Back

Vol. VI, Feb. 2000

 

Prayer Sets the Angels Free (cf. Tob 3,16 ff.)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The book of Tobit has a double framework: the general story of Tobit's life (ch. 1 and 14) and by the narration of the cause and effect of the Angel's intervention (ch. 2-3 and 13). At the end of Chapter 3 we get the theme of the book: The prayer of man found favor before God and He sent His Angel to help. In chapter 12, the Angel Raphael explained the divine intention or deeper meaning: "When you did not hesitate to ... bury a dead man, I was sent to test your faith" (12,13). This trial, of course, was in view of the great rewards which God desired to shower down upon Tobit. What ever life presents, man's first decisive response ought to be prayer.

1. a) The story starts with an incident that indirectly leads to Tobit's blindness. Parallel to this, Sarah, the daughter of Tobit's relative Raguel in Ecbatana, also suffers a terrible cross, namely, the successive loss of "her bridegrooms one after another". Two lives are apparently being destroyed: blindness reduced the virility of this man to practical powerlessness, and sevenfold death crushed that young lady's natural hopes for life. When both carried their lot with patience and surrender, the further poison of scorn from their own people was added to increase their torment: Tobit's wife reproached him for the uselessness of his good works: "What about your own good works? Everyone knows what return you have had for them" (2,22). Indirectly, she is implying that God was giving him back evil for good. Similarly, Sarah "heard insults from one of her father's maids. ... 'Yes, you kill your bridegrooms yourself'." (3,7 f.) Both conclude it would be best to surrender their life to God, he: "I desire to be delivered from earth!" and she: "I should do better ... to beg the Lord to let me die" (3,6.10).

b) Thus we are presented with two stories of life, the stories of an older and a younger, of a sick and a healthy person, of a man and of a woman. They are decisively marked by some "casual" incidents or by unexplainable causes, and show the huge span of human life, extended from the full brightness of light to impenetrable darkness; in human souls we observe the span from joy and gladness to pain and sadness. However, many do not fail to observe, that the brilliant light of this world gives the present moment a shine resembling eternity, while the darkness in present affairs permits eternity to dawn into the present time.

This causes man to pause and reflect and to perceive the fundamental law of this life which Jesus taught: "Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life" (Jn 12,25; cf. Mt 16,25). This is the basis for the development of the spiritual doctrine on the "nights" of the senses and of the spirit by St. John of the Cross, of the active and the passive purifications. It all comes down to this: The "darkness" imposed upon the soul hides the numerous erroneous ways and false hopes in this world while sharpening the interior eye for the true and unique way to salvation. The "darkness" of the soul frees man from wrong evaluations and estimations, and frees the soul from its egoistic desires as storm winds clean a tree of its dead leaves. The spiritual "darkness" dissolves the links of the soul to creatures and binds it more strongly to the Creator, it draws it towards death as the door to eternity. The "darkness" of the soul purifies the soul and awakens its deeper powers, it prepares it for the communion with God through supernatural faith, hope and charity and in prayer! (For the concept "night" cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent, I,1-5 and Dark Night, I,8-13; II,5-13).

c) Life with its deceptions made Tobit and Sarah "sick to death", they fell into a deep depression. However, through a more mature prayer they were able to find their way to God: they lifted up their hearts to God, and "this time the prayer of each of them found favor before the glory of God" so that "Raphael was sent to bring remedy to them both. He was to take the white spots from the eyes of Tobit, so that he might see God's light with his own eyes; and he was to give Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, as bride to Tobias son of Tobit, and to rid her of Asmodeus, that worst of demons" (3,16-17). Life, when sustained by grace, is man’s best schoolmaster, it purifies and educates its disciple to be of humble heart. It opens him spiritually and causes him to thirst for God the Savior, and that is what prayer should be, "the encounter of God's thirst with ours. (And) God thirsts that we may thirst for Him" (CCC 2560).This encounter sets the Angels free, it breaks the restraints that the free will of man opposes to them by his lack of cooperation.

2. That is the reason, why the Sacred Text refers on this occasion to the Angel's interventions. The communication between man and Angel is mainly a question of prayer.

a) If man lifts his heart up to heaven, the splendor of creatures together with inordinate self-esteem sink more and more into the dusk before the eyes of the soul, while the "glory of God" dawns before it. God is glory, splendor and beauty, majesty and infinite might. God is just and trustworthy, as Tobit recalled in his prayer… and merciful, as Sarah added in her prayer: "You are blessed, O God of mercy! May Your name be blessed for ever" (3,2.5.11). His hands are always extended towards His beloved creatures (cf. Lk 15,20), He is the "God with us". The divine response to prayer gives man the courage to accept his limits and to open himself up to God with docility and trust. It lifts him up with the faculties and movements of his soul and consolidates his turning from earth to heaven.

b) By this change man approaches the holy Angels who are entirely orientated towards God. The Angels are always praying. In Nehemia (9,6) we read, that "the Host of Heaven worship" God. "In the depth of their being, the holy Angels are adorers of God ... they are entirely 'light' and resplendent because they are transparent to the uncreated Light; each one is, so to speak, 'filled with God', each one is light, joy, beatitude, an offer of love for God, all afire with readiness and enthusiasm" (Circular V,10). They cannot but pray: they know and love and praise God with the whole strength of their being. Their only thought is to live in the bliss of God, to dwell in His presence and to bear witness to the "Glory of God in the highest", always and everywhere. Everything else is straw and weed for them, worthless of any consideration. In prayer, they share their God centered life with man.

3. In fact, Raphael himself explained at the end: "You must know that when you and Sarah were at prayer, it was I who offered your supplication before the glory of the Lord and who read them; so too, when you were burying the dead" (12,12).

a) Through a righteous life and prayer man becomes so conformed to the Angels that he reaches a harmonious union of life with them; they live the symphony of humble love and joyful service, of grateful surrender and adoring praise. They become more and more one before the Triune God, and their voices blend in a unison of praise. From a righteous life and still more in man's prayer, the Angels ascent to the throne of God and take the soul with all its needs with them. As they descent from the throne of God to man they bring God's goodness and mercy and omnipotence with them (cf. Gn 28,12-15; Jn 1,51). As they have access to the throne of God, they help man to enter into the union with God in confidence and love and into the peaceful and silent rest in Him.

b) Let us note further, that the Angel does not speak simply of God, but of the "glory of God": "It was I who offered your supplications before the glory of the Lord" (12,12; cf. Lk 2,14; Tob 3,16). So he cannot help but draw man into this communion, into his praise of God: "Raphael took them both aside and said: 'Bless God, utter His praise before all the living for all the favors He has given you. Bless and extol His name. Proclaim before all men the deeds of God as they deserve, and never tire of giving Him thanks" (12,6). And truly, when the Angel departed, Tobit started his long song of praise to God (not to the Angel!): "Blessed be God who lives for ever, ... He is our Master, ...our God, ...our Father, ...God for ever and ever!" (13,1.4).

Consider: When Christ showed the Apostles His splendor at His transfiguration, "His face shone like the sun and His clothes (...) as white as the light" (Mt 17,2), and this also revealed the Father's glory. Similarly, the Angels reflect His glory, "descending from heaven..., [the Angel's] face was like lightning, his robe white as snow" (Mt 28,2-3). Likewise, the "the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt 13,43). Indeed, "you too - [have been] chosen to be, for His greater glory - have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make His glory praised" (Eph 1,12.14).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! We have to bring light into this world and into the darkness which envelops the lives of men. We just learned: Whoever seeks God in prayer and righteousness sets the help of the Angels free!

We need to strive personally for this union with the Angels through an intense prayer-life, so that in union with them we can be "like Angels" to men: coming from God, like a theophany, a manifestation of God, as a source of light and as a guide to the union with God.

Then, we shall be able to lead them to a righteous life, to faithfulness to the commandments of God, and encourage them in the way of prayer. Our example should convince them, that they can walk out of the darkness of this world and still find the freedom and clearsightedness in union with God, that in prayer man surpasses the limits of all creation and enters into union with the infinite God, Who wants man's best and Who blesses him.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC