going to be such a beautiful day we can take a long walk. I was thinking of going down by the “Yamuna” for starters, then we’ll just go wherever the Lord takes us.”
“Sounds great, to me. And “kirtan”—isn’t that like a devotional concert?”
“Yes and Aindra was one of the very first devotees I met when I first joined the Hare Krishna Movement in 1976. It’s going to be a lot of fun and you’ll get to meet him.”
Before starting on their walk, Father Mark and Rohini ate breakfast at the Krishna-Balarama temple: kitri, chapatis, mango-buttermilk lassi, and fried nuts served under a beautiful veranda.
Smiling at Father Mark, Rohini began to speak. “Last night Jitendria was telling me how he met you when you first arrived. He also told us everything you had mentioned to him about Sister Maria: with God all things are possible.”
“So you are familiar with Matthew 19:26 ?”
“Oh yes—that is one of my favorite verses. Sometimes I think people tend to forget about it.”
“I guess I’m a bit surprised that a devotee of Lord Krishna would so easily quote the Holy Bible.”
“You shouldn’t be, Father. I think as you get to know us you will find that many of the devotees you will be meeting in Vrindavan come from Christian backgrounds. There are devotees staying here, right now, who are from Mexico, Russia and even Poland. Naturally we are all good friends. At one time many were devout Christians. Whether Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, or Muslim—if you inquire you will find how all the major religions have played a significant part in all our lives. I’m still a Christian.”
“Please Rohini, I don’t mean to sound rude. I’m just trying to understand.”
“Father, you are with friends. Please feel free to ask us anything and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.”
“Alright, then—you just mentioned all those different Christian sects, including Catholicism. I’m sorry, but from my standpoint, instead it seems like a mass defection from the Christian faith.”
Rohini smiled and pointed to a place where they could get some water—two men watching them from across the street. Just as he had promised his dad, Mark’s camera was always ready for a good shot—pictures that one day he would put on Flickr for all his friends to see.
After watching Father Mark take his pictures, Rohini returned to Mark’s comment as the two men settled down on the bench. “I’m sorry Father, but I would have to say that just the opposite is true. I don’t know anyone who has forsaken Lord Jesus Christ. To describe it as a mass defection is just not correct.”
“Rohini, you seem to know your Bible. It teaches that the only way to God is through His Son, Jesus. Since you just quoted Matthew, I am sure you know Matthew 6:24, ‘no one can serve two masters’. I’m sorry, but I don’t see Jesus or Mary on your altars. Now granted, what I see is very beautiful but still, I do not see Jesus. So how can you tell me that you haven’t turned away from Him?”
“Believe me Father; I understand the sincerity of your questions. As for myself, I grew up in a family that never went to church so for me it was never a question of leaving. Neither of my parents were interested in God. My dad worshiped the golf ball more than anything else.”
Father Mark laughed and then said, “I think I have met a few from that cult myself, but I must say that you seem to know the Bible pretty well.”
“Not perfectly, but sure, I would be a fool not to have read it. Father, I am almost 50 and I guess over my lifetime I have read the Holy Bible around three times. I think I started out with a copy of the Reader’s Digest Bible that they published years ago for slow learners.”
Again both men sat laughing.
“Then, back in the 80's I sat at my kitchen table and studied the Bible fairly extensive. That took well over a year, and thrown into the mix I have probably read close to 40 books, all penned by different Christians. As a matter of fact, one of my all-time favorite books is one that you might even know of. Have you ever heard of the Catholic mystic and healer, Alan Ames?”
“What a nice surprise—sure I have. Last year he came to speak in San Antonio and I had the pleasure of meeting him.”
“Good, then perhaps you have read his book, Through the Eyes of Jesus? It is one of my favorite books. I have read it several times.”
“My goodness, that’s quite impressive—yes, I have also read it, but only once.”
Father Mark paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and then continued.
“It doesn’t surprise me that you liked it so much—but then again it kind of does. I mean—I guess I wouldn’t expect a devotee of Lord Krishna to read a book penned by a Catholic priest.”
Rohini laughed as the two men started walking again toward the “Yamuna”.
“I am actually looking forward to reading it again. Another of my all-time favorites is, The Way of a Pilgrim. You may not know about it because it falls more in line with the Eastern Orthodox camp. I can’t tell you how many copies I’ve read and ordered over the years. I keep giving them all away.”
Father Mark again laughed. “No, I’m afraid I haven’t heard of that book. As I’m sure you know, as Catholics we do not normally read outside our faith. Why did you find that book so interesting?
“Well, the book follows the life of a pilgrim in his search to understand Thessalonians, 5:17.”
“Yes,” Father Mark said, “the verse that commands us to pray without ceasing.”
“That’s correct and as I was saying, the book follows this poor Russian peasant in his quest to understand the practical meaning of that verse. You should read it—it is real-life adventure full of amazing things that happened to him as he wandered across Russia, asking everyone, How do you pray without ceasing?
“And then as you read it, the book’s focus becomes more and more intense as it magnifies the glories of chanting the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. To be sure there are many Pentecostal books that address the spiritual value of the Lord’s Holy Name but for me, none of them can match The Way of the Pilgrim for its spiritual excitement and importance.
“So you have read books all across the spiritual spectrum.”
“Oh no, Father, I wouldn’t use such a wide paintbrush to describe what I’ve read. One book did cover world religions but I’ve mostly read Christian books— Pentecostal, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. But of course I have concentrated mostly on books written by my spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada.
Father Mark then spoke. “I can see from your prayer beads that chanting is a big part of your faith. In fact, all around me people are chanting the Name of God.”
“Yes, and this is why I have read so many books about the Christian tradition of the Jesus Prayer. You would be amazed at the common ground our two religions share.
“Jitendria mentioned that after your father had read some of Prabhupada’s books, he had asked you to come here. I hope your journey is proving to be worthwhile.”
“Thank you very much. Yes, this is all very intriguing but honestly, at times a little difficult for me to overcome my prejudices.”
Rohini smiled. “That’s quite understandable—after all, one of the cornerstones of Christian faith is that it and it alone has the most authentic knowledge of the one true God and that the way to the Father lies uniquely through the Son. He alone knows the Father with complete knowledge, and no man cometh unto the Father but by the Son.”
“Very well said, Rohini.”
“Thank you, Father, but as I see it, not having religious parents in my life has actually been a blessing. It has given me a certain latitude that I don’t see in a lot of other believers. I mean, for many Americans it almost sounds patriotic to say, ‘We Christians have the most authentic knowledge.’ But then I can turn to the same book and it tells me in First Corinthians: ‘that we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at His reflection in a poor mirror. Now all I know is hazy and blurred.’ And doesn’t John 16 tell me that: ‘there is so much more to know?’
“This is what I mean, Father—that my upbringing let me be free. So many Christians are unable to see beyond the stone walls where they worship? Not only are they unwilling, they are even afraid of looking outside their faith—as if a curse will befall them if they were to even walk into one of our temples. Honestly, this just saddens me to no end.
“Father, I observe Christians and meet quite a few of them—and honestly, I see that they are missing out on so much. For example, how many Methodist know about Sor Maria de Jesus, or about Bernadette Soubirous—or John Traynor.”
“Who is John Traynor? Wasn’t he Lutheran or am I thinking of someone else?”
Rohini smiled. “Oh no, John Traynor was 100% Catholic. But in a way it doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t heard of him. So you can just imagine how many non-Catholics have not heard of him, either.
“That’s interesting. I see what you mean.”
“Father Mark, because you are a Catholic priest, I know you’ve heard about Bernadette Soubirous.”
“Oh yes, she is one of our greatest Catholic Saints. Later I will have to tell you about my adventures in Lourdes when I visited France a few years ago.”
Rohini smiled and said, “Yes, I’d like that very much. Father, I wish everyone could read about her. What the heck, last year I even bought the movie.”
“Again, I’m a bit surprised that a person like you, so dedicated to Krishna, would take the time to learn about a saint from a totally different religion.”
“Totally different? Perhaps on the surface but I don’t see it that way at all. But you’re right, I am dedicated to God. Not only is the story of John Traynor very much connected to her legacy, it also places a greater magnification on the glory of God—and that simply makes me feel good inside.”
Smiling, Father Mark then said, “No, once again I’m striking out. Who is he?”
“Well, before I tell you would you please say a few words about Bernadette to kind of set the stage.”
“Thank you Rohini, I would be glad to. First of all, when I think of Bernadette and Lourdes, there are a few things that really stick with me. And of course I have watched that movie, too. I mean, first you have this young girl who comes from the poorest family in her village. She is in poor health— uneducated, dressed in hand-me-downs, but in spite of all of that she is blessed. As you saw in the movie, hundreds of people followed her to see what she would do next. And I am sure that many were hoping to see what she was seeing, but in fact, all they ever saw was an empty cave located next to their village dump with a little girl kneeling down inside it.
Bernadette Praying in the Grotto
“Do you remember, on her ninth visit to the Grotto, when Bernadette enters into a spiritual trance? It is then that the Virgin Mary points, and tells Bernadette to drink the water and eat the plants that are at her feet. Bernadette is talking to Mary but no one else can see Her. Suddenly everyone watches as this uneducated girl in her plain village dress gets down on her hands and knees and begins scratching at the ground with her fingernails.
“Everyone knew that there wasn’t any water in the cave, but still she claws at the earth and slowly she finds something wet. With great difficulty she tries to collect a little bit of water in the palm of her hand but it’s mostly mud. Wanting to obey, Bernadette keeps trying to take a sip of water. Eventually she manages to wet her tongue but all that anyone can see is a young girl with mud all over her face.
“And what’s worse—when Bernadette tries to obey Mary’s instructions to eat the plants, to everyone’s amazement she uproots some weeds around her and places them in her mouth. As I said, hundreds of people are watching her every move.”
“Earlier, while she was in a trance looking at the Virgin Mary, an mean old lady had pulled out a long needle and poked Bernadette hard, wanting to prove that everything was a hoax—with enough force to actually pierce her skin, but Bernadette never flinched. Another woman lit a candle and placed the flame under Bernadette's hand, but again there was not reaction. Bernadette may have passed those test but to everyone watching, the poor girl looked liked she had gone totally mad. As I said, her mouth and cheeks were smeared with mud and she was chewing on weeds—crawling on her hands and knees—and all the while talking to an invisible person. The scene became disgusting and many started to sneer and called her names.
“Since you’ve read about her, Rohini, you know that these events are true. However, over the next couple of days where Bernadette had been scratching in the dirt, a fabulous spring began flowing and from that day since, the fame of Bernadette and the healing waters of Lourdes have drawn millions of people from all around the world to visit this sacred place.”
Rohini then said, “Thank you Father Mark, what a beautiful story.”
“Yes, Bernadette is certainly one of my favorite Saints. I was even privileged to give an outdoor mass at the grotto several years ago. So please continue with what you were telling me.”
“Thank you Father Mark. One day I would also like to visit the grotto. As far as John Traynor, I read about him after looking around on the Internet for links to Bernadette Soubirous. Of course there seems to be an unlimited number of places to read about her, and that’s when I accidentally found the article about John Traynor. I forget who wrote it but it was written by a minister who had something to do with China.”
Nearly an hour had gone by. Walking on a footpath along the river, Rohini then began to tell Father Mark what he had read. Father Mark motioned to an old bench and both men sat down. From their vantage point they could see various men talking, exactly as they were doing, and not far from them someone was even taking a nap.
“Like I said, I forget the man’s name who wrote the story, but he mentioned that those who saw Mr. Traynor when he visited Lourdes in 1923—that instead of seeing a young man in his prime, rather they saw a cripple with obviously not many days left to live. His suffering was enormous. Besides being partially paralyzed, his afflictions included daily seizures, a limp right arm, open wounds and a gaping hole in his skull.”
As Rohini continued, Father Mark looked a bit pained as he listened carefully.
“What happened is that during a battle in World War I, a piece of shrapnel had struck him in his head while he was carrying a wounded officer off the battlefield. Although he was unconscious for five weeks, he eventually recovered—enough so that he was able to fire a rifle again. The war was still raging and every able body was desperately needed. This time Traynor was sent to fight in the bloody battle at Gallipoli where the Turkish Empire squared off against the British in 1915.
“Using steamships to transport her troops, the British soldiers stormed the Turkish positions and Traynor was part of the first wave. Just about everyone around him was killed including a Catholic Chaplin. Although he somehow escaped unscathed, his luck ran out four days later when he was sprayed with machine gun fire from above. He was shot in the head, chest and upper arm. Although he wasn’t outright killed, this time he would never walk again.
Taken to Egypt, the best surgeons available worked on John but after four operations he was left an epileptic ghost. The doctors insisted that they needed to amputate his useless arm but John refused to consent. Because his seizures continued, once again his military doctors operated, this time to remove more shrapnel from his brain. However, this left John with a hole in his skull that never went away. To protect the exposed brain tissue the doctors covered it with a silver plate.”
Rohini paused for a few moments as they watched three elderly women offering their daily prayers to the sacred river in front of them. The Yamuna River looked beautiful with their flowers floating on top of her.
Rohini then continued. “Sadly, none of the operations helped John and he was having as many as three seizures a day. Finally discharged from the army and with a full pension from the government, he arrived back in Liverpool to be cared for by his wife and children. His legs were partly paralyzed and he was unable to stand or walk. He had three open wounds on his body and his right arm was completely useless. Finally, arrangements were made to send him to a special hospital for incurable patients.”
“So this is how John Traynor was injured. The article also mentioned his religious beliefs, starting with his devout mother. Although she died when John was a young boy, her short life was completely devoted to the Virgin Mary—going to Mass and taking the Holy Communion. She would go to church every day while few others did. Influenced by his mother, John also grew up with an unflinching love for the Mother of Jesus, one of the few things about John that wasn’t shattered by the war.
“By the year 1923 the famous healing waters at Lourdes had become known throughout England and one day a visitor told John how his local parish was planning a trip to the Holy Grotto.
“Selling a gold coin for the down payment and later, even his wife’s jewelry, John was insistent on going although both his priest and doctor repeatedly discouraged him. They both felt he would die on the way. This wasn’t far from the truth. On three different occasions doctors wanted to remove him from the train and take him directly to a hospital, such was his worsening condition. The only reason they didn’t was that there were no hospitals along the route that the train took.
“On July 22, 1923 John Traynor finally arrived in Lourdes and was immediately transferred to a small hospital near the famous Grotto. The Virgin Mary must have been watching over him because there was a young woman there from Liverpool who recognized him and immediately changed his week-old bandages.
“While this was comforting, John’s condition continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. At times he was bleeding from his mouth and he continued to suffer from the epileptic that were becoming more intense. One of the ladies from Liverpool even wrote to his wife, telling her that there was no hope for John and that he would never leave France alive.
“However, with unflinching faith in the Virgin Mary and the holy spring that She had revealed to Her beloved Bernadette, John kept insisting that his wounds be submerged in the healing waters.
“On his ninth visit to the sacred springs, yet another seizure took hold of him and the men in charge wanted to remove him from the bath. Refusing to go, John applied the break on his wheelchair with his good hand, forcing the attendants to leave him in. Later, John said that actually, that was the last time he ever had an epileptic fit.
“But even so, with only two days remaining before returning to Liverpool, John was still suffering from his other conditions. Thinking of his wife, he took his last coins to buy a souvenir before taking his final bath in the holy waters. This time, however, something very unusual happened, but the men in charge figured that his violent agitation was simply another seizure. They forcibly took him out of the water. But John knew that this time things were different. The agitation was coming from his paralyzed legs—not from another fit.
