Friday, 28 December 2012

Kuriakose Elias Chavara of Happy Memories





The saintly Kuriakose Elias Chavara had a profound understanding of death. His reflections on death were in tune with the theology and spirituality of his times which could very well be seen in the frightening and fearful picture which he shares through his writings. But he optimistically prescribes various means to safely sail across the troubled ocean to reach the Promised Land.  He looks up to Blessed Virgin Mary ‘as the strong vessel, strong enough to resist the tempest of the sea, which gives guarantee of safety and protection to passengers’ and St. Joseph as ‘the sailor who is familiar with the route and who would safely bring the passengers to a safe landing.  ‘The Confraternity of Happy Death’ of St. Joseph, +the patron of happy death was established by Kuriakose Elias and requested people to join so that they could confidently face death and reach heaven. He concludes a letter written to parishioners in Kainakary with the following words, “Each month, on this particular day read this and say the following ejaculatory prayer: “Lord accept the soul of this your servant in the home of the just.” This is my only request to you.

Toward the end of 1870, Chavara Kuriakose Elias knew that he was inching closer to death.  As Kuriakose Porukara writes, “As the Prior was aware by a special intuition the approach of his death, he was continuously preparing for a happy death.” In many of the churches which Kuriakose Elias preached in 1870’s he stated that this would be his last sermon and also repeated the same to the priests who had assembled for retreat. Even during the difficult times of his life, he was very particular in celebrating mass at 5:00 am and relied greatly on the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

He lost his eye sight during the last three months of this life on earth but instead of becoming irritated or sorrowful, he remained pleasant with a smile on his face. He suffered a lot during the last three days before his death.  On 2 January 1871, he made his last confession to Fr. Leopold and received Holy Communion. He told the members who were standing near his death bead, ‘Why are you weeping? Man, whoever he be, has to die one day. Now it is my time. For a few days, I was preparing myself as far as possible.” Then he revealed the secret which he hid from everyone , “By the grace of God I dare to say that with their help never had I an occasion to be deprived of the grace received in baptism.” After Fr. Joseph John of the Cross, the vicar of the Monastery of Koonammavu administered the sacrament, Kuriakose Elias Chavara blessed all the members who were present. When Fr. Leopold asked, “Father, how are you now? Are you happy? Are you peaceful at heart?” He replied, “Father, now I have peace and joy.” These were his last words and he lost his consciousness. On January 3, 1871, at 7:15 in the morning Kuriakose Elias Chavara breathed his last.

The funeral was held on 4 January, 1871. The funeral mass was celebrated by Fr. John of the Cross, the vicar, the sermon was preached by Fr. Mathai Kappil and Fr Kuriakose Eliseus Porukara conducted the funeral services. Fr. Valerian writes that ‘according to eyewitnesses the rush of people was such that it filled over the precincts of the church. During the funeral speech Fr. Mathai Kappil said, “Today the flag of Kerala has fallen.’ Then the bells rang and people burst out in loud cries.  Kuriakose Elias Chavara was laid to rest at St. Philomena’s monastery Church, Koonammavu. When this church was handed over to Latinites after the creation of Thrissur and Kottayam vicariates, the relics of Chavara was transferred from Konnammavu to Mannanam on 24 May 1899.  

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