Sister Angela decided to leave her religious calling and life in the convent.
“What makes you feel that you have no vocation?” asked her Mother Superior for the umpteenth time. ‘Vocation’ in the Catholic parlance meant ‘God’s call to be a nun or a priest.’
Angela understood that she would not be granted dispensation from her religious vows unless she gave her reason for stepping out of the religious habit. She wanted love, she said candidly. Not the kind of abstract, spiritual love that Jesus and Mary and the hundreds of saints offered her copiously. She wanted real, human love.
Mother Superior was shocked. How could a woman who had been donning the religious habit for about a decade desire such a demeaning thing as human love with all its vulgar passions and filthy acts and filthier body fluids?
It was now Angela’s turn to be shocked. She had not meant sex when she said love. Why did the Mother’s thoughts go in that direction? Angela wondered.
Whenever she thought of love, it was the face of Johnny that rose in her heart. Jesus had been superseded by Johnny.
“Johnny who?” asked Mother Superior contemptuously. “You don’t mean that silly young man teaching in our school?”
Angela merely looked at Mother, helplessly and not without feelings of guilt. She felt as if she had committed a series of fornications with Johnny. Hadn’t Jesus said that whoever looked at a woman with lust in his heart had already committed adultery with her? Didn’t this apply to women as well?
No, no. I committed no such grave sin, she said to herself. It’s his smile that I want. Childlike smile. It’s his company and the conversations he leads me into. Conversations about writers and their books, ideas and questions.
“He is just a philanderer, Angela,” said Mother Superior. “People like him cannot love anybody except themselves. If he engages you in conversations, it is because you flatter him by being his ardent listener. Childlike smile, you said. Yes, he is a child at heart. Immature and silly. Childish, not childlike...”
Angela knew that the Mother was not entirely wrong in her judgment. Even she had felt time and again that Johnny had no feelings of love towards her.
Mother Superior spent a few hours trying to make Angela understand the folly of her decision. But Angela was adamant; she wanted love, human love.
Finally Mother Superior understood that Angela’s decision was irrevocable. “Remember one thing, however,” said the Mother in conclusion, “human love is far more complex and demanding than divine love.”
Then came a very practical suggestion from the Mother. “Why don’t you invite Johnny here tomorrow? Say that you have something important to tell him.”
The Mother advised her to appear before Johnny just after taking a bath. Wear a skirt and blouse. Let him see a part of your lovely body. Stir the man in him. Tell him with all your feminine charm that you are leaving religious life in quest of human love. And see how he responds.
Angela thought it good advice. She did just what the Mother suggested.
Johnny listened to her with his usual childlike smile. “I wish you all the best. I’m sure you will find genuine human love...”
Human love is indeed very complex, reflected Angela as she watched Johnny walk away having said his good bye.