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Vol. VII, Jan. 2001

 

The Angel’s Third Instruction, II:
"Bless God For Ever" (Tob 12, 17)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The third instruction of St. Raphael in the book of Tobit emphasized "praise and thanksgiving." We were attracted by the beauty and harmony of the work done under angelic inspiration and experienced the elevating effect of the praise of God. However, St. Raphael insisted so much in it that we need to return to it to learn from its lessons once more. This is evidently the value which the holy angels most esteem and want to be esteemed most by us as well.

1. St. Raphael often repeated, albeit with different words, that we ought to give glory to God and this "forever"! He "called the two men aside privately" and said to them: "‘Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him. A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor. Do good, and evil will not find its way to you’" (12:6-8).

That did not suffice for him, for praise was not just an introduction to his words, but its essence. In the few verses of chapter 12, he repeats again and again: "…[T]he works of God are to be made known with due honor" (10). "No need to fear; you are safe. Bless (or thank) God now and forever" (17). "As for me, when I came…it was God’s will. So continue to thank him every day; praise him with song" (18). "So now get up from the ground and praise God" (20). "They kept thanking God and singing his praises; and they continued to acknowledge these marvelous deeds which he had done when the angel of God appeared to them" (22).

Theoretically, we find it easy to accept an exhortation like this, in which St. Raphael invited the two to praise the Lord constantly. But as priests, who are ourselves called to be mediators like St. Raphael, would we not find it strange and exaggerated? Is it so important in our agenda that it constitutes our main activity? Is it not a flight from the needs of the present moment, from the requirements of life? The angel sees further and beyond the immediate surface. He points to the essential truths: God has the universal and absolute claim to be adored and praised at every moment! And it is only in rending this ultimate debt of love that man can find his true happiness, namely in God. He is the goal of all creatures: "The creation occurred in view of…the veneration and adoration of God" (CCC 347). It cannot be denied: "The praise of God is like the very breath of life for the saints, angels, and men; Scriptures and the life of the Saints give ample witness to this truth.

2. Tobit and Tobias "kept thanking God and singing his praises" (12:22 and chapter 13). Such is the example we find in all those who are close to God; foremost among these, of course, is Christ Himself, our High Priest.

a. David sang in many psalms like this: "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our Lord! …As Thy name, o God, so Thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth" (Ps 48:1, 10). "Praise is due to Thee, o God, in Zion" (Ps 65:1). "Give to him glorious praise! …All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to Thy name!" (Ps 66:2-4). The prophet Daniel invites "all things the Lord has made, bless the Lord!" (Dan 3:57). Zacharias exclaimed, after having paid the penance for disobedience to the angel’s word, saying: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel," and his song is repeated by the Church daily; the same is true of Our Lady’s canticle, the Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" (Lk 1:46-55, 68-79). The shepherds in Bethlehem saw "a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" Inspired by the enthusiasm of the angels "they went with haste…, found…, saw… (and) made known the saying which had been told them concerning the child; …they returned, glorifying and praising God!" (Lk 2:20).

Our Lord gave testimony to this fundamental response to the Father. He teaches or leads us to the same: "Hallowed be Thy name!" "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,…" (Mt 11:25), "Father, glorify Thy Son that the Son may glorify Thee, …glorify Thou Me in Thy own presence with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made" (Jn 17:1-5).

b) With a little attention we become easily aware of how often we encounter this exhortation in the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours. The invitation to praise and rejoicing, to bless and glorify, to thank and adore is so frequent, that we can call it the predominant theme in the Church’s prayer. The Church begins this praise first thing in the morning with the opening psalm–let us understand it as an invitation to join the holy angels in their praise: "O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving, …to him with songs of praise! (Ps 95:1-2; cf. 100 or 135, etc.). How often during the day, we sing, "Glory be to the Father…" For some of the greatest liturgical celebrations, the Church uses the "Te Deum laudamus."

c) We have still to refer to an aspect which the angel added saying: "Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him" (v. 7). The angel points not just to the glory of God in himself, but also to all His praiseworthy works. Here, we have not just to think on the immense universe but much more on the many who were healed by Jesus from their sicknesses, and more yet on those who received the forgiveness of their sins. Those who witnessed these things "were all amazed and glorified God" (Mk 2:12; cf. Lk 17:15; 18:43; Mt 21:9, etc.). The remark, "before all the living" is to be extended even further than to rich and poor, young and old, saint and sinner; it reaches far out to the material creation, with which the monks want to sing their psalms and praises, and to which saints like St. Francis preached. The Church herself invites in the Sunday’s Liturgy of the Hours everyone and everything "to bless the Lord!": angels and waters, sun and stars, ice and fire, night and day, but also animals and man, Israelites and priests (cf. Dan 5:57-88).

3. Vatican II instructs: "Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise (On the Liturgy, n. 83; cf. General Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 3; CCC 1090). This means, ultimately, that the Church, and we in her, will find our real identity, the ideal to which we really are called only when we dedicate ourselves to the praise of the Lord as much as possible.

a) Liturgy or praise of the Lord is the principal work of which the Church can and should do! Liturgy is the best pastoral work, a direct guide to God and to the mysteries of the faith. It is an instructive and practiced catechesis: For the praise turns man away from his ego, purifies the eyes of the heart, frees it from bonds to creatures, lifts up man’s mind, multiplies his forces and allows the goodness of God to be revealed and be known. Liturgy is one of the most effective exorcisms: with the invitation of God, "Come!", it most certainly expels many more demons than an angry or fearful "Begone!", just as St. Raphael said to the two: "Do good, and evil will not find its way to you!" (12:8).

b) Praising God should mark our entire life. With this "one thing necessary" in mind, we unite prayer and work, prayer and preaching, word and action. We become more open towards everyone and everything, and yet conduct all and introduce everything towards the praise of God: "He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of his glorious grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:5-6). There seems to be no doubt about this: The world will have reached its goal, when the entire creation has joined the angel’s song of praise: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory!"

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! May we start this New Year, or indeed, this new Millenium by taking to heart this instruction of the holy angel Raphael and so present to God thanksgiving before petitions, praise before petitions. Let us join daily in the angel’s unending hymn of praise.

Let us watch over our words and care that they are uplifting; let us overcome any mistrust and separation with confidence and trust. Let us rather close our eyes to evil and not even draw attention to it through unwanted criticism but rather expose and shed light upon everything that is good.

In this way we will overcome and keep away evil by doing good: We could preach about the virtue of the saints and so offset the constant information about cruelties and sins. We can help the faithful to see God’s goodness behind their health and workplace and daily bread, and also behind the joy and forgiveness and love for the other.

Then the counsel of Raphael will be put into practice again today, and what was said of Tobit and Tobias might be said of all: "They kept thanking God and singing his praises; and they continued to acknowledge these marvelous deeds which He had done when the angel of God appeared to them (12:22).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC