Date: November 12, 2020
By: Kusum D.
The approaching Hindu festival of Diwali brings back beautiful memories of glistening lights, candles, gift-giving, and the amazing food my Mum would make. Prasad - the food that is offered to god - is taken at the end of worship to break the fast. It consists of all natural food, and various fruits; everything is homemade. We would make diyas (homemade candles made with dough and wicks) and my Dad would have a ton of fireworks to light up the sky. This representing spiritual light triumphing over darkness. During this festival we prayed to Lakhsmi: the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It was the Festival of Lights!
I grew up in the Hindu faith and practiced it for 30 years. Hinduism has beautiful, deep spiritual traditions and symbols. It is neither prophetic, nor does it have a founder. It has no unifying structure, doctrine, or dogma. A big part of Hinduism is to gain worldly success, wealth, power, and prestige. One is to then use these riches to make the world a better place. Poverty and material deprivation are not a part of the culture. In Hinduism there are several names, images, and forms of the divine. My family and I worshipped at home; there was no obligation to attend worship at a temple. Neither is there a single-structured formal or congregational worship. Growing up, we had a shrine in our home. I therefore set up a shrine when I had a place of my own. Fasting is a large aspect of this religious practice. In Hinduism you chose: a particular god that you pray to in private, a particular sect the family chooses to pray to together, and a communal god. You can pray to a specific god for a particular need/situation in life as well. There are different festivals throughout the year for the many different gods. My family’s faith life was the most important part of daily life. However, most of my life I felt like there was something missing… but I was not sure what.
When I started dating my future husband some 28 years ago, I started going to Catholic Church with him. I was always curious about different religions. Growing up, my family and I celebrated Christmas mostly with gift giving and a feast. I did not know that these traditions came from Christianity, nor did I know anything about Christ. However, it was easy for me accept Jesus as god because Hinduism has many gods. As I started learning more about the traditions of the Catholic Church, I found this was very different. As I struggled with this I had a dream about Jesus. In my dream, Jesus was standing in the middle of the ocean, blessing a multitude of people, but for some reason He could not reach me. Dreams have always been important to me; I always see them as a message. To me, this dream was a call to get to know who Jesus is. To draw closer to Him.
As my curiosity towards Jesus grew, I wanted to know more about Catholicism. A year after I got married, I signed up for a 2-year RCIA program at the Sacred Heart Church in Farmington, New Mexico. I did not set out to convert, but one year into the program, Easter of 1997, I was received into the Catholic Church.
There are a few similarities between Hinduism and Christianity, especially in the Old Testament. The basic rules are the same, but with Christianity the purpose is to draw you closer to God. The Hindu gods are remote… there is no equivalent in the New Testament. Having a personal relationship with a god does not exist. In Christianity there is God the Father in Heaven, God the Holy Spirit on earth, and God the Son, Jesus made flesh. God loved His creation so deeply that He came down from Heaven to live among us. Here was the fundamental difference - in other religions man searches for God but in Christianity God is searching for man. Mary is another fundamental truth of Christianity for me. Her willing acceptance of God’s plan is the highest example of what a Christian life should look like.
After my conversion my family life flourished. There were no obstacles that we could not overcome when love of Christ was the motivation for everything. The Christian detachment from material things, knowing that it is a detachment, not a rejection of the world (since we are made by God to live in this world) brought me an inner peace. I discovered that faith gives us truths that we cannot otherwise comprehend.
Through the many programs offered in my local church I found that Christianity is not so much doing things in God’s name, as it is knowing Christ through the Scriptures and Sacraments. Sacraments are the material things God uses along our life’s journey to give us His grace. Baptism, Communion, Confession, Marriage, the Last Rites… they are all concrete “grace milestones” given to us by God.
Jesus’ resurrection brought a whole new dimension to human existence and certainly brought a completely new aspect to my faith life. I remember when I first heard about it, I thought, “What?! You killed your God?! And you celebrate that?!” This seemed completely absurd! But then I came to understand that this event is the central tenet of the Christian story. In fact, without it, there is no Christian story, and no access to Heaven for us. Jesus took the cross, which was an instrument of torture, and turned it into a purifying self-sacrifice for our sake.
I have learned that Christ only gives… He takes nothing away. His friendship is offered as a union of wills and is never imposed. But we need to invite Him into our lives. We cannot be with God unless we choose Him. He wants us to love him freely, never out of fear. Jesus does not solve our problems. Instead, He teaches us so that we may know Him and walk in His way, putting the problems of this world into proper perspective, and making us realize that all is possible with God.
The Church is the Body of Christ and is always at prayer… it never stops. Mirroring Jesus, the Catholic Church never imposes, it only proposes. My first trip to Rome and the Vatican in 2011 helped me to see what God can do with our “Yes” to Him. Coming from a religion with no formal organization, then seeing St. Peter’s and so much other Church history for the first time was awe-inspiring… the contributions of so many of the faithful’s “Yes”, all the way back to Peter. It is a call to action to build the up the faithful, God’s Kingdom here on earth, with prayer and worship, mission and evangelization, and social justice. It was there that I first learned about the Shroud of Turin and have been fortunate to help bring a replica to Calgary on a few occasions. These Shroud conferences were a great way to bring the story of Christ more alive for us today. The way faith and science co-exist in Christianity has only made my faith stronger.
Our faith is based on the person of Christ, who wants to give me great joy… to allow me to see myself as He sees me. I have value and dignity because I was made for love. Through the Eucharist I can touch God, who wants to have a personal relationship with me, and loves me unconditionally. He nourishes my soul and heals my wounds. A happy Christian life is shaped by the truth of the gospel.
My journey to, and along, the Catholic faith is strongly reflected in the poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” I saw myself and Jesus in the two sets of footprints as I journeyed along… Being carried by Him during my struggles when there was only one set of prints. It made me realize that Christ has always been with me… He was just waiting for my “Yes”. And since God alone knows the way, I have only to trust Him to carry me. You can “learn” everything about the Faith and the Church, but still not understand. It is a journey, and you have to experience it.
Christ Be my Light!
To my Hindu family, Happy Diwali!