on the Archangel Raphael
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
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The Archangel Raphael
We will take this meditation in steps, first to see and say something about the history of Tobit, identified as the father, and Tobias, identified as the son. Then we will reflect on one chapter of this inspired book in which the Archangel Raphael speaks at length. Then we will make some applications for our own spiritual life, drawing on both the experience of Tobias and his family, and especially on what the archangel told Tobias and through him is telling all of us.
First, then, let us consider the "Book of Tobias" itself. This book first of all, describes the Jewish people who were taken over by the Ninivites. And among the Jewish people enslaved by this pagan nation was Tobit, a captive, we might call him, but a very generous man who practiced extraordinary charity. In his old age, he became blind. He sent his son Tobias on a long journey to retrieve a long unpaid debt. Tobias' companion on this journey was what seemed to be, spoke like, and was thought to be, a man, but who was the archangel Raphael in human form. He was the companion of Tobias.
Raphael rescued the family, especially Sarah, from the powers of the devil. First Raphael helped to recover the long unpaid debt, then Raphael prescribed just what should be done for Tobit's blindness, and he was healed. Before this book closes we have wonderful and, I repeat, unduplicated talk, call it speech or inspired declaration, by the angel. All this while Tobias, Tobit, and the entire family thought he was a man. They had planned to reward this very kind human being by giving him one-half of all their possessions. but this archangel in disguise said, "Thank you," and just before the end of the chapter, this generous companion and great helper of the family identified himself as an angel of the Lord. He gives one more short statement to the family and then leaves.
I am calling it the speech of Raphael. It is the most extensive, most detailed, and for us, the most practical declaration of an angel of God in the whole of the Bible.
Father and son, Tobias and Tobit, had just finished offering their generous companion one-half of all their possessions. Then the angel, appearing to them as a man, says to them secretly (remember Raphael has not identified himself as an angel); he tells Tobias, Tobit, and the family:
Bless the God in Heaven. Give glory to Him in the sight of all the world, because He has shown His mercy to you. For it is good to hide the secret of a king but it is honorable to reveal and proclaim the works of God. There is good in fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold. For I delivered one from death, and the same is that which absolves from sins, alms provided for finding mercy and the life-everlasting. Those that commit sin and iniquity are enemies of their own souls. I revel the truth to you. I will not hide the secret from you. When you pray with tears and you bury the dead, when you left your meal and went out to pick the dead and keep them in your house during the day and bury them at night, you offer your prayer to the Lord. Because you were acceptable to God it was necessary that temptation should prove you. Now the Lord sent me to heal you. I delivered Sarah, your son's wife, from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before God. (Toibit 12:6-15),
The moment Raphael identified himself as the angel of God, Tobit and Tobias fell to the ground in dreadful fear, realizing the one speaking to them was an angel of the Lord. Raphael then went on:
Peace be to you. Do not fear, for when I was with you, I was there by the will of God. Bless Him and sing praises to Him. I seemed to eat and drink with you, but it was an invisible meaty and drink. It is time that I return to Him Who sent me. But bless God and publish all His wondrous deeds (Tobit 12:17-18).
Having said this Raphael disappeared. I repeat, this is the longest prologue detail of any angels found in Sacred Scripture. Needless to say, the message was given to us through two men, Tobit and Tobias.
What then are some of the implications of the message of Raphael in our own lives of meditation and devotion?
First, Raphael tells us that God sends His angels to help us in our needs. This is the teaching of the Church, and the deeper and graver our needs, the surer we can be that God is providing us with angelic assistance. In other words, the more serious the need, the more sure we can be that an angel is there to help us. This is not angelic poetry: this is our faith. Raphael tells Tobit and his son and is telling us, "Bless God."
What dos "Bless God" mean? To bless God means to speak to God. And, as we have seen, we begin to pray when we first think of God. We are told that we are to speak to God to show Him our appreciation of what He has done for us. Talk to God and tell Him how much you need Him and love Him. The more you pray to Him, the more you reap. That is why Raphael replies, "That is why God sends us trials." We all have grace to remind us to pray to God and to speak to God. In another word, to pray.
What is he telling us? What Raphael told father and son and is telling us in this language is to publicize what God has done for us. Make known what God has done for you; proclaim God's goodness to all. Do not keep God's gifts to you in secret. Share; communicate what God has given to you.
