Fr Saju Chackalackal CMI
In the loving Providence of God and with far-reaching foresight, Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara wrote Oru Nalla Appante Chavarul (Testament of a Loving Father) on 13 February 1868 to the people of Kainakary (Alappuzha) in Kerala, his own kith and kin united in ‘spirit and flesh.’ This insightful and down-to-earth document, surprisingly, the first of its kind in the known history of the Church, offers practical direction to families in leading a God-fearing as well as socially commendable life. It is a moment of pride for the Indian Church to celebrate 150th anniversary of this Testament.
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara – a yet to be recognized ‘champion of families’ even within the Catholic Church – bequeathed to his beloved family members and relatives in his native village Kainakary and through them to the entire human family, this Testament, which, he believed, would keep him united with them by the regular reading of the text and following the instructions contained therein. As the Catholic Church makes earnest efforts to accompany her faithful who discern and adopt their vocation of responsible parenthood for which Pope Francis invites all pastors to go an extra mile to support “families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel,” the holistic and practical insights of Saint Chavara come handy, provided we are ready to translate them into contemporary idioms and make them respond to the challenges faced by modern day families. While the biblical insights and inspiring anecdotes contained in the Testament attest to the fact that Saint Chavara had a deep sense of Christian foundations for leading a genuine family life, his insightful practical directives indicate how thoroughly he understood the dynamics of a family, especially on grooming children and nurturing discipline within the family.
Family is the heaven on earth. As Saint Chavara insightfully puts it, “a good Christian family is the image of heaven, where members live together by the bond of blood and affection, duly respecting and obeying the parents, walking peacefully before God and people, seeking eternal salvation according to each one’s proper state of life” (Testament, Introduction). It is with this intention that he, in a spirit of prayer and discernment and yearning for “God’s light and peace,” invited family members to cultivate love, order, and peace, even if that would call for sacrificing personal convenience and comfort. Hence, Saint Chavara codified the Testament as a practical guideline in forty paragraphs (part 1 with 24 paragraphs and part 2 with 16 paragraphs), addressing three vital perspectives to be maintained in every Catholic family, namely, (1) the place of a family in the redemptive plan of God, (2) the role of family in the mission of the Church, and (3) the mission of family in social networking.
As 150 years have passed after this visionary Testament was issued the following series of articles contain the insightful and practical teachings of Saint Chavara to facilitate emergence of solutions to address contemporary issues faced by our families for the integral wellbeing of families and to lead them on their way of becoming heaven on earth.