St. Kuriakose Elijah’s Chavara: A Lovely Fruit Bearing Branch of Jesus and a Holy Priest Filled with Holy Spirit
Jesus, as so often, is working in the passage of the gospel St.John 15:1- 10 with the pictures and ideas which are the part of the religious heritage of Jewish culture. Jesus makes the message very clear that the only one thing that can save us is to have an intimate relationship or a living fellowship with him, because he is the true vine of God. Jesus invites us to be the true branches that are united to him .No external qualification can set a man right with God; only the fellowship of Jesus Christ can do that.
We have an exemplary model in the life of St.Chavara for being united with Jesus.In the light of the gospel passage of St.John 15:1-10, the life of St.Chavara could be well understood as a lovely fruit bearing branch of Jesus. Certainly, Jesus will depict him as a lovely fruit bearing branch of him. Because our limited understanding of the amazing personality of St.Chavara leads us to the truth that St.Chavara had nothing except the joy or the friendship of belonging to Jesus.
Let us gratefully reflect over the blessed life of such a great visionary. Though very limited our understanding is, Father Chavara’s life could be summed up in the following reflections
- A life of deep and intense prayer which thought and acted far ahead of his times
- A man who lived in the light of the vision of God
- A charismatic leader of socio-cultural field who laid down his life in the service of humanity
The late Archbishop Mar Mathew Kavukattu wrote about him; “Fr.Chavara was a great Christian and a very holy monk. While he most scrupulously lived the life of a religious, dedicated to the love and service of God, the same divine love inspired him to devote himself as much as he could, to the love and service of men. It is a long and praise worthy record, his varied enterprises and activities for the religious, social and educational advancement of his fellow men.”
What could be the reason behind his manifold achievements? Even without a shadow of doubt or confusion, everybody will agree to the truth that the intimate fellowship with Jesus endowed him with a graceful existence. He had nothing except the joy of belonging to Jesus. St.Chavara writes in one of his letters; “Above all learn the art of loving Jesus, Stay constantly in his presence, and Walk along with him, Converse with him continuously.”
So, the fellowship with Jesus remains as the heart and soul of the spirituality of St.Chavara. He ascended every day to the hand of the heavenly father and descended every day to the needs of the people. He could grow vertically to the presence of God and horizontally to the needs and context of the people. So ascending to the heavenly father and descending to the needs of the people becomes the sole domain of Chavara spirituality.
Every one of us is called to be the part and parcel of this great legacy and heritage; a legacy of deeply pondered reflections, a heritage of serious intellectual discourse and a culture of reaching out people in their needs. Let us thank the lord for blessing the Indian Church with the charismatic leadership of St.Chavara.
Let us make the efforts to be the faithful inheritors of Chavara spirituality. St.Chavara invites all of us to imprint a tag of God awareness into our psyche and to be the genuine bearers of the spiritual treasures of our catholic faith after the model of St.Charvara. The discontinuity from that consciousness may take us away from the path and dream of such a great visionary of our soil.
Loving Jesus, We pray through the intercession of St.Chavara for the graces to achieve an intimate fellowship with you so that we will become a lovely fruit bearing branch of yourself. May we be enabled to imprint a tag of God consciousness in our heart and soul.
In the beginning of 19th Century the state government of Travancore began to take more interest in the field of education in line with the protestant missionaries. So they encouraged the missionaries. Both Hindus and Protestants profited much out of this. But the educational conditions of the Catholics were abysmal. Fr.Chavara realized that community would even remain subjugated if they did not move with the times and so he decided that the religious congregation should concentrate on educational work. So in 1846 Fr.Chavara established a Sanskrit school in Mannanam and admitted not only the Catholics but was opened to all irrespective of caste and creed .Parapuram mentioned the establishment of a Sanskrit school by Fr.Chavara at Mannanam in the following words:
“At the same time (late fourties) a Sanskrit school was established at Mannanam, attached to the Monastery. Apart from the priests and others in the monastery, students from the neighbouring places, also came there for studies. For the proper running of the school they brought from Thrissur, a teacher belonging to the warrier caste. He was an expert in Sanskrit and Malayalam. His Services was very useful for preparing the books published from Mannanam in proper Malayalam idiom. Because of his expertise in Sanskrit Fr. Chavara also started to learn Sanskrit from him.”