“By now John was much too weak to resist the strong men, who forcefully placed him in his wheelchair. Needing to do something with him, it was thought best to take him to where the Holy Sacrament was being given.
Receiving the Holy Sacrament
“Stopping in front of each wheelchair, when the Archbishop saw John sitting there, he stopped and blessed him, at which time Traynor could tell that another dramatic change had taken place—this time with his withered arm. For the first time in years John was free from the pain that had been his constant companion.
“Because of John’s history of frequent seizures, when he suddenly tried to get out of his wheelchair, the men who were assigned to watch him quickly subdued his efforts. Thinking that he was about to be hysterical, they knocked him out with an injection. Later that day more hypodermics were administered, but by the next morning the effects had worn off and John began praying on his rosary.
“Inspired to walk for the first time in eight years, John not only walked, he ran. At first he ran from the men who had been ordered to guard against his sudden outburst, and then he ran toward the grotto to thank Mary, the Mother of Jesus. This was a distance of nearly 300 yards. In hot pursuit were several strong guards but even though John was running barefoot over a gravel road, he easily outran those chasing him. By the time they finally caught up to him, John was lost in prayer before the image of Mary and for twenty minutes he prayed in silence.
“Since his mother had taught John from an early age to show gratitude for God’s blessings, kneeling in front of Mary and without a dime to his name, all he could think of was to promise Her that from that day on he would give up smoking cigarettes.
“Later he was summoned by the same priest who back in Liverpool had so strongly resisted his making the trip in the first place. When the priest saw John he started to cry. Early the next morning before boarding the train back to England, three doctors testified to the fact that unlike when he arrived, John could walk perfectly normal. He had recovered the use and function of his right arm; had normal sensation in his legs; the hole in his skull had nearly closed; all his ulcers had healed; and he was completely free from the epileptic fits that had plagued him so.
“After his return to England, John began his own business of hauling and delivering 200 pound sacks of coal all across Liverpool. Eventually he employed a dozen men working with four trucks. Although the military refused to stop his full pension, there was not a job in his company that he could not do. John and his wife ended up having three more children—the girl they named, Bernadette.
“Three years later Traynor returned to Lourdes to be examined again by the Medical Bureau, consisting of 6 doctors. Three of the doctors had examined John before his cure in 1923. Once again they found no trace of epilepsy, paralysis, or atrophy in his right arm. Both his pectoral and shoulder muscles were fully restored and his badly injured right arm was able to function near perfect. As for the hole in his skull, all that remained was a slight indentation in the bone that the doctors could feel with their fingers.
“At last the Medical Bureau declared that John Traynor had in fact experienced a miracle of the highest order. His military records clearly stated that the nerves in his right arm had been severed. Yet, on that monumental day in Lourdes when John was blessed by the Virgin Mary, his arm was instantaneously healed.
Turning to his new friend, Rohini then said, “Well, Father Mark, again I am reminded that when God wills it, the most remarkable things can occur.”
“Rohini, thank you for telling me Mr. Trayor. Hearing about him this morning makes my memories of Lourdes all that more meaningful. I’m curious, what helped you the most along your spiritual path?”
“Well, Father Mark, besides the freedom to explore God on my own, I sincerely believe that what is required is a special measure of God’s grace. I honestly believe that being blessed by God is paramount. As far as my life, in my heart, I just know that long ago someone prayed for me. And I mean someone very dear to the Jesus. That made all the difference. God is bound by the love of His devotee. Not that I was qualified in any way, except for a one-way ticket to hell.
“Secondly, I was instantly attracted to the beautiful sound of God’s Holy Name: ‘Krishna.’ Now and then I think back to 1967 and how at the time I had no idea who Krishna was, except that He had something to do with the ancient history of India.
“Of all the things I experienced back then…” Rohini paused for a few moments while closing his eyes.
“Father, I had been living in Southern California during the birth of the hippie movement and was very much a part of it—yet, it was only this strange name that I took with me when I left. The very instant that I heard, ‘Krishna,’ I was stunned by its beauty. The sound entered my heart and has never left.
After resuming their morning walk, the wide expanse of Yamuna River stretched off to their left. Children were playing in the water and dozens of boats were neatly lined up.
Just past a temple that was up ahead, both men were struck by the obvious devotion of an old man as he stood in the holy river praying to Lord Krishna. Not wanting to disturb him, after Father Mark quickly took a picture. They continued on, but this image would stay with both men for the rest of their lives.
photo by: Sudevi Dasi
Rohini pulled out two small bottles of water from his pack and gave one to Father Mark. Everything looked so beautiful. In the distance the sounds of thousands of small bells could be heard since it was lunch time for Lord Krishna. On altars throughout Vrindavan delicious food was being placed in front of the Lord for His enjoyment.
“Rohini, those bells are beautiful but as a Catholic priest I must say that the practice of putting all that food on the altar is not at all familiar. I was going to ask Jitendria about that. The other day I must have seen on one altar, alone, enough food to feed a small army. I guess I just don’t understand.
Rohini chuckled. “I’m sorry Father Mark, but is it really all that much different?”
“Well, from my perspective the differences seem enormous. But I came to Vrindavan to learn and besides, I promised my father that I’d keep an open mind. Rohini, I’m sorry—hearing all these bells is simply reminding me of how different we truly are. It’s difficult enough to even count how many different statues, sacred rocks and pictures are on your altars—and right now as we speak, plate after plate of food is being placed before them. I guess I’m wondering why so much effort is being put into all this cooking. Again, I’m sorry—the only thing that remotely comes to mind when seeing this is idol worshiping.”
Rohini unscrewed the cap on his bottle and took a drink. Looking at Father Mark he began to speak. “What you are saying reminds me of something in First Corinthians, 8:4. I think that’s where it is. Doesn’t that say, ’Concerning the eating of food offered to idols: we know that no idol is real in this world and that there is only one God?”
“Yes, that’s right; 8:4.”
“Alright—the Holy Bible is saying that there is only one true God and that idols are just dead objects, void of spirit.”
“That’s absolutely true.”
“Alright Father, we both agree. Who in their right mind wants to worship a lump of cement, so to speak? Nobody does. Instead we both want to worship the one true God.”
“OK, I follow you so far.”
Rohini smiled and said, “First let me say that I’m a bit surprised that as a Catholic, you find the Deity worship here so foreign. If you were a Baptist minister I think I would probably expect a strong objection—but with your own history of icons, statues, and pictures, I am a bit confused.
In fact, I even remember the time I visited the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, California and saw several women carrying little statues of baby Jesus in pouches around their necks. I remember thinking what a wonderful way to focus their love.”
Looking a bit uncomfortable, Father Mark then laughed. “Well, God bless the Baptist but I’m not one of them.”
Again the two men were laughing. “But at least I am willing to hear your perspective on this. Needless to say I am very curious about this whole matter.”
“Thank you Father. Although I don’t live in California any more, I was out there last year visiting my sister and had the chance to listen to a lecture given by Father Hieromonk Ireni at the Saint Barnabas Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa. He spoke for about an hour and one of the things he talked about was the story of Jesus healing the blind man, in John 9:6.”
“Yes, Rohini—that is a dramatic story and actually starts with the first verse.
As He went along He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents...that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, He then spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” Jesus told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
“Yes, that’s the verse.” Rohini then continued. “I remember how Father Ireni asked, why didn’t Jesus just clap his hands or simply say, you are healed? Why the spit and the mud? Why all the drama?
“Of course, he answered the question himself and said that Jesus wanted to show how gross matter could be transformed into a spiritual substance.
