Friday, 28 December 2012

Karmayogi: The Personality of Kuriakose Elias Chavara



The greatness of the personality of Chavara is reflected in the words of many of his contemporaries like Fr. Mathai Mariam Kappil, Mathai Mariam Palakkunnel, Bishop Louis Pazheparampil, etc. Many of the lay persons as well as historical writers could recognize the importance of the personality of Chavara and his contributions as relevant to all times and people.  The attribute ‘karma-yogi’ given by Prof. P. T. Thomas gives a clear idea of the towering personality of Chavara.

Prophetic Vision and Mission of Chavara
The continuous changes that happen in the society are the result of the one who has the sense of history, who knows the present condition and having a vision for the future.  Chavara is one among these visionaries who changed society.  The Chaldean leadership was not that much acceptable and pleasing to the indigenous group in Kerala.  In the 16th century, with the coming of the Portuguese, the Latin influence and dominance destroyed the unity and autonomy of the Indian church of St. Thomas Christians.  The Christians of St. Thomas wanted to have co-existence with the Portuguese, but they were for absorption, which resulted in conflicts.  Chavara as well as the Malpans had a conviction that no good can be expected from the Chaldean Church by re-linking Kerala Church with it.  One of the basic problems Chavara could understand is that of language, the difference in language used and known by the priests and bishops.  So to say, the condition of Kerala Church was that people were looking for a normal state; but the situation was entirely different, headed by one from different Rite, using Latin language and Rites for rituals and so on.
            The solution, Chavara could give was to get a few missionaries from Europe, who were ready to study Syrian language and to adapt Syro-Malabar Rite and later to make one among them as the head of the Church in Kerala.  Later Chavara wrote to Prefect of the Propagande Congregation, for two bishops: one for the Latin Church and another for Syrian Church, so that the wish of the people for bishop from their own rite will be satisfied and they will get united.  This request could influence many of the decisions of Rome during that time.
            Chavara along with Malpans started with the reforms to bring back the community to right track.  One of the steps for the reform was starting of the religious life in 1831 at Mannanam for men and one in 1866 for women.  Another area was the reform of the clergy in Kerala; training of the seminarians, giving retreats, making available spiritual books etc.  He introduced several schemes for the general renewal of Christian life, started schools and printing presses and contributed a lot to the literature too.
Humane Personality
            Chavara was a garden of virtues, so that he was loved and respected by all, his students, priests, bishops and lay people.  All considered him equal to a bishop.  He enjoyed the company of all, with no age or status difference.  His knowledge in different languages helped a lot in his ministries, teaching seminarians, liturgical compositions etc.  He also had an in depth knowledge in theology and Bible, which he could make use for the preaching and retreats.
Moral Dimension of Chavara’s Personality
            Chavara was accurate in all his accounts and was just to all.  He was very keen to see only the good in others.  Chavara was a prudent person in making decision and doing things, but he was ready to seek and accept advice from elderly persons.  When he had to correct others he was conscious not to offend them.  His foresight is evident in making funds for all the charitable activities that he started.  In solving problems and in dealing with the people involved in such things, Chavara was very prudent.  He professed a fourth vow, vow of humility, and was humble in all his words and deeds.
 He believed that all that he had were the gifts from God and he thanked God for all the blessings he received from birth till the day of last breath.  He expressed his faith in the Holy Catholic Church in all his activities.  He showed great trust in God’s providence.  He was a true devotee of Blessed Virgin Mary.  His love to God was out bursting in charity to the needy.  Through love towards the brethren and even to the people who offended him, he could prove that he really loves God.  He had great zeal for the souls, which he expressed through preaching, pastoral activities, writing good books etc.
            Chavara led a poor life, trusting in the providence of God, even when a number of projects he started without any fund in his hands.  He was very careful in the virtue of chastity.  According to him one who shows obedience to superiors and subordinates will be able to enjoy heavenly peace, making a mini-heaven around him.
 The true name that can be given to Chavara is ‘karma-yogi’, ‘a contemplative in action’, one who lived for others, out of love of God, along with this he made an intense prayer life too.  His prayer life which was started in childhood itself was properly brought up as he passed through different stages of life.  In the case of the congregation when started, it was following the Dominican way, contemplata praedicare (preach what has been meditated upon).  But in 1855 Carmelite spirituality was accepted and followed, a combination of both and gave roots in eastern, Carmelite and Indian spirituality.  Chavara considered this new face as that God willed, not because man planned.
 During the time of meditation, others could see him on knees, shedding tears for the whole time.  Chavara was influenced by St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and he could go up in the levels of prayer experience.  He considered God as his Father and placed himself as His son in prayers and life.  Another specialty of his prayer life was the compunction of heart; he repented for the childhood follies and expressed gratitude for all the blessings God showered in his life.
Chavara spirituality is revealed through his spiritual compositions such as Martyrdom of Anastasia, Dhyanasallapangal, Atmanutapam, Parvam and other letters.  Most distinctive characteristic of his spirituality is the longing for the vision of God, the intense desire to see God.  His devotion to Holy Family is clear in adding a phrase “of the Holy Family” along with his name on the day of religious profession.  In his spirituality he considered the first and second persons of Holy Trinity and St. Joseph as father figures and makes prayers accordingly.  Similarly, he considered Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Theresa of Avila, the Holy Catholic Church and his own congregation as mother figures.  In his spirituality, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament can never be neglected.  He himself says that he wishes to be locked in the tabernacle with Jesus.
 His spiritual life is based on a family relationship.  As pointed out there are father figures and mother figures.  He considers himself as a prodigal son returning to his Father with repentance.  The rest of the humanity consists of his brothers and sisters.  With some members of the family, he has got more intimacy, since they are also of the same state as that of his.  Towards his spiritual children he has a paternal love too.  He extended his family relationship even to those who are in purgatory and prayed specially for them and reminded others to do so.
To conclude, the name karma-yogi is an apt name that reflects the towering personality of Blessed Chavara.  The great visionary and missionary in Chavara was a God-given gift for the whole Church, especially for the congregation.  He was an inspiration for the people of his time as well as the people who lived and lives years after.  He was a beacon of light who led people to Christ by becoming another Christ in his personality.  

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