For the students he arranged the provision to supply study materials, cloths, and mid-day meals. Mannanam Chronicle (vol. III, p.30) has this entry dated November 1864, in the beginning of which Fr.Kuriakose visited Mannanam:“On Sundays and feast days many boys came to study catechism and remained here till Five ‘O’ clock in the evening. Some of them came from distant places. Some of them were poor. In order to promote more efficiently this so whole some and fruitful work, they thought that it was necessary to feed the boys at noon with kanji (rice gruel). They were also given cloths and sacred articles like rosaries, scapulars, etc. To meet the expenses involved for this as well as for the conversion of pulayas and for conducting the catechetical school, the means was decided as collection of ‘Pidiyari’ (handful of rice) every Sunday from every household…
Later in the year 1864, while he was the vicar General of the Syrians, he took a very bold step, for which the country at large should be grateful to him. He issued a mandate, calling upon all parish churches under his jurisdiction to raise schools attached to each of them. For the poor students he arranged mid-day meals, which even the government schools were not providing at that time. The high literacy rate of present Kerala can be largely owed to the farsighted policy of Fr.Chavara in the establishment of a school for each parish. He was a brilliant scholar in literature, well versed in seven languages viz. Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, and Syriac.
Fr.Chavara was a great educationalist and had strongly advocated the cause of education. He wrote: “As soon as children are able to recognize things, they should be sent to school. Besides, the parents should enquire about their studies and their friendship. Every Sunday, their learning should be checked. In 1846 Fr. Chavara took essential steps in opening a printing press for the church in Kerala. From this press the first Malayalam daily paper, Deepika , came out in 1887 . He was also the 1st Indian to start a printing press in private ownership.
- A good Christian Family resembles to heavenly abode. All the members in the family who are either related by birth or bonded in nuptial relations shall regard the elders in high esteem and live together in unity and solidarity. Every person shall maintain highest dignity and aim salvation in all his words and deeds.
- Your children are divine investments and they shall be brought up in the best way possible and you shall extend to them all kinds of protection. They are to purified in the Holy Grail, made his disciple and to be committed to Him on the Day of Judgment. This is the responsibility that Lord Jesus has assigned to you.
- All the members in a family shall have a deep rooted love for one another. This underlying love can bring in peace and friendship in the family, which in turn enables them to face the troubles and tribulations with utmost calm and thereby they overcome all the tragedies in life.
- In every family there shall be order and peace and they shall always have concern for eternal salvation. It may be noted that many a good family had plunged into utter ruins owing to its absence.
- They shall be given good books worth reading. The parents shall take special care that undesirable publications do not reach them. Possessing indecent publications is like keep fire on a haystack.
- You shall take extreme care in the upbringing of your children. You shall make it a daily practice that you will remember them in your prayers.
- Parents shall keep a close watch in the educational pursuits of their children. It must be ensured frequently that they do not be trapped into undesirable friendships.
- Parents must also be very moderate in blaming and punishing their children. Gentle words carry more weight than high-sounding outcries.
- Children must be taught to say their prayers at an early stage. Let them grow up in a strong faith of God.
- Your daily routines shall be punctual and in order. It shall not be like a loose bound book.
- Parents shall also ensure that their children are given ample freedom when they attain the age of discretion to choose their vocation.
- Parents shall also see that they prepare there will when in good health and discretion and that the family property may be divided according to the rules and customs in force.
- It is the sacred duty of the children to respect their parents diligently. They shall be taken care of as a treasure in their old age and sickness. Such children are eligible for the grace of God.
14. Your relationship and friendship shall be highly prudent. It shall be ensured that your friendship is extended to morally and ethically good people.
- Responding with a vengeance is cruel. It must be borne in mind that a good character can be expected from a person of reason and patience.
- Do not drag petty differences into courts of law. That can move hearts into farther zones.
- Do not borrow money from others. Such insolvency can lead even your children to trouble after your life.
- Do not expose your opulence. Be humble in words and activities. You must also discard luxuries in marriages. A burning fire in haystack is momentary. But a small light shedding from a little lamp can remain for a very long time.
- Luxury and miserliness are the two sides of the same coin. Both can lead you to evil designs. Your money should be utilized for common good. Otherwise you will be doing unethical things.
- You shall keep relationships with God-loving people. Material gains shall not be your sole aim.
- Industriousness shall be maintained in your homes. Do not while away your time. Sloth leads you to many vices.
- Liquor is a major vice and shall not be allowed to enter your home. Many families have been destroyed by this evil.
- 23. Be upright in your business activities. Whatever you amass through dishonesty and tricks can be dissolved like a mass of snow.
- There shall not be any day in your life, which is not devoted to others with some kind of help. God will not count that day as part of your life. You must also see that alms-seekers are not driven away.
- Your servants shall be given appropriate remuneration. Do not talk ill of the poor and the weak. If you do so their tears shall bear witness against you in the heavenly court of God.
- There is a panacea for maintaining the divine light in your homes. That is the Holy Mass conducted in the church. Make sure at least one member of your family attending it daily.
- Is it sufficient to attend the holy mass on Sundays and on the days of obligation? No! That day must be devoted for reading good books, doing good things and for listening to gospel discourse. You must also find time to visit the poor and the sick.
- You shall not default your family prayer at any cost. You shall say your prayers with all members at the appointed time. Let that be a witness to others as well
“The children are treasures entrusted to the families by God to sanctify their souls with his precious blood, and make them His ministers in this world, and to return them to Him on the day of final Judgment.” St. Chavara
- Children, you are God’s investment in the hands of your parents.
- The Children who have love of God and fear of God will love and respect their parents
- Trust your mother; God will hear the mother’s request like the baby’s request.
- Wisdom and purity should be spiritual food, like food for natural growth.
- Go to school regularly and recall what is taught during the week
- Laziness fosters evil habits.
- Let your friends be those who love God.
- Good friends will make you good.
- Keeping of bad books is like hiding fire in straw.
- Regular reading of good books and meditating on it will illumine the mind.
- Attain punctuality by means of a regular time-table.
- You angels will be turned to devils, if you fall into evil situation.
- You ought to reach home before evening and take part in the evening prayers.
- Your attire and sanctity ought to be according to your age
- Immoderate attire will only lead you to evil.
- Let your ability be in piety regulating your life and controlling your senses.
- You ought to love truth and justice.
- What earn by deceit and theft will melt like snow.
- Your profession must be according to your knowledge and age.
- Let there be no day in your life in which you did no good to others.
- Let not the insult and quarrels of others be a cause of hatred and enmity.
- Do not insult or trouble the poor.
- God decides your vocation and you choose it.
- When you choose your partner in life, choose one who has a good character and good manners
- Even if you are grown in age and maturity you have to accept your parents and submit to them
- Do not hate your own brethren.
- It is the duty of children to look after their parents.
- Do not be the cause of your parents shedding tears on account of you.
- The humble man is the greatest among men.
- Since you belong to God, you should be given back to God.
The problems faced by women can be traced from beginning of the world. Many people came forward to fight against the evils, marginalization and problems faced by women throughout the history. Chavara was a person who sensed the need to empower women, to uplift the dignity of women and had taken bold steps o actualize it.
The status of women in the 19th century the time of Chavara was very pathetic. As it was a patriarchal society there was no freedom either at home or in the society for women. The education for them was restricted till adolescence. Low caste women were forbidden even the elementary education they were denied share of the family property. Women had no right to go for job and earn money. In the church women were not allowed to participate in retreats conducted in the church grounds. They had no representations in parish councils. Consecrated lie for women was unknown. In fact their role in society was only child bearing, rearing and working for the comfort of everyone in the home.
