Vol.VI, July 2000


Rules For the Choice of a Partner (Tob 6:10-12)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The book of Tobit shows us that the holy angels are ready to help man in all things, insofar, naturally, as God wants this. We can verify this in Raphael’s care for Tobias.

1. Raphael and Tobias "entered Media and had nearly reached Ecbatana when Raphael said to the boy, ‘Brother Tobias ... Tonight we shall be staying with Raguel, who is a kinsman of yours. He has a daughter called Sarah, but apart from Sarah he has no other son or daughter. Now you are her next of kin; she belongs to you before anyone else and you may claim her father’s inheritance. She is a thoughtful, courageous and very lovely girl, and her father loves her dearly. You have the right to marry her’" (Tob 6:10-12).

Raphael opens a new world before Tobias, upon which he seems not to have thought previously. So far, nothing has been said about his age, and his marriage was not a theme, although his father had mentioned it as one among many other counsels: "Choose a wife of your father’s stock. Do not take a foreign wife outside your father’s tribe, because we are the sons of the prophets" (4:12; cf. Gn 24:3f). Faithfulness to his people’s custom is a firm principle for Tobit (cf. Tob 1:6,8,12), and so should it be for his son.

Tobias, however, had heard about Sarah; he "answered Raphael, ‘Brother Azarias, I have been told that she has already been given in marriage seven times and that each time her bridegroom has died in the bridal room... it was a demon that killed them. This makes me afraid’ ... The angel said, ‘Are you going to forget your father’s advice? After all, he urged you to choose a wife from your father’s family’" (v.14,16). We may ask, should obedience to his father oblige him even at the risk of his life? Was he to think the others died just because they were not of the same tribe as Sarah, whereas he is? However, "when Tobias heard Raphael say this, when he understood that Sarah was his sister, a kinswoman of his father’s family", before having seen her, "he fell so deeply in love with her he could no longer call his heart his own" (v.18).

Before we look at the concrete solution, we need to ponder the general principles which Raphael presented to Tobias. This is the second angelic instruction in this book, which we may call a class on "the choice of marriage partner."

2. "Raguel", whom they will meet that very evening, "is a kinsman of yours", a brother in blood and therefore a sharer in the same covenant.

a) "He has a daughter called Sarah, but apart from Sarah he has no other son or daughter." Raphael does not say this with regard to brothers and sisters in direct line, but in view of marriage, so that Tobias is the first possible bridegroom for her: "You are her next of kin"; therefore, "she belongs to you before anyone else." It is, so to say, the divine reason for this choice: They should be united in obedience to God and to the Covenant. Man is more than his body and, therefore, "does not live on bread alone". This universal truth remains true also for two united in marriage for their entire lives. They too should live "on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4). As the soul stands over the body, so too does the word of God and his covenant with man stand above the body and material needs. This must be the first rule of life and, accordingly, the first principle guiding the choice of a partner for life. A consequence is that Tobias "may claim her father’s inheritance" too.

b) Then, the angel turned to the natural level, and described Sarah to Tobias: "She is a thoughtful, courageous and very lovely girl." With three qualities Raphael characterizes her. Three were the temptations of the devil in the desert, three were the reasons why Eve decided to eat from the tree in paradise (cf. Gen 3:6); what shall these three reasons from the angel mean?

"Thoughtful" is one translation of the first characteristic; it refers to the mind, that is, she seems to reflect and ponder her words, is serious, modest and trustworthy; with reference to the will, it may mean that she is heedful and observant, attentive and considerate of others. These are qualities which have to be highly esteemed, according to the Proverbs, when they are found in women (cf. Prov 31:26,30).

"Courageous" is the second characteristic given by the angel to the girl. With this he may refer to her heart or to her emotional state. It says, that she does not easily incline to melancholy, the special temptation of women, to fear or even despair; although seven bridegrooms had already died in the very first night of their marriage, she still was ready to confront life for her parents sake (cf. 3:10-15). This proves that she is well disposed, animated, confident and lively.

