Many of our readers might be hearing these words for the first time in their life and it is not surprising. ‘Testament of a Good Father’ is a booklet authored by a lesser-known saint from India where Christians constitute just 2% of the total population.
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born in 1805 and died at the age of sixty six. To have an idea about the man and his spirituality, just one incident is sufficient. Before his death, he was bedridden for nearly two years. As he was a well known and respected person in the Church and society, a lot of visitors used to come to his monastery. He was aware of the spiritual danger of too many people discussing worldly things to him in his twilight days, a time when one should spend more time in prayers and spiritual matters. So he put up a notice in the room, forbidding the visitors from worldly conversation!
Kuriakose Elias was canonized on 23 Nov 2014. He has many things to his credit. He co-founded the first indigenous congregation (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in India) for men. He was the first Vicar General for Syro- Malabar Catholics and founded the first seminary for them. He founded the first printing press and publishing house of Syro-Malabar Catholics. He was behind introducing spiritual exercises like Way of the Cross and Forty Hours Adoration in the Church. At a time when children from the lower strata were banned from entering public schools, he founded a school for them. He took the initiative to revise the liturgy. In 1866 he founded the first indigenous congregation (CMC) for women.
But he is remembered today for much greater things he achieved in life. Three years before his death, he wrote a small book under the title ‘Testament of a Good Father’ and gave it to his dear ones with the instruction that it should be kept in the parish chapel, and read every first Saturday. The book deals with a single topic; how a Christian family should conduct its affairs.
Kuriakose Elias admits in the book that the sight of many Christian families having to go through unpleasant situations was what prompted him to write this book. At a time when the institution of family itself is facing existential threat and our younger generation ignoring the Christian way of life, the prophetic words of St Kuriakose Elias are more relevant. Let us take a quick look at those precious pearls he has bequeathed us.
He starts with love and exhorts Christian families to live in love, forgiving others. Tit for tat is the way of ordinary men; Christians should be ever willing to forgive. He advises us not to take our disputes to civil authorities or judicial courts as the end result will always be bitter for both parties.
Observing Sabbath in its perfection is one thing a Christian family should never miss. On Sundays, apart from attending the service in church, the rest of the time should be spent listening to gospel talks, reading good books, and visiting the sick. Be reluctant to borrow money, except in unavoidable circumstances and such debts should be repaid at the earliest opportunity. If our departed parents owe anything to others, it is our duty to repay it without demur.
Never spend beyond our means. Celebrations and feasts should be conducted without pomp and show. It is not allowed for Christians to go from house to house and get involved in the affairs of other households. Coming to marriage proposals, his advice is to select true Christian families and not someone with more wealth. He has a special warning about those who come to our house. Welcome only those who are god-fearing and courteous.
In family gatherings, no one should be allowed to discuss the shortcomings of other persons. Inappropriate conversations will darken the environment of even good families. As laziness will lead to many evil consequences like drunkenness, we should be ready to work at all times. Remember that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
As for business, Kuriakose Elias advises us that it is something to be conducted with utmost care and justice. A businessman should never earn money by unjust means.
Attending Holy Mass is central to leading a good Christian life. If possible try to attend daily Mass. Otherwise dedicate Mondays for the poor souls in purgatory, Fridays in remembrance of the Passion of our Lord, and Saturdays in remembrance of the sorrows of the Holy Mother and offer the Holy Mass accordingly.
A day spent without doing some works of charity will not be counted as worthy, says Kuriakose Elias. Extravagance and misery are both evils and should be avoided.
When selecting friends, character should be given priority, not numbers. Never allow our house to be a place to keep stolen goods even for a second. Delaying the wages due to our servants in a sin that calls for revenge before God.
Modesty is something that should not be compromised. Our dress should tell others that we are Christians. Be careful in selecting books for our children. Never allow any books written by authors who do not fear God. Keeping such books and literature containing ungodly material is equivalent to keeping fire in a haystack. Encourage our children to read good books authored by wise and saintly authors.
When selecting servants,enquire whether they are god fearing people. Remember that as their masters, we are answerable for their spiritual well being too.
Keep a regular timetable and stick to it. Do not miss morning prayers, and family prayer in the evening should be given priority over every other business. At the time of Angelus all family members should be present at home. Kuriakose Elias instructs that even if high ranking guests are present at the time of family prayer, we should not change our schedule of prayer. Instruct each of the family members to make an introspection before going to bed and it is the duty of the family head to ensure that the family timetable is adhered to. Surrender ourselves to the will of the heavenly Father and accept every suffering with patience.
Child-rearing is a sacred duty because children are sacred treasures given to us by God and we are accountable for them. The biggest tragedy is losing the soul of a child due to the carelessness or negligence of parents. Dedicate the children to Jesus and teach them to devoutly recite the holy names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Also teach them simple prayers like Our Father, Hail Mary and Angelus at a very young age.
Never allow little children to go around naked even inside the house. And be careful not to utter anything unholy in their presence. Often we misread them and think that they do not understand what we said. There should be separate beds for parents and children. Never allow boys and girls to sleep in the same room. What they do not know by nature will be taught to them by the devil! Children should not be allowed to go out of their parents’ attention and to play with others. Do not blindly trust servants, often they are the ones who mislead the children. It is not advisable to allow children to stay outside with friends and relatives. Often they go as angels and return as devils!
At the age of seven teach children to go for confession. Also teach them to grow in devotion to the Holy Mother. Do not be more strict or more lenient towards children. If the situation demands an admonition, say it with polite words. Try only light punishments. They should learn how to respect their parents by looking at the way their parents love and respect each other.
Saying lies and employing devious means to achieve one’s goal is commonplace. But never teach your children this practice under the excuse that others also do it. Once children attain the age of twelve parents should be more careful. Train them in some art, craft or vocation. Sending girls to enjoy feasts, weddings and social functions should be discouraged as the devil will distract their minds. Modesty is the biggest wealth of our daughters. Never permit them to wear costly or flashy clothes.
It is childish for parents to take sides in quarrels between their children and other children. When children attain majority, they should be given complete freedom to select their vocation. Their preference should be given priority when it comes to selecting their life partners. It is not wise to delegate the powers of parents to children when parents are capable of handling it themselves. Understand that parents are always higher in status than children, even though children happen to be more educated and affluent.
It is prudent to arrange for the partition of the family properties among children when the parents are still alive. Encourage them to build their own homes and settle there after their marriage. Finally Kuriakose Elias advises children to love and respect their parents as it is commanded by God himself.
Do you think anything that Kuriakose Elias said is redundant? Do you think that anything he said is not practical? Or that he was just telling Utopian ideas? Then listen to what he said at the time of his death. ‘As I always had the protection of the Holy Family I can tell you with confidence that I have never lost the baptismal grace I received in baptism.’ A person who, with the help of the Holy Family, kept his baptismal grace intact for sixty six years has every right to advise his brethren how to build a true Christian family.
We have learnt a lot of unwanted and useless lessons from the world in the past years. And it did not bring us any good, but systematically destroyed the very institution of family. It is time to change the track and may the Testament of a Good Father help us in transforming our homes into true Christian families.