To uplift the status of the women Chavara as a pioneering effort formed a religious community for women in 1866 presently known as CMC. The members of the congregation were to give education and training to girls so that future mothers would be enlightened to instruct and guide their children. By training Chavara had the idea of teaching te girls handicraft, making rosaries, scapulars and artificial flowers.
As Chavara had the idea of making women itself as the agents of their progress he played a crucial role in starting a boarding house attached to convent for the residential study of the young girls. The first boarding school was opened at Koonamavu. Attention was give to the intellectual, mental, social and spiritual development girls. In short Chavara had vision of empowering women in all spears and he fulfilled it.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871), a renowned social reformer, was a native from the land of Kerala in India. Being a spiritual leader, the major orientation of his life and activities was for the empowerment of people. The social situations of Kerala during his life time were deplorable due to the existence of a caste- oriented and socially unequal society. People belonging to the higher castes enjoyed many privileges while the lower castes were neglected and oppressed. Government jobs and general education were denied to people of the lower castes. They were not allowed even to walk along public roads. Untouchability and such evil customs were predominant and accepted practices in the society.
Chavara worked hard to raise the status of his fellow beings and provide them better chances to progress through innovative initiatives and opening opportunities for everyone to flourish and progress. Today Kerala is holding the highest literacy rate in India and people are enjoying equal social status and the fruits of development. In 1846 the monastery at Mannanam started a new institution of Sanskrit studies where the seminarians and students from any caste or religion sat together and studied. For the poor students he arranged the provision to supply study materials, clothes and mid-day meals, which even the government schools were not providing at that time. he opened another school at the neighbouring village Arpookara. Near Arpookara Thuruthumali hill he was built a Chapel and school for the converts from the Pulaya caste.
St. Chavara is a luminary not only in the spiritual and ecclesial levels. He was also one of the topmost social reformers India has even seen. He visualized a society when all people can live in the joy of the children of God, enjoying equality, freedom and prosperity.
God in His loving providence provides saints for the Church for her spiritual renaissance. Saints Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Benedict, Ignatius of Loyola were selected for the spiritual renewal of the Church in the right course of time. They started religious congregations and motivated people to lead saintly life. St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara was instrumental to begin indigenous religious congregations for men and women and became the trend setter in the flourishing catholic movement in Indian church, particularly the Syro Malabar Church.
By the words of saint Chavara, from the first page of his chronicle, we may allude to the request fathers Palackal and Porukara (Rector & Spiritual animator of Saint Chavara) placed before the bishop Maurelius Stabilini “Seeing that a lot of good has not been done due to the absence of a Thapasu Bhavanam (house of discipline) in Kerala even for priests, we desire to start a ‘Darsana Veed (house of vision) at least for priests”.
The Vicar Apostolic, finally on 1st November 1829, granted permission to establish a religious house. On May 11, 1831, the foundation stone for the proposed religious house was laid at Mannanam dedicating it to St.Joseph. This was the first indigenous religious institute for men in the Indian Church of modern times, known now as Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI).
In 1841, Malpan Thomas Palackal, and in 1846 Malpan Thomas Poroukara died, leaving the whole burdens of organizing the religious community to Fr. Kuriakose Chavara. On 8th December 1855, Fr.Chavara with his eleven companions made their religious vows assuming Fr.Chavara as superior (prior) of the religious community.Starting seven religious houses, besides the first one at Mannanam, in different parts of Kerala, the new congregation made great strides in the spiritual renovation in the Kerala Church.
A religious congregation for women in Kerala was a great desire of Fr. Chavara. It was a long cherished desire of his and the result of several attempts one at Alangad in 1857 another at Puthanpally in 1859. In 1866, on February 13, with the co-operation of Fr. Leopold Beccaro, Carmelite Missionary, the first Carmelite convent of the sisters was inaugurated at Koonamavo, under the name “Third Order of the Carmelites Discalced”. The motive of starting such an institute of religious life was for Christian formation, education and empowerment of women folk.