One dominating characteristic of contemporary society is that of reducing supposedly free citizens to a demeaning anonymity, as if they were no more than parts or mere numbers of an inflated State. Since the awakening of reason, we feel like just another unknown element amidst millions of others just like us, among whom we must employ arduous and unremitting efforts if we want to stand out.
But before the court of God’s princes and governors, the Angels, the opposite is true! Incomparably superior in nobility and power to any earthly authority, they nevertheless consider and love each one of us individually and take an interest in all our actions, as does God himself. “From where He sits enthroned He looks forth on all the inhabitants of the earth, […] and observes all their deeds” (Ps 33:14-15). And they not only esteem us, but they hasten to our assistance during our struggles on this earth, eager to help us reach the end of the journey of holiness, so as to enjoy eternal beatitude in their company.
One of the most moving examples of the zeal of the angelic society for mankind comes to us in the Old Testament, through the great Archangel Raphael. To the family of Tobit, He is an archetype of purity, a prudent counsellor and a benevolent protector – as he also is to those who, during their journey in this vale of tears, have recourse to him with confidence.
Ardent prayers to God
The story of Tobit and his future daughter-in-law Sarah is told with a wealth of detail in the Book of Tobit. Both were extremely virtuous; from within the sinful darkness of the chosen people, then captive in Assyria, they shone in the presence of God. At a certain moment, however, the Lord decided to test them, “that an example might be given to posterity of his patience” (2:12). He sent Tobit complete blindness, and Sarah an evil spirit with the power to kill the men who married her.
But even though the life of the just is full of trials, it is God himself who sustains them: “The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide for ever; they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance” (Ps 37:18-19). Therefore, when the tears and groans of these two souls arose from the earth in fervent supplication, they were heard on the very same day before the glory of the Most High (cf. Tb 3:24). And so our story begins.
The Angel of the Lord was sent
Thinking that he would never again see the light of day and that death would soon be upon him, Tobit became concerned about his family’s livelihood. He remembered a loan of ten talents of silver that he had made some years before to Gabael, inhabitant of Rages, in Media, and decided to ask for the repayment of this favour. He called his son, Tobias, and besought him to undertake the risky but necessary journey, looking first for a trustworthy person to accompany him.
From Heaven, however, someone was already watching over him. Waiting a few steps away, clad in human form and already equipped to travel, was “an Angel of supernatural serenity, […] full of mercy, of prompt and gentle attention to all requests, understanding […] and of great discernment.”1 Raphael, one of the seven spirits who serve always before the Lord (cf. Tb 12:15), in the guise of Azariah, son of Ananias, had come down from God’s presence to resolve Tobit’s anguish and wipe away Sarah’s tears.
Sacral and maternal care
This sublime ambassador from Heaven assumed the task of guiding and guarding Tobias on his journey to Media. What mysterious lessons the virtuous young man must have learned during their long journey together! Although the Archangel in nothing altered the normality of human appearances, there was something indefinable about his presence. His state of spirit was one of continual contemplation. Whenever he spoke with Tobias on matters related to their journey, he did so with such respect, nobility and sacrality that it was as if they were conversing in a sanctuary.
St. Raphael also shone with benignity. Not content to merely protect Tobias, he concerned himself also with his material needs. We might imagine that a creature of such holiness and gifted with such a superior nature would not interest himself in these small details of human life; the Archangel, however, took his care to the extreme of providing his charge with food and lodging. He taught Tobias how to catch a menacing-looking fish by the gills, and showed him how its flesh could serve as food, and its heart, gall and liver as “useful medicines” (Tb 6:5). And it was he who led him to stay in the house of Raguel, father of Sarah.
In all of these circumstances, St. Raphael showed himself to be a most worthy representative of divine providence and majestic motherliness.
Scenes from the story of Tobias, by Bicci di Lorenzo – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Patron of chastity
Their arrival at Raguel’s house was the beginning of the answer to Sarah’s prayers and God’s intervention in her afflictions. That apparently fortuitous stay was in fact arranged by Providence: St. Raphael would come to the girl’s aid, with his action full of affection and wisdom.
Shortly before they were presented to the family, the Archangel had explained to his charge who these relatives of his were, and the reason for Sarah’s trial, of which Tobias had already heard. He then urged him to take her as his wife, for such was God’s design, and added that the devil had been able to kill her seven previous husbands because they had banished God from their hearts and had given themselves over to their passions. Finally, he said: “But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs. And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children” (Tb 6:18-22).
In delivering this extraordinary message of chastity, the Holy Archangel, while diminishing nothing of his benevolence, showed his vigilant intolerance for the vice of impurity, of which he is an ardent combatant. After all, he had been sent by God to earth to prepare the lawful marriage of Tobias and Sarah and to free her from Asmodeus, the demon of lust and murderer of her first seven husbands.
Tobias, who was righteous, was reassured to see his companion’s love of purity and obeyed him, asking for Sarah’s hand. Once the conjugal union had been formalized, to the family’s deep emotion, and Tobias had fulfilled the instructions concerning the fish’s liver, St. Raphael was able to bind the impure spirit in the desert. Thus Sarah’s terrible impasse was overcome; her grief gave way to joy, and her perplexity to a knowledge of the great predilection with which the Lord loved her.
The healing and consolation of the just
Tobit, for his part, was still carrying the burden of his blindness, to which the uncertainty about the whereabouts of his only son had been added. His enduring patience and unshakable confidence delighted God, and would soon be rewarded with surprising bounteousness through the Archangel.
Arriving several days late, although still before his wife’s slower retinue, Tobias returned to his parents’ house accompanied by his faithful companion. The latter, wishing to alleviate Tobit’s suffering as soon as possible, recommended: “As soon as thou shalt come into thy house, forthwith adore the Lord thy God: and giving thanks to Him, go to thy father, and kiss him. And immediately anoint his eyes with this gall of the fish, which thou carriest with thee. For be assured that his eyes shall be presently opened, and thy father shall see the light of heaven, and shall rejoice in the sight of thee” (Tb 11: 7-8). It was yet another touching sign of the care of St. Raphael, who may well be invoked as the Archangel of consolation and healing in any illness, physical or spiritual.
Tobit blesses Tobias, by Angelo Puccinelli – Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa (Oklahoma)
After these instructions were carried out, Tobit regained his sight and, just as had happened to Sarah, his sorrowful weeping changed to tears of exultation. Shortly afterwards, his joy exceeded all imagining when he learned that his beloved son, besides having recovered the loan from Gabael, had also married a virgin of his tribe and that she would arrive in a few days, accompanied by her servants and a rich dowry.
Tobit and Tobias would be gladdened with one last surprise, perhaps the most encouraging: the true identity of that incomparable guide, the bearer of so much happiness. Before taking his leave, he revealed himself with unpretentiousness and discretion: “I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tb 12:15). Father and son then understood that the divine help in their lives had a name: St. Raphael! And for three hours they remained prostrate, blessing and praising the Lord.
He wishes to accompany us!
In the bosom of Tobit’s modest family, that small bastion of fidelity amidst the corruption of the world, a magnificent event took place: one of the most exalted Angels of Heaven made himself the companion of men! But let us not take this as an exceptional case. On the contrary, let us see in this charming story a guarantee that St. Raphael’s protection is always within our reach, for he wishes to be our companion also. We only need to invoke him with faith!
Under his protection, whatever crises or troubles we may undergo, we can be sure that a solution is at hand; he will always be ready to come to our aid and remedy our problems. In short, his existence should encourage us in the confidence that divine intervention precedes our initiatives and invariably surpasses our expectations.
Let us therefore have recourse to the loving help of the Archangel St. Raphael on our journey to Celestial Paradise. He will accompany us as he once did Tobias and be for us a reflection of the infinite goodness of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, firm in gentleness and gentle in firmness until the end! ◊
1 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Conversation. São Paulo, 16/1/1981.