“Mary of Egypt prayed to an icon of the Virgin Mary. Someone might say that the painting was simply a common piece of wood and some paint—yet, as a result of her faith in the icon, her entire life was transformed from a nymphomaniac to a Saint. For some 40 years she lived alone in the desert on the far side of the Jordan River. We know about her life because one day she met Saint Zosimas who was the most advanced Christian ascetic at the time. He mentions how when he looked up at her while she was praying, to his amazement, she was lifted off the ground. Did she receive this grace from mere paint and wood? Was it only mud and spit that Jesus rubbed on the eyes of the blind man? No, from what I’ve read, history just doesn’t point in that direction.
By now, Rohini and Mark had left the river to explore the streets of Vrindavan, where they stopped to watch a boy selling ice. Vrindavan is a village of unparalleled beauty. Father Mark was more than pleased at what he saw and his decision to load a 32 GB memory card into his Panasonic TZ5 allowed him the freedom to take as many photographs as he wanted without the slightest fear of running out of film. Each street they walked down was rich in color, smiling children, art, and history.
photo by: Mathura Lilaprija
Although it would have been easy to get sidetracked by this charming village, both men were equally interested in their conversation. Sitting down on a bench across from an ancient temple, Rohini continued.
“Father Mark, I hope you are getting my point. And as far as all the food that we’ve seen on the altars, how is that any different from the Catholic practice that millions of Catholics celebrate every day? And of course by this I mean the Holy Eucharist. Doesn’t the priest transform the ordinary bread and common wine from purely mundane elements into something extraordinary and holy: the body of Christ? And then, much in the same way that we are seeing today, do not Catholics and Hindus, alike, come forward and consume these offerings?
Father Mark then began to smile. “I see. But here instead of a tiny wafer, an entire feast is cooked and then transformed into the Lord’s mercy.”
“That’s exactly right, Father. In fact, we do not eat anything that has not been first given to the Lord for His enjoyment. So what you are seeing here, Father, is an entire way of life. Whole families are eating what you see on these altars as their only food, but as we both know, not anyone can initiate this transformation. Are there not specific prayers that must be uttered by a legitimate priest?”
Listening intently, Father Mark said, “Yes, of course, only the priest can do this.”
“Then good—this is where we agree. In the same way—all the statues and food you see on our altars start out in the form of raw materials.
“Only after a proper and authorized ceremony is the raw marble, stone, wood and brass—or all the food that you mentioned—transformed from matter into spirit. Much the same way as your Catholic bread and wine is transformed into the Holy Body of Christ. Once the bread and wine are transformed into spirit, it takes on a whole new dimension. The wine and the bread become worshipable and non-different from God—and the people step forward and consume it.”
“Well, Rohini, you seem to have done your homework and I must say that I am seeing the logic in what you are saying. When I am performing this rite, I hold Eucharist like this and say the words, ‘this is my body.’ Then I hold the wine up and say, ‘this is my blood’ and absolutely—everyone in the church is faithful that the transubstantiation of the bread and wine has taken place.”
“Thank you Father. Here in Vrindavan our priests also call out, much in the same way. But on the other hand, there are differences.
“Please Father, if I may for a moment. I just want you to understand. Earlier you mentioned your concerns that many of us have defected from Christ and are now worshiping idols. Perhaps it is only human nature to look at such a change from that perspective, but instead, try to see Vrindavan as the spiritual center of an ancient religion that worships God on a very personal level.
“Just as Christians have their holy books, we have ours. For example, the Brahma-samhita tells us what God looks like. These prayers are held sacred by us and I have a couple of them memorized:”
Pausing for a moment, Rohini smiled and then said, “In all the Holy Scriptures that we study, God is described, perfectly matching the prayers of the Brahma-samhita. Then our Scriptures tell us how this very same God decided to once again walk upon the earth. Now comes the real excitement. This is the faith and the passion that we all share. We should never forget Matthew 19:26. Remember earlier this morning when we both agreed: With God all things are possible.”
Rohini and Father Mark spent the day walking throughout Vrindavan talking about God. Father Mark had so many questions. Later that evening they found Jitendria and listened to a devotional concert performed in a candle-lit courtyard near the Krishna-Balarama Temple. The things they talked about, Father Mark would think long and hard about for years to come.
photo by: Gopak devi dasi