Finally, she is said to be a "very lovely girl," that is a beautiful, physically attractive girl. While "charm is deceitful, and beauty empty" (Prov 31:30), still, in a larger context it can be understood as the manifestation of integrity and interior righteousness. In the Song of Songs the "Perfect", the Immaculate is called the "loveliest of women" (5:2 and 6:1). Although physical beauty may lead a woman to conceit, it is also true that physical defects can cause complexes or character distortions. Hence, these characteristics have to be seen together and still be completed by the third criteria of partnership that the angel gave.

c) As a third criteria, the angel refers to the family from which the girl comes. He said: "Her father loves her dearly!" Not only the tree can be judged by its fruits, but also the fruits might be evaluated by their tree (cf. Mt 7:15-20; Jn 1:46). Therefore, a prudent judgement concerning a marriage partner should also take into consideration the family situation in which someone grew up and was formed.

We owe our "existence as man to the family ... sanctuary of life", states John Paul II in his insufficiently esteemed "Letter to the Families" (2-2-1994, n° 2 and 11). He starts with the very significant statement, rooted in man as an image of God: If the family is missing, then "the person coming into the world develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will subsequently burden his whole life" (n° 2; cf. n° 5,2; 6-9). Therefore, it is of greatest importance that "her father loves her dearly." This means that Sarah had the natural experience of being loved by her parents: this let her grow to a healthy self-estimation, made her psychologically balanced and enabled her for a sacrificial love towards others, e.g., towards a husband and their children.

d) Then, Tobias "fell so deeply in love with her he could no longer call his heart his own" (v.18). It seems, as it were, to be the approval by consent from the boy’s part.

3. The choice of the state of life, both in the Old and in the New Testament, and in the case of marriage, the choice of a partner, belongs to the most decisive decisions in life. No one is dispensed from it. We priests are often confronted with this question in the confessional or at retreats, in youth groups or in personal counseling. That Christians want to get married to unbelievers is becoming more frequent even in the First World. Often even other Christians are far from the practice of their faith. More and more frequently priests consider them scarcely capable of contracting a marriage. The solution is not simply to reject them, as the Holy Father points out, recalling the roots of this sacrament in creation (cf. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 1981, n° 67 and 68; CCC 1603-08;1633-37).

It is beautiful to see St. Raphael here as best man. He took up his job long before the young couple even began to think of the marriage feast: he helped from the very beginning to find the right partner and to make the right choice!

When the angel offers such help, it certainly does not mean that such a decision should be based only on personal interior reflections or, much less, on an internal inspiration without objective counseling. For a "vocation" - and marriage is also one, a call of God - "is a question of reason enlightened by faith, and not of enthusiasm and sentiments" (Bishop Huyghe), and "nothing else is required than a right intention together with the idoneity established" (A papal commission in: J.M.Cavanna, The Priestly Vocation, Quezon City, Philippines, 1989, 14). Here, St. Raphael is the visible companion of Tobias; besides his angelic qualifications, he shows himself just as a friend with whom any matter of life can be talked over.

The three values which the angel adduces for the choice of Sarah are objective. They do not just fit for her, but can and ought to be taken to heart by all young people. In order to find a prudent and lifelong companion, they ought to ask from their possible partner: communion in faith, a prudent mind, a righteous character and loveliness and a healthy and peaceful family background.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! Because of our responsibility for the future of our parishioners, we need to consider this angelic instruction and make it our own. The example of the angel reminds us:

- to give these principles for the choice of the marriage-partner together with the requirements for marriage in marriage instructions. It would be a good idea, pastorally speaking, to present this doctrine annually in a sermon.

- to give these instructions early enough, that is, before young couples become passionately involved. In a word, it pertains to the regular catechetical formation of adolescents as the Pontificial Council of the Family recommended in the document Preparation for the Sacrament of Matrimony (1996, n° 31),

- to recommend to the youth to pray to St. Raphael and for their angel’s guidance in finding the partner God has in mind for them.

May your love for the faithful and the realization that untold sorrows often follow upon poorly prepared marriages induce us to call upon St. Raphael’s help for this important pastoral work.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC