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Vol. VI, September 2000

 

With Obedience and Prayer, Vanquish the Devil
(cf. Tob 8:1-9)

Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

Life with God is full of surprises. The same is true for life with the holy Angels who are the instruments of the divine, paternal providence. All the more important is what we already found to be the decisive basis for a life in communion with the holy Angels: We have to walk with two feet on the ground; the one is prudent discernment and the other, docile openness. Walking does not allow one to have both feet on the ground at the same time, but always only one. The story of Tobias demonstrates the prudent procedure.

1. Raphael had presented his plan for the marriage, Tobias raised the objection of the threatening death. After the Angel disarmed this, then Tobias resolved to approach the surprising night. They entered Raguel's house, and things developed, including the liberation from the devil. So do things go, when providence is not hindered.

a) Raphael and Tobias were welcomed by Raguel. Raphael presented their petition. Tobias added: "I will not hear of eating and drinking till you have come to a decision about me." To that Raguel responded: "Very well. ... she is given to you from today for ever." "He called for his daughter Sarah, took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words, 'I entrust her to you; the law and the ruling recorded in the Book of Moses assign her to you as your wife. Take her" (7:11-12). "May the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob be with you. May he himself join you abundantly" (Vulg. 7:15). And his wife said to her daughter: "Courage, daughter! May the Lord of heaven turn your grief to joy!" (7:20).

The one characteristic common to all is their obedience towards God: What the good Angel say, he does because God has commanded him to do so. Tobias accepted Sarah as his wife in obedience even before he had seen her. Raguel gave his daughter out of obedience to the Law of God, given through Moses. His wife prepared the room for them as her husband "had ordered" and encouraged her daughter to hope against all former experiences in the "Lord of heaven", and she accepted it in obedience to her parents.

b) Finally we find a splendid testimony of obedience with the new couple itself: When they had finished eating and drinking and went to bed, "Tobias remembered Raphael's advice" and burnt "the fish's heart and liver" and "said to Sarah, 'Get up, my sister! You and I must pray and petition our Lord to win his grace and his protection' ... he began: 'You are blessed, o God of our fathers; ... It was you who said, It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make him a helpmate like himself . So I do not take my sister for any lustful motive; I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me and bring us to old age together'. And together they said, 'Amen. Amen', and lay down for the night" (8:1-2.4-5.7-9). They wanted to do the will of God for man, and asked, praying his help and blessing to fulfill it.

This brings us to another beautiful part of the success over the devil: The right intention, proved by obedience, becomes prayer! It opens the soul before the Almighty God, and even invites God to enter. That is why obedience is like a protective wall around the soul which no devil can break through. By obedience the soul is united with God, the exact opposite to sin and to the destructive temptation of the devil. In obedience, man believes in the wisdom of God, and has hope in his goodness, such that he surrenders himself to Him in love and, consequently, finds 'footing' and steadiness and peaceful rest in God. God loves man always. However, he can only act in favor of man, when man is in favor of God! "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you!" (James 4:8). And the Lord himself assured: "Everyone that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 10:32).

2. This obedience of Tobias to the order of the Angel is manifested by the victory over the devil who had killed the seven former husbands: Tobias "went to his bag, took the fish's heart and liver out of it and put some on the burning incense. The reek of the fish distressed the demon, who fled through the air to Egypt. Raphael pursued him there, and bound and shackled him at once" (8:2-3). We can consider different aspects here.

a) After the instructions already received from Raphael in the preceding chapters and in the light of a "theology of creation" we can understand the departing point of the small ritual. We can see the elements pointing to the sacraments of the New Testament: the form in their prayer, the matter in the smoke of the burnt heart and liver, the divine order in the orientation given by the Angel and the grace of liberation from the devil. On the one hand, because the devil has no body, we do not presume an intrinsic link between the material element (the reek) and the effect on the devil (his flight), as we have it between the matter of a sacrament and the sacramental grace. On the other hand, as some devils are still going around seeing whom to devour, or are for one or the other reason linked to some place or creature, some specific matter may be fitting to expel a particular devil. Ultimately, however, it was the positive order of God which made him flee.

b) Still, God uses material means to domineer over the devil, to humiliate him. It becomes evident, what in the New Testament is said: "The foolish things ... the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong" (1 Cor 1:27; cf. 2 Cor 12:9f.): a simple reek distressed the devil! The simple incense, rising up to God in prayer and adoration, manifests, by way of contrast, where the devil ended in his pride, namely, down into the depths of the pit, far away from God and even far below the most simple creature: "How are you fallen from heaven, o Lucifer ... You said: 'I will ascent into heaven' ... But yet, you shall be brought down to hell, into the depth of the pit" (Is 14:12-13.15). Further, that the devil had to flee and was bound by an Angel, was a further form of humiliation: God did not command him directly, but one of his former 'brothers'.

c) God gave the Angel the power to "bound and shackle him". Later on, we read the same in the Book of Revelation: "I saw an Angel coming down from heaven, having ... a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for thousand years" (Rev 20:1f.; cf. 2 Pt 2:4; Jude 6). Jesus himself "bound" him through his command, "Speak no more and go out of the man" (Mc 1:25). Another time, he bound many of them, by their own petition, to the swine (cf. Mc 5:12-13; Mt 12:43). The devils seem to be free, but they never are, never! They are totally under the dominion of the Almighty God and cannot move one inch without his permission, as we are taught by the book of Job (cf. Job 1:12; 2:6) or by the Book of Revelation, where is said: "God has given into their hearts to do that which pleased him: that they give their kingdom to the beast, till the words of God be fulfilled" (Rev 17:17). The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the Church's teaching as follows: "The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. ... Although Satan may act in the world ... and cause grave injuries ..., the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history" (n° 395).

Through obedience and prayer, Tobias and Sarah were so linked with God, that He protected them. The maid could report the beautiful news: "He is not dead; all is well" (8:15) and in the father's mouth echoed the praise of his son-in-law: "You are blessed, my God, with every blessing that is pure; may you be blessed forever!" (v. 17).

3. The misery in the conjugal state of life is spoken out everywhere and almost without any shame. Yet, the law of God is still known, for it is written in the heart of man (cf. Rom 2:14f.), and the obligation to obey as well. But who speaks of prayer in marriage? Who teaches that the recourse to God the Creator is the source of strength to fulfill the will of God? Prayer opens the heart and therefore can unite a couple with God and among themselves! Prayer elevates not just their mind, but their entire self from the sensual level to the higher level of personal dignity. Prayer strengthens the will to discipline the passions. Through prayer man becomes more familiar with God, grows in the love of God and, by these graces, becomes more able and willing for the required obedience to God.

Along side prayer we also find blessings. One of the forms that these take in the Church are the sacramentals. These come to mind when we reflect about the "ritual of the incense" carried out at the order of the Angel. Giving the people instructions about the many sacramentals which the Church offers, the faithful can often find help in these, already without further priestly assistance.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood. On every side in the married state we find suffering. Let us take to heart the lesson Raphael and Tobias have taught and instruct the faithful accordingly.

How much better it is to surrender one's self with humility into the almighty hands of God than through pride to become the slave of the devil.

It is better, to be poor in the modesty of faith and to follow in obedience the revealed wisdom of God than to fancy the current jargon and 'enlightenment', only to be proved stupid in the end.

It is better to discipline the body, submitting him to the order and will of God than to fall under it dominion and to become slave to its passions.

May St. Raphael be our guide in all pastoral questions
and assist all souls entrusted to our care.

 

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC