TESTAMENT OF A GOOD FATHER

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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.

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