St. Chavara- A Man for Our Times //
Fr. Dr. Thomas Kadankavil C. M. I
|Fr. Dr. Thomas Kadankavil
Social research on contemporary family life confirms our feeling that families are steadily losing their stability especially from the begining of the second half of the 20th century. The cases of divorce are on increase throwing the parental care of the children in the hired hands. The sacredness of the monogamous marriage is being challenged.We find permanent singleness, and various other questionableforms of cohabitation. Families are losing their power, attraction and functions. Family as a cultural value is diminishing its hold and people are less willing to invest time, money and energy in family life but are investing the same for self-satisfaction and self-growth. They forgot the truith that though man is a child of earth, he is heir of heaven and true love never claims but ever gives all that one possesses. Devoid of good and mutually respecting and loving families we can't expect to renew our society at large. It is in this context that the value of St. Chavara's efforts to empower families with Christian ideals has to be seen and appreciated.
Schools and Catholics
In his writings and his apostalate Chavara paid special attention to building up the family, which constitutes the basic unit of all society ? In addition to this, he laboured tirelessly for the uplift of the Syrian Catholic community in general. As he himself makes it clear, the very aim and purpose of founding a monastery was 'to do good to the people'. Chavara knew that if any community wants to achieve progress, what it needs most is capable leaders. With this view in mind, the farsighted Chavara took the initiative for establishing seminaries at Mannaanam, Vazhakkulam and Elthuruth to ensure that there were well-trained priests to cater to the spiritual and temporal needs of the people. Since English education was forbidden to the Syrian Catholics at that time, Chvara started a Sanskrit school at Mannaanam with a view to enhancing the position of the Syrian Catholics among the caste Hindus.While he was the Vicar General of the Syrian Church he directed that every Church should also have a school attached to it. This directive was given in order to raise the educational status of the community, as the Syrian Catholics of that time were educationally very backward. Above all, Chavara knew that for the spiritual and social progress of a community what was most essential was the betterment of the family through education of the women in the family. We shall briefly outline the salient features of St.Chavara's vision about a Christian family and the measures he introduced for the family's renewal and improvement.
Family a place for Holly life.
The family is certainly the foundation stone of society. Social progress and improvement is impossible without a spiritually in a solid family life. Being aware of this truth Chavara took keen interest in the family in its spiritual, social and financial dimensions.
a). The spiritual dimension of the family: As an aid to growth in the spiritual dimension of the family Chavara recommended devotion to the Holy Family. That the devotion may take deep roots in oneself one has first to know throughly the object of one's devotion and then accept and assimilate what has been known. It was Chavara's earnest desire that every Christian Family should become another 'Holy Family'. In his letter to the people of Kainakary he defines the family as follows; "A family is the community of a few people joined together in blood relation and bound together by a bond of love, where the members exhibit mutual respect and practice obedience to parents and walk in peace before the lord and the people and each one, according to his proper state of life, seeks to attain eternal salvation and lives peacefully".
The basis of a family could be blood relationship or the closeness one feels in love. The ideal and visible model for Christians in living together and in keeping a peaceful relationship with God and men and striving to achieve one's salvation could be nothing other than the Holy Family. According St.Chavara ' A good Christian family resembles the 'kingdom of heaven'. The Holy Family of Nazareth is heaven on earth. Fr. John pattasseri describes the heaven of Chavara's imagination as follows " God is the "daddy" of heaven, heaven's mommy is the blessed Virgin Mary, and the other inhabitants of heaven are the children'. In an article in the volume referred to here this resemblance has been further highlighted. A Christian family should be a kingdom where God, in the person of Christ, reigns supreme. Chavaras fundamental vision about family was to make every family an earthly repilca of the heavenly kingdom. To remind him of this supreme thruth he adopted "Holy Family" as his second name. Chavara firmily believed that a religious could not attain holiness unless he / she lovers serves and tries to make holy the people of God and their families. Just as in the case of St.Joseph, the foster father, it was a comfort and consolation for Chavara to act as the "foster father" of every family in the church.
b). The social concerns: Realizing the importance of the social dimension of the family Chavara urges that all should pay attention to it in all charity and justice in their family life. " In the order of flesh, I am the son of Kuriakose Chavara of the parish Chennankary. God was gracious enough to create me. Since I was born in your family as a child of your ancestors, I have a special obligation to do some good to you in justice and charity. In the vision of Chavara the parish, other families and the parents have to be immovable pillars in one's life. As a lasting memorial of his love of his parishioners and relatives, he asked them, fifteen months before his death, to construct a house for the destitute in order to prepare them for a happy death.
Although Chavara loved and respected the family and family relationshps, he never let himself be unwholesomely affected by family ties. For instance, Chavara never believed that his family line would become extinct just because because there was no male heir in his family. He stood firm in his priestly vocation in the faith that his elder brother's only daughter would continue his family line. Here Chavara was upholding the noble ideal that a woman too can continue the family line- an ideal that has not been fully assimilated and honoured by the Syrian community even today.
C). Attitude to Wealth: In a letter to the people of Kainakary Chavara gives a good deal of council regarding the financial security of a family, few of which could be briefly touched here.
"Do not borrow money except in special circumstances. If you have borrowed it earlier pay it back at the earliest". (Letters Vol. IV, p.105, no.4). Do not make a show of your wealth. One who displays his wealth is a person of low status. He who makes false pretentions of wealth will, sooner or later, be compelled to be poor" (No.5) " Do not spend on festivities beyond what you can afford..." (no.6). Do not seek conections with families that are disorderly and are not God -fearing. For it is not rich relatieves and friends that will bring you benifit and happiness but those who lead orderly lives and are God -fearing (no.8). Endeavour to repair old things rather than buy new ones. A home is rich not because of its numerous possessions, but in the excellence of the few things owned" (no.11). "Do manual work as far is permitted by your social status. A man of honour does not sit idle... Idelness is the mother of all vices, especially of the habit of drinking"(No.12). "Profligacy as well as stinginess are evil. The stingy man's riches will be eaten up by worms and the joy of the profligate will disappear like smoke"(no.15). Do not allow a stolen article to be retained in your house. Such a house will be burnt down. The spirit exhorts us: have nothing to do with anyone who steals another person's property"(no17).
Chavara thus provides a clear vision on the right attitude that a Christian shold have towards wealth in the family set-up. It is to be noted that Chavara has some reservations regarding trade and commerce and business. Since it is often difficult to keep honestly in business and trade, Chavara advices that one may enter this field only if one can find no other work and even then, with utmost care and precaution.//-
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