Raphael insists on prayer as an imperative: "Pray, pray, pray." Talk to God; talk with God. It is all part of our faith - God is always speaking to us. He wants us to engage Him in conversation, in prayer.
Raphael at length praises the father for His great charity, telling us therefore to practice charity. Practice charity; see the needs of others before they can tell you what they need. Charity begins in the mind. When the mind sees someone in need, the heart goes out to that one in need. Find the need and fill it. Whatever verb we use, help others, assist others, give to others. The deepest need anyone has is our love for him. No matter what we can give someone materially, what the human heart most wants is love.
Raphael goes on - how this needs to be underlined and memorized! Says Raphael: "God tries those who love Him." What a statement! This is God's way of enabling us to grow in our love for Him. Love is in the will. The main reason that we have a free will is love God. But how this needs to be understood: the more demanding, the more difficult, the more reluctant we are to do something, and yet we do it, the more our will is used to do what our conscience tells us is the will of God.
Thank God for the trials in your lives. Express your gratitude for the hardships and trials He gives us. As the Archangel Raphael tells us, God sometimes enables us who love Him to love Him more through trials. How we need to hear this. God's graces can be pleasant and enjoyable, but the graces can also be difficult and painful. Never deceive yourself that what is displeasing to us is displeasing to God.
Finally, Raphael told father and son to be at peace. As we have seen on Christmas morning, again not just one angel but a host of angels tell us, "Peace on earth to men of good will" (Lk 2:13-14). Whatever else we should learn, not only from Raphael, but from God speaking through His angels, is that we should not just be at peace but should cultivate peace in our minds and in our hearts.
What is peace of mind? Peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth. Behind that statement stands years of experience. One allegedly developed country after another has tried everything that this world can offer, but is not at peace. Why not? Because we are only as much at peace in our minds as our minds possess the truth. That is why when God became man, He identified himself as "I am the Truth."
What is the truth? Truth is our mind corresponding with reality. Yet, millions are living in a dreamworld of unreality. They do not possess the truth, and the truth, I repeat, is the agreement of the mind with reality. I keep telling one audience after another, statisticians tell us that ninety percent of what Americans read is fiction. How we need to guard our minds from reading the untruth!
How do we acquire the truth? We acquire it, of course, from God's revelation. But it is one thing to say that we possess the truth - such as there three Persons in one God, or that God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ, the living God-man, is present here on earth in the Holy Eucharist. But if we are to grow in this peace of mind, we are to grow in our understanding of the truth that God has revealed.
That is the main purpose of meditation. By prayerfully reflecting on God's revealed truth, we grow in our grasp and understanding of what God has revealed. And our minds grow in this blessed gift of peace of mind. But, as Raphael told father and son and is telling us, we are also to have peace of heart. A synonym for peace of heart is "peace of will."
What is peace of heart? Peace of heart is the experience of doing God's will. And that is the only true source and foundation of joy in this valley of tears. We shall have peace of heart only in the measure that we are doing God's will. What an examination of conscience we must all make!
How faithful to God's will am I? How ready am I to accept the cross the He sends me? How willing am I to share with others what God has so generously given me? How much attention do I give to prayer in my life? The litany goes on. Peace of heart is the experience of doing the will of God, and that experience is happiness of spirit: knowing God's will with the mind and doing it with the will.
As Christ will later tell us, we are to be peacemakers. We shall bring peace to others only if we are at peace ourselves. We will bring peace to others by sharing with them the truth that we believe. We shall bring peace in others only in the degree that we ourselves are generous, loyal, and doing the will of God. All of this and far more is locked up in the most detailed and deepest revelation of an angel. The angel was sent by God to teach us how we are to live our lives here on earth in anticipation of joining the choirs of angels in a heavenly eternity.
Lord of the angels, we thank You for providing for our needs by sending Your angels to help us. our angel Raphael's name means "God heals." Send us Your angels to heal us from such bodily infirmity as You wish us to have removed. But, dear Lord, heal us especially in our spirit from the sickness of soul, so that, healthy in mind and body, we may bless You, the Lord of the angels. May we grow in our love for You, healed by You through Your angels here on earth, that we may reach You and join You for all eternity.