Back

Vol. VI, April 2000

 

"That I May Find Out ..." (cf. Tob 5:10)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The urgency of a need should never blind us, such that we indiscriminately reach out for any help offered. The sick father Tobit sought help for his son; young Tobias looked for a companion. And there was the angel, right outside the house waiting to be called and manifestly well informed about the way Tobias had to go. "Tobias said to him, 'Wait for me, young man, till I go back and tell my father'. The angel replied, 'Good, I will wait for you; but do not be long" (5:7 f.). "Tobias went back to tell his father, "I have just found a man who is one of our own Israelite kinsmen!" Tobit said, "Call the man, so that I may find out ... whether he is trustworthy enough to travel with you", for there are means which fit and those which do not; there are persons who "do good works" and others who do not (cf. 4:5). Our Lord in his death-agony asked also for help and prayed to the Father, yet, he was conscious too, that there is an objective hierarchy of values and submitted himself totally to it (cf. Mt 26:38.39.52-54).

1. Tobias called the angel: "My father would like to see you." Raphael accepted to be put to the test and entered the house. Scripture notes expressly: "Tobit greeted him first." Herewith is expressed not only his courtesy as a host, but also his humility and of the awareness that he is the petitioner. Behold how his petition is mingled with desperation: "Though alive, I am among the dead. I can hear a man's voice, but I cannot see him." This is the first reality which St. Raphael meets and for the remedy of which God has sent him. He said, "Take courage! God has healing in store for you; so take courage!"

Then Tobit, referring to his son, says: "My son Tobias wants to go to Media. Can you go with him to show him the way? I will, of course, pay you, brother." Raphael answered: "Yes, I can go with him, for I know all the routes. I have often traveled to Media and crossed all its plains and mountains; so I know every road well." The angel is evidently willing to accompany man even on his earthly ways. Moreover, he is qualified through his familiarity with all the routes. But, is he trustworthy too?

To check his dignity, Tobit queries, "Brother, tell me, please, what family and tribe are you from?" Raphael said: "Why? Do you need a tribe and a family? Or are you looking for a hired man to travel with your son?" Of course, the angel has nothing to hide about himself (except his angelic identify for the time being); but he does not want to support curiosity either. He wants to stay firmly within the will of God alone and simply execute the order he has received from him. To God alone shall be given honor and glory in all. So he first asks his own question about the true intention of Tobit's question.

Tobit's question is not motivated by idle curiosity but by his sincere sense of responsibility for his son: "I wish to know truthfully whose son you are, brother, and what your name is." As his question is justified, Raphael answered, "I am Azariah, son of Hananiah the elder, one of your own kinsmen."

This answer pleased Tobit, for he knows the family. He had even worshipped with them in the temple (little did he reflect how true it was that he had been worshipping with the angels in the temple). Thus, he gave his consent: "Welcome! God save you, brother! ... You are certainly of good lineage, and welcome!" And Raphael replied: "I will go with him; have no fear. In good health we shall leave you, and in good health we shall return to you, for the way is safe."

Tobit said, "God bless you, brother." Then he called his son and said to him: "My son, prepare whatever you need for the journey, and set out with your kinsman. May God in heaven protect you on the way ... and may his angel accompany you for safety, my son" (v. 21).

2. Why is it, that the son had to bring the man into the house and to present him to his father?

a) Clearly, neither Tobit nor Tobias knew that they were dealing with an angel. In any case he could not entrust his son to just any one; there is a proper order to things, yes, in the family and in society. Ultimately, behind every order there is the order within the Blessed Trinity: God the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father who alone does not proceed from another. This order is reflected in creation and in every creature, for all things were created by the three Divine Persons. And within creation one creature depends upon another by divine design. St. Paul expressed it once with these words: "What I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor 11,3). To this order belongs also the submission of the son to his father, that of the faithful to the ecclesiastical hierarchy etc. Further, for man — the least in the order of rational creatures — it is a matter of prudence to submit himself freely in obedience; his limitations do not permit him to find security and peace when he judges by himself alone.

b) Source of man's insecurity are his subjective limits (body, age, etc.) which do not allow him to perceive clearly all spiritual and physical goals of his life and the fitting means thereto. The path of life is bestrewn with dangers. Even to discern true helpers and friends and leaders from masked deceivers often exceeds a man's unaided talents. Does not St. Paul warn, speaking about the seducing serpent: "Satan himself goes disguised as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14; cf. v. 3)? Here too we can see motives for a deeper discernment, and so understand why Tobias presented the man to his father.

The mere fact that Tobias quickly "found Raphael the angel standing facing him" (5:5), is no proof that he be a fitting companion. After all did not Yahaweh ask in another context: "is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master" (Gen 4:7)! Nor is the relative state of Raphael's unemployment any great recommendation. And, thirdly, Raphael's remark that he is ready to wait, but then insisted that Tobit should "not be long", may well inspire caution in the prudent, who recalls the saying: "Haste is never a good counselor!" Such incidentals only add up to a certain indecision about the qualification of this stranger, a deeper discernment is needed.

c) What were the criteria of discernment for Tobias' father? First he asks if he is prepared and ready to meet their need: Can you show the way? Then he tests the reliability of his answer by inquiring about his origin: What family are you from? And when he does not receive an answer, he insists: "I wish to know truthfully whose son you are, brother, and what your name is." Since this verification belongs to the duties of a father before God, it follows that any upright person will respect and respond to the justified questions. And so did the angel Raphael specify: "I am Azariah, son of Hananiah the elder" (v. 12). Concerning this, Cornelius a Lapide explained that St. Raphael had taken on species and name of Azariah, known to Tobit and being friend, son of Hananiah, an Israelite, a "faithful and pious man." It is an answer, with which Tobit is pleased. In his response, moreover, Raphael is not deceiving, since he is identifies himself with certainty. He is 'Azariah', which in Hebrew means " Azariah, he that hears the Lord." Surely, this applies to him as the angel, he is present to help, because God has sent him. Likewise, he calls himself the son of Hananiah, which in Hebrew means, "grace; mercy; gift of the Lord", which again, surely identifies the angel in his union with God and in his mission towards man. Thus, it is clear that Raphael both hides and reveals his identity with these names. He lets Tobit think he is a relative according to nature, but Raphael actually identifies his supernatural bond — "one of your own kinsman" — in terms of his mission and the mercy of God.

3. What do we learn here about the holy angel? The holy angel wants to be called upon, he wants to help man: "I can go, ... I will go with him." He is not against the discernment of spirits, and agrees to be questioned with the right intention, that is, not out of mistrust towards the good angel, but towards man himself: "The angel came into the house." He is willing to cover for man's limitations, accompanying him on this earth with his gifts and faculties: "I know all the routes; the way is safe." Finally, learn that through the bond of grace the angel counts himself as one of the "chosen people" and thus closely bonded to those who fear the Lord and believe in his word.

Then we have once more a clear testimony for the positive effects of the angel's activity in man's life. The angel encouraged Tobit, who was tired with life, and sought to relieve him from his fear: "Take courage! Have no fear." In itself this would not be enough, for the devil first flatters, and only when flattery fails does he resort to threats. The decisive positive indication though, is the reference to God. Whereas the fallen spirits sow mistrust and doubts about God in the soul, the good Angels always foster reverence, trust and praise of the Lord: "God has healing in store for you."

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood, let us trust in the help of the holy Angels and seek their aid. Let us do so now in the peak of the liturgical year, where we celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, mysteries in his life in which the Angels too had their ministry. May they heal our blindness and help us overcome the fear of death which holds us back from witnessing and serving God.

Let us call upon the help of the holy Angels not just in special or difficult situations, but in each and every task of our daily life. Let us get beyond the view of the angel as emergency room staff members, and rise to the awareness that their intimate companionship would help prosper all our ways and undertakings.

Even so, we should not consider each and every thought as an "inspiration" from our good holy angel. We need to "test the spirits" (1 Jn 4:1) and to verify according to the example of the experienced father Tobit, whether they be from God by testing the fruits, the compliance with prudent reason enlightened by faith, and the basic conformity with the law of God and the Church. Nor may we neglect the circumstances and matters of basic propriety and moral dignity in such discernments.

The fact that the presentation of "the man" by Tobias to his father Tobit did not reveal anything new, might indicate to some that it was superfluous. To the contrary, common sense attests that the corroborating judgement of two persons has far greater probity than the opinion of one. Submitting our ideas and our inspirations to the judgement of members of the hierarchy above us and subordinating ourselves to the hierarchical order is the last source of peace and security. May Our Lord, "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6), convince us of this by the example of his obedient Passion and lead us along this way not just to a happy Easter, but to the Resurrection to the eternal life.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC