// Christianity // Chavara: A Multidimentional Saint //
A Model of the First Christian Community
Dr.Thomas Kadankavil, CMI.
| Saint.Kuriakose Elias Chavara
The agony of the pioneers in any field, especially in an unknown terrain, is unimaginable. St.Stefan, the first martyr for Christian faith had no model to follow. He told the members of the council : You are the ones who received God's law that was handed down by angels yet you have not obeyed it(Acts 7: 53 ). He knew what was in stock. " Then they all rushed at him at once, threw him out of the city and stoned him(7:58). When Columbus set out for his expedition he had no idea where he was going to land. Only a firm faith that something would be achieved could make a man dynamic and active. The way of life Christ proposed was ever new and still it standa as a challenge for fresh attempts. It is good to recall the episode of Ananias and Sapphira in this connection." Peter said to him, "Ananias, why did you let Satan take contol of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you receivedfor the property"? Before you sold the property, it belonged to you, and after you sold it, the money was yours, Why, then, did you decide to do such a thing ? You have not lied to men- you have lied to God! As soon as Ananias heard this , he fell down dead; and all who heard about it were terrified (Act 5: 3-5)
This passage on which we are now reflecting is taken from an account to keep in the achieves at Mannanam. In the beginning there was no community life at Mannanam and it started on the feast of Holy Cross in the year 1840 when fathers Thomas Porukara, Kuriakose Chavara and Geevarghese Thopil decided to pool in together their finaancial resources with a view to have prayers, meals and living in the community for spiritual advancement. They were the pioneers in the field of religious life in Malabar.
Spiritual Readings and Mystical Union:
What we find in this piece of advice is the teaching of St. Theresa of Avila on Prayer. Chavara affectionately called her Mother Theresa (Amma Theresia) and now the saint is known all over Kerala in this name.
Fr.Leopold Beccaro OCD , the Italian Missionary and first novice master in the CMI congregation, was a linguist and he wrote a number of books in Malayalam for general spiritual reading and for ten days retreat. He made the first Malayalam transilation of the Interior Castle of St.Theresa of Avila. This was aimed at teeaching the practice of mental prayers and the stages of mystical union for religious according to the teaching St. Theresa. This book had a great influence on the style of the mental prayer of Chavara. The test quoted here is a letter Chavara had sent to the sisters in the convent at Koonanmavu (VII/8, English ed.1990, pp.84,85).
Silence and Solitude:
These two are the necessary accompanimentsof mystical experience in a monastic life. The primitive Rule of the Carmelite order strictly prescribed silence as the supreme means to grow in holiness. In the monasteries after the night prayers after supper strict silence is prescribed till after the morning prayers. Even the necessary communications during this time has to be restricted to a few words or to gestures. If one go along the Carmelite tradition silence is preferred over the free exchange of whatever one thought to be communicated. The Trapist , Carthusian and Benedictine monasteries and the Carmelite silent Convents are an open declaration of the belief that one becomes more virtuous and pious as one grows in the virtue of silence, exterior senses as well as interior silence of one's spiritual powers.
Solitude is the way that leads one to silence. Many a times we read in the Gospels that Jesus withdrew from the crowed and prayed to his father.Solitude is attained by a process of withdrawal of oneself fram familiar circumstances and contacts to achieve the sence that he is all alone with the Lord. Here the soul opens its heart to begin a real recollected dialogue with the Lord of the solitude, which will also finally fall into absolute silence. For attaining this eloquent mystical silence Chavara, in keeping with the Carmelite spiritual tradition, exhorts the members of his community to ever mindful of the two great vitues of silence and solitude in the consecrated life.
Reference has been made to dialogue with God as prayer and which is now named as meditation. Spiritual writers from time immemorial vie with each other to offer the best description of prayer from their own experience. Here St.Chavara gives his understanding of prayer or meditation. The vocal prayer of a devotee is usuelly an expression of the worship of God in four ways, namely giving thanks to God for the gifts and blessing God had showered on him, to praise him acknowledging his greatness, to express ones heartfelt compunction for his transgressions and finally to ask for the blessing in ones daily needs. This four sentiments in their varied shades and hues appear in the supplication of a praying soul. Anyone with the help of a scriptural passage or a particular situation or event reflects on its inner meaning would be in fact meditating. When the early stages of the reflection and the loving dialogue have progressed sufficiantly ahead the images, words and expressions of strong sentiments naturally suside to complete halt. The present piece of exhortation is a graphic picture of this state of affairs one reaches in his recollected meditation.
Examination of Conscience:
This is avery ancient ascetical practice in force in all the religious communities in the church. The formative norm for the examination of conscience is the belief system and the rules and the regulations which protect the community. Usually it is practiced in the contemplative religious communities at noon-time and at night before the members retire for rest.
Conscience here in question, the practical judjment over the worthiness and the permissibility of a deliberate action, is certainly a product of the desciplined life in a group on the basis of the commonly accpeped value system. In a larger sense it is the unique norm for action for anyone here and now, but it could not be a universal norm, for conscience is always personal and subjective. The request of St.Chavara to make examination of conscience is first of all an oblique question to examin whether all that he had given them as testament had any influence in forming their conscience.
The church and the congregation were the two prime realities in the spiritual scheme of St.Chavara. Hence the examination of one's conscience is a vital practice to know whether one keeps himself a worthy member in the church as well as in the congregation. Spiritual exercises for the realization of the goals of the religious vocation such as dailyneditation, calebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, Rosary, Spiritual Reading, visits and other devotions are points of reference for this Purpose.
What St. Chavara specifically mentioned as values to be practiced needs to be specially examined. He warns: "the day on which you haven't done any good to your fellowmen will not be counted in the book of life" (cf. No.30) The request makes a cleaver attempt to make his followers to own all that he had lovingly bequeathed. This review of life certainly would help one to make sure whether he is progressing in his spiritual sojourn on the right path.//-
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